When Jesus Campos should have slowed, he accelerated. When his legs were supposed to grow weary, they surged with strength.
Campos, the men’s champion of the sixth annual Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon, was motivated by personal loss Sunday. The 30-year-old Spanish teacher from Fresno dedicated the race to the late Miguel Reyes, his friend and running partner who died last month in a auto accident.
If Campos’ heart was heavy, it was lightened by his through-the-roof stamina. He crossed the finish line on N Street with a slight grin and the kind of satisfaction that couldn’t be quantified.
“He (Reyes) was going to race with me here,” Campos said. “I’m happy I did this for him. I thought of him a lot today.”
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Campos was timed over the virtually flat 26.2-mile course in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 33 seconds, slower than his course-record 2:26.53 set in 2013. Mere stats hardly mattered to him. His relentless rally over the final 12 miles opened a seven-minute gap between him and runner-up Bai Nie of Santa Clara (2:37.40).
Later, Anna Bretan of Berkeley – who beat Campos for the overall Modesto title last year – claimed the women’s title with a personal-best 2:39.04, a two-minute improvement over her performance in 2014. The 30-year-old nurse, a mother of three, waved her hands over her head in celebration. Bretan has sandwiched her stirring overall title with two women’s championships over the last three years on city streets.
“I have nothing bad to say about it,” she said. “I love this race.”
More than 3,000 runners from 29 states and four countries, a slightly lower turnout than last year, gathered before dawn to the start line on M Street. They held hands, waved to friends, pushed children in carriages, wore tootoos and reveled in the festive atmosphere and ideal 52-degree weather at the race’s beginning.
The field featured 713 (397 men and 316 women) for the full marathon. Observers wondered if Bretan, one of the most popular runners in Northern California, could again beat the men. She realized quickly that the pace, faster this year, negated her chances.
“I went out fast to see if I could stay with them. If it was manageable, I would go for it,” she said. “But they were running at a fast clip.”
Campos settled behind Nie at first. The Fresnan, a Boston Marathon qualifier in 2013, took part in his 32nd marathon. His credentials are legit with four wins at the Two Cities (Fresno) and other triumphs at Modesto and Big Sur.
Problem was, his training had been spotty since the death of Reyes. The duo had plans for Modesto. Last year, Reyes had qualified for Boston here and had won a $500 drawing. They enjoyed a good run together on a Sunday a month ago, the day before Reyes died.
“I wasn’t sure I could even beat three hours today,” Campos said. “I told my girlfriend I just wanted to find out how my body feels. You never really know how your body will react.”
As it turned out, he felt better than good. About 14 miles in, Campos started his drive with a series of 5:35 miles. No one stayed close. Julian Wheating of Boulder, Colo., captured third place, about seven seconds behind Nie.
Also setting a course record was Ivan Medina of Hayward, the men’s half-marathon champion in 1:09.54. He broke the record held by Turlock’s Miguel Nuci.
The women’s half-marathon winner was Megan Lehmann of Sausalito (1:25.46), who enjoyed a special morning with boyfriend Joe Hyland. Lehmann and Hyland, the latter the runner-up in the men’s half, often run across the Golden Gate Bridge to work for software companies.
“I’m from Alaska. I was terrified by the possible heat. It actually was perfect,” Lehmann said. “The hills were little bumps in the road.”
The first across the finish line was men’s 5K winner Andrew Farris of Merced (17:39), who overcame a course error. The female 5K winner was Hughson 13-year-old Kinsey Langley (21:11).
As for Campos, he hopes to organize a meet in his friend’s memory next year in Fresno. Next to what he did in Modesto, it feels like the right thing to do.
“I’m happy,” he said, “and I think he’s happy.”