If you’re anything like me, you avoid with great effort having to commute to â€œthe other side of the hill.â€ So, when this year’s Los Angeles Marathon route cut a Mason-Dixon Line from downtown to the Santa Monica Pier, only one thing could make me want to get in my car and venture into that warzone on race day. My wife.
Though her already healthy limits of personal fortitude are tested daily by yours truly and proven sound, she’s always looking for new ways to push herself. So she decided she had nothing better to do Sunday than run 26.2 miles with 26,000 other people just because.
Many things would make people run this distance. But there were no bulls chasing them through the streets. Police were not in hot pursuit, nor was there a pot of gold or reality show part at the end of this grueling rainbow. But there was something much more rewarding.
We woke Thing 1 and Thing 2 at the crack of dawn, dressed them and coaxed them into the car with promises of dry Cocoa Puffs on the drive to Dodger Stadium. With the sun piercing the eastern sky over the â€œThink Blueâ€ sign, orange light canopied Chavez Ravine. The excitement in the parking lot was palpable. And though I’d like to say it was the anticipatory buzz of the gathered runners, I think it had more to do with the fact that Frank McCourt let us into his precious parking lot for free.
We hugged and kissed and wished her Godspeed, then saw Mommy vanish into a dense mass of people somewhere in the vicinity of the starting line. We didn’t stick around to hear the starting gun. When you’re that close to the Police Academy that’s the last thing you want to hear.
Off we went to claim spots along the route in hopes of catching a glimpse of our own Pheidippides.
The marathon this year was designed to pass many of the region’s landmarks, from the homeless of downtown to the homeless of Santa Monica. And this made me wonder why the route doesn’t come through our cities. We’ve got homeless. And landmarks.
From downtown they could run up our Boulevard of Cars and past the other monuments to our local efforts to sustain the economy, the Glendale Galleria and Americana at Brand. Here printed race guides would mention the historic shops, restaurants and fire station buried somewhere below. The stately and historic Alex Theatre next, where the stars of yesteryear came for gala premieres. It’s also where I saw such classics as the original â€œHerbie the Love Bugâ€ and â€œGus,â€ that whacky field goal-kicking mule.
As they’d make their way into Burbank they’d pass the airfields where â€œCasablancaâ€ and other classic films were shot. Rumor has it the original tower is in there somewhere among the warehouses and zipper manufacturers.
Passing Disney Studios they’d get a look at its behemoth dwarfs and the statues outside. Then the greatest battle site of the 21st century: NBC Studios, where Leno slew O’Brien.
But then I realized that because every main artery through Burbank is under perpetual street repair, the world may never see what makes us so special.
Back on the real route the communal fervor was abundant. Music blared from loud speakers seemingly borrowed from a Metallica concert. Onlookers gathered en masse; people from the neighborhood and from all over L.A. Cowbells and cheers rose as a group of sinewy Kenyan and Ethiopian runners approached. At near sprint they, and the camera crews, were gone in seconds.
Moments later, the real show began. It was like waiting for a tsunami to hit shore thousands of miles away from the epicenter. And a great wave it was. Herds of runners were soon stampeding up the street. And the excitement of the crowd grew tenfold; here was the real event, not miles ahead in the spotlight.
It wasn’t just a sporting cheer, but real, honest encouragement and support for strangers and neighbors and friends attempting something the rest of us could only watch in wonder. Men and women, Elvis and leprechauns, children and octogenarians, barefoot and shod; those bearing crosses to glorify their God and others bearing balloons to glorify their birthday. I was swept up in the emotion, and Things 1 and 2 soon added their voice and applause for those who dare to do something the rest of us think is impossible.
And out of that never ending stream of people, she appeared. Still running. Still smiling. Actually enjoying this. After a moment’s rest to receive our hugs and praise, she moved on, blending back into the rolling sea of people.
I wish I could come up with a better way to say it, to liken a marathon to life, the hills and valleys, the long haul and such. But there is something in it that makes me think of communion, of putting all life’s struggles into one symbolic event, partaking of it and conquering it. Just for one brilliant day. And somehow that can carry you through so many more tough ones.
I’m sure the finish line was amazing for those who crossed it and those who were close enough to see it. But us, we were more than a mile away, as close as we could find a parking place, waiting for a call from our runner; waiting to pick up the person who shows us how to live life.