Fresno half-marathon changes date, but can't escape rare March heat

The Fresno BeeMarch 16, 2014 

For the first time in the race's history, organizers of the California Classic Half-Marathon moved this year's run from May to Sunday in hopes of cooler temperatures.

Nice try.

The new date landed on what forecasters say was "the hottest day so far" of the year.

The California Classic, formerly a mega-weekend of running and cycling, began its new split era with Sunday's half-marathon. The popular century ride, which closes 10 miles of Highway 168, will still be held in May.

Director Mike Herman said runners in previous years had suggested the split, so they decided to try it out this year.

"We split it because of the heat in May," Herman said. "But what we didn't expect was 84 degrees today."

Even with summerlike temperatures, organizers called this year's run a success with more than 2,400 participants, down a little from last year's 2,700 runners.

There was also a shorter 5K race through downtown Fresno that took off a few minutes after the half-marathon began. Herman noted that this year's event did not include the kid's marathon, which may account for some of the drop-off in numbers.

Since the run began about 7 a.m. at Chukchansi Park in downtown Fresno, runners still enjoyed a "very cool morning," Herman said. It took about two and a half hours for most runners to finish the race.

Sunday's half-marathon drew people from all over the country, with more than 40% of runners traveling from out of town.

Participants enjoyed the comfortable weather, ranging from mid 50s to mid 60s, while they raced through some of Fresno's landmarks.

Runners bolted from Chukchansi Park, passing by City Hall and through the Tower District before arriving at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo -- one of the half-marathon's major attractions. Participants ran about a mile through the zoo, passing by giraffes, flamingos, ostriches, and the underwater viewing area of the sea lion cove.

"We're the only run in California that runs through a zoo," Herman said. "No other half-marathon runs through a zoo."

Runners then headed back to downtown, passing by the federal courthouse before crossing the finish line at the home plate at the Chukchansi Park.

Organizers were prepared to combat Sunday's forecast, offering runners more than 1,000 gallons of water.

"We thought the heat was going to be a problem," Herman said. "But that wasn't the case. It was beautiful."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, daguilera@fresnobee.com or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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