Photos courtesy of Budniak.
After 34-year-old Long Beach resident Julia Budniak crossed the finish line of the LA Marathon on Sunday, she couldn’t quite process the information being offered to her.
“They said ‘you’re third!’,” she said. “I didn’t believe it, honestly. I thought they meant in my age group. I made them check three times.”
It was Budniak’s third LA Marathon, and the first marathon in which she medaled, winning a $9,000 cash prize with her finish time of 2:44:44.
“I ran in 2013 and 2014, and both times I placed eighth,” said Budniak. “And afterwards, I’d say ‘I want to be top five next time.’”
Time to check that off the list. And aim higher, of course.
“Now I have a dream of winning one day,” she said.
A native of Poland, Budniak now calls downtown Long Beach home, after moving to the city from LA last year. She was recruited to run track at USC after winning a national track title in Poland in 2002, graduating from the school in 2007. Most recently, she completed her master’s degree in nutrition at Cal State LA in 2013. Today, she's finalizing her nutrition training and coaching Cal State LA's track team , in addition to training with the Santa Monica-based Janes Elite Racing, a running club.
In her spare time, she can be seen kite racing in the waters off Belmont Shore, working her core and soaking up the sun.
“It came easier to me this time,” said Budniak. “If I take the time to train faster, I think I can win.”
Budniak’s marathons have just consisted of the LA Marathon thus far, though she’s planning on running the Chicago Marathon
Budniak credited her “stubborn personality” for getting her through the mental, 26.2 mile slog of hills that is the LA Marathon - though the scenery and her commitment to a healthy diet helped, too.
“Honestly, the marathon is about racing yourself,” she said. “You honestly race against your own weaknesses. I was completely by myself for most of the marathon.”
Budniak started off on race day with a healthy diet of oats, almond milk and flax—a meal that she said definitely stuck with her throughout the race, for better or worse. She said though she thought she may throw up throughout the way, she focused on staying calm and drinking fluids at every water station. The nutritionist’s strategy paid off, as she was able to beat her fastest time by three minutes.
The whole experience has Budniak fired up for more.
“I did about two months of actual training,” she said. And of the actual training, Budniak includes four 18-mile runs. “One month of real workouts, the rest being easy, long runs—nothing too specific. Real training lasts 16 weeks.”
She said the long runs are the hardest part of marathon training for her.
“It’s so hard for me. Nobody wants to run with me,” she laughed.
Budniak plans to pay off her bills, part of her student loan and more with the prize money. Ultimately, she’d like to be a sponsored runner, so she can focus full-time on the sport. With runners like Deena Kastor still holding American records in their early 40s, Budniak sees exciting potential.
“Marathons are even better when you’re older and have more mileage in your legs,” she said. “It just shows that if you work hard and be patient, you’re gonna love it.”