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Marathoners change course

New start and ending points raise concern, but the flatter terrain could mean faster times.

March 03, 2007|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

A course correction made to the Los Angeles Marathon may still need to be fixed, but runners and race officials alike appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach to changes that will be apparent Sunday in the 22nd annual race.

For the first time, the 26.2-mile race will be run from point to point -- starting in one place and finishing in another -- rather than beginning and ending in the same place, and while some runners are concerned about the logistics of such a switch involving the more than 25,000 expected to compete, most are taking it in stride, figuring that they have little choice with the race only a day away.

"Everyone knows that with any event, when there are changes, it's an unknown," said Michele Biagioni, president of Santa Monica's L.A. Leggers running club, which will have 300 members participating in the marathon. "There's some comfort in that none of us know the course. We can all say it's new for everybody, kind of like the first day back to school."

Race officials hope a small field of 23 elite runners will give the new route an "A" because, overall, the course is flatter, and therefore, expected to be faster, than in previous years.

"You don't really know how fast a course is going to be until you run it," said Larry Barthlow, the elite-athlete coordinator for the race. "Until it's run, there's no history. Once a course gets a reputation, the floodgates open up."

Race officials certainly hope so. So far, the attempt to attract more top-flight competitors has come up short.

Neither last year's men's race winner, Benson Cherono of Kenya, nor women's race winner, Lidiya Grigoryeva of Russia, will be competing, and the elite athlete field includes only 18 men and five women.

"I think we're just in a lean year, where people are going to races that they know," Barthlow said. "History's so important, and I think people want to see what happens."

Duncan Seko, a Kenyan with a personal-best time of 2 hours, 18 minutes 4 seconds, will be competing in L.A. for the first time and said he wasn't bothered by the small elite field, led by Seko's fellow Kenyans, Fred Mogaka and Moses Kororia. Mogaka won in Melbourne, Australia, with a time of 2:12.03, Kororia in Dallas in 2:12.04.

"The field is small, but, based on times, it is still good, and that makes up for it," Seko said.

The different starting and ending points of the race have the potential to cause parking and transportation problems as thousands of runners make their way to the starting line.

The first changes along the route in five years also have forced clubs to scope out sites for aid stations -- and in some cases, relocate them -- and concerns regarding gear drop-off and retrieval have been raised, along with hopes for fast times.

William A. Burke, the race president, is bracing for race-day responses to the changes.

"Whenever a course changes, it generates some apprehension," he said. "You can't win. There's some people who are going to love it, and others who aren't going to be happy no matter what you do."

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lauren.peterson@latimes.com

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