"If for any reason somebody tried to attack me, my dogs will not let me die alone"—the interpreter hesitates, then continues—"and also, my castle is built of very strong materials that will repel any attack."
Salvador García raises his chin slightly, waiting for the next question. He is preternaturally calm, in the disciplined way of military men. He looks as if he could take a bullet without flinching. His narrow eyes sweep the hotel café from time to time, but he shows no signs of impatience. Behind him, a late-afternoon shower pelts the mezzanine windows and sends pedestrians scurrying across the 18 traffic lanes of Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma.
What is the next question? García insists that the castle he is building in a mountain village 40 minutes away is not whimsy, but a practical deterrent. He will be safe in his castle. But if not, if the walls should fail him—and he has built them strong, with stones trucked many miles—he still has seven Dobermans.
My dogs will not let me die alone.
Are these paranoid ramblings, or does Salvador García fear for his life? And what does the Olympic marathon represent to this 29-year-old Mexican army lieutenant? A path to power? Escape?
This morning, the 5'8", 140-pound García was up at dawn for a 50-mile drive to the Toluca volcano; he parked his Ford pickup at about 9,000 feet. Thirty minutes later, having run out of the pines on a dirt road that winds up the mountainside, he hurdled a chain roadblock and cruised up toward the crater rim, lost in clouds 12,000 feet above sea level. His breath came as easily as if he were reading in his library, and he seemed more a creature of the wild than someone spoiling for a fight. Surely a man who can run in the clouds is better suited for flight.
"When I was five or six years old, I had a dream," García says through the interpreter. "Someone was going to beat me up, and I was running between mountains, running very fast, but he was catching up. In the middle of the valley, there were two castles. I ran toward the castles, and right in front of the castles was a train. And when I got there, the train was crossing so I couldn't...."
He pauses. "And then I woke up. I decided then, if I ever had a house, it was going to be like those castles."
Last year García made a sketch of one of the castles from his dream: a round tower with parapets; a shorter tower with a pointed roof; a back wall atop a grassy berm; a front wall to enclose his flower garden and give his dogs room to play.
He summoned an architect and showed him the site, a hillside overlooking Chimalpa, a village outside Mexico City, and just a short jog from Desierto de los Leones (Desert of the Lions), the pine forest in which many of the world's top distance runners gather to train at altitude.