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Fernando Cabada Aiming For A Boston Breakthrough

The 32-year-old is feeling relaxed and confident heading into his second Boston Marathon.

The 32-year-old is feeling relaxed and confident heading into his second Boston Marathon.

Anxiety is beginning to take its toll on a barbate Fernando Cabada ahead of Monday’s Boston Marathon.

“I think the thing I’m going to be stressing about the whole weekend is if I should keep the beard or not,” quipped Cabada at Friday’s elite athlete press conference. “I might need to keep it because I’m going to have to be like an animal out there on the course.”

Cabada started growing the beard about two months ago and, fearing that shaving it might lead to a Samson-like demise before his biggest race of the year, he’s left it alone since—and with good reason.

The 32-year-old Newton-sponsored athlete from Fresno, Calif., has quietly posted a string of solid results so far in 2015. In February, he placed fourth at the Gasparilla Half Marathon in 1:03:59 and on March 15, he finished 14th amongst a highly competitive field at NYC Half, running 1:03:23 in windy conditions. Two weeks after racing in the Big Apple, Cabada used the hilly Rock ’n’ Roll Half Marathon San Francisco as his final long tuneup race for Boston and won easily in a course-record 1:06:25. A week later he raced 10,000m on the track at Stanford, clocking a swift 28:32, only 7 seconds off his personal best. Logging seven 100-plus mile weeks in the 12 weeks leading up to Monday’s race, Cabada feels he’s fitter than he’s ever been coming into his ninth year as a professional athlete.

“I’ve kind of wanted to do it Rocky style,” Cabada said of his approach to training and racing this spring. “I’ve got this big race coming up and I’ve been very disciplined, very focused.”

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Over the past 16 months, Cabada has gotten his career—and his life—back on track, kicking off 2014 with a 1:02:00 personal best in the half marathon and finishing the year with a marathon PB of 2:11:36 at Berlin. After bouncing between Boulder, Colo., and Big Bear, Calif., Cabada moved back to his hometown of Fresno last year and reunited with his former coach, Brad Hudson, at the start of 2015. He says he feels more grounded, focused and motivated than ever before.

“It’s been great to go back to where it all started,” Cabada says of the move back to the Central Valley, “and it’s reminded me why I even got started in the first place. It feels really great to do my best to serve as a role model and help inspire the next generation to do positive things and not set so many limits.”

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One of those people Cabada has inspired is his cousin, Chris Velez, an organic farmer who lives in nearby in Auberry, Calif. Velez took up running a couple years ago after watching his cousin compete and, with Cabada’s help, went from barely being able to run for 10 minutes to clocking a 1:37:44 half marathon last month in San Francisco. Cabada says it’s been inspiring to witness the 39-year-old Velez transform himself into a totally different person, and athlete.

“[Running] has helped him become a better husband and a better father,” says Cabada, who also credits running for helping him turn his own life around. “He’s so inspired and eager to learn and improve. He’s like a freshman trying to make varsity. It’s a big motivation for me.”

Cabada will take that motivation—along with the momentum of his recent success—to the starting line of his second Boston Marathon on Monday, where he’ll be part of a strong American lineup along with Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein, Nick Arciniaga, Matt Tegenkamp, Jeffrey Eggleston and others. He finished a disappointing 16th in his first go at Boston in 2013, running 2:18:23, but feels relaxed, confident and ready for a beard-powered breakthrough heading into this year’s race.

“I’m more prepared, more experienced and know what to expect,” Cabada says. “I’m really excited to be here and I’m feeling good.”