Tough Guy List

Updated 1/22/15
This journal is basically a catalog of area mountain trails and how awesome they are. There are a select few northern New Mexican runners that rocked these trails so hard their names are permanently attached to them. What better reason to start a list of these tough guys and gals and their age-less accomplishments.

  1. Steve Gachupin                   6. Simon Gutierrez                  11. Lionel Ortega
  2. Tony Sandoval                     7Rachael Cuellar                 12. David Segura
  3. Lynn Bjorklund                    8. George Young                     13. Senovio Torres
  4. Al Waquie                            9. Chuck Aragon                     14. Janine Aiello
  5. Erica Larson Baron            10Dan Maas

Related Links:
  - 2015 Calendar of New Mexico Trail Races
  - Course Records and Best Known Times - New Mexico

Steve Gachupin, (Jemez) 

Myself, Coach Gachupin, and Herman - Oct '10
First on the list. The original, the guy that put the Pikes Peak Trail Marathon on the map. When I had the chance to meet Steve earlier this year the first words out of his mouth were 'Steve Gachupin, King of the Mountain, six-time champion of the Pikes Peak Marathon, nice to meet you'. True, true, and true - and seriously badass.

The guy won the Pikes Peak Marathon six years straight ('66 - '71), with a best of 3hrs 39min. According to Steve, he ran to one of his victories in converse high-tops and no socks. Here at home, he ran to five La Luz titles ('66-'69, 71) with a best time of an 1hr 6min. Over a three week period in the summer of '68 Steve raced and won La Luz, Pikes Peak, then placed 15th in the first Olympic Trials Marathon (raced at altitude in Alamosa, CO, alt. 7500 ft.). K.O.M.

See also:  Gachupin & Billy Mills

Steve Gachupin runner
photo via the

Steve Gachupin runner
image by SkyRunner

Here's Steve minted on a CO commemorative coin after he broke the record in '67.  He demolished that record with his 4th title the next year (3hr39min).

Tony Sandoval, (Los Alamos)
Tony Sandoval runner
Tony in '82

1980 Olympic Trials Marathon Champion, one of the favorites for the Moscow Games before the disastrous boycott. Sandoval grew up in Truchas and Los Alamos, running to multiple state championships as a senior, and a La Luz title, felling Gachupin's then course record as a prep - which is ridiculous. He ran for Stanford on scholarship then went on to med-school at the Univ. of Colorado and studies in cardiology.

Eventually moving up to the marathon, he took a crack at a trip to Montreal in the 1976 Olympic Trials, finishing fourth as the alternate. He later ran to a 2:14 finish in Eugene, OR, off of a reported training block of 35mpw due to school and other obligations. He used the hills above Truchas to train up for the '80 Trials and ran to a then Trials' record time of 2:10:18 that stood for 24yrs. The President's boycott doomed Sandoval's chances of a possible medal run in Moscow. Returning from semi-retirement, Sandoval finished 6th in the '84 Trials and then 27th in the '88 Trials. He ran in the '92 Trials but retired with injury before the finish.
Tony Sandoval runner
Sandoval leading Benji Durden at the '80 Trials
But wait, there's more. Aside from being a noted badass, Tony also had several children which if you grew up running in northern New Mexico during the last fifteen years, have more than likely run you into the ground more than a few times. For a long period (10yrs or more) the prep state track and XC titles were under regular siege by a Sandoval girl in a Los Alamos singlet. I personally had my ass handed to me by Magdalena on La Luz a couple years ago despite my best race on that hill. Easy to shrug off though when you understand the connection to Tony Sandoval, tough guy extraordinaire.

Lynn Bjorklund, (Los Alamos)

Bjorklund at the finish of her record PPMarathon, '81
Bjorklund was a contemporary of Sandoval's at Los Alamos High School in the early 70's. Before going on to trail running legend, she was a prep standout running to a national 3000m mark (9min 8s) that still stands.

Lynn stormed the west face of Sandia Peak winning three consecutive La Luz titles over years '74-'76. She ran to National cross-country titles in both '75 and '76 and competed in the World Cross Country Championship in '76 finishing seventh overall and pacing the US Women's team to a third place finish. She won her first Pikes Peak Ascent title in '76 at the age of 19, breaking the course record by 20min (2hr 44min). She won another Ascent title in '80 lowering the course record another 3min (2hr 41min). She then won her only marathon title in '81 lowering the then course record by 23min (4hr 15min), as well as lowering her own ascent record at the turnaround by an additional 7min (2hr 33min). Nasty. Both of these records are still on the books thirty years later.

Like Steve, Tony, and Al - Lynn still calls northern New Mexico home.

