Minutes before each Los Angeles Marathon, members of a select club gather for a group photo. They are the legacy runners — those who have reached the start and finish line of every race since the inaugural in 1986 — and their number is eroded each year by the effects of age, health and other issues.
Richard Ringwald, 72, had signed up as one of 157 charter contestants Sunday. Not even open-heart surgery could snap his streak last year. He thinks his recovery was accelerated by chasing the ambition of a 30th straight race, and he covered the course four months after the operation.
This one, he missed. Ringwald's wife recently was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She returned home Thursday from the hospital, and Ringwald stayed at her side as she gears up for surgery.
"I made the right decision," he said. The retired technical writer resisted a peek at the television coverage, though he did monitor the progress of a running pal on his cellphone.
Arlene Fichman made it for the portrait — "it's like reunion time," she said — and another race that was completed in 4 hours 45 minutes 26 seconds. That's a far cry from the 3:06 clocking in her baptismal event, but the thrill isn't gone.
"I'll be on a high for about two days," said Fichman, 62, a registered nurse whose more modest aim nowadays is maintaining the streak.
The shared experience has created unbreakable bonds. The legacies assemble for an annual training run, a pot luck meal and, next weekend, a celebratory, story-swapping lunch.
"We have this legacy going, and it's hard to give it up," said Lou Briones, who oversees the bunch.
He is a perfect example. Two years ago, after knee surgery, the 68-year-old retired electrical engineer tackled the course on crutches, needing more than 13 hours to traverse the 26.2 miles. On Sunday, wearing high-tech braces on both ailing knees, he walked the route entirely for the first time at a brisk pace of under 15 minutes a mile.
"On a scale of one to 10, the pain level is about a five," he said afterward.
Laura Castaneda similarly was motivated through the agony of a sore knee. She and Juan, who also competed, represent one of four married couples among the legacies.
"I didn't know how my knee was going to respond," said Laura, 65, a retired medical assistant, who wound up alternately walking and jogging. The injury had limited her training runs to a maximum of 10 miles.
Late in the race, she told her husband, a 69-year-old retired truck driver, "You go on ahead." Juan waited for her at the finish, and the goal of polishing off a 35th consecutive marathon in 2020 to coincide with their 50th wedding anniversary remains alive.
While Ringwald reluctantly turned in his legacy card, the possibility of launching another streak looms.
Asked whether his wife's recovery and a clean bill of health for himself would lead to another race, Ringwald said, "Absolutely."