Way up here, the temperature has dropped 50� in two hours and the sun has vanished into a thick fog as Germ�n Silva reaches the sulfurous scars along the top of Xinantecatl, an extinct volcano an hour and a half from Mexico City that towers 2� miles above sea level. Silva's running mates, who make the 14-mile ascent to enhance their blood's oxygen-carrying capacity, pant like tired dogs and begin to feel nauseated, but Silva breathes as easily as if he were jogging in Central Park. This is, after all, his backyard running trail, part of a training regimen that has molded him into one of Mexico's greatest runners. "Afterward you feel that anywhere else you could run forever," says the two-time winner of the New York City Marathon who lives in Toluca, outside the Mexican capital, with his wife, Miranda, a lawyer, and their six-year-old daughter, Zyanya Xanthu, and two-year-old son, Riwan. "Doing it has proved to me that I can endure suffering and become more. It gives me strength."
Silva, 34, grew up in Tecomate, a village of 500 in east-central Mexico without electricity or running water. Most residents of Tecomate work all their lives in the town's sunbaked orange groves, and Silva, who grew up with 12 brothers and sisters in a one-room house built by their father, Agapito, was expected to work in the family grove after his schooling was done. But one day, when he was 17, on a trip to Mexico City to sell a truckload of oranges, Germ�n happened to meet some of the country's top runners. He sent the truck back to Tecomate without him. "I loved running and wanted to train," says Silva, who as a boy had always run the two miles to school and back. "My dad told me that if I didn't get serious about farmwork, I'd starve to death," Silva continues.
Instead, Agapito's 10th child became a national hero. He rose to prominence by winning the 1994 New York Marathon despite famously veering off course for 15 seconds when, following a camera truck, he took a wrong turn.
After the victory he returned to Tecomate for a celebration in his honor and was asked by the governor of the state of Veracruz what he would like as a gift. "Give my town electricity," Silva requested. Within weeks, electricity (and TV sets) arrived in Tecomate. Silva, who would place sixth in the marathon in the '96 Olympics, won in New York a second time, in '95, three months after his father's death.
"In the end my father was proud," says Silva, who is scheduled to run his final race this month, in Veracruz. He will continue to run in charity events but plans to focus on raising his children. "I'm grateful," he says, "that my father knew that with running, I was able to make a life."