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Know The Course

February 25, 2008

From the starting line near Universal Studios, marathoners will traverse a point-to-point course that goes through Hollywood, Hancock Park, Koreatown, downtown and parts of Boyle Heights and finishes among downtown high-rises.

Participants should familiarize themselves with the course before the race, but knowing what to expect goes far beyond looking at a map. Here's the lowdown from executive race director Terry Collier and Laurence Cohen, director of media relations (both of whom have run the L.A. Marathon).

* Brace yourself. About the first mile and a half of the course along Cahuenga Boulevard will be an uphill grade from the starting line at Lankershim Boulevard. The pack will be thick through here, and most people will be walking a bit until the crowd thins. When it does, many runners -- especially first-timers -- tend to go faster than the usual pace. It's understandable: "You're caught up in the excitement and the adrenaline rush of running with the pack," says Collier, "and before you know it, you're running an eight-minute mile and your goal was to run a nine-minute mile."

From the starting line, Cahuenga will begin to narrow, making it even tougher to gain some elbow room. Collier advises sticking to one part of the road instead of weaving in and out. Marathon veterans and exercise experts recommend taking it easy in the beginning. Too much too soon, and runners could burn out.

And don't look for familiar faces for the first 100 yards of the race -- spectators aren't allowed.

* The hill will crest about half a mile past Barham Boulevard, becoming a fairly steep downhill route along Cahuenga and Highland Avenue, past the Hollywood Bowl and into the thick of Hollywood. Although the downward slope will be a relief, "it's important that the runners watch their speed," says Collier, "because you can get an injury, pull a muscle. At this point, the body is not quite warmed up to settle into a pace."

* Just past mile marker 3, large, lively crowds will greet runners at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, where, according to Collier, "reality sets in. This is the marathon now." That initial rush will have drifted away, replaced by the knowledge that more than 20 miles still lie ahead. By this point, the pack should have thinned out enough so that runners have ample room to move.

* As runners head east across Hollywood Boulevard, they'll encounter the Marylind Foundation Choir at North McCadden Place, and the Nick O'Neill Band at Hollywood and Ivar Avenue. They'll turn south on Vine Street, a gradual downhill. On race day, all construction along the route will stop, and parked cars will disappear; the course will be checked beforehand for potholes.

* Just past mile 5, the course will jog east along Melrose Avenue and head south on Lucerne Boulevard, the first residential patch of the race as the course meanders through Hancock Park. As runners continue to head south on Rossmore Avenue, Collier says, there's something to look forward to: "This is where each house tries to out-do the others in terms of how they support the runners. It's like a movable feast through here -- some people have sliced oranges or little sandwiches." Etiquette dictates that runners take one and keep going, not grab the entire tray. Oh, and make sure to say, "Thank you."

If it's a warm day, marathoners will surely be feeling it by now. They should continue to take in fluids and grab ice if needed.

* The marathon route is designed to take participants through some of the city's ethnic neighborhoods. Heading south on Harvard Boulevard and east on Olympic Boulevard, runners will come into the business and residential district of Koreatown, with its mix of contemporary and older buildings. By now the elites will be well away from the mid-pack and slower marathoners. Spectator crowds will be strong along here, Cohen says.

* Along Olympic, around mile 9, is also where runners will get their first glimpse of downtown high-rises. "You get that sense of the fire in your belly," says Collier. "It's a wow factor." A slight uphill on Olympic as it crosses Vermont Avenue may require runners to dig in, but Collier says those who have trained well should navigate it easily. "This is where your training really pays off," he says. "If you haven't trained properly for at least 20 to 28 weeks, you may feel it."

* A few quick turns will come along Hoover Street down to Pico Boulevard, then south on Vermont and west on Venice Boulevard. Those bends actually are a boon to most runners, Collier says. "It's difficult when you get a stretch that is miles and miles straight, because you feel like you'll never get to the end."

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