28th annual Surf City Marathon presented by 361° welcomes 18,000 participants to Huntington Beach

• Oceanfront road race starts and finishes on California’s scenic Pacific Coast Highway 1

• Team DetermiNation athletes to run and raise money for the American Cancer Society

Huntington Beach, CA – February 2, 2024 – Kim Benitez and Megan Christakes know what it’s like to be haunted by cancer. Benitez, who’s 43 and lives in Las Vegas, lost her mother nine years ago to cervical cancer. Christakes, 39, lives outside Chicago. Her husband, three aunts, cousin and father-in-law all battled the disease.

Come Sunday morning, in front of The Waterfront Beach Resort, a Hilton Hotel, with swaying palm trees, the sand and ocean as a backdrop, Benitez and Christakes will be among the 18,000 participants running up and down Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach for the 28th Surf City Marathon and Half Marathon presented by 361°.

Benitez and Christakes will be a part of the blue-shirted Team DetermiNation that has raised more than $35,000 in support of the American Cancer Society.

For Benitez, it will be her 31st half marathon. Christakes will be running her first ever 26.2-mile marathon. While the women live 1,747 miles apart, they share more in common than being wives and mothers with young children.

Asked what it was like to lose her 60-year-old mother in 2015, Benitez’s thoughts turned to her daughter, Aryanna, who was nine months old.

“At the time, if I didn’t have her, I don’t know how I could have made it through,” said Benitez, who within a span of eight days lost her mother and father. Her dad died of a heart attack. Turning back to Aryanna, Benitez added, “She’s the one who made me get out of bed every day.”

The Surf City race is dear to her. Sunday’s race will mark the seventh time she’s participated in the event.

“I like the course,” she said. “I like that it’s right on the PCH. I love the energy, the people.”

Benitez suffered a stroke when she was 35, took a couple years off from running and Surf City served as her return in 2018.

This is the third time she’s run to support of the American Cancer Society. The first time, in 2019, it happened by chance when she accidentally signed up for the program while registering.

“It was a mistake that was meant to be,” said Benetiz, who personally raised more than $2,000 this year. “I totally stepped out of my comfort zone to ask for funds from people.”

On Sunday, Benetiz will wear at least 17 ribbons honoring friends and family, some of whom helped her fundraise. The most meaningful one will be the tribute to her mother. Benitez has two daughters, Aryanna, 9, and Carlee, 5.

“All the traits my mom had, I try not to show that to my daughters,” she said. “My mother left an imprint on my heart to be a better person. How she was there for me, I try to be there for my daughters.”

For the 39-year-old Christakes, who has sons Tristan, 11, and Ethan, 4, running a marathon has been a bucket list item since her early 30s. In the past decade, her thoughts about the quest bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball.

“Oh yeah, you’ll get to it. Oh yeah, I don’t think you can,” she said. “Doubt crept in. Then (last May when she registered for Surf City) I was at a time in life where I said, ‘You know what, you’ve got to stick to your guns.’”

She’ll run the marathon Sunday, four days before turning 40.

“Nothing like waiting ’til the last minute to accomplish my goal,” joked Christakes, who has raised $2,767.

In the 8½-month build up to Sunday’s event, Christakes needed iron infusions and had to change her Crohn’s disease medication.

“Keep persevering,” she told herself during difficult training sessions. “Do I think of those people? (Family members who have battled cancer.) I think of them all the time. What originally started out as a bucket list item turned out to be so much bigger than that.”

Thanks to donations like the two runners have fundraised, overall cancer mortality has dropped 33% since 1991, averting an estimated 3.8 million cancer deaths. Runners can make their miles matter, too, and join Team DetermiNation at other Golden State Challenge events, including the Long Beach Marathon and Golden Gate Half Marathon this fall.

The 28th Surf City Marathon presented by 361° features an ocean-front start and finish, passing historic Huntington Beach Pier, the site of too many surfing contests to count. The Finish Line Festival will offer beach-front views and the Michelob ULTRA Beer Garden with surf-rock classics wafting in the breeze.

Race day Sunday starts at 6:30am with a marathon, 5K and half-marathon. The weekend features two days of running, beginning at 11:00 am Saturday with the Beach Mile on the Sand.  For more information and a complete schedule of events, visit RunSurfCity.com and follow @RunSurfCityUSA on social media.