01 July 2015, 7am
CAF Caracas Maratón
Sun 26 April 2015
Although it has been held only four times this relatively new event on the international marathon circuit is already highly regarded by its participants and especially by Venezuelan runners to whom it offers a unique opportunity to run an international marathon in their own country. The event is already earning its place among the quality marathons in South America, including Buenos Aires, Lima, Santiago de Chile, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
The Venezuelan capital is home to five million inhabitants, sits about 900m above sea level and is surrounded by mountains which separate the city from the Caribbean Sea. Its irregular topography — a natural valley — makes for demanding running conditions. Not discouraged by this at all, some 10,000 runners gather at 04.00 near the Parque Los Caobos in the centre of Caracas. The race starts towards the western part of the city, where the main government buildings and historical monuments are located, and heads east, where most of the iconic buildings of modern Caracas fill the skyline. The race ends back where it begins in Los Caobos next to the Museum of Natural Science and the National Gallery of Art.
Elite runners are invited from throughout the region. The marathon is organised by CAF-Development Bank of Latin America to promote regional integration and social inclusion through sport.
The race starts at 06.00 with thousands of runners crowding Avenida Bolivar. It is one of the most impressive roads in the city running 2km up to the Torres del Silencio. Runners quickly leave behind the iconic 225m-high twin towers which for many years were the tallest in Latin America.
Spectators line both sides of the street from the start: some are friends and family members who have come to cheer their runners but others are curious bystanders drawn by the spectacle. The race passes by El Calvario, a promenade area built towards the end of the nineteenth century, the O’Leary Plaza and Avenida San Martín.
The more difficult section of the course is yet to come. From the roadside the young and the not-so-young cheer the runners on as they pass through this area in Caracas, which is not yet used to marathoners racing through their city streets. For many runners the Marathon provides a chance to visit parts of the city that they rarely see when training. It’s an urban tourism opportunity for many inhabitants of Caracas: a chance to rediscover their own city.
After 12km runners come up against one of the first testing sections of the course as they approach the Helicoide, an iconic spiral-shaped building from the 1950s. This relatively steep climb lasts for 400m and is followed by a level stretch leading towards Los Próceres, a beautiful urban promenade area where military parades and sporting events are held.
Spectators crowd this part of the course and provide an emotional high point for the runners. An additional 800 volunteers man the hydration and cheering stations along the course. Banners, applause and marching bands encourage runners in their efforts. “I remember running past a cheering point and feeling a definite adrenalin boost thanks to the music,” says Carlos Jerez, a 30-year-old Spanish runner.
Having passed the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), another iconic group of buildings and works of art, the Half Marathon diverges from the Marathon and returns via Plaza Venezuela to the starting point. The Marathon continues eastwards for the second half of the route. Over the next few kilometres the number of spectators diminishes and the first signs of cramps and fatigue brought on by the sustained effort start to appear. “While I was training a friend told me that the CAF-Caracas Marathon actually starts at kilometre 30,” remembers Jerez.
At 33km the race reaches Francisco de Miranda Avenue, one of the main avenues in East Caracas with its businesses, hotels, shops and the Parque Generalísimo Francisco de Miranda, better known as the Parque del Este. It is one of the natural meeting points for running and training in Caracas: its wide walkways, gardens and lakes were designed by the Brazilian architect Roberto Burle Marx.
At this point the course begins a slight climb for the next few kilometres before the home stretch. It is on this part of the course where runners tell stories of the spontaneous support and encouragement that they have received from onlookers which have given them the strength and determination to see the race through to the finish.
“A cyclist I didn’t know started to yell out to me from the sidelines: ‘Are you going to stop after coming this far? … I will not move from here until I see you run again.’ And that’s how I began to run again, accompanied by this cyclist who kept encouraging me to go on,” wrote runner Bernardo Guinand in his blog.
There are many stories like these from this marathon, an initiative that seeks not only to promote Latin American integration but also the integration of Venezuelans with their beautiful capital city.