It's billed as "Southern California's Original Marathon," and even if it has been eclipsed in sheer size by the upstart in Los Angeles, the Long Beach Marathon remains a popular kickoff to the local distance-running season.
The event returns for its 14th year Sunday, and organizers say they expect about 2,500 runners for the full 26.2-mile distance. That number is up from last year but still down from the event's mid-'80s heyday, a drop that can be attributed to the general downturn in running's popularity.
Two years ago, in an effort to appeal to a wider audience, organizers added a five-person marathon relay and a four-mile walk. Last year, a half-marathon became another option. This year, about 1,600 participants are expected for those three events combined.
But the marathon remains the main course. Though there have been small changes, the course remains fundamentally the same. The scenic run starts in front of the Terrace Theater in downtown Long Beach, near the convention center, and takes in much of the Long Beach shoreline in addition to inland sections of the city.
Events leading up to the marathon include two "carbo load" dinners at the Long Beach Hilton, Friday and Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Cost for each dinner is $12. Race registration packets can be picked up at the Hilton on Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Race-day registration will be from 6 to 7:30 a.m.
Other upcoming Southern California marathons:
* The City of Los Angeles Marathon X is scheduled for March 5. Call (310) 444-5544 for information.
* The Catalina Island Marathon takes runners from Two Harbors to Avalon on March 18. This is a hilly but scenic course. (The slogan is, "Definitely not flat. Definitely not fast.") Runs of 5K and 10K are also offered in and around Avalon. Early entry is advised. (310) 433-4557.
* The Disneyland Marathon and 5K run will be March 26 in Anaheim. (800) 524-9200.
* Finally, May 21, there's the Bach Bay Classic in Newport Beach, with a marathon, half-marathon, 8K and 2K, along with live classical music. (714) 661-6547.
Other events of note scheduled for this weekend include one run and one bike ride.
The Little Saigon 5000 is a fast loop through the streets of Westminster. The run takes place Saturday at 8 a.m. on Bolsa Avenue, east of Magnolia Street. Race-day registration is 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. Cost is $20, which includes a T-shirt and two tickets to weekend Tet Festival events. (714) 842-2337.
On Sunday, the Orange County Classic will put cyclists on the streets for tours of 13, 25, 50 and 75 miles. Riders can begin at 7 a.m. or later (it's a fun ride--not competitive) from the Holiday Inn Irvine, 17941 Von Karman Ave. Day-of-event registration will be from 6 to 7:30 a.m. The $30 fee includes a T-shirt. (714) 645-3848.
* What: Long Beach Marathon.
* When: Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 a.m. (registration from 6 to 7:30 a.m.).
* Where: Starts and finishes at the Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach.
* Whereabouts: Take the San Diego (405) Freeway north out of Orange County. Exit at 7th Street west and take it all the way to Alamitos Avenue. Turn left to Ocean Avenue and then right. Public parking is available at several locations.
* Wherewithal: $50 for the marathon, $35 for the half-marathon, $30 per person for the relay, $15 for the walk.
* Where to call: (310) 494-2664.