El Paso's Big Three Open At Parra Law Eastwood Preseason

Last year's road race had an exciting start full of El Paso's top distance runners.

This past Track season was full of excitement as El Paso's athletes really broke barriers further cementing the city as one of the top spots of productive athletes in the state. Fast forward a few months and we are ready to dive into the Cross Country season! Last year we saw a San Elizario's Edwin Gomez become the second individual in El Paso to qualify to NxN. Then we had El Paso Eastwood make history as they became the only team in the city to qualify to NxN. They went nearly undefeated in their season but didn't shy away from challenges as they visited one of the most prestigious meets of the season in California at the Woodbridge Invitational where they placed 5th. So this coming Friday we are sure to get a taste of what these teams are going to dish out this upcoming Cross Country season.

San Elizario's Edwin Gomez in the front pack at NxR. Gomez would later qualify to NxN with this performance.

This will be the 5th race Mike McLain from El Paso's Eastwood High School has been hosting what has become "THE" race of the summer. The Parra Law Eastwood Community Road Race is a unique 5k in one of El Paso's hot spots in the city. McLain has designed a legit 5k course that's chipped timed and ran in one of the city's prized parks, but that's not what makes this race interesting. To beat the heat, this race is run at night! Glow sticks are sold so that you can see the neon colors as they dash through the park. Smoke bombs are set off on both sides of the starting line as the runners take off as well. The course is mapped out with solar lit lights that guide runners throughout the race and when they cross the finish line they are greeted with family and friends who are enjoying great music and lights provided by a local El Paso DJ. The energy even drew interest of one of the city's best runners, Luis Romero, aka "Ricky Bobby." Luis set the course 5k record at 15:50.50 2 years ago getting first place. Luis is also well known for training under the legendary Leonel Manzano, who silver medaled in the 1500m at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

As news of this competitively growing race spread throughout the city, we are now treated every year to a showdown between the "Big Three" running teams in the city. San Elizario High School, who had been the state's 4A Cross Country champions for 4 consecutive years will be attendance. Last year we unfortunately didn't get to see Edwin Gomez race due to an injury but this year he will be in attendance to flex his muscles!  Behind them we have the 2nd place 3A state medalists in Tornillo High School who are also planning on joining the race. And of course it's no surprise that we have the 1st place state medalists/NxN Qualifiers in the 5A division Eastwood High School who will also be racing. We're guaranteed fireworks as these three power houses go against one another in what has become an annual pre Cross Country race.

Former Eastwood runner Gabriel Armijo will be representing UH in Friday's race.

Last year we were treated to 2 races within a race as we saw some amazing collegiate talent battle it out with the high school athletes not too far showing they can impress as well. And the way this race is shaping up we will also have the biggest group of collegiate athletes also entering the race this year. Schools represented in the race will be NMSU, UH, and UTEP to name a few. Some notable athletes you need to look out for are Kayn Quinones and Eddie Gallegos who both came off of amazing senior years athletically. Then we have Gabriel Armijo and Brandon Seagreaves who are running over in Houston for the legendary Steve Magness. So we will have some of the best distance runners to ever come out of El Paso who will be attendance once again!

We were able to catch up with Franklin's Coach Laspada. This is the second year his team will be participating in the race.

TX MS - You're coming off of a fantastic 2018 XC season with your girls and an even better 2019 Track season. What do you attribute this success to and what can we expect from your team this year?

Coach Laspada - There were lots of components that factored into our success as a program last year. Number one, was that we had to be consistent every single day. In order for us to be successful and to get the most out of our kids, I knew it was critical for them to be at every practice with a positive mindset. We also needed to make sure that practices had a purpose and were based on quality. This year will be very interesting. We lost 3 seniors who played a big role in winning district.  I do believe I have kids who will be able to fill in nicely. We are absolutely excited to see how far we can go in both Cross Country and Track this year!

TX MS - Last year was your team's first real appearance in this race. What is so appealing about this race for you?

Coach Laspada - This race is very appealing because of the competition. The summer runs can be a little monotonous and this race comes at the perfect time to break up that monotony. I'm hoping that we have several kids who compete this year.

