The UWI-SPEC International half-marathon

It's the early hours of Sunday morning and the campus is still sleeping. The windows are dark and the walkways empty. The moon is a silver light in the sky. It’s a quiet time – but not at SPEC.

The UWI Sport and Physical Education Centre, one of the campus’s most massive facilities, is an oasis of light and life. The people are drifting in, hundreds of them, unmistakable in their sleek-material shorts and t-shirts, their sneakers with fluorescent laces and symbols. Runners. And they are here for the 16th UWI SPEC International Half-Marathon and Relay.

Held on Sunday, 20 October, the half-marathon brought together elite international distance runners, top local runners, differently-abled athletes, health and wellness enthusiasts, relay teams, and supporters of the marathon and its participants. This year about 1,600 people took part in the race (the target set in commemoration of its 16th edition).

"I really want to engage people to come out and support," said SPEC Director Grace Jackson in an interview a few weeks before the race. On the morning itself she was a constant presence, moving between SPEC, the outdoor Athlete’s Village, and the starting/finish line right outside on St Augustine Circular Road.

Jackson – an Olympic medallist, Jamaican record holder in the 200- and 400-metre races, and Jamaican Sportswoman of the Year on multiple occasions – was instrumental in creating the relay component of the race. The relay gives people who are not inclined or able to run a full 13.1 mile course the opportunity to still take part with friends.

The relay teams started about 15 minutes after the half-marathoners who set off to the cheers of a jubilant crowd at 5 a.m. The starting line was the heart of the action, packed with spectators on either side and the storytelling, commentary and word play of masters of ceremony Jason ‘JW’ Williams and James Saunders.

“There was a lot of energy for sure, people waiting for their person to cross, camaraderie from cheering for everyone, seeing people give it their all to cross the finish line,” says Jeanette Awai, Marketing and Communications (M&C) Assistant with UWI St Augustine’s M&C and a member of the team that organised and implemented the event.

The route took runners east on the Priority Bus Route to La Resource Junction in D’Abadie and back. At 1:07:55 after the start, Venezuelan athlete Didimo Sanchez came crashing through the tape, winning his second The UWI half-marathon in two years. The women’s winner, Kenyan Veronica Jepkosgei came in at 1:18:28. The highest placed Trinidadian, Matthew Hagley, came in fourth at 1:12:28.

But long after the elite runners had finished, the crowd stayed to cheer on most of the half-marathon and relay runners. Among the spectators were numerous members of the campus community, including Campus Principal Professor Brian Copeland and Professor Emeritus Funso Aiyejina, Head of The UWI St Augustine Academy of Sport. At the event as well was Kurt Headley, Head of Retail Banking at First Citizens. The bank has been The UWI’s main sponsor for the half-marathon from the beginning. Other major sponsors for the 2019 race were Gatorade and Oasis Purified Drinking Water. This year’s charitable focus was sports scholarships for student athletes.

After the race's end, marathoners gathered in SPEC for the prize-giving ceremony, to eat, to receive post-race treatment and to collect memorabilia. It was an exhausted but (mostly) satisfied crowd.

"I've been training for this since Ash Wednesday," one runner said smiling, turning his medal around in his hand.

Even the ones unhappy with their race times were more determined to do better next year than disappointed. They will certainly get their chance. And they should bring more people with them. After all, 2020’s The UWI SPEC International Half-Marathon will be its 17th anniversary. That’s 1,700 runners converging on a sleeping campus, waking everybody up with magnificent energy.