Fernando Cabada Sr.’s attempts to teach his son sports occurred in fits and starts.
That’s what happens when you’re a heroin addict, and in prison much more than out.
“He’d try to make up in a weekend what he didn’t do when he was in jail for two, three years,” Fernando Cabada Jr. said on Tuesday. “It’s very hard to explain. When you’re institutionalized like him, and you have to survive on a daily basis . . . they’re just not patient people.”
Patience is perhaps the most important virtue Cabada Jr. needs to hold on to right now, because his short but spectacular running career has suffered fits and starts, too, and he’ll need some time to regain his footing as one of the most promising young marathoners in the U.S.
With that objective in mind, he’ll run in the 34th annual Gazette Stockade-athon 15k on Sunday.
The Stockade-athon will be Cabada’s first race in six months, after weathering an Achilles’ heel injury that prevented him from competing on the U.S. national team in the Berlin World Championships in August.
The reputation of the Stockade-athon and a fair amount of luck have conspired to bring the 25k American record holder — a Fresno, Calif., native who lives in Boulder, Colo. — to Central Park this weekend. Cabada was looking for a race, but didn’t want to attempt a half marathon in his first competition back. After doing some research, he found the Stockade-athon, noting that record holder Jerry Lawson (44:39 in 1992) has a 2:09:35 marathon on his resume.
Although Cabada has only run three career marathons, his 2:12:27 at Fukuoka, Japan, in 2006 was the ninth-fastest debut marathon ever for an American, and came seven months after he put himself on the map with a 1:14:20 at the Fifth Third River Bank 25k in Grand Rapids, Mich., still a U.S. record.
After a lost 2007 in which he partied too much, Cabada resurrected his commitment to the sport, and won the 2008 Twin Cities Marathon in 2:16:31, and plans to race a marathon this winter, perhaps in Houston, Phoenix or Japan. The Stockade-athon will be the first baby step.
“It seemed perfect to get to a marathon in January,” Cabada said. “I didn’t want to come back in something long, but it’s not too short, either. it’s more of a distance race, and has good history. I never heard of it, ever, in my life. I looked at the results, and there’s a lot of runners from New York. I didn’t see anybody from California.”
Cabada did have some geographical connection to upstate New York, though, since he befriended a host family in Syracuse in 2005 while running in the Festival of Races.
He also stayed with them for the Utica Boilermaker 15k in 2008, when he finished 12th (46:10), as the top American, behind 11 African runners. They’ll pack up the family van and travel to Schenectady from Syracuse Sunday morning.
“I’m excited about it, I really am,” Stockade-athon race director Vince Juliano said. “This is something that everyone involved in the Stockade-athon race for so many years can feel a sense of pride about, that we’re always striving to put forth a race that’s well-received by the average runner, but that a top-caliber runner would consider worth doing, too.”
Cabada said he’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t run at least a 45:45 on Sunday.
His poor 2007 season, in which he was 50th at the Osaka World Championships in 2:35:48, left him in dodgy financial straits in 2008, but Twin Cities, for which he earned $25,000 and qualified for Berlin, was a big turning point.
He was 23rd in 45:09 at the Gate River Run 15k in Jacksonville, Fla., this year, then suffered the left Achilles’ injury that knocked him out of training for eight weeks.
“It was a big bummer,” he said. “I’ve never been injured before. I’ve been doing very well with my long runs, tops around 17, and have had no pain, and I’m not hurting when I get out of bed. The first time back, I did three miles at an eight-minute pace. Twenty miles the first week, then 25, 30, 40. I’ve been coming on really strong lately.”
The Stockade-athon will culminate a 100-mile week for Cabada, who is training through the race in anticipation of the half-marathon division at the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks.
A former University at Arkansas runner, he transferred to Fresno State and bounced around, finishing at NAIA Virginia Intermont to follow newly hired coach Scott Simmons.
Cabada moved to Boulder about two years ago, is coached by former marathon world-record holder Steve Jones and trains with Jorge Torres, who was seventh (2:13:00) at New York in his career marathon debut on Sunday.
It was with some wistfulness that Cabada watched New York, especially since the U.S. runners made such a strong showing, led by Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall.
It will be with patience that he pursues them, and possibly a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
“Ryan Hall showed he’s talented because he didn’t look that comfortable and still ran 2:10:26 on a bad day. I wish I could do that on a bad day,” Cabada said. “I’ve got a lot of years ahead of me. Meb is 34, and he’s on top of his game. I’m 27. I just need plenty of races. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself.
“I know I need to prepare myself, get a year of consistent training and post some good times. I’m still young. It looks like Ryan Hall and Meb, and there’s only three spots. I really want to go to the Olympics. I don’t want to be a hoper, that Meb and Ryan will have a bad day. I’m going to race. I know I have a lot of room for improvement. That’s why missing Berlin was such a bummer. I though I would do well. I’m going to get one of those spots. I can’t doubt myself.”