Although 73-year-old Henry Lopez is a relative newcomer to the sport of long-distance running, there isn’t a challenge from which he will back away.
For example, on Oct. 27 in the Soaring Wings Race held near Conway, Ark., the Payson senior ran his first half marathon partly because he was coaxed into entering by a friend.
“I had mixed feelings about it because I had never run that distance (13.1 miles) before,” Lopez said. “The longest I had done was a 10K.”
After mulling over his friend’s suggestion, Lopez overcame his anxiety about entering the half marathon and began training by running trails and streets around Payson and in Tonto Basin where his girlfriend, Rosalie, lives.
“I trained at shorter distances, but it all worked out for me,” Lopez said.
Indeed it did, as Lopez ran a very commendable 2:06.59 to finish first in his age group defeating the friend, a veteran runner, who had challenged him to travel to near Little Rock to enter the race.
Lopez says he was elated with his performance in his first half marathon, but might have turned in an even faster time had he not fallen and suffered a nice size hematoma on his upper arm.
In addition to Lopez’s exceptional showing in the Soaring Wings run, he finished first in his age group and fourth overall in a four-mile run held in Payson that was sponsored by the Tonto Apache Tribe as part of Tribal Recognition Days held Oct. 3 to Oct. 6.
“We ran from Home Depot to the reservation,” Lopez said.
Lopez began making his mark on the state running scene Nov. 6, 2011 with a third-place age group finish in the 36th Annual Phoenix 10K that drew 10,000-plus runners and joggers to downtown streets.
In winning the bronze, Lopez covered the 6.2-mile course in a very respectable 53.39.
Lopez has also been an age group winner in the Monsoon 4-mile Run and was second among 72 runners in last spring’s 4.2-mile Pat’s Run in Tempe.
At the 39th Annual Oktoberfest 5-mile Run held last year at Tempe Town Lake, Lopez was second among the senior runners in about 44 minutes.
As good as Lopez has been of late, he didn’t take up running until a few days prior to the 2010 Turkey Trot when he and his girlfriend decided to enter.
“I just said to her, why don’t we try this and she said ‘OK,’” said Lopez.
Entering the Turkey Trot and doing well sparked an interest in the Payson senior who says he has been running long distances since.
While many take up the sport for weight control, Lopez says that was never a concern of his, but his body has undergone a transformation.
“I’ve always been in good shape, never really heavy, but since I took up running, I’ve lost 15 pounds,” Lopez said. “I feel real good now that I’m running steady and I really enjoy it.”
Prior to taking up running, Lopez maintained an interest in physical fitness, but it involved only some weight lifting, hiking and biking.
Now that he has experienced success on the running circuit, he eagerly looks forward to his next competition and is urging other seniors to take up the sport.
“I know those who buy these big, high-definition, big screen televisions and sit all day in their recliners watching,” he said. “They need to get out of the recliner and try running, they’ll love it.”