Words: Reilly Doucet, Altitude Sports writer
On Purpose: Gabriel Jarquin’s Reassuring Approach to Running
Ilan Abikhzir, Account Coordinator, Brand Partnerships, followed Gabriel Jarquin to the Houston Marathon to get an inside look at the routine behind the runner. After witnessing how Gabriel's passion shapes his attitudes towards running (and anything life throws his way), Ilan gained a renewed, inspired mindset for his own running.
Monitoring personal bests, tracking pace per minute, timing the perfect consumption of an energy gel: these performance-minded actions are all things that one might do to prepare to run a marathon. But hear me out: these are not the things that make a runner.
Passion, purpose: these - on the other hand - have a lot to do with what it means to be a runner. I came to understand this through following Gabriel Jarquin, a Toronto-based marathoner with Nicaraguan roots, to a recent race in Houston, Texas. And as I witnessed his positive spirit firsthand, I felt more assured in my own personal running journey than ever.
From the moment I first met Gabriel in a Toronto park, I felt an instant connection. We dove right into his running routine soon after, embarking on his most common route, his final run before Houston. The air was misty, and few people were in the streets as I followed him on a borrowed bike. It felt like I had been transported to another world as I watched him move effortlessly through the unusual January fog, with almost mystical speed and grace.
Gabriel competed in cross-country running events in high school, then took a 10-year hiatus. He started to run again during a difficult time in his life, as he came to terms with his HIV diagnosis. From then on, the activity became a way for him to heal - both mentally and physically. Instead of letting his diagnosis slow him down, he put his energy into fueling a rediscovered passion for running, and was immediately hooked.
As part of his healing, running became a platform for Gabriel to channel his advocacy work and break down the stigma surrounding those living with HIV/AIDS. He’s now completed many marathons and half-marathons, and is the Co-President of the Toronto Pride & Remembrance Run. But despite his efforts, Gabriel doesn’t necessarily think of himself as an advocate. With running, and everything else, he’s happy that people see his story as inspiring, but he’s really just doing his thing.
Back at Gabriel’s place, post-final-foggy-run, it was time to talk gear. Specifically, his race kit options. He told me he always travels with the Cliftons from HOKA because they’re such a versatile shoe, be it for long runs, easy runs, speed runs, whatever. For the race though, he packed the HOKA Rocket X since they’re so light and have a carbon plate, which guarantees energy return with every stride during longer efforts, like a half marathon.
Personally, I recently took up running because it was a simple, cost-effective way to get outside. I found immense pleasure in moving on my own terms and competing against myself. Following our little gear summit, I did a run of my own while Gabriel took some time for mental preparation. It was my workout day anyway, and intervals day, no less. My final time was almost a minute faster than usual, and I was totally dead from going super hard. Gabriel’s impact was instant, his influence tangible: he made me want to translate his passion into my own.
The following day, Houston awaited. We headed downtown upon arrival to set up base at the hotel, and explored the city a bit, much of which would be the grounds for the race. We also mingled with other runners from far and wide at the marathon expo, where a palpable nervous energy settled in as many realized there was no turning back. Even Gabriel, bib in hand, taking it all in, admitted he was getting butterflies in his stomach. I almost felt FOMO for not taking part in the race. (Almost.)
From then on, it was all about honing in focus for Gabriel. He went on a light shake out run, which I joined him for, but my calves were crying the whole time. Nerves were starting to kick in, but so was Gabriel’s experience and professionalism. He has high standards for himself, however not without being extremely kind to himself.
As a cool dawn broke the next morning, the thrill of race day settled in. If Gabriel was nervous, I couldn’t really tell. The race gun fired and they were off, meanwhile I jogged 4.5k to meet Gabriel at the 17km mark, and barely got there in time, he was too fast. I thought he looked great, but he later revealed to me that he was really struggling at that point.
Then my jogging wasn’t going to cut it anymore, so I Ubered to the finish line where, even still, I didn't catch Gabriel in time. In the end, he wasn’t stoked about his performance. It was one of his slowest half marathons ever. But what was perhaps even more impressive than if he had even come in first place, was the way he mentally dealt with his race result.
For every negative reflection Gabriel has, he sees the upside and talks himself out of despair, focusing instead on the effort he put into getting there and acknowledging that he left absolutely everything he had out there. I told him wholeheartedly that it was incredibly inspiring to watch him race, and that I was proud of him.
I feel as though athletes have a reputation for loving to self-hate, for being harsh on themselves. Every negative exclamation post-race contradicts every pep talk prior. But not Gabriel. He was totally composed in knowing that running always comes back to passion, not results. And it’s this monumental philosophy that guides him, which in turn affects everyone who gets to know his story.
For years prior to picking running up again, Gabriel says he struggled to find his purpose in life. But after spending a few days with him, it’s clear to me that he found it.
When someone who’s accomplished so much in running, someone who can take anything life throws at him and shape it into something positive, shows you that running is about passion, you have no choice but to feel that running can be your passion too. So take a nod from Gabriel and let go of any notion of performance. It’s a mindset that’ll transform your relationship with running - and yourself.