In the beginning, the L.A. LEGGERS was the first and only training program for the ASICS LA Marathon. Read a first-hand account of our club’s origins, in the words of our founder, Bob Scott.
The L.A. LEGGERS program is a direct outgrowth of KNX’s involvement in the City of Los Angeles Marathon as the official radio station for the marathon. Along with our complete coverage of the LA Marathon, we pioneered the use of a reporter [Bob Scott] running the full 26 miles and 385 yards while outfitted with a radio and microphone to do reports and conduct interviews along the way.
While running in LA Marathons 2,3 and 4, it became apparent to me that many of those taking part were alarmingly under-trained. If you’re walking at mile 7, chances are you’re risking injury and should not be on the course. I was aware of the statistics: the Los Angeles Marathon has more first-timer runners than any other large-city marathon and has a high non-finisher rate. I suggested to news director Bob Sims that we, at KNX, really get involved. The proposal was to do something for the community, to sponsor a training program for those with little or no running experience, but with a desire to run the LA Marathon.
That was in December of 1988. The following March, after the 1989 Marathon was over, Sims called me into his office and told me to look into it. I checked with marathon president Bill Burke to find out if he had any misgivings. He was all for it.
Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles had offered some free marathon-training lectures for a couple of years with marginal attendance. I contacted Hospital officials and asked if they were interested in joining with us in offering a training program that would SAFELY take non-runners all the way to the finish line.
Orthopaedic was delighted. Hospital administrators were about to cancel its participation due to the low turnout (25 to 50 people) at its clinics, but readily agreed to give it another chance. We agreed to enter a partnership: Orthopaedic would provide the medical staff (doctors and physical therapists) for the screening of all participants and set the standards by which a person would be allowed to take part. Being the runner (an incredibly average runner) in the group and knowing first-hand the problems and pitfalls of running and training for a marathon, I began to work on the training program.
The basic concept of the program was to reach the folks who were going to try the LA Marathon without training or knowing how to train. Injuries are commonplace for the long-distance runner, but their incidence can be reduced with a rational and scientific approach. That was one problem. The other deals with the mind. Running a 10K race is a piece of cake – virtually anyone can do it. A marathon is another matter. One must train, and that means hours and hours on the road. Generally, all marathon training courses call for one long run a week. That starts as single-digit mileage and progresses over the months to 16, 18, 26 and sometime 30-mile runs. Those are imposing distances to veteran marathoners, but to a novice, they’re nearly impossible.
My idea was to make those long runs easier, and psychologically shorter, by doing them in a group. (I’d trained for marathons both solo and with other runners and knew the difference.) The proposal: those taking part in the training program would meet once a week for a long run. Following the run we, the sponsors, would provide a nutritious snack (fruit) and a runners’ clinic – experts from as many disciplines as possible relevant to endurance athletes. They would lecture for about 30 minutes, there would be questions, we would hand out the training schedule for the week to come and all go our separate ways.
Uppermost in my mind was safety. These, for the most part, would be first-time marathoners and very possibly first-time runners. We needed a program and a location that would lend themselves to that goal. I huddled with Dr. Sonny Cobble of Orthopaedic Hospital. As a runner, marathoner and orthopaedic surgeon, he offered a unique perspective to the problem. I also went to Dr. John Pagliano, a sports podiatrist with an international reputation. Pagliano is also a marathoner and when younger was a top-ranked athlete.
All of us were aware of former Olympian Jeff Galloway’s efforts as a writer and coach and agreed his program was probably the safest and easiest way for a non-runner to do a first marathon. I called Jeff and proposed using his program designed for first-time marathoners and asked for his assistance. He was supportive in every way, and that support continues to this day.
In his book, Galloway’s Book On Running, Jeff Galloway has a schedule for those who wish to train just enough to finish a marathon. It presumed some running background. We could not assume a running base, so Jeff customized a 31-week program for the non-runner.
We had a program, we had sponsors, but we needed a location. With safety for the runners as a guide, I began to consider various sites. The object was to keep the fledgling runners off the streets as much as possible, to make the course as flat as possible and to give the runners access to water.
It’s no secret that Southern California weather can turn hot on any given day. Endurance athletes – marathoners – generate tremendous amounts of heat which has to be dissipated. That’s accomplished in several ways. The most critical is perspiration, which evaporates to cool the body. But there’s a catch: The fluid must be replaced or severe medical problems could result. The object was to keep the heat build-up to a minimum by choosing a location where ambient heat would be less of a factor. The choice was obvious – the Strand, some call it the Promenade, others refer to it as The Boardwalk.
The name is not important, the location is. The Strand is a path, asphalt in most places, concrete in others. It runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean at the eastern edge of the beach and stretches from Santa Monica on the north to Playa Del Rey to the south. Being along the beach, it is without hills, there are no cross streets and the ocean being 200 yards away meant cooler air. Several of my safety concerns had been eliminated.
