Ernesto Garcia: Born to Run

Ernesto Garcia has set the bar high — he plans to run one marathon in each of the 50 U.S. states, plus Washington, D.C. Although he’s been a marathon runner for over 20 years, he set the goal of running in every state just a couple of years ago, and, as of last weekend, can now check 10 states off his list. 

A modest, good-humored, hard working, 54-year-old busboy at Duke’s Malibu restaurant, his quest began after the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon. “I was training very hard after the bombing,” he said. 

Duke’s sponsored his ambitious endeavor with a donation of $1,500 to participate in the Boston Marathon in 2014. He used the money for travel expenses, a uniform and new running shoes. 

“I’m broke already,” Garcia laughed. “Now, I’m doing the whole thing by myself. I’m working two jobs to cover expenses, plus my car insurance and mortgage payment. I also have a part-time job at the Stinking Rose restaurant, which is shutting down in April because the lease is up.”

Garcia has worked at what is now Duke’s through all of its incarnations since 1991 — including when it was Charlie Brown’s and the Malibu Sea Lion. It was shortly after beginning his employment there that Garcia first developed his passion for running.

“I was gaining a little weight and had 10 to 15 extra pounds,” Garcia said. “So I started running with some friends also working at Duke’s who invited me to train with them, and I just kept running.

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“I really enjoy running and training. I didn’t get tired, even after running 10 or 12 miles — although it took awhile to get in shape. My friends encouraged me to sign up for [the L.A. Marathon] in 1994.”

The L.A. Marathon, as with any marathon, is a 26.2-mile long foot race. The entry fee is $190 for U.S. residents, so participation isn’t cheap. 

Garcia entered the L.A. Marathon for several years and, finally, in 1998, ran it in under three hours. His excellent time qualified him to run in the Boston Marathon the following year, which he said is “every runner’s dream.” After Boston, he just kept “running and running.”

Most long-term Malibuites remember when PCH was closed in 1998 for nearly six months near Duke’s restaurant due to a mudslide. During that time, in order to stay in top running shape (and to get to work), Garcia would park his car in Santa Monica and run the nine miles into work. Then, after working a full shift, he’d run the nine miles back to his car.

Garcia’s friend and co-worker, George Xeniotis, wrote The Malibu Times that Garcia suffered running injuries over the years, and at one point was advised by doctors to have his right knee joint replaced (he didn’t). “Everyone at work calls him ‘Ernesto the Best-O, Champion of the West,’” Xeniotis said.

Even today, his training never stops. Garcia is a lean 139 pounds. He serves as his own coach while in training, using various phone apps to help him keep track of his time, speed and distance.

“When I have time after work,” Garcia said, “I usually run the eight to 10 miles from Duke’s to Pepperdine and back.” His goal is to run next month’s North Carolina marathon in two hours and 50 minutes. 

Garcia, native to a small village in Oaxaca, is married with four children ages 31, 27, 22 and 17. His family has always been supportive of his passion for running, but now that the oldest three have jobs and the youngest is about to graduate from high school, he feels free to pursue his dream of running a marathon in all 50 states.

His wife sometimes accompanies him to the marathons to cheer him on. They even celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary at a marathon in Hawaii. 

The 10 places that Garcia has run in so far are: California, Tennessee, Illinois, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Hawaii, Arizona, Massachusetts and, the latest one, Washington, D.C., where he finished seventh in his age group. It was not his best time, because “the weather was cold and raining,” he said.

Garcia has four more marathons scheduled for 2015: Raleigh, N.C. on April 14, Rochester, Minn. on May 24, Savannah, Ga. on Nov. 7 and San Antonio, Texas on Dec. 6.

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