Dec. 7—Paige Stoner never stopped chasing her dreams.
Sunday, in Sacramento, California, she caught one of them.
Shattering the course record by 51 seconds, the 2014 Pottsville Area High School graduate captured the victory at the California International Marathon. As a result, she was crowned USA Track & Field's national champion in the marathon.
Stoner completed the 26.2 miles in 2:26.02, which was 1 minute, 39 seconds faster than runner-up Lauren Hurley of Boulder, Colorado, who ran 2:27.41.
The marathon championships are the final event on the annual USA Track & Field Road Racing Circuit and feature nearly 200 of the top marathoners from around the country. A total of 3,417 women ran in the event, which is also a qualifier for the Boston Marathon and the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"I was very emotional. It was my first professional win — period," Stoner said Tuesday. "There's nothing like breaking the tape in a race like that. It was incredibly special."
A star cross country and track runner in high school and an elite steeplechase competitor in college at Syracuse University, Stoner competes for the Reebok Boston Track Club. The 26-year-old lives in Flagstaff, Arizona.
As a professional, Stoner has run in elite 10,000-meter races before moving up to the marathon two years ago.
"Marathon is my distance," Stoner said.
Early in the race, Stoner said she settled into a group of four runners up front. At Mile 10, she and Hurley broke away and ran together for the next 7-8 miles.
Stoner noted that Hurley pulled away a few times, but Stoner didn't panic and maintained her pace. On the uphills, Stoner reeled Hurley back in and laughed at the connection between that key advantage Sunday and the skill she began to hone during her formative days around the mountains of Schuylkill County.
At Mile 20, Stoner went ahead to stay. She said she didn't make a push; more so, Stoner maintained her 5:34 per-mile pace while Hurley slipped to 5:38 per mile.
"The gap opened up pretty quickly," Stoner said. "I kept a steady pace and tried to stay relaxed. Some men's runners around me encouraged me that I would make it to the finish.
"Marathon is a different distance," she added. "The legs feel terrible, and there's fear that the legs would totally give out. I just didn't want to do anything silly."
With the finish approaching, Stoner cruised to her first victory and the course record.
"Once I could see the tape, I was 100 percent sure that I would win," Stoner said. "I was overcome with emotion. Once they handed me the (American) flag, I was in tears. I knew going in I had a good chance, but nothing can prepare you for the actual feeling."
Stoner said she will spend the next 14 months training and running in shorter road races and track meets with the long-range goal the U.S. Olympic Trials in February 2024 in Orlando, Florida. A top-three finish in the marathon there would qualify Stoner for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games that summer in Paris.
Just entering the prime years for a marathoner, she will continue her job that usually consists of a hard workout in the morning, an easier run in the afternoon and weights in the gym two days a week. She also has begun coaching other athletes, mainly online.
"It's rewarding to focus on something other than my own running," Stoner said.
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