When Ariel Drachenberg heads to Dodger Stadium early Sunday morning he'll be looking to keep a journey he began as a 23 year old alive.
It will mark the 28th year in a row the Glendale resident has participated in the L.A. Marathon, which makes him an L.A. Marathon Legacy Runner, meaning he's competed in and completed every marathon since its inception.
Just like every year, Drachenberg doesn't have any lofty goals of winning or even placing near the top of the 26.2-mile marathon.
“I don't really use the word run, I participate and complete,” said Drachenberg, who’s now 51. “I have finished all of them; it's been 28 years.”
His wife, Monica Drachenberg, has been there every step of the way, as the two have been married for 28 years after meeting in college.
Early on, the marathon was a family event with Monica and the Drachenberg’s three children meeting up with Ariel along the way to bring him Gatorade. With the kids now grown up, Ariel has kept it a personal tradition.
“I try to encourage him and be as supportive as I can because I know he wants to do it,” Monica said. “Sometimes I say, ‘Is this it now that you’re 50?,’ but he says he wants to keep up with it.”
Ariel uses the marathon as motivation to stay in shape. He didn’t grow up with a love for running, first taking up cross-country at Glendale High, where he graduated in 1979, at the insistence of legendary Nitros coach and former Olympian John Barnes.
Originally from Argentina, Ariel's first love in the sporting world was soccer. One day, Barnes flagged him down and talked him into cross-country as a way to get in shape for the soccer season. Ariel did just that, and even in high school he wasn't a frontrunner.
“You [used to] get points for the first eight runners; I always got points, but I was usually the sixth, seventh or eighth guy,” said Ariel, who is an accountant and partner at Lucas, Horsfall, Murphy & Pindroh, LLP — a certified public accounting firm based in Pasadena.
After participating in the Rose Bowl Marathon twice, which Barnes required from his runners, Ariel was inspired to compete in the first L.A. Marathon in 1986, two years after Los Angeles hosted the Olympics.
“I knew from the very beginning [it was going to be a long-time thing],” Monica said. “When he sets his mind to something he pretty much continues on the same track.”
Sure enough, Ariel found himself going back year after year and was ushered into a newly-formed Legacy Runner group in about his 10th year.
“It's only the minority that are actually true runners that train 60 miles a week,” he said. “The bulk of them are just like me, they train very little, if at all, and they show up to just be part of the marathon.”
Ariel puts in about 20 miles a week on a treadmill — anymore and his ankle “just starts swelling up” and he “can't walk” after he suffered a severe ankle sprain in his senior year of high school that led to a tendon reroute surgery in college.
It's always tough for Ariel to go through all it takes to participate in the L.A. Marathon because each year it falls on tax season, a tough time for Ariel professionally.
Each year, Ariel’s coworkers marvel at his streak. Nat Read, whose public relations agency Read Communications represents Ariel’s firm, said he was inspired to train for his first marathon this year.
“The thing that inspired me was that he was not trying to win,” said Read, who worked with Ariel to formulate a training plan but had to drop out after realizing his 74-year-old couldn’t keep up. “He was participating for the love of participating and for the love of finishing and finishing with a decent time without killing himself.”
There have been a number of times where it's been difficult for Ariel to get out of bed in the morning and head to the starting line. He recalls two especially tough years — one where he was really sick with the flu and another where he had been bitten by a neighbor's dog and had the stitches taken out two weeks prior — where he had to push harder than normal.
“You go through parts where you say to yourself, 'What am I doing?,' especially since I can't really train,” Drachenberg said. “With all the support and people cheering, it just makes you want to finish. After you finish and get the medal, it feels good to be a part of it.”
It's still tough to get to the finish line.
When he feels like he's running out of gas, he reminds himself not to give up and goes back to his days on the Glendale cross-country team when he pushed just to get his team a point or two.
“That's something John Barnes used to say, 'Don't quit just before the line, go to the line,’” Drachenberg said. “It's sort of my way of saying, 'OK, I may not be winning the marathon, but I can say I finished all of them.' It's a personal accomplishment.”