Stories Of Americans Passionately At Play

"Sport, at its best, at its most human, is able to inspire an innocence and joy that is unique to each of us."
~ Richard Corman ~
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Conversations With…Marathoner Kimberly Delafuente

Wings For Life World Run participant Kimberly Delafuente talks about her evolution from dedicated non-runner status into someone who plans vacations around races—and how a 14-year-old marathoner and a grand piano play a role.

For every serious runner, there is a distinctly different story behind how they came to embrace their sport. There’s one constant, though—once they’re hooked, they’re hooked…and continually on the lookout for new opportunities to experience both the athletic and the social benefits of a race. In the case of Southern Californian Kimberly Delafuente, that search led to the Red Bull Wings For Life World Run, a simultaneous global celebration of running, and a race with a twist—a finish line that chases you, instead of the other way around. Just a few days before the massive worldwide event, I had a chance to capture Kimberly’s thoughts on a lifestyle of running…

So you are obviously a serious runner. How many marathons or events do you run in a year, typically?

You know, it actually depends. I actually thought about this this morning, the number of races I’ve run so far this year, because, uh, gosh…this year…boy…I’m going to say this year I’m going to be running probably ten to fifteen races.  All marathons, half-marathons, some combination?  Do you do triathlons?  I do not do triathlons. I have experience in duathlons, but not triathlons. My thing on that is that I just want to concentrate on one discipline. I want to concentrate on becoming a better and faster runner, and then after that I can reincorporate bicycling and maybe get into swimming. But that’s down the line.

And where did you…How did you get your start running, and where does your passion for running come from?

You know, that’s interesting, too, because I used to hate running so much. I was not athletic in high school or college, but I got into cycling for a while. And I have a friend here at my work who recruited me into doing a triathlon relay. So I did this relay with him as a cyclist. And then he said, ‘I want you to enter a duathlon with me.’ And I said, ‘I’m not running.’ And he said, ‘Of course you can run.’ So he got me on a treadmill and just kind of observed my running. And you know, I felt tired, but he said, ‘But you’re talking right now, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Well, let’s get you into a 5k.’ And I did my first 5k race probably two weeks after the day that he put me on the treadmill.

And then did you just love the sport?

It was a progression at that time. I did some 5k’s and then I worked toward a 10k. This was all in parallel with training for the sprint duathlon that I registered for. And probably, cause I picked up running in June, 2008, and then I ran my first half-marathon in 2010—that was Long Beach.

It actually took me quite a few years before I finally said, ‘Oh yes, I am a runner.’ Even after I started running half-marathons I wouldn’t go around telling people because they would say, ‘Oh, you’re a runner.’ And I would say, ‘No, no, no. I’m not a runner. I’m just somebody who runs. To me there was a distinction between somebody who just happened to do races and somebody who identifies as a runner, and it took me a long time to identify that way.

Was it a specific event that caused you to allow yourself to make that leap into calling yourself a runner?

I think it was, um, I finally got around to training for a full marathon and I used to go around telling people, ‘I wouldn’t train for this distance; I wouldn’t train for this distance’ and  finally I bit the bullet and signed up for a full marathon. And I think it was around then that I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to be crazy enough to train for something this distance I guess I am a runner.’ I also volunteer for an organization, I don’t know if you’ve heard of Students Run L.A.—they have a really big presence at the L.A. Marathon. Because this organization trains students in disadvantaged  areas to train and run in the L.A. Marathon. And it really builds their self-esteem and their motivation to succeed in their life. Cause if, you know, you figure if you can get a 14-year-old to run the L.A. Marathon probably, it probably instills in them fairly early on that they’re capable of doing anything. And I was actually, there was a pilot program one year where they bussed a bunch of us to Mile 22 late in the day to assist any remaining SRLA students to the finish. So I run with somebody for four miles to the finish line. And, so here I was with this 14-year old girl who is finishing her first marathon, and I was embarrassed to say—actually I never told her—that I had never run a full marathon before. And I’m thinking, ‘You know what, if these kids can run a full marathon, what is stopping me from doing it?  And what was your first full marathon? What was the location?  I ran in Ventura in 2013. That was their inaugural race—the inaugural full marathon.

This is obviously a big part of your life nowAnd you’re saying that, prior to biking, you never really considered yourself very athletic?

No, not at all.

And so what would you say motivated you to become athletic, or was it just kind of an evolutionary thing?

It might have been an evolution. Definitely, it keeps me fit. It helps me from moving up in dress size. Keeps me healthy. Provides a reason for me to not let myself go, as they say…One of the things that I love, not just about running, but being part of a group. I only just joined my  particular running group last year. Although it just kind of emphasizes my realization about taking part in running is that everybody has differing reasons for being out on the course, but in the end it’s your same struggle, going toward the same goal. And when you get to the finish line there’s this great feeling of accomplishment. You might feel it within yourself, but me, when I see it in other people, it just makes me really happy.

What’s the fondest memory you have of a race?

