It wouldn’t be long before Cabada would turn his eyes towards a new light and a new challenge: The Boston Marathon. Even before toeing the line in Houston, the John Hancock Financial Group had recruited Cabada for its elite field at this year’s race in Boston. He would run alongside the best marathoners in U.S. history and the top 3 at last year’s Olympic Trials: Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman. “This is one of the most prestigious marathons in the world,” Cabada said.
In the last month, however, Cabada’s hopes of running with those three legends were dashed when the trio pulled out of Boston for different reasons: Hall because of a strained quad, Meb with a bad calf and Abdirahman with the flu.
“When I got the invitation to run Boston, I got scared, and I hesitated, because I knew this was it.” Here was the chance for him to show the world who the new Fernando Cabada is. The Cabada who nearly retired last spring, took a real job and worked 10-hour days, the Cabada who would launch a comeback off 4-mile runs at 7:30 pace.
The new Cabada embraced the challenge and looked to pounce on this moment, as he saw his destiny begin to unfold in front of him. “I questioned if I was ready, and the answer: I was now, more than ever.”
Cabada knows who he’ll face at Boston. He knows their credentials as well as he knows his own. Unlike some of his competitors, he doesn’t have an underwater treadmill, he doesn’t train on an Alter G-Machine, or have a six-figure contract. He lives at 8,000 feet outside Boulder, deep within the pine trees with mountainous views, and he trains twice a day and pushes on with the passion of a man who loves everything about what he does. He might not have all the high-tech gear like other professionals, or the funds to travel the world whenever he pleases, but he has an intensity and heart unique only to him.
“I don’t run to get rich, I will run even if I’m barely making it,” he said. “I won’t quit until I know I can’t get any faster.”
It’s been a long year for Cabada. He PR’d in the marathon for the first time in nearly six years, took two months off, spent his 30th birthday in London, moved to North Dakota, worked 10-hour days, and moved back to Boulder. Enlightened, he resumed training with coach Brad Hudson, returned to the marathon with an easy 2:19 win in course-record fashion, struggled in the Houston Marathon with the flu, and now he’s got his eyes on Boston. He had once thought that the sun had dipped behind the Flatirons and was slowly setting on his running career. As the shadows stretched out across the plains, he found himself searching for light in the dark. Little did he know, the sun was still high in the sky, and all he had to do was take off his sunglasses.
When the sun rises over Boston next week, Cabada won’t be thinking of the doubters or the sponsors who passed him by after numerous national titles or stellar performances. He won’t be thinking of missed opportunities or failed races. He’ll be thinking of those who have struggled in life, and how his performance could inspire them to pull themselves up — as he’s done for himself. He’ll be thinking of those 4-mile runs at 7:30 pace in the North Dakota hills after work, and the smile that they brought to his face.
It’s not about the contracts, the paydays or making right of what was wrong. For Fernando Cabada, it’s about all the joy and woe that comes with a 26.2-mile footrace. When he sprints down Bolyston Street near the finish line in Boston, the smile on his face will only be a glimmer of the journey, a tiny glimpse of the evolution of Fernando Cabada.