L.A. Marathon memories

Crossing the Los Angeles Marathon finish line, 1991

Quoting Sgt. Pepper: “It was 20 years ago today …”

It has been called the ultimate athletic achievement, and it certainly was mine.

I’ve never forgotten running the Los Angeles Marathon, but it was another wake up call this week when the runners traversed Los Angeles streets. Yes, it was 20 years ago when I started and finished my only effort at the 26.2-mile distance.

In 1991, it happened to be the same day as the infamous Rodney King videotaped beating. But something good happened on the streets of Los Angeles that day, too.

It was months in the making, but it was also years in the making. I had been a runner for more than a decade, starting with a pair of cheap Nikes and getting more sophisticated as my experience and income grew. Moving to San Diego certainly stoked the habit, as that city’s wonderful climate and beach boardwalks made the activity almost a compulsion.

My years of 10-kilometer runs and a couple of half-marathons had left me with the desire to eventually try a marathon. But there also was a marital motivation. My then-wife was understandably obsessed with her nursing school (she was obtaining RN credentials, which she has been using since then), and I had a lot of empty time. So, the inspiration hit.

There was a weekly mileage goal, usually 50 or 60, and that grueling one-day routine of 19 or so to whip myself into shape. Plus, there also was the equally challenging matter of few or no 12-ounce curls. But when you are that into fitness and with such a goal, the urge really does fade.

This is a challenge. There is no one cheering you on during training runs. Of course, you can have partners, but I didn’t then, other than seagulls and occasional familiar faces.

Landmarks such as the Big Olaf ice cream stand and the Mission Beach lighthouse became distance markers. The course from the lighthouse to the plaza and back was about 6.5 miles, and three trips constituted the weekly gasser. Marathoners know you gotta do those to prepare your body for the senseless but nirvanic pounding you are about to give it.

I deemed myself ready in about four months. Remember, I already was in decent 10-k shape. I made the journey for the weekend in LA by myself. In what was something of a marital sore spot, my then-wife did not see fit to come along and be at the finish line for support. She preferred to stay in San Diego and study. (You are welcome to weigh in, but when she graduated from nursing school in ’92, I was at her ceremony.)

The pre-race dinner was memorable because of one guest: Muhammad Ali. Yes, the aging champ, still able to get around then, toured the tables, giving us all the famous punching routine. (That remains a memorable missed photo op. Another is Donald Trump donning a construction hard hat for a groundbreaking at his LA golf course development in 2005. These days, with smartphones and all, no excuse for such.)

The race? Fairly uneventful, showing that I had trained properly. It was warm by SoCal standards, but not oppressive. My one vow: don’t prove anything. Walk if necessary, and don’t whine if you have to drop out. But only after mile 20 did I feel it wise to walk for some stretches. How far, not sure, but it was only for two short stretches, and there still was plenty of running.

And in what seemed like no time I was done. Time? Four hours, 27 minutes. Very respectable, especially for a first-timer. The real adventure came on the trip back to the hotel. My race number tag, visible in the above photo, disappeared. That was supposedly the shuttle bus ticket, but the driver obviously knew a frazzled racer when he saw one. Get my point about a finish-line companion?

Back in San Diego, the first congratulatory call came from co-worker Buster Olney, now ESPN’s baseball reporter.

And the regrets: I’ve never done another marathon. It was a great achievement, with no negative physical fallout, and one should always build on such. Also, I’ve allowed the running habit to lapse. The mix with newspaper hours got to be a grind in the mid-90s, but if one wants to do something bad enough, you will find a way.

But there’s still the future. And that memorable moment from the past.


About Steve Burns

I live in the Atlanta area. I also lived for many years in Southern California. I'm into mainstream media, social media, sports, business and politics. I worked for AOL's Patch, but this is my personal blog. I'm on Twitter (@bsteve76), Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. See ya 'round!
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27 Responses to L.A. Marathon memories

  1. That really is a remarkable achievement — congrats from one who has never done it (and will never do it!).


  2. Steve Burns says:


  3. Lakia Gordon says:

    Yes, that is a great accomplishment! I would like to complete a marathon in the future…. we’ll see though.

