As she crossed the finish line of the 2023 Long Beach Marathon, 23-year-old track star Ryley Fick said all she could think about was hugging her friends and family—along with the pain in her legs.

The former Cal State Long Beach runner said that three years before, she couldn’t even imagine running a marathon, let alone winning one on her first attempt, as she considered herself more of a middle-distance runner. Her longest race before was a 6K, which is the equivalent of almost four miles.

She finished the marathon Sunday with a time of 2:58:30, placing first in the women’s category.

“It was a whole new territory for me,” said Fick. “But I was also very excited because I love the idea of a challenge.”

After seeing her friend and former teammate Raymon Ornelas win the Long Beach Marathon in 2022, she was inspired. Fick said she wanted to keep racing after she graduated in May 2023, so she started training for the marathon in July the same year.

Even though she said the pain in the last six miles of the race was different than any she’d experienced before and her legs were “yelling” at her stop, Fick pushed through.

“I feel really proud of myself that I was able to hold myself accountable and achieve this,” said Fick.

Originally from Bakersfield, California, Fick joined her high school cross country team with a friend as a freshman to help with conditioning for soccer. After tearing her ACL playing ball her junior year, she decided to commit to cross country and track.

Fick started her college career when she was touring CSULB with her parents during her senior year of high school. They met Andy Sythe, then-coach and now director of the university’s track and field program.

The budding runner didn’t think she was good enough at the time, but when she told the coaches her running times, they said they had a spot for her on the team.

After competing for five years at the university, she now holds five school records for track and field and is on the school’s top 10 for seven different events, earning herself a full scholarship for her senior year of college.

“My coaches would say that they’re not as surprised because they believed in me before I did,” said Fick. “And then I always end up surprising myself because I take longer to catch on.”

After taking a break following her marathon win, Fick said she plans to train for track races in the spring of 2024 and try to make the Olympic trials. She thinks she has the best shot at the steeplechase.

The rising track star holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics and wants to pursue athletic physical therapy, but she plans to stay in the running community for as long as she can foresee.

Fick also wants to run in the 2025 Boston Marathon and is considering running the Long Beach Marathon again next year to defend her title.

“No matter how fast you get, there’s always another challenge,” said Fick.

Maison Tran is a fellow at the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected].