L.A. Marathon: A Race That Runs in the Family

Times Staff Writer

Episode No. 2 begins at 9 a.m. March 1 near the Coliseum. We refer, of course, to the City of Los Angeles Marathon--and if you happen to be seeing double at that somewhat early hour of a Sunday morning, it isn't necessarily the fault of your eyes.

At least two sets of adult identical twins will be striding side by side along the 26.2-mile route. Not only that, but six brothers will be competing together.

"In last year's Los Angeles Marathon, the two of us each wore a shirt that read: 'Ancient Marathoner,' " said 58-year-old Jerry Lienhard of Glendale. "If we don't dress alike, we are just two old men at the back of the pack."

Everything in Sync

He and his identical twin brother, Tom Lienhard of Playa del Rey, have for quite a few years been used to doing things together. From dressing alike until high school in Detroit, serving together in the Navy, getting their undergraduate engineering degrees from the University of Detroit, their MBAs from USC, working at Hughes Aircraft Co. in Culver City, everything has been in sync.

And now running in marathons.

Sandra Mosk, 45, and her identical twin sister, Susan Sokoloff, both of Los Angeles, also will be challenging the loop course. It will be their first try at it.

"Every marathon is a new adventure," Mosk said. "In 1981, when I was living in Holland, I ran in the one in Amsterdam. As each person crosses the finish line there, he or she is handed a bouquet of flowers."

No such plans here, but the twin sisters are in serious training to make a respectable showing as they begin side by side and usually finish that way.

"On two days during the week we run about 11 miles on the streets, and on Sundays we try for 18," Mosk explained.

For Sokoloff, this business of striving for strides began 12 years ago. "The reason was my anxiety over the decision by my husband to start his own law firm," she recalled. "To relieve the stress, I ran in my back yard. When I got to doing 100 laps, I decided to graduate to the track in Coldwater Park. When my husband and sister saw the weight I was losing, and how much I was enjoying the running, they joined me."

Massachusetts Natives

The first distance course the sisters ran was the Santa Monica marathon in 1978, followed by Culver City the same year. "Being natives of Massachusetts, we wanted very much to be in the Boston Marathon," Mosk said. "But you have to qualify at a recognized competition in 3:30, and we finished Culver City in 3:31.

"We wrote a letter to the director pointing out that we had missed by only one minute, and he allowed us in."

For Mosk, mother of two, this will be her seventh marathon. For Sokoloff, mother of three, it will be her sixth.

Like the Lienhards, the sisters reflected on the situation again of, in effect, being one. It is something with which twins are only too familiar.

"Other people don't understand what it's like to be a twin," Sokoloff said. "Until you reach college, you feel as if you are both one person, without separate identities."

Said Mosk: "I was once asked about the times when my sister and I would go to a movie together, did we each feel we were with a friend? My answer was that I always felt alone. We dressed identically until the sixth grade, when we realized that if we dressed differently, we could have twice as many clothes."

Tom Lienhard mused: "A twin is judged collectively, instead of as an individual. You almost lose your identity."

Said Jerry Lienhard: "In high school we both rebelled. We decided to start dressing differently, instead of alike. Nevertheless, in class pictures, twins are always the bookends, always placed at each end."

As all four of these people matured, however, they drew together as before. Like the men, the sisters work at the same place, the Educational Resource and Services Center in Beverly Hills. And now the four of them will run in pairs in Los Angeles' Marathon.

Proper Pacing

"We tell jokes as we run," Tom Lienhard said. "There is a theory that if you talk while running a marathon, you are pacing yourself properly and not going too fast."

For Jerry Lienhard, father of three, this will be his 14th marathon. For Tom Lienhard, father of two, it will be his 18th.

"What got us started was the fact that, in 1966, I found myself 30 pounds overweight," Tom Lienhard said. "I joined a fat man's class at the YMCA in Santa Monica, which wound up with five minutes of running around the gym. I felt so comfortable doing it that I would continue after everyone else had stopped."

Then came 10K races, then an interest by his brother in 1969. And two years later they were training together at a high school track in Canoga Park.

"Our first marathon together was in Culver City in 1975," Jerry Lienhard remembered. "He finished it, but I dropped out after 20 miles. That point is where you go by the starting line again, and somehow you get the urge to drop out."

In preparation for the March 1 marathon, they run four or five miles on the neighborhood streets near Hughes during their lunch hours.

Spying Another Pair

Whether the two sets of twins will glimpse each other during the local running remains to be seen, but Sokoloff recalled that, during the Boston Marathon, she and her sister happened upon another pair, and the four of them ran a portion of the race together.

"And we have met two other pair while running on Westside streets," she added.

The odds would more favor them running into another family group during the marathon--six brothers who will jointly be participating for the first time here. For the Bartel clan, it will be the second annual marathon reunion. A family that runs together, stays together.

"But I still think they're nuts," wisecracked the 71-year-old mother of the brothers, Doris Bartel, who lives in Mountain View with her son, Richard. "After all, they started all this just a few years ago.

"Oh, I'll show up in Los Angeles, but I'm not sure that I'll watch. If I stand on a curb, they'll be past before I know it."

Her idea of a good workout is to sew or knit.

Be that as it may, with the exception of another brother, 44-year-old Ed, who is in the Navy in New York, the other six will be taking everything in stride, wearing shirts proclaiming: "Bartel Runners."

That was what happened last year in San Francisco, where (including Ed) the seven brothers chose the Bay Area marathon in order to attend the wedding the following weekend of the youngest among them, now 24-year-old Brian of Campbell.

'Still Not a Runner'

"My wife, Lori, thought at the time that I was crazy to be entered in a marathon just before we were to be married," Brian recalled. "She wanted me to be careful so that I wouldn't get hurt before our honeymoon."

No such crisis. Brian, who said he is an athlete but not a runner, stayed healthy while upholding the family honor as he participated for six miles. "I'm still not a runner, but my goal this year is 18," he said.

The oldest of the brothers, 56-year-old Erv, of Glendale, recalled that his golden gait took him only half the distance last year in San Francisco.

"I've always been a hiker, and that was my first try at a marathon," he said. "I'm doing it again this time because it's an opportunity for a reunion with my brothers."

No loneliness for these long-distance runners. On the night before the marathon, at the Torrance home of 36-year-old John, the brothers and their wives will chow down a carbo-load dinner, the type of meal often favored by such participants to provide long-term energy.

The other bounding Bartels are 32-year-old Paul of Martinez, 40-year-old Carl of Stockton, and 42-year-old Richard of Mountain View.

Don, the twin brother of Ed, was killed in an auto accident, but he will be represented by his 18-year-old son, James of Palo Alto, who will be running alongside his uncles.

Thus, in this year's City of Los Angeles Marathon, many things will be relative.

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