It’s 30 degrees out! Who’s that fellow running bare-chested, without a shirt? Why that’s Evanston Running Club’s (ERC) own Elpidio Vilchez on his way to another PR (personal record for those of you who don’t run). Elpidio, or as he’s becoming known, “el speedio,”—by me at least—is a very talented master’s (over 40 years old) runner, whose story is all the more remarkable considering that he didn’t start running until about seven years ago to improve his health and to lose weight. He recently set his 5k PR at the Good Life Race in Oak Park, Illinois where he ran 16:15 and improved his PR by almost 30 seconds, and in the process won the overall Master’s trophy for the fastest runner over 40. Than a few weeks later he again set a half marathon PR of 1:18:14 at the First Midwest Half Marathon in Palos Height, and again was the first over 40 runner. Not bad for a 42-year old former non-runner.
Everyone now knows who he is by his distinctive shirtless running style, his considerable racing skill and the tattoos on his back with all of his marathon times.
We know him not only because of this, but also because of his infectious spirit and the encouragement he gives to other runners. When he’s at a race he is on the sidelines, after he’s finished his own race, cheering other runners as they finish theirs. Those of us who finish well behind him welcome the good wishes and encouragement he gives us. I can plainly hear him in my mind, “Go Will, go Nancy, go Fritz, go Debbie,” as we shuffle by on our way to the finish line. He will often run with some of his friends at races, when he is not running himself, to help them achieve their racing goals. He is our biggest cheerleader, as well as one of our most accomplished runners.
What’s most remarkable is the transformation he has made to his health, his body and his life through running. Running has given much to Elpidio, including the love of his life, Debbie Warner, another ERC club member who he met in 2009 while running with a group of runners at a local park. She started running with a group that included Elpidio. They were friends for four years, but as Elpidio says, “I don’t know what happened but suddenly we became a couple.” Their affection for each other is obvious when we see both of them at races.
I recently met up with him to ask a few questions and below are some of his answers.
When did you start running?
I started running in 2008.
Why did you start running?
I started running to lose weight. I weighed almost 210 pounds and I wanted to get healthy, so I started running. For four months I ran on a treadmill, and then I started out running four miles outside.
What was your first race?
My first race was a 15k race in St. Charles, Illinois. I met Enrique Murillo, a former ERC member, at a local park and started to run with him and his group. He was a very enthusiastic supporter of running and encouraged me to run a race. He kept telling me I should race, but I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But he kept insisting, so I ran the race and finished in 1:10 and I won a medal for getting 3rd in my age group, and I have been racing and winning medals ever since.
What was your first marathon?
I ran my first marathon in 2009. It was the Indianapolis Marathon in the fall of that year. Enrique kept encouraging me to run a marathon. I thought it wouldn’t be that hard—only 10 more miles than my 15k—until I realized it was 42 kilometers long, and more than 15 miles farther than the 15k. I ran the first half in 1:41 and the second half in 1:37 which is pretty good, but I still don’t know how I finished.
Why do you race without a shirt?
I believe it helps me to run five seconds faster per mile. My breathing is a little bit slower without a shirt. It’s like breathing through my skin, I feel like it regulates my body temperature more efficiently.
Have you had what you would consider a breakthrough race? What was the race and what made it a breakthrough for you?
My first marathon in 2009 was my big breakthrough. When I was at the starting line I doubted I could finish it, but I did and my time was 3:19.
What are some of your running PRs?
5k–Good Life Race, Oak Park, Illinois-16:15
Marathon—Chicago Marathon 2011- 2:49:00
What is a typical training week for you now?
A typical week of training–Monday 50 min recovery, Tuesday track workout-varies, Wednesday 10 miles 7 min (base pace) Thursday 7 miles at 8 mi pace 56 min. Friday track workout-varies, Saturday off or recovery, Sunday long run 14-16 miles, one and one normal pace 7 to 6:45 pace, fast pace 6 to 5:40 pace! I am currently coached by Robert Alvarez of the Chicago Road Runners and am running faster paces in my hard workouts and doing two track workouts a week instead of just one.
What’s the farthest you’ve run?
Marathon distance–26.2 Miles
What are your favorite things to eat before, and after a race?
Pre-race—meat; a good big and juicy steak! Post-race–anything!! LOL (Elpido’s own words in a Facebook post)
What do you most enjoy about running?
I can eat whatever I want. I love to eat and running helps me burn off calories so I can enjoy food without worrying about gaining weight. (Parenthetically, all his Facebook followers can tell how much he loves to eat by all the pictures of food he posts on his home page.)
What do you least enjoy about running?
Running by my self. I enjoy running with friends and having company on my runs.
What has running given you?
Running has given me a better life. I have gotten to know many interesting people and have friends now that I probably would not have without running. Many of my friends in the club are from a different socio-economic background than me with interesting and successful careers. Running has also helped me deal with the anger and disappointments I had when I was younger. It has made me calmer, and I am a happy person because of my running. One of my goals now is to keep running for the rest of my life. I see many older people in the Evanston Running Club still running and enjoying it, and they are role models for me.
What are your running goals for 2015?
Since I just got my new P/R for 5k (16:14), the New York Marathon will be my next big challenge, but till then I would love to get some more PRs at different distances.
All of us in the Evanston Running Club are so pleased he has been running with us. We wish him more PRs in the future, and look forward to hearing his infectious, enthusiastic cheering at many more races.