Running in Mexico
Adriana Fernández (Mexico)
at the NYRRC Women's 10K, 2000
(photo credit: Roland Soong)
|Of the athletic sports, perhaps
the one that captures the imagination is the marathon. This is a
sport that demands something extraordinary --- a 100m meter sprint is like
hurrying to catch a bus, but a 26.2 mile run is not daily routine.
This is also a sport that rewards hard work above talent --- it is
impossible to even complete the distance without a serious commitment to
The country of Mexico has produced a number of famous marathoners
In the famous New York City Marathon,
What does it take to become a world-class marathoner? Here is the description of German Silva's training program:
While many world-class runners work out near Boulder, Colo., where elevations range from 5,800 to 10,000 feet, the volcano where Silva and his teammates train - Nevado de Toluca - is higher still. The volcano, known as Xinantecatl in the native Nahuatl tongue, rises to 15,387 feet at its peak, making it Mexico's fourth-highest mountain. The weather surrounding it is a study in contrasts - almost always blisteringly hot at the bottom and frigid year-round at the top.
At those altitudes, a flatlander in marathon shape sees white flashes before his eyes while training. Some runners sleep on their backs at such heights because breathing is too laborious on their stomachs.
Silva and his running partners seek the pain that comes with the altitude. They live for up to a week at a time at a hostel on the mountain at 12,300 feet. Every morning, their feet pound against the sinuous, boulder-strewn paths. Every evening they return in subfreezing temperatures to the hostel, which has no heat, electricity or running water.
In between there are no showers, only a change into fresh running clothes, hasty meals of tortillas and beans and time to think about the training regimen ahead - another day's run up to the crater of the volcano, a second run along a plateau to a volcanic lake, and when the day or week is out, a run down the stark mountain.
"It's a place of suffering, more than anything. ... But doing it proves to yourself that you are prepared to endure a lack of comfort in order to be more, to become more,'' Silva said.
"It is a place you have to understand and have respect for. Running it is so hard that every race seems easy in comparison. For me, it gives me strength.''
Adriana Fernández in the women's marathon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics
In 1999, Adriana Fernández became the first Mexican woman to win the New York City Marathon in a time of 2:25:06 in a dominant performance by taking charge on a windy day and kept building her lead. It would come as no surprise that she is coached by Rodolfo Gomez, trains at the Nevada de Toluca volcano and also at the Desierto de los Leones. What does a victory in the New York City Marathon mean? Here is what happened immediately to Adrianna afterwards:
- featured on the front page of the largest New York City Spanish-language newspaper, "El Diario", which filled its front page with a photo of her breaking the finish line tape, the headline "Viva Mexico," and the subhead "Adriana Fernández gana la Maratón de NY." Inside, the paper declared "Orgullo Latino"
- three early morning television appearances, including CBS' "Early Show"
- a tour of the New York Stock Exchange where she rang the opening bell
- two promotional appearances for race sponsors
- a trip to City Hall where they were given the keys to the city by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani
- an appearance on the "David Letterman Show"
- a press conference with the media
- two long interviews with Spanish-language TV networks, which aired the programs not only in Mexico but throughout Latin America
- the Mexican consulate held a dinner in her honor.
"I enjoy going to all these events, but it does take away from your concentration (from training)," she said. Fernández began running in a Mexico City park at age 15 to keep company with her father Daniel, a former amateur boxer, who told her that she needed to get fit and lose some weight. She slowly realized she had the talent to go far but still continued her studies to become a lawyer. Fernández completed a five-year program in civil rights law after high school and graduating in 1994 before abandoning law in favor of a professional running career.
In the aftermath of her New York triumph, "there are many more women running in Mexico now,'' she says. "They need more time for you to see them'' at the world class level, "but they will develop. This is going to encourage more women to run," she predicts. "The competition is going to be much stronger." Her coach, Rodolfo Gomez, concurred. "This will change the mentality of Mexican women. Most are counting on marriage and after that, nothing else. Maybe this will tell them they can do something better than the men."
Ana Guevara, 400m finalist
at Sydney Olympics 2000
Joel Sanchez, bronze medallist
50K race walker at Sydney Olympics 2000
Guadalupe Sanchez, 20K racewalker
at Sydney Olympics 2000
But the strength of a country lies not in one or two ephemeral individuals. Excellence in international sports competition is usually built on top of mass grassroots participation. We will now cite some data from the TGI Mexico study. This is a survey of 11,040 respondents between the ages of 12 and 64 years old conducted by Moctezuma y Asociados in 1999-2000. According to this study, 2.4% of the respondents said that they practiced athletics in the past 12 months. Here, the term 'athletics' including running of all forms and distances. The following table shows the geodemographic breakdown:
|Geodemographic Class||% practiced athletics|
Balance of Mexico
(source: TGI Mexico, Moctezuma y Asociados)
Among those who practiced athletics, 72% said that they either completely agree or somewhat agree with the statement "I make sure that I exercise regularly" compared to 41% in the general population.
A sport can be made more popular through mass and continuous exposure. According to the TGI Mexico study, only 0.3% of the people have attended a live athletic event in the past 12 months. At this time, there are simply not many track meets or road races being held in Mexico. Among those who practiced athletics, live attendance rises up to 25.4%.
According to the same study, 2.7% of the people have watched an athletic event on television in the past 12 months. We should point out that this survey was completed before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, in which Mexican race walkers had their usual share of good performances. Among those who practiced athletics, the television viewing incidence rises up to 15.2%.
Commercially, the TGI Mexico Study reports that 7.9% of the people have purchased one or more pairs of running shoes in the past 12 months. Among those who practiced athletics, 42.0% have purchased running shoes. The athletic shoe market is currently dominated by the global brands: adidas (27%), Nike (26% share) and Reebok (16%).
(posted by Roland Soong on 11/10/00)
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