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Carlsbad 5000 Alters Its Elite Course

The change is designed to make the course more fan-friendly and athlete-friendly.

Augusta National altered its fabled Masters golf course, lengthening and tightening holes to challenge today’s long-bombing golfer. But Amen Corner still lives, along with the ghost of Bobby Jones.

Yankee Stadium was torn down, a new Yankee Stadium erected next door. But the center field plaques moved, too, so the memories of Ruth, Gehrig and Mantle linger.

Change is inevitable and come March 29th, one of road racing’s iconic events, the Carlsbad 5000, will alter its course. The change is only for the elite men and women, plus the wheelchair races. But this is not a cosmetic nip and tuck. We’re talking significant alteration.

The old course started on Grand Avenue, headed west, turned left on Carlsbad Boulevard, made one long loop, then finished with a mad dash down Carlsbad Boulevard.

The new course starts and ends at the long-time finish line on Carlsbad Village Drive. But instead of one loop down Carlsbad Boulevard, the runners will make two loops along the shortened straightaway, before heading back home.

Tracy Sundlun, executive race director, was the creative force behind the new course.

“I asked myself, ‘What is the Carlsbad 5000 about?’ says Sundlun. “It was created as a fan-friendly, athlete-friendly event. Now, going into our 30th year, is there a way to improve on that concept?”

The result: a new course.

With the elite races starting and finishing at the same site, spectators won’t have to hustle from the old Grand Avenue start to the finish line.

“Imagine this,” says Sundlun. “You’ll introduce the athletes. They’ll come onto the course at about the three-mile mark. They’ll jog down to the start and it’ll be like a gosh darn bullring. They’ll be high-fiving fans. Thousands of people will be there. It’ll be electric.”

With the athletes taking two loops along the shortened, compacted Carlsbad Boulevard straight, fans will be able to see the runners passing more often.

“It’s much more fan friendly,” says Sundlun.

By lopping off distance at both the south and north ends of Carlsbad Boulevard, slight hills were eliminated, which Sundlun thinks will make the course faster. And while there might be 5K courses that should be faster, no layout has produced faster times than the Carlsbad 5000.

Both the men’s and women’s world records (Sammy Kipketer 13:00; Meseret Defar 14:46), plus the U.S. records (Marc Davis 13:24; Deena Kastor 14:54) were set at Carlsbad. But here’s a much better indicator of Carlsbad’s speed.

Of the 50 fastest 5K times ever run on the road by men, 45 were run at Carlsbad. Of the 30 fastest 5K times ever run on the road by women, 17 were delivered at Carlsbad.

RELATED: Photos: 2014 Carlsbad 5000

With the old course’s two hairpin turns (the new turns will be wider), plus a mid-day start when the wind off the Pacific Ocean kicks in, technically, the Carlsbad 5000 course shouldn’t have rendered fast times.

Professional athletes were shown the new course via Google Maps.

“They were excited,” says Sundlun.

He talked to Tim Murphy, the creator of the Carlsbad 5000, and Steve Scott, who helped design the original course.

“Such changes are not made lightly,” says Sundlun. “Clearly, this was vetted.

“I don’t think of it as a bold move,” he adds. “I think of it as what’s best for the event, what’s best for the athletes, and it was sort of staring us in the face.”

But the idea was his.

“One day you can either string me up, hang me in effigy,” he jokes. “Or maybe I’ll take a bow.”

So sport’s progressive landscape turns to road racing come March 29. The Carlsbad 5000 elite course will no longer extend south to Tamarack. Or north to the Army-Navy Academy. But close your eyes, listen and you’ll still hear the pitter-patter of light-footed runners, dancing in the streets of Carlsbad.