L.A. Marathon has found its way to one of its best fields yet


More than three decades have passed since the Los Angeles Marathon made its debut in the aftermath of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

That first race drew 10,000 runners amid talk of rivaling the likes of Boston, New York and Berlin.

Though L.A. hasn’t reached that level — and might never — it seems to be carving a niche for itself on the running scene.


On Sunday, the “Stadium to Sea” course is expected to attract more than 24,000 entrants with an elite field that includes three previous men’s winners and the women’s defending champion.

“Not every runner can win the Olympic gold,” said Amby Burfoot, a former Boston Marathon winner and senior writer for “Runner’s World.” “Every marathon can only be the best at what it has.”

From the beginning, L.A. had the disadvantage of being years — if not decades — behind established counterparts now on the World Marathon Majors circuit. Timing has also been a factor.

The marathon schedule tends to bunch up in spring and fall, when temperatures are favorable for enduring 26.2 miles. Because of the recovery time required after each race, competitors must choose.

So marathons need something special to attract both top names and recreational runners.

Despite its promising start, L.A. languished for years and, eventually, struggled with unpaid bills. Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt purchased the operating rights in 2008 and set about fixing the biggest perceived shortcoming — a course that lacked sizzle.

The route was changed to start at Dodger Stadium and pass numerous landmarks — including Walt Disney Concert Hall and Rodeo Drive — before ending at the Pacific Ocean.


“It’s downhill, which means people can run well,” Burfoot said, adding: “There’s something innately magnetic for a runner to be heading toward the coast, toward the ocean that has a cooler breeze.”

L.A. now ranks among the four largest marathons in the country, and the 10 largest worldwide.

The 2016 race got a boost because it served as the trials for the U.S. Olympic team, with Galen Rupp winning and UCLA alumnus Meb Keflezighi taking second.

The veteran Keflezighi called it “a victory lap.”

Still, most years L.A. doesn’t lure the very best athletes, partly because it is sandwiched between Tokyo, Boston and London on the calendar and partly because of money.

The $100,000 prize purse offered for Sunday’s race is less than the $400,000 in Tokyo, $800,000-plus in Boston and $300,000-plus in London.

But this weekend, the men’s event should be competitive, given the trio of past winners.

“This is one of the most exciting marathon fields I have been up against,” defending champion Elisha Barno of Kenya said. “I can’t wait to race against this field.”


The women’s defending champion, Hellen Jepkurgat, also of Kenya, called it “one of my favorite courses.”

Having attended the first L.A. Marathon and others since then, Burfoot figures the event is doing well.

“Every marathon has to find its own flavor, its own color and tradition,” he said. “I think L.A. is on the way to finding its own path.”

Twitter: @LAtimesWharton