Barbara Elia's race has no finish line.
Sure, the 68-year-old Modesto Junior College physical education instructor knows that sometime early Sunday afternoon, she'll cross under an arch at the end of a 26.2-mile run.
At that point, she'll stop running for the day. But she'll be far from finished.
"The goal is to keep moving," said Elia.
That's been her credo for exactly half her life. She's nothing less than a human running shoe, and her run in the Folsom-to-Sacramento California International Marathon will be her 100th at that distance. Since 1978, she's attempted 99 marathons and completed them all.
Friends and fellow members of the Modesto-based Shadowchase Running Club will be on hand to cheer Elia at various points on the route, and there are other clubs both national and international that will welcome her for the 100-race feat.
Elia, an MJC faculty member since 1991, says she's not interested in any honorary club. She's already the sole member of her own, one that doesn't stop at 26.2 miles. Because in addition to hitting the century mark in marathon running, she's gone well beyond that in events that, in themselves, test the century mark.
Elia remains an active ultra-marathoner and has completed 381 of those races, which by definition is any run longer than the traditional marathon distance. Many are 24-hour endurance runs, some go 100 miles and beyond, and many are on trails instead of roads.
Her combined total of marathons and ultras 481, including Sunday's race is the highest among American women, according to Web sites that track such things. Shadowchase credits Elia with more than 90,000 road miles, the equivalent of nearly four equatorial runs around Earth.
And while she admits to slowing down, she's nowhere near ready to stop.
"I need something to make me feel good, and I feel good doing this," Elia said. "It's an OCD kind of thing. I wake up on a Saturday and tell myself I have to run 18 to 20 miles. You do it, and sometimes you feel good, sometimes not, but when you finish, you always feel good inside about yourself."
But in the eternal pounding of one foot following the other, Elia has become an inspiration to many of those who follow the same trails.
"I started running just six years ago and she's inspired me to be an ultra-runner," said Karen Lozano, a fellow Shadowchase member. "I wouldn't have taken those leaps without having someone like Barbara around. I've gone from running around the block to running 100 miles four times. When Barbara tells you you can do it, you believe her."
Elia wasn't always a runner. She played basketball and softball growing up in the Midwest, and one day in July 1978, decided to go on a run with some friends.
"We were looking at doing a race a couple months out," she said. "We would run, and then walk, and walk and run, and I thought it was OK. We did the race and finished dead last the ambulance was right behind us. I thought that the next time I would run the whole way."
So she trained on her own, and the following May won a trophy for winning her age group in a local run.
"That was it," she said. "I was hooked. I was never going to get a trophy for housekeeping. I went running every Sunday, or every time I could."
Elia immediately set her sights on running a marathon, but back then, training groups were rare. If a marathon were in her future, she'd have to go it alone.
"I got a Runner's World magazine and followed their training schedule for three months," Elia said. "My longest run was 18 miles, then I finished the Chicago Marathon in 4:22 and I had a good experience, so that set the base for me doing more."
That was in October 1979.
The following March, she broke four hours for the first time, and in 1981 clocked a 3:16 in Chicago her seventh overall to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
The Chicago race started a spurt in which she ran marathons in four consecutive months a streak she concluded with her personal record of 3:08:08 on Dec. 12, 1981, at the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, Ala.
"There were three times I was in my glory: qualifying for Boston in Chicago, my PR in Huntsville and placing in the marathon in Chicago (1982) at 3:10," she said. "I just found the third-place plaque from that."
That was 31 years and 83 marathons ago.
"I've come to the fact that I'm never going to be fast anymore, so I've incorporated power walking into my running," Elia said. "My goal now is to finish, and that's my goal for this one. I'd like to do it in under six hours, so we're doubling my race time from my own PR."
Her six-hour goal isn't something she pulled out of thin air. Six hours generally is the limit for most marathons the time the organizers start packing up the equipment and the security staff stops blocking traffic at intersections.
"I used to do track workouts once a week, on Wednesday nights, on the track at Northwestern University," Elia said. "I got my PRs from all that speed work. I don't do any speed work anymore. My PRs are all behind me."
But have no doubt that a very strong competitive spirit remains in Elia. It doesn't show up quite as often, but there it was once again Sept. 30 in the Peace Officer Memorial Run, a Modesto half-marathon.
"There was a lady ahead of my with her ponytail swishing, and I was right behind her the whole way," Elia said. "With a quarter-mile to go, she looked back and I knew she saw me there. I went for it. I hadn't sprinted in years, but we both hit the mat at the same time.
"I turned to her and said, 'Good job,' but she wasn't having it and just walked away. The competitive part is still there, but I thought I was going to lose my cookies."
Elia said she is looking forward to a schedule that includes three marathons and three ultra-marathons a year for as long as her body allows. In the meantime, she's inspired by the same people who see her as an inspiration.
"Some of the people in the running club are gunning to run a certain marathon in under four hours. They're climbing that mountain. I've scaled that mountain and am at the bottom on the other side, watching them climb."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.