Jennifer Downs was not going to let the COVID-19 pandemic spoil a milestone day in her life.
On a sunny, mild Saturday morning at Leadbetter Beach, Downs celebrated her 40th birthday by completing her 100th half-marathon race. She made her way from a starting point at UCSB to a finish line adorned by a balloon arch on the bike path adjacent to the large picnic area by the beach.
As she made her way down the hill on Shoreline Drive, Downs was greeted by a cheering group of about 40 friends, including co-workers from Deckers Brands, where she is a vice president of technology solutions and business optimization. She even received whoops and hollers from passing strangers.
“I’ve had a lot of support,” said Downs, who started running seriously after joining the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training in 2009, when she lived in San Francisco. “I think everybody has been part of my journey, a lot of my coworkers and some of the run group here in Santa Barbara; my partner (Kelsey Roberts) is a huge runner as well. She’s done the Boston Marathon and all the big marathons across the world.”
Roberts arranged the finish-line celebration.
Downs ran her first marathon in 2009 and then came up with the goal of doing 100 half-marathons by age 40.
“I did two a year for a while all over the U.S., and a couple of international ones,” she said.
She also has four full marathons on her resumé, but she doesn’t count them in her accomplishment.
She credits the fundraising races with Team in Training with really getting her going.
“My first 40 races I did through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society with Team in Training, which is such an incredible cause and true motivation to do this. I’ve built a lot of friendships through that,” she said. “I made a ton of friends, and raised a ton of money.”
For this milestone event, her original plan was to do the Mighty Niagara Half-Marathon in her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., and celebrate with friends and family by watching the Buffalo Bills football game against the Miami Dolphins.
Because of the pandemic, the Niagara race went to a virtual format. She said her last three races have been done that way. Following each race, she uploads her times to the race website.
Her time for race No. 100 was 2 hours, 10 minutes, just three seconds off her PR.
“This is a virtual one, so they’ll be sending my medal and all that stuff next week,” Downs said of the race organizers in Buffalo. “I was going to have a big party back there and then the pandemic happened.
“We’re just going to have to do it here and make it happen.”
Her Plan B is to watch the Bills game outside at Zodo’s Bowling & Beyond in Goleta.
“They have a huge Bills crew that goes out there,” she said.
She is a passionate fan.
“We’re going to the Super Bowl this year,” Downs said confidently. “Growing up, my parents were season ticket holders. We’re huge, huge fans. We went to four straight Super Bowls; we lost them all, but we still love them.”
After completing her goal of 100 half-marathons, Downs has no intention of slowing down. Her next athletic goal is to do a full Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon run. She’s completed three half Ironman Triathlons.