'A healthy way to end it'

More than 800 runners will navigate a course winding around food vendors and tents at the Orange County Fair as they compete in Sunday morning's Closing Celebration 5K, which will herald the 2010 fair's last day.

Designed with the sights, sounds and smells of the fair in mind, the 3.1-mile course is not your traditional jogging path, OC Marathon Race Director Gary Kutscher said.

"Running a marathon can become monotonous and after a few miles, you begin to looks for things in the scenery for entertainment," Kutscher said. "At the fairgrounds, the scenery is constantly changing."

Runners will start at the opening gates at 9 a.m. From there they will pass horses being readied for the day, curve around the Ferris wheel, run through the games alley and past the Pacific Amphitheatre — where live music will be performed just for them — before returning back to the gates for the finish line.

Since the race is completed before the fair opens for the final day, there won't be the usual hordes of people lining a marathon course to yell out the encouragement.

But the runners can expect a lot of support from the vendors and staff. And perhaps to the delight of some of the race's youngest runners, the elephants may wave their trunks at them in a hearty "salute" as they pass by, Kutscher said.

The event is a partnership between the OC Fair and the OC Marathon to promote a healthy lifestyle, while still enjoying the fair, Kutscher said.

"We hatched this idea last year as a healthy way to start the fair and a healthy way to end it," Kutscher said. "But in the middle, you can let your hair down and eat a fried Twinkie."

While the course map looks more like a maze than a marathon course — dotted with sharp turns, zigzags and parts of the course that require the runners to loop back — runners will have a clearly defined path marked off on Sunday morning.

Additionally, since the runners will complete the course before the fair opens, there's no chance of any collisions with a bystander as the runners navigate the at times complex course, Kutscher said.

Registration for the race is open up to just before the race start time. The Opening Fair 5K on July 18 had more than 100 entrees from last-minute runners, Kutscher said.

After that success, Kutscher said that he expects a larger turnout with many people bringing their family to walk the race with them.

The opening race had a participant as young as four years old who "held hands with the runner the entire way," he said.

Registration for the OC Marathon races (full and half marathon, 5K, Kids Run the OC) opens next week.

If You Go

Registration is available from 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Road Runner Sports, 1835 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa,. and 6:30 to 8:45 a.m. Sunday at the OC Fair & Event Center outside the Main Gate at the start/finish line.

The cost is $35 for adults and $25 for kids 12 and younger.

Entry includes a technical shirt, medal and entry into the 2010 OC Fair on Sunday. Visit http://www.ocfair5k.com. for more information.

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