Annual event mixes long distance running with music to great success
By Bart Mendoza | SDUN Reporter
Now in its 15th year, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon has become one of San Diego’s premier annual events, hotly anticipated by runners, health enthusiasts and music fans alike. Since its inception, the dynamic mix of running and music has spread all over the world, with more than two dozen similar marathons now taking place each year, including events in Spain, Canada and Portugal.
There were actually three races that took place on Sunday, June 3: a 26-mile Marathon, a Half Marathon, and the CareFusion 2-Person Half Marathon Relay. The action got under way beginning at 6 a.m. at Quince Street and 6th Avenue, on the western side of Balboa Park. The course ran along 6th Avenue to University Avenue, east along University Avenue to Park Boulevard and then south into Downtown. Highway 163 was closed as runners used it to travel out of Uptown, ending later that morning at Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park, near Seaworld.
Over 30,000 runners were expected, with 50 musical artists performing along the scenic route to spur them on.
While Sunday’s marathons are the main focus, there was an entire weekend of activities surrounding the races. Friday and Saturday, June 1-2, featured a free health expo at the San Diego Convention Center. Highlights included guest speakers, such as Olympic medalists Jim Ryun and Steve Scott, and over 100 booths and displays on the convention floor.
Also on June 2, there was a run devoted to the younger set, with ING Kids Rock, at Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park. The one-mile, non-competitive, non-timed course was open to children in grades K-7. Finally, on the day of the big event, an end-of-the-marathon concert at 8:30 a.m. featured headliner Donovan Frankenreiter.
Kim Messey, director of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon’s events division, said the biggest challenge is coordinating all the different elements involved in what is essentially both a sporting event and music festival, with a 26 mile footprint.
“‘Massive undertaking’ might actually be an understatement,” Messey said. “We shut down more than 26 miles of roads in town, which involves anything from working with traffic control companies, to barricades, to hiring of police, to putting port-a-potties and stages out along the course. And that’s just on race day.” She also said the marathon had 2,500 volunteers on hand this year.
Performing at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon is considered a prime gig for area musicians. “It’s almost like playing a 30,000 person concert,” Messey said. “Just not all at the same time.”
Hundreds of groups apply each year, but the course is only able to accommodate 50 bands. Despite the event’s name, all types of music are welcome. “We try to get a mix,” Messey said. “It’s not all rock ‘n’ roll. We have country bands and drum bands, and just about everything in between, though we do like it to be family-friendly. Anything abrasive we would not be booking.”
While there are dozens of local performers taking part in the event, artists from out of state are also featured, including the Phoenix-based trio, Come Back Buddy, who performed at the corner of Harbor Drive and Pacific Highway from 6:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. The fifties inspired trio are true Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon veterans, having performed at the event in three different cities; San Diego four times, Los Angeles twice and Phoenix nine times.
“We love playing in San Diego,” said front man Mike Randall. “It’s a lot of fun, the weather’s always great and the people always really seem to be pumped up. The band tailors its set of classic oldies to the day’s race. “We mostly keep to the ones that the runners are inspired by, upbeat rock ‘n roll by people like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly,” he said.
Although Come Back Buddy has been able to book further gigs through people catching their act as they ran by, Randall says he’s just happy to provide a musical soundtrack for their race. “It’s really a charge to see all the people running by the stage and they’re all excited,” he said. “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon has a different feel to it than playing anything else.”