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Ariel Laguilles sat poolside at his Barcelona, Spain, hotel in early June, soaking in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun. A locally brewed Estrella Damm lager beer was within arm’s reach, and Laguilles’ wife, Marissa McInnis, relaxed nearby. Being on vacation more than 4,000 miles away from their taxing lives in D.C. meant the couple could unwind and find comfort in the slower pace of the Spanish city.
But Laguilles still felt restless. For the second day in a row, he hadn’t gone on a run.
No one would’ve blamed Laguilles, who turns 41 in July, if he’d wanted to take a few days—or weeks—off from running.
Two days earlier, he’d finished a 406-mile run from Azpeitia in the Basque Country of Spain to Manresa, setting a Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Camino Ignaciano, or the Ignatian Way—the same path that St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, walked nearly 500 years ago.
His time was eight days, 12 hours, and 45 minutes.
“Running is just such a big part of my life. It’s part of my routine,” Laguilles explains. “It’s right up there with eating and breathing. If I don’t do it, I feel off. If I’m not scheduling an off-day and if I don’t run, I just feel like my day isn’t complete.”
Being able to run is why he wakes up at 5 o’clock in the morning to pound the trails before going to work at the all-boys, Jesuit Gonzaga College High School, where he’s a Spanish teacher. It’s why he trains for ultramarathons—50Ks, 50 milers, and 100 mile races—and it’s why he was running through the Monegros Desert in northeastern Spain in 90-plus degree weather. McInnis knows what to expect when they’re on vacation.
“The weird part of living with someone like this is that that stuff kinda becomes normal,” she says. “If you’re with someone for a long time, if you believe in them and know they can do it, you just want to support them.”
Laguilles started out as a tennis player. He competed on the varsity tennis team at Gonzaga and played recreationally through his years as a Boston College student.
Running, at the time, was something he did to stay fit for tennis. He had run a few races, including jumping into the Boston Marathon his senior year of college without having registered (a frowned upon act called “banditing”), and remembers finishing in just under five hours.
“I didn’t know that was a bad thing to do,” he laughs.
It wasn’t until he became a Jesuit volunteer in Nicaragua that Laguilles formally signed up for his first long-distance race, a half marathon through the capital city of Managua. Unlike big races in the U.S., the organizers did not shut down roads, and he had to weave through commuters and traffic to finish.
But he was hooked, and shortly after, he registered for another race hosted by the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. He finished as the top American.
“So I just kept running,” Laguilles says. “It became one of those things I did. It was just like stress relief from teaching, just a different thing to do.”
When he returned to D.C., he started teaching and coaching tennis at Gonzaga, but kept up with his running. In 2010, he finished the Austin Marathon in 3:05:14 to legitimately qualify for the 2011 Boston Marathon, which he ran in 3:08:15.
Some runners are satisfied with sticking to the 26.2-mile distance, but the marathon marked a starting point, rather than the finish line, for Laguilles. He got into trail running, and then ultrarunning, and even started a social running group on H Street NE, the Argonaut Running Club, to foster a built-in local community around his sport. Laguilles is also Gonzaga’s assistant cross country coach and works part-time at the Pacers Running store in Navy Yard.
“We all have our sets of passions, we all have things that fill our buckets outside of our jobs,” says Sarah Miller, a former Gonzaga teacher who ran with the club. “You hope that people have an activity that makes them happy, fills up their soul tank … We all have that, but his is just very physically taxing.”
Last June, Laguilles and Miller traveled to Argentina as chaperones for an immersion trip to Buenos Aires organized by Gonzaga and the Varsity Sports and Educational Tours travel group. The founder of the group, Agustín Oulton, mentioned that he wanted to do a sporting event around the Ignatian Way, and Laguilles replied that he could probably run it.
“I took it seriously,” says Oulton, who attended Georgetown Unversity for his master’s degree in sports industry management. “I said, ‘Hey, if you want do it, I’ll support you.’”
“I guess we were having too much wine,” Oulton adds with a laugh.
The two didn’t waste much time getting the journey in motion, and set up a website and GoFundMe page for the 406-mile run. They set a tentative date for the following spring.
“400 miles in eight days is crazy no matter who is doing it,” Miller says. “But Ariel, as a colleague and friend, when he puts his mind to something, he goes through with it … When he puts his mind to something, he organizes and executes. He’s not the type of person who quits on stuff.”
A sharp pain would shoot up Laguilles’ right foot with each step he took on the sixth day of the Camino Ignaciano. He estimates that it took him about four hours to run 11 miles. He had injured his right ankle during a trail race back in February, and didn’t know if he could finish.
When he arrived at the aid station, his crew of Oulton and Diran Devletian gave him the encouragement he needed. By the time he left, with his ankle taped up, quitting the run “wasn’t an option in my head,” Laguilles says.
Two days later, McInnis cried as she saw her husband trot to the finish near the Cave of Saint Ignatius. Laguilles dropped his trail running poles one at a time before resting his hands on his knees. He could barely hold his body up.
“I never thought in a million years that I would have an FKT, and especially a multi-day one, that’s just insane to me,” Laguilles says. “I totally just ran eight days, like who does that? Like what, who comes up with this idea, first of all, and actually does it and has support to do it? It’s unreal.”
“To me, it has a lot more meaning for it because I’m Jesuit educated,” he adds. “I’m someone who works at Gonzaga, someone who believes in Ignatius education.”
Laguilles feels like he’s in the best shape of his life. He plans to concentrate on the 50 mile distance and has “unfinished business” with the Leadville Trail 100 Run, which he dropped out of in 2011 at about mile 70. But he won’t be competing as much this fall, he says. His attention will shift to another ultramarathon challenge.
McInnis is due to give birth to their first baby in September.