At 64 years old, Coconut Grove native Juan Piña holds a rare distinction: he has run on every continent. And this isn’t the pull-on-your-sweatpants-and-go-for-a-jog type of running. Piña runs marathons. A lot of them.
On Sunday, Nov. 2, Piña brought his marathon tally to 307 with the TCS New York Marathon for what he guesses is the 20th time. He’s lost count but every race is still an accomplishment. “Even though I’ve ran 300 plus marathons, every time I cross the finish line you feel like crying,” said Piña, “It’s always an achievement.”
The president of Mozido Latin America, a mobile payment platform, Piña might be sitting behind his desk on a Thursday, on a plane on Friday, arriving in Turin, Italy, for a race on a Saturday followed by flight back to the U.S. for a second marathon in Ohio on the following Sunday.
“I’m going to do this to prove to myself that I could do it,” said Piña who debuted his marathon career in New York in 1986. “I think it’s an idea that everyone has simply for the challenge of reaching your limit.”
Piña was the 24th person to run a marathon on each continent, therefore making him a member of the Seven Continents Club. The organization is exclusive to those who have completed a marathon or half marathon on each of the seven continents. Yes, Antarctica is a continent. “Normally, I like a little more exotic marathons,” said Piña as if Antarctica doesn’t shatter expectations.
Under exotic he lists races on the Great Wall of China, in the North Pole and several in Africa including Madagascar. “I enjoy all of them. Or else I wouldn’t have ran 306.”
He clocked his best performance of two hours and 44 minutes in San Diego near the turn of the century. Five days later, Piña achieved his second personal best 10 seconds slower than his San Diego time. Piña runs the major marathons every year.
Piña’s running craze has influenced his children and family. When he broke into triple digits for marathons his son, Maco, and daughter, Fasha, ran with him and they try to run one ever year. Even his children’s spouses have participated in running along side their in-law. Piña says it’s a good way of incorporating family values.
When Maco and his father run together, they use the opportunity to converse about intimate things that others would share over a beer.
“It’s a time to think about how you would go about resolving your problems,” said Maco, another Miamian, who on the weekends trains with his father while pushing his two sons in a stroller.
“I’ve got everything figured out mentally when I arrive at work,” Piña says, “It’s a different way of thinking.”
Besides marathons, Piña has taken part in the half Ironman, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, races that are either 50 or 100 miles. One 100-mile race was from Key Largo to Key West in Florida. Yet, he’s never done the full Ironman. “The distance I like the best is the marathon,” he said.
One would think that in order to keep up with such a high demand for energy, Piña’s preparation is carefully calibrated. At one time he maintained strict care of his pre-race practices but no more. “I’m not the best example. I eat poorly,” said Piña although it’s not what he recommends. He says he does carbo-loading and other essential pre-race preps, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
Piña doesn’t run with a watch anymore so he doesn’t worry about time. “I run to enjoy the race and to be comfortable,” he said. “You learn about yourself.” He completed this year’s New York marathon in six hours, 23 minutes, and 40 seconds.
As for training, he does it whenever he awakens, which is often in the pre-dawn hours. “I don’t sleep much. I sleep three hours or something like that,” he said. “So wherever I am at 4:30 a.m. I’m running.”
Pure endorphins might be the key to Piña’s success. The “runner’s high” has really set Piña apart from the average athlete, receiving awards in Mexico for his achievements. But since he doesn’t run to break any records, this time around Piña ran with his iPhone for the first time and kept nice recollections of his 307th marathon as he took pictures along the way.
Running 26.2 miles has become a second job for Piña. And of course, when someone loves their work, they don’t stop. “They’ve become part of my being,” said Piña.
Nowadays when Piña says he runs with friends, he means his friends’ children, a whole generation younger than him. Giving a helping hand to other runners is also common for Piña as he’s helped friends break their personal bests.
Eight marathons in five weeks was Piña’s latest push when he topped the 300 mark. But reaching a nice, round number isn’t going to put the brakes on Piña. The brakes probably don’t even exist.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran another 100,” said Maco who ran his first marathon when his dad broke 100.
“When I can’t run anymore, I intend on participating in the wheelchair category,” Piña said. “But I will still be there.”