Column: In running this L.A. Marathon, there’s no thrill of victory, only the agony of the feet

Chris Erskine

L.A. Times columnist Chris Erskine begins the recovery process after completing the L.A. Marathon on Sunday.

(Jessica Erskine / For The Times)

I’d rather have my tongue waxed than run another marathon. If I ever suggest it, just gaff me, OK? Hoist me on my own petard. Shoot me in my knee, because even that would be less painful than what I just went through.

Marathon, a Greek word meaning, “Oy, my aching ankles.” No human being should run this far for free.

Heard over and over at the L.A. Marathon finish line Sunday: “This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Never doing this again.”

You do remember the very first marathon killed Pheidippides, right? And he didn’t even have to trudge up that nasty hill by the VA hospital. Somehow, the L.A. Marathon, despite ending at sea level, seems to have more uphill than down.


Let me show you my toes. OK, skip the visual. I don’t have very pretty feet to begin with, and now the left half of the left foot looks like the bloody finale of a Tarantino movie. When the race was over, I soaked the toes in the fountain at Tongva Park to stop them from cooking. No luck. I don’t think I’ll lose any nails. But the entire leg is a possibility.

Here’s the menu of other health difficulties I suffered Sunday: Heat stroke, dementia, swollen ankles, croup, malaria, tendinitis, strep throat, dehydration, chafed nipples, stretch marks, fistulas and various rashes up and down my body. Or maybe those were old tattoos.

Thing is, the race started very well. At sunrise, about 21,000 sweaty soul mates and I left Dodger Stadium looking like the last wagon train heading west. The course bent this way and that way through Chinatown, Echo Park and a bunch of other places I generally try to avoid just because the parking is so lousy.


Real crowds didn’t show until the runners reached Sunset Boulevard, where the live music and vocal spectators made it the most spirited and fun stretch of the 26-million-mile course.

A radio host suggested one way to endure a long race like this is to dedicate each mile to a different person. So I dedicated the first one to Plaschke. The second one I dedicated to Shannon Farar-Griefer, an incredible ultramarathoner unable to compete this year because of multiple sclerosis. I dedicated Miles 3-5 to my late buddy Don Rhymer, an incredibly wise guy who, were he still around, would’ve followed me in a rickshaw, bellowing like a coxswain: “Mush, you idiot. Mush.”

See now why I miss him?

By the ninth mile, I was out of loved ones, so I started dedicating each segment to the girls who were extra nice to me in high school. That took me all the way to Mile 10.

A few miles later, I found Jesus.

Marathon Jesus walks the course in robes, running shoes and sunglasses nearly every year. This year, he said he left Dodger Stadium at midnight. By the time I caught up with him, he was at Mile 14, and had become a selfie sensation.


“Jesus, can we have a photo?” runners said.

“Hey Jesus, can you turn this into wine?” a volunteer yelled while holding out a paper cup of water.

“Oh my God, it’s Jesus!” cried another.

We palled around for a while, while I used my conversation with Jesus as an excuse not to run any more, which I didn’t really want to do anyway. If there’s anything that can ruin a good marathon, it’s running. I prefer to coast a little.

But when Marathon Jesus started asking me about the meaning of life, I moved on.

My time? Six hours flat, only about four hours off what the winners did. The medal they gave me weighs more than my wife. You could melt it down and make a car. I think that’s a sign they want me back. If I shave a minute here and there, I should be in contention next time.

If there is a next time. Probably not. Maybe. Despite the agony, there’s just something about a race like this I admire.


Seems the most selfish of acts, a marathon. The logistics of getting a runner to the starting line, then home again, involves entire families, fleets of buses, thousands of volunteers waking up too early. Marathons are amazing things, really, a reflection of the esprit de corps of a city.

Only Pheidippides ever ran one alone.

And look what happened to him.


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