Los Angeles, CA – Ethiopia’s Jemal Yimer and Kenya’s Stacey Ndiwa came to Southern California with one goal in mind: to kick-start their marathon careers by winning a big city marathon. Both succeeded, winning the 38th Los Angeles Marathon presented by ASICS in convincing fashion, Ndiwa in 2:31:01, Yimer in 2:13:14.

Still, the times were slower than might have been expected on what was a more than decent day to run, 56°F (13C) at the start, overcast skies with an occasional drizzle. But both pro fields were rather thin this year as LA continues to climb out of the reduced Covid years. Without critical mass or designated pacesetters, the athletes ran tactical rather than time-trialing races.

 Toni’s book about his parents’ meeting and marriage during WWII.

Yet with the LA’s unique Morgan & Morgan Marathon Chase format in play for the second straight year pitting the pro men against the pro women in a handicap race-within-a-race showdown for an extra $10,000, the competition was compelling all the way to the finish.

Both Yimer and Ndiwa arrived in LA as proven track, road, and cross-country stars who had yet to display those same talents at the marathon distance. Jemal had been third and eighth at the last two Boston Marathons, but dropped out in Chicago last October after 30K, suffering from dehydration,

Ndiwa had only run one previous marathon, that in Istanbul last November, where she placed fourth in a tentative 2:31. What they both needed on their resume was a meaningful marathon win, rather than just a fast time in a lesser position.

The marathon chase format this year allotted the women 18:19 as a head-start based on the quality of the two fields. That meant the men would have to make up 26 seconds per kilometer, or 42 seconds per mile, to offset the women’s advantage.

Last year, the men, in the person of Zane Robertson from New Zealand, flew out of Dodger Stadium like a Freddie Freeman home run, blazing through a 14:14 first 5K (2:00:00 pace!). The women played the opposite game, working the count to an 18:02 opening (2:32 pace). Then halfway through, the times began to flip, the women quickening, the men running low on fuel. In the end, Delvine Meringor held off two-time men’s champion John Korir by just eight seconds at the Century City finish line, closest ever in Chase history. 

In 2023, the women motored off at a steady 2:27 pace, which represented the fastest PBs in the field. The men began at a more of a “If you don’t guard me, I won’t guard you” tempo, 2:14, well off everyone’s PB. 

Because the men couldn’t find a race leader, the women piled another 2:00 onto their advantage through the first 10 miles before the men decided to do something about it.

Two Ethiopians and three Kenyans formed the men’s lead, the classic east African rivalry that has dominated the sport for the last generation plus.

Everyone did some leading, but Thomas Rono, 36, from Eldoret, Kenya, did the most. At his best, he has been a 2:06-man (Seoul 2019). At his last, 2:10:07, second place in Gyeongju, Korea, last October. With him was countryman, Emmanuel Ngatuy, 30, whose best also came in 2019 at La Rochelle, France, in 2:08:22, the same race he dropped out in last September with leg cramps. The third Kenyan in the group was Barnaba Kipkoech, 29, who paced the 2:04 Chicago Marathon last October till 29K, and then won the Malaga Marathon in Spain in December in a personal best 2:08:21 despite the wind and rain.

Joining them was Yemane Tsegay, 37, of Ethiopia, who carries a PB of 2:04:48 from Rotterdam 2012 and earned a silver medal at the 2015 World Championships Marathon. But after an 8th place 2:07 in Barcelona 2021, opportunities for the father of four dried up. He had won a marathon every year for the first seven years of his career. He came to LA hungry after re-introductory 2:12 at the Riyadh Marathon in Saudi Arabia in February. 

But fellow Ethiopian Jemal Yimer, 26, was the favorite. The former Ethiopian record holder in the half marathon (58:33, Valencia 2018), Yimer ran 59:04 last year to win the Antrim Coast Half Marathon in Larne, England to set a British All-comers record. So his eighth place finish in Boston in April and DNF in Chicago in October had him determined to find the top step at some subsequent marathon podium. 

Only three women formed the lead pack, running steady 5:25 to 5:45 miles, with the flow dictated by the rolling course. Heading the effort was veteran Martha Akeno, 29, the 2022 Miami Marathon course record holder and fourth place finisher in LA last year. Stacey Ndiwa, 30, a top track and cross-country runner, was making her second marathon attempt after a fourth place finish in Istanbul last November in 2:31. And fellow Kenyan, Grace Kahura, 29, last ran ninth in New York City in 2021.

By 7 miles, Kahura began to fade, leaving only Akeno and Ndiwa to fend for themselves.

The men’s go-along-to-get-along pace didn’t break a 5:00 mile until a 4:54 eleventh mile, which chopped 11 seconds off the women’s lead.

The women’s duo continued their steady pacing, even as the five men continued to close the gap ever so slowly.

Then, at 30K, Martha Akeno began to drift off Ndiwa’s rhythm. Twice, Stacey turned to encourage Martha to hang with her. But she soon realized Martha was done. Turning her gaze to the road ahead, it was time for Stacey to engage her full stride and try to win this Chase thing.

The 2018 African Games 10,000m champion and Commonwealth Games silver medalist most recently finished fourth at the Kenyan national cross-country championships in January, underscoring her fine form. She put 31 more seconds on the men during her breakaway 30-35K, and held a commanding 1:43 advantage as the number of miles ahead continued to dwindle.

Perhaps the Chase wasn’t being fully considered by the men, but to their own demise, chase-wise, they waited until 35K before fully engaging one another, the traditional second starting gun in many a big time marathon.

After a testing move to the front to gauge his opponent’s strength, Jemal Yimer finally threw down his hole card after the men had lost another 11 seconds to Stacey Ndiwa in mile 22.

Despite his electric surge from 23 to 25 (4:46, 4:34, 4:26), during which he lopped huge chunks off Stacey Ndiwa’s lead while casting himself free from his chasers, in the end, Yimer waited a mile too late to begin his big move.

Though she cramped in a little in the final mile (6:16), Stacey had enough of a cushion to win the Morgan & Morgan Marathon Chase by 32 seconds, earning the extra $10,000 bonus for her effort. Yimer also slowed in the final mile, 5:26, but that was an acknowledgement that he had run out of real estate, and wasn’t going to catch her, so why keep pushing?

Though the LA Marathon is not on a par with the Abbott World Marathon Majors in terms of their professional fields, the celebrity of the city itself confers an importance to the event that these fields wouldn’t in a less iconic venue. LA and New York City are the only two Marathons where the venue itself is the star. To the average observer who doesn’t follow the sport closely, if you win the Los Angeles Marathon, it means something.

In all, 29,000 entrants took to the streets of LA in 2023, 22,000 in the marathon, including 107 Legacy runners. 80 charities raised over $4 million, the Skid Row Running Club celebrated life-affirming changes to many lives, while 3000 Students Run LA athletes showed anything is possible with a goal, a plan, and great bunch of teachers.

With the 2028 Olympic Games coming to Los Angeles, one would think that the road ahead for the LA Marathon can only get better. As always, it was a grand day for the city and its expansive running community. Till next time.



  1. Come on Toni, I know they pay you, but this is a jogger’s race. Only about 130 out of 16,000+ finishers in the open race finished under 3 hours. This is more Disney race than CIM.

    Real runners don’t take this marathon seriously.

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