Theme events put a new spin on running races

Stride through Tinseltown's palm-lined streets  Credit: Al Bello/Allsport
Did you ever wonder what it might be like to run by the Bates Motel or the Playboy Mansion?

Speed is not necessarily a prerequisite.

There is open casting call for competitors of all abilities this fall as runners go through the movies.

The Backlot Run & Walk at Universal Studios and the Stars of the Silver Screen Running Tour are two of a number of theme running events that have hit the country this year.

In the Backlot Run, set for Nov. 19, runners and walkers will travel through the famous sets on the backlot of Universal Studios, Hollywood. Among the sites are Jaws Lake, the Back to the Future Clock Tower, Western Town, New York Streets, the Bates Motel, and other famous movie sets.

Stars of the Silver Screen feature weekly 4- to 6-mile runs past the homes of some of the worlds greatest entertainers, including Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Jayne Mansfield, Lucile Ball and Jack Benny, as well as the impressive estates of producer Aaron Spelling and the Playboy Mansion.

The Stars of the Silver Screen running tours include a runners breakfast and exclusively designed Off N Running Tours T-shirts. Tours, which run every Saturday from Oct. 7 through April 7, 2001, kick off at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays across the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard and Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills.

The tours cost $50 and you can get a running commentary from Off N Running Tours owner Cheryl Anker, a transplanted New Yorker and local historian.

Anker came up with the idea of the Stars Tour in 1994 after running her first marathon. She had worked as a paralegal for a private firm in Los Angeles and then joined the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Whenever I went on vacation I would always have a tough time finding a nice and safe place to run in a new city, Anker said. I know people like to see some of the stars homes and usually take a bus tour. But I thought, why not a running tour past the same homes?

A former Team in Training coach for the Leukemia Societys Los Angeles Chapter, Anker trained runners and walkers in the nationwide charitable program to compete in the Alaska, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu and Vancouver marathons.

While the Stars of the Silver Screen is a weekly commercial happening, the Backlot Run and Walk at Universal Studios is a once-a-year charity fund-raiser.

In its eighth year, the Nov. 19 event will benefit the San Fernando Valley Charitable Foundation and the Wellness Community.

We used to put on running events on city streets for a couple of years prior to 1992, said Larry Applebaum, the chief financial officer of the San Fernando Valley Charitable Foundation and chairman of the Backlot Run. "Attendance was mediocre and there was really nothing very exciting about it.

At the time in 1992, there was a member of the Foundation Board who was working for Universal Studios, Applebaum said. He said, 'Lets try to do something on the back lots.' Up until then nothing had ever been done like that before. So after five or sixth months worth of discussions with a whole variety of humanity over at Universal, the back lots were finally made available to us with certain restrictions.

The biggest restriction was that the run could not interrupt the Tram Tours. Universal said they would hold the trams off for an hour, allowing the runners to journey through the back lot. So the event kicks off at 7:45 a.m.

We have run this event for a variety of charitable causes over the years, Applebaum said. Weve given money to 'kids at risk' programs and to AIDS programs. Last year, this year and next year we have made a commitment to the Wellness Community along with San Fernando Valley Charitable Foundation that will take the money an grant it back to other organizations in the Valley.

The event has drawn as many as 2,300 runners with 500 to 1,000 support people along with volunteers.

Applebaum noted that this years run would start at Spartacus Square, run past the Western Town, the Psycho House as well as the Bates Motel. It would continue along the back lot of the Grinch Village, the backdrop for the Whoville movie that is opening in November. It also will run past the production lot where the new Jurassic Park movie is being made.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Applebaum was one of the people who helped develop the Running Scared at CBS Studios event that is set for Oct. 28. He has also had a hand in the AIDS Walk at Paramount Studios.

In the past people have had some pretty generic running events, Applebaum said. With the cooperation of the TV and movie studios, we have been able to bring more excitement and fun to some of these events and in the end its helped the ultimate goal of raising money for worthy charities.

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