How A Health Scare Motivated This Runner To Run A 50K For Her 50th Birthday | Runner Spotlight Series

“I don’t know how to swim, I don’t know how to ride a bike, but I can run!” San Francisco Marathon runner Marlena said when she decided to start running.

At the age of 43, Marlena thought she may be having a stroke. She’s a nurse, so she knows the symptoms, and she ended up in the emergency room while she was having a really bad headache and very high blood pressure.

It ended up not being a stroke, but she did have a headache for 10 days and her doctor was still concerned.

Her diagnosis was similar to what many people experience at the doctor’s office: he told her that she was a little overweight, she needed to eat better, and start exercising more.

She thought about how she wanted to do that, and since she wasn’t planning to swim or bike she decided to start running, in addition to going to the gym regularly and eating better too.

“I needed to change my lifestyle,” Marlena said. “I had never run before, so I decided to challenge myself.” She had two kids, she worked a lot and had a stressful job, and she knew she needed to get healthier and take care of herself.


Registering For Her First Race

At first Marlena just started running around her neighborhood — she still does that regularly because she says she likes seeing her neighbors while she’s running.

But, then she decided she needed a little more, so she registered for her first 5K, a Girls on the Run event in Sacramento. She thought that by registering for a race and being able to run with other people, it would motivate her to keep going and try harder.

“I placed third in my age group!” she remembers about that first race. “So that motivated me.”

She continued to register for and run more and more races, gradually increasing the distance. She ran more 5Ks, some 10Ks, and then she decided to set a goal for herself to run a half marathon.


San Francisco: Achieving Goals & Earning Medals

About six months after she ran her first 5K, she ran her first half marathon, the San Francisco 2nd Half Marathon.

After she ran that race, she thought, “Wow, I can do this!”

In 2016 and 2017, Marlena said she ran a half marathon just about every month. She just kept running.

Then in 2017, she ran the San Francisco 1st Half Marathon, which qualified her to receive the Half It All Challenge medal.

After that, she decided to set a new goal for herself: to run a full marathon.

Later that same year, she accomplished that goal too. Marlena ran her first full marathon at CIM in December 2017. She joined a training program through CIM that helped first time full marathon runners and followed their weekly schedule as she prepared for her first full marathon.

She was proud of herself for accomplishing that goal, saying, “It was an achievement for me.”

Since she knew she was capable of running a full marathon now, Marlena decided that the San Francisco Full Marathon was next.

She ran the full marathon in 2018, and since she had run the two half marathons consecutively the two years before that, she joined the San Francisco Marathon 52 Club, earning her exclusive hoodie.

“San Francisco is a very challenging course. Just doing it is an achievement. I have the sticker proudly displayed in my car. I did the San Francisco Marathon!” Marlena says.

In 2019, she ran the 1st Half in San Francisco again, and she’s planning on running the 2nd Half Marathon again in 2020. She wants to get that 52 Club hoodie again next year, so she’s planning to run the Full Marathon again in 2021.

This year Marlena will be a fifth year Loyal Runner and she said she’s excited about getting her flag and the number of years she’s run the San Francisco Marathon printed on her shirt, as well as her five-year anniversary gift, a picnic blanket.

Marlena lives in Vacaville and says she doesn’t travel to San Francisco all that often, so she enjoys her trips each summer for the marathon.

She says the race “gives you a different perspective” of San Francisco. “I love going to the Bridge and back. And then that area after the bridge, the beach area, you don’t see that very often, so that’s fun to see.”

And she says she loves the San Francisco Marathon after party too, of course!

Marlena also runs the Berkeley Half Marathon every year too, so she also earns her SF/Berkeley Challenge medal. She loves getting all the medals and extra gifts from the races.

“Who doesn’t love extra bling and gifts? I love wearing the race shirts to the gym or the store as well,” Marlena says.


She’s Getting Healthy & Motivating Others

Since she started running, Marlena has been feeling better too. Her blood pressure is better, her stamina is better.

She says that people at work tease her now, saying things like, “Oh, she’s a runner, you can’t keep up with her!”

“I like increasing my heart rate and the way my heart reacts when I’m running,” Marlena says.

She has cut down on her running a bit recently because of a hip injury, but she’s hoping to let that heal and then continue running this year.

Marlena has a new goal for 2020: “I’m turning 50 this year, so I want to run a 50K. I want to continue to challenge myself and run an ultra by running a 50K, in honor of my 50th birthday.”

She’s also encouraging others to run too – her two kids who are 18 and 17 now, her friends and family.

Marlena displays all of her medals and racing bibs proudly in her home, to show people who visit what she has accomplished and try to encourage them to try out a race, even a 5K, just to get started.

If you are like Marlena too and need some motivation to get started, the San Francisco Marathon also has two 5K races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday of race weekend. You can even get the Double Up Challenge medal by running the 5K on Saturday and any of the Sunday races.

Marlena would tell you: “Don’t be scared. It’s a great way to get started on running. It’s great motivation and you have such a great feeling of achievement at the finish line and getting that medal!”


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