by Alicia Doyle
The Los Angeles Marathon has been a spring tradition since 1986. Originally inspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics, it has become one of the most popular marathons in the world, with racers from all parts of the globe landing in the City of Angels to partake. Trotting alongside them, from the very beginning, are numerous Ventura County runners.
Among these are the race’s Legacy Runners — those who have completed every single L.A. Marathon since the beginning. Several residents of Ventura County will continue their streak, running in their 35th consecutive marathon this year on March 8.
Marie Stevenson: “An annual family event”
For 74-year-old Marie Stevenson, “all I want to do is to encourage others to keep being active and doing what they enjoy.”
Stevenson ran the first L.A. Marathon in 1986 because it was “conveniently” within driving distance from her home in Thousand Oaks. She continued running every year afterwards because she “really enjoyed” exploring Los Angeles on foot and experiencing the city up close.
In fact, that has become one of the race’s biggest selling points: the opportunity to run past several of L.A.’s major landmarks — Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, Chinatown, the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Dodger Stadium, just to name a few. The course has shifted through the years as organizers attempted to balance elevation gains (which impact winning times), traffic disruptions and impact on local businesses and institutions. The current route was introduced in 2010, and has been dubbed “Stadium to the Sea,” beginning at Dodger Stadium and ending in Santa Monica.
The number of people in America who have the grit and athleticism to finish a marathon is small in comparison to the overall population. In 2014, for instance, Running USA reported that 550,000 people completed a marathon in the U.S. While a record number of runners are completing 26.2-mile races, marathoners still make up less than one percent of the American population.
“My children used to laugh at their crazy mother, but now as adults, they encourage me to continue the streak,” said Stevenson, whose daughter has run the last few marathons with her, and whose son has been popping up at various spots on the marathon course with his wife and children to offer additional support.
“Although the running is not getting any easier as I get older, the L.A. Marathon has become an annual family event that we all enjoy,” Stevenson said.
In the past 34 years, Stevenson has always finished the marathon — despite some serious injuries, including torn knee tendons and rotator cuffs and various foot issues. In the year 2000, she had “a close call” when she had an emergency knee surgery just weeks before the race.
“I walked the entire marathon course with a large cast on my knee and with a cane,” she remembered.
In 2006, after a rotator cuff repair and with her arm in a sling, she fell and broke a shoulder just prior to the race.
“That’s when my children, by then out of college, really showed their support,” Stevenson recalled. “To make sure that I don’t quit, as an early birthday gift to me, they both signed up for the marathon. Not having done any training, they expected to walk with me. We ended up running the entire distance. Crossing the finish line together was a favorite marathon moment for me.”
Ruben Rosales: “Put one foot in front of the other”
For 71-year-old Ruben Rosales of Thousand Oaks, running the marathon’s 26.2-mile course for the past 34 years has kept him active “and feeling good about myself.”
Also, “I have met many runners who have enriched my life by sharing life stories as we train and run the marathons.”
Rosales was initially inspired to run in the marathon because of his intrigue with Philippides, the central figure in a Greek legend that inspired the marathon race. Philippides (also called Pheidippides), an Athenian herald, is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over Persia at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.
“Then the Olympic Games came to Los Angeles in 1984 and I watched the marathon runners with awe, so when the first L.A. Marathon was announced for 1986, I was in,” he recalled.
What keeps him going year after year is the challenge of endurance, “which translates to all facts of life.”
“To run a marathon you just need to put one foot in front of the other. So to run for 34 years, you just need to take one year at a time and just do it, just like everyday life,” Rosales said. “The day will come when I will not be able to run it, but hopefully that day is not this year. If my body tells me that I cannot complete it after I have started it, I will listen to it — but so far it has not complained. No one pressures me except me to keep doing this.”
Cliff Housego: “An anchor in my life”
When Cliff Housego finished his fifth marathon, he received an official plaque, and “I thought that’s cool – how could a common runner like me get an award at a 26.2-mile marathon.” Then came marathon number 10, and “I was amazed I did them all . . . then came 15, 20, 25, 30 and now 35.”
Housego, of Ventura, noted that he’s been through two wives over the years, and experienced the death of his daughter, so the marathon has been “an anchor in my life.”
“Not just running the marathon, but training, all year . . . the friends I’ve made,” he said. “Ruben Rosales and I run every week together. We talk life, kids, politics, investments . . . you name it.”
Decades ago, he said it “was not a big deal” to run a 3:9:00 race, but today, at age 71, “it takes a lot. Hips hurt, knees hurt, attitude sucks sometimes, but I know I have to do it for my legacy friends, my family, and to stay alive.”
Jahangir Mehrkhodavandi: Keeping the streak alive
Jahangir Mehrkhodavandi, who was born in 1965, said he loved running, but was “really afraid” of marathons because he’d heard stories of people dying in such races.
“My college coach advised against it in 1986, but I wanted to get that fear out of me, so I did it,” recalled Mehrkhodavandi, of Simi Valley.
Keeping the streak alive is his biggest motivator, “but this did not start until year five” when he was trying to improve and get better, “and after year five, my motivation was keeping my streak.”
The biggest challenges Mehrkhodavandi has faced in the past 34 years include the three times he ran the marathon with a fever. Also, three weeks before the 2016 marathon, he tore his meniscus, but ended up running the full race without stopping.
The marathon has been a big part of his life since 1986, and when he married his wife in 1994, “it became part of our lives.”
“My wife jokes . . . that she feels that I am married to L.A. Marathon not her; or the L.A. Marathon is my first wife and she is my second.”
Jim Blanck: “My crazy annual thing to do”
After Jim Blanck finished his first marathon, he “was a wreck” and said, “never again.”
Every year after that, he felt the personal challenge to try and do better.
“Everything about the run was just my own personal challenge,” said Blanck, 63, of Simi Valley. “My family has always been a tremendous support so . . . I also wanted to make them proud of my crazy annual thing to do.”
Still, maybe others will be inspired to set their own personal goals, he said, “when they see or hear about us old folks out there running the streets for nothing more than pride and a well-deserved finisher’s medal.”
Above all, his main goal is reaching the finish line.
“In the past I always tried to complete the race in under four hours,” Blanck said. “It is getting a bit more difficult to keep that up, but that is still my own personal goal for the race.”
The Los Angeles Marathon takes place on Sunday, March 8, starting at 6:30 a.m. at Dodger Stadium. For course, spectator access, street closures and more information, visit www.lamarathon.com.