One man’s tale of a city running from its roots

Daily Sundial

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The Los Angeles City Marathon sucks. Not because the event features 20,000-plus maniacs, who think running 26 miles in one outing is a normal thing.

It’s not because the streets of downtown L.A. are blocked off for most of the day on what always seems to be a beautiful Sunday in early March.

It sucks because the Los Angeles City Marathon is ashamed of its city. Being exposed to the marathon in the early 90s, I used to sit in front of the TV on the first Sunday in March, watching these lunatic souls make the 26-mile journey.

Television crews will hype up the elite runners, and cameras will follow their tour through the city. What stuck out the most were the sights and sounds on the runners’ course.

I would see the long shadows of the downtown buildings, the Los Angeles Coliseum packed with fans, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and its cheering residents, and the beautiful homes on the west side of town.

There were sights of Koreatown and its markets lining the streets, Mann Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, Chinatown filled with its eye-catching red colors and the very cultural Cesar E. Chavez Avenue around Olvera Street.

That is what Los Angeles City is all about. The marathon course covered key aspects of the ethnic, sociological and economic backgrounds of the city. Perhaps that’s why I hoped to make the tough journey and enjoy the city and its offerings on foot.

But that was the late 80s and early 90s when the Los Angeles City Marathon was for the people. The event has become so commercialized and the people behind the marathon have gotten caught up in world recognition that it’s made the event less appealing.

Los Angeles, is a hilly surface and the marathon covers a 26-mile course through the mentioned sites, and involves going up and down hills. This is not a desirable route because, in order for the marathon to get acknowledged along with big-name marathons like the Boston and New York runs, the finishing times of the first place male and female winners must be under the two-hour, five-minute mark.

Perhaps the city has the wrong people working on the course. Let’s put some better public relations officers out there.

Better yet, put my family in charge.

Immigrant families make great tour guides. That’s how my family has been labeled. Through our 15 years of living in California, we have had our share of family and friends who have visited the area and used us as tour guides.

My family could perhaps be the best ambassadors for Los Angeles, introducing the city to visiting relatives. They come from far away, most of them from our home town in Mexico State, Mexico, and expect the usual Southern California landmarks.

Among the self-proclaimed Cortez family tours is a trip to every important site in the city. Of course we do it all in a car, but the already-mentioned locations are featured.

The Los Angeles Marathon should be ashamed of itself, not its city. I’ve ran the Los Angeles marathon five times since 1997 (six overall) and every year the marathon loses more of its identity.

I remember cramping up and almost giving up in front of the Mann Theatre on my first time. I remember looking at a big mural depicting the Aztec Calendar near Silver Lake the second time around. The third time I injured myself and walked 16.2 miles while interacting with people of different ethnic backgrounds on and off the course. But that was from ’97 to ’99.

This year, after a long absence from running, I was back on the course and the people were still there, but the sights were gone. No more running through Hollywood. The closest I got was looking at the Hollywood sign far away while on Olympic Boulevard.

Koreatown? A block’s worth of the route at the most.

Chinatown? Nope. Maybe it was behind a wall, but I didn’t see it.

Olvera Street? People must have been inside the church listening to an extremely quiet Sunday Mass. The diminishing of sites is all to make the marathon flat and faster for the elite runners.

But the marathon was created for the people of Los Angeles. For us to get up early one day a year and enjoy what the city has to offer. Whatever happened to that?

I would like to run through these places because this is what makes Los Angeles the unique city that it is. If not, then just put a blindfold on me and direct me to the starting line.