I am proud to proclaim that I finished my marathon last Sunday, on the beach in sunny Santa Monica, in front of large crowds.
I didn’t get the cheers reserved for the real athletes in the Los Angeles Marathon, but that’s OK. I’ve only been working on this for a little more than a year, and not every day, and I did take a long break. Many of them have been sweating hard daily for years.
And then there’s Lauren Kleppin of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who finished third among women — in her very first marathon! (And to do it she beat her previous best time for 26.2 miles by a whopping 13 minutes-plus.) Her club mate, Gabe Proctor, finished sixth among men, also in his first marathon. The guy behind him, Aaron Braun, was another first-timer. I find that pretty dang extraordinary, and humbling, in light of my modest achievement.
There were four American flags handed out to the top 10 finishers among both men and women, four Ethiopian flags draped the top five women, and the 2014 L.A. Marathon winner, Gebo Burka, is also Ethiopian. Kenyan flags were carried by the next four men’s finishers.
So of the top five winners, male and female: five Ethiopians, four Kenyans and an American. Of the top 10 men’s and women’s, all but one, a Polish woman, were Kenyan, Ethiopian or American. That’s not news, but I find this kind of stuff fascinating, in an individual (not team) sport, pondering questions of culture, genetics, environment, training, media. For starters: there are a lot of people in Kenya and Ethiopia living in crushing poverty, marathon winners make a lot of money, and no equipment is required to get started and get good, zero; you can run barefoot. The only requirements are incredible desire, motivation, persistence, focus, discipline, and physical and mental stamina.
Still, the most inspiring marathoners to me are every one of the wheelchair athletes who pushed themselves to the finish line. Some were coming in at the same time as the big race winners, and getting cheers just as loud.
How do I know all this? Because I was there at the finish line, yes, right at the finish line. Did I get there at 4 a.m.? Am I close friends with some organizer or VIP? Was I a volunteer? No, no and no. I can’t tell you my secret, because I may have to use it again, but let’s just say my wife is a very observant, clever and audacious woman, and I’ve learned to follow her anywhere.
So the answer to the inconsistencies presented above about my whereabouts Sunday morning are this: I completed my own personal “marathon,” my quest to walk every street in Santa Monica, that morning on the beach path below, after the real marathon.
It was the last remaining piece. People imagine walking every street is pretty straightforward, but it takes planning. I used a map, the one the city puts out for cyclists, and a fistful of different colored marking pens, to note where I’d been. And still, with intention and preparation, there are streets you miss. Often it’s just a block or two.
So many choices. Do you walk all north-south or east-west streets first, or combine them in a back-and-forth? I soon discovered that it takes serious map scrutinizing, before you take your first step of the day, to avoid overlapping and repeating yourself or missing a block or two. You could, of course, let that happen, but it offends my sense of efficiency, and it would take longer.
My inspiration for this is Renaissance man and Santa Monica High English teacher for 25 years Berkeley Blatz. He has walked every street half a dozen times, so far. If a guy that smart and busy can continue to find gratification in the quest, so might I. Since I have now joined the club, we have agreed to get together for another chat, during spring break. (I told you he was busy.) He says he has a new project he’s working on, and I still want to do a profile on this self-proclaimed low profile guy. He’s been an inspiration to literally generations of our high school students, but I think we can all be inspired by the accomplishments and interests of the most accomplished and interesting among us.
So what epiphanies have I experienced since Jan. 1, 2013, as I trod the sometimes crowded, sometimes lonely streets of our fair town? What great insights into our cosmic purpose? Here, let me number and list them:
None, really. Disappointed? Me too, a little. But I didn’t expect that, nor need it. Still, the benefits are many, and valuable, and I highly recommend the regimen to anyone.
If I do it again, I think I might follow Berkeley’s lead and be more methodical, marking off sections that are similar and hitting every street there before moving on to the next part of town. That would give more of a sense of what each part of Santa Monica is like. I skipped around as the mood struck me, which kept it varied and interesting to me, but I think I would like more of that sense of neighborhood that his method achieves.
I wrote two months ago in a Curious City column that “in all that walking, all those miles and all those many hours, I can swear I never encountered a cyclist riding on the sidewalk. Never. Or cutting off pedestrians. Not once.” It remains a true statement, and the last part is still valid, but I’ll have to yield on the sidewalk riding part. I caught a lot of disagreement on that, and must confess that I have seen sidewalk riders since. More than once. But only in certain, more heavily trafficked parts of town where it’s dangerous to ride in those streets.
I saw a motorist back over a bike on Main Street two weeks ago, while backing into a parking space. Thank God, the cyclist shot off the bike and seemed unharmed, as her bike disappeared beneath the SUV. So yes, riding on sidewalks happens, but you can walk all the streets of Santa Monica and never see it.
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.