The sky was still dark on Sunday morning, Oct. 9, but marathon runners and cyclists were already pacing themselves as they made their way down Shoreline Drive during the 38th annual Long Beach Marathon.
As the sun slowly rose, more people arrived, stretched their limbs and made their way to the starting line for the half-marathon.
A sold-out field of 15,000 runners participated in one of Long Beach’s largest annual events, which included a full and half-marathon, and a bicycle tour through the city. Long Beach residents came in first and second in the men’s full marathon, while a Santa Ana resident came in third. The top-three on the women’s side were from Los Angeles, St. Petersburg, Florida, and San Diego.
But the competition among runners wasn’t the only attraction at the marathon, though it was the main one. The thousands of spectators also enjoyed the marathon’s beer garden and food trucks that served up tacos, fries, soul food and hibachi-style meals.
After going entirely virtual in 2020 and seeing depressed turnout in 2021, because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Long Beach Marathon seemed more like normal, with race officials saying beforehand that they were excited to see the popular event get closer to its pre-pandemic levels.
And the participants were excited themselves.
“Whether it’s your 105th or first half-marathon,” said runner Gretchen Schoenstein, “the energy of a race like this is everything.”
Sunday, in fact, was Schoenstein’s 105th half-marathon overall, a goal she didn’t know she would be able to reach after being diagnosed with sarcoidosis — a condition that causes swollen tissue to develop in organs — years ago and her doctors saying she wouldn’t be able to run.
Long Beach resident Raymon Ornelas, 22, was the first male marathoner to finish the full 26.2-mile course, while his college roommate, Enrique Villa, 24, also from Long Beach, came in second. Nicholas Spector, 30, of Santa Ana, came in third.
Ornelas recently graduated from Cal State Long Beach and it was the first full marathon he had ever participated in.
Running became a lifestyle for him at a young age, Ornelas said. He was part of running clubs in high school and college — and is planning to continue.
“Running a marathon is such a milestone as a distance runner,” he said. “To come out here and finish, it was amazing.”
Seeing old teammates cheering him on at the last two-mile stretch, Ornelas said, helped him get to the finish line.
“I was hitting a wall and everything was hurting,” he said, “but seeing them there at the last stretch was really cool and gave me an extra boost to try and finish.”
On the women’s side, Margaux Curcuru, 30, from Los Angeles came in first. Kaleigh Young, 30, from St Petersburg, Florida, came in second and Leanne Van Andel, 27, from San Diego, came in third.
The 13.1-mile half-marathon, meanwhile, began 90 minutes after the full one — and had 9,000 participants.
Angela Warren, one of the race’s two commentators, said that one in every five participants was running their first half-marathon.
Ayrton Ledesma Fuentes, 24, from Azusa won among the men while Mark Huizar, 26, from San Luis Obispo, came in second, and Chad Hall, 34, from San Diego, finished in third. On the women’s side, Alyssa Block, 25, from Lindsay, in Tulare County, placed first; Nicole Lane, 28, from Scottsdale, Arizona, placed second; and Erin Menefee, 30, from San Diego, placed third.
The top three male and female finishers in the marathon and half-marathon will receive prize money. First place will receive $1,000, second place will get $500 and third place will receive $250.
Not everyone, though, was in the marathon to win it.
Legacy Runner Tom “Frosty” Frost, 69, of Rancho Santa Margarita, ran, as has the past 21 years, in honor of his daughter, Lisa Anne Frost, who died during the 9/11 attacks; she was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center.
“She carried me through,” Frost said after finishing his half-marathon.
Frost has run in all 38 Long Beach Marathons. He was impressed, Frost said, to see how many people participated this year.
“There were 1,200 when it started,” he said. “Look what it’s done. It’s amazing.”
Throughout the day, thousands of spectators crowded the start and finish lines to support family members and friends with posters and banners. Many held flowers to give to their runners once they finished.
Marleen and Rudy Monge, from Eastvale, held a homemade poster supporting their daughter, Justice, 20, who was running her first half-marathon.
Once Justice finished her race, the Monge family was planning to grab a bite to eat — or get their daughter to bed.
“We don’t know what she’s going to look like after 13 miles,” Rudy Monge said.
Each runner who crossed the finish line looked tired — but still smiled at what they’d accomplished.
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Jillian Rodriguez, 34, from San Diego, said she felt amazing because she had beaten her personal record by 20 minutes. It was her first time participating in the Long Beach Marathon.
“It was wonderful and the people of Long Beach were so supportive,” Rodriguez said. “It was a great course. There were some hills but they were so manageable and they made me feel challenged and accomplished afterward.
“Everybody had such great energy,” she added. “It was wonderful.”