Sounding the Pavement


By Amanda Daniels
It was sweltering during last year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon when, on the far side of Fiesta Island, guitarist Chris Warner’s fingers started to bleed.

He asked medics for superglue to close his wounds, but they didn’t have any, so he kept playing through the pain as runners slogged by on the final leg of the 26.2-mile race.

“It was truly a musical marathon,” says Warner, who’d rehearsed enough songs to perform for more than three consecutive
hours at Mile 25 with rock-reggae band, Jet West. The group will be on the run again Sunday, June 5, for the 14th annual San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. The gig is a departure for Jet West (and the 41 other local bands performing that day), who typically bang out sets during the witching hours. On race day, call times are closer to when bands are usually heading home from a big night out.

“When you’re at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, it’s five in the morning, and you’re like, ‘Uh, give me some coffee,’” says Marc Gould of the popsoul band Bedford Grove, which has played the event numerous times.

But the early hours and quirky offerings-such as runners dressed as Elvis, or a pipe organist cranking out Baroque-sounding rock tunes in Balboa Park-are what make the course fun, say musicians. Their banners might blow away; or runners with cash in their shorts might stop a band to buy a CD, take a photo or get an autograph. It’s all part of the show.

The event’s organizers encourage musicians to get down and groove with runners. Jet West drummer Derek Potter says last year he was often the only guy onstage while his wireless band mates surprised racers by jogging with them along the path, or jamming from atop a nearby sand dune.

“We were high-fivin’ people and smiling the whole time,” says guitarist Warner. “It was definitely encouraging us to keep going, knowing the runners were almost at their last mile.”

The first race was held in 1998 as it is today-with cheerleaders, live bands at various mile markers and costumed racers leading the pack. This year will attract the largest crowd ever, with 32,000 race bibs sold, event organizers say.

The musicians take their job to inspire runners seriously, and vocalists adlib words of encouragement from the stage. Sol
Turpin, singer and bassist with the beach rock-reggae band, Safety Orange, performed at Mile 24 last year. He says the group punctuated their songs with riffs from the Rocky pump-up anthem, Eye of the Tiger.

“Once they’re over halfway through, your average Joe is just spent and looking for the next marker,” Turpin says. That familiar ‘duuuuh-duh, duh, duh’ makes people light up,” he says.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon’s 26.2-mile “block party” format has proven popular enough for 22 other cities to sign on. Next year, the concept goes global with the addition of a similar race in Madrid, Spain.

Basic registration for the marathon and an associated half-marathon are sold out, though registration for both is still available by purchasing an Endless Summer Package, which includes a SeaWorld Summer Pass.