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The longest relay race in Europe is also a pilgrimage, the brainchild of a sports coach

Vicente del Bosque with Lázaro Linares

GAFU

Vicente del Bosque (left) with Lázaro Linares (right)

Benito Rodríguez - published on 10/14/22

The longest race in Europe, with over 1,000 participants, is actually a tribute to Our Blessed Mother.

The first weekend in October marked the end of the 25th annual relay race in Spain from Tajamar (Madrid) to Torreciudad (Huesca). It’s the longest race in Europe, 310 miles (500 km) uninterrupted, in relays of 6.25 miles (10 km) each. It’s two consecutive days of running to offer to Our Lady of Torreciudad the athletes’ sports achievements harvested during that year, in addition to personal intentions.

25 Years of the relay race

Hundreds of runners warmed up at the starting line. In a group was one of many families. The mother and father were there accompanied by their four children. Despite being very young, the boys said proudly that they were going to run their full segment of the race.

Their mother was happy to participate: “It’s satisfying to run with them, to run as a family; it unites us a lot. It’s satisfying. And the fruit of our effort is a tribute to Our Lady.”

There was a great family atmosphere, with grandparents and grandchildren taking part.

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The participants in the race were of all ages.

The arrival at Torreciudad took place on Saturday at 11 a.m. It was a celebration during which they placed at Mary’s feet all the effort of the race, the successes achieved during the year, and a special thanks to the creator of the race, Lazaro Linares.

The man behind the event

Who is behind this race-pilgrimage? Lázaro Linares, an 86-year-old sports coach who missed the 1964 Olympic Games due to an injury, decided to dedicate himself to coaching others to reach the heights of their potential.

When he talks about heights of potential, he’s referring not only to athletic success, but also about instilling values in his pupils: “I’ve been concerned in every way for the athlete. For his training, but also to encourage growth in human virtues.”

He has put all his efforts into this. A member of Opus Dei, he recognizes the importance of St. Josemaría’s teachings: “He always said that you had to work with constancy, that you had to sanctify your work; that’s what I’ve tried to do all my life.”

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The runners enjoyed themselves: the Tajamar race turned into a party.

He has done so throughout his 50 years in the world of athletics, as both an athlete and a coach. He discovered Chuso García Bragado, World Champion in 50 kms and an athlete with a world record of Olympic participation. He also trained Fernando Cerrada and Antonio Baños, both gold medalists in the 1975 Mediterranean Games. He directed the athlete training program of the Spanish Athletics Federation for a decade, and he has been a gymnastics teacher at a school in Tajamar for 40 years.

A tribute to the Virgin? “You’re crazy!”

“The athletes I’ve coached for a long time said to me, ‘We have to make a tribute to the Virgin. What have you thought of?” recalls Lázaro.

When he answered them with his idea, the athletes’ response was, “You’re crazy.” A blessed madness! Thus the relay race was born.

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Each group ran 6.25 miles, or 10 kilometers.

He imagined a race in which anyone could run: the students from the school where he works, their parents, the teachers, and whoever else wanted to participate. And so it has been, and it has grown year after year. A thousand runners participated this year.

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Some of the more than 1,000 participants, at the Torreciudad sanctuary.

Among them were young and veteran athletes, athletic clubs from all over Spain and Portugal attracted by this emblematic race, students from the school, entire families sharing the route, former students, teachers, and even a military regiment.

Time to pass the baton

At almost 87 years of age, he’s thrilled to see what that vision has become. But, as in a relay race, he’s decided that “it’s time to pass the baton” to others with more energy. He’s gone further than he ever dreamed, following the motto that he applies to both his training and his life: “Do things well or don’t do them at all.” And has he ever done them well!

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The president of the Spanish Athletics Federation, Raúl Chapado, with Lázaro Linares at the tribute ceremony.

For this reason, this year, after two years of hiatus due to the pandemic and at the time of his retirement from the race, a tribute to him was organized for the start of the relay race.

Among those present were his most prizewinning pupils and the president of the Athletics Federation, who presented him with the silver insignia of the organization, which he received with great emotion.  “Thank you very much for your vocation and thank you for being the way you are, Lázaro,” said the president Raúl Chapado, who also recognized Lázaro as a key figure in the development of athletics in Spain. The sentiment was echoed by the school management, his students, and his colleagues, who highlight his figure as fundamental in the history of Tajamar.

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