Friday, November 24 , 2017, 6:32 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Runners Call for Refunds After Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon Canceled at Starting Line

The Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon was canceled at the very last minute — as runners toed the starting line Saturday morning — after the organizer apparently failed to round up enough volunteers to monitor the route.

Race director June Snow, who planned the one-day event, confirmed that the race was canceled because of a lack of volunteers.

“There was a group that did not show up — we use over 60 volunteers — I didn’t have enough course monitors,” Snow told Noozhawk. “They protect the runners in drive-ways, help slow down cars and direct the runners. Without the volunteers, I don’t think it would have been a safe course.”

Disappointed runners are already calling for refunds on the event's Facebook page.

Tom Pojunas, who grew up in Santa Barbara and resides in Los Angeles, was tucked in the pack of nearly 500 athletes at Chase Palm Park, which would have been the marathon’s starting point had it gone forward.

He ran in the 2013 Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon, and said he had a great experience. He enjoyed the final mile lined with American flags.

“I intentionally choose this race because of its support and emphasis on honoring veterans,” said Pojunas, who trained for months for the Santa Barbara race, and hoped to use it to prepare for the L.A. Marathon in spring.

Pojunas drove to the starting line area on Cabrillo Boulevard with family members early Saturday morning. 

“We were wondering if we were in the right spot because there was nothing set up,” Pojunas said. “I thought it was unusual. In the previous year, there were thousands of runners.”

Pojunas saw small tables and some marked cones near the waterfront. The starting line wasn’t complete until around 6:30 a.m., with a scheduled 7 a.m. start time, Pojunas said.

“Usually, there is at least some balloons or arch that marks off the starting line — they threw some blue mats on the ground and called that the start,” said Pojunas, who is an experienced runner and regularly participates in distance running events.

Runners were told to gather at the starting line and the crowd was repeatedly told to wait as volunteers got situated on the running course, Pojunas said. 

Then, the news finally broke that the organizer had failed to secure enough volunteers, and the race wouldn't be happening after all. 

“There’s a lot of people who I think felt swindled and don’t know why,” Pojunas said. 

After the race was canceled, Pojunas said, many runners decided to leave, while some trekked the 13.1-mile route in and around Santa Barbara’s waterfront, toward Montecito and to Chase Palm Park.

Pojunas decided to run the course and began around 7:50 a.m.

“The streets weren’t blocked off, and there were runners sharing the roads with cars,” Pojunas said. “It was impossible to navigate where the course was going — luckily, I’m familiar with the area.”

Pojunas said he saw some veterans who planned to run while dressed in their combat gear.

There was also a marriage proposal between two runners, he said.

“It broke your heart,” Pojunas said. "It was a big day for people."

Some runners circled back to Cabrillo Boulevard to find a box of finishing medals left near the sidewalk. 

On Saturday, Santa Barbara Police Department officers allowed extra time for volunteers to show up, but ultimately deemed the event course unsafe due to the inadequate number of volunteers, spokesman Anthony Wagner said.

“It truly was a public safety issue, and it was not safe,” Wagner said. “There were little to no volunteers, and it was a public health issue because there were no volunteers available to monitor a myriad of intersections.”

The Police Department had 11 people working the race, Wagner said, adding that law enforcement needed the assistance of volunteers to help manage the race route.

Wagner said the race organizer secured appropriate permits to host the event, but it stated obligations including a “robust” amount of volunteers.

The Police Department has billed the Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon $2,620 for its services, Wagner said.

The Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon event was promoted as featuring a half marathon, a 5K, and a four-person half-marathon relay event, with routes starting and ending at Santa Barbara’s waterfront.

Entrants were slated to receive a T-shirt, and food and water handed out by volunteers along the route. A press release said there would be aircraft flyovers and 181 American flags along the running route.

The event website also stated portable restrooms would be at the start and finish lines, as well as “every couple miles along both courses.”

Pojunas said he saw five porta-potties in place. 

“There was a lot of people waiting to use the bathroom,” he said.

Runners are calling for refunds on the event's Facebook page, and some allege they were never refunded for the canceled 2015 race.

Snow said she working towards a solution, and concerned participants can email her at [email protected]

Snow said she is communicating with ACTIVE.com, the website participants used to register online.

“I’ve been told that it’s (a refund) a 30-day process, but we are working towards finding a solution that everyone is happy with,” Snow said. “I don’t know all of the details. We are still working things out — I don’t know everything.”

Snow said half-marathon participants paid “$95 or $105, and $85 for veterans.”

Late entries paid $120 for the half-marathon, and veterans and active-duty military members paid $105.

Relay runners paid $260, Snow said.

The 5K ranged from $35 to $55, according to Snow.

Participants also paid a processing fee for the online registration site. 

Snow said she feels “horrible” and “terrible” about the race outcome.

“I’m addressing this as best and as fast as I can,” Snow said. “I deeply apologize.”

She also issued an apology on the Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon Facebook page Sunday, saying, “We are working to resolve what happened with yesterday’s event. We did not have enough support on the course to proceed, as a result, the event was called a no-go. We want to take this opportunity (to) apologize to all of yesterday’s runners.”

When asked about the revenues from entry fees and the costs of hosting the event, Snow said she didn’t have the dollar amount on hand, adding that “the majority was directly on the event, and on running the business.”

The for-profit half-marathon event is part of Snow's business, the Santa Barbara International Marathon, she said.

“The money went towards everything that was part of the event — the permits and the insurance,” Snow said. “This is one of the most expensive places to have an event.”

Snow said water was provided for participants, but the containers were dumped once she received word to shut down the race.

Snow said she co-founded the Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon in 2009 with her estranged husband, Rusty Snow.

She said she left the business from 2013 to 2016, including when the marathon race was eliminated from the event in 2015. 

“I wasn’t involved at all," Snow said. "I had nothing to do with it.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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