The World's Worst Marathon Ever

Why the Pasadena Half Marathon should never be held again

By William Gallegos
Published on LatinoLA: July 2, 2013

The World's Worst Marathon Ever

For the last ten years, I have done close to 50 marathons, most of those in the last 3-4 years. They say that less than 1% of the American population has completed a marathon in their lifetime. I am proud to say I am one of them. From running through the beach cities of Newport and Huntington to passing through city landmarks like the Hollywood Bowl and Dodger Stadium, every race has had its share of sites and memories.

Unfortunately, the memories I experienced during this latest marathon of mine are memories I hope to erase from my head one day.

In either 2006 or 2007, the city of Pasadena announced they would hold its first ever "City of Pasadena Marathon" in 2008. The moment I heard about this, I was pretty excited about this because this was one city that I knew would have a course one would love to run through. From the Rose Bowl to Old town Pasadena and from Cal Tech to the famous Pasadena bridge, this race would bring in thousands of runners from all parts of the country and even the globe. Kaiser Permanente would be picked to be the main sponsor of this brand new race.

This event would consist of the full marathon (26.2 miles), the half marathon (13.1 miles) and the 10k and 5k races (roughly 6 and 3 miles).

Then came the bad news.....on the weekend of the race, a large brush fire broke out a few miles west of the city and as a result, all runners were told via last-minute emails and freeways signs that the inaugural 2008 race was cancelled due to the fires. Though upset, it was understandable that safety came first. Since this was an act of God, we were also told that no refunds would be given. Once again, very understandable.

The inaugural race would be held the next year with all would-be 2008 runners being given a nice discount. We were even given a free pair of tickets to the Pasadena Playhouse as the marathon's way of thanking us for our understanding and support. The only negative part of getting the tickets was that days right after the show, a playhouse rep would call me, asking me to consider buying a multi-play package. The rep was annoying and would not take "no" for an answer.

Finally, after delays, the first race would finally take place. The route was great, the volunteers were fantastic, the medal was nice and attractive, and the experience of doing my first marathon in the San Gabriel Valley was one to remember. The same would be said in 2010 and 2011. Kaiser Permanente would once again be the top sponsor of these races.

Then came 2012.

For those unfamiliar with doing a marathon...anytime you do a marathon, it is always mandatory to pick up your bib (the number you wear on front) at the race's expo. At these expos, you get your bib, your tech shirt (a non-cotton running shirt that helps you when it comes to sweating and feeling cooler), and your goodie bag. You also get to check out the several dozen or so booths consisting of vendors selling anything from running apparel to health snacks and drinks. There are also booths consisting of reps from other upcoming marathon races and 5k runs, ready to take your application at discounted prices. A stay at your average marathon expo can last anywhere between 20 to 45 minutes. The expos for the first three Pasadena marathons were held at some large indoor building near Paseo Pasadena and was always packed with vendors and visitors but in 2012, the expo was moved to the outdoor Santa Anita Park, where it was easy to notice the decrease in the number of vendors. My stay at the 2012 expo was short compared to the previous three expos.

Perhaps this change of expo location was a sign of bad things to come?

So just months following the 2012 race, an announcement regarding the 2013 race was made, where the top man in charge, Israel Estrada, announced that the race would be held late in june. Anyone who does a marathon or even organizes one knows that you never should hold a marathon in the months of june, july, or august mainly because of the dangers of running in the heat. Estrada blamed the change of date on the city of Pasadena (the previous races were held in february, march, and may). Blaming the change of date on the city is hard to believe, considering the Pasadena "Rock N Roll half marathon" is held in a non-summer month. It was also announced that the full 26.2 marathon would be eliminated for reasons unknown.


So though the race would fall in the more warmer time of the year, I felt it was okay to still do the race. The organization would promise to recognize and give incentives to all "legacy runners" who continue to support this race. To those unfamiliar with "legacy runners", it is a marathon's way of saluting those who have been loyal to their race. Some marathons consider "legacy runners" to be runners who have been in every one of their races since year one while other marathons consider "legacy runners" to be runners who have competed in 4-5 of their marathons in a row. Incentives can include an extra t-shirt, a tote bag, a pin, a specially-designed medal and bib (different from the rest of the runners), some of the above or all of the above. Having seen the first race cancelled and having to deal with a june date, legacy runners should definetely be entitled to this kind of recognition.

The location for the 2013 expo would now be held outside of some church in Pasadena. With most expos always taking place the two days prior to the race, this expo would now only be one day. The tech shirts were now replaced by a thin, cotton t-shirt with an unattractive design on front (wrong choice of shirt to give to runners, considering the warmer race temperature). As for the vendors, there were even less than in 2012. I must have counted no more than 10. I was there for only 5-6 minutes but could have been out of there even sooner had it not been for a CHP friend I saw (he was working the CHP recruiting booth). As for the price of registering, should one ask? With fees included, it was roughly close to $110.00. Still, I was looking forward to a safe and great race.

With race day now just hours away, close to triple digit temperatures were expected, making me very nervous. I may have done close to 50 half and full marathon races but I do not consider myself a "kenyan-style" type of runner who can endure running in the heat. One needs to remember that not all marathon runners are in the best shape (including myself). The marathon's website would end up warning all runners the night before the race to expect warm temperatures. They ensured all runners that there would be "extra" water and cold, icy towels available. I had not been so nervous over a marathon since I did my first full marathon back in 2002. I also don't recall drinking so much water the night before a race.

