I’m A Runner: Marlen Esparza

Runner’s World


“I never start slow. I want to be in the front pack. And every round in a fight, I throw the first punch.”

I got into boxing when I was 11 because my dad was a huge fan. I had to beg people to train me, and people made jokes. I would cry a lot in private—never in public.

When I went to the gym as a kid, I wore baggy clothes because I didn’t want the guys to think I was there to flirt. So being in the CoverGirl campaign when I won bronze in the 2012 Olympics was a big deal.

I started running in seventh grade, and in high school I got a few scholarship offers for cross country. I enjoyed it, but it was always to get better for boxing.

Nike, my sponsor, invited me to their Women’s Half Marathon in San Francisco last year. I got so serious my coach said, “You need to calm down with the running.” But I didn’t want to look stupid. I finished in 1:32, placing 49th.

In both sports, I have to remember what to do, but I can’t over-think it. I do make sure my steps and my breathing are right. But it has to be this perfect balance of technique and natural habit.

I run every day. Sometimes it’s four miles, any pace. Another day it’s two miles as fast as I can. It’s always different.

Back home in Houston, I get recognized a lot. I used to run the same mile loop every day, and sometimes people would start running with me. They’d be like, “Hey, are you the boxer?”

I adore Joan Benoit Samuelson. She was a trailblazer for women, too. And she’s still on it. I hope I can still do the kinds of things she does when I’m older.

When I wake up on the day of a fight or a race, as soon as I open my eyes, I think: Today is the day. That’s it. Just that one sentence.

I made sure I showed up to the Nike Half with my nails done. I do that before fights, too. I’m a big believer that if you feel good, then you perform good.

I’m thinking about getting into triathlons competitively after the Olympics in 2016. I’m a good swimmer and a good runner; I just need to work on cycling.

For now, my focus is on the Pan American Games in July. I won my ninth national title in January. It’s been a big year for me.

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