I’ve been running for almost 22 years and for the last 14 I started specializing in it. The sport has given me the chance to live in another country, to challenge and learn a lot about myself. Just as there are many things I have accomplished through it there is one I am still missing out on.
It took me a while to understand what made running special. Running without chasing a soccer ball is a crazy idea in my country. It makes no sense to the human eye. For this sport it is what it makes you feel inside what makes it special. After overcoming a thousand obstacles while running you will feel accomplished once you get it done.
I grew up in a town where the sport was really underrated. I would say a race with 20-30 people was a big one for the most part. I got to know those 20-30 people pretty well as the years went by.Americans are used to racing in courses where streets are closed for hours while a race is going on. In Tampico, Mexico, for a very long time that was unheard of. I raced side by side with drunk drivers, taxis and public transportation buses closing my eyes at almost every intersection hoping not to get hit.
My first official race was a 100 meter dash race, and that was long distance for my age group. Then came the 5 K’s, the 10 K’s for which I would usually travel to compete in Mexico City. In 2007 I was living in Canada and decided that by the end of my time there I would try the 13.1 mile race (21 kms.) at the Vancouver Half Marathon. I ran it and I barely remember finishing it, I did make it to the medical tent afterwards and hours later I found out I placed second on my age group on my first half-marathon ever with a 1:32:33 finishing time.
I stuck with half-marathons for a long time. To this day, it continues to be my favorite distance. It’s not as long as the marathon but it gives me an edge over middle distance runners that may be quicker the first 6.1 miles but get tired on the second half allowing me to catch up or pull away. My best time is a 1:23:30 so I have made some improvements since Vancouver and hope to one day run it under 1:20:00.
Running is a sport where you have to constantly challenge yourself in order to keep it interesting. I knew there would be a day that I had to run a marathon. I always thought that would be after college, but the marathon bug hit me way before that. I was finishing my preparation for the NJCAA Half Marathon National Championship when my mom told me to run the Monterrey Marathon with her by the end of the year. I agreed to the challenge without any idea of what it entitled. I had prepared myself really well for National’s so I was sure I could hold it for another 13.1 miles no problem. Well, I was wrong.
The whole idea of running a marathon seems to be messed up by any normal human being. The thing is, runners are not normal. With that being said, I am not normal and just two weeks after competing at the most challenging half marathon ever I was lining up for an even bigger challenge. My goal was to finish, I was aiming to do a good race, keep a good pace, and enjoy the experience. I started at a pace that I was used to for college races (too fast for marathons) and kept it together for 13.1 miles where I almost ran faster than at nationals. But the struggle came on the second half. At about mile 17 I felt a cramp during a race for the first time ever. It was so intense I had to stop. I stretched and started running again (I wasn’t going to walk for 13.1 miles). Then came more cramps and more stops. I actually drank coke during the race and that did not help at all, but it sounded like a great idea. All the way up to mile 25 I couldn’t go a mile without feeling a cramp. But with a lot of pride, courage and guts I ran all the way to the finish line and couldn’t be happier when I crossed that finish line in 3:40:00. December 2009 will never be forgotten.
I went back to college to compete in indoors less than a month later like if nothing had happened. I was living in Iowa at the time and moved to Texas in August. There I found out about the Dallas Marathon and said why not give it another shot. This was the first time I actually prepared for it. I trained on my own from August to December hoping for a better finish and my first legit shot to qualify for the world’s oldest marathon, the Boston Marathon. I trained well and felt that with a smart race I would be in Boston by next year. It was a great race, the weather really helped my performance and I was feeling great up to mile 20 where my body started shutting down gradually. I made it to the finish with one minor stop and crossed the line in 3 hours 16 minutes. I missed the mark by 6 minutes, I was happy but I felt I had it for the longest time.
I was determined to give it another try the following may. I kept a similar training program now focused on endurance. I was my own coach and taking a lot of pride on every result along the way. I raced in Lincoln, Nebraska which gave me a chance to say hi to some friends in the area. It was the smallest marathon I’ve been in and the course was the same for everyone the first 13.1 miles and then marathoners were on their own for the next 13.1. I struggled a bit to find a pace but once I did I got comfortable and ran a very solid marathon. I was on pace for the longest I have ever been. But again the last 3 miles seemed very very long. I was having problems keeping my eyes open due to fatigue. I was also trying not to fall with my legs becoming heavier every step of the way. I went through the mile 26 mark in 3:10:59 seconds. That was the time I needed to make it to Boston, the sad part, I had .2 miles to go. I crossed the finish line in 3:12:00. I had never been more happy and frustrated in my life.
My fourth marathon was one to forget. It was in Houston just over six months after barely missing the mark at Lincoln and the day after the Olympic Trials were held in the same place.I was really prepared but when swine-flu hits you just 48 hours before the race the chances of a good performance are almost over before the race begins. I felt horrible by mile 5 and had 21.2 miles to go. Not much to comment here except for the fact that somehow I managed to finish in 3 hours and 41 minutes despite that horrible experience in a fast course.
Marathon number 5 has a lot of mixed feelings. I took preparation to a whole new level. I logged more miles than ever during training. I was breaking personal record on many races and speed workouts. I was on fire. The idea of running my first marathon major in a city that meant so much to me was exciting by itself. If there was a time to make it to Boston, it was then. I landed at the Windy City a few days before the race. I got the chance to soak up the whole experience of a city devoted to the race with over 45,000 people and I would be starting in the front. I probably got too excited but tried to keep it together. The day of the race was magical in many ways except for a cramp that at mile 17 pretty much left me without a chance to make it to Boston. I enjoyed the race a lot despite the cramp. With a 3:27:20 I hope to go back one day because for a runner it hardly gets better than Chicago during a marathon day.
Now I’m going on marathon number six. I have chosen the California International Marathon as the event where I will once again try to make it to Boston. There is nothing in my career as a runner that I want more than that. Since the qualifying standard for Boston changed to 3:05 I became obsessed with that number. When I get done with a workout I analyze my pace and compare it to what I need to make it to Boston. It means I have to go at 7:03 for 26.2 miles and around 4:25 per kilometer. I usually chose flat courses when deciding which marathon to do. This time things will get even better with a downhill course and considered by the Boston Athletic Association as one of the top ten courses to punch a ticket to the starting line in Hopkinton. I don’t consider it cheating since I still have to go the 26.2 but a great help when you have to go that fast. Training in altitude should really make training harder but the race easier.
As I said before, running has given me a lot of things throughout my life. But the one thing it keeps denying me is the one I want the most. Once I accomplish that I can think about ultras or even Ironmans, but the idea of making it to Boston in 3 hours, five minutes is a priority before moving on. So from now until December 7, 2014 my mind is set on the challenge that takes me to my biggest goal. Nothing would make me happier than crossing the finish line in Sacramento, California earning my way to the Boston Marathon with a 3:05 or better. Once I get there I actually plan to jog it.