Local runners Will Nation, Sarah Jackson make big marathon strides in California race
Austin marathoners Will Nation and Sarah Jackson made big strides at the recent California International Marathon, both running personal bests and breaking through to the next level.
The race, held the first week of December every year, is billed as “the fastest marathon in the west” and is a go-to race for marathon runners in search of speedy times. The point-to-point, net downhill course is typically aided by ideal weather conditions, and this year was no exception.
Sunday, Dec. 5 dawned overcast and chilly at the starting line in Sacramento, with temperatures hovering in the low 40s: perfect marathon weather. Nation, 29, a former Texas track and cross-country standout, took advantage of the conditions and ran a smart race, taking fifth in 2 hours, 13 minutes and 24 seconds, nearly two minutes faster than his previous best of 2:15:12 set at the 2019 BMW Berlin Marathon.
While many Longhorns runners have gone on to hit post-collegiate high marks in various distances, only two others besides Nation have done so in the marathon.
Joe Stilin ran a 2:13:20 at the 2018 California International Marathon (CIM). He competed for Texas In 2013 as a graduate student, breaking both the indoor 3000-meter record (7:56.07) and Leo Manzano’s school record in the outdoor mile (3:58.78) with a 3:57.28. Kamiel Maase, an All-American runner at UT in the mid-1990s, later returned to his native Netherlands, where he ran a 2:08:21 at the 2007 Amsterdam Marathon.
“The main thing about CIM is you can always rely on it to have near-perfect conditions—very little wind, and temperatures in the mid-40s,” Nation said. “The course’s net elevation loss lends itself to fast times. It’s kind of a straight shot,” added Nation, who graduated from UT with a degree in computer science in 2014 and works as a software developer for FantasyPros, a web-based advice platform for fantasy sports fans.
“Once you get off the rolling hills at mile 21, the last five miles are pancake flat, and you can really get going if you have anything left in your legs,” he said.
Nation, the 2015 3M Half Marathon champ, attributes his breakthrough run in large part to putting in the work over the years and consistent training. Building up to CIM, he hit a high of 105 miles in a week, and assuming all goes well, plans to capitalize on that fitness and run the Austin Marathon next February.
“Will’s breakthrough performance at the California International Marathon is a testament to his work ethic and his longevity,” said former coach Steve Magness. “He’s put in the work for a long time and that’s where breakthroughs occur.
"I worked with Will way back in high school and also post-collegiately. It was apparent to me that Will’s strength is his endurance and his ability to just grind. That lends itself to the marathon — it’s just a very long grinding race.”
Jackson, 31, the 2020 Austin Marathon champ, ran a 2:42:27, lopping more than six minutes off her previous best of 2:48:47, set at the 2021 Mercy Health Glass City Marathon in Toledo, Ohio.
Jackson, who works as an operations coordinator for real estate company Orchard, has her eye on the new 2024 Olympic Marathon Trials women’s qualifying standard of 2:37. The new standard, which was just announced on Dec. 3, is eight minutes faster than the 2:45 that was required for the 2020 Trials. The qualifying time for men is 2:18, and the qualifying window begins Jan. 1.
“Sarah has two years to hit 2:37,” said her coach Steve Sisson, a former assistant cross-country and track coach at Texas. “She’s on a steady progression and I’m confident that the new Trials standard is well within her ability.
"I believe if she continues to train at the level she’s doing now, she’ll run 2:37 or better,” added Sisson, who now heads up coaching Telos Running, a coaching program for runners of all abilities.