Parker Stinson claims he wasn’t on a suicide mission, but his body killed his chances of winning the 35th running of the California International Marathon.
Sunday’s race from the base of Folsom Lake to the west steps of the state Capitol was the marathon debut for the native of Boulder, Colo., and he was setting a pace that could have beaten Jerry Lawson’s course record of 2 hours, 10 minutes and 57 seconds before his calves and abdomen muscles betrayed the 25-year-old.
From the opening horn at 7 a.m. of the race that also served as the USA Track & Field Marathon National Championships, Stinson crushed the field and at several points on the gently rolling downhill course it was impossible to see the pack behind him.
At the six-mile mark, where Oak Avenue turns south onto Fair Oaks Boulevard in Citrus Heights, Stinson was a maverick runner flying far in front of the field and the DJ on the corner was blasting Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone,” the theme song from the movie “Top Gun.” It was a fitting song to play as Stinson flew through the sharp left turn.
But then the flaps failed and he crashed to earth. Eventual winner Tim Ritchie, Stinson’s teammate on the Saucony Racing Team, passed Stinson just before Mile 23 and finished with a 2:11:56. Tyler McAndless was second in 2:12:28 and Kiya Dandena was third with 2:12:56. Stinson finished in 31st (2:18:07).
“About Mile 7 or 8 my calves started getting tight and around Mile 17 or 18 my right calf hurt really bad,” Stinson said. “But that’s part of racing. I stayed smooth and then around Mile 21 my rights side abs seized up and I’ve never experienced that before. I lasted for a couple of miles then I had to back off and stop.
“I wasn’t on a suicide mission, but I expected to die a little bit out there. I felt good ... until I didn’t.”
Redding’s Sara Hall won the women’s national title with a time of 2:28:10 – the second fastest in CIM history. She was followed by Roberta Groner (2:30:38) and Carrie Dimoff (2:30:54). Groner and Dimoff’s times were the seventh and eighth fastest women’s times in event history. Hall and Ritchie each won $20,000 for the national titles in a race that saw more than 11,000 runners compete in multiple divisions and distances.
“It’s so special to be here because it’s just two hours south of where I live in Redding,” Hall said. “I had my husband, who is now my coach, and my four daughters out here cheering me on. I’m blessed to have so many people out here supporting me and to be enjoying my career the most I ever have.”
Hall, 34, competed for Stanford and is best known as a middle distance runner, having competed internationally in the 3,000 meters and 3,000-meter steeplechase. Only recently has she transitioned to marathons and ran a personal best 2:27:21 on Oct. 29 at the Frankfurt Marathon in Germany.
“I’m definitely addicted to the marathon now,” Hall said. “There’s such a learning curve with the event and you want to keep improving and notching it down. I’m fortunate to still be enjoying it.”
While Hall narrowly missed a personal record, Groner and Dimoff shaved six and seven minutes off their bests, respectively. The top three men also set PR marks, with Ritchie cutting his by almost three minutes. In all, a record 40 men finished in 2:20:00 or faster.
“It’s a long race and I wanted to be really patient, especially in the first half, knowing that the second half the course is quicker and if I could get the 20-mile mark with something in the tank then I could maybe reel in some of the guys ahead of me,” said Ritchie, a New Haven, Conn., native running in his first CIM. “It was a big PR for me, I ran a faster second half and I won the title, so this is as good as it can get for me. This is validation of a lot of hard work.”
Ritchie noticed Stinson’s blistering start. Rather than try to chase him, Ritchie stayed back in a pack along with Jon Grey, Daniel Tapia, McAndless and Dandena.
Grey would break from that pack to try to catch Stinson at Mile 14 and halved the huge lead Stinson was enjoying. But Grey also hit the wall around the same time as Stinson and finished 45th at 2:20:38.
Ritchie broke away just after Mile 22 and passed McAndless first, and then Grey, before noticing that Stinson, his teammate, was in trouble.
“I passed Parker right about the 23rd mile and I could tell he was hurting,” Ritchie said. “Parker took it out hard and it worked for him up until the 23rd mile, so you have to respect him for giving it all he had.”
Kaitlin Gregg Goodman finished fifth (2:32:08), the best time for a local runner. Goodman, 30, is a graduate of Davis High School and UC Davis who now lives in Rhode Island, where she attends graduate school at Brown University. She shaved seven minutes off her best marathon time set in the 2014 CIM.
“I even split to the second (1:16.03 and 1:16:05) so I just tried to click the miles off,” Goodman said. “My specialty is the 10K, so I accomplished what I set out to do. I was running between second and third place but then the pack took off around Mile 17 or 18. Sara took off from the start and I don’t think I ran a step with her.”
Goodman said she appreciated the support from fans lined up along the route. She thanked the Davis High cross country team for cheering her on and the several race fans who were very vocal in giving her race updates as she sped by.
“We were getting plenty of feedback on the course from the fans and they were saying ‘second woman,’ or ‘third woman,’ or ‘the other girl is way in front of you,’ ” Goodman said with a chuckle. “They were very blunt.”
Stinson was blunt in his self-assessment afterward. He gingerly walked into the Sutter Club, the post-race station for elite runners, and sat down on the floor with a look of dejection, realizing what could have been in his first marathon adventure. A new course record would have netted him an additional $5,000.
“Maybe the next one I’ll try to sit in there (the pack) a little longer and be a little smarter, but sometimes ignorance is bliss,” Stinson said. “It stinks to finish up where I did and run that kind of time, but I get really excited about doing something special. To run that well through Mile 22 is a start. Hopefully the last few miles can come together next time.”
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org @editorwriter001.