Mexican Kev

MAY 2014: London Marathon day. 13th April 2014. It was an early start. And the moment my 4 hour drunken sleep was rudely and abruptly disturbed by my 6.45am alarm, I immediately realised my error. I had stupidly arranged RunBrighton’s monthly social bash (and post-Brighton-Marathon celebrations) the night before.

At the end of our evening in the Caxton Arms, where beer had flowed like water at a marathon drink station, and everyone had exerted more energy dancing to the sounds of DJ Dan than on a hilly Sunday run, I got home shortly after 2am… as I recall!

I met up with Allison and David Benton at Brighton Station to catch the 8.04 train to London Bridge.

The morning rush meant there was no time for coffee, so I had to wait until I was up in town before I could take a much needed dose of caffeine.

Of course, I could have stayed at home, got out of bed at 9.59am and watched the marathon on TV. But it wouldn’t have been the same. I was keen to get road side and give one of Brighton’s up-and-coming running superstars a shout from the side lines.

Kev Rojas, once a RunBrighton Ambassador, has worked tirelessly for the last 3 years, never letting go of his Olympic dream. With Rio two-and-a-half years away, today was to be Kev’s first proper marathon since becoming a ‘serious’ runner, ‘only’ previously having knocked out a time of 2hrs48mins.

Kev’s specific training program for London began on 2nd December (19 weeks before race day), progressing to 8-9 sessions and 90-95 miles in his 2 peak weeks in March. His key sessions included a long marathon-pace tempo run every 2-3 weeks, the final 2 being 18 and 20 miles. These were supported by long time-on-feet runs, lactate turn-point tempo sessions (e.g., 3 x 10 mins) and long reps at 10k pace (e.g., 6 x 1500m).

My reference to ‘Mexican Kev’ is in fact only half appropriate. Born in Mexico City, his father is Mexican, his mother British, thus giving him the choice to represent either country in his athletic exploits.

But anyone vaguely associated with the Brighton running scene must surely, by now, know exactly who we mean by Mexican Kev!

Allison is his coach. And her attention to detail is second to none. Having analysed his last 2 long tempo runs, Allison has taken into consideration the terrain and weather conditions of them both, along with Kev’s recent half-marathon performances, factored in the mileage churned out in the preceding weeks, and allowed for the positive effects of carbo-loading and tapering, and predicted 2hrs22 for London.

Helpfully, Kev rarely disappoints. His times over all race distances have got constantly and consistently faster and he never lets us down on our expectations.

My particular interest in Kev is that I take on the role of Assistant Coach. I should immediately caveat this statement and make it clear that I don’t do much more than hold a stopwatch and shout at Kev, normally from the bike as I would find it impossible to keep up running with him for much more than a small increment of his sessions.

Kev’s wife and number-one supporter Claudia, and mother Rosalind, were to head to the half-way point on the course, but first watch the start of the race on TV from their nearby hotel room. His brother Stephen, who had flown over for the weekend from his home in Zurich, was to accompany Kev to the start before meeting the others at half-way.

At 9.59am I phoned Claudia so that Allison, David and I could all sync our watches as the starting gun went off on TV. We then made our way to the first 10k marker.

The big names cruised by – Kipsang, Kebede, Mutai, Farah… followed a short while later, inside the top 40 of a field of 36,000, by Mexican Kev. First 10k done, on course for 2hrs22, box ticked!

We hastily pushed our way through the on-looking crowds, legged it to the nearest underground station and headed to mile 18. Like clockwork, Mexican Kev breezed by, still on course for 2hrs22.

We again sprinted to the nearest tube station. There was simply no time to fight our way through the escalator crowds, everyone seemingly oblivious to the signs ‘Stand on the right’! We set about our own hill session as we blasted up the steps alongside the adjacent escalator.

We arrived breathless at mile 23. Seconds later, there came Kev, exactly as expected, totally in control, still on course for 2hrs22.

Next stop, the finish line. Or rather, just after the finish line!

A mutual friend back in Brighton had been keeping an eye on the marathon website, frequently updating us with Kev’s progression through the race. She informed us he’d crossed the finish line in 2hrs22mins56secs.

I was surprised by all the subsequent hype on Facebook. Everyone was thrilled by Kev’s performance, many blown away by such an outstanding result, and messages of congratulations were a plenty.

I saw it as another box which Kev could tick on his road to Rio. He’d done what he’d set out to do. I’d witnessed him training hard… damned hard. His result was accurately predicted and thoroughly well deserved. For me there was no huge element of surprise, more a sense of relief that nothing had gone wrong. What has surprised me is his commitment to the shear hard work, focus and dedication needed to get to this place where he now finds himself. You work hard, guided by a structured training regime, you get results!

Perhaps I am guilty of taking his phenomenal result for granted. I think my indifference is born out of Kev instilling me with confidence that he was always going to be there or thereabouts! But on a day when many of the top British athletes fell short of expectation, Kev delivered. Yes, we should shout about this.

Kev’s background is not one of a typical elite athlete. He has not come through the junior rankings and in fact didn’t really run until at university.

At school, Mexican Kev was a smoker. In fact he was still an occasional smoker until shortly after moving from Mexico to Brighton in 2008. He stopped when he realised how much more expensive it was in the UK… and admits he was useless at rolling his own!

At university he was not the most focused. After failing several courses and due to low grades he was placed on an academic support program. It was designed to promote discipline, organisational skills and study techniques. One important part was running. Every day at 7am the American Football coaches would put Mexican Kev through his paces. He was entered into a 10k race. It was tough, but provided the first inkling for Kev that he’d found something in life he could be passionate about.

His drive to succeed was, more than anything else, based on beating his older brother, but Stephen was much more focused and trained much harder.

Over the couple of years which followed, Kev ran in a number of races and went on to compete in the 2011 Brighton Marathon where he achieved his 2hrs48 PB. (Stephen’s PB was 2hrs41.)

With a 10k time of 36mins, Kev thought he’d reached his peak. Allison spotted him one Saturday morning at Hove parkrun and took him under her wing.

The rest is history. Kev’s 10k PB is down to 30mins49secs, his half-marathon 67mins59secs, and now his marathon 2hrs22mins56secs.

My getting up with a hangover to make the caffeine-less train to London was worth it, as I was able to witness Kev becoming 9th Brit, 22nd overall… and 1st Mexican!

The determination is now greater than ever. The next stop is Berlin Marathon in September, where the plan is to get inside 2hrs20, before aiming for another leap forward in autumn 2015. Kev has yet to play the mileage card to the full, with his peak mileage of 90-95 in the build-up to London relatively low compared to most runners at this level. Allison also believes there is still significant scope to improve Kev’s ‘lactate turn-point’, which will result in faster 10k / half-marathon times and, ultimately, a faster marathon. So the next steps are clear as Mexican Kev now embarks on the next chapter of his inspiring story.

Kev, congratulations on an awesome run in London, we’re all behind you, keep believing!

By Mike Bannister