For 26.2 miles, through leafy streets, up Panorama Drive, along the parkway next to a water-filled Kern River and finally to the Cal State Bakersfield campus, runners made their way through the course of the Bakersfield Marathon last month. Around 1,800 people participated in a variety of runs at this year’s event — a 5K, half or full. That number included runners from 16 different states and 180 cities.
Marathons are big business for cities across the country. And large corporations clamor to sponsor events because they know that runners and spectators are loyal to companies that support their sport. And the demographics don’t hurt: The median household income of a runner is $112,000, and at least 79 percent are college-educated, according to data from Competitor Group Inc., the expanding organization that hosts the Rock ’n’ Roll road running series in more than 30 cities.
So, without hesitation, we should support the organizers of our local marathon in every way possible. It’s not an easy task to promote the event, keep up with funding, coordinate traffic and street closures with officials and guide runners safely as they weave through neighborhoods. Simply put, we should take the annual event seriously that David Milazzo, Charles Brown, and their team put on for the second time this fall.
The thing about marathons that has me completely in love with the sport and what it means for our city is the marketing potential. What better symbol that the tides are shifting and we’re turning a new leaf — in a place that has been consistently labeled overweight — than to host an annual marathon? And it’s a fantastic event, a Boston-qualifying race, at that.
Marathons are inspiring testaments to the American spirit. I ran a marathon in New York City many moons ago and the experience was one I’ll never forget. Since it was my first time traveling to the city, I got an authentic taste of the place in the most unique way — literally pounding the pavement as I ran right through it. I also hold dear memories of that experience every time I go back to visit. Running through the city’s five boroughs and over four bridges, I witnessed firsthand the city’s diversity and beauty. There were people cheering my running buddy and me on along the entire route, and the overwhelmingly huge turnout (not to mention their clever and often hilarious signs) truly kept us sprinting and smiling the entire way. We ran by a group of Scottish bagpipe players, playing just for the event. We passed a church where a gospel choir was singing inside with the doors wide open for us to hear, and rock bands belted tunes all along the way. It was the outpouring of support from the spectators that buoyed us through.
My first experience with New York City is one of diversity and unity and a testament to the human spirit. It was a breathtaking experience, watching the sidelines as people of different backgrounds and cultures cheered us on, many of them screaming my name, which I had written on my jersey. I probably heard “Anna” spoken in more dialects and accents than I had heard in the two decades I’d been alive. It was beautiful. I vividly remember the sounds of Central Park leaves crunching under my running shoes and hearing the disabled man behind me at the start wishing everyone around him good luck.
What if we could do this for our humble Bakersfield? Lure visitors here for an inspiring event, a positive experience they carry with them forever, in the place we all love. With all of the heartbreak happening in the world today, with all of the discord and disagreement, what if for one day, we use the Bakersfield Marathon to spread a message of come-togetherness?
You can bet I’ll be out there again next year, on the sidelines, with a homemade sign on which I’ll scribble out a funny quip to encourage runners, just like this year and the year before that. Or perhaps I’ll run the half with friends. Wherever I may be, you can bet I’ll be cheering on my Bakersfield.
Holiday films: With affordable tickets at $5 each, the Fox Theater is hosting a few holiday-themed movies this month — a quirky comedy, a cult classic and a longstanding favorite.
Elf: Dec. 2 at 1 p.m.
Gremlins: Dec. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Miracle on 34th Street: Dec. 23 at 1 p.m.
Holiday music: On Dec. 16 at 7 p.m., the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra will present Home For The Holidays at the Fox Theater. This sounds like a lovely way to get in the spirit, with beautiful music in a majestic space. The symphony only plays at the Fox a few times a year, so catch them there while you can.