International Tech Student Runs Strong and Long

International Tech Student Runs Strong and Long


The Ultra-Running Life of Luis Contreras


SOCORRO, N.M. – Luis Contreras Vidal has traveled a long road to get to Socorro – both literally and figuratively. The 25-year-old aspiring atmospheric physicist hails from Mexico City, and he has covered thousands of miles’ worth of the most demanding type of running there is.

Though he’s run several standard 26-mile marathons, his passion is ultra-distance trail running – narrow tracks at altitudes up to 12,000 feet, often over rocky terrain, with drastic elevation gains. His most memorable runs have been in the Grand Canyon. He has run from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the bottom and back to the top four times with a best time of 3 hours, 20 minutes. A future goal is to run the Canyon “R2R2R” - from the south rim to the bottom of the canyon, up to the north rim, then reversing the route – a total of some 46 miles.

  luis-contreras---SierraVista50k 2016

Luis Contreras competing in the Sierra Vista 50K.


He ran his first long trail run three years ago – the 50 kilometer (30 mile) White Mesa trail through the stunning desert hills outside San Ysidro, N.M. He was hooked and hasn’t looked back.

“I am not sure if I am runner that in his free time is a physicist or a physicist that in his free time is a runner” he chuckles. 

Family, sports, and academics have always been the foundations of Luis’s life. His father, Alberto Contreras, taught him to never quit any goal in life until achieving it. His mother, Angelica Vidal, taught him that success is not worthwhile if we do not live a life of love and empathy for others. An important inspiration was meeting and actually running with Pablo Vigil, among the most famous ultra-distance runners alive.

“Pablo’s example demonstrates that running is not just about how many races you run or win but about keeping the passion alive and inspiring new generations of runners,” he said.

Luis finished high school in just 18 months, at the age of only16. Along the way he took up basketball, then boxing, where he had a record of six wins, one loss, and no injuries – a status he’s maintained to the present day. Luis started running to increase his boxing endurance, not knowing where it would lead him.

Luis found his way to Socorro when his older brother working in the New Mexico Education Department advised him to pursue his interest in physics at New Mexico Tech.

“I love it here. The pace of life is amazing compared to Mexico City and the outdoors are beautiful,” he said. “My academic goal is to obtain a Ph.D. in physics and do research on climate and weather.”

  luis-contreras-TorC50kRun 2016

Luis Contreras running in the TorC 50K race.


He plans to collect his bachelor’s degree in December 2018 and celebrate by running the 800-mile Arizona Trail in 35 days or less – a modest 32 miles a day!

Injuries or not, ultra-running of this magnitude takes its toll. For Luis, the cost is extracted from lungs, legs, and lower back. But that’s all part of the journey: “When you embrace pain, you grow from it. Don’t try to avoid pain; grow from it.”

Luis does take measures to ensure he stays healthy and successful in his goals. A big consideration is proper rest; another is diet. The 5 foot, 8 inch, 144-pounder eats grains, vegetables, and almost no meat, except after long runs. Luis fasts two days a week (Monday and Wednesday) to ensure his body “burns fat rather than sugar.”

His advice to finding balance between such demanding levels of both athletics and academics is to “live in the moment. If it is time to study my mind just focuses on that; if it is time to run, I focus just on running, if it is time to rest, I just rest. Do whatever you need to do in the Now and do not have your mind thinking and obsessing on the future.”

Luis is an avid reader; favorite topics include Zen Buddhism and the Stoic Roman school of philosophy. To the inevitable question of why he runs as he does, Luis responds: “We are used to having our heads full of noise from the TV, movies, the internet. Few people have experienced being in solitude, being in complete silence. There is no better way to achieve that silence than going for an eight-hour run to the mountains. For me running is an opportunity for self-discovery, reflection and meditation through nature and solitude.”

Luis has a busy weekend in front of him. For 49ers weekend, Luis will participate in the annual race up ‘M’ Mountain. On Saturday he’ll compete in a bouldering (rock climbing) competition in Albuquerque. Then, he will run the full Duke City Marathon on Sunday.

Luis’s running calendar for spring 2017 is already full. It includes a wish list of eight trail runs, seven of which are either marathon length (26+ miles) or 50 kilometers (30 miles). The Cedro Peak Ultra near Tijeras, N.M., on April 22 is a 45-miler.

What makes the calendar a wish-list is the fact Luis doesn’t have wheels, and will need to scrimp to make entry fees ranging from $50 to $120. With talent and determination to spare, the young man could use an angel or two to make his lofty goals reality.

Luis has long term running goals too, but happily there’s no rush, since “ultra runners reach their peak between 40 and perhaps even 60 years of age.” By then Luis Contreras Vidal is sure to have come a very, very long way.

– NMT –

By Dave Wheelock/NMT Sport club coordinator