Al Waquie, (Jemez) 

Al Waquie runner
Al sending La Luz

Waquie is a New Mexico trail running legend that stands alone, although he did follow in the footsteps of friend and fellow Jemez runner Steve Gachupin since both were storied Jemez runners. In addition to racking up eight straight victories on La Luz ('77-'85), Waquie won titles at the Pikes Peak marathon in '81 and '82, and added an Ascent title in '84 (2hr 10min). His win in '81 was a new record that would stand for ten years, 3hr 26min, besting Gachupin's old record and crushing the then standing record of Ouray's Rick Trujillo (3hr31min). His ascent time at the turnaround in '81 was 2hr 5min - lightning fast, seven minutes better than the winning time in the previous days Ascent posted by Alamosa's Pat Porter. Waquie was really good. In addition to the trail titles he won three Duke City Marathon titles with a best of 2:21:09 in 1981. He also dominated the Empire State Building Stair Climb for several years, winning six straight titles in the 80's.

Waquie was in his prime when I was a kid, and the best story I recall about the guy involved him and a few friends out hunting in the Jemez and get snowed in with a storm of ~15". They quickly realize they're in a bit of trouble - can't drive out for several days plus they're wet and cold. Al determines the direction he needs to go and runs twelve miles through the knee-high drifts to get help. No small feat. I always picture him in pants and boots, maybe a hooded coat, just post-holing for hours through a snow-choked canyon. Waquie still calls northern New Mexico home, working - fittingly - for the National Forest Service.

Update (7/12/11):  A funny story related to me recently by Chris Chavez - Back in the day the race organizers for La Luz would start the race, then drive around to the summit and set up the finish line and awards table. In one of Waquie's dominant years when he was just unstoppable he apparently made it to the summit before they did. The guy just comes running up around the final bend only to find that he's the first one there. They gave him a time of 60min flat although he was likely faster. He ran without a watch so had no idea. That's when you know you're hard as hell. That's like the Chuck Norris of running right there. (Thanks Chris!)


Erica Larson Baron, (Los Alamos) 

Erica Larson Baron runnerBaron holds multiple titles on area trail classics. Five time champion of the La Luz Trail Run (2003, 2009-11) with a best climb of 1hr 30min. She's a five time champion of the Pikes Peak Marathon with a best time of 4hr 22min. Baron won four straight titles from 1999-2002, settling for runner-up in 2003, and then taking the title back in 2004. Baron also claimed a Pikes Peak Ascent title in 1998 (3hr 5min). Continuing the haul of awards and hardware, Baron ran to back-to-back championships at the Leadville Trail Marathon in 2003 and 2004.

Ahh, but the resume continues: aside from winning both Pikes Peak and Leadville in her 2004 season, she actually began the year running in the Olympic Marathon Trials in St. Louis, MO, finishing 34th overall (2hr 45min). This same year she added a U.S. title at the Mt. Washington Road Race (NH), and a spot on the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team.

An incredible runner. Even beat me like a wet rug on La Luz one year. Baron is the first athlete on the Tough Guy (Gal) list that didn't originally hail from New Mexico, but she solved the restraints of altitude quite handily and belongs solidly on this list.

Update:  In 2011, Baron claimed the half marathon title and course record at the Jemez Mountain Trial Run (1hr 48:39); as well as another La Luz Title.

Simon Gutierrez, (Albuquerque/Alamosa CO) 

Simon Gutierrez runner
At Pikes Peak
A multiple New Mexico prep state champion at Del Norte High before running to third at Kinneys Cross Country Nationals the fall of his senior year (1983). Gutierrez ran collegiately for the University of Arizona, competing on two Junior World Cross teams during this time ('84-'85).

Simon Gutierrez runner
Climbing through weather
His gift for cross country racing eventually shaped his running career as a dominating hill climb and mountain racer. Gutierrez has run as a member of the Senior US World Cross team ('89), and was a three time member of the US Mountain Running Team. As far as I know he has never lost a race up La Luz, owning the course for better than a decade. He holds a record eleven championships of the La Luz Trail Race (best time of 1:15:09), including seven in a row from 2002-2008 (also 1997-99). He's also a three time champion of the Pikes Peak Ascent, with a best time of 2:13:29, and a three time champion of the prestigious Mt Washington Road Race ('02-'03, '05).

In league with Waquie as probably the best trail runner that's ever come out of the state of New Mexico.


Rachael Cuellar, (Albuquerque)

Rachael Cuellar runner A Sandia High and New Mexico State University grad, Cuellar is a record seven time champion of the La Luz Trail Race, including five victories in a row from 2004-2008, with a fastest climb of 1hr 34:42. Her other titles were won in 2002 and 2011. In fact, the only runner that has beaten her to the top of Sandia Crest is Erica Baron. Good company.

