Santa Barbara Marathon

This will be the fifth running of the Santa Barbara International Marathon, but in a sense the race is much older than that. It just died out in 1984 and wasn’t resurrected until 2009.

In 1965 John Brennand and Mike Kimball were race directors for the first Santa Barbara Marathon and at the time it was one of only six annual marathons in the US (preceded by Boston, Yonkers, Culver City, Heart of America (in Columbia MO), and San Diego).

The course started at UCSB went out to Ellwood and finished at City College. The gun went off at 3pm with a temperature of 84°F — of the 27 starters only 17 finished. Yet in spite of the heat 2 of the 17 broke 2:40:00, 7 of the 17 broke 3:00:00, and only one person, a 59 year old, took longer than 4 hours. Most runners were relatively fast in those days.

During the 60s the AAU did not allow women to run races that were longer than 2 miles. As might be imagined women were not very happy about this. The Road Runners Clubs put on “non-competitive runs” to avoid this ban. And sometimes women just rebelled.

The first woman runner in a Santa Barbara race was Lyn Carman who ran the 1966 SB Marathon (the second running). The race directors felt they could not include her in the official results list (for fear of the AAU) but there was a long comment after the results:

An unofficial starter, Lyn Carman, 29 was not expected to withstand the travail involved in negotiating over twenty-six miles in this hilly course, but to the astonishment of every male competitor, Lyn finished strongly breaking 4 hours. The wife of the 12th place finisher, Bob Carman, Lyn trains with her husband once a day running from 30 to 60 miles weekly, with 1 to 2 days on the road, and the remainder on track or grass. A mother of four children, with her youngest being 13 months old, she shyly accepted the acclaim, bereft of an appropriate award for such a feat. Splits: 42:32 at 5 miles, 1:45:39 at 11 miles and 3:57:50.9 at the finish.

Another young lady, Mrs. Roberta Gibb Bingay, completed the Boston Marathon, 4-19-66 to place 124th in the unofficial time of around 3:21:25. Such precedents inevitably will remove the barrier that discourages official competition for women in distances over 1½ miles.

The directors had learned something from the first year, and in 1966 the race started at 8am with cool overcast weather. The runners were faster too, with the winner running in 2:26:23 and 12 runners under 3 hours (and all runners, including Lyn, under 4 hours). There were 19 finishers (including Lyn).

SBM Route ~1975
Marathon Route ~1975 Larger Map

There were no more women until 1969 when there were 2 and this time their names do appear in the official results listing — but they have no first names, just initials. There was another “unofficial” entrant that year, an 8 year old boy (the AAU banned them too) and his name does not appear in the list, even disguised. In 1970 there was again only one woman in the race, but now her full name was included in the results. In 1971 there were 5 finishers and some of them ran for track clubs. The AAU finally lifted its ban on woman racers in 1972, and that year there were 6 — one of whom was Lyn Carman’s 11 year old daughter who finished in 4:17

I’m a little perplexed as to why the big jump in women’s numbers happened the year before the ban was lifted, rather than after… The comments for the 1971 race claim that women were “official” runners for the first time that year — even though they were still officially banned by the AAU. I asked John if “unofficial” meant that they had had no bibs, but he replied: “No, they had bibs, we just had to hide them from the AAU.”

Percentage of women runners in the SB Marathon and Half Marathon
Percentage of Women in the SB Marathon & Half

Over time the race became more popular growing from 17 finishers in 1964 to 76 in 1969 and peaking with 354 in 1977. Thus coinciding with the first running boom in the US. 1978 has almost the same number of finishers, but by 1984 the number had dropped to 114. And it was at that point the John Brennand, race director, decided there was no longer any reason to hold a marathon in SB. The numbers were still dropping, and there were now plenty of other marathons elsewhere. The race was not revived until Rusty Snow restarted it as the Santa Barbara International Marathon in 2009.

There were a few races in the intermediate years which called themselves “Santa Barbara Marathons”, but none was associated with the SBAA (and so they don’t count). The most interesting of these was run on 1 April 1995 and started at the intersection of 154 and Camino Cielo. It went out Camino Cielo to Gibraltar, down Gibraltar, along Mountain Dr, wandering through Montecito and finished near Butterfly Beach.

Not only was 1977 the peak year for the marathon, it was also the first year for the SB Half Marathon. This race did not die, but continued and prospered after the marathon ended. In 1996 the News Press started sponsoring the half and it became the Santa Barbara News Press Half Marathon. In 2009 the first Select Staffing SB International Marathon and the last SB News Press Half Marathon were run on different dates; but in 2010 the half also became the Select Staffing SB International Half Marathon.

For many, the most important thing about a marathon is “Will I qualify for Boston?” the following is a graph showing what percentage of runners would qualify using the current qualifying standards:
Men blue, Women red

In recent years about 10% of our runners have qualified. In the past the percentage was higher.

Winning times of the Marathon:
Men blue, Women red

Average age of runners:
(This is not precisely correct for the early years as the results did not always list ages, and it was more likely for the ages of masters to be listed than for younger people, so this is actually “average known ages” with many unknown before 1970 or so.)

Average age of runners in the Marathon

All the runnings of the SB Marathons
All the runnings of the SB Half Marathons


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