The meeting place was another matter. Rosemary Hutton of Orthopaedic, Nick Curl of the Los Angeles Marathon and I began a search. Nick suggested the Santa Monica Senior Center which sits on the Palisades just above the Strand. It fit our needs and the location was ideal. Nick and I approached the Director of the Santa Monica Parks and Recreation Department and signed a contract for a 31-week period beginning August 5th. The L.A. LEGGERS, at this point unnamed, had a home.
Arriving at a name for our training program proved to be more of an annoyance than expected. Employees of all three sponsoring organizations were asked to come up with ideas. Nothing really rang a bell until I mentioned it to Bill Wolff, a member of the KNX promotion department. Within half a day, Bill had come up with the L.A. LEGGERS. Promotion Director Fred Bergandorf then put the matter of a logo into the hands of the Creative Congregation, commercial artists who in the past had done work for KNX. Their suggestion was accepted.
By mid June, Hutton, Curl and I had worked out the entrance application and KNX’s executive news producer Roger Nadel used a computer program to make the application camera-ready. The printing was handled by KNX’s print shop supervisor Armando Besares.
Next, we let people know that we were about to start a free training program: The goal was the successful completion of the Los Angeles Marathon in March of 1990. I wrote and voiced the promos and Bill Wolff matched them with appropriate music. We began to air them in early July.
To the best of our knowledge, such a program had never been offered. We had no idea what to expect in terms of applicants. I had two nightmares: one, that eleven people would show up on the day of our first meeting; the other, that one thousand would attend. Interested people were asked to call a phone number that appeared in the KNX newsroom. I had forms prepared to help us get some idea about interest. Soon, everyone in the KNX newsroom was answering calls, questions and filling out forms. The forms were sent to Orthopaedic Hospital where the information was entered into a computer and the applications were received.
In mid July, Los Angeles Marathon president Bill Burke provided us with space in the Los Angeles Times. The ads told people about the L.A. LEGGERS program. If they had a desire to run the LA Marathon, we had a program to help them do it, and it was free. We had close to 900 inquires.
While the name and logo projects were underway, I began to recruit speakers for our Saturday morning runs. Among the speakers who agreed to come each week was Kathy Manilla, Orthopaedic Hospital physical therapist. She agreed to get the L.A. LEGGERS started each weekend with stretching. Don Beth, from Cal State Northridge Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, agreed to talk about marathon motivation. John Pagliano would talk about shoes and foot/knee injury prevention and treatment. Craig Chambers of the Phidippides Encino shoe store would talk about shoe construction and types. Jeff Galloway promised to come and answer questions about his walk-run program. Dr. Sonny Cobble would talk on hydration, nutrition, rest, leg and foot injury problems and prevention, as well as other runner problems and concerns identified during the training program.
Our first session was set for August 5, 1989 at the Orthopaedic Hospital’s Andrew Norman Hall. The Hospital provided the medical staff to screen the applicants. The protocol was established by Dr. Sonny Cobble. Over 350 people showed up on that first day. The medical staff was overwhelmed. The President of Orthopaedic Hospital removed his jacket, picked up a stethoscope and worked side by side with the others. First, vital signs were checked, and each applicant then walked or ran one mile on the track provided by Trade Technical Community College. Following the exercise, vital signs were again checked, family records were reviewed by a doctor and, if any danger signs were evident, the applicant was told to check with his own physician and return to us with an okay. Those without problems were told to be at the Senior Center in Santa Monica the following week.
Those on hand for the screening and testing were broken into groups of 25 and, while they were monitored, the others sat in the auditorium and heard greetings from KNX news director Bob Sims, Orthopaedic Hospital president James Luck, M.D. and William Burke, president of the Los Angeles Marathon. We showed a videotape of the marathon, and then I began to explain exactly what the program entailed; what running and marathoning were all about, the joys, the benefits and the dangers. I then invited questions and had with me at the podium Leslye Fuller of the Los Angeles Marathon, also a marathoner, to field those that applied to females.
Our first working meeting was the following week. Over 100 of those to show up had not been at the initial medical screening. We anticipated some newcomers, but not that many. Our medical staff was again inundated. That proved to be the case for the next two weeks. But the training had begun.
The confusion was such during the first two weeks that an accurate count was close to impossible. While the newcomers were screened, I went over basics with the one- and two-week veterans: shoes, clothing, heat, fluid replacement, injuries, and the mid-week running schedule. We provided the schedule, but the runners would be on their own.
By week three we had a computerized sign-in sheet that had promise: August 26th…401 runners; September 9th… 535 runners. The latter was our high point. It stretched the facility and staff to the breaking point, but we knew there would be attrition. It became noticeable when the Saturday runs hit double figures. The average weekly attendance dropped to about 350. That figure held until we moved to about 18 miles, when it fell to about 260 and held again.
Two KNX staffers took part in the program. One was forced to trim participation but assignment editor Ron Bradford, formerly a non-runner, stayed with the program and successfully completed the race.
One of my weekly tasks was to check the courses we would be running. The initial “long” runs were actually very short…2, 3, 4 miles, etc. These did not present much of a problem; but, as the mileage grew, I had to run and measure each run. My object was to keep our runners off the streets as much as possible. After a few weeks of low mileage, we were able to recruit some other runners to serve as staff and to monitor the streets that needed to be crossed. When the runs passed the 15-mile threshold, we began putting some volunteers on bicycles with two-way radios, and Rosemary Hutton used a hospital van to cruise the course and to pick up injured L.A. LEGGERS. We impressed on them the need to drink, and to stop running if certain types of pain occurred.
