If all goes as planned, Gary Roberts and Thomas Philo will finish the Los Angeles Marathon Sunday, March 21st like they have done every year for the past 24 years, only this time they won’t require transportation to get back home.

Roberts, Philo and hundreds of other Santa Monica residents will have the opportunity to cross the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon within their own city for the first time, with the ocean and the iconic Santa Monica Pier in view. It will be a picturesque end to a new course dubbed the “Stadium to the Sea” that will begin at Dodger Stadium and take runners past some of Los Angeles’ most identifiable attractions.

For the 25th anniversary of the 26.2-mile LA Marathon, race organizers designed a course to highlight the region by having the thousands of participants go through a host of iconic locations along the way. Starting at the stadium, the route proceeds to Hollywood, down the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, on to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, through West Los Angeles, down San Vicente Boulevard and finishing at the ocean end of Santa Monica Boulevard.

The race has attracted unprecedented interest since the announcement of the new course last summer, as it has sold out for the first time in its history. The 25,000 expected participants marks a nearly 45-percent jump from last year’s event.

“The excitement in the running community is at a bursting point,” LA Marathon creative director Peter Abraham said days prior to the run. “So many runners feel that this is the route the LA Marathon should have always had, and the fact that it sold out is a testament to the popularity of this route.”

Having the runners travel by a landmark virtually every mile will give them the sense that they are on a “tourist itinerary of Los Angeles,” and will help improve the popularity of the race internationally, Abraham said.

“We think this will be a destination marathon where runners will travel from all over the world to do this marathon,” he predicted.

“Our goal is to build a world-class race that will be one of the top marathons in the world, and we think we have a route that lives up to that.”

Roberts and Philo, who are known as legacy runners, those who have run in each of the previous LA Marathons, were quick to express their excitement for a change in route and a chance to finish in their place of residence.

“I’m excited about this course; I wish they would’ve had it from year one,” said Roberts, a 15-year Santa Monica resident. “What could be better than finishing a couple of blocks from where you live?”

Roberts, who has run about 75 marathons in cities across the globe, including the prestigious New York Marathon, called the LA race the best organized of those he’s completed. He noted that some of the past Los Angeles courses have gone through some less visually appealing areas, but that will change this year, particularly with the last three miles down San Vicente and along Ocean Avenue.

“Santa Monica is like the absolute gem of Los Angeles. There’s nothing better than coming down to the (Palisades) park, looking at the ocean and finishing at the beach,” he said.

Philo, a 17-year Santa Monica resident, was equally thrilled at the prospect of seeing the shore as he crosses the finish line and not having to travel far to return home.

“It’s just the best. To finish up here in Santa Monica I just can’t believe that it’s actually happening,” Philo said.

“This year all I have to do is go home.”

Roberts said he never intended to run 24 LA Marathons consecutively but he has entered the event year after year for the challenge and now knows what to expect from a race that many set as a one-time goal. For Philo, he too likes to aim for a goal with the marathon but he also enjoys the encouragement of supporters cheering along the way.

Abraham said the makeup of the course with the last three and a half miles traveling downhill and cooler temperatures near the coast will allow for very fast times in the elite runner division.

“I think this will go down as one of the great finishing stretches in all marathons,” he said.

Establishing Santa Monica as the finish point for the 25th anniversary marathon has won praise from various city officials who say the city will receive cultural and economic benefits.

“We are looking forward to hosting the Honda LA Marathon runners and spectators as they finish the 26.2-mile racecourse in our community,” said Misti Kerns, president and CEO of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The LA Marathon provides our business, hotels, restaurants, attractions and retailers with a great boost, while providing our residents with a fun-filled day at the beach.”

City Councilman Kevin McKeown added, “Marathon runners will have an extra thrill when their home stretch brings them ocean breezes and a sweeping view of Santa Monica Bay. For our part, Santa Monica is excited about welcoming the athletes and the fans to the pier and our city.”

City officials are encouraging residents who hope to watch the race or offer support to the runners to walk, bike or take the Big Blue Bus.

Information on Santa Monica street closures, resident and business access, or parking and bus operations, http://smgov.net/lamarathon.

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