By Nick Worth
Navajo County District I Supervisor Jonathan Nez has an unusual ambition on his Bucket List.
“I want to run a marathon, or more, in all 50 states,” said Nez.
He has made a good start, most recently completing the Bootlegger 50K in Boulder City, Nevada with a total time of 6:40:16. Marathon races go for 26.2 miles, or 42 kilometers. The 50K race, or ultramarathon, goes for just over 31 miles.
Nez is no stranger to sports.
“I played basketball when I was younger, and other sports,” he said. “I used to be in cross country, but I didn’t take it seriously. I just used cross country to get in shape for basketball.”
In spite of his sports background, Nez said he had not kept himself in shape over the years and his weight had increased.
“In January of 2012, I found I had allowed myself to get a little, no, a lot overweight at 290 pounds,” Nez said. “Being in the position I am, I go out and do encouragements to people and a lot of young people ask me to talk. I tell them, ‘Take care of yourself. Be healthy.’”
He realized he wasn’t following his own advice.
“So in January, I made a New Year’s resolution, and I began to watch what I eat and do a little bit more running,” Nez said. “It was tough at first, but I stayed with the running and counted my calories. I lost about 10 pounds per month and I lost 100 pounds by October of 2012.”
His next step was to challenge himself.
“So I put on my list to run a half marathon and I did that in October, and I thought it was the toughest thing I could ever do,” said Nez. “But afterwards I set a goal for running my first full marathon in May of 2013.”
For his long-distance debut, Nez chose the Shiprock Marathon, the only marathon held on the Navajo Nation.
“I thought that would be something, to do my first marathon in my own native homeland,” said Nez. “I started training and on May 4, I completed that in 4:15:00.”
He had run half-marathons, 10Ks and 5Ks, but that was his first full marathon.
“At that time it was the most difficult thing I had ever experienced,” Nez said. “I lost two toenails and my feet were bloody and blistered.
“The funny thing about that was I went home that night and before I even sat down and recovered, I registered for my second marathon,” Nez said. “If I register and I put money into an event, I have to do it.”
His next challenge was the Long Beach Memorial Day Marathon, to be held in California less than 30 days after the Shiprock event, on May 27.
Following the Long Beach race, he ran in an ultramarathon, the Silverton Alpine 50K, in August 2012.
A look at the race’s website reveals it is not only the distance the runners have to tackle, but extreme elevation as well. The low point of the race is the start in Silverton at 9,318 feet and the high point is atop California Pass at 12,930 feet. The total vertical gain for the 50K race is 4,400 feet.
“I finished in 6:16,” Nez stated matter-of-factly.
The Utah Escalante Canyons Marathon in October came next on Nez’s list. He finished that race with an official time of 4:18:32.
Nez was honored for his distance running accomplishments at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting. He said he feels the need to continue running.
“Like I said at the board, I’m at this level of endurance and for me, right now, I can’t allow myself to lose that momentum,” he said and explained his bucket list decision. “I’ve heard about people who have run marathons in all 50 states. I felt that was something I’d like to accomplish.
With California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico under his belt, Nez registered for a marathon in Brooklyn, N.Y., but had to cancel at the last minute. His next race will be in Tucson in December, “and that will take care of Arizona,” he said.
“I’m not running to break a world record,” Nez said. “I’m just running to finish the race. I run constantly, but at my own pace.”
Nez, at 38 years old, runs in the men’s 30 to 39 category.
“That’s the most competitive category there is,” said Nez. “All the peak runners and top runners are in that age category. I’m in the average runners.”
He does have one other goal for his distance running.
“I do one day want to qualify for the Boston Marathon and that’s a 3:25 to qualify,” he said. “I want to actually qualify, not just be invited to run.
Nez said he never thought he would run more than a mile.
“Now it’s a whole different thing. I’ve never enjoyed a sport more than running,” he said.
He also enjoys the feeling of accomplishment when he finishes a race.
“They’re printing the results in UltraRunning Magazine and I’ll get to see my name in there as those completing the race,” he said of the Silverton Alpine 50 K.
Nez said along with his improved stamina and health, he also has found he can’t eat greasy foods anymore.
“My body just can’t handle that these days,” he said. “I’ve learned to eat better and choose my foods better.”
A lot of people don’t understand the changes they see in him.
“I’ve had comments made to me about my weight, asking if I’m sick, or diabetic,” Nez said. “Every meeting I go to, I have to answer questions about that.
“I just wanted to change the way I live and I made that commitment and I stay with that commitment,” he said.
Running has helped him in his faith, too.
“I pray daily to not overeat, and to get out there and run,” Nez said. “I attribute all this to God and that’s one of the things I’ve been telling young people and people seeing the transformation.
“I give the recognition to God for being there to help me get to where I am now,” he said. “Running has strengthened my faith and improved my prayer life, and makes me a better leader for the people I represent.”
He also takes advantage of the long hours spent running the races to do some creative thinking.
“On these long runs, with five to seven hours you have a lot of time to think,” he said. “Instead of thinking of the pain, I spend my time thinking of ways to better serve the people I represent. I jot down ideas after the race.
“In a way, living a more healthy and active life has also helped the people I serve,” noted Nez.
“My next goal is to run a 50-miler in Moab, or in Oregon in March or May of next year,” said Nez. “I mean, what’s another 18 miles, or so?”
He said it would be another step toward achieving another goal.
“I think from January of 2012 to today people have seen that transformation in me,” said Nez. “And the transformation as a runner brings discipline, as well, in your living habits, being a father and a leader.”
He feels that people seeing the changes in him is the greatest thing to come out of his running experience.
“Instead of just talking about it, our young people can see it,” Nez said. “I tell young people, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’
“Now people tell me, ‘Mr. Nez, because of you I’ve lost 20 pounds, or 10 pounds.’ I thought running was just something for me, but now I see people being inspired,” said Nez. “They tell me, ‘It was because of you I changed the way I live and what I eat.’”
He gets a lot of pleasure out of setting a good example.
“At the end of the day that puts a smile on my face. Knowing that as a servant of the people and a leader of the people I serve, I’m at least planting a seed for the future,” he said. “I hope more of our young people get away from video games and just sitting inside.”
Nez also named another benefit of long-distance running.
“In all these runs I’ve done I look around and see all the beauty of God’s creation,” he said. “It’s awesome.”
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By Nick Worth