We decided to provide items of clothing for the participants: hats and shirts. They would have the L.A. LEGGERS logo on the front and the logos of the three sponsors on the back. Safety was again a key in deciding what we would hand out. I ordered white, painter-style hats and white T-shirts. Not very colorful, but there was a reason: white reflects and minimizes radiant heat build up. I scheduled the distribution to coincide with certain milestones. The hats were handed out after the L.A. LEGGERS had run 5 miles, the shirts were handed out after 11 miles.
By the time the 11-mile run took place, those involved in the program became L.A. LEGGERS and a sense of community bridging on family was slowly evolving. They had reached a level of well-deserved pride in themselves and an unexpected (by me) transition was taking place. They considered themselves L.A. LEGGERS. Their pride was spilling over into the organization. There were repeated requests for items of clothing that would further mark them as members of the L.A LEGGERS.
Having already established a working relationship with the silk screener as a result of having the hats and T-shirts, I approached him about sweat shirts. He agreed to produce them, and we just turned them around at cost. There were 310 L.A. LEGGERS sweatshirts purchased.
When the training program entered its final two months, the L.A. LEGGERS began calling for singlets (sort of a T-shirt without arms, just thin straps over the shoulders). They are much cooler. We decided to provide them as well, no cost to the runners.
As the program picked up steam and proved to be a success, companies involved in road racing were approached. We needed water. Rosemary Hutton of Orthopaedic Hospital contacted the Arrowhead water people. They agreed to donate water, and as our runs moved to 6 miles and beyond, the L.A. LEGGERS had its own water stations.
Nick Curl of the LA Marathon contacted EXCEED, the makers of a fluid-replacement drink. The company agreed to give us as much as we needed. It, too, was placed on the training course.
Jeff Galloway’s publisher sent us 100 copies of Jeff’s book. The Reebok Shoe Company donated two pairs of top-of-the-line shoes every week. The partner of Todd Molnar, M.D., one of our clinic speakers. had 50 copies of his book, Save Your Knees by James Fox, M.D. sent to us. Names were pulled from a hat every week and the items were handed out.
On March 4th, 1990, after 31 weeks of training, 249 L.A. LEGGERS gathered on Figueroa Street along with an estimated 18 thousand others. They stood a few hundred yards from the east end of the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The starting cannon fired at 8:30 a.m.
About six-and-a-half hours later, tears were streaming down the faces of some of the L.A. LEGGERS as the last of their newfound family rounded the last curve on Coliseum Drive and crossed the finish line: 248 of them had finished. An injury forced one of the L.A. LEGGERS out at mile 15.
Three weeks later, the L.A. LEGGERS victory dinner, paid for by the runners, was held. Runners and spouses – 292 of them – ate, drank, reminisced and danced until midnight. Several of the runners had formed a committee, put together a program and handed out special awards and certificates to volunteers who worked at water stations, drew maps, handed out shirts or helped in dozens of behind-the-scenes jobs that made the program a success. They inaugurated an award dubbed The Scotty (I blush) and presented one to Doctor Sonny Cobble, who spent many Saturday mornings with the runners, and another to me.
Throughout the evening, and for several weeks prior to the marathon, I was asked one question over and over, “What now? You just can’t let us go!” It was not my intention to make the L.A. LEGGERS a year-round event, but that’s what happened. An average of about 75 L.A. LEGGERS continue to meet on a semi-organized monthly basis.
The program was presented again starting mid-summer of 1990. As a result of the many newspaper and magazine articles written about the program, all three sponsoring organizations receive calls on a daily basis asking to be placed on the list for the L.A. LEGGERS 1991.
The L.A. LEGGERS program generated considerable interest from within and without the running community. I had several calls from people asking for help in starting similar programs. The head of a public-relations firm in Houston, Texas read about the program in a running magazine, decided it would be a good thing for Houston, called and asked for an assist in getting a similar program started in that city. Other calls came in from the Southern California area, but were a little too close to home and could possibly undermine our operation, which was financed liberally by KNX and Orthopaedic Hospital. It did not seem prudent to give people in Orange County the benefit of many dollars and hours allocated by the sponsors and enable them to capitalize on it in their area of influence.
The interest from the fringe of the running world came from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and doctoral candidate Ruth Smith. She read about the program and decided to study our “captive” runners. The appealing aspect to Smith was the high percentage of non-runners (pre-L.A. LEGGERS) in a controlled environment. Her area of interest is psychology. Her goals were to determine:
•what makes non-runners run?
•what benefits were derived from the activity?
•what changes resulted from running/marathoning?
•how many of the runners stayed with the program after the marathon?
Smith made about four trips to Los Angeles pre-marathon and has continued to do follow-up work. On her last visit, July 1990, she said the L.A. LEGGERS program has now become her doctoral thesis and will be an ongoing study that has already attracted attention nationwide.