Todd Kodet, a 61-year-old Salinas resident, describes his introduction to running five years ago like this: Having signed up for Sacramento’s Urban Cow event, he arrived at the course on race day intending to walk the 5K portion with his daughter while helping her push her baby stroller. Then he reached the starting line.
“I told her, ‘You’re on your own,’” Kodet, a manager at Earthbound Farms, said while picking up his bib at the California International Marathon runners’ expo Saturday morning. “And I haven’t stopped since.”
Kodet finished last year’s CIM – his first marathon – in just under five hours. Since then, he said, he has run two full marathons and more than a dozen half-marathons. He’s aiming for a 10-minute-mile pace this morning on the Folsom-to-Sacramento course, which would put him around his personal-best time of 4 hours, 20 minutes.
“You’re pushing yourself beyond where you should be able to go,” Kodet said. “There’s something spiritual about it, but I haven’t figured that out yet. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”
Whether chasing those answers, trying for a win or pondering what exactly has brought them to the starting line near Folsom Dam in what projects to be freezing conditions at race time, a field of 9,000 marathoners is expected for the 31st annual CIM, along with 4,000 relay competitors and 2,000 participants in the 2.62-mile fun run.
Favorites for the men’s title include Kenya’s Weldon Kirui and Tesfaye Alemayehu, an Ethiopian who trains in Antioch. Kirui owns a personal best of 2:09:06, set at the Eindhoven Marathon in the Netherlands in 2012, and said he hopes to run near that pace today, though the conditions may call for a more conservative plan.
“The course is flat, but the weather is very cold,” said Kirui, who will run the CIM for the first time. “If the weather is good, I think I can run under 2:10.”
The course record is 2:10:27, set in 1993 by American Jerry Lawson. Others expected near the front of the men’s race include Kevin Chelimo of Kenya and American Scott Smith. Both are making their marathon debuts but ran eye-catching half-marathon times last year – Chelimo a 1:01:21 in New York City and Smith a 1:03:18 in Houston.
The women’s elite field includes American Jeannette Faber, who finished 23rd in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships last summer in Moscow, and Atalelech Asfaw, a native of Ethiopia and U.S. citizen who placed second in the CIM in 2011. Asfaw ran a 2:33:56 at the 2011 CIM, while Maryna Demantsevich of Belarus, another challenger in the women’s field, ran a 2:31:29 at the Kosice Marathon in Slovakia in 2012.
Faber, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., emerged on the running scene by setting personal bests at 13 consecutive marathons, culminating in a 2:32:37 last year in St. Paul, Minn. While her training for the CIM was limited because of tendinitis in her lower right leg, Faber said she intends to race for the win and to meet the 2016 Olympic Trials qualifying time of 2 hours, 37 minutes.
“I think it’ll be a good race on the women’s side,” Faber said. “There’s (personal records) right around my PR and a lot of women shooting for both the A and the B (Olympic Trials qualifying) standards. I’m not going out hard, but I’ll be hoping to sneak in at the end.”
Faber and Asfaw participated in a short question-and-answer session at the expo, where George and Pam Lue of Glendora sat listening after picking up their bibs. The husband and wife, both 59, said they ran their first marathon together in Los Angeles in 2001. They plan to meet at the finish line today.
“I’m faster,” said Pam Lue, who will aim for a five-hour finish. “A little bit faster.”
Running his first marathon will be Austin Wright, 17, a student at Rio Americano High School. He’ll have support along the way – Wright’s mother, Johanna, said family will be scattered along the course to cheer him on.
“It’s been mostly to get fit and stuff like that,” Wright said. “A few years ago, I could barely run a mile. You get to the point where you can run five miles and then the feeling of running five miles turns into the same feeling of running 10 miles. It’s kind of cool.”
Katherine Elorduy ran her first CIM in 2002. Today, the West Sacramento resident will run her second. Elorduy turned 40 this year and said she has been training with a running group, with designs on breaking the five-hour mark she missed by about six minutes when she ran the CIM for the first time.
“That was 11 years, two kids and a few pounds ago,” Elorduy said. “But that’s my goal.”