When the City of Los Angeles Marathon was established in 1986, the race had a tremendous start. I ran the first two years and was fascinated with Bill Burke and Marie Patrick and their team-they had actually brought a race to Los Angeles. That Burke won the political battle over the marathon with the LA city council should have suggested then how formidable a character Burke was.
When the Devine Racing company purchased the LA Marathon, they gave away the farm to Burke, thinking that they could control him. Devine Racing showed that even in the sport of running, we can have people and organizations that do not have the needs of the runner in mind. Devine never controlled Burke or Patrick-that control was an illusion.
When Russ Pillar, Frank McCourt and their team took over the LA marathon seven months ago, they had, quite honestly, a mess. In Pillar’s language, he might use the word, “challenge”. An event that was officially sanctioned by the city, but that did not have support of the local running community. Burke had frustrated many over the years and Devine just added to what should have been, and what should be, the largest marathon on the West coast.
Do not underestimate the challenges Pillar have. The politics in the LA City Council is legendary. PIllar noted: “I thought this was a 26.2-mile road race, but what instead it is actually is a political asset that happens to be run in shorts and a T-shirt.” To put on a major city marathon, to put on a successful city marathon, one must have the support of the entire city. (Gives one a larger appreciation for NY, Chicago, Boston marathons and the others!).
Pillar wants to have this event in a Sunday in March, and for that to happen, the City Council, which mandated this date in May for Pillar and McCourt to take over the event. In listening to the press conference today (thanks to Rich Perelman, who sent us a file of the interview.
Read Pillars’ statements below. It is Road Race Management 101: observe, tie in the local running community, listen to their issues, and make the event right. Pillar has lots to do, but they are asking the right questions. After this weekend’s race, the new LA marathon team will know what has worked and what has not. From Pillar’s quotes, it is obvious that all parts of the race are up for improvement: course, date, communications.
We wish the new LA Marathon team the best this weekend and will follow up with reviews, comments and interviews next week!
LOS ANGELES MARATHON PRESIDENT PILLAR:
“WE ARE PREPARED FOR A FANTASTIC EVENT
LOS ANGELES, California, May 22, 2009 â€“ “We’re looking forward to a better runner and participant event than we have ever seen before in the City of Los Angeles. As far as Frank McCourt and I are concerned, and I know I speak for my fellow colleagues at the Marathon, We have even grander plans for future events.”
That’s Russ Pillar, president of the Los Angeles Marathon, sharing his perspective on the upcoming Memorial Day race with reporters during a news conference Friday afternoon at the site of the Run/Ex/09 exposition at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Asked about his impressions, having taken control of the event with only seven months to go, he said, “I like to joke and itâ€™s only halfway joking, that I thought this was a 26.2-mile road race, but what instead it is actually is a political asset that happens to be run in shorts and a T-shirt. I think that was a wake-up call for me as my first experience dealing with an asset where there were so many stakeholders who really had a passionate point of view on what they thought was best for the event. And we welcomed that at the Marathon.”
Pillar noted that the course change, from the point-to-point route used in 2007 and 2008 back to the 2006 course, came from the running community. “When we spent time with the runners, and actually formed what we call a Runner’s Advisory Council that’s headed by one of the Legacy runners â€“ one of the 209 who have run all 23 Los Angeles Marathons â€“ we heard that they didn’t like the course that it had been moved to. And when we canvassed the wider running community, we also heard that this loop course that we’re running this year happened to be a favorite of all possible options that they had been given in the past. It happens, not coincidentally, to be the course on which the fastest times in the Los Angeles Marathon had been run. So the move back to the loop course was an effort on our behalf to listen to the running community and in the absence of something of which we could all be excited and proud really created the chance to move to a route that made some sense for the runners.”
Improving the runner experience is a key goal of the Marathon and Pillar pointed with pride to the elite field and the unique Los Angeles Marathon Challenge. “I personally think this is the finest elite field we’ve ever been able to attract to the Los Angeles Marathon. Certainly if you look at some of the accomplishments of some of these racers, they are, by any stretch of the imagination, world-class athletes.” Speaking of the Challenge, where the women’s elite field is given a handicap and the first person â€“ male or female â€“ to cross the finish line earns a $100,000 bonus, Pillar said “It creates an extra, added layer of excitement. Your objective is not only to be the first male finisher, but to catch the woman who is up ahead of you, and you can see her right in front of you. If you can catch her, that’s worth $100,000 to you. This is a significant incentive to create a great race. Youâ€™re taking about strides, after 26.2 miles of five-minute, plus or minus, mile paces.”
Pillar was also enthused about new, environmental initiatives in the race, pointing out that “we believe we have an obligation to use this event not only to provide an opportunity for participants to improve their own lives, but also to send a message about what’s important in our own community. And so one of the first initiatives that we launched at the Marathon under our new ownership is what we’re calling a greener race. Continuing over time to increase the green footprint, or to decrease the non-green footprint of the race is one of the core tenets as we continue to connect communities in the Los Angeles Marathon.” Simply eliminating the traditional plastic “goody bag” and the dozens of paper coupons instantly removed tens of thousands of waste; moreover, the hundreds of thousands of wax-paper cups used by runners during the race will be collected and used to create new energy.
Looking to the future, Pillar was clear that the Marathon will likely not repeat this year’s May date. “Weâ€™re hopeful it will be the last the last [Los Angeles] Marathon to be run in May, although there were a variety of constituencies, including elected officials, who have something to say about that. We think that the March date, specifically a Sunday in March, will create an environment that we can create a better experience for all participants. And at the end of the day, thatâ€™s what this is about.”
And he was equally enthusiastic about a contemplated new course for the event, stating that “We have put a lot of thought into starting and finishing the race in a lot of places in Los Angeles and the race course is one of those talismans that we revisit with the powers that be from time to time. At this point, all I can say is we look forward to creating a course as soon as possible that everybody who participates in the Los Angeles Marathon can be proud of. We think that this is a very good course that people will run some great races on, but we don’t think this course highlights the best of what Los Angeles has to offer and over time and we hope in time for next year, we have the ability to have a course that everybody around the world can look and say, “Wow, I want to come to Los Angeles and run that race, because that looks like fun.” What would such a course look like? “It would probably be in multiple cities.”
For 2009, Pillar said registrations for the Marathon itself are at the 15,000 mark, with registration continuing through the two-day Run/Ex/09 show that opens Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. That does not include the thousands of additional participants who will ride in the ACURA LA Bike Tour or in the LA 5K Run/Walk.
In short, said Pillar, “We are prepared for a fantastic event on Monday.”
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