Run California: The California Half and Full Marathon Series

You may have noticed, in recent years, that some California marathons and half marathons are designated as being part of the California Half and Full Marathon Series. I first became aware of the series several years ago, when I was still living in the Bay Area, but I had taken a break from running long distances and quickly forgot about it.

It popped onto my radar again this year when I realized several races on my 2017 list were part of the series. I decided it was time to dig a little deeper and find out what it’s all about.

The race series was conceived in 2011 as a way to increase participation in the marathon and half marathon distances, says series administrator Seth Wilson. Many races had seen a decline in participation, and race directors were looking for ways to draw runners in. The question, he says, was “How do we get dedicated runners to run more races than they normally run?”

The answer: Create a year-long challenge, giving runners the opportunity to participate in races throughout the state while competing for points and a medal available only to series finishers.

Runners have the option of participating in the 4-, 7-, 10-, 15-, or 20-race challenge by finishing qualifying series races held in a calendar year. There’s no additional cost to join the challenge. Those who successfully complete their challenge receive an exclusive finisher’s medal at their final race, which must be one of several “medal” races held at the end of the year. Last year, about 5,000 participants earned a series finisher medal.

An additional incentive, for some, is the opportunity to compete for points against all other series entrants.

Points are awarded based on race performance, with all finishers receiving a minimum of one point per race completed. Additional points are earned based on placement.

“Including the point system within the series has really driven dedication from runners,” says Wilson. “A lot of folks love the added element of having something to compete towards.” The series’ live tracking system, he adds, allows runners to see where they stand as soon as a given race is concluded.

At the end of the year, a special award is given to the top male and female runners in the open and masters divisions.

Fifty races are part of this year’s series, says Wilson. Although the series is always looking for races to add to its roster — often taking runner requests into consideration — a priority right now is choosing races to fill holes in the calendar: “Weekends where we don’t have any races, or a trail race in a month full of road races.”

This year, two local races are part of the series: the California Classic Half (held in April) and the Two Cities Marathon and Half (scheduled for November 5).

With only two local races on the schedule, you’ll definitely have to travel if you want to earn that exclusive medal. Which is part of the fun, right? Other participating races (this year) include the L.A. Marathon, Lake Tahoe Marathon, and Santa Rosa Marathon.

This year’s medal races — one of which is required to complete the series — are the Cloverdale Marathon and Half (October 22), Santa Clarita Marathon and Half (November 5), Walnut Creek Half Marathon (December 9), and Operation Jack Marathon and Half (December 26). Medal races, adds Wilson, are established races that can accommodate a large number of runners “because those events are guaranteed to have a large turnout.”

The concept has been a success. The series’ parent company, Team Blue Sky Events, now operates similar challenges in other Western states, including Oregon and Washington.

Intrigued? Head over to the series’ website to check out this year’s remaining races (there are still quite a few on the calendar). There’s also an app, Series Runner, which includes a calendar and links to current series races in California, Oregon, and Washington.

Have you completed a California Half and Full Marathon Series challenge? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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