Gloria Marble and Kathy Contreras were easy to spot among the crowd. Their faces painted a la “calaca” (skull) and with matching grey, black and white tank tops highlighted by red roses – like the ones in their hair – they were the perfect embodiment of fitness and style.
It was a style that fit right in with the theme of the Providence Holy Cross Healthy San Fernando Día de los Muertos 5K, held Oct. 27 in the City of San Fernando.
“I’m crazy and we need to get into the spirit, and this is Día de los Muertos,” said Contreras of their outfits, which they bought online.
It was their first time participating in the race, and they said they both loved it.
“This is a great combination. (You run and) it’s a celebration of our loved ones who have died,” said Contreras, a Carson resident who joined her friend Marble, from Moorpark, in traveling to the Valley.
They were not the only ones from out of town doing the run or the only ones with painted faces or special outfits. It was a common theme among the more than 1,000 people who woke up early that Saturday and proved they were very much alive as they took part in an athletic event that mixes sports, culture and tradition.
There was a heady mixture of participants — young and old, solo entries, couples and even entire families — running and walking individually or in groups of three for the relay, all pounding the pavement in a circuit around the park and earning accolades from their fellow runners. There was a medal for all those who completed the course.
A total of 1,200 people registered for the 5K, now in its fifth year, a record turnout for an event that keeps growing in popularity.
The race is part of The Healthy San Fernando! Campaign, a collaborative effort by the City of San Fernando, Providence Holy Cross Medical Center, San Fernando Community Health Center, Valley Care Community Consortium, California State University Northridge (CSUN), and Kaiser Permanente to increase public awareness of obesity-related diseases while educating the community on the prevention of such diseases through healthy eating and active living.
CSUN is part of the campaign through the free exercise classes they offer at several parks throughout the Valley, including Recreation Park in San Fernando and Lanark Park in Canoga Park.
The first individual race began around 8 a.m. at San Fernando Recreation Park, followed by the Relay race where groups of three took turns going around the circuit for one lap.
Gabriela Rojas said she’s part of the exercise classes offered at Lanark Park. That’s where she found out about the race and convinced her husband, Cristobal Garcia, and 10-year-old daughter Maria, to form her relay team. It was their first time taking part in the event.
“In my youth, I did run in some events like this, but it’s been 20 years since then,” Cristobal said. However, Cristobal said he and the family try to keep an active lifestyle. “We go out walking three times a week.”
“This is great. It looks really good,” said Rojas, watching the sea of participants eager to start the relay race.
Vicky Alvarez, Maria Rodriguez and Virginia Ureno take part in the exercise classes at San Fernando Recreation Park. Having the race here motivated them to participate for the first time.
“We do this to stay healthy and keep ourselves well,” Alvarez said. “With age, you have to exercise to prevent diseases.”
For the Reyes family, who reside in Sylmar, it was a chance to bond as a family as they helped form two relay teams.
“We’re doing it just to have fun. We’ve done other (races) like the breast cancer awareness one,” said Rosa Reyes, who brought three generations of her family to the race: son Noah, 5, her sister Sonia, and niece Xitllali, 9, as well as her mother, Leticia.
“It’s a good activity for the kids,” she said.
That was the same thought Jose Sandoval had in bringing daughters Victoria, 10 and Carolina, 8, to form his relay team.
It was the second year the San Fernando Valley resident took part.
“This is to motivate [his daughters] to keep a healthy life,” Sandoval said, “and to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. It’s a productive time to spend with your kids.”
“The atmosphere is very nice, very healthy,” he said of the race.“[And] Exercise is very important.”
Dr. Bernard Klein, chief executive of Providence Holy Cross, agrees.
“Our mission is to create a healthier community and I can’t think of a better way to do that than participating in this wonderful 5k relay run, walk,” he said before the first children’s race began.
San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin, applauded the turnout.
“This is such a great event and it keeps growing and growing,” she said.
Altars and Culture
Not everything was about sweat and running shoes.
After the race, participants had the chance to view altars created at the park in honor of loved ones. Other displays were put together to show concern for the plight currently faced by immigrants.
Many people had spent the night at the park constructing those altars in an event that began Friday afternoon, before the movie “Coco” was shown on a big screen at the park.
There was also chalk art, face painting, food, music and dance performances, including a samba troupe that taught people how to move to the Brazilian rhythm.