Thousands of eager professional and amateur athletes took to the streets Sunday to participate in the 36th Los Angeles Marathon, which was twice delayed this year because of the pandemic.
Those in wheelchairs began the race at 6:30 a.m. at Dodger Stadium, followed by elite women runners 15 minutes later and elite men and the full field at 6:55 a.m. Most participants were expected to take three to five hours to complete the 26.2-mile route from downtown to the finish line in Century City.
But many of the elite runners — including some of the fastest in the world — finished the race in just over two hours. John Korir of Kenya became the 2021 Los Angeles Marathon champion, winning the race in 2 hours, 12 minutes and 47 seconds. Natasha Cockram of Wales is the new women’s champion, finishing in 2 hours, 33 minutes and 17 seconds. David Rodarte of Whittier won the Athletes with Disabilities Division in 2 hours, 1 minute and 17 seconds.
The marathon forced the closure of large stretches of Sunset, Santa Monica, San Vicente and Wilshire boulevards, Rodeo Drive, Sepulveda Boulevard, Doheny Drive and dozens of side streets throughout the day.
Under low clouds and fog and cool temperatures, hundreds of passionate fans, family and friends — cheering and waving signs — lined the marathon route Sunday to provide encouragement and bottled water for the runners. This was the first time the race, traditionally held in March, was delayed until the fall.
Mariano Gonzales III, 6, stood at the famous intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street — closed to cars — and counted the number of runners who bounded up to high-five the sign he was carrying. It read, “Power Up,” and featured a cartoon mushroom from “Mario,” a popular video game character, and an outline of a hand directing runners where to tap.
“149…150!” Gonzales exclaimed as another runner hit the sign.
This is the third year his father, also named Mariano Gonzales, has run in the marathon. The 31-year-old’s family — including aunts, uncles, his three children and girlfriend Angelica Alvarado — had traveled from Colton, near San Bernardino, to cheer him on.
Alvarado, 31, said her boyfriend is always trying to push his body to the limit. “It’s like you have a superpower — you can run the L.A. Marathon,” she said, adding that she and her partner love the community aspect of the race, with “everybody coming out here to support one another.”
As they pushed past Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, runners eyed a woman on the corner dressed up as a large pizza.
Samantha Celera, 34, said she has worn her pizza costume to the marathon for the last three years to boost runners’ morale — and perhaps inspire a post-marathon meal.
Celera said she eventually planned to change locations along the course. “I like them to see me at multiple stops,” she said of the runners. “They get pumped to see a pizza.”
Victor Yee, 32, was visiting from Oakland and decided to stop by to check out the competition early with some companions. His group recognized some friends who swooshed by amid the race’s first leg through downtown Los Angeles.
Yee, a veteran runner with more than two dozen marathons under his belt, had contemplated competing this year. It’s a “bucket list race” for him, and next year, he said, he’ll almost certainly don the runner’s bib for it. He’s drawn to running, in part, because of its ability to unify an eclectic community.
“It’s just so amazing,” Yee said. “Everyone here can be so different, but they’re all sharing the same passion.”
Christina Moore, 28, of North Hollywood, stood across the street from City Hall with two friends to cheer on her fiancé, 27-year-old Artoun Nazareth.
About six months ago, when Nazareth started training for the marathon — his first — he couldn’t run 10 minutes without resting, Moore said.
“Now he can run the whole thing without stopping — it’s crazy,” she said. “I can’t do that.” Nazareth is hoping to complete the race in under five hours.
Nazareth woke up at 3 a.m. tossing and turning, which Moore said roused her. They were out the door about an hour and a half later.
Now, awaiting his arrival, Moore and couple Emma Wold, 26, and Tyler Beardsley, 27, unraveled homemade rally signs. One read, “Crush it, Artoun” and another “Jazzy Nazzy Is Speedy Weedy,” a nod to Nazareth’s last name.
The group of friends love to rib each other, Beardsley said. Some of the gang joked that Nazareth would never run a marathon.
“And he’s like, well, ‘I’ll show you,’” Beardsley said. “He’s very much like, ‘You tell me I can’t do it. I’ll make sure it gets done.’”
As Nazareth ran by in his gray shirt and red shorts, he beamed at his personal cheering squad, patted his behind and sprinted off.
Along the Avenue of the Stars in Century City shortly before noon, dozens of family members, friends and supporters gathered with bouquets of flowers and their cameras ready as loved ones crossed the finish line.
For Liz Schulz, 57, completing the marathon this year was especially important.
“It was unfinished business,” said Schulz, who set out to run the race in 2020 with her now 23-year-old son, John. He made it but Schulz ended up in the medical tent about seven miles in.
But she was determined to try again. Schulz changed her running shoes and took on more cross and strength training.
She also had a little help and encouragement from her friends Sanger Lee, 67, who ran in Sunday’s race, and Jenn Aronson, 60, who didn’t. They served as Schulz’s own pep and advice squad.
“My mission this time was to see her finish,” said Lee, who has run in dozens of marathons.
John also ran the last eight miles with his mom, and they finished together around 11:20 a.m.
“I finally got it done!” Schulz said in triumph.
Her son, standing by her side, was beaming.
“I’m so proud,” he said.