It would be an exaggeration to call the Redding Marathon the area’s biggest annual sporting event, but the footrace definitely has claimed a spot as one of the most significant.
The race returns at 8 a.m. Sunday, January 16, when runners depart from the Shasta Dam overlook on Highway 151 on their way to the finish on the Sundial Bridge.
Every year, the event attracts a few more runners, and organizers this year expect the biggest field since they revived the dormant race in 2002. At least 200 marathoners and 80 three-person marathon relay teams are expected to participate on Sunday. The marathon attracts many people from out of the area, as last year’s field had runners from 15 states, Canada and the United Kingdom.
It is not simply the group of runners covering 26.2 miles that makes the Redding Marathon a big deal. Hundreds of people – race volunteers, family and friends of runners, interested spectators – are on the course, cheering on and aiding runners, and helping create an encouraging atmosphere. Plus, the three-person relay on the exact same course provides future marathoners with an excellent opportunity to learn about the classic distance run.
“I love the Redding Marathon,” said Roxanne Woodhouse of Weaverville. The event was her first marathon in 2007, and the Weaverville small business owner intends to make the 2011 version her 20th marathon.
“I love that it’s close by. They have the aid stations well organized. They have great support,” said Woodhouse, 47. “It’s a great way to start the season.”
Big city marathons rely on military-like organization to handle tens of thousands of participants. Small town races sometimes miss important details, but the SWEAT Running Club event in Redding is better organized than other small marathons, Woodhouse said.
“It is a good small-town marathon for runners who don’t like droves of people,” said Marge Dunlap, a Redding Marathon committee member who has run long-distance races all over the country and internationally. “We serve a need.”
“I love the low-key atmosphere, yet great organization,” said Sisters, Ore., runner Sean Meissner, the 2009 winner.
Having an enjoyable course is crucial to a marathon’s success. Plenty of marathons have failed because of dull, convoluted or even unsafe courses.
The route that takes runners from above Shasta Dam to the Sundial Bridge is exceptionally scenic, Woodhouse noted. The course also offers challenge. The steeply downhill first four miles tempts runners into starting too fast. Nearly three miles of ups and downs on the lower Sacramento Rail Trail in the middle of the race wear down many competitors.
“The course is great,” added Meissner. “Nice profile, no vehicular traffic, cool views. Finishing across the Sundial Bridge is cool, too.”
The course has evolved since the event returned to the running calendar on January 1, 2002. At various times, the course has included an out-and-back section on Rock Creek Road, stretches on Iron Mountain, Keswick Dam and Quartz Hill roads, and even part of the Middle Creek Trail. Currently, the course goes down Highway 151 from the overlook, across Shasta Dam, and then down Coram Road, hitting the rail trail at roughly the 4-mile mark. The next 11 miles are on the recently-paved rail trail. The course then goes down the south side of the Sacramento River bike path to the Diestelhorst Bridge, where runners start a 5.7-mile, counter-clockwise bike path loop. After crossing the Diestelhorst Bridge a second time and completing the loop, runners continue on the bike path toward the Sundial Bridge. Just before the bridge, runners turn into the arboretum for a one mile out-and-back. Then it’s on to the finish across the bridge.
Among the best locations for spectators to watch the action are the Shasta Dam parking lot, the Diestelhorst Bridge and the Sundial Bridge. Highway 151 (Shasta Dam Boulevard) will be closed on race morning, but you may reach the dam via Lake Boulevard. The Keswick Reservoir boat ramp is another population location, but it’s busy and crowded because the boat ramp parking area is the first exchange point for the relay.
Several potential frontrunners have not yet registered but are reportedly considering the event. Meissner, 37, who has won marathons and ultramarathons (races longer than 26.2 miles) throughout the West and Canada, said he probably would decide on Friday. Another potential entrant is Max King of Bend, Ore., an Olympic steeplechase runner who completed the Baltimore Marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes last fall. If he competes, King could easily beat the course record of 2:35, set by Ashland, Ore., star Hal Koerner in 2008.
Because the Bureau of Land Management paved the rail trail last year – it was a gravel road – most competitors’ running times are expected to be a bit faster this year. Still, the majority of runners will take more than four hours. The finish line will be open for seven hours.
There’s little doubt that the women’s division will have a new champion in 2011. Red Bluff’s Beverly Anderson-Abbs has won the women’s race nine years in a row – including three times when she beat all the men, too – but she is recovering from knee surgery. Although she is entered on Sunday, Anderson-Abbs is not back to form. Woodhouse, who won a 100-mile trail race at Lake Tahoe in 2010, said she should not be considered a favorite because she is nursing a minor leg injury. Longtime Redding standout Luanne Park was not on the advance entrant’s list.
And then there’s the weather. The forecast looks decent: temperatures in the 40s and low-50s, with a slight chance of rain. In 2010, ceaseless cold rain and gusty wind made for a miserable day. The 2004 race occurred only a few days after a major snowstorm. Organizers had to build a make-shift bridge over a raging Motion Creek, and they had to alter the course because of downed trees on the Sacramento River bike path.
Runners may still get in on the marathon, marathon relay or the Sundial Bridge 5K. The event website has all of the registration and other details. One major change this year: Marathoners and first-leg relay runners must take an event bus to the race start. Highway 151 (Shasta Dam Boulevard) will be closed to traffic between Lake Boulevard and Shasta Dam.
Paul Shigley is senior editor of California Planning & Development Report, a frequent contributor to Planning magazine and finished less than an hour behind Bev Abbs at last year’s Redding Marathon. He lives in Centerville. Paul Shigley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment.