How Sanyika Shakur Went from His Block to the San Francisco Marathon | Runner Spotlight Series

Sanyika Shakur is a Houston runner who started to run as a gift to himself for his 31st birthday. Eventually, he moved on from the streets of his childhood, completing three marathons within a year. This is his Runner Spotlight story.

Written and edited by Pavlína Marek

Sanyika Shakur came from Los Angeles. Now, he lives in Houston, Texas, a city he’s crisscrossed during his runs many times. That’s also where his running journey began.

Sanyika wasn’t a college athlete. However, sports have always been a part of his life. He’s always liked basketball and football. Nowadays, he also enjoys watching boxing matches. Having studied psychology in college, he was a teacher for seven years, a PE coach, and an athletic director.

Running: Sanyika’s Birthday Gift to Himself

Sanyika started running the day he turned 31. The number made him feel old and brought on a slight midlife crisis. Instead of giving in to his uneasy thoughts, he decided to flip the whole situation (and his age itself) around.

“I wanted to turn the clock back and do a half marathon, 13 miles,” he said.

Unable to run in any official race due to the pandemic, Sanyika did a variation of the around-the-block marathon. He hit the streets of his neighborhood.

I literally came out of my house and did every little street where I lived back in the day,” he said. “It was great seeing those places in the memories over the last 20 years, from being a kid to an adult… ‘My girlfriend stayed right here. I had a fight over here,…’ Just bringing all those memories back during one run.”

Sanyika describes his first half marathon as “actually tough.” He’d never run before and knew nothing about hydration, nutrition, and other crucial aspects of such a long run.

Quick Questions with Sanyika Shakur

  • What's the best pre-race breakfast?
    “Peanut-butter bagel with bananas.”
  • Accordion trigger
    “I have a dog. His name’s Trey Five”
  • Is there a runner you look up to?
    I have some local runners that I look up to. One of my guys, Ryan Terry, is a local legend here in Houston. I grew up with Ryan. He’s the first person I actually knew that I ever ran a marathon with. And my guy Darwin Graham. He’s a former track athlete from Baylor University. He did his first half marathon so I’m excited to see when he debuts as a full marathon runner.”

When he finished, there was no arch, no spectators, and no cheers. Still, this “emotional rollercoaster” of a run left a good impression on Sanyika.

“I was crawling back to my driveway. But yeah, we got the job done,” he said. He finished in 1 hour and 57 minutes, perfectly hitting his goal of “under two hours.”

From Around His Block to Big City Marathons


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Sanyika Shakur ll (@too_hunnit)

Back when he ran his first half marathon, Sanyika “didn’t know too much about running.” Concepts like speed workouts, proper nutrition, and active recovery didn’t mean much to him. However, when he started training for his first marathon, things changed. He changed his lifestyle and diet, “pretty much adopting that runner lifestyle.”

At the age of 33, Sanyika ran his first full marathon, the 2023 Houston Marathon.

“It was great,” he said. “You know, [it was] the first marathon so I enjoyed it. It was tough. I met my goal which was four hours. I came in at 3:41. That was great.”

Sanyika was bitten by the marathon bug and there was no stopping him. Within a year of completing his first-ever marathon, he’s completed two more.

His second full marathon was the 2023 San Francisco Marathon.

I chose that one because I didn’t want to wait a whole year to run another Marathon,” Sanyika said, citing his worries that he’d simply get burnt out if he did nothing else but train for a full year. “I need to keep something in front of me.”

With a goal of 3 hours and 30 minutes, he set out together with thousands of other runners to enjoy the gorgeous day in the City by the Bay.

“I didn’t make the goal,” Sanyika said. “I ran it in 3:32 which, to anybody who ran San Fran, is definitely a respectable time… It was great. It’s not every day you get to run across the Golden Gate. That you do it twice.”

For his third full marathon, he returned to Houston.

Sanyika competed again at the race that started it all. By that time, he’d started to finally believe that he was a runner.

I believe this is who I am,” he said. “I’ve changed my lifestyle completely. I’ve stopped going out for happy hour on Fridays and instead do a six-mile evening run every Friday.”

With the sacrifices he’d started making for running, Sanyika had also become more competitive. Intending to come in under 3 hours and 10 minutes, he planned to take 20 minutes off his previous goal.

Sanyika finished the 2024 Houston Marathon in 3:12. Just like in San Francisco, he came in just two minutes short of his goal.

“But it was 20 minutes from San Francisco, so I’m happy with those results,” he said. “We’ll get back to the drawing board and see where we need to make the adjustments.”

That’s quite a big improvement between your first and second Houston Marathon. Do you want to tell me a bit about your strategy regarding training and approaching these two races?

My approach was actually becoming a student of running. Like I said, I didn’t really know how to run a marathon. I didn’t know what a long run really was. I didn’t know that I needed to do track days once a week and tempo runs.

Fast forward to Houston, the first time, I did about 40, 45 miles a week. But I noticed, running with other athletes that are faster than me, people that have been the game longer, that it’s really about upping your mileage and taking those track days really seriously, taking your long runs very seriously. So I ramped up my mileage. I went from 45 miles a week to 50 miles a week and then, most recently on the last training block, it was 65 miles a week.

We’re talking 10 to 13-mile track days and 20-mile long run days multiple times. It’s not fun on those [track] days, I’ll be honest with you. I was fortunate enough to be training in Los Angeles during the last training block, so my track days were at the beach, so it wasn’t bad. I was out there on Venice Beach in LA every morning.”

Sanyika’s San Francisco Marathon Experience

One thing Sanyika loved about the San Francisco Marathon were the people. He met many fellow runners and friends there, including a person he’d been online acquaintances with.

“The people, the community, were great,” he said. “The hotel that I stayed in had a lot of runners from out of town, and you kind of notice other runners and think, ‘I think they’re here for the same reasons as me.’ It was great.”

Sanyika stayed in touch with many of the new friends he’d made at the San Francisco Marathon. A few of them are planning to head out to another race together—”hopefully the Orlando Marathon.”

There was one thing Sanyika didn’t enjoy very much: not being able to cool off indoors. Because it’s such a huge production taking place in a comparatively small city, the post-race party takes place outdoors at the San Francisco Marathon.

“I mean, it was fun outside but not being able to go inside and cool off was that one thing that was different compared to the only other Marathon that I’ve done, which was Houston.”

You wrote that patience is key to success. Is that your mantra? how do you live based on it on a day-to-day basis?

“As I said, I was a former teacher, PE coach, and athletic director and I feel like life is like sports. It’s like a race. So staying in the game is the only way you’re gonna win and you gotta have patience. If life is a marathon,… you’re not gonna win it in the first quarter of the race. That’s what I mean. It’s about having patience. That is your key to success.”

Final Words from Sanyika Shakur

I just want to have fun. Enjoy this little thing of ours. It is something that we need to take care of and it starts with having fun and putting love into it.”

Sanyika Shakur runs in the San Francisco Marathon, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.

Read more Runner Spotlight stories:

Share Your Story!

Step into your story and share your journey with fellow runners. Fill out this form for your chance to be featured in our Runner Spotlight Series.

Step into Your Story

No Replies to "How Sanyika Shakur Went from His Block to the San Francisco Marathon | Runner Spotlight Series"