LA Marathon 2012: Runners keep the ‘Legacy’ alive for a 27th year

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People run the Los Angeles Marathon for a reason, whether it’s to keep in shape or fundraise for charity. But only a select number run to keep a legacy alive.

The Legacy Runners have participated in every L.A. Marathon since its inception in 1986, and they have every intention to keep the streak going.

On Sunday, the Legacy Runners will trek through their 27th L.A. Marathon. After years of experience, the distance doesn’t seem so daunting.

“You begin running, you start realizing ‘Oh, my stride is 75 inches wide,’” legacy runner Michael Harris said. “That means it might take you 400 steps to finish a mile. When you look at it that way, 26.2 miles doesn’t seem so bad anymore.”

For many of the legacies, running the first L.A. marathon began as a challenge of endurance and speed. Harris said he broke five minute miles in his youth. As the years wore on, participating in the annual race got less competitive and more habitual. “After five? It’s not about speed. I’m just hoping to make it to the finish line,” Harris joked.

Lou Briones, 64 years old, said that the legacy runner group has become a close community, and that’s one of the reasons he keeps running.

“I have a competitive nature. Since I was able to run faster each of the first three years, I thought that maybe I could go faster still,” he said. “Now I’m embedded in this legacy runner club, and now it’s just a matter of prolonging it. Now that’s what is keeping us together. I know for a fact a lot of people would not be continuing the race without the group. Misery loves company.”

According to Briones, the group was 194 strong last year, but only this year’s results can determine the group’s new number. People drop out for various reasons, including family issues, serious injuries and sometimes even death, but Briones said no one gives up due to lack of motivation. Maintaining the title is enough to propel a legacy runner across the finish line, no matter the circumstance.

“Rob Hogan broke his leg and completed the marathon on crutches the entire way. That’s the kind of dedication there is in this,” Briones said. “Last year, when it was pouring down rain, there was a gentleman, James L. Smith, a retired judge from Orange ... He tripped and was unable to brace himself so he fell on his head, put a big gash in his head. The EMTs came and told him it looked serious. He said, ‘No, I’m conscious and I can still run, and it’s only three more miles to the finish line.’”

Even Briones has suffered aches and pains. Right now, he’s nursing the tendonitis in his Achilles tendon. “I had to run with the flu one year,” he added. “Everybody’s got stories like that. Nobody can get to the starting line 26 years in a row without having some sort of a problem.”

Briones, also known as “Legacy Lou,” is the group’s coordinator. He and another lifer, Denny Smith, decided to make the legacy runners group official after the marathon office’s inability to take action. “They thought that it was a great idea, but then they never did it. I said, ‘To hell with it, I’ll do it myself,’” he continued.

The duo created an email list, but getting their members took a guerilla effort. “We made these little postage return address stickers, and we put the name of the email group on that, and then we took those to the start of the marathon and we just started yelling at these people, ‘Who’s a legacy runner?’” Briones recalled. “Over time, it grew and grew and grew, and I think we got most but not all. Not everybody is technologically savvy, and some don’t even have computers.”

A lot changes in 27 years, and Briones said he's amazed how many stories there are to tell. According to him, most of the legacies started running in their 20s or early 30s, a moment when adults really get established in life.

“Maybe you get married, then you have children, you buy a house ... you lose the house, you lose your job, you get remarried,” Briones explained. “You can just imagine, any of these scenarios, it could have occurred and it did occur. A whole generation and a half has passed during this time period. The only constant is the marathon. That’s what hooks us all together. When you think of it like that, it’s kind of impressive, you know?”

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