CALIFORNIA

L.A. Marathon runners mix perspiration with passion on Valentine's Day

As the Los Angeles Marathon coursed through the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, Shawna Horvath stood by the road with a bottle of water for her husband. When she finally spotted him in the throng of runners, he didn't want a drink. He wanted her hand.

"Follow me," Michael Horvath said, leading her to a raised platform where a minister stood under an arch of red, pink and white balloons. There, at Mile 10 of the marathon, the couple from Toledo, Ohio, renewed their wedding vows. Shawna was shocked, Michael sweaty and the ceremony brief. He was, after all, trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

"This is the best Valentine's Day ever," Shawna Horvath said as her husband loped off to rejoin the race.

The city was a heady mix of perspiration and passion Sunday as the marathon, for the first time, fell on the calendar day dedicated to candy, flowers and declarations of love. Some runners managed to pull off the race and an over-the-top romantic gesture. At the makeshift chapel near Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, part of a promotion for the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2," 34 married couples, including the Horvaths, repeated "I dos" and two couples wed.

Marisol Lopez and Brian Salguero, high school sweethearts from Canoga Park, married in sneakers and racing bibs in front of their toddler son and relatives.

"We were already running it, it's his birthday, it's Valentine's Day, so we figured, 'Why not,'" said Lopez, who was wearing a veil and pink tutu over her running shorts.

Their first act as newlyweds, he said, would be to run side by side to the finish line in Santa Monica.

More than 20,800 people hailing from every state and 62 countries participated in the race. Kenyan Weldon Kirui won the men's competition with a time of 2 hours and 13 minutes. Nataliya Lehonkova of Ukraine won the women's race with a time of 2 hours and 30 minutes.

Race organizers had worried about unseasonably hot weather, warning racers this was not the year to push for personal bests. But temperatures were cooler than expected. When the race began about 7 a.m. at Dodger Stadium, it was 58 degrees. At the finish line near the Santa Monica pier, a thick layer of fog blanketed the coast and the temperature remained in the 60s into the early afternoon.

Ten people were taken to the hospital during the race, a stark decline from last year when the race was run in 87-degree heat in March and 36 were hospitalized.

Just past the finish line on Ocean Avenue, tables piled high with bananas greeted the runners, vivid yellow against pearly morning mist. Matt Banfield, a 37-year-old aerospace engineer from Torrance, clutched both sides of a garbage can as he retched repeatedly for several minutes.

"I'm not all that smart," he said. He had started the race too fast and as a result had hit a wall around Mile 18, he said. Within a few minutes, he was eating a banana and savoring his finish.

"It's kind of beginning to set in now, the relief," he said, adding, "I'm doing Tokyo in two weeks."

Along the route, racers were urged on by an only-in-L.A. crowd: Drag queens in cheerleader uniforms. Tiny coiffed dogs in cheerleader uniforms. Confused surfers. And a man dressed as Christ. In sunglasses. Many handmade signs referred to another exhausting contest: the presidential election.

"If Jeb can run, so can you," one declared. Another read, "Run like the finish line's the border and Trump just won!"

Love, however, ruled. Racing bibs and finisher medals were Valentine's-themed, and some runners crossing the finish line were greeted with chocolates and roses. Shortly after completing the race, Miyuki Matsumura, 48, recalled how heartbreak had led her to train for the marathon.

"I lost my fiancé three years ago," she said. "At that time I was crying, right? I didn't want to cry and sit back, so I started to run."

Matsumura said she had run the L.A. Marathon last year but developed a leg cramp that slowed her finish time to almost 5 hours. This year, the Angeleno said, she finished in about 3 hours and 45 minutes, an outcome she attributed to a pre-race meal of natto, a traditional Japanese dish of fermented soybeans.

"I have energy," she said. "Three years ago I didn't have energy." She said she also has a new "sweetheart," and, after her finish time Sunday, a new athletic goal — to compete in a triathlon.

At Hollywood and Vine, Steve Engel, a 52-year-old runner from Chatham, N.Y., interrupted his 29th consecutive L.A. Marathons to renew his vows with his wife of 20 years, Karen. With their 16-year-old daughter, Amara, looking on, the couple repeated the words of a minister. Steve dabbed at his eyes during the ceremony. Asked later whether he was wiping away tears or sweat, he replied, "Both."

Sixteen difficult miles lay ahead of him, and it was time "to go into survival mode," he said.

The ministers, from a company called LA Wedding Woman, said their company had provided officiants for odder venues — a Starbucks, a hot air balloon and the hotel of a couple who had known each other only 42 hours. Still, the marathon route stood out.

"You feel the energy from the crowd. Everyone is so excited," minister Emily Button said. "It's so beautiful to see people who either love running or are supporting each other's running … and have a hobby they love to do together."

Although many runners dread the last stretch of a marathon, Erika Aklufi said she loved it. The final miles took her through Santa Monica, the city where she works as a police sergeant, and the route was lined with colleagues encouraging her.

"The last three miles are hands-down the best," said Aklufi, 39, a veteran of two previous L.A. Marathons.

As many other finishers drifted off for massages, whirlpools and parties, Aklufi was headed to work a 2 p.m. patrol shift.

"I've never worked the same day," she said, "so we'll see how it goes."

cindy.chang@latimes.com

peter.jamison@latimes.com

Times staff writer Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.

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