Running a Half Marathon- Or Not

By Elena Alvarado

As a general rule, if there is a half-marathon in your town and it costs $6, you sort of have to do it, even if you’re only partially in shape. What resulted from the application of this rule last year was a (mostly) fun and uniquely Guatemalan experience.

The Medio-Maratón Los Altos was to begin at 8am; I got there early to warm-up. Then I waited (and waited). Around 8:15am, the organizers said “some people called from the highway and asked us to wait for them”. At 8:30am, Guatemalan runners started to warm-up (in hindsight the previous lack of this activity should have raised suspicions). Just after 8:45am, we were finally off and running.

It soon became clear that the late start was not an aberration by the race “organizers” (I use that term loosely). For example, there were no course markings whatsoever (luckily someone was always just in front of me) and the course wasn’t closed to traffic (which was a pain when I had to run behind a bus for a mile).

The good news is that I managed to finish the race in under 1½ hours. If you know running, you’ll note that’s a near world-class time (just over 6 minute miles for 13 miles). This might make you wonder about the actual length of the course. By my estimation the “half-marathon” was 10 miles.

There are several possible explanations for why Medio-Maratón Los Altos was 10 miles. Perhaps the race “organizers”:

a. didn’t measure the course and just estimated

b. measured course but did so incorrectly (perhaps by counting paces?)

c. correctly measured the course but changed the route at the last minute (for example, at one point we ran a slightly different way because of a parade ahead)

Another possible answer is that given the lack of course markings, an early runner took a short-cut and everyone just followed (like a giant running version of the game Telephone).

As my landlord said, when I told her of the 10-mile-half-marathon, “well, here in Guatemala one word can mean many things and people use words to mean whatever they want.” But with its grand aspirations, delayed timing, overall lack of organization, and attitude of fun, care-free adventure, in many ways the Medio-Maratón Los Altos presents a good analogy for life in Guatemala.

(This article recounts last year’s Medio-Maraton Los Altos, which not surprisingly seems to have gone defunct this year; however, the much better organized Xela 21K takes places on November 13, so lace up your shoes)

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