November 2009

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No Longer Just a Race

by Raffique Shah

It took a mere six years for the UWI-SPEC International Half-Marathon to mature—which is quite an achievement by any standard. What this means is the race came close to attaining optimum participation. Back in 2004 when an idea germinated into the most successful half marathon in the English-speaking Caribbean, the organising committee set itself a goal of attracting 1,000 participants.

This year there were 950 entrants: 776 officially finished the event. From the organisational standpoint, the race was a resounding success. Its water stations, medical and paramedical facilities, processing of participants before the start and after finishing, as well as hospitality for runners, volunteers and VIPs, all functioned as efficiently as could be expected.

The event might have been even more competitive in both the male and female categories had a few invited elite athletes not withdrawn when it was too late to find replacements. Kenya’s Alfonsi Yatich (age 25) turned the halfway point in just over 30 minutes, putting him on course for world-class finishing time in our weather conditions. But lack of competition saw him slow down considerably on the return leg. He finished in 1:06.47, which could easily have been 1:02 if he was challenged.

Among female competitors, Nigeria-born Mary Akor (now a US citizen) also had an easy run, winning in 1:18.48. UWI (Mona) student Tanice Barnett improved her 2008 time by three minutes to place 2nd in 1:25.

Of significance was an increase in the numbers of participants from The UWI. Sixty-two students finished the 13.1 mile challenge (compared with 45 last year), with Brian Maynard maintaining his dominance in 1:17:58. Among the 19 campus staff members who completed the race, Darrin Grenade was also a repeat winner (1:26.13) while Elizabeth Hackshaw took 1st place among females in 1:50.38.

The half marathon is not just about winners and fast times. It promotes health and fitness, competition and camaraderie among a wide spectrum of citizens. Participants ranged from age 15 to persons in their 80s. Among the teen-wonders, 15 year-old Andrew Harrilal finished in arespectable 1:50.53 while Abiane Collymore (16) won her age group in 1:46.54.

At the other end of the age-scale, Lynette “Granny” Lucess (81) kept spectators waiting for 3:25 to see the grand dame of T&T distance running finish. And 85 year-old Charles Spooner proved that age is just a number, clocking 3:08. In between, there were some remarkable performances in the other age-groups, with the top three winners in each category winning cash prizes. Where does the UWI-SPEC Half-Marathon go from here? Director Dr Iva Gloudon spelt it out to committee members: “This is no longer just a race…it’s now a major national event.” There will be changes for 2010. The limit of 1,000 entrants will be maintained. But the event’s website will feature training programmes to help potential participants better prepare for what is a demanding distance.

Dr Gloudon will explore through the NAAA the prospect of having the race sanctioned by the IAAF as the hemispheric Universities’ Half Marathon Championships. And showcasing this country’s culture at the start/finish and along the course will be a feature from 2010.

What started out as an idea and 300 runners just five years ago is poised to take flight to heights never envisaged by the pioneers. It’s yet another facet of UWI’s quest for excellence in all aspects of human development.