“Running showed me a new outlet, a way to escape the world. It is everything to me and is such a great metaphor for life,” Hobbs native Julian Florez said.
It’s not every day a person qualifies for the Olympic Trials in the marathon and also excels as an artist. At only 29 years old, Florez has accomplished both of these feats.
Florez, grew up in Hobbs and ran cross country and track at Hobbs High School under now Lovington Head Coach Bob Jackson. Florez also ran for Glendale Community College, Adams State and the University of New Mexico.
“Eighth grade was the first time that I found out I could run. Before that it was basketball. We were a basketball family — you know, coming from Hobbs basketball is king,” Florez said. “I was a bit of a knucklehead when I was younger and we had to do this two-mile time trial out at the cross country course behind Highland Jr. High and I didn’t really know anything about it. So, I kinda just went out and said I am going to win and I ran a 10:53, didn’t really know if that was good or not, but apparently I was and Coach Jackson came and found me and we had a conversation and he told me ‘You know if you put the ball aside you can probably do some big things in running.’”
Florez credits his success in running to his high school cross country and track coach.
“Bob Jackson, he’s one of my heroes. He forever will be,” stated Florez. “(He) is like a father to me and has been a huge influence on my life.”
According to retired HHS assistant Track Coach Alice Sapington, as Florez was growing up in elementary school, she saw his potential before he was picked up by Jackson.
“Bob always said ‘You said you had a great one coming,’ I told him I seen him,” Sapington stated. “Sometimes you can see them when they’re coming up at 12 years old and they have that little fire in their belly. It’s what set him apart.”
Florez told the News-Sun how much he enjoyed being coached by both Sapington and Jackson.
“Coach Sapington, yeah, she’s awesome. She was one of my favorite teachers when I was younger, and what she is referring to is we used to do this lap around the Mills playground and you try and race each other and that was always fun. Alice is the first one who saw my running potential,” Florez said.
According to Jackson, as Florez was growing up, he “had a lot of talent” and was the “Type of kid who always asked questions. He always wanted to know why we would do something and it wasn’t to be annoying, it was because he wanted to learn,” Jackson said.
“You know, when I was in high school I didn’t run the fastest times, and at the time, Hobbs didn’t get to go to the Albuquerque meets that kids go to now. And, the only time I saw somebody faster than me was at the state meet,” Florez said. “I was so used to running in the area that every meet I’d go to I’d be a half a lap to a whole lap in front of everybody. I emailed Adams State and never got a reply back, so when I did get the chance to run there, it was a dream come true.”
As a runner, there are certain trails, terrains and areas that help build a great runner.
Throughout high school and after, Florez made it a point to run on many types of terrains and trails. He said running in Hobbs, “Has some of the best soft surface terrain in New Mexico. The amount of dirt roads in our town is ridiculous. You can run for miles out there.”
For Florez, one of the monumental places he was brought up running was behind the softball fields in Hobbs.
“That land,” according to Florez, “Is a big part of Hobbs High School running.”
After high school, he followed some of his teammates and his “high school sweetheart” to a college in Texas, and then went on to Glendale Community College in Arizona. While in Arizona he placed third in the 10k and second in the 5k — and that’s what caught the attention of Adams State University.
“We all made that decision to go out there and keep that team atmosphere going with cross country,” Florez said. “It’s a sport that’s individual but some of the closest teams you’ll ever see, some of the friendships you build, the people you meet from all walks of life. It’s so unique.”
As Florez’s running career continued to progress, there wasn’t a single meet he ran where he did not set a PR (personal record) or improve, he told the News-Sun.
From Adam’s State, Florez continued on to the University of New Mexico where he ran at the NCAA Western Regional’s meet. That meet, for Florez, was one he will remember because he was disqualified from the race for technical reasons.
At the NCAAs Western Regional’s meet, Florez lined up to race and noticed everybody else who was running had a timing chip attached to their shoe.
“I look down at their shoes and see everyone has a chip,” Florez said. “I run over to the official and tell him I don’t have a chip, they have a chip, what am I going to do? He says ‘Well I don’t think you can run’ and I told him I was definitely going to run. He tells me ‘We are on a TV schedule and we don’t have time to wait to get you a chip, we are going to disqualify you.’ I said well that’s not happening, I’m going to run. You are going to have to pull me off of this track. It got to the point where they called the officers at the meet, they show up and have their hands on their guns, guns drawn and took me off the track. The gun goes off, and I got that soul crushing moment.”
From the NCAAs to Florez’s first professional race at the USAA 10-Mile Championships, Florez never stopped pounding out the miles and progressing with his running career. He placed 21st at the USAA 10-Mile Championships with a time of 50:10 and from there ran the Victoria half-marathon. Both races were monumental for Florez because it is what ultimately helped him decide to run at the California International Marathon.
Florez stated the CIM was his best race to date. He qualified for the Olympic Trials and ran a negative split. In a 26-mile marathon, a negative split is when a runner runs the second half of the marathon in less time than running the first half. Florez ran the first 13 miles in 69 minutes. He ran the second half in 67 minutes.
“My warm-up for CIM was biking from our AirBNB, which was about 11 miles from the start to within a mile of the start line,” according to Florez. “My wife, Nicole, she ran next to me and hopped on the bike after I hit that mile marker.”
Florez has only run two marathons in his life, both at “opposite extremes,” he tells.