TX MS - Do you use it as an early benchmark for your team and how do you think it benefits your runners for the upcoming season?

Coach Laspada - I do use this race as a benchmark. It gives me an idea about personnel and it also allows kids to step up during the heat of competition with others besides their own teammates. We love this race. I believe it benefited our kids tremendously last year and made them excited for the start of the season!

Coach Mike McLain from Eastwood High School has been a very integral part in setting the standard for what it takes to have a successful program in El Paso. He's proven that in order to beat the best you have to compete against the best. This culture has trickled down to other programs in the city, and more and more are starting to test their teams in out of town competition. So it's no surprise that the highlight race of the summer is run by Mike. We were lucky enough to talk to McLain again on the evolution of this race and what it means for the city's running scene.

TX MS - When you think of the evolution of this race, it's slowly becoming THE race of the summer that really kicks off the season. Did you ever imagine it getting this kind of attention?

Coach McLain - The first year it was really just Eastwood out there with Eastwood parents. I liked it because the race motivated the kids with summer training. It gave our team and parents an opportunity to bond and the night race provided a fun environment. It has grown tremendously! Last year we had runners from 5 different schools as well as road racers from all over the city. This year the numbers are way up and we have even attracted runners from 4 different states. With a DJ at the finish line, smoke bombs at the starting line, glow sticks marking the course and the 7 foot blue bots waiting for the runners at the finish line, it has really turned into a fun and unique environment.

TX MS - Your girls qualified for State for the first time last year and your boys made history with their season. Consistency and relevancy seem to be an unwritten song about you and your team/ How does this help propel your team into the season and what are your expectations for your team this year boys and girls?

Coach McLain - Well our team is always the underdog! We are a small middle class school that does not get the club kids like the Far East El Paso schools do. What we do get is what I call no names. Kids who no one knows but they work their tails off! We work on strength/speed year round and it seems to be working well. We hope that our girls can make it back to state and finish in the top 10 there. Last year the boys made NxN and we would like to make it again and improve on our finish there. But number 1, we want to work hard and we don't want to ever forget to have fun, win or lose, have fun!

TX MS - How does a race like this benefit the city of El Paso? Also, where would you like to see this race 2-3 years from now?

Coach McLain - Now instead of just Eastwood bonding with each other all the teams that attend bond with each other and this helps these kids compete in big out of town meets later. As far as where I'd like the meet to be, I really enjoy the bonding that the running community is doing at the race. I hope that more schools who understand how we can accomplish more together than we can by ourselves start coming and I don't know if this would ever happen but it would be very cool if that running community would extend past El Paso; maybe to Lac Cruces, NM or beyond.

Eastwood lost two very good runners last year in graduating seniors Eddie Gallegos and Kayne Quinones but they have a lot of young talent who are expected to really shock some schools this upcoming season.  They have two returning seniors who are shaping up for their best season yet in Elias Perez who finished 21st at the 5A State meet with a time of 15:47.13 and Juan Olmos who finished 12th with a time of 15:33.69.

Then last but certainly not least we have Tornillo High School who's seen great success on a yearly basis by consistently making it to State. They really do fly under the radar as far as the state is concerned but there really is no shortage of talent on this team.  Ofir Ortega is their team's stud. Ortega is a senior this year who's shown great humility on and off the field and their coaches expect great things from him this upcoming Cross Country season. He managed to finish 23rd at the 3A State meet last year with a time of 16:53.77.

Eastwood's Juan Olmos poses with the Light Bots at last year's road race.

This race continues to grow every year and is now attracting nationwide attention as we see competitive and running enthusiasts come from different states to challenge themselves in what is one of the more unique races of the year. Some other schools who are jumping in on the action are Franklin High, Bel Air High, Del Valle High and Montwood High. So if you're in the area you definitely need to come by and participate in what's going to be THE pre Cross Country race of the season. If not at the very least come check out the action and be sure to stay vigilant as we will bring you lots of coverage from the meet. If you're interested in signing up for the meet click HERE to check out all the info on the race of the summer. It's July 26, at 8:00pm MDT. Stay tuned!