Interview with 2012 SAMM Female Winner

sonyaanderson-300x199Sonya Decker

2012 SAMM Winner

You are from Minneapolis, MN. What brought you to Modesto to run the 2012 Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon? How did you hear about our race?

I came to Modesto because a friend of mine moved out to Los Gatos and she told me that she was planning to run Modesto. Helen Lavin (who finished 2nd female!) invited me out for a visit at that time, as we both were looking for an early spring marathon and there isn’t anything here in Minnesota at that time of year. So we realized we both found a marathon that would fit our training/racing schedules and also get a chance to visit. I’m not able to travel much due to family and work, so it was a rare treat to be able to make a trip to California. I also really appreciated getting the chance to spend time with one of my favorite training partners whom I really miss.

Did you think you’d have a chance of winning the race when you decided to run here?

I was not thinking that I would be in a position to win the race, but did feel I could run the kind of time I was hoping for there. In my thinking, winning is about who shows up, which there is no control over. What is within control is working toward being able to run the kind of time I am hoping for, and then seeing where that puts me competitively and doing my best at that point. It was helpful to run the first half with Sarah, but after that I ended up on my own trying to push for a sub-3 hour time.

Can you give us a brief running history? How long have you been running? What is your marathon PR, etc.

My competitive running started in my early 30s after my daughter was born. I enjoyed running for fitness and stress relief since high school, but never raced until then. I kind of accidentally discovered that I was running faster after having my first child, then followed up on someone’s suggestion that I try a race, found that there weren’t a lot of other women around me where I was finishing, and it all started from there. I started seriously training with the marathon as my focus, and eventually was working toward trying to run a time that would qualify me for the Marathon Trials, which back at that time was 2:50. My PR ended up being 2:51 at Chicago in 2003.

Is the marathon your primary race distance or do you prefer ultras, or shorter races? Trails or road races?

In more recent years, I have started doing ultras and really enjoy those also. Running ultras has made me a better road runner and vice versa. There is much to learn from each world and the different runners you come across. Ultras give me a chance to do what I love, which is to go on really long runs – with company! I feel that same way about roads and trails – I love them both and go back and forth as needed physically and emotionally. Trail running has helped me survive all the training miles, while road running has helped keep some speed. My body usually only gets comfortable with distances of 15K and above. I do the shorter races on our team circuit locally, but they are pretty painful and non-rewarding for me, as I just never have enough time to get in a good groove. In some ways, I still think the marathon is the perfect distance, since it can truly be raced, yet is so challenging. Even after trying quite a few ultras and trying to run qualifying times at the 100K distance, I still have serious appreciation and respect for how hard it is to really race a marathon.

What was your favorite part of the 2012 Surgical Artistry Modesto Marathon race?

I loved the cool weather – ironically it was unseasonably hot back in Minnesota that weekend and I heard many complaints from friends who were at an 8K team race that same day. I felt I made the right choice missing that traditional race, as I got a chance to run a distance I prefer in conditions that I prefer! Who would have thought it would work to go from Minnesota to California to get a cooler race day? I also enjoyed the chance to run a flat course in a well-organized event.

Was there something you’d like to see us improve upon?

The only suggestion I have is to spread your volunteers out a bit more at the water stations – I was concerned that I might have some issues getting enough fluids on the course as that is sometimes the case in smaller marathons. But there were definitely enough aid stations; the only challenge was that I needed to grab a few cups at some and could usually only get one.

What are your goals for the coming year?


I would love to still get in under 3 hours for the marathon – it annoys me to be just over that mark after running many sub 3 times in the past. (I ran 3:01 at both Modesto and Chicago last fall). So when I finished at Modesto, I was disappointed with narrowly missing again, but had the follow-up reaction of being happy to win it and still be running competitive times. Many of my past training partners are not able to race anymore due to injuries – there is not a day that I head out for a run or race where I don’t appreciate how fortunate I am to still be doing what I love!

Do you have any advice for new runners?

My advice is to be as consistent as possible with your training in terms of getting out for runs and go with the hard/easy philosophy as far as pushing very hard for some runs and then truly recovering on others. My opinion is that watches that tell you everything about pace have messed some runners up about going easy enough on their easy days – I don’t look and instead go by feel – if I feel like it’s not easy enough then it’s not no matter how slow the watch says I’m going. Also mix things up with roads/trails and different distances. I attribute these factors as keeping me at least somewhat within the ballpark of my old times as a masters runner.

What’s the best running advice anyone has given you?

The best advice I received is to appreciate current PRs and standout performances in the moment instead of jumping ahead to what they could be, as we never know when we have run our lifetime PR at a specific distance and it is a shame not to enjoy it.

Will you be coming back to defend your crown?

I would love to come back – if it fits into my training schedule and Helen invites me again. Hopefully she will read this and take the hint!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Lastly, I have run a lot of marathons and was impressed with how well this one was organized and how friendly/helpful the volunteers were, so thank you to everyone involved!! You all helped us work to get as close to our goals as possible. I was a little nervous the night before Modesto, as the last marathon I ran in California was back in 2004 when I was trying to qualify for the Trials, and I got blocked by a train at mile 2! Helen was laughing when I saw the train tracks near the course as we were driving it the day before and I wanted to know if we were going to have to cross during the race (some train paranoia). We also were intrigued about what we were supposed to do at the part of the course that was flooded out by all the water, but magically it had been taken care of the next morning. It’s thinking about those kind of things that helps your racers be successful and then recommend the race to others and come back themselves.

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