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Desert Companion

Profile: The Next Race

aurelio_hererra_marathon_runner-0184.jpg

Marathon Runner
Photography by Christopher Smith

Aurelio Herrera is a man obsessed. It’s paying off.

Obsession is not always dramatic and sexy. It may also be, as in Aurelio Herrera’s case, quiet and methodical. Herrera, whose obsession is competitive running, walking, and cycling, clocks all his times on an old Casio watch, and then writes them down on a sheet of notebook paper taped to a cupboard door in his garage. Stacks of these sheets inside the cupboard constitute his training record for the last 30 years.

Here’s something curious about those 30 years: Herrera is 71. He didn’t just start recording his times at 41. That’s when he started running and cycling seriously for the first time. He began competing a decade later.

 “I always knew growing up that running was good and healthy and something you could do anywhere,” he says, “but competing wasn’t possible in the village where I grew up” (Matamoros, in Puebla, Mexico).

It was a dream that would have to wait until middle age. But for someone who got a late start, he’s done all right. A shelf in Herrera’s garage, along with a 10-foot-long row of arm-like brackets, hold the 150 or so trophies and medals he’s won during the past 20 years — everything from a 5k benefiting a regional Utah fire department to the Senior Olympics.

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That’s the event he was training for when I met him. He was heading to St. George on October 8 to compete in the 3,000-meter, 1,500-meter, and 1,000-meter race-walk events, and the 3,000-meter, 1,500-meter, and 800-meter runs.

Discipline is common among athletes in training. But in the case of Herrera, one senses that it’s a way of life. In 26 years as a busser at Fuego restaurant in Fiesta Henderson, for instance, he’s never called in sick. Not once.

 “Aurelio is without a doubt the finest team member I’ve managed in 20 years of food-service management,” Fuego’s Quinn Kuehn-Jones says. “He does exactly what he’s supposed to do every minute of every day. He runs laps around people half his age.”

Nice pun. “Yeah, but I mean it literally,” Kuehn-Jones continues. “He has a lot of hustle. He does twice what two other people do, and he does it in half the time.” How is this possible? “Organization. He knows exactly what he’s going to do with every second. If you watch him in the dining room, he’s very efficient, never backtracking, never wasting a movement.”

This is reflected in his daily schedule, too. Herrera gets home from work around 11:30 p.m. He sleeps for a few hours and gets up at 3:30 a.m. By 4 o’clock, he’s on the road — either running, walking, or biking. When he gets home, he eats breakfast, showers, and goes back to sleep for a few hours before returning to work in the afternoon. On biking days, which are once a week on a day when he’s not working, he rides from his home in Henderson out to Red Rock and back. This schedule applies to every week, all year. Nothing interferes.

“He’s very strict about it,” says Rosana Romero, a Station Casinos employee who translated from his native Spanish to English. “He wants to be alone so he can concentrate. He likes to do everything by himself.”

Friends and family don’t go with him to races, by his choice. He has no one holding signs or cheering for him at the finish line. He only talks about his event results with coworkers if they ask. When I wonder why, Herrera shrugs, as if it’s irrelevant. His best memories, he says, are of his extraordinary times — a 50-mile bike ride in two hours and seven minutes, for example.

“He’s very solitary,” Romero says. “All his life is based on the next race.”

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