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Triathlon Has Motorists Feeling a Bit Rundown

September 13, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This last Sunday, in parts of Los Angeles, it was spring again. There was nary a jacaranda or mock orange blossom to be found, but much of Venice Boulevard was closed, as were parts of Wilshire, Hollywood, Sunset and Virgil. Miles and miles of streets were blocked by police tape, and on the streets that were open, baffled motorists nosed around like gerbils in a reconfigured Habitrail.

This could only mean one thing: the L.A. Marathon.

"Are they running it again?" asked one man, fully an hour late to a breakfast meeting.

No, nor was it an early Halloween fest or a march by the striking commercial actors. No, the streets were closed to accommodate 2,100 amateur and 71 professional athletes who felt moved to swim, bike and run from the Venice Pier to downtown L.A. The first annual L.A. Triathlon.

Just what this city needs. Another traffic problem.

For all their gridlock griping, Angelenos are a tolerant lot, willing to be held hostage for hours on sweltering slabs of concrete so a relative few can see that Dodger game or hear that concert at the Hollywood Bowl. Spring and summer are especially trying, but we work around farmers markets and street fairs, wait in crowds heading to the beach when we're just trying to get to the shoe store, and endure the capricious nature of mysterious and never-ending road repairs with relative patience.

The marathon, however, always takes us by surprise--it cuts such a large swath, closes entire neighborhoods, backs up every freeway with a "0" in it and flusters so many for so long on what should be the most peaceful day of the week. Still, we cite civic pride and treat participants like heroes. At least until Monday.

A triathlon, however, is really pushing it. For one thing, no one can spell it--is there an "a" after that "h" or what? The City of L.A. spells it both ways, as has this newspaper. It isn't even in Webster's New World, so its actual existence is debatable. But it is debuting as an Olympic event in Sydney, which is one reason L.A. decided to host one. That and the fact that Newport has had one for years.

Which seems like a really good argument for L.A. not having one. You want to experience the rigors of a triathlon? Go to Newport.

Admittedly, those of us who view the marathon and now the triathlon as unnecessary interruptions of precious weekend hours probably have at least a smidgen of hamstring envy going on. But really, with marathons and other athletic spectaculars in every major city in the union--cities, one might add, with decent mass transit systems--do we really need one here?

OK, OK, the triumph of the human spirit is a fine and precious thing, even in the guise of a sweating, puking runner limping toward the finish line. But if we're going to have two of these things closing down the city every year, maybe we just need to rethink the logistics.

First off, if we truly wanted a race representing our city, it should be a drag race, but never mind that. Perhaps the city could dragoon several gyms for the triathlon--participants could swim in the pools, ride the spinning cycles and run on the treadmills.

No good? Well, maybe we could just close down the necessary mileage of PCH on these days, since it is rendered practically useless as a thoroughfare most days because of repairs, landslides or beach traffic anyway.

Or maybe those of us frustrated by traffic tie-ups will just have to get off our butts and join the race. Next year.

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