Santa to the Sea participants contribute toys, school funds

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In its third year, the Santa to the Sea half-marathon, relay and 5K race has exploded, with almost 1,600 racers participating Sunday, up from last year’s 650-plus.

“Everything is going great,” said Mike Barber, who organizes the event as a way to gather toys for children in Nyeland Acres, where in 2003 he moved the giant Santa sculpture that used to sit atop a strip mall in Carpinteria.

First-place winner Aaron Sharp of Oxnard blew through the 13.1-mile half-marathon course in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 3 seconds. Sharp said he ran the Chicago Marathon just two months ago, where he placed 23rd.

“It’s a nice flat course. I came out here and ran my race,” Sharp said.

The course led from the Santa in Nyeland Acres by Highway 101 through nearby strawberry fields, downtown Oxnard, Plaza Park and the Historic District, down Wooley Road and finally to the Marine Emporium at Channel Islands Harbor.

Second-place winner Jim Lubinski of Santa Monica said the sun was beating down on the runners as the race progressed.

“It was heating up pretty fast around mile 5 and there’s no shade along that part,” triathlete Lubinski said. “The faster you get it over, the cooler you are. This is a great race and great community involvement.”

Chrissa Trudelle, a student at Westmont College who was the first-place female runner, said the sun wasn’t a problem.

“We train in heat, so that didn’t bother me,” Trudelle said, adding that she felt she ran better in the first half of the race. “I was relaxed and it was easy. In the second half I couldn’t find my pace.”

She said she was pleased with her time of 1 hour, 25 minutes and 10 seconds.

At Plaza Park in downtown Oxnard, a small army of volunteers got water, sports drinks and snacks ready for the runners.

Stacy Olsen of Ventura, who was volunteering with other members of Habitat for Humanity, said she was there to help out Barber, a member of the Habitat board.

“Mike is very persuasive,” Olsen said.

Students from Oxnard High School’s Red Cross Club were handing out drinks and cheering the runners.

The Oxnard High School marching band provided music for the second year, said Fundi Legohn, band director.

“We perform all over the city during the holidays because we’re the local band with the name,” Legohn said. “Besides competing, we like to perform for the community.”

Gary Cran of Oxnard was playing Santa for the first time at the Santa to the Sea event.

“I couldn’t believe how many people were there at the start line,” Cran said. “When I blew the thing for the start of the races, we couldn’t get out of there because of the runners.”

Barber said the next step is sorting and distributing all of the toys he collected, which number at least 1,600 because all runners had to bring a toy of at least $10 value as part of their entry fee. The rest of the entry fee goes in part to scholarships to Oxnard College.

“We’re going to be able to fund from 20 to 25 scholarships,” Barber said.

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