John Wayne Grit Series hopes to raise more than $234,000 as running event returns to Newport Coast

Runners make their way up a hill on the Newport Coast course from the 2022 John Wayne Grit Series.
(Courtesy of Rhodri Lumba)

It’s time for marathoners to start training again as the John Wayne Grit Series is set to return to Newport Beach this spring. More than 400 participants are already signed up for the city’s segment of the series, which begins and ends in Crystal Cove State Park in April.

This is the fourth year the race will come to Newport Beach. Race director Molly Kassouf said the idea for the series came out of a request from friend Ethan Wayne, the son of late actor John Wayne, to design a race route that touched on the elder’s film roles. This year’s run has firmed up with locations familiar to last year, with the first race to be held in the high desert community of Pioneertown on March 25, followed by the Newport Beach marathon on April 22.

The three other races in the series will take place in Ridgway, Colo., on Sept. 23; Lone Pine, Calif., on Oct. 21 and the Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas on Nov.11. The Grit series raises money and awareness for the John Wayne Cancer Foundation and last year raised over $234,000 across all five marathons. The Newport Coast run produced about $55,000 of that.

Wayne is a common namesake in Newport Beach, where the city not only has a day in honor of the actor, but a park and nearby airport. The actor called the city his home from the mid-1960s until his death in 1979 from stomach cancer.

“My father loved Newport Beach. For 50 years, he spent much of his free time there and lived there for 14 years before his death,” Ethan Wayne, director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, said in a statement released Monday. “The scenery on the John Wayne Grit Series Newport Coast course can’t be beat, and we’re proud to use it as a backdrop for raising funds for cancer research.”

Early registration ends on March 11 for those interested in saving $10, but registration doesn’t officially close until the day of the race. Kassouf said Tuesday the event has already doubled in participants from last year in just Newport Beach alone.

“We still have 11 weeks, which is crazy,” Kassouf said. “It tends to be toward the end that it really starts to rev up because people check their schedules and sign up or something falls through and they’re able to participate. It’s really exciting.

“It really is such a beautiful location, and the trails there are super welcoming to beginners and to people who are elites. We have some kids’ groups this year that are coming to join us, which is really exciting. It’s nice to have a wide range of all different types of runners.”

Participants will be able to participate in one of three routes of their choosing: a 5K, a 25K and a 50K — 3.1 miles to about 31 miles — that they’re free to run, jog or hike.

Kassouf noted the first race in Pioneertown has about 200 entrants so far — close to the 220 or so that ran last year — with about seven weeks to go until that event.

“For somebody that’s interested in coming out and getting involved, I believe it’s important just for them to really look into each event and what they think would suit themselves,” Kassouf said. “Training is a very important part of any distance that somebody chooses to sign up for, and a lot of times it’s great to get involved in a community or run group that people can help with inspiration to train for these events, and then there’s also just staying as relatively healthy as one can.

“We have 5Ks up to 50Ks; there’s something for everybody.”

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