DOWNTOWN — To people outside of the running world the name Deena Kastor may not stand out, but for serious runners her stature doesn’t get any greater.
Organizers of the Los Angeles Marathon announced this week that American record holder Kastor would be running in March’s race, a sign that the growing event is raising its profile not only with the public, but with elite runners.
The switch in 2010 of the marathon’s route, which begins at iconic Dodger Stadium and ends on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica, was the first step toward making the race more of a destination for the world’s runners. Signing luminaries in the sport is the next.
Now for race director Nick Curl and his crew, they are ready to take the marathon global with marketing efforts to entice runners from abroad to hop on a plane and lace up their running shoes.
“We’ve been putting more effort into reaching out,” Curl said. “We’re most interested in having the world come to Los Angeles.”
Traditionally the race registered over 90 percent of its racers from California, a trend that Curl says is changing.
Curl credits the stadium to the sea course for much of the growth, but says that attracting elite runners, expanding the marathon’s corporate sponsors and increasing the overall notoriety of the sprawling event are key to raising the L.A. Marathon to the class of those in Boston, New York City and Chicago.
The signing of Kastor is just a part of the overall master plan.
“[Her signing] is an ingredient in the cake,” Curl said. “Does it increase fans coming out? I don’t think so. But, it’s an element to achieve world-class status. We’re not there yet, but you have to have an elite field to get there.”
For Kastor, the decision to race was a relatively easy one to make.
After working on last year’s KTLA broadcast as a roving reporter, the Los Angeles area native said that she was taken by not only the stadium to the sea course, but the diversity of the runners. Some races, like Boston and New York City, are comprised mostly of serious runners. In L.A., scores of people come out just for the scenery and the challenge of completing such a grueling trek.
As an elite runner, Kastor isn’t frustrated by average runners’ inclusion as much as inspired by their dedication to a sport she fell in love with as a teen.
“Most of us elite runners love marathon starts, with everybody lined up,” Kastor said. “Marathons are so special. There are so many different ethnicities, ages and beliefs all running toward a goal of getting to the finish line.
“It brings an extra energy to feed off of.”
The overall growth of the race is starting to catch the eyes of industry vets.
Bart Yasso, chief running officer with Runner’s World, one of the premiere publications in the sport, said that the revamped course was just the first step toward making the L.A. Marathon a destination race. But, he agrees with Curl that there is more to the formula.
“The biggest thing that sells a race is other runners,” Yasso said. “If runners start bragging about the course, that is a big plus.”
Yasso, who last attended the race in 2010, said that he was struck by the course’s run through some of the Los Angeles area’s most picturesque locales. Having run in the marathon during the 1990s on the old course that didn’t stray far from downtown L.A. and areas south, he said that the new course is certainly a step forward for a race that has lofty hopes for the future.
“The changes are helping,” Yasso said. “They always wanted to be the New York, Boston and Chicago marathons, but never made it. It never had that international flavor.”
The increase in runners from abroad will continue to be a driving force for growth for a marathon that is expected to see roughly 25,000 participants this year.
“We don’t want to reduce the number of California people, we just want to add people from other parts of the country and world,” Curl said.
To accomplish that goal, Curl and Co. have gone abroad to meet with tourism officials all in the hopes that more people embrace the marathon. Creating partnerships with tour operators around the world has created a new way to secure registration.
Marathon officials grant a set amount of space to various partners to give late registrants a guaranteed spot at the starting line after domestic registration caps out.
“That’s a part of our outreach efforts,” Curl said. “Creating those partnerships is key to our steady growth.”
The L.A. Marathon takes place on March 17. For more information on the race and to register, visit http://www.lamarathon.com/