Cuellar has also taken top honors at the Big Tesuque Trail Run in 2009 and 2011, with a likely course record time of 1hr 30:26 run in 2009. She notched a 4th place finish at New Hampshire's prestigious 2011 Mt. Washington Rd Race, and has numerous other titles to her name including selection as a member of the 2008 Teva Mountain Running Team.

While in college Cuellar re-wrote the school's record books. Running for NMSU she became the first women's athlete in school history to qualify for the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Upon graduation she owned all of NMSU's womens all-time distance marks including the toughest event on the track, the steeplechase. Tough as nails.


George Young, (Silver City) 

George Young olympic runner
George Young over the water pit
Arguably the best New Mexican runner of all-time. Young grew up in Silver City during the 50's competing for Western High School in Track and Cross Country. Pre-dating competitive trail and mountain running, Young excelled at several other elements of tough-guy running including his specialty event the steeplechase, beating near everyone he raced to the finish line over a twelve year career, and heaping loads of pain and suffering on his competition. 
Young lettered at the Univ. of Arizona, and after graduation ran to national records in the steeplechase (8:31.0 in '61, then 8:30.6 in '68), the two mile (8:22.0 in '68), and the 5000m (13:32.2 in '71), and indoor world records in the two mile and three mile distances. He was the first American runner to compete in four Olympiads spanning the '60, '64, '68, and '72 Olympic Games as a contemporary of Schul, Ryun, and Mills. At the '68 Games in Mexico City he ran to steeplechase bronze (8:51.86) after coming up short (5th place) at the '64 Games in Tokyo (8:38.2). In addition to claiming a spot on the podium he raced to a 16th place finish in the marathon (2:31:15). At the '72 Games in Munich he ran the 5000m alongside young American upstart Steve Prefontaine who had edged him out at the Trials.

In March '72, Young ran his first and only sub-four minute mile at 34yrs of age (3:59.6 mile) in Los Angeles, CA. He was the oldest runner to have accomplished the feat at that time, and the first New Mexican born runner to break four minutes for the mile. The resume of a complete badass.

See also:  New Mexico's Four Minute Milers

Chuck Aragon, (Los Lunas) 

Chuck Aragon runner
Aragon running 2nd to Maree at the '84 Olympic Trials
Aragon was a champion track and cross country runner for Los Lunas in the 70's before being recruited to run at the University of Notre Dame. He became the first Fighting Irish runner to break the four minute mile with a 3:59.92 indoors effort in Champaign, IL, Feb 1981. Thirty years later he still holds the Notre Dame 1500m record of 3:38.40 (3:56mile equivalent) set the same year. Aragon ran a lifetime mile best of 3:51.62 at the Dream Mile in Oslo, July 1984, which ranks him just outside the ten fastest American milers of all-time.

A heartbreaking finish at the 1984 Olympic Trials added some darkness to his otherwise decorated career. In a four-way kick down the homestretch Aragon was out-leaned at the line by storied miler Sydnee Maree who claimed the third and final 1500m spot on the Olympic team. Aragon's desperate lean went all the way to the tartan where he lay for some time, shattered. Tragically, Maree eventually scratched from the Olympic pre-lims the week of the Games due to injury. Aragon was the alternate but the late scratch left no time for him to compete. Chuck completed his medical studies at UNM and retired from running to pursue a career as a physician.

See also:  New Mexico's Four Minute Milers


Dan Maas, (Santa Fe) 

Maas was a multiple New Mexico state champion at Santa Fe Preparatory before running collegiately for coaching legend Joe Vigil at Adams State College. During his summers home from Alamosa, Maas put together a string of three straight titles at the La Luz Trail Run, covering the years 1990-92, with a fastest time of 1:14:49. The second fastest man up the climb all-time - not named Waquie. Maas returned in 1995 to claim his fourth and final La Luz title.

As a collegiate he ran to multiple NAIA titles, captained the team to multiple track and cross country team titles, and still holds the twenty year old Adams State 1500m record of 3:39.64 (equivalent to a 3:57mile). He first broke the four minute mile barrier at Hayward Field in Eugene, with a time of 3:58.83 in the 1992 Prefontaine Classic. He later competed in both the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Trials, qualifying through to the finals in '92, finishing eighth.

See also:  New Mexico's Four Minute Milers

Lionel Ortega, (Albuquerque) 

Ortega in the '79 Nike OTC marathon -
wearing the bib number of the
defending champ (courtesy of J. Volk)
A West Mesa High graduate, Ortega was a three-time runner-up at La Luz, twice to Faustino Salazar and once to Al Waquie who ran to record-breaking efforts in all three races.

