“I love LA!” Yes indeed. Randy Newman’s “unofficial” city anthem got plenty of play this weekend at the start of the 2014 Asics Los Angeles Marathon. An annual tradition since 1986, this year’s race featured a “sold-out” field of 25,000 runners dashing along the popular “Stadium to the Sea” route. Other events included the “Big 5 LA 5K” on Saturday as well as the option to run the marathon as a 2-person relay (handing off at the midway point). This year’s race also featured two unexpected twists to give the race a little “added drama” (and boy does this city love drama). First off, this year’s race coincided with “Daylight’s Savings Time” (“Spring Forward” everyone) robbing us of an hour of much-needed pre-race sleep and guaranteeing that everyone set numerous alarm clocks to ensure they didn’t oversleep. In addition, “Mother Nature” decided to overdo things a little (okay, a lot) on the California sunshine, but more on that later.
Registration costs for the LA Marathon are pretty standard for a big city race, starting around $140 early in the season and getting more expensive as race day approaches. And since the race sold out again this year (about a week before race day), it’s wise to purchase your spot early, lest you be relegated to being a spectator. Packet pick-up for the race was at the marathon expo located at the LA Convention Center. The LA Marathon has one of the better expos out there and it’s worth stopping by to check out the vendor wares and freebies. But even if you’re not a fan of expos, you still needed to venture downtown as this year several new security policies were put into place (as a result of the last year’s Boston tragedy), the first being that you had to pick up your own bib and shirt. No sending your friends or family members in your place to grab your bib. One little tip, rather than shelling out $15 for expo parking or similar costs at one of the nearby lots, just drive 3-4 blocks away and you can find ample meter parking (more cash for race souvenirs).
Since the LA course is a point-to-point race, parking/transportation is a little complicated (and boy does this city like to make things complicated). Racers have the option of being dropped off or parking at Dodger Stadium (traffic can get a little crazy as the start time approaches; get there early). However, there is no shuttle back to Dodger Stadium after the race, so this option is not without a wrinkle. The other option (and better option in my opinion) is to park in Santa Monica and take one of the race shuttles/buses to the start line at Dodger Stadium. You can pay for a parking spot ahead of time (which is a good idea) and it will set you back $10 or $20 depending on where you go, but the shuttle is free for all runners and even with added security (they check your bags) it’s a pretty painless process. Although, be warned that the shuttles tend to run “early early” in the morning in order to guarantee you getting to the starting line with plenty of time to spare. I had a 4am shuttle that got me to Dodger Stadium at 4:30 and ample time to relax (and then get anxious for the race to start).
For swag fans, this year’s LA Marathon T-shirt featured a brightly colored orange “LA” logo placed over top a muted gray shirt. I’ve heard some mixed thoughts on the shirt, but I liked it and any shirt that isn’t white in color is typically a win for me. As for the medal, it featured the same LA logo (along with LA landmarks). The medal felt very “LA” and was a decent bit of bling, although it was a bit on the small side.
Back in 2010, the LA Marathon ditched its downtown course in favor of a point-to-point “Stadium to the Sea” path and it has transformed an average marathon into a destination race. It truly is a spectacular route that hits numerous LA Landmarks. Starting at Dodger Stadium, the course travels through Chinatown and parts of downtown before heading up into Hollywood and past the Chinese Theater. Then you head down Sunset Blvd and into West Hollywood before a jaunt along Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills and a turn toward the ocean. A quick run through the VA Hospital grounds (seemingly the toughest and least attractive part of the course) follows and then heads out onto San Vicente Blvd along residential streets before a final left at Ocean Blvd. The last mile of the course is run along the ocean and ends just a few blocks away from the Santa Monica Pier. It truly is a magnificent course that shows the heart of The City of Angels.
Like most big city races, the LA Marathon has plenty of support for its runners. Water stops were frequent and fairly well staffed with ample volunteers, although the water stops did seem to be in shorter supply in the last few miles (often where water is needed the most). Arrowhead provided the water and the energy drink of choice was Gatorade Endurance lemon/lime (thank you, thank you). In addition Cliff provided gels several times along the course and there were plenty of charity groups and awesome spectators who took it upon themselves to offer up drinks, oranges, bananas, pretzels and the like. The fan turnout was fantastic and thanks to the many cheerleaders and support groups who lined the entire course to cheer on the runners. Medical tents were located all along the course and there were certainly plenty of support personnel, which brings me back to my earlier point about Mother Nature being a little too generous with the sunshine. Yesterday’s race featured record-breaking temps that hit well into the upper 80s before the race was done. Almost 1,000 of the racers sought medical support at some point and almost two dozen runners were transported to local hospitals for heat exhaustion. I saw several downed runners during the race and there were always multiple support personnel tending to them, making sure they were okay. Kudos to all of the wonderful medical personnel and volunteers who braved the heat to ensure the safety of the runners.
FINISH LINE SERVICES/POST PARTY
The finish line for the LA Marathon was what you’d expect for a large race. After you received your medal, you were given a Mylar blanket (aluminum side out to reflect the heat as opposed to keeping it in) and access to various snacks and water. An incredible post race treat was the small hand towels soaked in cold water and available to each runner. After surviving a 26.2 mile run in a virtual sauna, being handed an ice-cold towel is an absolute slice of heaven. One little picky note is that racers could really benefit from bags to hold their post-race snacks. I know for a fact that my dexterity was totally off and holding three different bags of snacks and a bottle of water was a virtual impossibility (I used my hat as a makeshift sack). I will say the final walk to exit the “secure area” was really long (or maybe I was just really tired). There were plenty of other amenities available such as “cooling buses” for overheated runners and a beer tent for thirsty runners. And if you didn’t feel like hanging around the course once you have your medal in hand, the 3rd Street Promenade and beach were just a stone’s throw away (but please don’t throw stones, you might hit a runner or spectator).
Put simply, when I think of what a high-profile marathon should be, Los Angeles now comes to mind. With its wonderfully scenic “LA” course, fantastic fan support and other amenities, the LA Marathon deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as many of the other established A-list races. This is another race I’m more than a bit biased toward (it was my very first marathon), but it has been a near annual tradition for me since I first ran it back in 2009 and will remain on my “to run” list for every year to come. I too, love LA.