How the LA Marathon Works

By: Kevin P. Allen
Image Gallery: City Skylines It's not the biggest marathon in the United States but it's growing. See more pictures of city skylines.
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Los Angeles is the second most populous city in the United States, but its marathon is not among the World Marathon Majors, a set of five races (Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York) that attract the top international talent [source: Hodges].

The Los Angeles Marathon (LA Marathon) was created on the heels of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Cities such as Chicago and New York already had marathons that were growing in popularity. Los Angeles officials sought to harness the momentum from the financially successful Olympic Games and create an enduring event. But while the 1986 LA Marathon set a record for the biggest inaugural marathon in the United States (10, 787 registered for the race), difficulties were on the horizon [source: Los Angeles Times].


But by 2008, the LA Marathon began to hit its stride. Frank McCourt, the owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, took over the event, and organizers unveiled a new course design about a year later. The combination of an appealing route and increased marketing efforts proved successful. The 25th anniversary installment of the LA marathon in 2009 attracted a record 26,054 registrants, and 22,361 of those runners finished the event. Wesley Korir won a tight race with fellow Kenyan Richard Limo in an impressive 2:09:19 while Edna Kiplagat, also of Kenya, took the women's crown [source: Active].

How can you take part in this growing race? Jog over to the next page and we'll fill you in.


LA Marathon Entry

You don't have to be fast to race in the LA Marathon, just disciplined and determined.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The LA Marathon is a popular choice for runners seeking to cover the 26.2-mile distance for the first time. Unlike the prestigious Boston Marathon, which requires proof that each prospective registrant has achieved a qualifying race time, the LA Marathon has no such standard. In fact, the majority of entrants in each year's race tend to be novices [source: LA Marathon]. Runners are given a generous eight hours to complete the event in order to receive an official finish time -- two hours more than many other metropolitan marathons. Marathoners are encouraged to register well in advance of the late March race date. In 2010 the LA Marathon sold out and 22,403 people finished the event -- a race record. It was the second straight year that more than 22,000 completed the course.

While no qualifying time is required to participate, veteran runners can earn preferred placement in corrals near the starting line based on previous marathon performance. Corral A is for people who can prove they've run a sub-three hour marathon in the past year. Corral B is designated for sub-four hour marathoners. Corral C is reserved for runners who've clocked a sub-five hour marathon in the past 12 months. Registrants have to provide LA Marathon officials with the name of the race that qualifies them for corral placement, the date of that race and their finish time for the event. Requests for corral placement have to be received no later than Jan. 1.


The LA Marathon uses a chip timing system, so regardless of whether you are positioned near the front of the pack or at the rear, your personal race clock does not begin to tick until you cross the starting line. A microchip on the back of each person's race number triggers a complex timing mechanism when he or she steps onto a high-tech rubber mat at the start. Other mats are placed at 5-kilometer intervals so athletes can later analyze their race in detail.

LA Marathon Route

Runners at the 25th Los Angeles Marathon with less then 1K to the finish line in Santa Monica, California on March 21, 2010.
John M. Heller/Getty Images

In its 25 years of existence, the LA Marathon course has significantly altered five times and has had numerous minor adjustments. For the first decade of its existence, the marathon began and ended at Memorial Coliseum. In 1996 the race was moved to downtown Los Angeles, where it circled through city streets before ending at the Los Angeles Central Library. In 2007 the starting line was moved to Universal City, while the finish line remained the same as it had been for the previous decade. Finally, the much-heralded "Stadium to the Sea" route was introduced in 2010, and it proved successful.

The "Stadium to the Sea" route starts at Dodger Stadium before passing through some of Los Angeles' most famous communities and historic venues, beginning with Chinatown and its Twin Dragon Towers Gateway. Runners pass by Walt Disney Concert Hall and then traverse Sunset Boulevard, where they can get a look at the emblematic Hollywood sign. After exiting West Hollywood, marathoners are directed through Beverly Hills and run along Rodeo Drive. The westward trek then takes them into Century City and on to Route 66. The athletes continue their journey through Brentwood and get a view of the Pacific Ocean as they run the final three miles in Santa Monica. The finish line is situated on Ocean Avenue, not far from Santa Monica Pier [source: LA Marathon].


The current course configuration was aimed at providing its participants with a tour of sites that represent the Los Angeles area, inspire tired athletes with beautiful scenery and introduce the fewest hills possible -- thereby resulting in faster times. Understanding that many of the world's elite marathoners are from East African nations, some suggested that it would have made sense to take the course through the community of Little Ethiopia. Race organizers say that was a consideration, but Little Ethiopia would have added an additional incline to the otherwise fast route [source: Shelburne].

LA Marathon Results

Wesley Korir duplicated his 2009 win with a victory at the LA Marathon on March 21, 2010.
John M. Heller/Getty Images

The median finish time of its participants (approximately five-and-a-half hours) places the Los Angeles Marathon among the slower marathons in the United States. But that is likely attributable to the number of novices who compete in the event, as the course is less challenging than other metropolitan marathons with faster median times [source: Running USA].

Notable winners of the LA Marathon over the past 25 years include Kenyan Benson Cherono, who set a course record of 2:08:40 in 2006, only to see the mark broken in 2009 by countryman Wesley Korir in 2:08:24. Tatiana Petrova of Latvia established a new women's record of 2:25:59 in 2009 [source: LA Marathon]. Ric Sayre and Nancy Ditz won the inaugural running of the LA Marathon in 2:19:59 and 2:36:27, respectively.


The LA Marathon offers a wheelchair division. The course record for men was set by Australia's Kurt Fearnley in 2007 with a time of 1:23:40 while America's Jean Driscoll established a course best of 1:46:09 in 1996. No one has earned more accolades at the LA Marathon than wheelchair racer Saul Mendoza of Mexico who has won the event seven times [source: LA Marathon].

The most famous marathon ever run in the city of Los Angeles was in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. It marked the first time a women's marathon was part of the Olympics. American Joan Benoit Samuelson went on to claim the gold medal [source: Kangas].


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • "Los Angeles Marathon." Mar. 21, 2010. (Sept. 15, 2010.)
  • Hodges, Jim. Los Angeles Times. "Faster Race Remains a Priority." Mar. 30, 1998. (Sept. 12, 2010.)
  • Kangas, Dorothy. "Joan Benoit Samuelson." Women in Sports. (Sept. 15, 2010.)
  • LA Marathon. "Sensational Silver Anniversary Race the Largest LA Marathon Ever." Mar. 23, 2010. (Sept.12, 2010.)
  • PSFK. "Building A Brand: The LA Marathon." August 16, 2010 (Sept. 12, 2010.)
  • Running USA. "2010 Marathon, Half-Marathon and State of the Sport Reports." Mar. 28, 2010. (Sept. 12, 2010.)
  • Shelburne, Ramona. "Marathon goes Hollywood after overhaul." Mar. 19, 2010. (Sept. 12, 2010.)
  • Will-Weber, Mark. "The Quotable Runner." Breakaway Books. 2008. (Sept. 15, 2010.)
  • World Marathon Majors. "About World Marathon Majors." (Sept. 15, 2010.)
  • Zahniser, David. Los Angeles Times. "Council moves LA Marathon back to March, shifts route." July 21, 2009. (Sept. 12, 2010.)