The Long Beach Marathon Course Preview
Are you ready for some sun, ocean and surf? The Long Beach International Marathon doesn’t disappoint, taking you on a sunshine and blue sky filled tour of this gorgeous California area. Boasting one of the least technical courses the CLIF Bar Pace Team tackles, Long Beach is a great place (weather permitting) for a fast time with fantastic views. Settle in to learn a bit more about the course, a couple of tricks to keep you focused, and a bit more about the sights and sounds you’ll see and hear.
Long Beach begins with a long series of “waves,” staged five minutes apart. Sound terrible? It’s not at all! The start – while crowded – moves quite quickly and smoothly, and in 2011, this new starting system made the boardwalk portion of the race (we’ll get to that soon) so much more enjoyable!
An important thing to keep in mind about the start, however, is indeed the crowds. The starting area is extremely crowded and somewhat chaotic. Because you don’t need to worry a ton about being cold at the start of this race, we suggest arriving a minimum of an hour and a half early. Take an old long sleeve shirt to stay warm, and get as close to the corrals as you can. Remember, you can always bring a garbage bag or another old shirt to put on the ground, and sit down and get off those feet before the actual race.
If you’re planning on driving to the race, be prepared to arrive even earlier. Being a primarily local race, the traffic and road congestion getting into Long Beach on race morning is legendary – and it’s the last thing you want sapping your energy before your big day.
Once your race actually begins, you’ll be treated to a relatively flat course with a variety of stunning views – but the rules haven’t changed. As we love to remind you, you need 50% of your energy for the first 20 miles of the race – and 50% of your energy for the last 6 miles of the race. No matter how flat or fast your course may be, those rules don’t ever change, and you should keep them in mind throughout your race.
As you begin your race along Shoreline Drive, you’ll be headed for the Queensway Bridge and one of the few “hills” on the course. With an elevation high of 45 feet, it’s nothing to worry about, but you’ll certainly notice. Continue your warm up as you begin this climb just past the 5K mark; the good news is, you’ll be going right back down the other side of it!
From here you’ll have ample time to settle in and continue your “warm up” for the later parts of the race, running past the Queen Mary, the Aquarium of the Pacific, and Pierpoint Landing. Not only do you get to enjoy the stunning marina scenery, but there are several indoor bathrooms along the way if needed.
Once you reach Shoreline Village, it’s time to head to the beach – but it’s not always a picnic. As you head onto the bike path along the ocean, you often trade stunning views for terrible congestion. It’s no one’s fault – we simply go from a wide street onto a narrow bike path. Don’t be concerned if we have a few slow miles here. We’ll do our best to stay on pace, but if we lose some time to the crowds, we’ll make it up gradually later. What’s most important for you is keeping your energy on your race, and not losing it to frustration.
Another tip for the bike path? The volunteers at the water stations are sometimes just as overwhelmed by the crowds as the runners! It’s sometimes hard to have a “fluid water stop” here, so it’s another place we might lose a few extra seconds. It can interrupt your rhythm, but again, stay focused on the task at hand and keep moving.
At mile 10.5, we lose our half marathon brothers and sisters as we exit the bike path, and the full marathon runners continue down scenic Ocean Avenue, passing through the Belmont Shore neighborhood. The road remains flat to steady, but you’re probably starting to feel a bit tired and worn out here. That’s completely normal, and you shouldn’t let it play tricks on your head. You do, however, need to dig deep and resolve to tackle what’s coming next – this race has one good curve ball, and it throws it out at mile 17.
After passing by Marine Stadium, you’ll start an out and back portion of the course towards California State University. The fun is two-fold; first, you get to see the winners and the runners ahead of you as you head out, and both groups are able to provide encouragement and motivation. Second, when you reach California State University, you’ll be pleasantly surprised and even overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the students, cheerleaders, pep squads and dj’s lining the campus. CSULB shows up for the runners in spades – and gives you just the motivation you need heading into mile 20 and the homestretch to the finish.
The not so fun part? The hill through the university neighborhood at mile 17. It’s steep, and it’s just long enough to really cause your tired legs and lungs a little bit of grief. Put your head down, tuck in behind your pace leader, and let them drag you up that hill – the final piece of good news is that you get to recover by going down the other side of it.
After passing Blair Field and the Colorado Lagoon, the end is (finally) (kind of) near as you make your second-last turn onto Ocean Drive. You’ll pass beautiful Bluff Park, but you may not notice too much of it as you’ll be digging deep and working hard here. Your pace leader will push you through mile marker by mile marker, cross-street by cross-street, light post by light post until you reach your final turn onto Shoreline Drive and the gentle sloping downhill to the finish. As you re-enter downtown Long Beach and the party in progress, raise your arms high and get ready for that final sprint – you did it!
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by Deborah Carlisle Solomon
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