Friday, February 10, 2012

The San Blas Half Marathon

The hill, aka "el ajogillo," loomed frighteningly in front of me as I approached mile 7, the very peak, of Puerto Rico's most iconic running event, the San Blas Half Marathon last Sunday. Geoffrey Mutai, the winner of both the New York and Boston Marathons in 2011, won the race and finished at 1:03:53. The course is known to be quite challenging, since it involves a lot of uphill running. Given its level of difficulty, I always had this notion that San Blas was out of my reach. My sentiments changed last year, when I achieved one of my lifelong dreams of running a marathon. Feeling a bit more confident, but yet still considering myself very much an average runner, I decided to run San Blas for the first time this year, and I'm extremely happy that I did! I really enjoyed it, even though it was my third half-marathon and it was my slowest finish time. The experience was wonderful but grueling. As Mutai said though, San Blas is not a race where you'll obtain your personal record. My official finish time was just over 2 hours and 6 minutes.

I've been consistently running for the past 12 years, but didn't take part in any races until I moved to the island in 2006. It has been a really important part of my life, it helps keep me healthy both mentally and physically, and it's something which I feel extremely fortunate to be able to do. One of the best things I love about living in Puerto Rico is the weather, which permits runners to train throughout the year. Since San Blas takes place in Coamo, heat and humidity are of utmost concern. Needless to say, staying hydrated is extremely important. According to my running buddy, there weren't enough water stations scattered along the course. I did run with a fuel belt. Luckily, I was also warned in advance that were wouldn't be any mile markers or pacers, so I brought my Garmin watch with me.

Simply said, the San Blas Marathon is not well-organized. Those of you who are interested in registering for it, I urge you to do so in advance. I sent the registration form by regular mail back in December, and I did not get any confirmation. You are not given your BIB number and race packet until the day of the event. Some of the runners who registered on the same day were not able to get their chips. Others finished without being given a medal, as they apparently ran out. Something which I would also strongly suggest is to get to Coamo early, before the police closes down many of the roads. Although the race didn't start until almost 5PM, we left San Juan at around 8:30AM. Despite having left so early, we still ran into quite a bit of traffic.

Upon arrival, San Blas will feel much like a street party, where you'll encounter many more drunken people than runners. The mood is extremely festive. It has become an annual tradition for many families who live in the area, and even from other parts of the island, to cheer and support those of us who run. They'll be barbecuing and having a beer, or two, while at it. We were transported to the starting line by school buses. The driver was honking his horn during the entire 10 minute ride, while the spectators waved and shouted at us. San Blas is undoubtedly a race like no other. Sadly, the day ended on a tragic note. Shortly after we left, a shooting occurred during the closing ceremony of the half marathon.


Kofla Olivieri said...

El Maraton de Coamo is my favorite. When I lived in Puerto Rico I made an effort to attend with my motorcycle friends every year. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your report on the San Blas, this was the 50th edition of this run. I'm an experienced runner from Miami, FL and also found the race tough but quite
an experience with all the party goers, etc...I registered online and did not experience any problems with registration
or getting a medal. I agree that for a race of this caliber the organizers need to be more mindful of the details.