Modesto Marathon, in its fifth year, has built reputation as a runner’s race

By Jim SilvaMarch 18, 2014 

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    What: Marathon, half-marathon and 5K

    When: Sunday

    Starting times: Marathon and half-marathon, 7 a.m.; 5K, 7:20 a.m.

    Start location: M Street, between 10th and 11th streets


    Race expo: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at CrossPoint Church Family Life Pavilion (1325 12th street)

When it comes to endurance events, there’s a lot of competition out there to attract runners.

There are “Rock ’n’ Roll” races that feature bands at every mile marker, color runs and mud runs, and events that allow you to run through the “happiest place on Earth.”

There are few such frills at the Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon.

Instead, Modesto is known as a runner’s race. In its five years, the Modesto Marathon has built a reputation as a flat, fast, well-organized event – perfect for elite runners who want to qualify for the biggest running race of them all, the Boston Marathon.

“There are a lot of races, and people can only do so many,” said Heidi Ryan, co-coordinator for the Modesto event. “The Modesto Marathon is a little bit different because we go above and beyond, promoting the race as a big-time marathon.

“We set it up to be like one of the big dogs. That’s what my goal is: to give people the experience (of) a big-time marathon.”

To qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon, you have to run fast. And you’re not going to do it in extreme weather or on a tough, hilly course.

That’s where Modesto comes in.

“When we say our course is flat and fast, we really mean flat and fast,” said race co-director Karen Lozano. “A lot of courses say they’re fast, but they have hills or rolling hills. We just have the one overpass.”

For that reason, the race draws runners from throughout the country, who head to Northern California for the nice weather and fast course that gives them a chance to make their qualifying time for Boston. Or, it’s simply a great place to run a personal record time, known as a PR.

“We are getting to be known as a flat, fast course, one that’s great for people who want to qualify for Boston,” Ryan said. “It’s the right time of year at being able to qualify.”

Five years ago, the Modesto event drew about 2,000 runners for its marathon, half-marathon and 5K races. This year, participation should surpass 3,000, Ryan said.

“Each year, the race has continued to grow,” said Ryan, who is stepping down as co-director of the race. “I think that we have dialed in the organizing and are always getting better prepared for the next year.”

Lozano agreed.

“Every year, we try to do things a little better,” she said. “We have certain things down. We’re not reinventing the wheel every year.”

The race is not just for elite athletes trying to qualify for Boston. Most of the runners taking part Sunday are simply looking to challenge themselves in a race close to home or run a PR.

And while there are few frills, there is plenty of fun. This year, there will be as many as 10 bands scattered throughout the course, and a kids zone and entertainment stage at the start/finish area.

The event is also good about being accommodating to racers who may need to make changes after they’ve registered, such as switching events, Lozano said.

“We consider ourselves a friendly marathon,” Lozano said. “Usually, you pay your money and it’s gone. We try to accommodate anybody we can.”

The courses for all three races – available to view on the race’s website,– are the same as last year’s.

Road closures are also the same, Ryan said.

Among the participants this season will be the event’s first wheelchair athlete, A.J. Mitchell of Modesto, more than 200 students running with the popular Teens Run Modesto program, and a Modesto Marathon training group of about 150 people.

Women’s champion Anna Bretan of Berkeley has signed up to defend her title – she set the women’s course record last year. She also broke the San Francisco Marathon women’s record in June.

Bee staff writer Jim Silva can be reached at or (209) 578-2279. Follow him on Twitter @mission26point2.

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