“The first marathon (CIM) was perfect. Something was just different, I felt like it was going to happen,” stated Florez. “I knew that all of the mileage that I had done over the years was going to pay off that day. Right around mile 10 I started to get choked up because I knew I was about to hit the Olympic standard. I ended up running a 2:16 which was a top 50 debut marathon in American history. I was so ecstatic. That’s the first time in my life I cried tears of joy just knowing that all of the hard work that I put in over the years was coming to fruition.”
Florez’s second marathon was the Olympic trials, one of the hardest races of his life.
“I got sick with COVID-19 and was bedridden for two weeks, lost 10 pounds and going into the start line of the trials I was weighing about 125,” he said. “I felt depleted and couldn’t breathe for most of the race.”
Florez said if it weren’t for his family and friends who showed up to the trials, he probably wouldn’t have made it through the race.
“By mile 18 I was seeing white and barely hanging on,” stated Florez.
“Julian, he has a fire in him,” stated Jackson. “You can see it. Just like all of my runners I love seeing them doing great things. Julian, going into the trials, he was really sick. He struggled that first loop and you could tell he was just sort of hanging on. But he didn’t quit. He kept pushing. I am really proud of him.”
Florez noted after the trials he took some time off and eventually “fell back in love with the sport.”
“Running can take you to the highest highs, and lowest lows,” Florez said. “It was invigorating to try and fall in love with the process all over again and I especially wanted to see what I could do for others.”
Now Florez has a changed mindset with running. While still trying to chase after his own dreams, Florez also works with others to help them accomplish their own. He has been working with a Seattle area professional running team, Brooks Beasts, that is currently training in Albuquerque. Some of those runners have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.
“I have been doing that for the past year and it has been awesome to just be able to put my own ego and aspirations aside and help others chase after dreams of their own,” he said. “It has only made me hungrier to chase after my dreams.”
One of the runners Florez helped qualify for the Olympic Trials was Allie Buchalski. The 5K runner has a personal record of 14:57.54, placing her in the top 20 in the world.
Florez’s next goal is running a marathon in 2:10. He is trying to make his mark on the distance trail scene. Florez said he ran his first race recently in Colorado at the Garden of the Gods. He ran it three minutes faster than his previous race and finished in the top five of the 10-mile race.
The Colorado race was a good season opener because Florez realized some mistakes in his running style that he can correct.
“I hope that I can make my hometown proud and my family,” Florez said. “One of the magical things about running is what you put into it is what you’re gonna get out of it.”
Florez says the future looks bright for him. Coming off of a hot start to the trail season, the 50K Championships, as well as the USA Trail Marathon Championships, are upcoming up giving him a chance to “showcase his talent.” He also has another road race to work for, “whether that be in Houston or CIM.”
Florez said he believes any young athlete can accomplish what he has it just takes dedication.
“The youth in Hobbs, given the right guidance, anyone can do what I’ve done and better,” Florez said. “I hope that I continue to see this running boom, this running excellence coming from the southeast section of the state.”
Florez’s main goal in running is, “If you are not dreaming to represent your country at the international level I don’t know what you are doing. That is my goal is to get that USA bid.”
As far as Florez’s professional career, he has a dual major in communication and journalism and fine art.
“Art is another passion, it’s an outlet,” Florez said. “It’s another aspect of my life that defines me. I have been in the art world since I was a kid and I used to go out and express myself on city walls and those were my first canvases.
“If you can find a passion, whether it is one, or two, find what you love in this life and chase after it and you will be the better for it. I feel like so many people in this life, they live to work as opposed to working to live and that is my goal right now, it is to live and fulfill my time with stuff I love.”
Florez is a graphic designer at Heart and Sole Sports in Albuquerque. His art recently has been focused on two factors: street art and gallery work. The street art is politically motivated and centered on current or world events.
“One of my most recent street art pieces was centered around the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement,” said Florez. “I feel like it’s always been an issue, it’s been an issue that has not always been discussed in our day and time and I feel like people get tired of hearing about it and that’s when we need to speak even louder. I feel there is a lot of injustice around the world and I feel like art is an outlet to bring light to that.”
Florez held his first solo art gallery show in Albuquerque known as the ICON series, which are paintings that he worked on for the past five years. He said the show was “super exciting and fortunate” that the venue allowed him to showcase his piece.
“People in the art world struggle to find their voice, they struggle to find what makes them unique or what makes them different,” he said. “For me, I wanted to find a way to implement where I started and to where I am going.”
According to Florez, he loves portraiture and the story that it tells. With the art gallery he wanted to find a way to transfer the “bombastic colors” found in street art into a gallery setting. Then use those colors to paint influential figures present in his lifetime.
Florez’s digital portfolio involves, “this is where the future is going.” He continues to work on it as well as portraiture and line work. Florez is hopeful that he will have a micro show of his digital pieces. He also plans on releasing a landscape series, which would be his second solo show.
“Rich people learn and grow, poor people think they already know,” he said. “If you are not learning and growing you are not doing anybody a favor.”
Florez credits his hard worth ethic to his father, Martin Florez, one of the hardest workers he knows and the “first coach” he ever had.
“When I was growing up, he’d be working five to six different jobs at a time and I don’t know any human being on this earth that works harder than my dad and I think that’s a big part of where I got my work ethic from,” he said.
Florez also has some advice to anyone who will ask, always remember where you come from and use that to your advantage.
“Hobbs made me who I am and I will always be grateful for that,” he said. “I will always be grateful for Coach Jackson and my family. They have done so many things for me that I didn’t appreciate at the time, that I am so grateful for now.”