Marathon ready to make a return to streets of San Diego

After a nearly 17-month delay caused by the pandemic, runners are ready to “Rock ’n’ Roll” again in San Diego’s iconic marathon and half marathon races.

The Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon and Half are back Sunday with a move to the fall instead of the traditional early June dates. The event was called off last year for the first interruption in its history dating to 1998.

Ahead of the longer races is a 5-kilometer race at 7 a.m. today with the course completely within Balboa Park for the first time.

The marathon and half start at 6:45 a.m. Sunday at Sixth and Quince streets in Balboa Park and conclude at Waterfront Park with a finish-line festival.

Due to compete are some 22,300 entrants, in line with the previous event, according to race director Meryl Leventon.

“You can feel the energy in San Diego right now,” Leventon said. “We knew people would be ready to run, be excited, and they’re showing up for us in San Diego.”

There are about about 5,500 entrants in the full marathon, 14,000 in the half, and 2,800 in the 5K.

As early as March, it was evident that the races wouldn’t be conducted on their usual dates. So Leventon began then considering alternatives later in the year, weighing such factors as the calendar for other major rescheduled races and the ability to coordinate with local officials for access to public lands along the course.

“It’s a big relief to finally be here and know what this looks like,” Leventon said. “It’s really weird being an event producer when you’re not sure that you can have an event. We had Plan A, Plan B, Plan C …”

From the hot June days, even in the early morning, the switch to the fall brings cooler temperatures and perhaps faster times as a result. Also, with the later sunrise, the Sunday races have switched from a 6:15 a.m. start to 6:45.

“This is going to be absolutely perfect running weather for us,” Leventon said. “You never know what we will get in October. Sometimes, we can have a hot day, but temperatures are looking cool for us on race day.”

The San Diego event is the original one in the nationwide Heineken 0.0 Rock ’n’ Rock Running Series, noted for musical entertainment during races.

Ahead of the San Diego races in this series this year were the resumption of the Virginia Beach event on Sept. 5 and San Jose on Oct. 3.

Runners can be mask-free in the outdoor event under current pandemic health guidelines.

Due to a conflict with another event, a portion of the marathon course has been re-routed to include the San Diego River bikeway off Morena Blvd.

“It’s beautiful, breezy and more quiet out there,” Leventon said. “We’ll see how it goes. I really like it. We’ll see what other people think.”

There will be no prize money as a result of the financial hit endured by organizers last year with race cancellation, according to Leventon. She expects the prize purse to return next year, when the race is due to return to its traditional dates.

Among the top men’s marathon entrants is Irvine’s Izzak Mireles, who won the 2020 Carlsbad Marathon, when that event was last conducted. Top local entrants include San Diego’s Spencer Johnson and Hunter Bliss in the men’s half.

Chula Vista’s Erik Santizo, 14, is slated to be the youngest runner in the marathon.

On the other hand, Coronado’s Richard Williams, 85, is expected to the oldest competitor in the half marathon. Before the pandemic, Williams typically ran a half marathon every month.

The oldest marathon runner is due to be Patrick Bivona, 80, of Los Alamitos.

“It’s really special to be back at the home of the original Rock ’n’ Roll,” Leventon said. “I can’t wait to be at that start line.’’

In the 2019 marathon, England’s Bradley Wattleworth won the men’s race (2:25.50), and Baltimore’s Jennifer Brill led the women’s field (2:57.49).

Kenya’s Benard Negeno took the men’s half (1:00.8), and Ethiopia’s Rahmia Tusa won the women’s race (1:09:09).

Thien is a freelance writer.