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Santana Gonzales Jr. of Amarillo, Texas, one of the One Run for Boston runners, has lost 80 pounds in two years and runs about a marathon a month. / Santana Gonzales Jr., Danny Bent

For Santana Gonzales, Jr., the One Run for Boston has brought together three things he cares about ?? transforming himself, raising money for the survivors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, and being in a community of runners.

Two years ago, the 48-year-old architectural intern from Amarillo, Texas, weighed over 300 pounds and had a list of health problems: high blood pressure, allergies, chronic cough, asthma, acid reflux and a heart condition so severe he had to keep nitroglycerin tablets with him.

Now, 80 pounds lighter and having traded lots of the fat for muscle, Gonzales is one of the trim heavy lifters in the One Run, a coast-to-coast running relay to raise money for the people affected by the April 15, 2013, bombing.

On Wednesday, Gonzales ran two back-to-back stages in the relay totaling 24 miles, and on Thursday, he ran two back-to-back legs totaling 22 miles --- feats that can only be carried out by the strongest of runners.

Gonzales said his drive to become healthy just happened to intersect with his anger at the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three people and injured almost 300.

"It hit me so hard," Gonzales said. "My family has stood at the finish line waiting for me. When I'm running, I have watched the spectators. It just makes me sick to know somebody did that."

Then last year, he heard three runners from the United Kingdom were organizing a charity relay to raise money for the One Fund Boston, the non-profit that aids those affected by the bombing. He is back this year as one of 3,000 runners who are raising money in the relay that started March 16 in Santa Monica, Calif., and ends April 13 in Boston. Gonzales also has been a big volunteer for the relay, bringing water and food to other runners as they made their way through remote parts of his state.

"I like the camaraderie of runners and what they pulled together," Gonzales said. "The One Run is like one big family to me. I have family members now across the United States."

Gonzales' fitness journey and his desire to help the Boston Marathon survivors just happened to cross paths.

Two years ago, Gonzales got tired of the way he was living. He couldn't walk 10 minutes without his heart rate shooting up to 185 and getting pains in his chest. He began working out, running and walking a little.

"Somebody said, 'Do you want to run a 5K?' I said, 'I don't know what a 5K is,' "Gonzales said.

But he started walking and running a lot. "I'd run for 10 minutes, 12 minutes. I thought my lungs were going to explode."

At that first 5K ?? a mud run that he did with his son ?? he finished in 58 minutes. His time was slower than most runners, but the experience of pushing himself and being around other runners was enough for him to get hooked.

He began doing about one 5K a month and one Friday, someone told him there was a half marathon the next day and suggested he run it. He signed up for the 13.1-mile race, not realizing what he was getting himself into.

By mile 9, his hips locked up. "I have never felt such excruciating pain," he said.

He remembers staggering toward the finish, and to his surprise, people were cheering wildly.

"They were screaming and clapping and hollering for me," Gonzales said. "I started getting energy and chils, and tears started coming down. I ran on through the finish and I thought, 'What is this?' "

Two and a half weeks later, Gonzales found himself at an ultra-marathon, a race that is longer than the official 26.2-mile marathon distance. This race was 31 miles, a 50K, up and down steep, rugged trails, the kind of race only the most fit runners will tackle.

It took him eight hours and 45 minutes to finish. "I was hallucinating. My fingers swole. I could barely stinking walk," he said.

Fast forward to the present, Gonzales has run 19 marathons in 14 months, and six of those were ultra marathons. Included in that is a series of five marathons in five days in five states.

Kate Treleaven, one of the three organizers of the One Run for Boston, says Gonzeles' story is similar to others that she's heard as she's met participants in the relay. Many people signed up as non-runners and their desire to help the bombing victims also turned into a drive to get fit, she said. Some became even more motivated when they found themselves able to run twice the distance than that which they'd signed up, she said.

"What is so lovely is there is one thing that unites everyone and it's this common cause, but after that, there are so many different benefits," Treleaven said. "There are runners only used to running about five miles and they sign up for a leg of 10 miles. Time and time again, you see these people finish the whole thing and they tell us, 'Oh my goodness, until I did this One Run, I never did more than five miles.' They're thinking of the people they were raising the money for."

Gonzales said that has been part of his motivation too.

"I've never raised money or done anything like that, and I have been really working this because I just feel like these people need to be taken care of," he said.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Texas runner's fitness, One Run for Boston paths cross

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