Tens of thousands turn L.A. Marathon into festive event

Maddi Whitworth, left, and Kasia Pandyra cheer on a co-worker and other runners at Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue early Sunday.
(Emily Alpert Reyes / Los Angeles Times)

For every one of the 24,000 runners participating in Sunday’s L.A. Marathon, more than 20 people were expected to show up to watch and cheer the runners on, according to previous crowd estimates.

With a serious athletic event that doubles as a festive L.A. celebration, the anticipated 500,000 spectators came to cavort in animal costumes, raise the flag for dozens of charities or use the spotlight to send the world a message.

On Hollywood Boulevard in Thai Town, 10-year-old Jaskaran Singh was one of dozens of volunteers from a Sikh temple in Buena Park spraying grateful runners with water.

They had left Irvine at 4:45 a.m. to beat the runners there, said his father, Nepal Singh. Members of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha temple come every year to show people who Sikhs are, Singh said.


“If we can educate people about us, they won’t misunderstand,” Singh said, alluding to past attacks on the Sikh community. “We can’t tell everyone — but if one person knows, he can tell others.”

As the runners flowed past, children in turbans swept up discarded cups.

A block farther east, the Randy Newman song “I Love L.A.” blasted from a boombox as kids held up neon yellow signs saying “You run marathons, I watch ‘em on Netflix” and “Smile if you peed a little.”

Eula Fritz, director of the Santa Monica Police Activities League, said they were waiting to see nine youths who are involved in the program, which helps kids with homework and fosters physical fitness and leadership skills.


She credited the Students Run L.A.organization with paying entrance fees and providing shoes and uniforms for the kids. “It would have cost us about $30,000,” she said.

Rafaela Luna, who lives not far from the course near Pico Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, was hitting a cowbell and searching the crowds for her husband, Santiago Durango, on Hollywood Boulevard.

Luna said she and Durango run to raise money for the Train 4 Autism foundation. They have a 19-year-old daughter, Yonotzinc, who has autism. Durango had raised more than $1,000 for this race, she said.


“We spend the time together. We relax. We enjoy it,” said Luna, who was sitting out this race because of a recent knee surgery.

At Western Avenue, two women — one dressed as a banana, the other as a dinosaur — cheered and scanned the crowd for their coworker who was running.

“It’s not easy” to run a marathon, said Kasia Pandyra, who said she had run in Chicago in the past. “Anything we can do to put a smile on their face is helpful.”

Besides, she added, gesturing to her banana costume, “who wouldn’t find this a-peel-ing?”


Seconds later, Pandyra and coworker Maddi Whitworth began yelling and jumping up and down as they spotted their friend.

“Matt!” they yelled, waving and reaching out to him.When the race is over, Pandyra added, “we’ll be welcoming them with lots of beer.”

Farther on, Johanna Suarez and her sister Anely Jimenez waited on Hollywood Boulevard for Suarez’ 13-year-old daughter, Brianna, who was running the marathon for the second time.

Jimenez toted a sign that declared “LOOKS LIKE A BEAUTY RUNS LIKE A BEAST,” with pictures of Belle and the Beast from the Disney movie.


“She never thought she’d run her first marathon, let alone do it for a second year,” Suarez said, a red air horn in hand. “Now she knows there’s no stopping her.” As soon as Brianna passed, Suarez said, they would hustle back to their car and drive west to meet her in another five miles.

Much farther west, somewhere around mile 20, L.A.’s cross-town college rivalry was woven into the competition. At Rivalry Row, runners faced a decision between a cheering station manned by adherents of USC on one side of the street and fans of UCLA on the other, said race publicist Rachel Brueno. At the end of the day, the numbers will be tallied and one campus declared the winner, Brueno said.

As the race wended through residential neighborhoods, some got to watch from the comfort of home.

Near the 24-mile mark, Nicole Chavira held her 4-year-old child in one arm and gripped her coffee in the other as she stood on her green lawn overlooking the runners passing her home.


For Chavira and her family, watching the L.A. Marathon every year outside their home is a tradition that they look forward to. They brought out small chairs and had bagels for breakfast and this year they invited their friend to come watch.

“Last year I was pregnant with my other kid, and seeing it this year is making me nostalgic,” she said. “We woke up at 3 a.m because of the noise of the people setting up, but we didn’t mind,” she said.

Watching the marathon, Chavira said, makes them feel like they are part of the Los Angeles community.

As a former runner, Kimberly Froggett knows how difficult it is to run marathons — especially for women.


“It’s one more thing to balance, as a mom or family,” she said.

She’s out here today with her 2-year-old son, Jack. As more runners appeared on 14th and San Vicente, Froggett stood up and clapped.

“Good job, ladies,” she shouted. “You got this!”

Froggett, 45, comes out every year to watch the race near the finish line because she said, at that point, it’s a mental struggle to finish.


“I miss running,” she said. “You get a rush and feel accomplished. You don’t feel good about yourself like that in daily life,” she said.



1:55 p.m.: This story was updated with new details from people along the marathon route.

This story was originally posted at 10:55 a.m.