(14-Jan) -- When Frank Lara was a high school athlete at Strake Jesuit College Prep in Houston, he didn't spend much time thinking about marathon running. An excellent harrier who finished second at the 2013 Nike Cross Nationals South, he ran well enough to get a scholarship to Furman University where he made the NCAA Track & Field Championships in the 10,000m three times, and won multiple Southern Conference titles from 3000m to 10,000m.
PHOTO: Frank Lara competing for Strake Jesuit College Prep in 2012 (photo courtesy of Frank Lara via Facebook)
But when the USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon was held in Houston in 2012 while Lara was still in high school, he got an up-close look at some of America's top marathoners in action like Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Abdi Abdirahman and Dathan Ritzenhein. His interest was piqued.
"I mean when I watched the Houston Marathon when the Olympic Trials were here when I was in high school... it was kind of always a dream to run a marathon here," Lara said today at a press conference in Houston two days before making his marathon debut at the Chevron Houston Marathon. He continued: "It's been an awesome ride to come full circle."
Lara, who lives and trains in Boulder, Colo., with the Roots Running Project, seems well-positioned for success on Sunday. The 26 year-old has run well over the last two years from 15-K through the half-marathon, including winning the USATF 15-K title in 2020 (just before the pandemic shutdown began), and running a 61-flat half-marathon in Valencia last October. At the USATF Half-Marathon Championships last month in Hardeeville, S.C., Lara ran with the leaders through 15-K before fading to finish ninth. He did that race during his Houston Marathon training.
"I chose Houston because it's home," Lara explained. He said that he was recently at Houston's Bush International Airport during a layover and had to contend with a flight delay. He started to tense up but then thought about all the family he has there. "'Why am I freaking out about this?'" he recalled telling himself. "I had a nice surprise stay in Houston. It was so cool to see how many things have changed."
As a former Houstonian, Sunday's race will offer Lara a special treat. The massive Memorial Park Land Bridge project, which will connect the north and south lobes of Memorial Park, will be used as part of the marathon course this year. One of the two huge traffic tunnels which run under the land bridge will be used by runners months before it is opened for traffic.
"When I saw the story how we're going to get to go under the Land Bridge, I thought that was so cool," Lara said. "That's why I'm doing it. It's home."
For Sunday's race, Lara and the other runners will have to contend with cold and potentially windy conditions. Local weather forecasters say that after near-freezing temperatures on Saturday night, temperatures will be just above the freezing point for the 7:00 start on Sunday morning accompanied by steady winds. Although temperatures will warm to the middle 50's Fahrenheit (13C) by the afternoon, the top runners will have already finished the race.
Lara's Roots Running teammate Maggie Montoya will also be making her marathon debut in Houston. Montoya, who has recovered from a hip injury in 2021, didn't seem too concerned about the weather.
"I'm pretty comfortable in most temperatures as long as it's not below 20 and above 80," she said.
Sunday's Chevron Houston Marathon will be the 49th edition of the race as an in-person event, although organizers are celebrating it as the 50th anniversary because the event was founded in 1972 when the race was held in December (it was moved to January in 1975). The accompanying Aramco Half-Marathon will be held as an in-person event for the 20th time.