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L.A. Marathon: Wesley Korir is doing the work he loves — running

The 28-year-old Kenyan has won the last two Los Angeles Marathons, which helps explain why he was able to quit his full-time job as a maintenance worker. He'll try to become the first three-time winner Sunday.

March 19, 2011|By Melissa Rohlin
  • Wesley Korir won the 2010 L.A. Marathon in 2:09:19, third-best time in race history. He set the record, 2:08:24, in 2009.
Wesley Korir won the 2010 L.A. Marathon in 2:09:19, third-best time in race… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Wesley Korir trained for the last two Los Angeles Marathons while balancing his full-time job as a maintenance worker.

Not this time around. Last March, after winning the L.A. race for the second time in a row, he quit.

"I miss my job," the 28-year-old Kenyan admitted the other day. "I call there all the time to visit it."

Korir on Sunday will try to become the first to win three L.A. Marathons after having set a race record and personal best in 2009 with a time of 2:08:24 and, in 2010, clocking 2:09:19, the third-fastest in race history.

Interactive: 2011 L.A. Marathon street view tour

"As the time goes by, I feel more confident and feel like I'm at home here," he said. "I've had a couple of people recognize me in Santa Monica."

That comfort level could pose a problem for his competition even though the men's field includes two fellow Kenyans whose lifetime bests are faster than Korir's — Ben Maiyo (2:07:09) and Patrick Ivuti (2:07:46).

On the women's side, Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba, 21, is favored to win, based on her having the fastest time (2:25:27) in the field.

The men's and women's winners will each receive $25,000 and a 2011 Honda Insight EX sedan. The first runner to cross the finish line will receive a $100,000 bonus. The women will be given a head start of 17 minutes 3 seconds.

Barefoot runner Caity McCardell ready to put her soles on the line

"I've been married for one year, but my wife has given me permission to chase the women," Korir said with a laugh. "It's going to be fun."

The 26.2-mile course is a tweaked version of last year's "stadium-to-sea" route, which drew a record 26,054 registrants in its debut. It still starts at Dodger Stadium, then snakes past many of the city's main tourist destinations, including historic Route 66 in West Hollywood and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The race ends in Santa Monica, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

This year, stops were added in Chinatown and Little Tokyo, and a loop around the stadium was eliminated. Officials also upped the registration fee by $20, to $145, which may cause a dip in the number of participants. Online registration closed March 13, but runners could still sign up at L.A. Marathon Expo through Saturday and officials hoped to reach 25,000.

Some experienced local marathoners are electing not to run.

Nathaniel Mouzis, 23, born and raised in Santa Ana, said he loves L.A., but not the race.

"Southern California is the best place to live," the Cal State Fullerton student said, but added, "I've never run the L.A. Marathon and I don't have any plan on doing it in the near future."

Why? Mouzis, who considers himself a second-tier elite runner, said he fears he wouldn't have enough people at his level to run with. He posted a time of 2:39:58 at last year's Boston Marathon — an impressive pace of 6 mintes 6 seconds per mile. Though he admits he wouldn't be able to keep up with the world-class runners Sunday, he said he'd be too far ahead of the main pack to really be challenged.

"I just want to be in a place where the competition is going to be really good up front," he said. "Two hours and 20 minutes to two hours and 40 minutes is the solid group of runners I'm looking for to push me. It tapers off really quickly in L.A."

Lisa Gilmore, a San Diego native who has lived in L.A. for 10 years, said that after training up to six days a week for four months, she wants to do something extraordinary. And the L.A. Marathon, which doesn't require a minimum qualifying time, isn't it, she said.

"It's life-impacting," Gilmore, 33, said of running marathons. "Your schedule revolves around it. What you eat. When you go to bed."

She ran a marathon in San Diego in 2009 to qualify for Boston last year and finished in 3:38:32. Now she's hooked and is willing to travel anywhere in search of a good marathon. But not here.

"L.A. is something that everyone does," Gilmore said. "I want to make it special and do something that maybe not everyone else can."

That's OK with Nick Curl, executive director of the L.A. Marathon, who said he doesn't foresee having qualifying times, as New York and Boston do. As for becoming an elite race, he said, "It is a goal, but it's not important to us as the runner experience."

Instead of trying to rival prestigious marathons like New York's, Curl said the L.A. Marathon is focusing on using its funds in different ways.

"This year, L.A. will be the first race ever to take its splits and send that via Twitter and Facebook," he said. "It costs us tens of thousands of dollars to do that. You being able to track your friends, that's cool."

For Korir, the Los Angeles Marathon is cool for an entirely different reason. He named his daughter, now 6 months old, in honor of his victories here: McKayLA.

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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