California Fire Affects Numerous Races

Written by Leah Etling, Running USA.

The #RunForVentura fundraiser is a virtual run that’s both competitive and philanthropic - One of the largest wildfires in California history has been burning in Southern California for 12 days. The Thomas Fire, which started in Ventura on December 4, has become the fourth largest fire in the states history and torched more than 260,000 acres. Two fatalities, one firefighter and one evacuee casualty, are attributed to the blaze.

In the midst of holiday racing season, the Thomas Fire – as well as several smaller fires in Los Angeles and San Diego – has made for a challenging few weeks for the endurance community.

At least two Christmas-themed runs, the Santa to the Sea Half Marathon and the Santa Monica – Venice Christmas Run in Santa Monica, were forced to cancel their Dec. 9 race date. Both were set to celebrate milestone events this year, the 10th year for Santa to the Sea and the 40th anniversary for the Christmas Run.

The Santa Monica race was able to push its date to the following weekend and took place on Saturday, Dec. 16. The event was successful despite reduced participation.

“It was just so important to me that we find a way to not lose the event entirely,” said race director Bruce Mitchell, a Santa Monica Realtor. “We’d put so much effort into planning and celebrating 40 years of Christmastime running in Southern Calilfornia, and our runners get so excited to come out in costume for this event.” 80 percent of the Christmas Run entrants held on to their entries for the new race date. A deferment to the 2018 date was also offered.

Santa to the Sea director Mike Barber wrote an emotional letter to his entrants, describing the process of making the cancellation decision.

“Many of our runners, first responders and volunteers, were impacted by these terrible fires. On Tuesday afternoon, the winds decreased but the smoke creeped into Oxnard making with very difficult to breath without a mask.

“By Wednesday, volunteer groups were dropping out because of the poor air quality and their commitment to help with the people impacted by the fires. On Thursday morning, our group met to discuss the best way forward. After several hours of discussion, we made the sad and difficult decision to cancel our 10th annual Santa to the Sea race,” Barber wrote.

To make the best of a bad situation, he decided to use some of the resources that were already in place for race day to assist with the fire fighting and recovery effort. A pallet of water was donated to a local animal rescue center that was helping animals get out of the flames. Food supplies went to a hunger relief organization. And Barber also wrote three checks for $5,000 apiece – to the United Way, Red Cross, and Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center.

In Santa Monica, Mitchell elected to give $25 – nearly half the price -- of every race entry received in the last week before the rescheduled event to the Salvation Army, which has been providing food and supplies to the Ventura County fire shelters.

“We were lucky to be able to reschedule our event, and we wanted to express gratitude for that as well as give back,” he said.

Other running organizations stepped up to fundraise as well. The #RunForVentura fundraiser is a virtual run that’s both competitive and philanthropic. With a goal of raising $10,000, the campaign is about 30 percent of the way there.

“We are encouraging participants to run a 5K from anywhere in the world and submit their results from a GPS watch or phone app to be entered to win a LaceUp prize pack. Prizing will be awarded to the top donor, fastest man and fastest woman.

While all donations will be accepted, participants must donate a minimum of $25 to be eligible to win prizing. All runners will receive a ‘digital medal,’” the organizers explained.

Becky Hall, project manager for Mountain Sports International, explained the campaign.

“We started the Run for Ventura fundraiser because Ventura has been a great home for LaceUp for the past four years. When the fire started in Ventura, we called our friends there and asked how we could help. Josh Spiker, local running store owner and our partner on the Lexus Ventura Marathon, worked with us to create the concept,” Hall said.

The campaign can be found here: https://laceuprunningseries.com/runforventura/