Going high, going far, wearing blue

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Alberto Benitez ’86 proudly shows off his finisher’s medal.

Mornings in Mexico City, says Alberto Benitez ’86, are surprisingly chilly. But if you’re about to run 26 miles and change – breathing air that is thin with altitude and thick with pollution – you welcome the cool.

The Mexico City Marathon is not for the faint of heart.

And for Benitez, a South Buffalo native who has set out to run a marathon in each of the places he has lived, it was only when the sun burned through the clouds in late morning that his legs started to cramp and the going really got tough. But he soldiered on, and Benitez finished the race – his fourth marathon – in a respectable 4:50:29.

And he did it all wearing a University at Buffalo singlet, flying the UB colors every step of the way.

“I’m into symbols of life, and I’m into honoring whatever I’ve done and whoever has helped me along the way,” he says. “There are certain places that I take with me, and I still take the Buffalo way of life with me. UB specifically – I did my undergraduate and law degrees there, and without UB I wouldn’t be sitting here in Foggy Bottom in D.C. (where he is a professor of clinical law and director of the Immigration Clinic at George Washington University Law School). I like to show the colors. And I assumed that I would be the only person running with a University at Buffalo shirt.”

So did anyone comment on his hometown connection?

“When you’re running past people, if they talk to you, it’s almost surreal,” Benitez says. “I’m not quite sure they knew exactly. I did get a few smiles from people, and I think one gentleman may have given me a thumbs-up.”

Mexico City is on his list because he has taught at two universities there, and because his parents were Mexico natives. He has already run in Buffalo, Chicago and Houston; still to go are Las Vegas, D.C. and Buenos Aires.

It’s difficult to train for a high-altitude race in Alexandria, Va., elevation 39 feet. But Benitez and his wife, Janice, arrived in Mexico City on Thursday for the race on Sunday, Aug. 25, and he did a lot of brisk walking and breathing exercises to acclimate his lungs for running at 7,400 feet. “Curiously, my breathing was fine,” he says. “I did have issues with my legs – they were beginning to cramp up, and I had some tightness. I don’t know if that was related to the altitude or the age.”

Of the race itself, he says, “It’s a very Mexican marathon.” That means crowds of people shouting Vamos, vamos and live music along the route ranging from mariachi to samba, banda to rock.

The route passed the U.S. embassy, and Benitez jogged over to its marathon booth, staffed by embassy employees. “Buffalo, New York!” he shouted above the crowd.

A little bit of home, far from home.

The Mexico City Marathon is not for the faint of heart.

Benitez describes his experience (click on image to see larger photo):

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7:00 a.m. at the Palacio de Bellas Artes: Fifteen minutes to the start. I mentioned to Janice that she likely never thought marrying me would mean being in downtown Mexico City at 7:00 on a Sunday morning to watch me run.

10:15 a.m., Paseo de la Reforma. I hurt my right knee in Chapultepec Park but my cousin-in-law Hilda and her magic fingers rescued me.

10:15 a.m. at the Paseo de la Reforma: I hurt my right knee in Chapultepec Park but my cousin-in-law Hilda and her magic fingers rescued me.

10:35 a.m., Avenida Chapultepec. My cousin Blackie. J lurks in the background.

10:35 a.m. at the Avenida Chapultepec: My cousin Blackie cheers me on.

12:15 p.m., the Olympic Stadium. I have just entered (at right) and I see the finish line, my finisher's medal, and lots of beef and multiple mojitos.

12:15 p.m. at the Olympic Stadium: I have just entered (at right) and see the finish line, my finisher's medal, and multiple mojitos.

12:30 p.m. This bad boy is mine!

12:30 p.m.: This bad boy is mine!