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Run, mommy, run: Mantecas marathon family
Mantecas Debbie Schickert and her children Lauren and Johnny take an evening run around Woodward Park. - photo by HIME ROMERO

• WHEN: Sunday, March 24
• WHAT: Modesto Marathon offers three races: A 5-kilometer run, half marathon (13.1 miles) and marathon (26.2).
• WHERE: Starts and finishes in downtown Modesto, near the convention center.
• REGISTER: Online registration closes on Sunday at midnight.

Debbie Schickert races the sun to the horizon line, pounding city streets and sidewalks with a training partner before dawn.

All around her the world rises slowly from its slumber, shielded from the morning chill by their cozy comforters and steamy cups of coffee.

“It’s a challenge,” Schickert says with a laugh.

Yet it’s a challenge she embraces. Schickert plans to complete her first half marathon in Modesto on March 24.

The 13.1-mile endurance race has been her pursuit for more than six months, and her journey to the starting line has been a balancing act familiar to those in her demographic.

Schickert is a special breed of runner.

She’s a mother.

The Manteca-native has a full-time job in Turlock with full-time responsibilities at home, where she and her husband raise two young children.

For the last 27 weeks, she’s had to shape her training around the family’s schedule, juggling the responsibilities of home, work and time on the road.

So often – as is the case most running mommies – Schickert has had to blend the two, marrying family time with her running adventures.

“We’re all similar. We all are trying to get that balance; trying to make ourselves a priority and stay healthy, but also keep the kids involved,” Schickert said of her running partner Cathi Sansoni, also a mother.

“There’s a certain camaraderie that comes with that. Exercising and taking care of our kids are both equally important. It’s a juggling act.”

Schickert’s passion for running was sparked a year ago at the Modesto Marathon. She and her children – Lauren, 9, and Johnny, 8 – completed the 5-kilometer race.

Upon crossing the finish line, Schickert set her sights on a new distance: 13.1 miles.

“It was a really such a positive race that it inspired me to look at possibly doing it myself,” she said. “I started kicking it around. A training group came up and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Schickert joined the ShadowChase Running Club in September and began a 27-week training program. The club meets twice a week – on Wednesdays at the Modesto Junior College track and Saturdays at La Loma Park – and the workouts include clinics and education.

The support has galvanized Schickert’s desire to run far and fast.

She’s met new friends and found inspiration in others. She’s studied running as a science – not a hobby – learning about the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances of technology and technique.

“I really wanted to learn to run right, learn about all the new technology and the do’s and don’ts,” she said. “There’s a lot of mentoring from people who have been running forever.”

However, there isn’t a seminar on parenting. Over the years, Modesto Marathon director and ShadowChase member Heidi Ryan has seen it all.

She’s known club members that drag their children to pre-dawn starting lines or run with their children in strollers or on bikes. And then there are those, like Ryan, that try in vain to keep their two identities separate.

“I did it wrong when I was raising my kids. I felt guilty for pushing my deal onto my family,” Ryan said. “I’d try to finish my runs before they even got up, so that it wouldn’t interfere with family. I have other friends who would rip their kids out of bed at 4:30 in the morning. They might have slept in the car or been made, but I think they’re a little better connected.”

Ryan applauds those like Schickert, the mother who has sewed running into their home lives.

“Runners seem to set goals,” Ryan said, “and they have to do what it takes. Any parent that brings their kids out and gets them involved is setting a good example and being a role model for healthy living, being fit and doing something.”

The Schickerts are an active bunch, running aside. They hike, hang out in sporting goods stores, volunteer at mile markers for the Teens Run Modesto program and routinely job Woodward Park. Both Lauren and Johnny are part of a progressive marathon program at Woodward Elementary.

“I’ll take them with me if I’m going for a run around the park. It gets them out of the house, which is nice,” Schickert said. “I can’t focus on me, while they’re sitting on the couch.

“They get to see all these people challenging themselves. They have a whole new appreciation for people getting the most out of themselves.”

Starting with mommy.