Who's Lacing Up For the L.A. Marathon

Forget Dodger Stadium and the Santa Monica Pier: Actors, WME agents, Gordon Ramsay and industry execs escaping stress are among the other sights to see during March 18's punishing 26.2-mile tradition.

The most committed members of Hollywood's sweat set will be going the distance yet again at the 27th annual Honda L.A. Marathon on March 18. Like Shia LaBeouf, Alanis Morissette and Flea before them, they'll run with a 25,000-strong herd -- the fourth-largest such race in the country -- for purposes of philanthropy, self-actualization and even just to publicly display that hard body.

From Gordon Ramsay to Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, rank-and-file Sony employees to WME agents Mike Esola, David Stone and Scott Seidel, for months it has been all about training for the big race.

"I leave my house in Hancock Park and run like Forrest Gump," says manager-producer Matt Luber, co-head of Luber Roklin. "I've got my water belt with two Gatorades, my headband and my iPod Shuffle." He's participating in the marathon for the first time in support of Vanishing Giants, a charity he launched to save rhinoceroses after traveling to South Africa in August to visit client Paul Walker on the Johannesburg set of Vehicle 19.

Launched after the success of the 1984 Summer Olympics in L.A., the marathon for many years started and finished outside the Memorial Coliseum, looping around the wider downtown area. But winning times -- of 2 hours, 8 minutes (and slower) for the men -- were never competitive with those of other top races, and the inner-city route didn't exactly highlight Los Angeles' best assets.

So in 2010, event organizers, looking to slim down the winning time while boosting the scenic element, introduced a crosstown path with more of a downhill trajectory designed to be much faster. It begins at Dodger Stadium, loops downtown by Walt Disney Concert Hall, runs for a significant stretch along Sunset Boulevard (hello, Chateau Marmont), shoots down Rodeo Drive and ends within blocks of the Santa Monica Pier. (Voila: The 2011 winner, Ethiopia's Markos Geneti, set an L.A. Marathon record with a time of 2:06:35.)

"The new route is awesome," says Sean Astin (The Lord of the Rings), running for a third time this year. "You go everywhere now -- Olvera Street, City Hall, Hollywood. It's like a big open house for the city." Astin ran in 1998 (4:04) and in 2010 (5:15, slowed by a pulled calf muscle) and is back gunning for 4:15.

The Biggest Loser host Alison Sweeney will compete in her first marathon this year, along with some of her proudest achievements -- eight past show contestants will run with her. Says Sweeney, "It really feels like a celebration of my town to run it."

Running the race is, for some in the business, something they hold dear long after completion. "I ran the 2002 marathon in a little under five hours -- I have the exact time at home in my photo-finish picture," says NCIS' Michael Weatherly. "It's one of my proudest accomplishments. The marathon is a lot like doing a TV series: Endurance is one thing, but a positive state of mind is the real factor in finishing alive."

For others, like five-time L.A. Marathon participant Erik Feig, president of production at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, it's not only the race itself that's so fulfilling but also the lengthy solo training that precedes it, which is perhaps almost as psychological as it is physical. "I spend so much of my day answering to other people's agendas, finding consensus, herding cats, dealing with things out of my control, and here it's all about me," says the Santa Monica resident. "It's unbelievably mentally restorative."