The LA Marathon is back among the top four races in the U.S. with 25,000 participants.
The LA Marathon has been building some big momentum in recent years and it’s only increased since the start of 2014. Once one of the top marathons in the U.S., various ownership problems and a decline in interest were leading to its demise in the the mid-2000s. But with a series of changes and a reinvigorated race organization in recent years, the fourth-largest marathon in the U.S. seems to be back on track. This weekend’s race has a capacity field of 25,000 runners, marking the second straight year it has sold out. (Several thousand more runners are expected for the LA Big 5K on Saturday near Dodger Stadium, as well as the LA Marathon and Sunday’s charity relay.)
The LA Marathon recently won the bid to host the 2016 men’s and women’s U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon, which is somewhat fitting considering the race, which celebrates its 29th anniversary this weekend, was born out of the inspiration of the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles. Combined with a change in ownership a few years back and positive reviews from the Stadium to the Sea course launched in 2010 and the addition of running industry stalwart Tracey Russell as its new CEO last summer, the LA Marathon appears to be on the fast track to once again becoming what Russell calls “a must-do global race.” We caught up with Russell (who most recently oversaw the Peachtree Road Race 10K in Atlanta as executive director of the Atlanta Track Club) this week to talk about this weekend’s ASICS LA Marathon.
A lot of big city marathons are selling out, including the LA Marathon. What does that say about running in the U.S.?
I think it certainly validates that a lot of people still want to run marathons in the U.S. and around the world. For us, it’s being able to create an event that also sells out quickly. We certainly have a lot of the pieces in place and now it’s just an opportunity to strategically bring all of that together. We want to strategically grow the capacity year over year in a mindful way so that doesn’t detract from the experience of our runners. We want to have the best runners in the world as part of our event. And, I think, too, it’s about bringing in the best athletes to our race but also creating an event that’s destination-friendly for the age-grouper or the weekend warrior. We’re excited to message and promote that we are in that global line-up of must-run marathons.
What does winning the bid for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon mean to the LA Marathon?
It’s huge for us and very exciting for our race and the city of Los Angeles. We know Houston did an amazing job. I was there in 2012 and they really raised the bar, in terms of the experience for the athletes and what they did for the sport and the stage that they created for 2012. We know we have our work cut out for us to deliver that kind of experience or better. We know we want to put together and exception events, both for the best runners in America and for the runners in the ASICS LA Marathon.
Because of the timing of when the announcement occurred and our racing happening five weeks later, we had some conversations and did a little bit of planning, but then had to push pause so that we could focus on the 2014 ASICS LA Marathon. But in a week or two, we’ll be picking that back up and spending the next two years working with USA Track & Field and the U.S. Olympic Committee to really develop an event that is going to put our best marathoners on a stage that will provide exposure to an even greater audience.
Why is Los Angeles the ideal place to host the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2016?
I think what is really exciting and fun for Los Angeles is that there is a very public interest in hosting the 2024 Olympics and being the city selected by the USOC as the American city to be considered. For us, the timing couldn’t be better. During our bid efforts, we got incredible support from the L.A. business, civic and political communities. What’s been fun for me to see since I’ve been here is the impact of the “five-ring fever” that is here in Los Angeles and has been because of the legacy of the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1932. It’s really been neat to see the key influencers of our efforts and now want to make an effort to help us host the greatest U.S. Olympic Trials for the men’s and women’s marathon.
We work closely with the Los Angeles Sports Council—David Simon, the president, was on the team that put on the 1984 Olympics—and the Southern California Committee for the Olympics Games—Barry Sanders, the chairman, was also involved in the 1984 Games. So there’s a bit connection to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and the energy being put out there for the 2024 Olympics.
What’s the future of marathon running in the U.S.?
I think that, if you look at races like Chicago, New York and Boston and the fact that Chicago sold out so quickly last year and New York continues to do that and Boston will have a larger than normal field, we don’t see any decline in interest in the marathon distance. We think it’s exciting to showcase the best American runners and the weekend warriors. There’s no other sport that allows you to be active, participate and compete on the same morning and the same course as the best in the world. We think that’s something that’s unique about the sport of running and is a talking point we should continue to communicate to the general audience.
Would the LA Marathon ever want to be considered for the Marathon Majors?
I think it is an aspiration goal we have and it’s something that, for Los Angeles and for what it represents globally, could be on a possibility. We know we have some opportunities to add some enhancements to be able to have those conversations with the other six cities that are a part of an incredible group of global marathons.
Will the LA Marathon pursue top-tier runners again to create world-class marathon races as it has in the past?
In terms of exposure and media coverage in running, when you bring in the best marathoners in the world you tend to get more media coverage for your events, because the times that are being produced at your event are very newsworthy. And so for us, we want to be able to secure some additional resources so we can build that part of the event out, in addition to what we’re already doing for our age-groupers and weekend warriors. It’s part of our long-term plan to be able to further develop what we do with our professional field. It is important to us. Los Angeles is known as a city for having incredible athletes in many sports and we certainly want to be able to use this as a stage for the best in the sport of running.