So race day arrives. It is now 6:15 am and we are 15 minutes away from the start of the race. Though I have used the bathroom some four times already since arriving at PCC (where the race begins), the nervousness in me had disappeared. I saw good things coming out of this race. Or did I?

Now this is where I talk about why this was the "world's worst half marathon ever".

Anyone who is avid in running will tell you the importance of drinking plenty of water. It is also important that when running for more than 45 minutes, you must also have a sports drink (ie.....powerade, gatorade) in your body as well. Every marathon and 5k race out there will have water stations at every other mile and more than half of those water stations will also have a sports drink station as well. The first problem experienced was that there would be only one "sports drink" station (at mile 6). First time I ever witnessed only one sports drink station in a half marathon.

The second problem was the water. It was either warm or hot. Some people later complained that some stations either had no cups available or no water available or both. What happened to "extra" water, as mentioned in the website? For this warm weather, this problem should have never even existed.

Then there was the cold, icy towels...........there were none!

I have usually averaged a finishing time of 2:45-2:55 in my half marathons. They are not the best times but they are not horrible times either. I usually rank somewhere in the middle of the pack. My goal has always been to beat 3 hours. For this race, it was about safety. Still, I would end up doing 3:15, which was not bad considering the horrible heat I had to deal with.

Now comes the worst part of the race.......I am with a group of friends who cross the finish line together and we are all told that the finisher medals have all ran out.

Are you kidding me! This achievement takes place and this is the reward we get? We would be told through the PA announcer that they will be mailed. How do you tell who did not get one and who did? It didn't make sense! I just dealed with it and headed straight to my car. The worst was still ahead.

Once at home, I go to the race's Facebook page, where I see the organizers thanking all for their hard work. I then read the close to 100 or so feedbacks from the many angry runners who did not get a medal. I was so shocked to hear what these people had to say other than the fact that they went home medal-less. By the end of the night, the number of negative postings would double.

What I did not mention yet was that there was also a 5k and 10k race that morning, both of which started at 7am. It would be revealed on the Facebook page by many that the 5k/10k medals had also ran out quickly. To solve this matter, those 5k/10k runners were given a half marathon medal instead. Who does a 3 or 6 mile race and gets rewarded with a 13 mile race medal? Pure stupidity!!!

Let's make this clear......all volunteers that worked the water stations and handed out the medals did a great job and take no blame for these problems.

It was also revealed that all medals were gone roughly 2 hours after the race started. I did 3:13 and there were still plenty of runners behind me. With roughly 1-2 dozen runners crossing the finish line per minute during the 2 hour mark, think about the hundreds ahead of me that did not get a medal. There were no excuses. It was likely that somewhere between 300-500 runners did not get a medal. Someone at the marathon offices did not do their math right.

Let's also make this marathon is perfect. I did a race where it took more than 30 minutes to leave the parking lot, I did a race where I saw water being served from a street faucet rather than a plastic bottle, and I did a race where they had no cups (it was a 5k and the weather was cool, so that was okay) but this race had all the marathon problems in the world rolled up into one. This was not about one or two flaws that can happen anywhere but about an organization that intentionally chose not prepare for a race the right way.

It was also revealed through one runner's posting on the race's Facebook page that not only was the top man in charge, Israel Estrada, stepping down (something he said in an interview months ago) but that the organization still owes money to last year's sponsors. This was likely why the number of sponsors and expo vendors dropped drastically this year and this was also likely why there was no top sponsor (Kaiser Permanente also stepped down prior to this year's race, something I did not notice until I read this posting). This also explains the crappy t-shirts replacing the tech shirts as well as the less attractive-looking medals (something also mentioned on Facebook). The organization would delete the posting regarding the sponsors from last year being owe money still, claiming that "they welcome all comments but not comments that are nothing more than rumors". The person behind the "2012 sponsors being owe money" posting told all readers to go to Google and they'll find the sources proving it.

And as for the incentives promised to the "legacy runners" months earlier.......there were none. Plain and simple!!!!

When more than 90% of postings from a marathon Facebook page are negative and when a big chunk of those are from angry individuals promising not to register for next year, something is definitely wrong.

I am guessing that this race will likely be folding soon. If it does take place in 2014, it will likely once be held during the worst time of the year, it will include t-shirts that suck, an expo that sucks, and a gigantic drop in the number of participants. I don't see these problems as something that can be fixed, considering the top man in charge is stepping down due to lack of support from the organization. This race was in trouble for many reasons and for many months and unfortunately, the runners who spent roughly $100.00 for crap did not know it.

I can guarantee the organization will have a twice as tough time convincing the city of Pasadena into bringing this race back next year.

To those who did this race and did not get a medal, send your mailing address and bib number to:

To those who are going to criticize my complaining, you are either someone who has never done a marathon because you are a coward, someone who doesn't know the meaning of "achievement" (ie.....unemployed loser, high school dropout), or someone who is the average out of shape individual who prefers sitting at home all day in front of the TV while eating fattening foods and drinking beer.

Ask yourself how you would react if the 2012 olympic gold medal-winning Mexican soccer team were told the medals were not available at the time of both the medal presentation and the raising of the Mexican Flag and that they would be mailed at a later date.

Thank goodness well-organized marathons still exist.

Next up.....the well-organized and cooler-weathered Long Beach Marathon.

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