On Saturday, September 12, early enough to still see the stars gleaming and the crickets chirping, Paso Robles native Pepe Gonzales ran a marathon throughout Paso Robles, participating in the Virtual Boston Marathon. Gonzales, who graduated as a Bearcat in 2011, created his own 26.2-mile course throughout his hometown with the finish line putting him right in the heart of the city at downtown park.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Boston Marathon, which is regarded as one of the nation’s most prestigious distance events, was postponed then forced to move virtual. The marathon brings in thousands of runners from across the globe, and with around 15 thousand entries in 2020, they had no choice but to let the runners choose their courses in the name of safety.
Gonzales had plans to attend the marathon in Boston and, despite the postponement and eventual virtual pivot, continued his training in the hopes that it would culminate in something worthwhile.
“There was about 15,470 runners that completed it,” Gonzales said. “You could do your own course, though. Anywhere, on the treadmill, wherever. A lot of people like the downhill and getting a nice fast time, but for me, I wanted to make it more challenging, so I put in some hills starting from Estrella Road.”
The former Bearcat runner is now a marathon expert with his most recent test marking his 17th completed race but began as someone who likes a much shorter race.
“My dad started me out running at age three and coach Ivan Huff, the cross country and track coach, he got me into 5k’s and 10 k’s, you know middle distance,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t really plan on running marathons after high school up until I met one of my teachers, her name was Miss Velva Hakim, she was my English teacher, and I remember I would see all her bibs on the wall. I talked to her about it, and she told me she did all these marathons all around the county and the world, and that inspired me to run marathons.”
Over the years, he has now competed all across California, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Ojai, SLO, and Bakersfield where he had his top finish in second place. This year was supposed to be his first race outside of the State.
On the morning of September 12, Gonzales started in the pitch black with the National Anthem blasting, the Leann Rimes version he made sure to clarify, and started on his two hours plus voyage through the streets of Paso Robles.
“I was pretty nervous. I didn’t know what to expect,” Gonzales said. “I didn’t know if there was going to be any deer or any animals out there. At the end, after running the whole thing, there was no deer or nothing.”
While he was the only competitor, he was never alone. His family led the way in their truck, providing light and alerting those sharing the road that there was a runner on the way. Gonzales’ girlfriend went out on the route and put up the same mileage indicators that would have been in Boston. His extended family was positioned at strategic spots along the way to keep him motivated.
Two hours and 49 minutes after he started, Gonzales pushed through the finish line, breaking the tape his family had held tight in anticipation, and the celebration began.
The results have come in, and the Paso Robles native finished 180th out of over 15,000 runners and would have been several spots higher if it were not for people choosing to run their virtual marathons on the treadmill or on a downhill.
Next year, Gonzales hopes to be able run the Boston Marathon again, but this time with skyscrapers indicating the way.