BY JOE ROOS
LOS ANGELES—At 9:12 am on Sunday, March 4, the breeze coming in from the marina had created a smogless, Bruin-blue sky above UCLA’s Drake Stadium. Music combining a hip hop beat with the NFL’s signature theme song drifted from a loud speaker across the intramural field to the stadium where team members of Athletes for Real Medicine were circling the track.
By this time, most of the runners were on their third of fourth laps around the track. Four laps is 1,600 meters; 5,280 feet; one mile. A mile is a fair enough distance for anyone to run. But for these Athletes for Real Medicine, 1,600 meters was serving a higher purpose than just the distance itself: warm-up.
As the loudspeakers across the intramural field filtered in a new song about the hopeless place where Rihanna found some love, Malachi Davis, the speed coach for Athletes for Real Medicine, stood at the southwest corner of the track shouting out on-the-spot pointers, status reports, and encouragement to the runners as they loped past.
For six consecutive Sundays, Athletes for Real Medicine’s LA Marathon Team has shown up to Drake Stadium at 9 a.m. to work with Davis on improving their running form and increasing their speed. They picked a good coach for these improvements: Davis is a UCLA Alumnus, an NCAA Track and Field veteran, and a 400-meter-dash Olympian. In between the warm-up laps and synchronized calisthenics, some of the runners asked Davis about his own running; specifically the amount of time it takes Davis to circle the track in one 400-meter loop.
From a sinewy frame, void of almost any visible body fat, Davis prefaced his answer with a serious disclaimer. “Well, when I’m in shape,” began Davis. At that predicate, every runner within earshot had a good chuckle. Davis, realizing the humor himself, smiled at the relativity of “in shape,” but only for a moment. Once everyone was done chuckling, he finished his sentence poker-faced. “When I’m in shape, about 45 seconds.”
After the short answer, Davis quickly shifted any focus from himself back to the runners. The drills and exercises he was putting them through on this Sunday morning were some of the same training patterns and techniques that have helped him turn out his in-shape, 45-second dashes. Davis has been teaching the team to focus on body awareness in order to improve the mechanics and technique of their running form, which inevitably increases the runners’ speed.
No one on the Athletes for Real Medicine LA Marathon team is at the exact same training level. Some are running the full 26.2 mile Marathon. Some have opted to run a relay of the marathon with a partner, cutting the distance in half to 13.1 miles. Some have opted to run 3.1 miles in the 5k race before the day of the marathon. But even though the distances and ability levels vary in the team, the common bond is their purpose for running. These athletes have all taken on their daunting training schedules and committed to their respective races for the purpose of raising money for something greater than themselves: The Real Medicine Foundation.
Real Medicine Foundation provides humanitarian support to people living in disaster and poverty stricken areas, focusing on the person as a whole by providing medical/ physical, emotional, economic, and social support. The foundation has a presence in 15 countries on four continents, and has aligned with governments and international agencies, including the UN, to reach those most in need.
Many of the Athletes for the Real Medicine LA Marathon Team are of Armenian descent.
“Some people just race for Real Medicine Foundation. Some like to focus on specific RMF projects. It makes it a little more personal when you focus on certain things,” said Sandra Jersby, the team coordinator. “And obviously Armenia,” she said, pointing to several Armenian athletes circling the track. “You know: Race for Armenia.”
This strong connection between the Armenian runners and the country itself has pushed the athletes to find new depths within themselves.
“We probably wouldn’t have considered running in the marathon if it wasn’t for this cause,” said Ara Messerlian. “I think this cause definitely provided us a motivation and a reason to run.”
Ara and his wife, Ani, have paired up with a brother-sister duo to create two relay teams. Shant and Baleny Minas, both veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, have been training together and will run one leg of the race, with the relay hand-off occurring between Ara and Shant, and Ani and Baleny.
This is the third year that Real Medicine Foundation has been an official charity of the LA Marathon. In the previous year, according to several team members, the day itself was as unforgiving as the 26.2 miles. Wind and rain slapped against runners as they trudged through the course, soaked by the end of the first mile.
“Last year the weather was inclement,” said Baleny. “People seriously got hypothermia.”
But hypothermia is only one of a slew of physical ailments that can potentially bring a runner down. Throughout the training regimen, runners have battled injury, and staved it off to the greatest extent possible. But sometimes the body breaks down. And according to Coach Malachi Davis, when the body breaks down, it’s dangerous territory for the mind.
“When I encounter an injury, the first thing that goes beyond the body is the mind,” said Coach Davis. “Because when you get injured, your mind goes into a level of doubt. You feel like you’ve lost all sense of fitness; all sense of accomplishment. So the first thing to actually repair is the mind. If the mind is technically damaged, it’s going to create an illusion of ‘something’s damaged, something’s lost.’ Once that illusion is broken down, you can now fix the body.”
While every runner on the team works to improve their mental toughness during training, sometimes an athlete still has to listen to reason when it comes to physical injury. Sevan Ghazourian, a newcomer to running, set out on her training for the half-marathon in November. But by January, the grueling training schedule had begun to take its toll on the new runner’s body.
“The doctor said that I damaged my tendons in my foot and I can’t do long miles,” said Ghazourian. However, she didn’t take that as a message to simply “stop running,” and she certainly didn’t let the bad news muddy her focus on fundraising. Ghazourian dialed down her race from the half-marathon to the 5k, but doubled down on her fundraising efforts. She blew past her original goal of $500, and upped her ante to $1,000.
There’s no maximum limit for fundraising, and the team has set auspicious goals. But many of the athletes report that the fundraising has been an uphill trek. Some, like Genevieve Gabriel, the second-leading fundraiser, report that they’ve had success through social networking.
“It was all through Facebook. I was emailing all my friends on Facebook and sending them the website,” said Gabriel. Gabriel has run five marathons since 2010, making this LA Marathon her sixth in two years. This intensity also drives her dissatisfaction with being ‘second’ in the fundraising race. “Well, I want to be the first,” said Gabriel.
The looming race date seems to be giving some runners more hope for their fundraising efforts, instead of discouraging them.
“So many people wait until the last minute with these things,” said Fred Ascher, a marathoner who has dropped more than 20 pounds since beginning his training.
Nora Boghossian, a 5k runner, agreed. “I’m not really focused on what I haven’t done,” she said. “I’m focused on what time I have left. Sometimes people donate the last week. It’s just the way humanity is sometimes. We tend to do things last minute.”
One marathoner, Enzo Guerrero, even got commitments from a donor for beyond the last minute, after the race. “There is one donor who says if I break my time from last year he’ll give me an extra bonus, and then an extra $10 for every minute below that,” said Guerrero. “So I have an incentive.” In light of last year’s inclement weather, and this year’s improved training schedule, Guerrero is looking to shave off several $10 minutes.
But in order to do that, and in order to continue to solicit donations, the runners continue to train. Malachi Davis has one more Sunday with the runners at Drake Stadium before the race to work on their form and speed. And the race is on for the runners to pull in as many donations as possible before starting gun fires and the 2012 Honda LA Marathon begins.
Ready. Set. Go.
To donate to Athletes for Real Medicine LA Marathon Team, visit:
To learn more about Real Medicine’s work in 15 countries, visit:
To contact Malachi Davis for training, write to: