Boyle Heights Takes to the Streets for 5K and Munchkin Run

Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba
Runners in the Munchkin Half Mile gather at the start line. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

With the installation of the jogging path around Evergreen Cemetery in 2004 and the more recent rise of the Boyle Heights Bridge Runners (now celebrating their first year anniversary), Boyle Heights has become a much friendlier place for those who prefer to get their exercise by pounding the pavement.

But there generally haven’t been that many races or other running events in the Boyle Heights area for those enthusiasts to participate in. And while there was an attempt to hold one recently — a Mariachi 5K run — it hit a stumbling block this past August when businesses and residents complained that the organizer hadn’t worked with them, hadn’t hired local mariachis, and that the “mariachi” theme would invite parodies of the culture (see Seattle’s Fiesta 5K Olé! controversy).

Organizers of this past Saturday’s Boyle Heights 5k Run/Walk and Munchkin Half Mile hope that dynamic will soon change.

And they're off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba
And they’re off! Runners make their way down 1st St. in Boyle Heights. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Lead organizer Juan Romero, owner of local café Primera Taza, spoke of his desire for runners and families to have an event of their own that celebrated health, family, and community while raising proceeds for those in the area in need.

The race was an idea many in the community had been tossing around for the past few years, he said, but no one had been able to take the lead on getting it off the ground. This past March, hoping to finally see that idea come to fruition, Romero decided to take on the responsibility himself.

The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page
The Mendez Jaguars stand with Councilmember Jose Huizar. Photo: Mendez High School FB page (click to visit)

In collaboration with White Memorial Hospital (whose health resource fair immediately followed the race) and the Variety Boys and Girls Club (the recipient of race proceeds and the provider of insurance for the event), he encouraged schools and local organizations to put together race teams.

Then, he wrangled donations from resident Jaime Perez for iPad minis for the male and female 5K winners (see results here), got 20 chromebooks from the i.am.angel Foundation for the school that was able to put together the biggest team (congratulations, Mendez Jaguars!, at right), got 200 bike helmets to kids, and was given 400 medals for the runners by the House of Trophies.

Even with all that planning, the event was more successful than anyone had anticipated.

Kids hustle their way up 1st St. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba
Kids hustle their way up 1st St. Photo: Eddie Ruvalcaba

Speedsters were in abundance — with male winner Eli Rodriguez clocking in at barely over 15 minutes, Josue Rodriguez, in the 15-and-under category, clocking in at 16:17, female winner Maria Castaneda, coming in at 19:01, and Amanda Gonzalez, in the 15-and-under category, following at 19:20.

But it was families that won the day. Grandparents walked with grandkids, moms ran with daughters, dads pushed strollers, entire families jogged together — even folks that had never run before pulled on some tennis shoes and gave it a shot.

“I just was in awe,” Romero said of watching over 800 adults, teens, and small kids walk, jog, and sprint their way up and down 1st St.

“So, when’s the next one?” I asked.

He laughed. He wasn’t sure he would be able to take on such a big undertaking on his own again. And it wasn’t quite perfect — an apparent miscommunication with the health fair organizers meant that the barriers put up to close off 1st between Mariachi Plaza and State St. for the fair had remained in place until early evening, several hours after it had ended. But he was pleased with how the run had turned out and how happy participants had been, and he hoped that the community would find a way to make it a regular event.

See more great photos of the runners by Eddie Ruvalcaba here. See race results here. And my favorite photo from the day, here.

Run organizer Juan Romero and a police officer hold the tape for a speedy munchkin runner. Photo Eddie Ruvalcaba
Run organizer Juan Romero (left) and a police officer hold the finish line tape for a speedy munchkin runner. Photo Eddie Ruvalcaba

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