It’s said you can’t run from your past.
Nothing says you can’t run to it.
Which is one of the primary reasons Chris Chavez keeps going.
On Sunday, Santa Fe’s Chavez will run for the 30th time in the Duke City Marathon. Nobody has run in more – nor could they.
This is the event’s 30th annual.
“When I was 15 years into it, I thought, ‘This is pretty cool. I’ve got a nice streak going.’ There were times, I thought it would be my last year. But then the next year, when the marathon started coming up, I thought, ‘Life just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t show up.’ I was afraid I’d start having withdrawal symptoms if I didn’t show up.”
So, show up he has, ever since he was 24 years old.
At 54, Chavez says the event – and running – mean as much to him as ever.
But for Chavez, it’s more than competition. It’s more than exercise, a runner’s high or a hobby. He says it takes him to a place his ancestors once could have been.
A family research buff, Chavez has traced his roots to the area back to the 1500s.
“When you’re running, sometimes there is a lot of soul-searching going on,” says Chavez, who has worked for the U.S. Forest Service the last 20 years and is the regional land surveyor.
“Many times, when I’m running along the river or other areas here, I think ‘this could be the same place my ancestors were.’ I think of their trials and tribulations. I know from some of the history, my family settled in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I guess, it’s the vibration, if that’s the right word. I can feel it sometimes. I get engulfed in that. I feel a lot of emotions.”
Chavez, who is scheduled to speak at a UNM history class Monday about homesteaders, says his family sailed from Llerena, Spain, to Mexico around 1575, traveled the El Camino Real route north and settled just north of Española in 1600.
He says he first learned of his roots from his grandfather, Mariano Chavez, in the mid-1980s. He has been researching since.
“Knowing your family history gives you a sense of direction,” he says. “How do you know where to go until you know where you’ve been?”
Chavez has been just about everywhere in New Mexico – and much of Colorado – during his running career.
A 1977 graduate of Santa Fe High and 1984 graduate of New Mexico State, Chavez started running after his older sister, Margaret Chavez, became a marathon runner.
“I wasn’t in sports in high school. Chris wasn’t either,” says Margaret, 58, who lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. “I started running in the mid-1970s and I wanted to get Chris involved. It didn’t take much to convince him. He took to it right away, and he hasn’t stopped since.
“I keep telling him, he needs to get some other hobbies, get a life,” Margaret says with a laugh. “It’s just amazing he has kept going.”
Chris smiles. “She does tell me that I need to get a life,” he says. “But this keeps me going. It’s funny, because she’s the one who got me into it with a 10k in 1978. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Chavez says he has run in more than 100 marathons during his life, and has kept the T-shirt from every event.
He hasn’t had the fame of many elite runners, but he’s gained the admiration of the running community around the Southwest – and much of the country.
“Everyone who runs in these parts knows Chris,” says Margaret. “He is modest about it, but he has trained so many runners. He is responsible for a lot of people entering races, and for them smiling at the finish line.”
Margaret says one of those he helped grin was his ex-wife, Erica Larson Baron. Larson Baron (then just Larson) and Chris met as members of the Santa Fe Striders running club. Larson, a former college runner for Marquette, eventually won the Pikes Peak Marathon five times – more than any woman in history – and other marathons.
Chavez takes no credit.
“I don’t want to say I trained her,” Chris says. “We just started running together after we met.”
Larson Baron, who works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, won her Pikes Peak titles between 1999-2004.
Chris’ lone marathon victory was at Bandelier in 2000. But while he has never won at Pikes Peak or the Duke City, he has certainly made his mark at each – and elsewhere.
“I’ve run countless miles with this guy over 15 years, all over the state,” says 62-year-old Vinny Kelley, a New England native who lives in Albuquerque. “He’s one of the premier mountain runners in the Southwest. He’s a guy who knows all the hard-to-find-out-things about back country, because he’s a surveyor. He has surveyed all these incredible trails, and knows every nook and cranny.
“The year I got third at the Duke City, I think 2007, I’m pretty positive it’s because I trained with him all summer long. We were really up high a lot.”
Chavez says he’s run a combined 36 competitions at the Pikes Peak, which is a two-day event. The first day features the 13.32-mile Ascent, which is up the mountain to a height of 14,000 feet. The second day is the 26.3 marathon, which is run up and down the mountain. On 12 occasions, Chavez has run both races on the same weekend.
“It is really a different marathon,” Chavez says. “You’re already tired as it is, there’s no oxygen and there’s weather; I’ve seen lightning and storms. But there’s no taxi ride out, only search and rescue.
“Two people have died during races I’ve been in from heart attacks. You see plaques along the way of people who died on the mountain.”
But as much pride as Chavez takes in his Pikes Peak challenges, he says the Duke City is closest to his heart.
“There are just such a lot of memories for me at the Duke City, and so much of it is cultural,” he says. “If I ever got injured or something where I couldn’t run in it, it would be tough psychologically. So I guess I’m going to keep doing it until my body and my motivation say, ‘Sorry, but no more.’
“I hope that never happens.”