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Features Panama International Marathon

14 January 2017, 8am

Along the bay and past the ruins of old Panama: if you can run here, you can run anywhere

Running by the ruins

Panama International Marathon
Sun 27 November 2016

The alarm went off at 03.00. The race was to start at 05.00 — you have to start early here to avoid the sun. I was out of the door at 03.45. It was drizzling and cool (only 24C) which was a good for what we were about to face. I called for a friend and we were at the start by 04.15. In the city of Panama everything is close by.

The motorized policemen heading the race were getting ready. We stretched a little and chatted to relieve the pre-start tension. Then we were called to the line and heard the notes of our national anthem. I could feel a little sweat even before starting — the humidity was around 80%.

The gun fired at 05.00 sharp. It was still dark and you could feel the adrenaline of the runners. The race runs in Balboa Avenue alongside Panama Bay and after 3km we enter what we call the ‘marine stretch’ — a 3km-long bridge built over the bay to alleviate the traffic from the city centre. It’s totally flat and you can feel the sea breeze.

We get back onto the wide coast road. There is a slight gradient and in the distance I can see the famous Biomuseum, designed by Frank Gehry, inside which the history of how the Isthmus of Panamá emerged from the sea to unite two continents is told — and how it changed the diversity of the planet. We are through the first 6km and it is still flat but sweat is running off my body. The next hydration point is nearby the Maracana soccer stadium where we make a U turn.

On the return my thoughts are on my family and all the training but suddenly I hear the cheers of spectators as we pass over the start line. Spurred on, my pace picks up but we have to run up the Patilla overpass at 15km and I realise that I probably speeded up too much. I adjust my pace as we continue on more irregular terrain.

The day begins to clear up but there are still a few clouds to block the sun’s power. The temperature is around 27C and we sweat copiously.

Entering Avenida Cincuentenario we face a series of small hills. I like these changes of terrain as long as they are not too abrupt. The group I was running with has now reduced to two. Soon we enter Panama La Vieja where you can see the ruins of the old city of Panama which some years after its foundation was destroyed by the English pirate, Henry Morgan.

We are now at halfway and the heat is beginning to take its toll; you can see it reflected on the faces of the runners. We enter the leafy high class residential area known as Costa del Este and continue on the main street up to the end of the boulevard to make a U turn. Here you can observe who is ahead and use them as references for your running plan. We pass the 30km hydration point. Up to now they were every 3km but from now on it is only 2km from one to the next. It’s just as well because we are entering the hardest part of the route as we leave Costa del Este after 34km. I now understand why runners call this stretch “Sal si puedes” (Get out if you can).

With 8km to go we are back in Panama La Vieja, I do not see the ruins anymore, only the sign that says 35km. All that counts now is to get to the finish without becoming a ruin myself. We are back to the series of small ups and downs and sun is warming up. I start to feel really tired even though my battle companion begins to fall back. I can barely maintain the pace but I am now entering flat terrain and far ahead I can see a sign that reads 40km. This gives me strength – it’s just a matter of time until I get there.

Just one kilometre to the Paitilla overpass: it’s the last rise on the course but at this stage it is very demanding. Past the overpass and I can see the crowd at the finish line. This cheers me up and strength appears from nowhere. Finally I cross the finish line. I thank God and my family, who receive me. This is a moment of pain, happiness and satisfaction. It is a combination of many feelings and sensations. Now I understand why they say: “If you complete a marathon in Panama, you can do it anywhere”. It is truly a challenge.

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