Ortega ran to multiple WAC conference championships running for the University of New Mexico in the 1970s and was a National Class marathoner - champion of the prestigious Nike OTC marathon in Eugene with a best time of 2:14:25 in 1978, the third best performance all time by a New Mexican. He was also one of the early champions of the Duke City marathon, running 2:27:42 for the win in 1974. A two-time Olympic Trials qualifier (1980 and 1984).

Rumor has it that Ortega ran most of his marathon training on the UNM track - 100+ miles a week. The University banned him from its use at one point, even though he was an alum. He'd sneak back in anyway and had the cops called on him for trespassing at least once. Terrific story.


Segura leads a chase pack in the
'79 OTC marathon (courtesy of J. Volk)
Third place finish up La Luz in 1978 behind New Mexico all-timers Al Waquie and Ric Rojas, Lionel Ortega running in fourth. National Class track athlete in the 1970s for the University of New Mexico.

National Class marathoner with a best time of 2:13:59 in 1979 at the Nike OTC marathon in Eugene (pictured right), which remains the NCAA American collegiate marathon record and the second best performance all time by a New Mexican. That was the world mark for age 20-under for a decade and the US mark for a debut marathon for two decades.

Segura was responsible for starting up the now very successful St. Michael's High School cross country programs during the 1990s before moving on to coach collegiately. He was an Olympic Trials qualifier in 1980.

Senovio Torres, (Cordova)

Torres at the 2013 Buffalo
Thunder Half Marathon
Endurance guys that have been around a while talk about Torres in hushed and reverent tones. He made a name for himself in New Mexico running-circles by putting up multiple Best Known Times (BKT) on tough area trail-enduro test-pieces such as Wheeler Peak, Three Peaks above Santa Fe, Stone Lions at Bandelier, etc. This was all done in the obscurity of the 80's and 90's before ultras and mountain running gained mass appeal. 

Torres made a much bigger name for himself regionally when he built up a collection of multiple age-group records on the Pikes Peak Marathon course, most of which have been untouchable to all but one runner, peerless trail legend Matt Carpenter. In all, Torres has 17 finishes at Pikes Peak, five of them record breakers, his best effort being a 3hr 46min mark set back in 1993 (crazy fast). He once held three age-group records concurrently. Now that Carpenter is slowly pulling back his earlier ones, Torres is left with two. Additionally, he has one title in one try at Big Tesuque back in 1992; Imogene and La Luz perhaps were too short for him. A seriously talented runner, particularly in the hills and higher elevations. 

Janine Aiello, (Taos) 

A National Class marathoner in the 1980s and 90s with a best time of 2:34:34, likely the best performance all time by a New Mexican over the distance. Two-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier (1988-1992). Two-time Duke City Marathon champion and the 2nd best time in the history of the event at 2:48:40 in 1991.


  1. dude! love the updates to your blog...keep on writing.

  2. Sure thing Herman. I was plotting several ways in which I could slide you into my Tough Guy List, but most of them would involve you winning a major trail race. We'll add to our training runs in another month or two. I have faith in you bro.

  3. In the photo of Tony Sandoval in the '80 trials, the guy he's running with is Benji Durden, not Kyle Heffner.

  4. Appreciated - the caption has been corrected. The original image identifies the runner as Heffner, but that's clearly Durden. On a tough guy list of his own somewhere.

  5. So glad I found your site, great testament to New Mexico running talent. Wonderful that I see Senovio 'Leo' Torres in your honors list. It was always fun to try to stay with him on the uphills, but he was gone like a Puma on the downhills. Compare his downhill times during Pike's with Matt Carpenter's and you will understand his solid ageless achievements in the event. Thanks.
    Mike D.

    1. I was fortunate to run a 24hr relay in the early 70's with Steve Gauchipin,Tony Sandoval
      and 7 others.I originally was an alternate,but ended up running (as slowest runner)and it was a humbling experience.I hadn't been under 5:00 for the mile yet
      and running with these great runners who were clicking off sub 4:30 miles like machines.

    2. Quite the group. Hopefully you were keen enough to pry a few secrets from these guys? Did you all run equivalent mileage? If so I suppose you were on your feet double the time while those guys were kicking-back.

  6. Glad you found the site and glad you like the write-up of Senovio. Straight up legend that guy. It bugged me for quite some time that there were all these great athletes out there and even greater stories and anecdotes yet none of it could be found anywhere. All word of mouth and excited re-tellings of this story or that story. Was someone ever going to write any of this down? Turns out I was that guy.

    If you have any specific stories the relate to Torres' descents or accolades or other related tales from the trail let me know and we'll publish them to the site.

  7. What has become of the great Meldon Sanchez,AKA Benny,ran w him at ENMU,great person, amazing runner.

  8. Time to look at Senovio’s daughter, Sofia Torres .. she’s definitely tough man quality!



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