If you don’t think the LA Marathon impacts Santa Monica beyond race day, meet Kirsten Wahlquist.

When she ran it for the first time in 2012, she had never been to the city by the sea — she simply saw the event as an opportunity to visit friends in the area and a chance to complete a race she hadn’t entered before.

But the finish line host made a strong impression on her that day.

“I had a great time exploring the pier, beach and downtown with friends while we celebrated,” the Seattle native said. “I remembered that experience when I moved down to L.A. the following year, and it made me want to come back to spend more time and eventually move here.”

Fast-forward three years. Wahlquist, a graphic designer who also works as a freelance natural science illustrator, will participate in the LA Marathon for the third time on Sunday. And she’ll do it as a proud Santa Monica resident.

What Wahlquist described as a clean, safe and lively atmosphere lured her to town about a year ago, and apparently the appeal hasn’t worn off.

“I love that it is a forward-thinking city, and one where the arts and culture can thrive alongside tech,” she said. “And I also really like that it is such a pedestrian-friendly city — I can usually walk to wherever I’m going. I feel a lot more free to explore when I can leave my car at home. And its location can’t be beat — an urban center with easy access to miles of mountain hiking trails as well as the beach!”

But Wahlquist might never have ended up in Santa Monica without her running hobby.

She started running about six years ago when she heard about a half-marathon at Disney World. Even with 10 months of training, she was out of breath after the first mile. But she conquered the Magic Kingdom course and even beat her goal time in the process, which inspired her to try a 26.2-mile race. Five months later, she completed a marathon in Seattle.

“Crossing the finish line of a marathon is an incredible feeling,” she said. “It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not comfortable. It takes a lot of hard work, but more than that, you have to be able to overcome your own mind when it tells you that you can’t keep going. Knowing that you conquered that feeling, pressed on, and finished the race anyways is very powerful, and makes every step worth it.”

For Wahlquist, that sense of accomplishment comes only after intense training.

She already runs three or four times each week, and in mid-November she began a regimen of five days a week that has included shorter runs of 3 to 10 miles and a weekly long run between 10 and 20 miles.

“By the peak of my training, I was putting in around 7-8 hours per week of running — plus all the added time for stretching, warming up, and cooling down,” Wahlquist said. “On top of a full-time job and other commitments, it was not always easy, but putting in the honest work to train is important to me, so I made time for it. Each successive marathon I’ve run, I’ve added a little more time, a little more mileage to my training plan, and I can feel the difference that it makes on race day.”

The morning of the race, Wahlquist will walk to the pickup point for the shuttle that will take her to the starting line at Dodger Stadium. She’ll then put her training to use and make her way across Los Angeles, all the while passing landmarks that have now become familiar to her.

When she crosses the finish line in Santa Monica, she’ll meet up with friends for celebratory food or drinks in the downtown area. And even though she’ll be exhausted, she’ll spend time walking around town to soak up the festive scene.

“Believe it or not, walking around a lot after the marathon is a very good thing,” she said. “It helps keep your muscles from cramping up, and generally you’ll feel a little less sore in the days that follow if you stay active right after the race.”

For the upcoming LA Marathon, her fourth full-distance race overall, Wahlquist feels ready to clock a personal record. She finished it in about 4 hours 26 minutes last year, and this time around she is hoping to crack the 4-hour mark for the first time.

But no matter how long it takes her to reach the end, she’ll relish one particular perk.

“I can walk home,” she said.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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