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For its in-person return after COVID-19 led to the cancellation of last year’s race, the 2021 New York City Marathon will look different for many reasons. In its 50th year, this year’s race will have a much smaller field (about 33,000, down from its typical 60,000, which normally makes it the largest marathon in the world), along with various health and safety protocols in place. It will also have two joint clubs, Latinos Run and Latinas Run, with a significantly larger number of runners who received non-complimentary invitational entries in an effort to highlight one of the largest minority groups in New York City and around the country.
According to club founder Maria Solis Belizaire, 43, who was born in the Bronx and is of Belizean, Mexican, and Puerto Rican descent, clubs registered with New York Road Runners are normally given about three to six non-complimentary entries each year, which she distributes on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, Solis Belizaire was encouraged to submit the names of everyone who expressed interest and was pleased to see that nearly all of them got cleared from a waitlist, making for more than 100 runners (and more than half of them being women, at that) representing the club and several of the 33 countries that make up Latin America. The joint clubs will be one of the largest represented clubs at this year’s race.
Solis Belizaire, who divides her time between New York, Houston, and Orlando, created Latinos Run after stepping back into long-distance running in her early 30s. She hadn’t participated in the sport much since her high school track and field days growing up in South Florida, where she says she didn’t have much guidance on how to train properly and wasn’t one of the fastest runners in her school’s long-distance events.
After completing a couple of NYRR races, a friend convinced Solis Belizaire to complete NYRR’s 9+1 program to qualify for the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon, which was her first marathon. As her participation in the New York City running scene increased, she noticed that while there were certainly fellow Latino runners out there, there weren’t any existing clubs or teams encouraging or promoting Latino representation within the sport. After asking around and confirming that no such club existed, she purchased the domain latinosrun.com and set forth creating a national organization and platform for Latino runners. The clubs aim to inspire everyone from beginners to advanced athletes to celebrate the diversity of the Latino community, which has largely been ignored within the health, fitness, and running industries.
“I spent a year or two asking people to help me start this group with me, and to be honest, people, even mostly Latinos themselves, were kind of throwing shade at it and throwing out stereotypes about how Latinos are fat and don’t run or exercise,” she says. “But I knew this wasn’t true; I live in New York, which is such a diverse city, and I would see other Latinos at the races.”
But Solis Belizaire wanted to see more Latinos represented, and so she created Latinos Run with a friend who worked as a running coach and personal trainer in 2016, having just lost her job and needing something to focus her energy on. She was fairly certain she didn’t want to work for anyone else, so she set forth with making a business out of Latinos Run, which has gone on to establish several successful partnerships with running and fitness brands and organizations.
Getting Each Other to the Finish Line
Since Latinos Run was originally created for both men and women, Solis Belizaire later launched Latinas Run in 2018; there was interest from women wanting more of a “safe space” to run together and enjoy the freedom to have intimate and personal conversations. Since 2016, the clubs have grown in size from about 15 people to more than 25,000 community members within the two groups combined, with local chapters hosting races, social runs, and events in more than 40 U.S. cities.
Although the groups have seen growth in engagement for several years now, Solis Belizaire believes the social connections they’ve fostered, even online through their social media platforms, were especially pivotal in helping people maintain a sense of community during the COVID-19 pandemic. That likely played a role in NYRR being willing to allow more members to enter the marathon this year.
“I’m most looking forward to meeting so many of our club ambassadors and runners that I’ve communicated with for so many years in person for the first time at the New York City Marathon,” she says. “It’s so exciting to see the diversity Latinos bring showcased both in the neighborhoods and towns the race runs through [across the five boroughs,] as well as how it’s changed within the running space.”
Many participating Latinos Run and Latinas Run club members share that sentiment as well. Carmen Ludizaca, 37, a New Jersey–based runner who is originally from Ecuador, had been athletic for most of her life before moving to the U.S. with her family as a teenager. After suffering a brain aneurysm days before she was to begin competing on her high school track team, doctors wouldn’t clear her to play sports unless she wore a helmet, should she sustain a serious fall and hit her head.
Although she made quite an impressive recovery, Ludizaca didn’t resume running until nearly 15 years later, when she was in her 30s. When she told her doctor she wanted to run the 2018 New York City Marathon, he said she absolutely should not, unless, once again, she wore a helmet during the race. She finished in 4 hours and 53 minutes and, spoiler alert, didn’t wear the helmet. Ludizaca, a mother of three who works in data analytics and compliance, has since gone on to complete five more marathons and has even won several local races in the last few years while also bringing down her marathon times.
“My goal at New York is to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which would mean I would need to finish in around 3 hours and 30 minutes,” she says. “I want to take revenge on New York from 2018 [where I was on pace for a 3:35 finish and cramped up at around 20 miles]. I get up to train at 4 a.m. before my kids go to school and before work and am very motivated to go for it.”
For Violet Vasquez Rucci, 44, this year’s race will be special for several reasons. She not only broke her foot while training for the Boston Marathon (prior to its postponement) this past January, but she also recovered from myocarditis, which was a complication from having COVID-19 in July 2020. Vasquez Rucci, who lives in Chicago and has a marathon PR of 3:28 (set at the 2019 Berlin Marathon), was cleared to run Boston, which she found to be extra-challenging due to the humidity that made it harder for her to breathe.
“I’m hoping cooler temperatures in New York will help me and I’m hoping to run a sub-4,” she says.
For ZoilaBella Calo, 49, this year’s race will be her second New York City Marathon and fourth marathon overall. It will serve as a training run for the Rocky 50-Miler in Huntsville, Texas, in February, in honor of her 50th birthday. The race is also a personal celebration of community, as she found herself leaning heavily into the group’s online spaces during the pandemic.
“I love the positivity of the Latinos Run and Latinas Run groups, and the fact that Latinos have been coming out to this community and are being seen in the running world,” she says. “I’m so excited to be a part of such a huge group that will be cheering and lifting each other up at this year’s marathon.”
Zaida Espinoza, 45, who will be running her first marathon in New York, echoed that sentiment. Espinoza, a mother of three, is an army veteran living in Fort Drum, New York, who currently works as a personal trainer.
“I’ve known [Solis Belizaire] for a long time, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to run with this group, to raise awareness that we’re here together as a family and that we’re representing a community,” she says. “I’ve always wanted New York to be my first marathon, but training has been tough with the Canada[-style] winters we get up here, so I’m looking forward to just taking it all in and seeing my kids at the finish line.”
“The New York City Marathon is notoriously hard to get into, so the fact that [Solis Belizaire] was able to get that many entries and open up this opportunity to so many of us has been such a blessing,” adds Vanessa Recalde, 44, of New Jersey. “I’m excited to be a part of this group that’s going to stand out and I hope our presence will inspire other Latinos to get out there and do this too.”
Elizabeth Swaney, 37, represented Hungary in the 2018 Winter Olympics in freestyle skiing and currently does both Spanish- and English-language stand-up comedy, stunts, acting, and voiceover work.
“Training with a few different groups has helped me prepare for the race,” she says. “I’m hopeful I can run at least 13 seconds faster than my 4:00:12 marathon PR and run a sub-4.”
Marcherie Vazquez, 51, who works in communications and marketing in Texas, is another sub-4 hopeful.
“I lived in New York for many years and never got to run the New York City Marathon, so I’m very grateful for this opportunity through Latinas Run,” she says. “Especially during the pandemic, I really enjoyed keeping up with the social media posts and photos everyone shares, which often make me smile and laugh. It brings me joy to know that there are many Latinos like me keeping up with training during such a difficult time, finding ways to stay connected, and being grateful for the fact that we can run.”