Los Angeles Marathon "Stadium to the Sea" Course - Is It Faster Than Previous Course?

It was a lot of fun watching the LA Marathon last Sunday. Having run my PR on the LA course "back in the day" and other solid times in the late 1990s, I was kind of curious about how fast the newer "Stadium to the Sea" course was compared to previous courses that started and finished in downtown Los Angeles.

"Stadium to the Sea" saw its first running in 2010, brought about by new owner, Frank McCourt. McCourt, widely villified as Dodgers owner, only to reap a record price for the team last year, was seen after the race with LA Mayor Anthony Villaraigoza having fun congratulating the winners of the race.

I considered signing up for the race as a last minute fun run but it was sold out. Not too many years ago you could sign up last minute for the LA Marathon, but it has gained popularity, as has marathoning in general, leaving last minute signups more of a challenge.

Did about 17 miles back here since they wouldn't sell me a last minute entry to the Los Angeles Marathon. Score a win for me!

So, about this course...is it faster than previous "loop" courses?

For the "average" runner, and by average I mean the average time for all finishers, the aggregate time for the first 3 years of the course (2013 results still not available in a manageable format) was 5:18. This compares to an aggregate average time over the previous 10 years, on various loop courses, of 5:33. (Thanks to MarathonGuide.com, my favorite website for marathon information, for this data.) This would indicate the new course is faster overall, which makes sense as the course now has a net elevation drop of 430 feet.

Something that more "competitive" running types sometimes do is compare how their time on a course would have placed them in other years. While many factors are at play in making year over year comparisons, such as weather, course conditions, the competition, it is just one of those things that we like to do.

My PR marathon time was on the 1997 LA Marathon loop course, where my 2:35 got me 35th place. That same time on average would have garnered an average place of 23 to 24 over the last 14 years, as well as over the last 4 years of Stadium to Sea. I guess when I ran the race, there was simply more competition. Last Sunday, a 2:35 would have garnered 22nd. While I'm nowhere near that kind of time today, it would be fun to go back and give the Stadium to Sea course a try. Bottom line however, is that for whatever reason, the times for non-elite age runner top 100 placer times appear to have slowed over the years.

Let's get back to the aggregate numbers. The average aggregate recent times in the LA Marathon, while 15 minutes faster than on previous LA courses, are still significantly slower than other large races. For example, the previous 5-year average times at New York (excluding the cancelled 2012 race due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy) and Chicago were 4:26 and 4:37, respectively. Those are dramatically faster than the average times in Los Angeles.

Why is this? Well, I'm guessing but I suspect that we have more marathon "walkers" and fundraisers in LA that bring the average up. Also, each year the wonderful Students Run LA charity brings 3,000 at-risk teens to the marathon, including nearly 3,200 in 2013. Nearly 100% of the SRLA high school seniors graduate high school and go on to attend to attend college. I don't know the average time for SRLA runners but I suspect it does bring down overall aggregate times to a degree.

But let's digress again. how about the overall winning times at the LA Marathon? They have definitely dropped. Prior to the Stadium to the Sea route, the average Downtown LA Loop course from 1996 to 2009 was 2:11:48. Stadium to the Sea has run for 4 years now, including the unbelievable 2:06:05 course record first-time marathon performance in 2 inches of torrential rain by Markos Geneti of Ethiopia in 2011 has been 2:09:27. Three of the four Stadium to the Sea events have been sub 2:10.

So definitely, the course has made progress, though we're still not at the level of other major U.S. courses. The average winning time at Chicago over the last six years was 2:06:39. The average winning time in New York over that period (excluding 2012) was 2:08:04. Still solidly ahead of LA...but in this case, I suspect it is because they payday at those races is substantially higher than at LA.

OK, enough of this analysis paralysis. Let's get running!