KNOW THE COURSE

From the starting line near Universal Studios, marathoners will traverse a point-to-point course that goes through Hollywood, Hancock Park, Koreatown, downtown and parts of Boyle Heights and finishes among downtown high-rises.

Participants should familiarize themselves with the course before the race, but knowing what to expect goes far beyond looking at a map. Here's the lowdown from executive race director Terry Collier and Laurence Cohen, director of media relations (both of whom have run the L.A. Marathon).

* Brace yourself. About the first mile and a half of the course along Cahuenga Boulevard will be an uphill grade from the starting line at Lankershim Boulevard. The pack will be thick through here, and most people will be walking a bit until the crowd thins. When it does, many runners -- especially first-timers -- tend to go faster than the usual pace. It's understandable: "You're caught up in the excitement and the adrenaline rush of running with the pack," says Collier, "and before you know it, you're running an eight-minute mile and your goal was to run a nine-minute mile."

From the starting line, Cahuenga will begin to narrow, making it even tougher to gain some elbow room. Collier advises sticking to one part of the road instead of weaving in and out. Marathon veterans and exercise experts recommend taking it easy in the beginning. Too much too soon, and runners could burn out.

And don't look for familiar faces for the first 100 yards of the race -- spectators aren't allowed.

* The hill will crest about half a mile past Barham Boulevard, becoming a fairly steep downhill route along Cahuenga and Highland Avenue, past the Hollywood Bowl and into the thick of Hollywood. Although the downward slope will be a relief, "it's important that the runners watch their speed," says Collier, "because you can get an injury, pull a muscle. At this point, the body is not quite warmed up to settle into a pace."

* Just past mile marker 3, large, lively crowds will greet runners at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, where, according to Collier, "reality sets in. This is the marathon now." That initial rush will have drifted away, replaced by the knowledge that more than 20 miles still lie ahead. By this point, the pack should have thinned out enough so that runners have ample room to move.

* As runners head east across Hollywood Boulevard, they'll encounter the Marylind Foundation Choir at North McCadden Place, and the Nick O'Neill Band at Hollywood and Ivar Avenue. They'll turn south on Vine Street, a gradual downhill. On race day, all construction along the route will stop, and parked cars will disappear; the course will be checked beforehand for potholes.

* Just past mile 5, the course will jog east along Melrose Avenue and head south on Lucerne Boulevard, the first residential patch of the race as the course meanders through Hancock Park. As runners continue to head south on Rossmore Avenue, Collier says, there's something to look forward to: "This is where each house tries to out-do the others in terms of how they support the runners. It's like a movable feast through here -- some people have sliced oranges or little sandwiches." Etiquette dictates that runners take one and keep going, not grab the entire tray. Oh, and make sure to say, "Thank you."

If it's a warm day, marathoners will surely be feeling it by now. They should continue to take in fluids and grab ice if needed.

* The marathon route is designed to take participants through some of the city's ethnic neighborhoods. Heading south on Harvard Boulevard and east on Olympic Boulevard, runners will come into the business and residential district of Koreatown, with its mix of contemporary and older buildings. By now the elites will be well away from the mid-pack and slower marathoners. Spectator crowds will be strong along here, Cohen says.

* Along Olympic, around mile 9, is also where runners will get their first glimpse of downtown high-rises. "You get that sense of the fire in your belly," says Collier. "It's a wow factor." A slight uphill on Olympic as it crosses Vermont Avenue may require runners to dig in, but Collier says those who have trained well should navigate it easily. "This is where your training really pays off," he says. "If you haven't trained properly for at least 20 to 28 weeks, you may feel it."

* A few quick turns will come along Hoover Street down to Pico Boulevard, then south on Vermont and west on Venice Boulevard. Those bends actually are a boon to most runners, Collier says. "It's difficult when you get a stretch that is miles and miles straight, because you feel like you'll never get to the end."

* Going south on Normandie Avenue, the route will continue through West Adams Heights, a historic neighborhood of beautifully restored Craftsman and Victorian homes. A sign for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will remind runners that the approaching landmark marks the halfway point. Runners should be staying in tune with their bodies, making sure they're taking in enough liquids and food if necessary.

This part of the course will extend along Normandie for about two miles. Cohen breaks the long stretch into manageable distances by choosing a distant point to run to, such as a stop sign, then another. "I'll say to myself, I can make it to that awning. Then I'll get there and look for something else."

* Heading east on 39th Street, runners will come off city streets and run by the California Science Center, the Coliseum and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena into Exposition Park, the centerpiece of the race. As they approach, they'll be greeted by spectators and those who have completed the 5K run/walk and the Acura L.A. Bike Tour. They'll also find entertainment and a water station. "This is where you can re-energize," Collier says.

* The path along 39th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard may not be the most scenic part of the course; warehouses and businesses line the streets, and there won't be much in the way of greenery. Some runners may begin to flag and even start to hit the wall, the dreaded period when glycogen stores are depleted, causing weakness and disorientation.

* Coming up the long stretch of Adams Boulevard to Figueroa Street, runners will see the immense, ornate St. Vincent Catholic Church and the Automobile Club of Southern California, a stunning example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Continuing up Figueroa, the course will head into downtown, going past the Los Angeles Convention Center, Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre.

* At mile 19, the route turns onto 11th Street and heads into the downtown fashion district; businesses will be open, and spectators will be out on the streets. Here, or at about mile 20, some marathoners may be experiencing major fatigue. "This is where the mental toughness comes in," Collier says. "Think about those very good, successful training runs you've had. Reach back and think about a good memory, a great dinner with your spouse, anything to help get you through. And there's nothing like spectators to cheer you on."

* Heading east on Olympic to Boyle Avenue, the athletes will race through a mostly industrial area, across an overpass and over train tracks. New this year will be the Mariachi Mile, where more than 100 musicians will entertain the runners as they head into Boyle Heights. As they do, they'll pass the historic Sears building, then climb a mild hill and make their way to the 6th Street bridge. With its sweeping vistas of downtown and the mountains, the bridge is generally a highlight of the race. At that point, runners should realize they only have about three miles left. Although no spectators will be allowed on the bridge, the view should be inspiration enough.

* Coming back into the main part of downtown, the course will veer toward the outskirts of Little Tokyo. At mile 24, taiko drummers will play. Spectators will begin growing at this point, with three- and four-deep crowds cheering on runners as they head toward the finish line.

* The final approach to the finish will take runners down 7th Street, where buildings may offer some shade for sweaty bodies. As the finish line at Flower and 5th streets nears, music will waft through the air and the cheering will escalate.

Making the turn onto Flower, some marathoners will start to look for familiar faces meeting them at the end. They'll finally catch sight of the finish line, a welcome spectacle. "You can smile now," Collier says.

Those with an ounce of energy left may pour it on and sprint toward the finish; some may need an extra boost from a fellow runner. It's not unusual to see runners helping each other near the end, linking arms or even half-carrying someone across the finish line.

* Medical personnel from California Hospital Medical Center, plus paramedics and fire fighters, will be scanning runners as they approach the finish, looking for anyone who's stumbling or showing signs of extreme fatigue or heat exhaustion. They'll be taken immediately -- by wheelchair if necessary -- to a nearby medical tent for treatment.

Those who can make it past the finish line will get what they came for -- the medal -- and receive a Mylar blanket to help bring their body temperatures back to normal.

Food and beverages will be available, and finishers will be able to meet up with friends and family.

Muscles a little sore? Massage therapists will be available for a light rub-down. People can hang around and enjoy food from various vendors and entertainment from three live bands. Eventually they'll head home, sweaty but victorious, contemplating next year's race.

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