Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Jocelyn Rivas has been running marathons since she was 17. On Sunday, the 24-year-old ran her 100th at the Los Angeles Marathon. This makes her the youngest runner to complete 100 marathons, pending verification by Guinness World Records. It also makes her the youngest Latina to accomplish this feat—something she’s proud of, as a Dreamer who came to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was six.
Rivas was born in El Salvador with health problems so severe her mother was told she would never walk normally. She never found out what exactly the cause was, but she did start walking normally when she was a kid, and then she took up marathon running when she was in high school, as part of the Students Run LA program.
Since then, she has run marathons in 19 states, and she once ran six marathons in nine days. Her first marathon was the Los Angeles Marathon, so running it again as her 100th marathon has been coming full circle.
Rivas spoke with Women’s Running about how she got into running, why she decided to take on 100 marathons, and what it was like to cross the finish line in Los Angeles.
Women’s Running: You ran your first marathon with Students Run LA when you were in high school, but were you a runner before that?
Jocelyn Rivas: When I started with Students Run LA, it was the first time I had run. You could say I had done the one mile because that’s required for [Los Angeles Unified School District] high school kids. That was the only thing I had done.
The reason I started running was I came out to the 2013 L.A. Marathon to support my friends who were running. I saw everyone running, from kids to adults who are in their 70s, and I was like, why am I not out there? What’s preventing me from being out there? I got inspired by those people, complete strangers, and then I was like, I want to run a marathon.
WR: What was it like to go from no running to training for such a long distance?
JR: Students Run LA helps high school students train for a marathon in six months. In the beginning, it was a bit difficult because my mom didn’t want me to run a marathon. The reason was because I was born with a broken back, neck, and feet. So I have always had a lot of back pain and neck pain, and she just didn’t want those things to become worse. But I wanted to run a marathon. I knew I could do it.
Essentially, I was like: You know what, I’m gonna do this, just to prove her wrong, just to prove I could run a marathon. But when I crossed that finish line, I realized I love running. My mom was the motivation, but I ended up falling in love with running.
WR: How did you recover from those injuries as a young child?
JR: The resources in El Salvador were kind of limited. My mom was also very poor—she barely even had money to feed me, so she wasn’t able to take me to a specialist. But she took me to physical therapy that was free. My feet were completely turned around to the outside, instead of straight, and then my back, my spinal cord, was not straight at all. I was like that for several months until, I guess with therapy and everything, my body started to get back together little by little. My mom says it was a miracle, because they told her I most likely wouldn’t be able to walk normally. My sister says it took me a while to start walking. I was slower than most kids. And she says after three or four years, I was fine.
WR: Have you had to deal with that back and neck pain in your running?
JR: Yes. I actually asked my teammates: Are you feeling back pain? They said no, we’re not feeling anything at all. That’s how I realized, with my back pain and my neck pain, I was going to have to dedicate a lot of myself to running. I do a lot of recovery. After every single run, I do scraping, I do tape, I massage myself. Sometimes I do cryotherapy.
WR: What inspired you to run 100 marathons?
JR: In 2017, I was in a very bad place. I’m a Dreamer—I’m a DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] recipient. The Trump administration had just announced that they were going to take it off, meaning that I’d lose the potential of renewing, I would be undocumented again, and I would definitely lose my job and not be able to continue going to college. I was going to lose everything I had worked so hard for, and I really wanted to do it to showcase that Dreamers are here to do something good. We love this country as much as every American—we just don’t have the papers. We came here as young kids, and we grew up in American culture. My biggest thing was, I don’t think many people could put a face to Dreamers. They think negative things about us. I wanted them to see the face of a Dreamer and be like, this is just one Dreamer, and there’s thousands of Dreamers just like her, just wanting to follow their dreams. So it started with that.
But in 2019, at marathon 25 [after the Trump administration’s efforts were blocked], I needed a new “why”—something that would carry me through when I’m in my darkest places, when I’m running those marathons and I just feel like I can’t keep going anymore. And that’s when it came to me: I want to do this to inspire my community, to inspire women. Growing up, I never had anyone to look up to, athletic-wise, who I could identify as a Latina who could do this. I was just like: I want to be that person, or at least inspire my community to get out there to chase their dreams, or start the journey, whatever that is. Running all these marathons has made me realize that nothing is impossible in this world. If you want something in life, go chase it, go get it.
