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The SLO Marathon isn’t a marathon this year — and here’s why

“There’s something very magical about just running”: SLO ultramarathon runner

Walter Handloser, an ultra runner from San Luis Obispo will attempt to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019.
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Walter Handloser, an ultra runner from San Luis Obispo will attempt to run 50 races of 100 miles or more in 2019.

Runners will line up on Sunday to compete in San Luis Obispo’s eighth annual distance race — but they won’t be running a marathon for the first time in seven years.

The SLO Marathon has become the SLO Half Marathon this year, due to a low volume of entries for the longer race and the high costs associated with staging it, said Samantha Pruitt, CEO and founder of Race SLO.

Hundreds of competitors have raced through San Luis Obispo annually since 2012, when the SLO Marathon returned as an event after a 26-year absence.

“We started from zero and built this race ourselves,” Pruitt wrote in an email.

The event has typically included three races: a 26.2-mile full marathon, a 13.1-mile half marathon and a 5K run. However, the half marathon distance has always attracted more runners, according to Pruitt and previous Tribune articles.

The 2012 race kicked off with 800 to 900 runners competing in the marathon race and more than 2,000 runners in the half marathon race.

Although the number of competitors in the half marathon race has remained consistent, the full marathon field has shrunk. Last year, about 500 runners competed at the 26.2-mile distance, according to Pruitt.

The half marathon race typically draws 2,200 to 2,500 runners and 600 to 800 competitors usually sign up for the 5K distance.

Decreased demand for marathons

The overall cost of producing the longer course didn’t make sense this year, she said. The traffic control, permits, safety, labor and equipment needed for road closures cost $85,000 to $100,000 annually.

“We produce high-safety, first-class events and determined that we could not risk losing that much money for another year, nor compromise our high standards,” Pruitt wrote. “Watching the full marathon distance race fade nationally, and watching the growing movement towards trail running and non-competitive, experience-based events, we decided instead to double down on those efforts.”

Race SLO did initially intend to offer the full marathon, and the 300 runners who signed up were moved into the half marathon race and given a free race to give away or use at the SLO Ultra trail race in October, Pruitt said.

This year’s event will also include a new feature — a YogaMusic Fest on Friday from 3 to 9 p.m.

Pruitt hopes to bring the 26.2 distance back next year, “if we can raise additional sponsorship funds to cover the loss, no matter what (the) size of full marathon sign-ups are.”

For more information about the 2019 SLO Half Marathon, visit slomarathon.com.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She also covers communities in northern San Luis Obispo County. Lindsey became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. She’s a native Californian raised in the Midwest and is a proud graduate of two Chicago schools: DePaul University and Northwestern University.
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