Friday, June 29, 2012

Race 4 OYE: La Maratón de La Prensa

Race 4 OYE Team

When I first applied for an internship position at OYE, one of the many facets that attracted me to the organization was their commitment to community involvement through several different media, one of which is sports.

Now, before reading any further, it might first be useful to know a little factoid about me that might explain my reluctance to participate when my supervisor first informed me that he had signed us up for the half marathon in San Pedro Sula this past Sunday to raise money for OYE. Having played soccer my entire life and now continuing it in college, I have never really been required to run for extended periods of time.  In fact, I’ve made a conscious effort to avoid runs over two miles whenever possible. As it turns out, I’ve been rather successful in this endeavor and with the exception of a very roughly estimated 7-mile jog through my home town during one particularly disappointing high school season – which was the first and last time I “hit the wall” and had to hobble around it – I have, up until last Sunday, avoided all long-distance physical assaults. I could fall back on the excuse that soccer is not, by any means, a sport in which you run for extended periods, especially as a defender, where short bursts are more appropriate, and that’s precisely what I intend to do.  Even when I was younger, and general athleticism was enough to succeed at most sports before puberty, sprints of generally no more than 30 yards were enough in football, baseball, and lacrosse.  It doesn’t look like that has changed much after puberty either.  This is why I became fascinated with long-distance track runners and their willingness to subject themselves to such an archaic form of self-torture – I figure it’s a result of some sort of traumatic experiences.  Why else would anyone voluntarily run for so long, if not to get away from some terror?  The only problem with this theory is that, at least in high school, they were constantly running in an oval so could never get any farther away from whatever demons were chasing them.

That being said, RACE 4 OYE not only presented an opportunity to get into better shape than ever before for my upcoming soccer season, but also served a much greater purpose.  Running in La Maratón de la Prensa for OYE was an opportunity for the staff and scholars of OYE to raise funds for the organization, funds that will be used to provide scholarships to a number of new and existing young students, funds that make it possible to expand OYE’s capacity to support these scholars financially.  So, while I knew my lack of training, not to mention my aversion to the Honduran climate during an event like this, might leave me withered and wasting away on the streets of San Pedro, the cause was definitely worth the physical trauma. Cue the dramatic music.

I am not quite sure what gave me the impression that RACE 4 OYE would be a lot like the 5K Proniño marathon we participated in a few weeks earlier, in which about 50 racers gathered by the park in El Progreso and most of whom walked down a dusty, dirt road eventually stopping at the orphanage (while I missed the turn to the finish and proceeded to run almost all the way back to the starting line only to be found later, half-dead, by my supervisor, Michael). No, the Proniño race did not boast quite the same environment as La Maratón de la Prensa.  Instead, last Sunday we entered a swarm of what must have been around 2,000 very diverse participants, ready to begin the race.  Where some runners isolated themselves off to the side to better prepare with various stretches and exercises, others took a more leisurely approach, chatting with friends while concealing their muffin-top figures in brightly colored spandex.  Nevertheless, this maratón was a much bigger deal than I had expected.  Decorated by sponsors and supporters, the event also showcased runners from all around the world, including the mighty Kenyans who would soon live up to their reputation as marvels of the running community.  Something in their unpurified water, perhaps.

Race 4 OYE Team

As the marathon began and my fellow OYE racers and I struggled to pin on our numbers, we could see the tension in Michael’s face as he waited patiently until everyone was ready before taking off through the sea of neon garb.  As for me, I took my time choosing a pace I thought I could maintain for 21 long, long kilometers only to later find out it would be impossible to sustain anything faster than a leisurely stroll for that distance.  However, being new to maratónes, this tiny detail eluded me at first and, as I passed other racers gingerly trotting in packs, I grinned, thinking about the pride I would feel after finishing.  When I reached the first mountain (and I call it a mountain because I never received the memo that there would be a number of steep inclines during a MARATHON, half or otherwise) my determination, my confidence, and my pace quickly faded.  Even as I jogged past a man in a wheelchair, an all too inspiring and impressive feat but never you mind that, I began to feel my legs give up around the second kilometer, which must be why it crossed my mind more than once to ask him for a ride downhill.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but you have to realize just how many uphill struggles I had to endure and, please, refrain from saying “so did everyone else” in order to fully appreciate the situation in which I had unknowingly agreed to participate.

But I was motivated to finish and with the hundreds of people scattered around the perimeter of the race, handing out bags of water, wet sponges, and encouragement, how could I not? Well, I’ll tell you how.  It was the memory of those annoying hills that did it. For what seemed like a lot of time to be deliberating whether or not to begin the second lap after completing the first 10.5K and having a little fuel left in the tank, I nonetheless deliberated whether or not to begin the second lap. My consideration was soon overpowered with the realization that, although I could run somewhat longer, no way could I finish another 10.5 kilometers running through the rollercoaster streets of San Pedro. My talents were better suited to drinking free water, eating free bananas, getting a free Icy-Hot leg massage, watching the attractive dancers on stage, cheering on the other runners crazy enough to continue, and waiting patiently for the OYE family to arrive.  After reuniting with Erick and Pao, who must have had similar sentiments, we awaited the victorious, albeit tired, face of our fearless competitor and leader, Michael, to reach the end after a grueling 21 kilometers.  And though he didn’t beat the Kenyans to the finish line (as for myself, I’m just glad I wasn’t lapped by them), I expect it was only because he got a late start after lingering while the rest of us took our time to suit up.  We’ll compare times when they’re released, just to make sure.

Although some of us could not overcome the heat, or the distance, or the mountains to finish the full race, we won where it mattered most – the reason we ran in the first place.  Because, although running La Maratón de la Prensa is complete, the race continues.  As a team, the members of RACE 4 OYE have raised a total of $2,175 so far, for which we thank our generous contributors from around the world.  OYE truly appreciates the support of its past and present enthusiasts who have helped to provide scholarships and better opportunities to our young scholars.  Our supporters continue to donate to the cause and all are encouraged to do the same, if you can.  And, honestly, I’d be pretty relieved if OYE receives more contributions without my having to run another race.

Pao Canales and Erick Estrada

Chris Benedict is a Politics major at Princeton University and a summer intern at OYE.

1 comment:

Patrick Ahern said...


Nice article summing up the San Pedro Sula half marathon (well, quarter marathon for many). I had to laugh when we were driving to San Pedro at 6 AM and you asked if there would be more than 25 people in the race. Two thousand is about right. A few things you didn't mention---the heat was as bad or worse than the heat wave we now have (exactly a week later)along the east coast of the US. You and the other OYE runners, including 14 year old Paola, deserve a medal for holding up under the heat. Not only did two Kenyan men come in one and two, but a Kenyan woman won the womens' race (and happens to be married to #1 guy runner). They had run the Sao Paolo, Brazil marathon the previous week. In addition to some contestants in wheel chairs there were several young blind runners with a sighted runner alongside. Good work, OYE runners and thanks to all who have (and will) contribute to Run4OYE to support the awesome kids of OYE.