Origin of the Coronado 4th of July Race
It started as a half-marathon.
-By George Green
Back in the early 70’s I was involved in a pretty dedicated running group along with several other members of the San Diego Track Club. This was a few years before the so-called “running boom.” Back then, the Mission Bay Marathon was the main race in town; the only sports drink was “ERG” (which stands for “Electrolyte Replacement with Glucose") ...also called Gookin Aid -a garage product concocted by Bill Gookin, a local high school chemistry teacher, masters runner, and member of the San Diego Track Club. Bill also organized most of the local runs, often making up the course just before the start. The SD Track club was involved with nearly all the races back then and most of the local races were very small by today’s standards.
Around the end of 1973, my little group started throwing around the idea of staging a half-marathon in Coronado. My principal collaborators were Kaj Johansen, a UCSD medical center resident, Dennis Kasischke from the SDTC, Frank Bozanich, a USMC captain, and Jeff Rigdon, a former runner for both NAU and Coronado HS. All were weekly participants in most of the running events around the county at the time. One of us said “Why not start a 4th of July run in Coronado?” Another one of us said “Hey, that’s a good idea!” Thus the seed for the Coronado Half Marathon was born.
Rather than bother with trivial details like insurance, city permission, or police support, Bob Letson who at the time was the chief AAU “course certifier” in the area, Kaj, Jeff, and myself mapped out the first Coronado Half Marathon route, put a notice in the Track Club newsletter, distributed entry forms at the next few track club races and showed up at the starting line on July 4th 1974. Here is an article from the Coronado Journal announcing the first race. We had a contact with the Coronado Recreation Department and the race was on their calendar but that’s about it. The route we used for the first 4 years (1974 - 1977) started at the Woman’s club along Glorietta Blvd (now the entrance to the city hall building), followed Glorietta to the turn-around just before the bridge, then back up Glorietta to Ynez, to Adella, across Orange down Ocean to Coronado, to sixth, to Alameda, to first, to A avenue where it looped around the hospital via third, prospect and second, back to A. The entire route was then retraced backwards, including the Glorietta loop, to finish back at the woman’s club (now city hall). As I recall the first race had a little less than 200 finishers so there was no significant traffic impact. The third race (1976) featured T-Shirts to all finishers, one of the first races in San Diego, to offer this now common practice (actually now everyone gets a shirt... we gave them out to finishers only). The 1975 race had around 350 entrants, and the 1976 race around 600 ,and the 1977 race nearly 1500. I jumped in at the start of the 1976 race after blowing the starting horn, confident I’d finish far enough up front to manage the finishers. It turned-out the race was a bit faster and I was a bit slower that day than anticipated, still I managed 8th place in 72:30, far enough in front to manage the rest of the finishers. That was the first and only time I was able to compete in the race as the running boom and the race’s reputation took off. After the 1977 race, it became obvious that we’d have to make it “official.” 1977 was the year most sources cite as the start of the running boom and we had nearly 1500 runners sign up that year. Up to this point everyone assumed we had taken care of the trivial details mentioned above. Both the parade organizers and police were at odds with the race as now there were over 1000 runners and traffic back-up at Orange and the parade staging along 1st street were becoming big problems. It all came to a head in 1977 at a city council meeting where the race organizers (basically me) were at odds with both the chief of police and the parade organizers. When it came to the council’s vote it was unanimous in favor of keeping the race as it had become a feature of the 4th of July festivities. However, the course had to be changed or the entrants limited… we changed the course. Because of a huge pre-race sign-up in 1978 we had 2 starting lines, one in front of my house on 5th and G, the other at 6th and F. The starting lines were staggered so when both groups merged onto Glorietta Blvd. they had run the same distance. Like the first course, the runners crossed Orange via Ynez and Adella. In order to make the overall distance correct because of a natural turn-around point on the North Island Naval base they took a little scenic loop down Flora, around Star Park, then back to Glorietta via Fauna (I’m sure Star Park residents were surprised the first time this was run). The course proceeded down Glorietta to the North Island Naval base to a turn-around point on Moffett road where it retraced back to Sunset park to Coronado Avenue, and finished at the junction of Coronado Avenue and sixth street. This version of the course eliminated virtually all traffic problems because Orange Avenue was the 2-mile point and all runners were off the city streets and on North Island after only 3 ½ miles. The finishers were spread-out but the only road impacted was Coronado Avenue. The success of the race spawned a new business for Judy Stolpe and myself called “End of the Line Race Consultants” (the name was my wife’s idea). We started by taking photos of all the runners in the race (another first for San Diego races). The photos were black and white. I’d make contact prints, match the bib number to the runner and send them the small photo with an offer to purchase larger versions. It worked so well and the Half Marathon was getting so much attention we started helping other organizations with their races just for the photo rights. As we did more and more races we sold fewer and fewer prints (because after a while everyone had a running photo) and it was no longer worth the work it takes to manage a race for just the photo rights. We jobbed the photo part to a professional lab and began to take on races for a fee…. we were the first race consultants in San Diego and probably one of the first in the country.
One feature we had from the beginning was instant results. Remember this was before the current technology that has spawned race consultants in every city, before reliable and affordable software and hardware and before anyone knew how to handle this many finishers. Because of the huge numbers (one year we had over 5000 runners) we had to create our own finish-line, registration and results systems. I wrote all the software to process the entries and collate times and finishers and publish the final results on a TRS-Model I computer. Instant results were provided via a pull-tag system. Because bib number pull-tags weren’t available back then we’d purchase vinyl picnic table material by the yard and cut it up into strips… all color coded by division. At the finish line we’d collect the tags from the back of the chutes and post the tags on fence pickets along with the times of various runners we’d write down as the race progressed. Later we’d match these select times with the chronomix times taken at the finish line for a full set of results. These days this is all done by software and computer chips attached to the runner's shoes or bib. Back then it was all manual... a system still used by many high school Cross Country races to this day. Eventually we’d print our own tags on bib number material and sell the tags to other race directors.
The success of the Half Marathon got the attention of Pepsico. In 1978 they contacted me to put on one of their local Diet Pepsi races in Coronado. The 1979 race was such a success we did their regional race the next year. Here is a map of that course. For both races they shipped in Bill Rogers who was beaten both times by local runner Thom Hunt.
It takes a lot of volunteers to put on a race of this magnitude. As the race grew in numbers we solicited help from the Coronado High School athletic program. Dick Satterlee and Robin Adair were the principal contacts who organized volunteer help during this period. This was the start of the high school benefitting from this race. After expenses I'd donate the rest of the money to the Athletic Dept. It wasn't the big money-maker for the school as it is now because our entry feels were very low.
This North Island course was used until 1983 when
base restrictions required alterations. By then, however, I was burned out of
the race consulting business. 2-3 races a weekend plus directing the Coronado
Half Marathon wears thin after a while. The last Coronado Half Marathon I organized was the 1982 race, so I don’t
know any details after that. I’m told that because of mounting police costs and
traffic problems the race went downhill and 1990 was the last time the race was
held. I understand that there was a 1991 race attended by a few diehards to keep the string going, but a new group created a 15k race in
Here are a few photos..
Since this is the 50th anniversary of the event, the current race director, Jamie Monroe (second kneeling from the left), decided to have a training run two weeks prior to the actual race over the orginal course. Not everyone did the full course, but for those who did, I biked the course with them (guy on the right) so they wouldn't get lost.