RW Race Report: LA Marathon

California - the land of warm sunshine, golden beaches and blue skies. Right? Not for the runners of this marathon.


Posted: 18 May 2011
by Kerry McCarthy

When: March 20, 2011

Where: California, US

First man Markos Geneti 2:06:35

First woman Buzunesh Deba 2:26:34

Last finisher 12:26:30

No. of finishers 19,760

Arnold Schwarzenegger, I want my money back. Swaying palm trees, golden beaches, blue seas and even bluer skies were what I signed up for. Like the Visit California adverts. If I'd wanted weather you wouldn't put a dog out in, I'd have stayed in Blighty, thank you very much.

But what I and 28,000 other runners experienced at this 26th LA Marathon was what the LA Times described as the wettest day in Los Angeles' history since records began.

Palm trees were not so much swaying as doubled over; the Pacific Ocean was dark grey and menacing; and the famous Californian sun had gone into hiding behind black skies, which hurled down seven inches of the kind of soul-battering rain that would cause even Paula Radcliffe to look out of the window and say, "No chance." Thirty per cent of the field took the same view and failed to finish.

Despite this, the race still had a lot to offer and, while it wasn't always easy to see five metres in front of your face, it was easy to see why LA had attracted nearly 30,000 runners from 21 countries to run its version of 26.2.

For a start, the idea of testing your body is a concept that is second nature to Californians. The climate unquestionably has something to do with it, but an outdoor exercise culture is deeply engrained on the US west coast. Within 24 hours of arriving at my base in Santa Monica I'd seen runners, cyclists, roller bladers, roller skaters, Segway riders, swimmers, surfers, skateboarders, beach volleyballers, power walkers, adults working out on park climbing frames and groups enjoying ad hoc sessions of yoga, Pilates and tai chi on the roadside.

It's understandable in a city where the looming presence of Hollywood brings a pressure to look good, but it was still refreshing not to be met with looks of polite puzzlement when you explained what you were in town for.

The race itself was one long tour of the best of LA's sights and sounds. Former RW editor Steven Seaton was fond of opining that, to many, running is simply sightseeing in a hurry. Nowhere is that theory more evident than at the LA Marathon. A new 'Stadium to the Sea' route was introduced in 2010, and runs west from the Dodger Stadium - home of baseball team the LA Dodgers - to Santa Monica pier on the Pacific coast. In between runners take in an array of famous landmarks, including City Hall, Little Tokyo, Walt Disney Concert Hall (iconic home of the LA Philharmonic), the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Capitol Records building, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theatre (home of the Oscars ceremony), Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive and Palisades Park overlooking Santa Monica bay.

Admittedly the visual impact was lessened by the monsoon conditions I was running through. By mile seven (the Hollywood sign) my GPS watch had given up the ghost; my rain-filled shoes felt twice their normal weight, my chattering teeth were fighting to be heard above my knocking knees, and my T-shirt, shorts and socks were rubbing in uncomfortable places. When Mother Nature hits the button marked Rain (Biblical), pre-race lube is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

However, it was still exciting to be running past such famous sights and, in a normal year on a sunny day, I imagine that feeling would be heightened a good deal.

A second big positive is the support. Around half the predicted 500,000 spectators showed up, but every single spectator certainly made their presence felt. There were official fuel stations every mile but these were outnumbered three to one by ad hoc tables set up and manned by 'Angelinos' who stood in wellies and raincoats, bellowing, waving umbrellas, bashing saucepans, and thrusting sweets, chocolate cake, peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, pretzels and nuts upon a sodden but deeply grateful field. Every exhortation was personal, with eye contact made. Running through the country club district of Brentwood at mile 23, I must have looked in need of help: one spectator stepped on to the road and ran 50 metres with me, an arm around my shoulder, and said, "Buddy you got this. You might feel pain but you actually look real smooth. You're the man." He gently cuffed the back of my head and disappeared into the crowd. I've never felt less like The Man in my life but his words were a shot of pure adrenaline.

There are still aspects of the organisation that need to be improved. For a race this of this size and age, there is no excuse for not having distance markers every mile, and there were no medical facilities before mile 20, which was a risky strategy. Baggage collection was a 15-minute walk beyond the finish line, which was almost unmanageable for many runners, especially in the conditions. The storm had led to the baggage staff abandoning their posts, leaving runners to locate their own bags, which had been left at the mercy of anybody walking past the open storage cabins.

The organisers say they are looking into these issues for next year, as well as working up contingency plans in the unlikely event of repeat weather. It would be churlish to dwell on the negatives of what was overall an impressive event that is undoubtedly a great thrill to run under normal conditions. Although next time I go I'll be packing my galoshes as well as my sun cream - just in case.

Run It: For details of the 2012 LA Marathon, presented by K-Swiss, please go to lamarathon.com. For official LA Marathon-branded apparel and shoes go to k-swiss.com.


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