81-year-old Dorothy Strand is the only runner to finish all previous 24 editions of the race
Huntington Beach, CA – More than 13,000 runners will congregate along Pacific Coast Highway on Saturday for the 25th edition of the Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon. At 81, Dorothy Strand won’t be the fleetest of the bunch. But Strand boasts one distinction none of the other runners can claim.
She’s the only runner to have participated in every Surf City Marathon or Half Marathon. As you might imagine, Strand feels a little pressure to keep her streak alive.
“I have a group of friends who said, ‘You’re going to do it even if we have to drag you across the finish line.’ ”
Dragging will not be required. Strand’s pace may not be the fastest but having run 46 marathons, the woman doesn’t require directions to the finish line.
Asked what it is that she likes about running, Strand said, “I think it makes me feel free. Although I’m not a very fast runner, I feel like I’m running very fast. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment to reach the finish line. It was fun to garner all those medals.”
Strand, who lives in Orange, got to running relatively late, in her late 40s. Her sons were running cross country at Orange Lutheran High School when Strand’s husband, John, decided to join them in road races.
Said Dorothy, “I thought, ‘Heck, I need to join in on this.’ ”
Apparently they enjoyed the challenge of putting one foot in front of the other. John has run 118 marathons. He’s part of an exclusive club, having run a marathon in all 50 states and all seven continents.
Dorothy remembers in the early days of her running adventures that organizers weren’t accustomed to women in their 50s running 26.2 miles. She’d get to the end of a race and the finish area had already been broken down.
“Oftentimes I would be first in my age group so I had to make them unpack their boxes to give me my medal,” she said.
Strand is a retired nurse, so staying healthy has been important throughout her life. In fact, she thinks running saved her life. In November of last year, Dorothy and John both contracted COVID-19.
“We were really sick,” she recalls. “Both of us went through a couple days we were sure we were dying. That changes you. Every sunny day is wonderful.”
Strand is confident that because she and John were healthy, it helped in their fight against COVID.
“With the running, our lungs were good,” she said. “I think that helped a great deal. I tell people, just don’t stop your running. I know you can get discouraged and say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to do it anymore.’ But don’t stop doing anything. You’ve got to keep going.”
Dorothy and John will celebrate their 59th anniversary come December, and John admires his wife’s perseverance.
“It’s only been 59 years,” he jokes. “But I’m getting to know her fairly well. She believes in starting and completing projects. She is fantastic, amazing, and I love her very much.”
Dorothy has come to savor the Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon. She ran the marathon for 13 years, then the half since 2010.
“Coming back (along Pacific Coast Highway) you usually have the smell of everyone out there cooking breakfast,” she said. “People are parked along the beach. It’s a nice course.”
She knows people will be cheering for her late Saturday morning.
“It’s kind of unnerving when people say, ‘You’re my inspiration.’ I think, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Knee surgery and an eye problem nearly caused her streak to end years ago but like “The Little Engine That Could,” she kept on chugging. This year’s race was moved from February to September because of the pandemic. Had it not been moved, Strand’s streak may have come to an end because of her bout with COVID.
But come Saturday, along with 13,000 of her best running friends, Strand will be jogging up and down PCH.
“The pressure’s on,” she said. “I’ve got to do it.”