When Maria Zambrano crossed the finish line at the 2014 Calgary Marathon in two hours 52 minutes and 44 seconds, the Colombian born Calgarian was ecstatic. Not because she took second place, but because for the first time ever she hadn’t hit the wall. She’d also smashed her goal to break 2:55 and claimed a new PR.
Eight months later Zambrano would move up a step on the podium after Kenyan rival Emily Chepkorir was disqualified for doping offences. Regardless of position, Zambrano’s personal achievement that day was huge.
“I wasn’t really going for a position, I just wanted to run the best time I could,” she says.
At 44 years old, this was Zambrano’s fourth marathon (she won the Calgary Marathon back in 2000) and her first since having her two children: Ramon, now 8, and Carla, 6.
“It was a big goal for me to finish more comfortably than last time,” she says, “I was 30 then, but I hit the wall and finishing was a very painful experience for me.”
Her impressive running career has spanned more than 25 years and seen her rack up an impressive number of titles as well as a Canadian husband (and running buddy) Steve Tober, whom she met at a race in Colombia.
But some of her greatest athletic achievements have, surprisingly, come in the wake of motherhood.
“When you have kids, you have a lot less time so you have to be more efficient. You also have to be more flexible. If I don’t run today because I’m doing something with my kids, I’ll run tomorrow and that’s OK.”
Zambrano kept meticulous training diaries in her twenties and thirties which recall a time when racing had a more serious edge to it.
“I used to be much more competitive and focussed but I don’t even have time to keep training diaries anymore,” she says. Like most busy moms, Zambrano’s day revolves around Ramon and Carla’s schedules of school and play. Like most busy moms who train, Zambrano fits in morning runs before her husband leaves for work then, often, finds time for evening workouts. But while Zambrano’s family life takes up a lot of her energy, it also gives her back the motivation to keep training and striving for faster times.
“I think about my kids when I run and I want to inspire them. Maybe not to be runners but to be good at something they love and to commit and persevere.”
And when her husband and kids turn out to race, too, Maria always goes that extra mile by jogging back to meet Steve and their faithful running wagon to cross the finish line as a family.