His days of donning the 49er black and gold may be long gone, but Eli Rodriguez still knows how to tear up the streets of Long Beach.
The former Long Beach State cross country standout clocked in at 2:26:27 to place fourth overall in the Long Beach International City Bank Marathon on Oct. 12.
This year’s marathon course was mapped to run through campus at the 16-18 mile mark, giving the LBSU senior a chance to run in front of fellow students.
Rodriguez said he nearly hit the proverbial wall as he jogged past the Walter Pyramid; however, having former teammates cheering him on, while helping out with the water stations, gave him that much-needed second wind.
“As I was running through the school, I kept thinking that I wish I had my cross country uniform on so that [spectators] could see that I was an athlete here and be proud of me,” he said. “I almost wanted to quit, but I kept telling myself that I was almost done and to try to keep going without slowing down much because I would still hit a really good time no matter what.”
Rodriguez said his familiarity with the course played a role in his success, having run through portions of the route while training for the 49er cross country team. He also credited 49er cross country director and track & field coach Andy Sythe for helping him develop the mentality to survive the high-endurance event.
“What I learned through the coaching here at LBSU is how to be competitive at a higher level, and that’s the kind of competition I ran into during the race, trying to stay with the leaders,” he said. “One thing I was told, and will never forget, is that everyone is going through the same thing and they are also hurting.”
Sythe said Rodriguez’s mental toughness allows him to hang tough in grueling races.
“He’s always had the tenacity and ability,” Sythe said. “He would never let anybody walk over him and was able to make a great race out of it.”
Sythe and Rodriguez’s former teammates were stationed at the marathon’s 17.1-mile mark, and even Rodriguez’s former coach was surprised by his performance.
“When we saw him come by within the top seven, we were genuinely excited,” Sythe said. “I was concerned with what could happen in the last eight miles, but when I picked up the paper the next morning, I was ecstatic. 2:26 is a really respectable time for someone running in his first marathon.”
Rodriguez prepared for the event by training 1 to 1 1/2 hours a day, which includes running more than 80 miles per week in his hometown Whittier and at the Jack Rose Track on campus with former teammate Jason Bruton.
Even after exhausting his NCAA eligibility, Rodriguez is still enrolled at Long Beach State as a full-time student and is scheduled to pick up his degree in kinesiology within the next year.
The 2012 Olympics in London are not out of the question either. The qualifying time to make the U.S. trials is 2 hours, 19 minutes. Rodriguez said he has set a goal to knock his time down to 2 hours, 24 minutes by next year.
“I actually have dual citizenship because I was born in Mexico and became a citizen here a few years ago, so I wouldn’t mind trying to make the Olympic team for either country,” he said.
In the mean time, he plans to run in the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in December with his club SoCal Legacy. Although having completed only one marathon, Rodriguez has his sights set on conquering Long Beach in a potential second go-around.
“I could definitely see myself racing here again next year to try and better my time, and maybe win, but who knows?”