MHS’s fastest give some pointers

Marathon High School junior Joel Zaila trains six days a week, keeps a 3.2 GPA, and can outrun most people in the Keys. Placing first overall in many local races, he has high hopes of coming in top 5, or at the least top 10, at next weekend’s annual 7 Mile Bridge Run – a run that attracts some of the fastest amateur racers from around the country to travel the 6.8 miles across the Atlantic Ocean span.


Last year, Zaila finished in 51 minutes, when he just started nurturing his running. This year, he has his eyes set on 42 minutes. The first place finisher in the 2015 race ran the span in 39 minutes, 18 seconds — that’s a 5 minute, 47 second-pace.

“I am more focused mentally this year,” he said. “The best advice I have is to have fun. There is no reason to run if it isn’t fun and if you aren’t pushing it to the limit.”

Also running from Marathon High School is senior Gabby Ceja, who will tackle the bridge for her fifth time. Running the span her fastest in 1 hour, 7 minutes, she placed third in her division in 2014. She started running in second grade for the annual jog-a-thon and hasn’t stopped since.


Both agree that to run the bridge, the more you train the better, and that pacing is key to making it across without puttering out.

Coach Murphy tells his runners over and over: “Do not die in the first two miles.”

Murphy said he has noticed that many of his runners are in the top 10 one mile into the race, but then don’t finish in under an hour because they burn themselves out. He said he spent this year working with them on pacing longer races.

“We ran from Marathon High School around Aviation Boulevard and back for training,” said Ceja, an honor roll student, who hasn’t been training as much as she’d like since cross country ended due to her after school and weekend job. “My goal is to just not walk, maybe slow jog, but not walk.”

Zaila uses local races to help him train, two of his favorites being the No Name Run and the Sombrero 15K Challenge. His biggest help is the local competition like Francisco Ramirez. “We push each other a lot,” he said. “It’s a good friendship and rivalry.”


The Weekly will be cheering on these two — and the other 1,498 runners —  next week for the race. Remember to plan accordingly, since the bridge will be closed on Saturday, April 9 from 6:45 until 9 a.m.

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