OCEAN AVE — The sun sat in a picture-perfect blue sky over the finish line of the Honda L.A. Marathon Sunday for the approximately 23,000 participants that pushed through physical limits to conquer the 26.2 mile course.
The good weather came as a welcome surprise after warnings that Sunday might be a repeat of the previous year when more than two inches of rain made watching a misery and left many runners stricken with hypothermia.
“Thank goodness,” said Elaine Polachek, the assistant city manager of Santa Monica, observing the beautiful Santa Monica morning from her spot at the finish line. It was the third time that Santa Monica has hosted the end of the race.
City officials prepared to take on the cold and wet, lining Second Street with buses to heat up or cool down exhausted runners. Department heads staffed the Emergency Operations Center, a dry run in the event of a natural disaster and also the site of communication and coordination for first responders in the field.
Dozens of medical volunteers gathered at the finish line, a gauntlet of support for those that completed the race.
The volunteers don’t need a great deal of training beyond basic first aid and CPR to make sure participants make it home healthy, said Andrea Fregoso, a three-year volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps Los Angeles.
“We make sure that they don’t go into shock. We keep them walking and moving,” Fregoso said.
Hand crank wheel chair racers, men and women who pedal bicycle-like devices with their hands rather than their feet, zipped across the finish line just an hour after their 7 a.m. start.
They were followed by the elite male and female runners, who were competing for pride, their own personal bests and cash prizes of up to $125,000 and a new car.
Fatuma Sado, 20, of Ethiopia, snagged the grand prize, which included a $100,000 bonus for being the first runner to finish the race. She knelt down and kissed the ground after streaking through the finish for a time of 2:25:39, a personal best.
It was the young runner’s fourth marathon. She won out in the first competitive race she ran in Hamburg, Germany last year.
Simon Njoroge, 31, of Kenya, got the top spot in the men’s category, only four minutes behind Sado despite the woman’s 17 minute, 31 second head start.
The next wave of runners began trickling across the finish line about 40 minutes later, exhausted but accomplished with their strong three-hour showings.
One such was Airport Commissioner David Goddard, who made it through the course in three hours and 15 minutes.
“It’s not my personal best, but it was good for me,” Goddard said. He has quite a benchmark — the civil servant ran seven marathons in 2011 alone.
Claudio Martinez, of Koreatown, finished up not long after for a three hour and 27-minute time. It was the best time he’s gotten over the past six attempts at the L.A. Marathon, which is the only marathon he’s ever run.
He was there in 2011 when the rain and the cold buffeted runners. This year was much better, Martinez said.
Not that everything was perfect.
Later runners had to contend with raucous winds that came in at 20 miles per hour with gusts up to 30-plus miles per hour. By the afternoon, the wind was like a physical force impeding runners. Even the elite runners reported that they felt their times were worsened by the wind.
Runners clutched their Mylar blankets which whipped around like capes in the stiff breeze or hunkered near the sidewalks in an attempt to escape the wind and rest aching muscles.
Last year’s rain and wind combination caused a rash of hypothermia, forcing hotels to open their ballrooms to provide shelter and a place for freezing athletes to warm up.
No such emergency measures were needed this year, with most runners just happy to have put the distance behind them, like first-time runner Noah Wagner.
The 12-year-old ran the marathon with his parents, a tradition begun with his older brother, Zach, whose time he beat by four minutes.