As hundreds of midpack marathoners rounded the corner of 1st and Spring in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday morning, signs of strain were just beginning to show.
With four miles behind them and the steep hill up to the Disney Concert Hall around the corner, starting-line smiles were dissolving into masks of determination.
But not for first-time marathoner Jesse Zigelstein, 40, of Los Angeles, who cruised by, grinning. “He looks pretty friggin’ happy,” said his wife, Jill Bernheimer. She wondered how long that would last: “He’s in this trying to finish, not to break any records.”
Zigelstein is a recreational runner, Bernheimer said, covering three to five miles on most jogs. Asked why he decided to run a marathon, she said, “Midlife crisis. Wait, no, I shouldn’t say that!”
After speaking with many runners' friends and family at the early stage of the 29th marathon, it was clear there was no reason to be ashamed of a midlife crisis. A significant number of participants were people who had reached a certain age, taken stock and decided they wanted to check off a few noteworthy accomplishments, including finishing a 26.2-mile race.
“It’s on her bucket list,” said Jeff Keeney, talking about his wife, Kristin, 38, who was also running her first marathon. “She went skydiving too,” he said.
Jeff’s role was to stand on a bus bench holding the neon-orange “Go Mommy” sign their kids had made, and cheer his heart out. “I’m not really a runner,” he said, “Maybe I could bike it.”
At the corner of Temple Street and Grand Avenue, a small group of fans cheered on the final runners walking behind the pack.
"This is when you start praying for me," a participant shouted as she walked by.
A cheer went up every few seconds as participants rounded the corner, many waving and thanking their supporters.
Alise Spinella, 42, stood in the middle of the street clapping above her head for each person while a group of girls nearby shouted. Spinella said she came out to support her friend, Yi Sheng, and stayed to cheer on the last few runners making their way out of downtown.
She said she came out last year and was so inspired, she started running alongside Sheng for about two blocks.
"She was like, 'what are you doing?' And I was like, 'I dont know!'" she said, pumping her arms and smiling.
This year, she ditched the jeans and flats and came decked out in running gear, making it about two miles before she stopped to watch.
"It's so inspiring, all walks of life," she said. "It brings me closer to L.A."
She decided last year she'd come back, even if Sheng didn't, after the diversity and spirit she saw in the race moved her to tears.
"It makes me feel like I could do it," she said.