Arturo Fernandez on Mexican Distance Running
Arturo Fernandez, a prolific marathoner and software engineer at Pandora, has become a prolific presence in the Bay Area running scene. In 2017, he raced four marathons in addition to other shorter races. A connoisseur of breakfast egg scrambles, Arturo is also one of the most fashionable runners you will ever meet. The Breakfast Club newsletter caught up with him in an interview for the January 9th, 2017 issue.
Breakfast Club: “Thanks for chatting with us, Arturo! Can you tell us a bit about your background and where you grew up?
Arturo Fernandez: “I was born in Mexico City, previously known as “Distrito Federal” (Federal District). I lived there with my parents and siblings for 18-19 years; eventually we ended up moving to the small state of Aguascalientes in the North-Central Mexico area.
BC: “What was your athletic background? Did you compete in sports when you were younger?”
AF: “I started with sports early in life: swimming, biking, wrestling, boxing, basketball, soccer, volleyball. I remember going with my parents to parks at an early age, and my dad taking my mom and I to boxing and wrestling functions in the Mexican arenas. It is not a surprise that my first official sport was wrestling. When I was 6 years old, I wanted to be a wrestler like the ones in the WWE or Mexican wrestling (the ones that have nicknames and wear masks). So I choose wrestling as my first sport. But to my surprise, it was not the kind of wrestling I was expecting. It was Olympic wrestling, which has nothing to do with the flying kicks or jumping from the third row of the ring. But I was fairly good at it… I ended up winning the state championship of Mexico City two times in a row and had the chance to travel for a couple of tournaments around the country.
“Eventually I moved into soccer—we all want to be professional players in Mexico—so I played soccer most of my childhood and teenage years. I played both basketball and soccer for my high school. When I went to college, I played both sports for my school. But after a few months, I gave up on soccer and only played from time to time on intramural leagues.”
BC: “I heard you might have been a boxer at one point. What was that like?”
AF: “I have always liked to watch boxing. When we moved to Aguascalientes there was a public soccer field close from home and a group of people would gather to practice and to fight. They would hang their equipment in the soccer goals, so one day I said, ‘Meh. I'm going to try it out,’ and I got hooked into it. I practiced for around 2 years, got a very good amateur record, and I even played with the idea of dropping school to focus fully on boxing as my dad thought I could be very good at it.
“However boxing is a scary sport. When you watch from outside you get excited about it, but going into the ring is a completely different story. Once you are there, you start thinking that the other person wants to hurt you. The goal is always to knock out the person in front of you, or at least cause as much damage as possible… once that gets in your head, being in the ring is very scary. I also had a soft heart: after every fight I would always come out with remorse, especially if I knocked out someone. I enjoy the feeling and the adrenaline before jumping into the ring, but once I was in there and after the fight, I did not enjoy it as much. I eventually decided to not do it anymore.
“The last time I jumped into a ring, it was to do some sparring with one of my professors from Canada. I noticed some posters of boxing at his office and some gloves, so I asked him about it and then we agreed on having a "friendly" sparring. I ended up with a bruised eye and a bit of a headache the next day, he ended up with bloody nose and mouth. That was the last time I jumped into a ring.”
BC: “How did you get into running?”
AF: “I tried running when I was in high school. But I would usually finish in the last places and I didn't like that, so I gave it up. My dad used to run when he was younger, nothing very serious, he had a 10K PR of 40 minutes. But he always wanted me to run. To be honest, I never liked it too much. I was more into soccer and basketball back then. I signed up for 5K races from time to time but just for fun, nothing serious. When I finished my masters degree in Canada, and ended my soccer career, I started looking for some new activities. I lifted weights, but decided that the gym was not for me… I needed an outdoor activity. So I started attending the Nike Run Clubs in Toronto. I used to run 3-4 days a week and combine it with boxing or spin class, but little by little I started to get hooked into the sport and the community. I think one of the best parts of the sport is the community, and from there I just kept running more and more.”
BC: “Mexico has a strong culture of amateur running. And in California and the American West there are also many talented Chicano runners. Why does running draw in so many Mexican and Mexican-American athletes?"
AF: “Oh yeah. I think that is because we had a boom of amazing runners in the 1980's and 1990’s: the athletes coached by Rodolfo Gomez and Tadeus Kefka. Those runners are legendary in Mexico and they were very dominant in their time. The group included Dionicio Ceron (winner of London Marathon 3 times in a row), Andres Espinosa (2nd place in Boston and winner in the New York Marathon), German Silva (2 times winner of the New York marathon), Martin Pitayo (Chicago marathon winner), Halcon Garcia (New York Marathon winner), Arturo Barrios (former world-record holder in the 10,000 meters), Alejandro Cruz (Chicago Marathon winner). I think they gave running a lot of popularity in Mexico. Unfortunately nowadays we don't have as many runners as we used to, being Juan Luis Barrios our only really competitive athlete in the international stage. But I feel that in recent days the Born to Run book about the Tarahumaras in Mexico is making people wanting to run again in my country. People hears the stories of people from similar backgrounds being successful and they get excited and want to follow their steps.
BC: “What are your big running goals for 2018?”
AF: “I'm running Chicago and I would like to run under 2:35. So I'll be working hard towards that. I like the marathon, I feel that when I was younger I lacked discipline and consistency in all my sports: I would jump around and practice different sports at the same time. For the marathon you need to put all your attention and energies into it in order to perform well. That brings me the discipline I lacked when younger…that's why I like the marathon.”