Ah, the marathon, that hoary old event. We just saw another in Los Angeles yesterday, presented by ASICS. And a lovely (though a bit breezy) day it was.
It was number 37 for L.A., and a welcome return to a mask-less semblance of normalcy prevailed. Spirits were high for the 15,000 runners, walkers, and wheelers. The mood was festive, and the competition, though limited, was riveting.
Riveting, because we witnessed the resurrection of the old race-within-the-race, men versus women challenge format that had become the signature of the Los Angeles Marathon from 2004 to 2014 before the 2015 U.S. National Championships and 2016 Olympic Trials displaced it.
But thanks to Mark Minichiello, CEO of Quincy Cass & Associates, the oldest independent financial firm in Los Angeles, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Challenge format found its benefactor for 2022.
Thank God it did. Because the women’s winner, Delvin Meringor of Kenya, broke free of Biruktayit Degefa of Ethiopia after just 11 miles. While the men’s champion, now two-time champion, John Korir of Kenya, put away his last competitor, 2021 L.A. runner-up Edwin Kimutai, at 21 miles.
That might’ve been difficult to watch, two people running alone for 15 and or 5 miles. But because there was a 16:05 handicap given to the women, it took all but the final few 100 meters of the race to determine the outcome of the QC & Assoc. Challenge.
In fact, it was pretty thrilling stuff because the two races played out as mirror images of one another. The women took off like they were window shopping along Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Their first mile barely broke six minutes. 16:05 later, the men lit out of the Dodger Stadium at 6:55 a.m. behind New Zealand Olympian and marathon record holder Zane Robertson. The sub-one-hour half-marathoner blitzed the early miles at sub-two hour pace: 4:32 first mile, 4:30 second mile, 4:40 third mile! You knew there was going to be a crash-and-burn scenario late in the race. Robertson, himself, began fading after just nine miles.
Korir, who was looking to tie his older brother Wesley as a two-time LA champion, got within 100 meters of Meringor in the final mile. But then, just as he was poised to overtake her, he began to pay the penalty for that early speed.
Last year, John Korir split the two halves in LA in 1:07 & 1:05 to win in 2:12:48. This year he and Edwin Kimutai cruised through the first half in 1:03:24. But even that was front-loaded with speed.
By the final mile, Korir was more like Scotty on the starship Enterprise, telling Captain Kirk in his Scottish brogue, “Cap’n, I haven’t got any power!”
To his credit, John came to the finish line in Century City on the Avenue of Stars with a new personal best of 2:09:08, but it wasn’t enough to catch Delvine Meringor.
Running in only her second marathon, she held on to cross in 2:25:04, nine seconds in front of 25-year-old Korir, as she posted the second fastest women’s time in L.A. history. And the crowd went wild, which was the whole idea.
When people tell me running is boring, I always say, no, running isn’t boring. It’s staged boringly. If every race is a paced time-trial, no wonder people lose interest.
Besides, how can an event be boring when it was conceived after the first guy who tried it didn’t survive the experience? People, that is what’s called a cautionary tale, hardly a recommendation.
And folks seemed to take heed for quite some time, considering 2388 years elapsed before anybody tried it again.
But for some reason, once Baron Pierre de Coubertin resurrected the Olympic Games in 1896, and Greek shepherd, Spiridon Louis, won the inaugural Olympic Marathon in front of his king and 60,000 spectators in Athens, the thing caught on, and people couldn’t stop doing it.
And to be honest, there is a certain heroic imbecility to whole mad caper. Think about it.
Even with the new super shoes, running 42.2 kilometers on foot can cause toenails to fall off, blood blisters to grow to the size of sewer covers on your feet, and, if not properly lubed up or protected, cause male nipples to bleed.
“What’s the entry fee on this?”
Still, there’s been over a million people who have run the thing in 37 years in LA, including 116 intrepid souls who have done every one of them, and another 65,000+ representing the fabulous Students Run LA program.
It’s a rich stew, for sure. One that only needs a just little more seasoning to make it truly 5 stars across the board.
With the Olympic Games scheduled to return to L.A. in six years (2028), there’s plenty of time to make this an event that truly reflects the greatness of its hometown. What remains is the intention to do so.
That said, yesterday’s spectacle was an excellent base upon which to build that new recipe. So, it’s onward, into the unknown! And congratulations to all who made the mad-cap journey this year.