San Fernando High Runners Medal

It was a hungry and tired but happy bunch of Tigers trudging toward the Santa Monica pier on Sunday, March 19.

They weren’t there for an afternoon shopping spree at the outdoor stores or to grab a bite at the latest hipsters’ haunts. Instead these 14 San Fernando High School students and their three instructors were coming to the end of the 32nd annual Los Angeles Marathon race, which had begun 26 miles earlier at Dodger Stadium near downtown Los Angeles.

And yes, all 14 students — Jennie Abaraca, Anthony Alfaro, Luis Almanza, sisters Brenda and Cynthia Guardado, Ricardo Marquez, Ivan Martinez, Jennifer Mejia, Nancy Mendez, Isaac Quiroz, Fernando Ramirez, Paul Ramirez (no relation), Natalie Vargas and John Villalvazo — completed the race, including the seven students running in their very first marathon.

“I’m so proud of them,” said Deo Jaravata, who along with Vilma Lopez and Earl Nino, were the San Fernando High School teachers that also ran and completed the race.

Jaravata, a math teacher who is also a race walker and has participated in 20 LA Marathons since 1996, had started with 40 interested students back in September through the charitable program Students Run LA, which helps provide materials for the seven months of training it takes to prepare novice runners for the daunting of goal of running a marathon. They started from scratch, building up the student’s strength and endurance over those seven months with 5K and 10K races, and a half-marathon (13.1 miles).

By the time the LA Marathon rolled around, Jaravata, Lopez and Nino had 14 runners ready to race.

While Jaravata had students post very respectable times — Almanza, (who is on the cross-country team) finished in 3:55 in his very first marathon — this was not about the clock. For the students, it was about setting a goal and accomplishing it, no matter how long it took and what aches and pains they would endure along the way.

No wonder they were all beaming with their medals around their necks back in school on Monday, March 20, despite some lingering soreness and stiffness.

“My friends told me I could do this so I thought, ‘why not,’” said Marquez, 18, a senior who has run the 800 and 1,500 meters events on the Tigers track team. This was his first marathon.

“When we got to 20 miles I did ‘hit the wall’” — referring to a level of tiredness that causes some runners to stop — “and thought ‘Oh, this is so painful.’ But I told myself I needed to finish this. And it was fun. But you get really happy when you’re done.”

And how Marquez he reward himself for finishing the race?

“I went home and passed out,” he said, laughing.

Vargas, 16, a sophomore, first did the training for and running in the marathon in 2015 as an eighth-grader. “I thought I was going to quit the second week practicing, “ she said. “But I didn’t. I kept pushing myself.

“The best thing is when you pass the finish line and get your medal. It’s an accomplishment. And I want to do it again. It’s something you want to keep doing until you can’t. But it’s something you have to want to do for yourself.”

Abarca, 17, a senior, first thought she wanted to join the cross-country team as a sophomore, but didn’t. Then a friend told her about Students Run LA and she decided to give it a try.

Sunday was her third LA marathon.

“The course was a little different this time…but it was a comfortable run because it wasn’t as hot this time,” she said. “That was a big difference.”

Abarca had to battle cramps in her half muscles toward the end of the 26.2 miles, but was determined to finish. She wants to run it again “if I have the chance. Maybe I’ll pay next year to do it again.”

Villalvazo, 18 a senior, has now run in four marathons. This one was special to him because he was in a motorcycle accident last year, hurt his back and had to stop two months into the training.

But it wasn’t; hard to get back  into the routine of preparing for the event.

“It’s about being consistent,” Villalvazo said. “I won’t say I’m the healthiest person when it came to eating and drinking enough water, but I always went to the practices, and always tried,” he said

One of the harder things to do, he said, is keep your mind occupied throughout the race, which can take some participants six hours or more to complete.

“The first time was a real challenge, because you start thinking ‘I don’t want to run anymore.’ But I learned to start thinking of things outside the running — what [school] assignments I had to do, other things I’d like to try, or run along with someone.”

This year he ran with music, listening to a mixture of hip-hop and country “with both high- and low-tempos, and I’d follow to the beat.”

All the way to the finish line.