2020 LOS ANGELES MARATHON PREVIEW

Los Angeles, CA – Over its 34 years, the Los Angeles Marathon has seen 10 runners win two times, five men and five women. But no one has managed a third. Sunday, two 2X men’s champions are back, fit, and anxious to make LA history.

Defending champion Elisha (el-eee-sha) Barno of Kenya (2:11:47) also won in 2017 (2:11:53). The year between he ran third behind 2018 and 2016 champ Weldon Kirui, who took 5th last year attempting his third title.

Both men are back and cautiously optimistic as Kenyan athletes in shape tend to be, keeping their fitness close to the singlet.  It’s body language that, at times, betrays their inner feelings. And as I said, Barno and Kirui are harboring no issues that should cause hesitance.

But the famed LA stadium-to-sea course is a natural sluiceway with an ease in the final miles as clement as the Santa Monica ocean breezes that will welcome the record 27,000 entrants.

Last year the final 12 kilometers all fell at sub-3:00 (4:50/mi.).  The last 10Km was covered in 29:46. The final three miles down tree-lined San Vincente Blvd in Brentwood then turn onto Ocean Ave in Santa Monica is a gravity-lessening downgrade that elevates your hips perfectly to spin that ribbon of road beneath and behind. Kirui’s 25th mile in 2018 was 4:30. Barno burned a 4:25 last year to catch front-running John Korir with 150 meters remaining.

LA men’s race has tended toward these final stage shootouts and flameouts. No reason to expect anything different tomorrow.

Coronavirus fears, visa issues, injury and last week’s US Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta has reduced the 2020 LA women’s race to a two-woman showdown between two Kenyan marathon champions from December 2019.

Auburn, California-based Kenyan Jane Kibii won Sacramento’s 37th Cal International Marathon three months ago, running in cloudy, damp conditions, producing a personal best 2:29:31. 

Nairobi based Kenyan Margaret Muriuki took home top honors at the Honolulu Marathon, besting 2016 Kenyan Olympian Betsy Saina in a race-long duel, 2:31:10 to 2:31:52. 

At least five seeded women scheduled to race in LA either pulled out with injuries, or had difficulty securing travel visas, a  problem that has dogged the sport since 9/11.

Kibii has lived Auburn, CA for 10 years and has good experience in LA taking 2nd in 2017, and 5th the last two years. With 13 career marathons under her belt, though, she isn’t expected to bust out into new territory, while Muriuki is just beginning her longer distances career.

Kibii said she recovered well from Cal International, but has never run back-to-back Marathons so close together. So she’s wondering how she’ll feel on Sunday just as much as we are.

Muriuki is a former cross country standout on the Kenyan world team and is just making her transition to the marathon. Last December in Honolulu she out dueled Betsy Saina in what looks to be a modest 2:31:10. But Honolulu is warm, humid and hilly, and has a well-deserved reputation as a major springboard to the big-time as evidenced by two-time HM champion Brigid Kosgei running the 2:14:04 women’s world record in Chicago last fall.

33 year-old Muriuki says she’s ready for a 2:25 after seeing the splits from last year’s 2:24:12 course record by Ethiopia’s Askale Merachi.

Kibii is more the journeyman marathoner, solid, but she won’t be doing 2:25. So will the 33 year old Muriuki go off on her own? That’s what we wait to see.

The LA men’s is race much deeper. more intriguing, and very well matched by Matt Turnbull the pro athlete recruiter. Barno and Kirui are not odds-on like Muriuki and Kibii for the women.

Leading the assault will be New Zealand marathon national record holder Zane Robertson, one of the Kiwi twins who moved to East Africa at age 17 to absorb the Kenyan running culture. They’ve been there 13 years.

Zane actually has been living in Ethiopia for the last three years, preferring the anonymity of the Addis Ababa capital to the hen house atmosphere in the small Kenyan town of Iten, where “everyone is talking about everyone else”.

Robertson’s national marathon record came at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia July 2019.

“I was disappointed “ Zane said of his 2:08:19 third place finish. “I wanted to run 2:06 and win.”

Strong winds and rain ruined those plans. There’ll be no such excuses Sunday 8 March 2020 in LA.

The forecast at the LA Dodger stadium start at 6:45 am Pacific is mid-50s Fahrenheit with light winds from the east (tail) and 70% humidity. And a feature of the point-to-point LA course is that the cooler temps along the ocean in Santa Monica keeps the start and finish conditions even. There will also be partly cloudy skies, even better.

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Students Run LA (SRLA) will be celebrating its 34th running with 2800 local high school students ready for the challenge. SRLA is the best marathon program in the country in my telling, enabling students at at-risk schools to train for then experience the life-changing satisfaction of achieving a very difficult task.

I got this from Karen Kalan who used to work at SRLA and the LAM. She’s running this year for SRLA graduate Jocelyn Rivas.

“This will be Joycelyn’s 56th Marathon.  She is in line to be the youngest Latina to complete 100 marathons, which she hopes to complete at the LA Marathon in 2021.

“Born in El Salvador with a broken neck, broken back, and broken feet, it was never expected that she would survive let alone run a Marathon.

“I met her at the SRLA 30K long run in 2015 and then we ended up running the marathon together that year.  She has a degree in computer information systems and she credits SRLA as having changed her life. SRLA really gave her the confidence  and the resources to do the LA Marathon. And from that, everything else has flowed..”

That’s the power of SRLA and the spirit of the entire 27,000 strong Los Angeles Marathon presented by Asics.

131 LA Legacy runners will also be doing their 35th straight, while I’ll be broadcasting my 35th as well. Didn’t plan that. Just the way it worked out.

You can tune in to KTLA in LA or WGN America nationwide. LA is always a crucible of the sport of running and a celebration of the diversity of Los Angeles.

END

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