Marathon Profiles 2016: Why They Run (Part II)

(This is the second in a series of three articles this month focusing on runners taking part in the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon on January 24. Baptist Health is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the event. (In case you missed it, here’s Part I.)

On Jan. 24, thousands of runners will take part in one of South Florida’s premier events – the 2016 Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. They will run 26.2 or 13.1 miles through the streets of downtown Miami, to the scenic beaches, through the art district and back to the bay area.

To many, the desire to run a marathon is a mystery. But to others, distance running is a necessity – it’s a way of life. Read on to learn what inspires these competitors to run.

Chris Ponce, 27:
“I don’t buy in to the ‘I can’t do it’ attitude.”

Chirs PonceChris Ponce runs to honor friends and family members who have experienced setbacks and tragic losses. “Life experiences have taught me to be grateful that I am healthy and able-bodied,” he explained. “When I run, I bring people along for the ride. I think of the hardships they have gone through, and that motivates me to keep going.”

Mr. Ponce, who works at Otis Elevator Company and is earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Florida International University, credits his parents for raising him to put family first, be empathetic and give back to the community. He also inherited his passion and skill for running from his father.

Mr. Ponce’s father, who was born to a poor, hardworking family in Cuba, was a track and field and cross-country star at Miami Jackson High School. An injury during his senior year shattered his dreams of earning a college scholarship and obtaining a college degree. Mr. Ponce followed in his father’s footsteps, running track and field and cross-country during high school. He also played basketball and football. “My father was my biggest supporter,” Mr. Ponce said. “He inspired me to better myself through sports.”

Sports continue to be an important part of Mr. Ponce’s life. He has done CrossFit for the past five years and the grueling workouts help him feel healthy, build strength and endurance, and help him recover more quickly following an injury, he says. Mr. Ponce has run numerous 5K events, three half marathons and at last year’s Miami Marathon and Half Marathon, he ran the 26.2-mile race for the first time.

He recalls that sinking feeling he had when his body started cramping up around mile 18. “It was mind over matter – I numbed it out,” he said. “That’s when the runner’s high kicked in and I thought about how far I’ve come and remembered people who could not do what I was doing. I was reminded of how fortunate I was, and it sustained me.” Crossing the finish line, he says, was an emotional and physical victory.

Mr. Ponce will use those same strategies to run the 26.2-mile race again this year. And along the way, he will inspire people to believe in themselves and do what they think they cannot do.

Sandra Lopez, 40:
“I’m happiest when I’m helping others.”

Sandra Lopez400Sandra Lopez finds the atmosphere of marathon events inspiring and supportive. They are the perfect place to promote awareness for the causes that are near and dear to her heart. “I love helping others,” said Ms. Lopez, a professional in the hospitality industry. “I look for ways to give my time.”

Ms. Lopez participated in her first half marathon in Memphis in 2007 to raise awareness and funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She had learned about St. Jude at a fundraising event and was touched by the organization’s mission and a young patient who was battling an extremely rare cancer. “I visited St. Jude to see first-hand the amazing work they do and the hope they offer patients and their families,” Ms. Lopez said.

With no running training, Ms. Lopez, who lives and works in Brickell and “walks everywhere,” walked and ran the 13.1-mile event wearing a “St. Jude Hero” T-shirt. “Those kids were on my mind the entire time, inspiring me to push forward,” she said. “I wanted to do it for them. The little bit of pain that I felt was nothing compared to the pain that they endure.”

The next year, Ms. Lopez participated in the Miami Half Marathon and the experience lifted her. “I saw participants who were blind and in wheelchairs, and the crowd cheering them on,” she said. “It inspired me to ‘run for a reason.’”

Ms. Lopez stepped up her training, adding CrossFit and intermittent running to her routine. She participates in the Memphis Marathon Weekend and the Miami Half Marathon every year. She also has participated in the 13.1 Marathon Fort Lauderdale, Breast Cancer Half Marathon and numerous 5K races to benefit her favorite causes, which include St. Jude, Live Like Bella, breast cancer awareness organizations and Amigos Near Foundation – a non-profit serving underprivileged children that she co-founded and directs as a Board member. In recognition of her charitable efforts, Ms. Lopez had the incredible honor of carrying the Olympic torch in Alcester, England, in July 2012.

Her mission continues. “Every time I run, I ask myself – ‘which cause am I going to support?’” Ms. Lopez said. At this year’s Miami Half Marathon, you will find her in a Climb for Memory T-shirt running to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

Elsy Fuentes, 52:
“Running gives me such a sense of personal achievement.”

Elsy Fuentes400Elsy Fuentes remembers the day she first experienced the energizing atmosphere of a half marathon. It was Feb. 7, 2007, and she attended the event to watch and cheer on her sister who was competing. “I saw that the runners came in every size, shape, age and ability,” she said. “I thought to myself – ‘I want to try this.’ I started my journey, and now I’m hooked for life.”

Ms. Fuentes runs with TeamFootworks four days a week and also bikes. She agrees that it is tough work, but it is addicting and so rewarding, she says. In fact, when she runs the short distances on Tuesdays and Thursdays, she wants to keep going. “Running helps you escape from the stresses of life,” she explained. “You focus on your body, and you become one with each step you take.”

Ms. Fuentes has competed in about 15 half marathons and six marathons. In 2013, she ran in the New York City Marathon. “That race is a great experience, and a ‘must-do’ event for any serious runner,” she said. “Training in Miami prepared me well. If you can run in this heat and humidity, you are prepared to run about anywhere.” Ms. Fuentes also has competed in two triathlons this year and her goal is to do a half Ironman next year.

Ms. Fuentes is a biopsy technologist at the Baptist Health Breast Center. Working in healthcare, she knows the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. “I’m about 30 pounds lighter than I was seven years ago when I first started running,” Ms. Fuentes said. That’s just one of the many health benefits and accomplishments that come with her active lifestyle.

Ana Cadreche, 44:
“Solutions to my problems just come to me while I am running.”

Ana Cadreche400Ana Cadreche, a middle school teacher, started running to improve her health and keeps running to maintain her overall well-being. “When I run, I feel strong and confident, like I can handle anything that comes my way,” she said. “Running has led me to good things.”

Eight years ago, the single mother of two found that the stress of working a busy restaurant job and attending school to become a teacher combined with a long-term smoking habit were compromising her sleep and health. She took the first step toward getting healthy by running down the street in her neighborhood. “At that time, I could only get to the end of my block,” Ms. Cadreche recalled. “But, even that made me feel better.”

Ms. Cadreche started running a bit farther each day. One day, she ran for an hour straight and remembers the euphoria that came with the accomplishment. She quit smoking, started sleeping better and felt healthier than ever. She ran a 5K and a few other smaller races before jumping right in to her first Miami Half Marathon in 2007. With very little preparation and training, she ran it in two hours.

The next year, she accepted a challenge to run the 26.2-mile Miami Marathon race. “Once again, I did not properly train or have the correct shoes, but I finished the race in five hours,” Ms. Cadreche said. “The feeling was a million times better than any race I had run.” Unfortunately, she suffered a knee injury during that race, which served as a valuable lesson that proper training and preparation are vital to preventing injuries.

After joining running groups, Ms. Cadreche started seeing improvements in her race times and now often finishes in the top three or four in her age group. She has competed in such events as the Country Music Marathon in Memphis and the New York City Marathon.

Ms. Cadreche offers these inspirational words to aspiring runners: “You can go the distance. After training and reaching a certain goal, adding on to that distance is all mental.”

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