A group of volunteers ran in the Lowenbrau Half-Marathon yesterday in Santo Domingo. It was really fun to get together and participate in such a cool event, the race was really well-organized and had over 1,100 competitors.
It started at 5 p.m. local time, which given the Caribbean climate I thought would be a death sentence. But it was just overcast enough to bring the temperature down a notch and that made a big difference. All throughout the course, which wound through wealthy Dominican neighborhoods and main thouroughfares, fans were lined up shouting encouragment at the runners, giving water, and spraying us with water from their garden hoses.
I had no idea that events such as that existed in the Dominican Republic, or that there was such a sub-culture of similar sporting events. I found out at the race about other events around the country, including triathlons and biathlons.
The D.R. is a confusing place full of juxtapositions. On the one hand you have very impovershed parts of the country without even the most basic services, corruption is endemic in the military and police force, the political system consists primarily of handouts and graft, thousands of children born in the country are stateless and unable to attend school or work in the formal sector and, on top of it all, the Dominican Republic is also home to one of the worst, if not the worst, education system in the Americas.
Yet on the other hand if you go to certain parts of the capital or Santiago you could easily think you were in the the United States. There is every amenity, chain restuarants, fancy cars, million dollar high-rise apartments, you name it. There is even a half-marathon with corporate sponsors, competitors from 8 different countries, tons of publicity, and a huge turnout on the day of. We even got a sweet goodie bag for registering that included our chip and number, a running shirt with the event printed on it, sports drinks, crackers, cookies, and chocolate.
I competed in said event yesterday, only a 4 hour bus ride from my community. It is disconcerting that extreme poverty and extreme privilege are so close to each other. I know it is the same in the States and most other countries of the world, but I guess that I didn't go back and forth between the two sides in the States so I never really had to think about it.
It raises deeper questions that I can't answer, though I do know that getting together and running in the event with my friends was one of the most fun things I have done in-country so far.
One of the coolest things about the race was that one volunteer, Meg, brought 15 kids from her community to run in the race. I mean kids, like 10-14 years old. They couldn't even technically register because they were under 16 so they don't have a Dominican cedula, they had to lie and run as their parents.
Once she decided to start training for the half-marathon 3 months ago she invited some kids in her community to train with her. Keep in mind that running is not a part of the culture here, I'd say that outside of the small niche group of runners in the capital there are very few people who run long distances for fun. Baseball players just kind of run short sprints and then stand around for a while, and the rest of the population is pretty sedentary.
I have never seen anybody running for fun in my site, or even running at all. But the kids started going with her on her runs, and eventually they had a pretty good sized running club going. In order to motivate the kids, she told them that everyone who stuck with it and ran every day on the training schedule would get to go to the capital and compete in the race. 15 of the kids did, and she got friends and family from home to donate money in order to pay for the bus tickets, food, 2 nights in a hotel, and entrance fees for the race.
Most of the kids had never gone very far from their rural community if they'd left at all. Some had never seen the ocean before, despite living on a pretty small island the size of New Hampshire and Vermont. But they kept with the training program Meg set up, got to visit the capital and walk around the Colonial Zone, eat pizza, stay in a hotel, and when the race rolled around they were all there warming up with the group of Peace Corps volunteers.
Once the race started they were off, all skinny arms and legs in rapid motion. One of the kids was running in jean shorts and none had what I would call comfortable running shoes. But every single one crossed the finish line running, it was amazing to see. One boy who couldn't be older than 12 or 13 finished in 1:46 and another tiny girl who couldn't weigh more than 85 pounds finished under 2 hours. I was so impressed by the kids, and by Meg for making it all happen.
When I saw them that night in the hotel they were all smiles, all said they were going to keep running and said they would eventually like to do a full marathon.
Here are the race results if you're interested:
The winner is Kenyan, the second place finisher is Kenyan-American, and the third place finisher is Kenyan as well.
The first Peace Corps volunteer to cross the finish line was the incredible Jared Oubre, who finished 54th with a time of 1:27:34. The second PCV, and first woman, to cross the line was the equally incredible Merry Placer, with a time of 1:36:00, good enough for 11oth overall and 10th amongst women. I finished third among PCVs with a time of 1:44:47.
However, Merry and Jared were both collegiate athletes, Merry at Wake Forest and Jared at Williams, so I'm claiming to be the first normal PCV to finish the race.
I've never run that far and I felt strong, even at the end, so I am happy. I stuck to the 5 minute per kilometer pace set by my running mates during the event, Jenn and Peter, for the entire race, actually running my fastest three kilometers from km 18 to the finish.
Unfortunately, I did not beat my mother, who in 1985, the year before I was born, says she ran a half-marathon in 1:38 at the age of 27. However, she has not presented any documents confirming that time so I remain skeptical. Not really, my mother is twice the athlete I am.
Also, before I forget, please donate and get your friends to donate to this water project I am working on in my site with Duncan. You can read a description of the project and donate here:
Thanks for helping out. The advantages of donating to a Peace Corps project is that 100 percent of your donation will go directly to the project. There is no overhead, the money is for materials only. All the planning, execution and manual labor will be carried out by the benificiaries of the project and the Peace Corps Volunteers free of charge.
you can read Duncan's pitch on his blog: