Once a year in Los Angeles, 26.2 beautiful miles of city streets are wrested from the crush of cars to make room for LA's fittest masochists to run the marathon. The streets are closed down and for one Sunday, folks from all over the world run on streets notorious for their normal gasoline-powered traffic.
The marathon takes a tremendous amount of effort and organization (over 25,000 runners are expected to participate this Sunday) so while the official race doesn't start until after 7am the city starts closing off the streets at 4am Sunday morning.
It didn't take long for riders to realize that that left 3 hours of wide open streets. And what's a better way to celebrate that than with a marathon ride with a few thousand of your closest friends, neighbors, and fellow Angelenos?
In 1995 the LA Marathon organized what they called the "LA Marathon Bike Tour", an early-morning group ride along the marathon route after the streets were closed, but before the runners hit their stride. They opted to call it a bike tour as opposed to a race to try to keep everyone safe and calm, and when over 10,000 people showed up to hit the streets on two wheels, the pre-marathon ride was born!
And folks couldn't get enough. For the next 14 years, thousands of riders from all over LA, the US, and the world rode the pre-marathon ride, winding all over LA following the year's running course.
In 2009 Frank McCourt, the infamous (now ex-) owner of the Dodgers, bought the LA Marathon and redesigned the route to run from Dodger stadium (surprise surprise) to the beach. He also cancelled the pre-race bike ride saying it “didn’t work within the new vision” of the race.
As you can imagine, that riled up a few folks who thought the move was more about profit than "vision" and that year a couple dozen riders showed up anyway for the La Marathon Bike Tour with a twist, they were going to race it. And race they did. Hard. That race would come to be known as the first Marathon Crash Race.
Word got around and the next year 400 people crashed the marathon to race to the beach in the pre-dawn car-less streets. With 400 people, all of differing abilities, equipment, and intent, they really started putting the 'crash' in 'crash race' as riders got tangled up and went down all over the course, but that didn't stop anyone from having a blast or showing up the following year. It did, however, inspire Don Ward aka Roadblock of Wolfpack Hustle and Midnight Ridazz to get organizing!
In 2011, we saw the first Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash Race, adding some structure to the start/finish, official timing and, thanks to Don's ability to bring almost anybody together, some friendly off-the-record help from the LAPD to keep the pack safe moving through intersections that hadn't been fully closed to traffic yet. It was a ridiculous success.
Still an un-permitted event, but buoyed now by a sense of tradition and the tacit consent of LAPD, 2012 and 2013 saw several thousand riders once again take to the streets. It seemed a new LA tradition had been born, and the best part is it cost the city almost nothing as the infrastructure was already taken care of by the marathon!
This year's turnout was expected to be even bigger (and now riders who registered would be covered by medical insurance purchased by Wolfpack Hustle)!
That is until Tuesday. At 8:30pm on March 4th, 5 days before the race this year, Don posted to the Wolfpack Hustle Facebook page that this year's ride would have to be cancelled after a letter threatening fines and up to 1-year in prison for himself and the organizers arrived from the L.A. B.S.S. I'll let you come to your own conclusions about what the B.S. stands for there, but someone at City Hall decided to compensate for his own shortcomings by hassling the race for not having a permit (when it was way too late to get the necessary $250,000 permit approved).
This came on the tail of announcements by the LAPD that they wouldn't be providing support for riders through the open intersections this year as well, citing increased security risks after the Boston Marathon bombing last year. As far as the city of LA was concerned, the terrorists won.
Riders however, seem to feel differently. Comments have ranged from disappointment, regretful understanding, vehement anger, and howls of betrayal. Several people are viewing the move (which comes on the heels of several promised and then eliminated infrastructure improvement projects - Westwood Bike Lanes, Beverly Hills Bike Lanes, the MyFigueroa project, etc...) as yet another stick in the eye of LA's under-represented cycling community by political powers that pander to them during elections, only to ignore them for the entirety of their terms.
There is one common note in every response however - we'll still be riding.
At 3:30am Sunday morning, we'll still be there outside of Tang's Donuts, hanging out with a few thousand of our closest friends, neighbors, and adopted family, and at 4am we'll head out. We'll ride the Marathon course, police escorts or not, and we trust that if the city is really concerned about security, they won't want to start their day by inciting a riot of disenfranchised folks with U-locks and not enough sleep.
What started almost 20 years ago as a fun relaxing way to explore the city on two wheels, became a sensational unsanctioned race, and now the stage is set for it to become a political action. Or not. Maybe the city just wants to make extra sure they're not on the hook for any liability so they'll give us a hassle free ride with the understanding that we're taking our own risks. That's all anyone really wants. A group of people who risk their bodies and lives every day competing with cars on cluttered streets having the freedom to enjoy their city in a pre-dawn celebration of cycling.