By Rich Sands, @sands
NEW YORK (01-Nov) -- Juan Luis Barrios has run the marathon distance six times before, but the Mexican veteran is approaching this Sunday's TCS New York City Marathon as if it was his first. "I am thinking of this as a new chapter for me," he told Race Results Weekly here today near the race's Central Park finish line. Reflecting on a successful training camp with his training partner Bernard Lagat in Flagstaff, Ariz., he added: "I feel like I've cleared everything from the past and am starting over again. It's like a debut marathon."
Barrios at the 2015 Pan American Games - File Photo
The 35-year-old Barrios is one of Mexico's most decorated track and field stars, a two-time Olympic finalist in the 5000 meters who won his eighth career gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games in July, taking the 10,000 meter title. He made his marathon debut in 2011 in Torreón, while continuing to focus on the oval, lowering his personal bests in the 5000m (13:09.84) and 10,000m (27:28.82). Following next year's Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, where be expects to run the 10,000m, Barrios plans to leave the track and concentrate on the 42.195 kilometer distance, with the aim of running at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
The Mexico City native has spent the last 10 weeks at high altitude in Flagstaff, training for New York with Lagat. They share a coach, James Li, who has been Barrios's primary mentor since 2012. Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist and one of the most accomplished 1500m and 5000m runners of the 21st century, is making his marathon debut on Sunday at age 43. They ran together at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain, last March, with Barrios finishing in 32nd, one spot behind his American friend. It wouldn't be surprising to see the duo follow a similar strategy on Sunday.
Barrios, who previously ran New York in 2011 and 2015, has benefited from Lagat's abundant motivation and positive approach to competition. He has also relied on Abdi Abdirahman for specific tips on the marathon. Abdirahman, a four-time Olympian for the United States, has also been based in Flagstaff this fall, but he works with another coach, so only trains occasionally with Barrios and Lagat. Still, they socialize often and Abdirahman ---at age 41 and with numerous marathons under his belt-- has provided a wealth of perspective for Barrios, including tips on fueling, hydration and pre-race tapering. (Abdirahman has been the top American finisher at the last two New York City Marathons.)
"Abdi is like a brother," Barrios says. "Between Abdi and Bernard and me, we are a really good team." Barrios has charted much of their training, including several runs at 40-K (24.8 miles) and longer, on his Instagram account (@darth.barrios, which reflects his love for Star Wars).
Under the guidance of Li, Barrios set his current personal best, 2:10:55, at the Tokyo Marathon in February. He feels that if the conditions are right on Sunday, that could go down significantly, despite the fact that New York's course is not known to be exceptionally fast. (Geoffrey Mutai's event record 2:05:06 is the slowest of the six races that make up the Abbott World Marathon Majors.)
The key, Barrios says, is the competition. "I have the Kenyans and the Ethiopians here, so if I go with those guys then maybe it's better for me to do the PB," he says of the field, which includes defending champion Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya and Ethiopians Lelisa Desisa, a two-time Boston Marathon champ, Tamirat Tola, the 2017 IAAF World Championships silver medalist, and Shura Kitata, the runner-up at this year's London Marathon.
Barrios' wife, Mahelet Jimenez, has joined him in New York for her first marathon. A former international competitor in the modern pentathlon, Jimenez will be hoping to run 3:20 on Sunday. "I don't know why she's motivated to try a marathon, because it's crazy," Barrios says with a laugh. "She's not a professional, but she's really serious."
The couple has a 9-year-old daughter. She didn't join her parents in the Big Apple, but Barrios feels like he has just about every other member of his inner circle here. "We are starting like a team," he says. "In other years I was here alone, but now it's with my training partner and I have a feeling it will be different. I really feel like I have the support of all of my team."
He hopes it will kick start the next phase of his career. "Everything about the last three months has been about this marathon here in New York," he says. "This is an amazing experience to be here, because it's the start of the way to the Olympic Games in 2020."