  4. eva626 says:

    wow thats great!!!! it is something to be proud of! great post!!! congrats on being fp’ed

  5. runtobefit says:

    The great thing about running is that you can always start again. I love running and I don’t know if I could ever live without it. Lace up your shoes and get out there πŸ™‚ You will remember all the great feelings running provides.

  6. gsnewman says:

    Wow,that is a great achievement, I also wish I had the same experience.thanks for the post,Steve πŸ™‚

  7. samdutro says:

    Great article. Coming off my first marathon, I understand how easy it is to “fall off the wagon.” I’m working to keep training and get ready for another. Its never too late Steve!

  8. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! And congratulations πŸ™‚ I hate running, but did my first triathlon a few years ago and, well, I still hate running. You are awesome!

  9. realanonymousgirl2011 says:

    You are part of the 1% of the world’s population that have run a marathon. Congrats! I ran my first one a few years ago in Huntington Beach. I was aiming for under 5 hours but due to a stress fracture I made it at 5 1/2 hours. You should go back to running, try a half marathon.

  10. They can never take that accomplishment away from you! I am a runner, but have never ran a marathon. It is on my bucket list. Congrats on that event 20 years ago and on getting Freshly Pressed today. Truly both days were your personal best!!



  11. First of all- running your first marathon is a huge achievement…congratulations and second of all… sounds like you are itching to start training for the second marathon… go for it!

  12. elenamusic says:

    That’s awesome, just to have done it once! I’m a runner as well, but I haven’t even tried the half marathon, which I want to. This is a good inspiration to try that. Thanks for writing!

  13. Nice job. You are to be complemented on such an achievement! Not everyone can run in such a race and let alone finish respectably!

  14. Pinku says:

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Yes,running is an addiction. πŸ™‚

  15. I had a very similar first marathon experience last October, same time even, I have signed up for 2 marathons this year. You cpatured the essence of those training runs perfectly. Nice read!
    Congrats on FP’d!!

  16. LUGS says:

    wow, 20 years is a long time ago, but your story seems just like it happened yesterday. i ran 10kms regularly ’til had lifestyle changes…. but yes, i encourage you to still continue, that’s my goal so i wont have regrets later… give it a go again!!!

  17. Marathoning, as hokey as it sounds, is truly a journey. It is not such a stretch to consider the person you were at that time and how much that person needed to train and run that marathon. My first Marathon was the Honolulu Marathon in 1n 1987. I was a young Marine nursing the pain of a broken heart and doing everything that I could to prove to myself that i was strong and worthy. I was. I ran another marathon a few months after that and then didn’t run another race until the Baltimore Marathon in 2004. Once again recovering from a failed romance and also less than 2 years removed from quitting drinking and living sober. I needed to reinforce the belief that I was indeed in charge of me and that I can do amazing things. I’ve run the Baltimore Marathon 3 more times since then, I’m still sober and I’m getting married in November. A journey indeed!

  18. harpersfarm says:

    A marathon is definitely a huge accomplishment. I am planning to run my first next summer, but we will see. Here’s hoping you put your running shoes back on, it’s never too late…

  19. SunflowerHW says:

    Great accomplishment at any time in your life. I’m getting ready for a 5K and to meet it’s a big deal because I haven’t done that in over 20 years!! Running takes the mind and body to a new level.

  20. melvisx says:

    Great story. You look better in your finisher picture than I did after my first marathon but I finished too! I’ve since cut back to 13.1 to feed my addiction though πŸ™‚

  21. pinoyleonardo says:

    This is cool! I intend to run in LA next year in time for my US family trip πŸ™‚ Thanks for the inspring thoughts.

  22. richannkur says:

    Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  23. Katie Gou says:

    Well, what an achievement, you should be proud of yourself! Running can be addictive but I find it hard to start running. I don’t think there is any other exercise that is as destressing as running!

  24. Wow, such an achievement should be commended! Awesome job! I know I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Congratz! πŸ™‚

  25. contrabunny says:

    time to buy another cheap pair of nikes… πŸ˜‰

  26. Nuno says:

    Currently I’m training for my 7th… A little bit more experienced but my thoughts are very similar to my first time. Congrats for finish it, the time is not important, it was a great achievement. And thank you for the post!

  27. Pingback: L.A. Marathon memories (via Human Clipping Service) | live business news

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