Chasing Adrenaline: Leonora Manzano Lived Fast, Until She Found Running
She partied her way to an ulcer. Now, this Mexico City runner finds her peace—and pace—along the trails of an extinct volcano.
"Snapshots" is a series that checks in with neighbourhood athletes around the world.
Running in Mexico City is not for the faint of heart. First of all you're at serious altitude: 2,200 metres, about a mile and a half above sea level. Then there's the heat, smog, traffic and 22 million people to navigate. Which is why local runner Leonora Manzano sometimes prefers to hit the trails in one of the surrounding national parks instead of the crowded city streets. Her favourite escape is the Nevado de Toluca, a national park on a long-extinct volcano, three hours outside Mexico City, where she first discovered her passion for running. Now, Leonora still comes here to run whenever she gets the chance.
On a bright, early morning in the lush greenery of the park, we tag along with Leonora on one of her loops to ask about how running has impacted her adult life.
What first got you into running?
When I was 20, I was in university on a scholarship and had to keep my grades up, and I dealt with the stress by partying and drinking excessively. That lifestyle takes a toll on your body. My first warning was an ulcer, which I ignored. Soon after I suffered an extremely painful case of facial paralysis. I went to so many doctors until I found Juan García, who practised acupuncture. He would tell me that I had to make changes in my life, and he invited me to run with his team. I brushed it off at first, until one day, after a session, I remember saying to him: "I owe you one". He called me a couple of days later and said: "Remember how you owe me one …?" He asked me to tag along the next day with him and his [running] team to the Nevado de Toluca. That changed my life.
What impact has running had on you since then?
Running has helped me value my relationships, because I know I have limited time to spend with my family, so I try to be fully present when we're together. If I'm with my kids, there's no phone, no training, nothing—I'm focused on them. That discipline and joy of knowing how to be in the moment is something I learnt from running. On a more personal level, not having to chase the adrenaline that I got from parties and alcohol, because I found a different source for it, minus the drawbacks, has been so positive. And of course, the connection I've forged to nature through training is priceless.
Do you prefer to run in nature or in the city?
I can't say I prefer one or the other, they're both special and important in their own ways. On a technical level, running on a trail builds stamina and strength, but knowing how to run on tarmac is important because, at the end of the day, most competitions will be in an urban setting.
"That discipline and joy of knowing how to be in the moment is something I learned from running".
What's the best part about running in each environment?
The views I've encountered on trails are stunning, but I remember once running at the Sierra Gorda in Querétaro, next to a river that ran through a cliff, and the sound was mind-blowing. I thought, what is this? I can't believe this is happening to me, to hear the echo of this river as I move through it ... Nature is beautiful, but getting to know your city by zigzagging through its streets is also special. I like to watch street vendors as they start setting up, and then later as we're running back, they're in full force, tending to customers who are racing against the clock to get to their offices. You see the evolution of a city being born with each morning.
You often run with others. What's the appeal of running with a group?
There are days when you say, "Damn, I don't really feel like getting up today, but I agreed to meet my friend". And I swear you can miss any other commitment in the world, but you'll never miss a training session. When you agree to meet at 6am, it's a pact that is sacred, more than any job. You can't fail them. When you're running with someone, you share parts of yourself and your life, and it's special because you're doing what you most love, next to someone who feels the same way. Sometimes you end up sharing more with them than with your own family.
Words: Karina Zatarain
Photography: Darryl Richardson