From around the country and around the world, thousands of runners, walkers, bike riders and wheelchair racers converged on downtown Monday for the 2009 Los Angeles Marathon, a race that swept them past many of the city's most famous landmarks and through its most diverse neighborhoods as throngs of spectators cheered them on.
The Memorial Day race featured an abundance of American flags, colorful balloons and exotic running outfits.
It was the first marathon for Marilyn Zbacnik, 33, of Sylmar, who was accompanied by a cheering squad composed of her husband, Garrick Miller, and sister-in-law Corrina Miller. Although she is a longtime runner, Zbacnik said she had never felt confident enough to tackle the 26.2-mile course but had been training for six months for this year's run.
"I've been running for a long time, and I love the freedom of it," Zbacnik said. "It's a real escape for me."
Trevor Matthews, 17, of Granada Hills was one of more than 7,100 participants in the bicycle tour, a 21.5-mile loop that began and ended near USC and partly covered the same route as that of the runners, traversing neighborhoods such as Leimert Park, the Fairfax district, Koreatown and Hancock Park. The bicyclists had to be in place by 3:30 a.m. for a race that began at 5 a.m., before the marathon started.
"It was pretty fun," said Matthews, who finished in a little more than an hour. "There weren't a lot of people out at the time of the morning on the route. It wasn't crowded, just pretty peaceful and quiet."
Aaron Gordian of Mexico claimed the first crown of the day, winning the men's wheelchair race with a time of 1:31:19. Wesley Korir, a Kenyan who became a track star at the University of Louisville, captured the men's footrace in a course record of 2:08:24. Among the women, who were given a 17-minute head start, Tatiana Petrova of Russia finished first in 2:25:59.
One top runner, Paul Kosgei of Kenya, collapsed at the finish line and was taken to a hospital. Race officials said late Monday that his condition was not serious.
The day began with more in contention than just who would be crowned the fastest man and woman. The city had demanded that the race be shifted from its traditional Sunday in early March to Memorial Day to address complaints from religious leaders that race-day road closures hindered congregants from attending services. The change sparked an outcry from runners who said the shift would upset schedules and training regimens and who feared it would be too hot to run.
Monday's cool, overcast skies with virtually no wind proved to be ideal, race officials said. Nonetheless, racers will probably have to adjust their schedules yet again as the Los Angeles City Council prepares to vote on whether to move the marathon back to a Sunday in March.
The calendar controversy was far from the minds of most runners and their supporters Monday.
Near the Mile 18 banner on Wilshire Boulevard, Kristin Lauterbach had "Go, Chad!" signs ready to spur on her husband, who at 29 was running his first marathon. Joining her were friends and in-laws who had flown in from Phoenix to surprise Chad Lauterbach for his birthday Saturday.
Nearby, Christina Teel, 17, and Tiana Thorp, 16, sat under a blue canopy watching the race on television. They had arrived at 6 a.m. to string up yellow and black balloons in support of high school and community college friends who were pounding the asphalt and providing them with frequent updates from their cellphones.
Near the finish downtown, participants walked (or limped) a gantlet of stations where volunteers handed out products designed to revive worn-out racers.
Teddy Mueller of Las Vegas finished his eighth marathon in 3 hours, 28 minutes 5 seconds. Accustomed to running in 90-degree heat, Mueller found the cloudy, cool day almost too chilly. "If I can get up the air fare," Mueller said, "I'll run next month in Anchorage. I've already registered."