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Are the Marathon Runners Smarter Than Horses Are?

March 05, 1990|MELVIN DURSLAG

You picture a guy rolling in from Bialystok, not aware of what's happening, standing on Figueroa, watching a bunch of guys come running past in their underwear.

The visitor scratches his head. "Must have been a raid on the chicken ranch," he says to his neighbor. "The clients went out the windows."

"You're looking at the L.A. Marathon," he is informed. "It unifies the city."

"For something that unifies the city," he answers, "I see an awful lot of cops around."

At home, the marathon is carried in its entirety on television. As programming, the spectacle of one running 26 miles, 385 yards, is a lasting thrill.

"What does watching a marathon on TV mean to you?" a viewer is asked.

"It means accomplishment," he responds. "At the start of the race, I put a turkey in a 350 oven, drive down and get the oil changed, stroll through the mall--and I'm back in time to see the finish."

Meantime, ramp closures are announced for three freeways, and little old ladies trying to drive to church on Sunday are asked to take alternate routes.

Shutting down of streets for the marathon has an economic impact on houses of worship. The pastor of a church on Sunset Boulevard tells the Times religion writer that the plate draws up short by a thousand bucks.

The L.A. Marathon starts and finishes in the area of Exposition Park, but the Coliseum isn't used for fear the commissioners would lose the race to Oakland.

They lost the Rams to Anaheim, the Bruins to Pasadena and the Lakers and Kings to Inglewood.

The winner of the men's division in the marathon this year is a Pedro Ortiz of Colombia, who is richer not because he is mountain grown but because the sponsor unloads $26,385 in cash on him and Mercedes-Benz gives him one of its cars.

Pedro looks like Laffit Pincay Jr., who, having to go places, rides a horse.

OK, we now give thought to horses and marathon runners. If a horse runs a mile and a quarter, and a marathoner runs 26 miles, who, do we conclude, is the dumb beast?

"When I have to go 26 miles," a horse once confided, "I hire a van."

The winner of the women's division of the L.A. Marathon, Julie Isphording of Cincinnati, bags the same prizes as Pedro Ortiz, proving that this is an equal-opportunity run.

It dramatizes, too, the advancement of women in the earthly scheme, considering that it wasn't until 1984 in Los Angeles that women were even permitted to run a marathon in the Olympics.

When Baron Pierre de Coubertin, venerable sportsman and father of the modern Olympics, reinstituted the Games in 1896, he was asked about the possibility of women competing. Said the baron:

"An Olympics with women would be incorrect, impractical, uninteresting and not aesthetic."

He says something like that today and they hang him with his foulard.

Eventually, he yielded, permitting women in the Olympics, but gaining acceptance in the marathon by women was painful and slow.

In the area of domestic relations, a disparity of thought exists over whether one in the household who doesn't run the marathon can live with one who does.

Is it possible for the non-runner to support the habits of the runner, and, if it's possible, is it recommended?

Or does the relationship do better when both are (a) runners or (b) non-runners?

A woman testified here one time that she had wanted to leave her non-running husband for years but didn't have the courage.

And what ultimately would give her the strength? She finished her first marathon.

The husband was never interviewed, meaning that it isn't known whether the confidence gained by the wife, enabling her to take off, was rated by the husband as a break.

The trouble with people who run in marathons, and with those who televise them, is that they never deal in offsets.

Do they tell prospects, for instance, that individuals they can expect to meet through running are the podiatrist, the orthopedist, the cardiologist and the neurologist?

In some cases, they also will meet the psychiatrist, whose opening question will be, "Do you want to talk about this half-baked notion that led you to run a marathon?"

Converts are told about the thrill of running through the streets, to the cheers of thousands, but does anyone remind them how many motorists are cursing them?

In this society, we live with many fears, foremost of which is the overturned big rig backing up traffic six miles on, say, the eastbound 91.

On the southbound Santa Ana, we've got a three-car slammer, and traffic has ground to a halt at the Harbor interchange because a dog is loose.

It would seem, logically, that we live with enough anxiety on our roads without dumping 20,000 runners into them to aggravate the problem.

"You're kind of bitter," a runner submits. "Is there nothing to be said in behalf of marathons in the streets?"

"Indeed, there is," you respond. "Evidence has yet to be produced that marathon runners cause smog."

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