The man in charge of the group that is putting on the first San Fernando Valley Marathon considers himself somewhat of an expert on the subject.
Bill Lovelace has competed in 51 marathons, ultramarathons and triathlons since taking up serious running 13 years ago.
As president of Basin Blues, an Encino-based running club, he has helped organize and stage more than 50 other road races, including last summer's Olympic marathons.
And what separates one race from another in his mind--what makes the competition more an "event" than just another road race--is community involvement.
"What makes Boston, what makes New York, what makes Chicago and San Francisco is the fact there's a lot of people out there cheering and urging the runners on," Lovelace said.
"Some races have a feel about them, an aura about them--they're exciting because there's a lot of enthusiasm generated. It's the kind of experience you want to go back and repeat. . . . It's like teachers--some teachers bring out something in you and some you can't remember their names."
Lovelace and Basin Blues hope everybody remembers the name of their latest venture. The club, which has staged shorter races in the past, is putting together what they say will be the first marathon run completely in the Valley.
Lovelace, 37, a vice president of a North Hollywood insurance company and a native Californian, is hoping the community will rally around the event, which will take place Nov. 17 and involve seven Valley communities.
He's close to nailing down several sponsors for the 26.2-mile race, he said, including a local beer distributor. He wants to enlist the help of local high schools, merchants and clubs, having them compete to see which can put together the most useful aid station.
He wants to put on a big pasta party at the Valley Hilton a night or two before the race. And, with a budget of $15,000 for prize money, he wants to attract some quality--if not big-name--runners.
The more people who want to get involved, the merrier.
"We want to generate a lot of enthusiasm locally," he said. "We're far more interested in having an event, rather than a road race. Instead of having a gun go off and you run as fast as you can and you get a medal and go home, we want it to be more than just a race."
As for the race itself, the course was designed, Lovelace said, to be fast and to "look at the major features in the Valley. . . .
"We don't have a mountain to run around, we don't have a lake and we don't have a centralized city like New York. But we do have some features."
None more well known, perhaps, than the Sherman Oaks Galleria, favorite hangout of Valley girls and a natural spot for the beginning and end of the marathon.
After leaving the galleria, the runners will travel north on Sepulveda Boulevard before turning west on Burbank Boulevard and heading toward Warner Center in Woodland Hills.
They'll make their way as far north as Victory Boulevard, passing through Balboa Park and Pierce College. They'll turn around at Shoup Avenue in Woodland Hills, wind their way through Pierce College again and run the final six miles or so down Ventura Boulevard.
By the time they make it back to the Galleria, the runners will have passed through Van Nuys, Reseda, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, Tarzana, Encino and Sherman Oaks.
"We couldn't cover everything in the Valley," Lovelace said. "There's no way we could get to the (San Fernando) Mission and to Pierce College. We combined more scenic things with a good route."
There is a slight upward grade going south on Corbin Avenue north of Ventura Boulevard, but the course basically is flat and fast, Lovelace said, with "turns that keep it interesting, but not so many that it becomes a rat's maze."
Lovelace and Basin Blues have a lot of experience in putting together and competing in such events.
Club member Steve Brown won the L.A. Lite Marathon in 1982, and two other members, Donna Chin and Beth Milewski, qualified for the women's Olympic trials last year.
"We've been involved in so many races that we know what makes a good race and what makes a bad race," Lovelace said.
Lovelace, who will serve as race director, was the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee's logistics manager for last summer's Olympic marathons.
A swimmer and water polo player in high school, he got "hooked" on running, he said, after competing in the Bay to Breakers, San Francisco's zany road race, in 1972. Since then, he has participated in numerous marathons and ultramarathons, the longest a 56-mile run in South Africa. Three times, he has competed in the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii. Last October, he finished 103rd.
All were fun, he said, but nothing compares with the thrill of putting on your own race.
"This is really going to be something," he said. "Don't get me wrong--I love going out of town and running in those races, but there's something special about putting these things on that's gotten all of us going."
He's hoping it will get the rest of the Valley going, too.