Running in L.A.
“Walking in L.A. Nobody walks in L.A.,” Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons repeatedly belts out in their hit 1980s anthem. Yes, America’s second largest city is a sprawling megalopolis that favors cars over pedestrians. But if you’re wondering if people do in fact walk in L.A, just check out Griffith Park on any given day. And when it comes to running however, holy moly do people run in L.A.! On March 19th at 6:30 am I stood among 22,000 folks at Dodger Stadium ready to run the 38th annual Los Angeles Marathon! And run we did—26.2 pulsating miles through some of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods and down some of the most famous roads in America.
If you‘ve ever wanted to get a good feel for a city. Feel its pulse. Tap into its energy. Run it! I’ve run very few big city marathons, favoring smaller events in more rural and natural environments. I ran the Boston Marathon many years ago and the Calgary Stampede Marathon in the past—pretty much my resume when it comes to big city marathons. But in both of those events I had the amazing experience of getting to know and appreciate those cities—and to collectively tap into their pulse with thousands of fellow enthusiastic runners. Boston especially. There’s nothing like it. The entire course is lined from start to finish with screaming, enthusiastic supporters.
The Los Angeles Marathon however gives Boston, well, a run for your money! From the moment I attended the huge pre-race expo I quickly realized how grand this event was not only to the running community, but to L.A. itself. It’s a huge charity fundraiser bringing the city together. The city prides itself on this run which traces its origin to the 1984 Summer Olympics. It was in those games that Joan Benoit took home the gold for America in the Woman’s Marathon. The first L.A. Marathon was established two years later and its course has since been tweaked to its current manifestation starting at Dodger Stadium and ending at Century City. Today the L.A. Marathon ranks among the 10 largest marathons in the country drawing more than 20,000 participants.
At 7:00 am under overcast skies with a little humidity (more like the Northwest or Northeast than Southern California); and just after the newly elected mayor, Karen Bass gave her words of encouragement, we were off from Dodger stadium. I had joined my friend, fellow Washingtonian, ultra-runner and marathoner Grady Olson at the race. It was him who got me interested in this race after he told me about it during one of our ultra-trail runs last summer. And it was through the support of his L.A. based family members that I was able to have such a hassle free race day.
We started fast and downhill. I have been nursing a small calf injury and I held back not wanting to agitate it. Grady and I were in the third seeded corral putting us over the start line in just a minute. Being away from the masses behind us allowed us to run our paces and at no time were we crowded and dodging fellow runners. Yes, 22,000 is a large number. But the entire course was on wide 5 and 6 lane closed to traffic roads giving you plenty of room to breathe.
Many runners like to plug in when they’re running. I opted instead to put a playlist together in my head. For the first several miles “L.A. Women” by the Doors (one of my absolute favorite bands) was my earworm. And the course even passes by the Whisky a Go Go which helped the launched the Doors into stardom. We headed into Chinatown where we got our first big energy boost thanks to a riveting drum ensemble and dragon dancers. It felt surreal.
We next looped around and ran through downtown passing the historic 32-story art-deco city hall and towers of steel and glass. Being Sunday morning, aside from the runners and spectators the downtown streets were deserted—except for the homeless. This city of incredible wealth and opportunity contains the country’s largest population of unhoused people. We passed several proselytizers among them belting out on PA systems from overheads and sidewalks to repent or go to hell. Running a marathon can feel like hell at times. But for many of us it is spiritual event perhaps bringing us closer to our creators and redeeming us.
After a good hill (the course is not flat with a cumulative elevation gain of more than 900 feet) we set into the groove on one of the most famous streets in America, Sunset Boulevard. We passed through Hollywood. Breaking my concentration I occasionally glanced up at the sign above in the hills and down at the celebrity stars along the sidewalks. We passed famous landmarks too like Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. No red carpet out front mind you; just a road of sweat, tossed cups, and discarded energy gel wrappers.
West Hollywood was next up. Its large LGBTQ community definitely added flair to the cheering sessions. By this point my leg was agitating me so I needed to stay focused on finishing and diverted from my discomfort. Confetti fell gently upon me as I ran through a tunnel of cheering and screaming spectators. And some spectators were blasting “Walking in L.A.” giving me a boost! We next entered opulent Beverly Hills and ran down Rodeo Drive to the opulent Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel, offering a sobering juxtaposition to the scenes of downtown LA.
As we exited Santa Monica Boulevard for the final out and back stretch in the Brentwood section of L.A., the crowds, noises and smells around me intensified. There was so much positive energy around and so much crowd support. And so much diversity in both the running field and the spectators. People from so many ethnic backgrounds and so many places. And for this moment we were all unified—all one sharing a common interest, love, and goal. If only the world could come together like this.
I pushed through my discomfort; focused on more drums banging, a riveting rock group, the scents of hot tamales being cooked along the streets. A runner came upon me and in Spanish asked me about my “papas” shirt. I was wearing my Team Potato shirt which always gets some recognition in my runs. And I was thinking about scarfing a bunch of potatoes after the race in the form of In-N-Out’s (when in California) French fries. The potassium and carbs will be a welcome after all of the calories (more than 3200) I burned on this run. But in the meanwhile, folks were handing out oranges, water, energy drinks and gels—one group was even handing out small cups of beer! Folks were running out on the course offering to spray Biofreeze on aching legs. I took advantage of that and saved my beer sipping for the finish line.
I counted the miles down in my head and by the time I hit 25 a familiar rejuvenating mantra swept me: “Oh my God I only have 1.2 miles left to go! Push through it. Get er done! Cross that line!” And cross it I did where total strangers hugged, high-fived and congratulated each other. We were all winners no matter our finishing time—a group of dedicated folks who accomplished running a marathon. By this time my mental playlist was on Sheryl Crow’s “All I wanna do.” It captured my feelings perfectly for the day. “This is LA… All I wanna do is have some fun until the sun comes up over Santa Monica Boulevard and I have a feeling I am not the only one!” Yep. I had 22,000 runners celebrating with me!
Big Thanks to the Washington State Potato Commission for sponsoring me. I am proud to be a member of Team Potato and to showcase the nutritional value and performance enhancement of potatoes as I attempt to run a marathon in all 50 states. I started my journey last year with marathons in Washington (my home) and New Hampshire (my home state). California makes state number 4. I’ve got a long journey and many miles to go—and lots of potatoes to consume along the way.