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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES

. . . to the Ridiculous

June 26, 1996|APRIL JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some people run for exercise. Others for the love of competition. I run for three reasons: free stuff, metal trinkets and great parties.

This is why I decided to mark my first marathon, in the spring of 1995, at the 10th annual Los Angeles Marathon. I reckoned a marathon marking an anniversary would go overboard on everything. Besides, if any city knows how to throw a party, it's Los Angeles.

And was I right.

On the night before the race, Santa Barbara was flooding but at the carbo-loading dinner, which filled the Shrine Auditorium with runners of all ages and abilities, the party danced on until 2 in the morning. Live music, new friends, free food. I knew then I'd found my event.

The next morning, the rains continued but so did the party. Runners, covered in black plastic trash bags, boogied at the starting line as Cheryl Crow blasted over the speakers "All I wanna do is have some fun, I gotta feeling I'm not the only one."

And through the streets of Hollywood, we did just that.

In a downpour that never let up, some 20,000 runners and about half as many spectators attended a 26.2-mile festival. In a decade of marathons, this was the wettest.

Now if I see anyone in a L.A. Marathon T-shirt, it's like running into an old friend except we ask each other "What was your time? Did you get blisters?" instead of "What are you up to? Do you have any kids?"

Races not only open doors to new friends, they actually give me a reason to keep training. It's not easy to stay motivated every day to run or lift weights or stretch or watch my diet.

Training for a marathon is a six-month commitment. Each day I stick with my regimen, I know my next race will be easier.

Plus, it helps to have a legitimate excuse to forgo that dollop of sour cream or guacamole on a tostada. Once my training made the change from working out to a standard part of my life, I knew what I had to do next. Another marathon.

The Boston Marathon was a natural for Marathon No. 2. I was thinking 100th Running: major hoopla, tons of giveaways and parties galore. What else would you expect when 40,000 runners get together?

From start to finish, Boston was the best party I ever needed to win a lottery to attend. Forget race clocks and split-times, I high-fived more than 2,000 spectators before I'd even reached Mile 3. Was it good for my ego or what? We ran in a pack of 40,000 strong, a sea of white T-shirts sharing a single goal . . . the finish line.

Boston was the kind of race that, once you realize you'll be out there for four or five hours, you chat with whomever is running alongside you at the moment and if a spectator offers you a cold beer, hey, you might not want to turn it down even if it is Mile 26.

I made friends off the course, as well. My new best friends, Claire and Karl, taught me how to survive driving in Boston. (Never use your turn signal, it only gives away your strategy.)

Marathoners and marathon fans seem to share the same psyche, or is it a psychosis? We're more likely to recollect the highs of the race rather than the low points. I remember the woman who struggled up Heartbreak Hill alongside me, both of us sputtering words of encouragement between gasps for air. At the top of the hill, I waved goodbye as she stopped for a breather and I cruised the downgrade with a new set of running buddies.

On my quest for new friends and cool, free stuff, I've decided next year's run will be the 25th Anchorage Marathon. It takes place June 22, and is an evening run because the sun doesn't set that night. That, my friends, is the very definition of party potential.

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