WR: What challenges have you faced along the way?
JR: When I was running these marathons, I was trying to get a PR, I was trying to run faster every single time. And I was getting injured. I had a lot of shin splints on both legs, and then here and there, I sometimes deal with IT band injuries. How am I going to make it if I’m so injured and I’m barely in my early 20s? That’s when I reached out to Julie Weiss, who had done 52 marathons in 52 weeks, so she had a lot of knowledge. She said, you’ve gotta go slower. I told her the times I was finishing, and she’s like, no, you’ve gotta run an hour slower than what you typically run. Just take it easier. Enjoy the
journey. Take photos. Forget about PRs right now—you can do PRs after.
That took me to 100. If I would have kept running fast, fast, fast, trying my best to PR, there’s no way I would have made it to 100. I took her advice to take it slow and enjoy the races more and not to be so hard on myself.
WR: You’re running marathons so frequently, what is your training like?
JR: I really do not train like a normal person who’s training for a marathon. Since I’m running a marathon every weekend, I consider it my long run on Sundays. Monday and Tuesday, I take off completely, I just stretch and rest, and I do my usual thing—I work. Wednesdays after work, that’s when I go for my first run, like a 5k. Thursdays, I do maybe a 5k to 6 miles, depending on how my body’s feeling. On Fridays, I do another maybe four miles, and then Saturday, I do a 5k or don’t run at all. It’s very low mileage, roughly in the 40s with the marathon included.
WR: Do you have any advice for other young women who want to go after big running goals?
JR: All it takes is for you to believe in yourself. I always say, the only person that could stop you is you. I truly got inspired by my community, so this didn’t happen by itself. But if you believe in yourself, you know what you can do, and you know how far you can go in life.
WR: What kind of reaction have you gotten from people in your community?
JR: It’s been amazing, they’re all super supportive—I’m representing South Central L.A. I grew up very poor, with very limited resources. But I got lucky with Students Run LA. And I think they saw me as a 17-year-old, and then they just kept seeing me going and going, and now I’m at 100. There’s so many Students Run LA kids here, and I think they’re also getting inspired, with all the girls who have reached out to me. I honestly can’t even believe it. I’m still trying to process it.
WR: Overall, what would you say you get out of running?
JR: I found my passion. Whenever I’m having a stressful day, I just know if I go for a run, I come back and I am the happiest person ever—it releases all my stress. It makes me feel so confident, so empowered, so strong, and makes me feel beautiful and alive. It is like nothing else. I’m still someone who’s very young, still learning about the world, and still trying to grow in every aspect of life. And having that sense that I could be 100% myself and love myself when I’m running, it definitely has helped me so much in my personal life and in my career.
WR: The Los Angeles Marathon was your first marathon as well as your hundredth. How do you feel about that?
JR: I love the L.A. marathon. This whole time, I’ve been doing back-to-back marathons so I could get L.A. to be my hundredth marathon. And so having accomplished this, after how many flights got canceled, how many marathons, how much I cried and stressed, knowing that I was able to get to 100 at L.A. is literally a dream come true. I wanted to finish here, in the community that molded me to who I am today.
WR: How did the L.A. Marathon go?
JR: I felt like it’s just another marathon until I got to the starting line and thought, oh my god, this is my hundredth. I teared up a bit. Throughout the race, again, I thought, oh, it’s just another marathon. And once I hit mile 23, that’s when I started feeling it. So many people were out there cheering me. It was amazing. At the finish line, they had a ribbon that said “The Warrior—100th Marathon” for me.
WR: What’s next? Are you going to take a break from marathon running?
JR: I want to, but I am doing a marathon the following weekend. I will try to PR, and we’ll see if it happens. I’m gonna try to do a few more marathons just to make sure that the record stays with me, because I’m still getting certified. All the races I did were USATF certified—that was one of the requirements from Guinness World Records. I have everything documented, but I’m just going to do maybe five or eight more marathons to make sure the title stays with me.
After that, I am going to take a break. Probably five or six months into physical therapy, I’ll try to get my body to come back stronger. Because the end goal is I want to run a 100 miler—I do want to become an ultramarathoner. And if I do that 100 miler and I crush it, or at least I survive, I want to try to go for maybe Badwater.