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Our View: Tenth Modesto Marathon is something to cheer

Watch this drone video at the Modesto Marathon

Runners take part in the Modesto Marathon on Sunday, March 11, 2018.
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Runners take part in the Modesto Marathon on Sunday, March 11, 2018.

The Modesto Marathon, coming this weekend, never meant to replace the Modesto Relays. But there are similarities.

Longevity. The relays ran for an incredible 67 years until its last event in 2008. Two years later — with no connection to the relays — the marathon came to life, making Sunday its milestone 10th race. Because it’s become so popular and successful, no one sees it going away anytime soon.

World-class competition. The relays produced 33 world records, an almost unbelievable feat, drawing the likes of Carl Lewis and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. The marathon now is used by premier athletes to qualify for entry not only in the vaunted New York and Boston marathons, but also for the Olympic Trials. Signed up this year are Olympian Magdalena Boulet, born in Poland and now living in Oakland and running for Team USA, and Simi Valley’s Isidore Herrera. They may not be household names, but both are the real deal. Others are coming from Asia, Australia and Europe.

Local elites. Remember when three-time Olympian Suzy Powell of Modesto reigned at her hometown relays? Today, the marathon is presided over by local favorite Jon Olsen of Modesto, a world-class ultramarathoner who has won this race three times and come in second twice. Fresno’s Jesus Campos has the exact same record here — three wins, two second-place finishes. And he also is registered for Sunday’s event.

Goodwill. It’s a good thing when people near and far put Modesto on their calendars and on their minds, often months in advance. They do it not just to witness the thrill of top-tier competition, but also because the Modesto Marathon genuinely is a good time.

Reviews from racers and spectators almost always are positive. Runners know they have a good chance to PR, or set a personal record, because conditions usually are optimal. The forecast shows temperatures in the low 70s, and the route — starting and ending downtown, with much of the course jutting through rich Wood Colony farmland west of Modesto — is known for being flat and fast. Those who prefer less strenuous racing can do it with relay teammates, or run the half marathon or 5K races.

But what warms the heart are the many upbeat comments we’ve consistently heard over many years about the race’s professional and efficient organization and the friendly, small-town feel. Race director Vickie Chu-Hermis, her staff, hundreds of happy volunteers and sponsors Sutter Health and Memorial Medical Center are doing Modesto proud and giving people reasons to return in the future.

Vickie recalls attending the relays at Modesto Junior College decades ago. She and other organizers of the Modesto Marathon never tried to replicate what the relays did for us, but she does talk up her city whenever she gets a chance, such as at other sports expos. “I’m a big cheerleader for Modesto. We have a lot of great things going on,” she said, “so I promote the town as much as the marathon.”

The fun starts Saturday with a fitness expo from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at CrossPoint Church Family Pavilion, 1325 12th St., which is next to the finish line the next day. The block will be bustling all Sunday morning with a public finish line festival including a food truck area, beer and wine garden, and jump houses for kids. That’s a good place for spectators to hang out and cheer on racers as they finish, or people can watch from spots all along the route; see the event website for access points.

Better yet, consider volunteering online at modestomarathon.com. They could always use your help, and you’d have fun being involved in something that helps Modesto to shine.

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