Handler, McLarty tops in SB Marathon

Blessed with ideal weather conditions and great community support, the inaugural Select Staffing Santa Barbara International Marathon went off without any major hitches on Sunday morning.

Carlos Handler of Pomona was the overall winner, covering the 26.2-mile course from Goleta to Santa Barbara City College’s La Playa Stadium in 2 hours, 24 minutes, 48.7 seconds. Nathan Jones of Shipshewana, Ind. was second (2:35.59.6) and former Westmont College star Robby Cherry came in third (2:37.35.9).

Carlos Handler takes a picture with race volunteers following his victory in Sunday's Marathon.

Carlos Handler takes a picture with members of the Chino Flash youth running club following his victory in Sunday’s Marathon. (Presidio Sports Photos)


Santa Barbara’s Andrea McLarty captured the women’s title in 2:52.23.4 (11th place overall). Mary Jones of Ventura was the runner-up (3:00.11.4) and local Chrystee Bradley nabbed third (3:00.29.1).

The winners were awarded $1,000 while second place got $500 and third $250. The fourth- and fifth-place finishers received $100 and $50, respectively.

For the majority of the nearly 3,000 runners, the reward was being able to finish the magical marathon distance.

This was the first marathon run in Santa Barbara since 1984, and the community was excited about it.

A 7 a.m. start — delayed a half hour due to a traffic accident near the starting line — didn’t discourage residents from coming out of their homes on a chilly morning to cheer on the runners.  Some fans held signs with the names of their friends or family members and some fans clanged cow bells.

“That was phenomenal,” race co-director Rusty Snow said. “I got to see the support, all the volunteers and the community. That was exciting, seeing so many runners and having the community out there cheering for them and watching out for them, and watching out for each other at every side street, all the driveways. It was great.

“For an event like this to continue to thrive, the community has to support it. And this was a great start.”

Women's winner Andrea McLarty

Women’s winner Andrea McLarty

McLarty was moved by the community’s response as she ran the course.

“Who gets to run a marathon and win a marathon and have everyone know your name on the course?” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than that for someone like me.”

Handler got a group of fans along Cathedral Oaks worked up by waving his arms and giving them a thumbs-up.

“I wanted the crowd to get into it,” he said. “It’s the first year and I wanted to let them to know I was having a good time and I wanted them to have a good time as well. It’s early morning and I wanted to show them I appreciate them coming out.”

Handler and Cherry had a good mano-a-mano battle going until around the 17th mile. That’s when Handler, 27, increased his speed and pulled away.

“I felt great,” said Cherry, 23, who was the NAIA national marathon champion last year. “I went through the half marathon in the best time I’ve run a half marathon, 1:09.28. It was going really well. I even felt great up until 16 miles. I think I was still at that same pace and Carlos went by me. I don’t think I was going slow, he just picked it up.”

Handler, who attended Concordia University in Irvine and ran against Cherry in college, said he felt he could overtake Cherry, based on his history running against him.

“My PR’s were a little bit faster,” Handler recalled. “I knew, basically, that I was the best guy out here. Still, I hadn’t done any marathon training, so for that reason I was worried about it. I didn’t want to take off from the start. I’m not going to come in that confident and just take off. You can never underestimate anybody. Everybody’s training hard and doing their part.”

Handler said he’d been focusing on speedwork in his training following a rough experience at the Chicago Marathon in October. He ran a 1:06 half marathon in Riverside three weeks ago and was encouraged by the race director to run in Santa Barbara.

“I hadn’t done anything further than 14 miles,” he said. “In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘What’s going to happen? Am I going to be able to last the full 26.’ ”

He almost didn’t. His legs started cramping between miles 19 and 20 and he “felt like going over and falling apart” when he reached mile 24, the climb up Cliff Drive from Las Positas.

“It was a nightmare,” he said. “I was right on the edge of going over and just falling apart. But I knew I had enough of a lead to where I could just maintain it the rest of the way.”

Cherry, meanwhile, was struggling. He started cramping at around the 19-mile mark and almost started walking.

“I jogged and jogged. It felt really long, the last six miles of the race,” he said. “It kept going and going. The last six miles felt like I was running another marathon.”

Cliff Drive's upward climb proved extra-grueling near the end of the race

Cliff Drive’s upward climb proved extra-grueling near the end of the race

As Cherry fought exhaustion, Jones was making his move.

“I intentionally went out pretty slow because it’s a long race and I wanted to get to the halfway point and feel strong. And that’s what I did,” said Jones, who attended Indiana University with local running standout Aaron Gillen. “I felt really strong about half way and then I started picking off guys one by one. The more guys I picked off the better I felt.”

He  said he picked off Cherry during the last mile.

McLarty, 32, was having a blast picking off runners and she motored through the the last six miles in an almost perfect race for her.

“I was just running them down,” she said with big smile on her face. “Then I got to the top of the hill (Shoreline Drive) and I felt really good and just burned down that hill. It was awesome and great at the end.”

McLarty said a week of rest after hard training and being properly fueled were keys to her success.

“This was the smartest race I’ve run,” she said. “I tapered a lot then I just held back and that served me well.”

McLarty said the worst part of her preparation for the race was the carbo load earlier in the Week.

“I had to eat 900 grams of carbs and that’s more than I’ve ever eaten in my life in one day.”

“She ran a wonderful race,” said Snow, McLarty’s coach. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

That goes for the overall day, too.

There were five relay categories. The winners were: Corporate coed —Team 252 (Todd Tressler, Chrissy Lombardi, Geoff Gray, Carly Allen) 3:08.24.8. Corporate males—Diazmcgowan (Eric Diaz, Steve Mcgowan) 2:54.29.6. Open coed—Three Royals and a Don (Anthony Garibay, Marilyn Hantgin, Spencer Barr, Kaleena Bruckbauer) 3:02.36.8 Open females — Move Outta the Way (Rosa Melendez, Lucie Murray, Tanya Janet, Dina  Melendez) 3:08.31.1. Open men — Cate Runners (Jason Park, Michael Hassman, Austin Lokre, Bill Pomerans) 3:07.43.0