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Running with history
Turlock runner finishes second at Inca Trail Marathon
Machu Picchu
Ralph Gonzales runs along the time-worn stones of the Inca Trail on his way to Machu Picchu during the Inca Trail Marathon. - photo by Photo Contributed

Ralph Gonzales has been long distance running for roughly 20 years, covering ground at marathons in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and more. He’s see the country through runner’s eyes, but on July 9 his passion turned international when he embarked on what many consider to be the biggest challenge for a runner — the Inca Trail Marathon in Peru.

“If you search online for the hardest marathon, or the world’s toughest marathon, the Inca Trail Marathon shows up as number one,” Gonzales said.

One of only 35 participating runners, Gonzales finished second with a time of 7:44:22 as he completed an arduous run that began in the city of Cusco, former capital of the Inca Empire, and ended at the fabled Machu Picchu. The 26.2 mile run consisted of mostly inclines and declines with elevations as high as 14,000 feet, all along the time-worn Inca trail that was built more than 500 years ago.

“That was definitely part of the mystique,” Gonzales said of the trail’s history. “I had no idea what it was going to be like. The steep climb at 14,000 feet was every bit as hard as you would have thought.”

Gonzales, a 1982 Turlock High graduate, originally booked his trip to Peru so that he and his wife could join their teenaged son and daughter, Michael and Maya, who were in the country on a service trip. After looking for tours and activities in the area, Gonzales stumbled across information on the Inca Trail Marathon.

He knew the challenge would be grueling, but once he was on the trail running alongside hikers, truckers and indigenous porters it was clear it was an experience that was worth the pain and fatigue. That realization was further crystalized and affirmed when the trail came to an end at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

“At the very end you’re climbing up these really steep stairs, then you open up into the Sun Gate, which then opens up into Machu Picchu. It’s like, wow!” Gonzales said. “It’s really glorious.”

“It was pretty surreal. It’s just a special, unique place in the world,” he added.

The nearly eight hour marathon was exhausting — a typical marathon usually takes less than three hours to complete — but the journey was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Gonzales says. Still, the Turlock native’s thirst to run has not been quenched by the Inca Trail Marathon. Gonzales will once again lace his running shoes on Aug. 29 for the Tamalpa Headlands 50K in San Francisco. As for the stones of the Inca Trail, Gonzales hopes to return one day and conquer the course once again.