Jocelyn Rivas: Life After 100 Marathons

Jocelyn Rivas smiles while holding up a banner after finishing her 100th Marathon.

In 2017, Jocelyn Rivas embarked on an ambitious project: to become the youngest woman to run 100 marathons. Rivas is a DREAMer; an immigrant from El Salvador living in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA). She found inspiration for her 100-marathon journey in2017 when President Trump moved to repeal DACA. In honor of National Hispanic American Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15), we caught up with Jocelyn Rivas about her journey to become the youngest Latina to run 100 marathons.

While Rivas completed her first marathon, the LA Marathon, in 2014, she didn’t start her 100-marathon journey until three years later. The entire experience hit a snag during the pandemic when races were canceled, but came full circle when Rivas crossed her 100th finish line at the LA Marathon in November 2021. Here’s what she has been up to since.

FF: Congrats on running 100 marathons. How did it feel to finish such an epic project?

JR: When I saw a ribbon stretched across the finish line, I realized it was there for me. I couldn’t believe I was actually running my 100th marathon. As an ambassador for the LA Marathon, and in support of achieving this goal, they organized the ribbon and a press conference, which was quite unexpected and special.

Throughout the entire race, it didn’t feel different–it just felt like another marathon. I’m sure it was partly because I already had another race scheduled for the following week. That may have stolen some of the excitement. However, when I realized I was steps away from achieving my goal, I recalled every single sacrifice, every injury and every time I cried. Also, my family was present for this race, which didn’t happen often for other races, so it was very emotional.

Jocelyn Rivas crossing the finish line at the LA Marathon in 2021.

FF: Was your goal always to finish with the LA Marathon, or did it just work out that way after the pandemic shifted your plans?

JR: The world works in mysterious ways. My 100th race was supposed to be in March 2021. Because of the pandemic, so many of my plans were shifted or canceled. In order to qualify for the Guinness World Record for the Youngest Woman to Run 100 Marathons (pending verification), all of the marathons I ran had to be USATF-certified to count towards my goal. So, once races started up again in August, I found marathons that qualified and signed up for as many as I could. That fall, races started getting canceled due to another spike in COVID infections, so around marathon 91 I was looking for replacements again. If not for cancellations, I could’ve finished earlier, but I was able to come full circle and finish at the LA Marathon in November.

FF: What was the hardest thing about this goal?

JR: I had to push through so many difficult spots, but my ambition and focus toward my goal helped me tremendously. I look back now and I don’t know how I did so many races back-to-back. I ran through injuries, which I absolutely do not recommend, but it was necessary for me in order to achieve my goal. I was very fortunate to come out on the other side just needing rest.

I also went vegan during this process and am celebrating three years of being vegan this month. Before going vegan, I would run a marathon on a Sunday and couldn't run comfortably again until four days later. When I went vegan, I found I could run the next day or two days after the marathon. My diet helped me with recovery, and focusing on recovery helped me show up to every race.

Financially, I was doing this without sponsors and had to figure out how to make all of this travel affordable. I had just graduated from college, so funds were tight. I kept an eye out for events that had multiple marathons across a few days so I could cut down on travel costs and maximize the number of races I could complete in one location.

Jocelyn Rivas at the Boston Marathon.

FF: You previously said the LA Marathon was your favorite. Is it still, or has another taken the top spot?

JR: Obviously I have a lot of love for the LA Marathon since it was my first and 100th race. However, the Boston Marathon was amazing. It was unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life. I went into it feeling like there was a ton of hype, but the hype is justified. I felt like I was on top of the world–it was magical.

Part of what made Boston special for me was the celebration of 50 years of women competing in the race. I met Kathrine Switzer after I crossed the finish line! I got my medal, and there she was, right next to me. I’ve looked up to her for so long, so it really enhanced the magic of the Boston Marathon experience. I also got to meet Molly Seidel, another runner I look up to, and Des Linden was there, too! There was so much women empowerment. Being able to see everyone you follow on social media in person was amazing.

FF: Have you learned anything about yourself from this experience that surprised you?

JR: I told a lot of people I was going to start this goal and was met with some skepticism and disbelief. I took this quote to heart: “The only person that can stop you is you.”

Throughout the journey, it was all about believing in myself and my goal. It takes a lot of work, dedication, time and commitment.

I used to be a very shy person, and only did academic extracurricular activities, such as Robotics, Tech Academy and mathematics programs. I never thought I could do sports, but I got the courage to try something new and decided to run my first marathon. I’m a very different person today than I was when I started. Being able to run changed my life. This helped me in so many ways, including helping me become more confident and being present for the running community.

FF: Your goal is super inspiring. What would you tell someone who wants to set their own Big Scary Goal?

JR: I would tell them to believe in yourself, you’ll get there. Ask yourself what you’re willing to give up to get there. I asked myself that a lot during COVID when races were getting canceled. But I built a plan and I followed it. Anyone can build a plan and make it happen.

FF: What tips would you give to another young Latina who wants to run 100 marathons?

JR: I would tell that person to enjoy the journey. The journey is beautiful, and you need to have fun. Even with everything I put my body through, I found joy in every finish line.

I regularly had to ask myself why I was doing this, and ultimately it was to inspire people in my community. I realized I wanted to create opportunities for those in my community to establish and achieve their own goals. I wanted to tell girls and women this is something they can do, too.

Early on, I didn’t realize how much I represent the Latino running community, because LA has a strong Latino presence. I think the things I represent became more obvious as I traveled outside of California. I would love for someone to go after my goal! I don’t believe that a title belongs to a person–it belongs to the community. I would love it if a Latina came from Students Run LA (a program for middle school and high school kids) and became the youngest Latina to run 100 marathons.

FF: What's next for you? Are you giving yourself a break, or have you set a new goal?

JR: I always wanted to do trail ultras, but I couldn’t make it work during my 100-marathons goal. Since finishing last November, I trained for and ran my first 50-mile race at Mt. Hood. Now I’m training for a 100-miler and the NYC marathon. I want to do the Badwater Ultramarathon in 2023 or 2024–it’s 135 miles through the desert. It will be a challenge for me. In order to qualify, you have to have finished at least three 100-mile ultras. I’ll make it happen.

Lightning Round

Favorite conditions for running? Heat! I love running in the cold, but I’m a better runner in dry, California heat.

Handheld, waist belt or vest? I use a vest for longer distances, otherwise I carry a handheld.

Song that gets you moving? “Whatever It Takes” by Imagine Dragons, one of my favorite bands. The song sounds like it’s about running because it talks about adrenaline and pain.

Favorite marathon speed workout? Tempo runs.

Pre-race meal (did you have the same one every time?): It always changed, but the most consistent pre-race meal was a toasted bagel with avocado, electrolytes and a gel or Clif bar a few minutes before the race.

Which shoe did you race in most of the time?: Hoka Bondi

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