On a new course for L.A.

THE NIGHT BEFORE I ran the Los Angeles Marathon, I called my city councilman to ask his advice. Not because he’s a runner -- in fact, he seems to regard us with puzzlement -- but because I wanted to learn more about the race’s new route.

Tom LaBonge is the man most responsible for the marathon’s new course; he helped map it out last year. After more than 20 years of starting and ending downtown, this year the start and finish were about 10 miles apart; the race began near Universal Studios and finished at Flower and 5th.

LaBonge was enthusiastic about the new course, as he is about practically every subject you ask him about, including bulky-item pickup days. “A great route that celebrates this great city,” he called it.


He was particularly proud of the detour to Boyle Heights, at mile 22. There we were, all 25,000 of us, gliding along the flat Los Angeles Basin, alternately pummeled and pushed by those refreshing Santa Ana winds, when suddenly we turn the corner on Olympic -- streets in L.A., like drivers in L.A., often turn corners without notice -- and there was LaBonge’s handiwork rising in the distance.

He thought it was important that the route show off as much of L.A. as possible, and the marathon had never been to Boyle Heights. Nor was there any urgency to send it there, I might add. It’s not as if the residents of Boyle Heights were demanding their share of parking restrictions and empty Gatorade cups from the marathon.

Still, off to Boyle Heights we went. And to many other L.A. attractions: The strip malls of Koreatown. The warehouses of South-Central. The parking lots of downtown. And the freeways! We ran over or under them at least 10 times, though after about mile 22 I was a little woozy and they all kind of merged together, as they tend to do anyway.

So I think I speak with some authority, if not much originality, when I say that much of Los Angeles isn’t very pretty. There’s only one way this race can be saved: Like a visiting relative from Wisconsin, it must be sent to the beach.

Yes, there would be logistical challenges, and some neighborhoods may object to losing their place along the beaten path. Far more likely, however, is that places would complain about being included. But the ocean, with its cool breezes, is pretty much the best thing this city has going for it.

Of course, some people like the mountains. People such as LaBonge, who organizes regular hikes to Mount Hollywood and spends almost as much time in Griffith Park as Gene Autry’s ghost. I run in the park a lot but am not sure that I’m ready for a marathon there. Neither, I think, is LaBonge.

“I’ve seen runners come to the top of Mount Hollywood, 1,625 feet above sea level with gorgeous panoramic views, and all they do is look at their watch, punch it, and turn around and go back down,” he says. Just to be clear: I always pause. Sometimes for a whole minute.

Maybe I’m more laid-back than most runners. And maybe LaBonge understands us better than he thinks. His marathon-eve advice, by the way, was perfect. “Eat lightly and sleep with the window open,” he said.

Words to live by.


Michael Newman