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Get Them to the Marathon on Time

March 01, 1992|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

During an Olympic year, the City of Los Angeles Marathon sees its number of elite athletes diminish. Physiologically, a top-flight marathoner is limited to two races a year, and this year most top runners have set their sights on the races at the Olympic trials and the Summer Games in Barcelona.

Although the seventh Los Angeles Marathon will feature some world-class runners--including course-record holder Martin Mondragon of Mexico, two-time winner Art Bolieau of Canada and Ireland's John Treacy, the silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics--some of the focus will fall on individuals with either a gimmick or eccentricity. The kind of people who will leave both natives and outsiders muttering, "Only in L.A."

"You name it, it happens here," said Bill Burke, the marathon's president.

Past entrants have dribbled a basketball, juggled balls and carried a tray with a champagne bottle over the 26-mile, 385-yard course.

But Peter Elkin and Lorin Johnson, could well be considered the most unusual entrants in the seven-year history of the event, whose motto is, "The race where every runner is a star."

Johnson and Elkin will be getting married at Mile 13 water station, which is at Mann's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. KCOP will carry the ceremony as part of its race coverage.

The couple, minister and seven wedding-party members will run the entire race, with 15 additional wedding-party participants jumping in between the sixth and 13th miles. The groom will be clad in a cutaway tuxedo jacket; the bride will wear a veil.

Elkin and Johnson will stand under a flowered arch, recite their wedding vows, cut a cake and then run to the finish line, where they will hold their reception.

"It's only appropriate," Elkin said of the couple's decision to marry at the marathon.

After all, the race brought them together.

The couple met in 1990 in the family reunion area, near the finish line. Johnson, a Seattle flight attendant, had just completed her first marathon (in 3 hours, 38 minutes). She was trying to ease the pain of the end of a relationship by running.

Elkin, who has his own real estate development and consulting company in Irvine, had competed in several marathons, finished behind Johnson, mainly because he had run a slower than usual pace to allow some friends who were first-time marathoners to complete the race.

The day before, his divorce had become final. He was wearing a T-shirt that read: "Marriage--The Sole Cause of Divorce."

"She just ran into my life," Elkin said. "(Starting a relationship) was the furthest thing in my mind."

The two talked, and Johnson's parents came over and took pictures of them together. Johnson and Elkin exchanged addresses and phone numbers on the back of each other's running numbers.

The marathon also played a role in Elkin's proposal, which followed an 18-month courtship.

While walking along the beach at Carmel, Elkin asked Johnson to unzip his jacket. She did, revealing his marathon T-shirt and 1990 racing number pinned to it.

On the back of the number, Elkin had written, "Will you marry me?"

After discussing where to get married, Johnson thought the marathon would be a great site.

"We don't see anything strange to us," Elkin said, while also admitting getting married at a marathon is, indeed, "Pretty much an L.A. thing."

The couple's original plan was to marry at the finish line, but a ceremony at the midway point proved to be easier logistically.

Said Burke: "It's amazing to me that in the few years that this event has been in place, the impact on the populace has been so significant that they want to share this with us and us with them. It's very heartwarming. We do everything we can do to make those kind of events meaningful for the people involved, integrating them into the event and trying to make sure everything happens very smoothly for them."

Such participants help both the race and telecast, according to Burke and Frank Belmont, who is producing KCOP's coverage.

"Marathoning has a very narrow base," Burke said. "Even though 20,000 people (the race's field) looks like an army when it passes you by, there's not a whole lot of people who can run 26 miles. (Entrants like this) give people something to identify with."

"The whole theme of the L.A. marathon is that it's a celebration," said Belmont, adding that he will not be "making light" of the Elkin-Johnson marriage during KCOP's coverage. "The marathon touches upon all the communities it crosses. I've always felt watching the race that the real story is the common folk, and some of the odd situations. There's as many serious stories as the little off-the-wall stories."

Coverage of the seventh City of Los Angeles Marathon airs Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KCOP.

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