‘Fresno Kid’ CJ Albertson rallies to take California International Marathon title in Sacramento

CJ Albertson of Fresno came from behind and Kenyan runner Grace Kahura logged a personal best, each defeating a deep, fast field Sunday to win the 40th annual California International Marathon in Sacramento.

The course, unchanged in its 40-year history, a Boston Marathon and U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier dubbed by marathon watchers as the fastest in the West, did not disappoint.

More than 9,600 runners took to the 26-mile downhill course from Folsom to the streets of downtown Sacramento on a cool, dry day under ideal conditions.

But it was Fresno’s Albertson, 30, and Kahura, 30, of Longmont, Colorado, who emerged victorious.

CJ Albertson, of Fresno, finishes first in the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
CJ Albertson, of Fresno, finishes first in the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.

Albertson clocked in at 2:11:09, flirting with CIM course record territory; followed by Milton Rotich, of Duluth, Minnesota, at 2:13:04; and Charlie Sweeney, of Boulder, Colorado, at 2:13:41, in a near-photo finish for second and third.

Kahura’s finish at 2:29 flat outpaced Austin, Texas’ Allie Kieffer’s 2:33:26 and Ava Nuttall, of Rochester, Minnesota, who finished third in 2:35:09. The Kenyan runner’s 2:29 also beat her personal best of 2:30.14, posted in June at the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.

Kahura’s time led a deep and fast women’s field in 2023 that featured 43 runners ahead of the 2:37 Olympic trial qualifying pace at the marathon’s halfway mark.

Grace Kahura, of Longmont, Colo., smiles as she holds the Kenyan flag at the finish line after winning the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Grace Kahura, of Longmont, Colo., smiles as she holds the Kenyan flag at the finish line after winning the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.

Kahura exulted in triumph at the finish, stretching her nation’s banner wide behind her.

Albertson is among the country’s elite marathon runners. A cross-country and track standout at Arizona State University who ran seventh in the marathon at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, and set an indoor marathon world record in 2019, Albertson finished eighth at last year’s California International Marathon and was a near-miss second-place finisher in Sacramento in 2019.

Albertson lurked for miles as Christian Allen of Orem, Utah, and Amanuel Mesel, of Flagstaff, Arizona, dueled in tandem for the top spot. But Albertson made his move as the race pushed into Sacramento. He overtook a fading Mesel for second at the 35K mark, then set his sights on the frontrunning Allen.

By Mile 23, Albertson had overtaken Allen for a lead he would never relinquish.

Runners who finished with Olympic trials qualifying times are recognized during the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Runners who finished with Olympic trials qualifying times are recognized during the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Kelsey Alves, of Monterey takes off her shoes to put on Crocs after finishing the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Kelsey Alves, of Monterey takes off her shoes to put on Crocs after finishing the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Robert Miranda, left, of Venice, Calif., hugs Jerod Broadbooks, of O’Fallon, Mo., at the finish line in the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.
Robert Miranda, left, of Venice, Calif., hugs Jerod Broadbooks, of O’Fallon, Mo., at the finish line in the 40th California International Marathon from Folsom to the state Capitol in downtown Sacramento, on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2023.