The St. Patrick's Day race drew roughly 24,000 hoofers for a 26.2-mile caloric burn from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica. The 2013 ASICS LA Marathon, the city's 28th, is among the largest long-distance jaunts in the nation.
But only in Los Angeles could racers fly from Chinatown through Beverly Hills toward a balmy four-leaf finish by the Pacific Ocean.
"I'm excited -- and nervous," said Heather Stewart, 39, of Santa Clarita, before her first marathon. "I'll finish. I don't know how long it'll take, but I'll cross that finish line -- I have a shamrock tatooed on my foot."
They had trained on gravel tracks from Los Angeles to Boston. They had skirted trails across the hills of Southern California and beyond, even as far away as Africa.
They had come -- from those mounting their first marathon to veterans of the final stretch -- to overcome inner demons of inertia. To gain traction at the largest fitness event in the West. To sprint for one of 81 favorite charities. And to prove they could go the Olympic distance.
For each participant, there were different reasons to run or roll a wheelchair over 11 uphill miles and 15 downhill miles along the route.
For the third straight year, the legion of fresh warriors shot from their starting gate at Dodger Stadium into a new dawn outside Chavez Ravine. Before the first wheelchair launch at 6:50 a.m., contestants readied to roll.
Among them was 62-year-old Art Gonzalez of Chula Vista, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a hit-and-run bicycle accident, then was struck twice again by cars while using his hand-crank wheelchair.
"I'm like a cat," said Gonzalez, sporting an emerald green mohawk on his helmet. "I've got nine lives, and six left."
The normal cast of leprechauns, fairies, super heroes, Aztec dancers, Chinese coolies and Elvis impersonators with boom boxes also joined the race. Fat people, skinny people, L.A.'s most glamorous and its most homely -- all would make a run for it.
One of the leprechauns was first-time marathon runner Norma Urie, wearing a green tutu and green stockings etched with "beer."
"I'm finding a pot of gold at 26.2 (miles)," said Urie, 36, of Santa Fe Springs. "And sipping a Blue Moon."
Robert Handley came dressed as Batman's sidekick, Robin, all the way from Birmingham, England.
"I came for charity, and to fight crime" said Handley, 25. "Gangs and Bane."
Also among the runners was Shannon Farar-Griefer, who has more than a hundred 100-plus mile races under her running belt, including seven Badwater Ultramarathons from Death Valley to Mount Whitney. She once ran the race from America's lowest point to its highest continental peak -- and back, covering 292 miles, in July.
On Sunday, she served as mother hen to nearly two dozen women she had trained to complete their first LA Marathon and raise thousands for ACT Today to help autistic children.
"It's empowering," said Farar-Griefer, 51, a blond mother of three from Hidden Hills who was wearing a Jetanna UV Sport outfit from her own clothing line.
"Running the marathon is a huge feat: it's going to hurt; it's going to hurt again; but you feel forever. You're a marathon runner."
With great anticipation, runners, dignitaries and fans lined up for bag piping, the National Anthem, and fast starts led by the wheelchairs, followed by elite female and male runners.
"Are you ready!" cried Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, over the heads of a waiting mass of runners spread out as far as the eye could see. "I can't hear you -- are you ready? Twenty-four thousand people: we're here to run; we're here to win, we're here to have a great time. Are you ready?
Then under a hazy morning sky under what proved an idyllic warm race day, they were off -- each contestant bobbing forward with chest out and chin up, with nearly 50,000 running shoes hissing softly on the pavement in unison, headed west toward the gleam of downtown.
Across the city, they threaded a gauntlet of ethnic celebrations.
They ran from lion dancers in Chinatown to taiko drums in Little Tokyo. From Salvadoran to Native American song and dance in Hollywood to the 35 bands and more than 500 cheerleaders stationed along a route from Los Angeles to West Hollywood to Santa Monica.
Fans roared. Runners smiled. Blisters grew. And mile after mile, world-famous movie landmarks, from the historic Pueblo de Los Angeles to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to the haughty mannequins of Rodeo Drive, helped propel each marathon man and woman toward the finish line.
Few likely knew what supplies race organizers said were needed to complete the mission: 50 pounds of Vaseline; more than 600 portable toilets; 3,300 bandages; 5,200 tabs of ibuprofen; 6,000 volunteers; 25,000 bagels; 32,500 bananas; 55,000 gallons of bottled water; 52,000 half-liter water bottles; and 1,220,000 cups.
And few likely knew the race was being directed by none other than the vilified former L.A. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, whose LA Marathon LLC owns operating rights. A marathon spokesman said the company declined to disclose its profits, but that all proceeds were ploughed back into the civic race.
By the time the late afternoon sun would touch down upon the Pacific, most who'd paid $145 for the privilege of running three cities' streets would limp away with an LA Marathon T-shirt. The top runner, man or woman, walked away with a prize of $75,000.
The men's winner Sunday was Erick Mose, 26, of Kenya, who finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes, 44 seconds. The women's winner was Aleksandra Duliba, 27, of Belarus, who finished in 2 hours, 26 minutes, 5 seconds.
In Santa Monica, the winners craned toward the finish line, with the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel in sight.
But for most, everyone who competed was a winner.
That included 26-year-old Ashley Erickson, a Camarillo native who began running to work off her anxiety. Once a victim of panic attacks, she found running worked to clear her head. This was her first marathon, cheered on by her mother and sister from Camarillo.
"It definitely works," said Erickson, now of Austin, who was running the marathon to raise funds for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "It's OK to feel weak, because it is only then that you can gain strength."
Samuel Gardner III was literally running in his father's footsteps. His dad, Samuel Gardner Jr., was among the 185 legacy runners to complete each LA Marathon since it began in 1985.
He'd run with his pop since age 4. But during their first marathon together Sunday, they could lift each leg in tandem.
"When I got tired, my dad would say, 'You're a big boy, you can do it. Come on, Buddy!' " said Gardner, 38, a father of two in Woodland Hills, who trained running in the sand from Malibu to Venice Beach and back.
"Because of him, running became a passion for me, too."
Stewart, the first-timer from Santa Clarita, said she once weighed 320 pounds and would lay on her couch, obese and sad. She then grew tired of being envious of the fit and began waking up at 5:30 a.m. each morning to run. She dropped 80 pounds. When she finished her first 5K, her mom cried at the finish line.
"I started living a different life -- I started living," she said. "I have a body that can run and was meant to move."