Oh…my gosh… There’s a few…well, there’s actually one that’s going to be my fondest, right now. I just came back from the Big Sur International Marathon. I didn’t run the marathon—I was part of a relay. They assigned me the hardest leg. Leg three is about 7.2 miles, but it goes up this hill, which you climb seven hundred feet over the course of two miles. It wasn’t that big of a deal to me, because I was just starting my leg on this hill, whereas this was the halfway point of the full marathon. I’m sure after you’ve run twelve to thirteen miles and you see this big old hill ahead of you…a little bit daunting. But they had a taiko drum corps at the base of the hill. And so that was really cool to listen to because it must be really encouraging, just hearing this ‘boom, boom, boom’ of the drums. And you can hear it going probably almost a mile in. I could hear it as I was going up the hill. And as I was cresting this hill, I could hear the sounds of a piano in the distance. Because at the end of this bridge—there’s this famous bridge near Big Sur—and you’re supposed to cross over this bridge and there’s a grand piano there and this pianist, I’m presuming hired by the marathon organizers, you know, he plays piano all day long.  Is it kind of soothing piano, or is it like, rollicking?  I think it was more…it was almost classical. He may change the tempo depending upon…but, I mean, it just sounded….there was this moment of tranquility I felt, even as I was still trying to get over this hill. And it actually made me think, ‘I’ve got to do this full marathon at some point.’  What a great visual that must be.  They discourage you from listening, you know, from having headphones during this race. Actually, most races do, but Big Sur really says…they don’t ban it, but they really rather that you not have headphones on, for safety reasons. So I figured, ‘Well, then I won’t run with music, because maybe I need to enjoy the scenery.’ And it’s true, because it’s beautiful. You’re running north on Highway One. It’s quiet. You’re away from the city, obviously. And between the taiko drum corps that I got to run past, and the grand piano, and a couple bands, it’s just quiet, and you’re just running through nature. And I just thought, ‘This is how running should be.’ Hmmm. I still have the visual of—and I have no idea what he was dressed in—but I have this visual of this guy in…  He was dressed in a tux.  That’s exactly the way I saw him, in a white tux, sitting there playing a grand piano as people ran by. That’s just perfect.

Would you say that this is your favorite pastime; your favorite use of your disposable time and income?

Yes. By far. In fact, I plan my vacations around running. Whenever I think about somewhere I’m going to go, I try to look up what races are going to be in the area for the timeframe I’m going to be there. I’m trying to remember the last time I went somewhere for vacation and there wasn’t a run involved.

Would you say that you’re unique in that regard?

I don’t think so. There’s plenty of people who do that in the running community who actually travel…in fact, I don’t even think I’m hard core, next to them. There’s clubs where their aim is to run these races in all fifty states. I just found out about this one particular group, and it’s not necessarily an organization, kind of more like a bragging rights thing, where you say, ‘Oh, I ran a race…’ let’s say it’s all fifty states. Then you can brag about it and say you joined the ‘Fifty States Club’. And so I just found out about this club where they’re running all seven continents, because there is a marathon on Antarctica. I believe there’s a three-year wait to get in, and you’re gonna pay on the order of, like $12,000; but if it’s on your bucket list, people will do that.

Let’s talk about goals. First of all, for the Wings For Life Run, do you consider this a run or a race, personally? How do you feel about having no finish line?

I think for the…where this fits on my schedule, it’s a run for me. But I think, you know, my friend was talking about it, the gimmick of the catcher car. I think the minute you know…once you realize that catcher car is behind you, you’re going to make this into a race. You don’t want that guy to catch you. It’s going to be a different mentality then. No, I mean, it’s different, and it’s the same. When I see the finish line, or…I wear a GPS watch, so I kind of know where I am on the course. And probably by a half mile to the finish, I think about how much fuel I have left in the tank. Usually in a race I don’t have any fuel left. I’m just trying to finish. But then, maybe with less than a half-mile to go, and/or I see the finish line—it’s in my sights—I will sprint. I will exhaust whatever I have left to finish really hard. So…  Are you anticipating that when you are aware of the catcher car behind  you, that that’s pretty much going to kick in in this particular instance?  It will for me. I know it will, because [laughs] from my perspective, how can you not

So have you gone onto the website and done the calculator? Do you have any numerical goals for the event? Or are you just going to go out and do your thing?

I’m pretty certain I can cover a 10k distance before the catcher car comes near me.  So that’s your goal?  Yes.  Beautiful. Good luck.  Thank you very much. I mean, I hope I can do a bit more than that, but considering that this is this weekend, and I just came off…so when I told you I went to the Big Sur International Marathon, and I was…I had the bracelet to do one of the relay legs, but after I handed off the bracelet, I took a short break and then I continued running, because they allow people to do multiple legs if you want. I wasn’t scored for the fourth leg, because I didn’t have the bracelet on me, yet it was just my personal thing. I just wanted to enjoy the coastline some more, and just keep running. So I covered 16 miles on Sunday.

What are your thoughts on just kind of the global enormity of this thing – that you’re going to be running with 90,000 people around the world at precisely the same time?

I think that is really interesting. I don’t know that it will hit me yet, because…I don’t know what the setup will be in Santa Clarita, if they’ll have any big screens that show that, oh by the way, all these other people are running. Presumably if I have cell reception, after I’m finished I’ll probably send some photos to my friend in Bratislava, and say ‘Hey, I’m over here…’ and he’ll respond and say ‘Yay!’ That’d be really cool.

Do you think, in your opinion, that this is just kind of a single thing, or do you think that truly international simultaneous competition is something that’s maybe the ‘next thing’ or that there’s some legs to that outside of just this particular event? 

Boy, that’s going to be hard to answer. I think that is something that could maybe unite a continent like Europe. I think it would take a little bit longer and maybe a little bit more marketing to get that to take hold here stateside. I’ve traveled enough recently to make a conclusion that we’re still really insular here. I don’t think a lot of people, even in my community, care too much about the aspect of running at the same time as a bunch of other people. I think you have to be of a certain…I think you have to be fairly adventurous to let that sink in. I mean, I’ve tried to advertise that to some of the people here. The only thing I can think of is, what? but ‘I have to be in Santa Clarita by 4:00.’  Well, that’s a pretty sobering time, so I can see how people could struggle to get past that.

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