Funny thing, this running game.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, America’s two largest cities will stage their annual marathons on the same day this Sunday, November 7th. It will be the first (and hopefully the only) time this happens.
Both events, the TCS New York City Marathon, and the Los Angeles Marathon presented by ASICS, will celebrate their return while saluting their legacy runners. In its 50th year, New York is down to one, Larry Trachtenberg, 67, a former special ed teacher from Queens, one of 127 starters and 55 finishers in the 1970 inaugural race. Now in year 36, LA still has 127 runners who have completed the first 35 out of nearly 11,000 who started the first LAM in 1986.
No one starts out to be a legacy runner, or a legacy broadcaster, for that matter. It just works out that way. And that is what this story is about.
The two of us couldn’t have been any more different, considering we were born within weeks of one another and grew up four miles apart in post-war St. Louis, Missouri.
Me, born January 2, 1948. Johnnie, born just six weeks later on February16th. Me, growing up in St Margaret’s parish in the city’s near-south side, a graduate of private St. Louis University High School, class of ‘66. Johnnie, growing up in Pruitt-Igoe, the poster-child for failed urban housing projects downtown, then graduating from public Vashon High School, also class of ’66.
Me, drafted into the U.S. Army in August 1969, but discharged after two months because of a medical issue and sent home to finish college. Johnnie, drafted two years later and sent to Viet Nam.
Later, we both joined the great escape from St. Louis, me moving east to Boston in 1974; him winging west to Los Angeles in 1981.
In our coastal redoubts, we both discovered the sport of running, which, you could say, saved his life, while giving me mine professionally.
Like many frontline veterans, Johnnie Jameson experienced some horrific things in Vietnam. Upon his return to the States, the memories of the war haunted him. Only when he discovered the calming effect of running did his PTSD subside.
It was the Los Angeles Marathon that provided the annual carrot that kept him running. But once he started, he never stopped.
By the time we met for the first time in March 2018, he had run all 33 City of Los Angeles Marathons, while I had broadcast all 33. When we compared notes, we leaned how oddly similar our life arcs through running had been.
Perhaps the least important, but most highly visible, difference between us is our color. I am the taller white guy. He is the shorter, but fitter, black guy.
We both realized that if we had remained in our hometown of St. Louis, the chances that we would have ever crossed paths in our seven decades on the planet would’ve been infinitesimal, as St. Louis has always been a racially divided city.
Today, we still both self-identify as runners, though a neurological condition has stripped me of the physical capability. Yet here we are, both celebrating 36 years at the LA Marathon this Sunday morning, him on foot, me behind the mic for KTLA-TV5.
“I’m wonderful,” Johnnie told me as he prepped for his legacy run this Sunday. “I am still working (he’s a postman). I still have my routine, walking 4-5 miles a day. I get some runs in on the weekend. And we legacies hook up occasionally.”
Good luck, St.Louis, you and your 126 legacy brothers and sisters. We will compare notes afterward. Then plan for #37 next March.
Funny thing, this running game. Sometimes makes you wonder what all the other fuss is about.