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Opinion: This is an L.A. Marathon?

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After signing up for the 2010 L.A. Marathon early this morning and studying the course map -- which was unveiled today -- I remembered a piece on the 2007 race by then-Times Deputy Editorial Page Editor Michael Newman, my boss at the time. After finishing the marathon, Newman panned race organizers for ignoring L.A.'s best asset (the ocean) in routing runners from Universal City through Koreatown, Boyle Heights and other inland neighborhoods on their way to downtown L.A. Newman garnered his share of provincial scorn for declaring, based on his race experience, that ‘much of L.A. isn’t very pretty.’

I thoroughly agreed with Newman at the time -- that much of L.A. is ugly -- and I still do. But having actually signed up for the 2010 L.A. Marathon, my thoughts on the ‘stadium to the sea’ route are mixed; perhaps bipolar would be a better way to put it. As a first-time marathoner, I look forward to the beach finish providing a major psychological boost to those of us pounding our feet on pavement for 26.2 miles. But putting on my lifelong Southern Californian hat -- which comes with a deep ‘warts and all’ affection for Los Angeles -- the new route strikes me as ... just not right.

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Despite its Hollywood-inspired reputation, Los Angeles has always struck me as a city unafraid to put its gritty face forward. Past marathon routes -- which started and ended in downtown L.A. -- reflected this attitude. Sure, runners would bisect tonier neighborhoods such as Hancock Park and Larchmont Village. But this is L.A., a city whose wealthy enclaves are often adjacent to or surrounded by working-class neighborhoods. Running in Hancock Park and Larchmont Village practically requires passing through Koreatown or the yet-to-be gentrified areas of Hollywood.

Looking at the route closely, and how magnetically it seems to abut the Hollywood Hills and Santa Monica Mountains for much of the race, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that race organizers deliberately avoided areas some may not consider ‘nice’ (Rodeo Drive -- really?). You can call this the Los Angeles Marathon if you want, and come race day, I’ll gladly run. But I won’t be surprised if, for much of the race, some Southern Californians viewing the event from home on March 21 wonder what marathon they’re watching.

-- Paul Thornton


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