With the new course comes a major elevation change. The first half of the race will be almost entirely downhill, which should lead to dramatically lower times. That’s good news for race officials, who know that the potential for lower times attracts better athletes, which raises the profile of the event. Dr. William Burke, the race’s founder and president, has long sought to elevate Los Angeles’ marathon to the level of New York and Boston and believes lowering first-place times is a step in that direction. “We’re on the way,” Burke said. “This is something we’ve been working on for seven years, and our staff has gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. But in the long term it’s going to be good for the race and the city. It’s going to give us better times and bigger numbers, and that’s the big thing.” An estimated 26,000 runners will take to the 26.2-mile course, but only a handful have a realistic chance to finish first and claim the prize money, which is the other big factor in attracting top-level runners. To that end, the race has taken a step backward. The first-place prize for men and women has decreased from $35,000 to $20,000 – plus a new car – but the race’s “challenge” competition remains in place. Because of the “challenge,” the elite women will get a 19-minute, 51-second head start over the elite men. The first runner to cross the line will get a $100,000 bonus. Last year, there was a margin of 16:30 between the top man, Benson Cherono, and woman, Lidiya Grigoryeva, who claimed the bonus. “It all comes down to money,” said Larry Barthlow, the race’s elite athlete coordinator. “How deep are your pockets? The deeper your pockets, the better your athletes are going to be.” Cherono, who finished in 2 hours, 8 minutes and 40 seconds, and Grigoryeva (2:25:10) both set course records last year, but neither runner is back to seek a repeat win on the new course. The favorites among the men are, not surprisingly, three Kenyans: Wilson Komen, Moses Kororia and Fred Mogaka. Among them, Mogaka’s time of 2:12:03 in Melbourne last year is the best personal record in the field, so none of the three seems likely to threaten Paul Tergat’s world-record time of 2:04:55. “It’s a smaller (elite) field and there are a couple good unknown guys,” Barthlow said. Among the women, Lydia Kurgat (Kenya), Ramilia Burangolova (Russia), Abebe Tola (Ethiopia) and Alena Vinitskaya (Belarus) are the favorites, but the real drama in the race is back in the pack. Because the start and finish lines are now so far apart, race participants will be able to ride, free of charge, MTA trains that serve the area. But don’t get too comfortable with the new course. As part of his constant tinkering with the course, Burke has already identified changes he will make next year, and some thought has been given to starting the race deeper in the San Fernando Valley. But first, there’s this year’s race to run. Burke is confident that the new course will be a success, but still admits to moments of anxiety as the start time draws near. “I have two nightmares,” Burke joked. “One is that it’s race time, TV is ready to go and there are still hundreds of people streaming out of the subway tunnel. I know that’s not going to happen. The other is that we get lost on the route and everybody ends up at my house.” [email protected] (818) 713-3611 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles’ marathoners no longer will be running in circles. In its 22th year, the Los Angeles Marathon has undergone its most dramatic change in an effort to boost the race’s international profile and feature some of the more historic parts of the city. The race, which begins Sunday at 8:15 a.m., will be run in more of a straight line, beginning near Universal Studios and finishing at its downtown location near the Central Library. That’s a major change from previous years, when the course consisted of a loop around downtown and Hollywood. Runners will pass the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Staples Center and some of the city’s oldest and most historic neighborhoods, and race organizers hope the pace will be faster than ever.