The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18

The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
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                                       October 23, 2021

The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los
Angeles are Under 18

Lupe Conde, a freshman at Santa Monica College, will run her fourth Los Angeles Marathon this
November as part of a program called Students Run L.A. Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

        By Matthew Futterman

The Los Angeles Marathon is often overshadowed by the world’s larger and
more storied marathons.

That may be especially true this year, when the race takes place on Nov. 7, the
same day as the New York City Marathon, having been postponed from March
because of the pandemic.
The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
But the Los Angeles race, which travels from Dodger Stadium to Century City,
has accomplished something that the major marathons have never attempted.

Over the past three decades more than 50,000 middle and high school students,
most of them from underserved schools and communities, have trained for and
completed the race as part of the organization Students Run L.A.

Their accomplishment is remarkable in itself. And their participation could help
answer two questions that educators, coaches and doctors have long pondered:
Can teenage bodies handle the load of long-distance running, and, if so, can
distance running improve academic performance?

Anecdotal evidence to support the relationship between running and academics
is easy to find around the Los Angeles Marathon. Consider Lupe Conde, a
recent graduate of Aspire Ollin University Preparatory Academy in Huntington
Park, Calif., who will be running in her fourth Los Angeles Marathon this year.


Conde said she got into marathon running after seeing older girls in the school
with marathon medals. She wanted one. So in ninth grade she joined the dozen
or so students who train each year with a teacher in the school.
The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
A Students Run L.A. practice session this month at South Gate Park near Los Angeles.   Allison
Zaucha for The New York Times

It took her eight hours to complete that first marathon. She said she would
never do it again. But the race was too hard to resist.


“I used running as a way to cope and keep me going not just physically but also
mentally,” Conde, 18, said in a recent interview. “With all the work, and the A.P.
classes, I used it to help with my mental health. It taught me grit and

Then there is Assael Mendez, a high school soccer player who graduated from
Lawndale High School earlier this year. He said attending U.C.L.A. had always
been his dream, but he started to doubt himself as he grinded through his
sophomore and junior years at Lawndale.

That changed as Mendez, now 18, trained for the marathon for the first time
during his junior year. When he wanted to stop on his long training runs, he
would ask himself why he thought he could get to U.C.L.A. and succeed there if
he couldn’t keep running.
The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
“I would go home and I would think, ‘If I can run 13 miles, then I can finish this
homework,’” he said.

Mendez is now in his freshman year at U.C.L.A.

Students Run L.A. has been tracking the academic achievements of its
participants for nearly 20 years. In 2019, the last normal school year before the
pandemic, 99 percent of the seniors who participated were on track to graduate
from high school, and nearly all of them planned to attend college. (That same
year, officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District reported that 78
percent of its seniors were on track for graduation.)


Of course, there is a degree of self-selection at play here. It’s not a great leap to
say that a student who signs up to train for and run a marathon is probably the
kind of goal-oriented person who may be more likely than the average student
to meet the requirements for high school graduation.

Middle school students take a break while training for the marathon at South Gate Park.   Allison
Zaucha for The New York Times

“It’s a combination of who the kids are and the training they do,” said Ben
The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
Bravo, a special-education teacher in nearby Carson, Calif. “You finish a
marathon, something such a small percentage of people do on any weekend,
and you know you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.”

That said, marathoning has not traditionally been recommended for teenagers.
Conventional wisdom has held that since teenage physiques are still developing,
they are not ready to endure the wear and tear of marathon training.

Five years ago, organizers with Students Run L.A. asked Dr. Joshua Goldman, a
sports medicine physician at U.C.L.A., to work with them. Goldman told the
group that its mission was at odds with medical advice. Organizers suggested
that the advice was wrong. So Goldman asked if he could study what is arguably
the world’s largest cohort of teenage marathoners.

Last year, Goldman and his team of researchers published their results. They
found that teenage marathoners had an injury rate that was lower than the rate
for adults, and that middle school marathoners had a lower rate of injury than
high schoolers.

“Our theory is that when you are 13 years old and something hurts, you slow
down or stop, but 17-year-olds push through,” Goldman said.

He said training programs like Students Run L.A.’s, which slowly adds mileage
over seven months, are the key to preventing injuries. Students usually run
races of 3.1, 6.2 and 13.1 miles and complete long training runs before taking on
the marathon distance of 26.2 miles.

The study led an expert panel for sports medicine to issue a new consensus
statement on teenage marathoning last year. The group essentially opposed
setting any limits on teen runners so long as they are supervised.

“If you can encourage a kid to get moving and provide a structure for that kid to
grow and develop, then it is very understandable to let them run different
events,” said Dr. Brian Krabak, a sports medicine physician at the University of
Washington who wrote the new statement.

“It’s important to provide that structure, but that’s true for adults, too.”

Organizers expect 70 student runners at this year’s race, smaller than the usual
contingent. Both school classes and the training program were held remotely
last year, the marathon was delayed, and most students completed a virtual
The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
But next year is already looking neon bright. There’s a contingent of 2,700
runners with Students Run L.A. who are training for 2022.

Coach Alfredo Chavez handing out a Students Run L.A. shirt.   Allison Zaucha for The New York Times

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The Most Impressive Marathon Runners in Los Angeles are Under 18
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