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The 2020 LA Marathon  Athleticism in the Time of the Coronavirus

The 2020 LA Marathon

Athleticism in the Time of the Coronavirus

by Rene Williams,
first published: March, 2020

approximate reading time: minutes

According her GPS tracker, my wife is in Los Feliz so that gives me 30 minutes to have a couple of cocktails and a beer and enjoy the scenery before she jogs by.

One week ago, to the hour, I was running the Los Angeles Marathon. Well, not running exactly, I was briskly walking it and I wasn’t so much a participant as I was a supporter, but make no mistake -- it was a workout. I decided to cheer my wife on as she ran her fifth marathon -- a course from Dodgers Stadium to the Santa Monica Pier.

With a handmade poster in my left hand, and a Thermos, I met her at the 11 mile mark, the 17 mile mark, the 20 mile mark, and the finish line at the Santa Monica Pier, cheering her on as she jogged by.

Was it a good idea to attend the LA Marathon -- an event filled with international participants -- when convincing reports were trickling in about how the coronavirus was real and about to storm America?

Of course not, but as my wife said, “I trained six months for this and I paid the registration fee -- I’m running it.” 

March 7
Los Angeles Convention Center (The Day Before the Race)

All racers must pick up their racing bib at the LA Convention Center so I’m persuaded to accompany my wife downtown with the promise of a two-for-one mimosa brunch at The Pike in Long Beach. You would have agreed as well.

Convention Center security corral thousands of us into a zig-zag maze which leads onto one of the larger wings of the building. To leave the building after you get your bib, you have to walk the gauntlet of the runner’s expo. It’s where shoe companies and protein bar manufacturers present their latest wares and hand out free samples and tchotchkes.

We walked up to one booth that was selling “running underwear.” The woman in the booth and my wife started engaging in conversation and I backed off. The talk started getting intimate, and I was surprised at how openly they spoke about stress incontinence and “wet panties.”

As they talked about the “extra absorbent material in the gusset and a full-sized back,” I just shuffled off. Five minutes later, she returned with a shopping bag filled with running underwear. At least they were black.*

Upon exiting the Convention Center, I text Ancient Champion a photo of a Kobe Bryant mural on an electrical box next to the building.

Ancient Champ asks me where I am and what I’m doing there. When I tell him where I am, and what I’ll be tomorrow, he simply texts back, “You’re certain to get it.” As you might expect from a member of the high risk group, and right now, wouldn’t even be allowed out in California.

Kobe street artKobe on the streets...

March 8
Mile 11: Hollywood Boulevard. (The Hollywood Walk of Fame)

With a new day and fresh sense of optimism, I figure mile 11 is a good place to meet my wife as that’s where her spirit usually breaks first -- just after the tenth mile. I set up base between Musso & Frank and the Pig & Whistle. According her GPS tracker, my wife is in Los Feliz so that gives me 30 minutes to have a couple of cocktails and a beer and enjoy the scenery before she jogs by.


There are quite a few people on the streets cheering on the runners with cowbells and vuvuzelas (they’re back), but everyone’s keeping their distance -- about two to three feet. Not one mention of the virus and no precautions anywhere.

Still, runners pop in and out of the hundreds of Port-a-potties alongside the course, and race volunteers wear gloves as they hand out cups of water and protein snacks. Of course, the runners are gloveless and breathe heavily into the trays filled with cups of water. 

As she runs past Jameson’s Irish Pub, my wife sees the poster I made the night before (“Run Alarcon, Run”) and zips across the street for a big, sweaty hug.

“How’s it going?,” I ask her as she pants into my ear. “You look pretty good for mile 11.” 

“Good, but I lost 3 minutes because I had to wait in line at the porta potties.”

If I haven’t haven’t come into contact with the coronavirus yet, I most certainly have now.


Mile 17
Rodeo Drive. (The Walk of Style)

I find a good spot in between the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and Tiffany & Co. I think I might buy her a bracelet if she makes it this far. As runners whip around the corner of Rodeo and Wilshire, they’re met by dozens of volunteers with outstretched arms holding out orange wedges, cups of water, chunks of protein bars, and wooden sticks with dollops of sticky goo that are supposed to be packed with nutrients. Again, not many latex gloves, but by Mile 17, does it matter?


Mile 20
Sepulveda Boulevard. (The Los Angeles National Cemetery)

There are maybe 25 people milling about the Mile 20 corner. Just me and a couple dozen people supporting friends and family members with more handmade signs and cowbells.

The scarcity of people has to do with how unsexy Westwood is. There’s nothing to look at in this part of Los Angeles. My wife agrees when she finally runs by and asks me for a drink from my Thermos without even asking what’s in it. 

“This is the worst part of this course,” she says in-between pulls of Bloody Mary. “Brentwood is fucking boring.”

And with that, she’s off towards the boring side of Sunset Boulevard and I’m left with an empty Thermos. 


Mile 26.2
Ocean Avenue. (Santa Monica Pier)

For some reason, I thought I would be able to simply drive into Santa Monica, find a parking structure, and cheer the finishers on as they crossed the finish line. Sadly, nothing about the marathon’s finish goes as planned. 

Streets within a half mile away from the finish line are closed off and policemen are on every corner. It takes 45 minutes to find metered parking in a suspect part of Santa Monica, about two miles away from Mile 26.2. 

As I walk through the crowds, I keep my head down, my shoulders hunched, and the collar of my denim jacket flipped up, as if all of these theatrics will deflect anything. The only people that seem to be taking precautions are Asian people. If you see the rare facemask, it’s attached to an Asian face. They’ve seen this before.

Anyone carrying the coronavirus and is walking through the narrow sidewalks of Santa Monica that surrounded the finish line, have most likely infected a few people. Family and friends casually hug and kiss each other, and it’s impossible to avoid bumping into people.

How do I feel seven days after spending eight hours traipsing across Los Angeles? I feel good and last I checked, my wife is alive. It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m stocked up on my vices for two weeks. I might have dodged the infection at the marathon, but it’s only a matter of time before I get it, unless I’ve already had it and it’s passed. I had a hacky cough in January that stuck with me for a month.

*At one point in the race, I saw a runner in black leggings at the 21-mile corner with slightly-visible evidence of, ahem -- stress incontinence -- and I thought, “Someone needs to tell her about runner’s underwear. I was impressed with my wife’s forethought with that aspect of the race.



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