Scott Hubbard - December, 2018 Column: "We've Got This!"
by RunMichigan Staff, Dec. 13, 2018
WE'VE GOT THIS. I was part of the race results team for the Los Angeles Marathon for many years, working with Burns Computer Services. We always took a large crew from Michigan and enjoyed the warmer temps and unique places to run. One year in the 90s, I was tasked with starting a timing machine at the start with friend Larry.
The start and finish were near the LA Coliseum then. We walked over about 15 minutes early and stood next to the start. For years Muhammed Ali was there on a raised platform where he'd wave and point at runners after the start, all part of the 'star' aspect there. Another aspect were Hollywood impersonators wandering around the start grid area where elite runners milled about, trotting around. A rope held the teeming masses back about 100' from the start line.
Several minutes before the scheduled start time, a few runners bolted from the start and were followed by a few more, then the rest followed. Larry and I stood there dumbfounded since we'd heard no announcements, no gun, nothing to indicate a start. We talked about what we should do, feeling helpless and hopeless.
We didn't settle on anything that made sense short of hopefully finding somebody that'd started a watch when they bolted. We also sensed it was all a bit odd plus the rest of field were still held back by the rope. Our senses proved right as little by little runners jogged back to the start. By the time the last runner got back, about 10 minutes had elapsed. And the masses had pressed those holding the rope forward to within 5' of the start, leaving no room to stage the elite runners.
We waited patiently for race officials to show up, sort it all out and get the runners off. After about 5 minutes Larry and I looked down the road, didn't see any officials and we decided we'd start the LA Marathon. Yes, us. We knew what to do and how to do it. Two schmucks from Michigan were going to take over and get that baby rolling! We needed a new start line so we looked for a painted line of any kind across the road nearby. None.
Then he spotted a sizable crack that went nearly straight across the road. He asked, 'Think this will do?' I said yeah then he asked if the 35-40' we'd shortened the race would work from a certified course point of view. I said yeah while at the same time wondering, 'What choice do we have?!'
We looked around again for race officials and seeing none, Larry started getting loud, waving his arms, motioning runners to get behind the crack and I did what I could to do the same. Still yelling, he gave start commands, looked at me to be sure I was ready to start our time machines. He was quite a sight to behold! His voice about to give out, he moved to the road edge, 'Everybody set, GOOO!' And they did. Magic. Anybody could've done what we did and we were tickled to be anybody.
Time machines started and Ali waving, we walked through the crowd to the timing tent, overly eager to share our story with the rest of the crew. In the next hour we learned why runners took off early: there were some balloons in the start area, one had POPPED! setting off the startled elite. Frankly, there was too much going on around the start with Hollywood impersonators and other unnecessary activity. We never learned why officials didn't return to the start to do their jobs.
We went for a run before the marathoners started finishing. As they finished we all had our jobs, timing, herding runners into chutes (pull-tag era) or working with computers in the tent. It's as surreal an experience as I've had in the sport. Larry and I didn't think what we did was anything special but the occasion put a nutty spin on it. A short movie made for Hollywood!