San Diego’s most patriotic race celebrates 50th running on Tuesday, July 4th
More than 2,500 runners to participate in annual Red, White and Blue running tradition
12k and 5k event starts at 7:00am at Coronado's Tidelands Park; walk up registration opens @ 5:30am
Coronado, CA – July 2, 2023 – The year was 1974. The average cost of a new house in the United States was $34,900. A gallon of gas: 42 cents. Richard Nixon became the first president to resign after the Watergate scandal.
Historical 1977 Race Photo
And in San Diego, a group of dedicated distance runners started a little race that has morphed into a piece of Coronado history. It’s a red, white and blue celebration for those who like to kick off the Fourth of July with a run before heading to the beach or backdoor patio for a barbecue.
The Crown City Classic, a 12K and 5K that starts at 7 a.m. at Tidelands Park, will be held on July 4th, marking the 50th consecutive year that Coronado has hosted a race on Independence Day.
“If you’re in San Diego and want to see something that’s going to bring out the best of America and celebrates our independence, this is it,” said Paul Greer, a former sub-4-minute miler now in his 38th year as coach of the San Diego Track Club. “It’s a testament to the legacy of the event and has served the community well.”
As to how it all began, runners can thank one of Coronado’s own, the original race director, George Green. Green, now 80 years old and still the cross country and distance-running track coach at Coronado High, was a member of the San Diego Track Club back in 1973.
Green and some of his running buddies used to train regularly on Coronado. Recalled Green, “One of us said, ‘Why not start a 4th of July run in Coronado?’ Another one of us said, ‘That’s a good idea.’”
From such a humble beginning, the seed was planted for an event that has blossomed into a Coronado treasure.
Times were simpler back in the mid-70s. The first running boom hadn’t quite kicked in. Green and others who organized the first Coronado Half Marathon didn’t worry about insurance, city permits or police support.
Instead, they put a notice in the San Diego Track Club newsletter, distributed entry forms at track club races and showed up at the starting line on July 4th.
Entries that first year according to Green: a little less than 200. Word of mouth advertising and the running boom liftoff helped the race soar in numbers; 1976 entries: around 600; 1977: nearly 1,500.
By 1981, the entries for the half marathon and a three-mile fun run grew to nearly 5,000.
“The exponential growth of the race surprised me, it sure did,” said Green.
With growth, of course, comes challenges. The increased traffic on Coronado created problems. According to Green, the Independence Day Parade, which Tuesday celebrates its 74th rendition, and the local police were not enamored with the race.
Wrote Green in chronicling the race’s history, “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.”
To help with traffic, the course was changed. In what’s difficult to fathom today, to accommodate the increased numbers there were TWO starting lines in 1978, one at Fifth and G, the other at Sixth and F. Walkie Talkies were used for the simultaneous starts with the runners merging onto Glorietta Boulevard.
Other historical highlights: the race used to include a stretch on Naval Air Station North Island but security issues stopped that.
In 1991, the race nearly met its demise. There was tension with city officials and the old Chart House restaurant dropped its sponsorship. Two local running groups were determined to keep the race alive and spread the word among friends to be ready to race on the Fourth.
One problem: word leaked to the local police, who expected 2,000 runners. According to the Crown City Classic’s history on its Web site, police showed up “with a massive show of force to break up the illegal assembly.”
As it turned out, only about 25 runners showed up.
Wrote the race history, produced by Green and another Coronado resident, Dan Orr, “The Coronado Police had the race outnumbered. With permission, everyone laughed, waved goodbye and kept the streak alive with a 7.4-mile training run.”
Down the road, there would be some serendipity to that 7.4-mile distance. From 1992 to 2014, the race was renamed the Independence Day 15K/5K.
Come 2015, former Navy SEAL and Coronado resident Jamie Monroe took over as race director. Monroe’s company is named Easy Day Sports, an homage to the SEAL motto, “The only easy day was yesterday.”
Monroe grew up in southeast Washington, where the Bloomsday 12K is popular with nearly 35,000 finishers in 2019. Twelve kilometers is also the distance for the iconic Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.
“I always wanted (the race) to be a brand people would remember,” said Monroe. “I didn’t want to normalize it and just have it be a 10K.”
So he chose the 12K distance. Twelve kilometers equals 7.4 miles; 7.4 miles on 7/4, the Fourth of July.
While runners come from far and wide to run the Crown City Classic, its roots are local. The bulk of the volunteers are Coronado High School students. The race donates $20,000 annually to the Islander Sports Foundation, which helps pay for uniforms and coaches in Coronado.
Monroe competed in the old 15K in 1995 when he was going through SEAL training and won the 5K a few years later.
“There’s a lot of nostalgia (for me),” said Monroe. “As a small business owner in Coronado who puts on races nationally, it gives our company a connection to the local community.”
Monroe was playing a round of golf at Coronado Municipal recently when a fellow golfer spotted him and said, “There’s Mr. Fourth of July himself.”
About 2,500 entrants are expected for Tuesday’s 50th rendition of the race. The Crown City Classic 12K and 5K both begin at 7 a.m. The Kids Half Mile starts at 8:30.
Packet pickup for the races is available on Saturday, July 1st and Monday July 3rd. On July 1st, the pickup is at Road Runner Sports San Diego, 5553 Copley Drive. The Monday pickup is at Coronado Tidelands Parks, 2000 Mullinex Drive. Race day registration is available starting at 5:30am.
In the meantime, dress up in your favorite red, white and blue running gear and get ready to celebrate 50 Years of Coronado’s coolest and oldest traditions. For more information, visit CrownCityRun.com.