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    LA Marathon: Experienced runners advise first-timers, who make up 40% of field
    • March 14, 2024

    Since distance running is a solitary sport, veteran runners of the LA Marathon, being held on Sunday, March 17, jumped at a rare chance this week to share teacherly tidbits aimed at educating race newbies.

    From dos and don’ts to must-see moments along the 26.2-mile course stretching from Elysian Park to Beverly Hills, their advice ran the gamut from what not to wear on race day, to downing energy bites and power drinks like crazy in order to increase stamina during the exhausting jaunt.

    Pamela Price trains on the streets near her home in Los Feliz on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Price will be running her third LA Marathon on Sunday. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Pamela Price near her home in Los Feliz on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Price will be running her third LA Marathon on Sunday. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

    Pamela Price near her home in Los Feliz on Wednesday, March 13, 2024. Price will be running her third LA Marathon on Sunday. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)



    And their wisdom may prove critical, since those who’ve run the LA Marathon before are in the minority this year. About 56% of the more than 26,000 runners are newcomers to this race. And 40% — that’s more than 10,000 runners — will be running their first marathon of any kind, said Dan Cruz, spokesperson for the race.

    “That is a lot of new runners,” Cruz said. “Might be due to a post-pandemic time when more people are comfortable coming to big events.”

    Do this, don’t do that

    Louis Briones has run all 38 LA Marathons. At age 76, he’s prepared to run on Sunday, the 39th annual LA Marathon. So when he dishes up advice, people listen.

    Like other veteran runners, Briones stressed that how a runner handles the first six miles is critical in preventing a total body breakdown later in the race. In short, the first lesson is all about pacing.

    “When that starter gun goes off you are feeling powerful, so you blast out of the gate and you run too fast. You will end up walking the last half of the marathon,” he said.

    Many, including Briones, said there should be a caution label affixed to each entry application: Don’t attempt unless you’ve done at least six months of training. For the couch potato, that means baby steps at first. “Buy a good pair of shoes, put them on, head out your front door and run around the block. Start slow, with short distances, get your legs accustomed to moving,” Briones said.

    Michelle Russell, an occupational therapist from Encino, ran her first marathon in the LA Marathon of November 2021. Because of the pandemic, the event was pushed back eight months. She trained for six months, something she said was brutal and time-consuming but necessary for a successful race.

    “I would caution people: It is achievable but you have to take care of your body. If you don’t train for it, it is going to be miserable,” said Russell, 32, who is not running this race and said her marathon days are in the past.

    One way for newcomers to succeed is to follow a pace group holding flags indicating finish-time goals. “Look for the pacer with the five-hour flag and follow them,” advised Loren Piretra, 34, of Santa Monica, who has run the LA Marathon and will be a time-keeper this year.

    Piretra and other experienced runners said participants should run at their training pace and not fret about a finish time.

    “I’ve seen so many runners end the race defeated because they didn’t achieve their goal time. I see people distraught. I say, who cares? Be proud of yourself for achieving a massive accomplishment,” Piretra said. The LA Marathon time limit on each runner is 6 hours, 30 minutes.

    Those runners interviewed all cautioned runners to stay hydrated. Many do that by taking the water handed out by volunteers during the run. Some bring their own concoctions.

    “I carry an electrolyte drink that’s got calories. And I eat gummies with sugar for more energy about every half hour,” said Ashley Daunt, 34, of Los Angeles, who will be running in her sixth marathon on Sunday.

    Pamela Price, 37, of Los Angeles has two marathons under her belt. She said if a runner is losing energy, grab the snacks. “Take the Twizzlers and the pretzels. You will need the energy,” she said.

    Some runners, like Allison Olvera, 29, a driving school instructor from Santa Ana, doesn’t eat during the race. “I stay away from snacks and stick with electrolytes, Gatorade,” she said. She finished the Huntington Beach Marathon in February but not without some drama.

    At Mile 21, her legs started to give out. “I said to myself I am not a quitter; I’m not going to give up” and made it through the next five miles. At the finish line she felt relieved. “I couldn’t feel my legs,” she said. Determined, Olvera will run in the Hoag OC Marathon on May 5 in Newport Beach.

    Daunt’s fashion advice to runners is don’t wear anything new on race day. Rather, wear the shorts, shoes, etc. from recent long training runs. “That’s to make sure there are no surprises, like shorts that chafe.”

    A collective lift

    Price said it’s not all about meeting your time goal but about having a good time and meeting new people.

    She described her first LA Marathon as “a tour of the city with world citizens.”

    This year’s run will feature participants from all 50 states and 70 countries.

    Runners will stop to help someone, Price said. “It sounds cheesy but it’s about lifting each other up. You’ll see somebody who is struggling and people will stop and say: ‘You can do this! You’ve got this!,” she said.

    Looking back on her 2021 LA Marathon run, Russell said she could feel the cheers of onlookers penetrating her weakened body toward the race’s end. “There was no negative energy,” she said. “Everyone was uplifting, telling you ‘you are amazing.’ It’s like people could be good in the world.”

    Julie Weiss, of Santa Monica, is about to run in her 117th marathon on Sunday. She’ll run in the LA Marathon on March 17, 2024. (photo by Babak Ardalan)

    Julie Weiss, 53, is about to run in her 117th marathon. About 11 years ago, she ran 52 marathons in 52 weeks and wrote a book about it called: “52 Weeks, 52 Marathons: The Miles and Trials of a Marathon Goddess.”

    Having losing her father to pancreatic cancer, Weiss runs to support the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. In the last 10 years, she’s raised more than $1 million in donations from running marathons, she said. “It motivates you to run for something bigger than yourself.”

    While running in a recent LA Marathon, she picked up a penny at the Capitol Records Building and thought of her dad, who was a Big Band musician. “I just happened to look down. It was a beautiful moment,” she said.

    It’s how you finish

    Veteran runners say pacing, keeping hydrated and listening to your breath to keep a good pace will help newer runners have a good marathon experience.

    Another way to do that, they say, is to lift up their heads and take in the sites. Many newer runners said they had never been to some of the places in the route, such as Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. “It is a unique chance to see all those places without the traffic,” Daunt said.

    Weiss, who has run marathons in Rome, Athens, New York and Boston, favors the one in her hometown, never missing out on the iconic sites, sounds and smells of L.A. “On Hollywood Boulevard you feel like a rock star,” she said. “The LA Marathon gives everyone a place to shine.”

    Many marathoners said the finish is just the beginning of the post-marathon effect.

    “It does carry over to your professional life,” said Daunt. “I find I can push through when things get hard.”

    Olvera, who teaches teenagers how to drive when she’s not training for her next marathon in Orange County, was asked which activity is harder. “It is more stressful teaching. I’d rather run the marathon,” she said.

    Long-time marathoners say setting a goal, planning and completing months and months of training, then finishing the actual race sends endorphins to your brain that signal you can accomplish anything. “It is an analogy for everything worth doing in life,” said Briones.

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