LA: Outside The Lines

A pair of years-old sweat pants and paint-splattered Minnesota Wild sweater did little to take the chill out of the early morning air, a bit surprising considering the heat warnings issued by race officials.

The weather forecast called for highs soaring into the 80s, but I stood in the corral outside Dodger Stadium looking as though I slept on a bench the night before. Making small talk with other runners standing beside me helped block out thoughts of what the next several hours would bring.

Starting Line

One guy and I discussed runners attempting to climb over the barriers holding them in the corral behind us, as though moving closer to the starting line would make 26.2 miles shorter. Friendly enough, he appeared to doubt my own place there until I peeled off the extra layers.

Nearby, a woman told me that she didn’t like to run with music. Realizing she hadn’t put in enough miles to race well, her plan shifted to listening to her favorite tunes and taking pictures along the way.  But today, she forgot her phone at home, and she considered running 16 miles before dropping out.

Upbeat and positive, she seemed satisfied the Los Angeles Marathon at least offered a downhill course.

At this point, it didn’t make sense to share the truth: despite a net drop in elevation, the course looked to have plenty of hills — including a few steep climbs — to go with the declines.

LA Elevation

In many ways, the course profile reflects the LA Marathon in a snapshot, and the ups and downs of my trip.

There were plenty of both, so it’s worth writing several posts to provide details.

Many races are exceptional: New York City, Chicago, St. George, Grandma’s, Twin Cities and Surf City (Huntington Beach) are top-notch experiences. On the whole, Fargo also puts on a good race.

In my book, Los Angeles won’t be joining the above list. There are many highlights, which will come in the days to come. But first the ugly truth.

This is a city that hosted the 1984 Olympic Games. At the marathon start, the announcer introduced the mayor of the “greatest city in the world.” And this city wants to host the 2024 Olympics.

FoloSun

If this past marathon weekend is any indication, Los Angeles has a lot to prove and improve.

Overall, the LA Marathon — one of the 10 largest in the world — could have done so many things better. Among those include communicating key information to runners before and during the expo, creating more awareness about this year’s Olympic Trials Marathon in conjunction with the traditional event (many runners didn’t know about the Trials), providing a well-organized post-race atmosphere and giving all of the elite athletes a reception worthy of their accomplishment (a point not lost on spectators on the course).

A well-executed marathon weekend should be intuitive for even first-timers feel, putting them at ease. It should be a breeze for veterans to navigate.

When picking up my bid, a volunteer handed it to me and pointed to the other side of the hall to pick up my packet (I had to ask about the shirt). No one mentioned the wristband requirement for the post-race beer garden. Packets provided no information or zip ties for the gear bag tags.

Inside the expo, runners wanting last item essentials bounced from booth to booth to find them, unless they were buying souvenirs or clothing from the mega brands. Many struggled to find the exit to leave the expo.

It didn’t end there.

Portable restrooms at the race start were ill-placed. Rows and rows of bathrooms near the bus dropoff seemed convenient, except they also were near the starting corrals where runners pushed through barriers to gain access. The other bathrooms — the ones with the long lines — were placed near the gear bag drop, but far away from the corrals.

Course markings for a major marathon weren’t as obvious as one would expect as some markers, especially in the early and middle miles, were hard to spot. On the upside, aid station volunteers proved exceptional at handing Gatorade and water to runners grabbing fluids on the go.

At the end, runners looking to pick up their drop bags encountered a fiasco. In a tweet later that day, the marathon announced 8 gear trucks didn’t arrive at the finish line.

MarathonTweet

Runners arriving at my truck grew impatient as many bags couldn’t be found. The volunteers inside were too short to see the top row of bags, and I eventually jumped up to help. I handed bags to another runner, who began grouping them by number outside. Volunteers became flustered as those outside the truck, all who had just run a marathon, grew increasingly insistent but vocal — they were exhausted and simply wanted the bags holding their gear. Despite helpful suggestions from the runners, the frustrated and mostly young volunteers said they must follow instructions from the director, who was nowhere to be found. No one went to look for him or her.

After 45 minutes, I finally had enough. As I walked away, one man said he had found his bag outside a nearby truck (it didn’t correlate with his name, either). A few moments later I found my bag there, and returned to help two others find their bags.

Despite stressful circumstances, these volunteers were surprisingly calm and gracious.

Typically, I book a hotel near the finish of destination marathons, and this time proved no different. A short walk later, I cleaned up and went to the beer garden, where I hoped to celebrate and ask others about their races. The race program noted wristbands were required to enter, but runners presenting an ID could enter. So I hung the medal around my neck, walked over in my street clothes, and security denied me entrance — claiming I needed a bib.

Downtown Santa Monica was teeming with people, especially along its Third Street Promenade. There I entered the festive Cabo Cantina, where the friendly staff brought me fajitas and a margarita. Celebratory runners laughed and shared stories as a quiet moment of reflection washed over me …

Medal back    Medal Front

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