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A marathon tour of Los Angeles

This year's race was the same 26.2-mile grind, but followed a revamped course through the multicultural city.

March 05, 2007|Charles Proctor, Anthony Barboza and Adrian Uribarri | Times Staff Writers

It was almost like renewing a wedding vow.

Los Angeles and thousands of participants in its namesake marathon saw each other afresh Sunday as the event embraced new vistas, both above and below ground.

From the Red Line subway that connected the start and finish lines to Boyle Heights, the 22nd Los Angeles Marathon became at once a neighborhood party and a communal experience in crossing Los Angeles.

The new look followed a change from the traditional loop course to a series of doglegs that started in the San Fernando Valley and ended downtown, a distance of 26.2 miles.

A Kenyan, Fred Mogaka, won the race and its first prize of $20,000 and a new car, followed by four of his countrymen. Mogaka also won a $100,000 bonus in the challenge portion of the event by blowing past the leading woman, Russian native Ramilia Burangulova, 45, after she had a head start of 19 minutes and 51 seconds. Burangulova was the top women's finisher, also winning $20,000 and a new car.

In the men's wheelchair division, Australian Kurt Fearnley won his second L.A. Marathon, setting a record of 1 hour, 23 minutes and 40 seconds.

But the L.A. party began hours earlier as participants, volunteers and spectators began pouring into the downtown Metro stations after parking in nearby lots or switching from light-rail lines.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority beefed up its morning schedule to a train every six minutes -- more than twice the usual number -- to handle the surge of about 10,000 extra riders.

As the result of an agreement between the transit agency and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, anyone wearing a racing number was allowed to ride free.

Though fare inspectors were on the job, they weren't trying too hard to hassle anybody, said MTA spokesman Mark Littman. For a lot of people this was their first Metro experience, Littman said. "We wanted them to have a good experience."

Four Orange County women -- Brenda Ching, Stephanie Smith, Nicolette Emery and Elizabeth Dale -- were riding the Red Line about 9:40 a.m., looking for their friends in the race. They carried cheering signs and wore bunny ears.

"We're wannabe Playboy bunnies," said Smith, 36.

After a failed attempt to find their friends at one stop, the women boarded the Purple Line to Wilshire and Harvard boulevards.

Trains leaving downtown stations were crowded -- sometimes packed shoulder to shoulder -- but the mood was ebullient.

"It's fantastic," said Will Lennertz, 42, an English instructor at Santiago Canyon College in Orange who was running in his second Los Angeles Marathon. "It's so much better than driving around and looking for parking."

The event began at daybreak with a fireworks show as 16,000 bicyclists pedaled away from the Memorial Coliseum south of downtown.

The cycling tour, which had a festive family atmosphere, covered a loop course that partly followed the runners' route through Boyle Heights, but then turned south.

Riders traversed the heart of a scrubbed skid row but bypassed Hollywood to avoid the leading runners who were pouring through Cahuenga Pass from the north.

The bicycle tour was marred by several crashes and a fatality. An unidentified 50-year-old man died of an apparent heart attack, the Los Angeles Fire Department said.

John Engelke, a 37-year-old software engineer, said he thought that the many turns in the course made it more challenging than last year's, but he was reluctant to criticize.

"I think it's interesting that they had the route go into different parts of Los Angeles," he said.

Despite worries that transit kinks might keep runners from getting to the starting line on time, the only delay occurred after the starting gun as the human accordion of nearly 25,000 runners took several minutes to get away on narrow Cahuenga Boulevard.

The course climbed Cahuenga Pass, and then snaked mostly downhill the rest of the way through Hollywood, Koreatown and the Eastside.

As she passed Mile 8 at Wilshire and Harvard boulevards in Koreatown, Laurie Hoye, 32, of Santa Monica marveled at this year's route.

"It was awesome coming down into Hollywood," she said.

That intersection turned into an impromptu dance floor as a number of runners paused to move to the beat of cumbia and bachata that was blasting from truck-mounted speakers.

Runners seemed to like the change of scenery.

At Mile 9 near Olympic Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, Veronica Tatenco, 39, of Jefferson Park marveled at the route.

"I've seen places I've never even seen before, and I've lived in L.A. for 25 years," she said.

For the first time, runners, cyclists and wheelchair racers crossed the Olympic Boulevard bridge into Boyle Heights, where they were greeted with crowds waving Guatemalan flags, the scent of sizzling tamales and pupusas, and the melodious chimes of a marimba so large it took three musicians to play.

"Ole! Ole! Ole!" a group of children sang as they waved red signs that read: "You can do it!"

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