Being a runner for almost a decade now, and a triathlete for over two years, I’ve participated in enough events to have established my own personal preferences as to which ones I would consider as good races. Disclaimer: I'm no expert; nor am I a hard-core, avid runner/triathlete. I’m just a regular age-grouper who enjoys joining races mainly for fun: a simple participant who hopes to cross the finish line and score that well-earned medal or finisher’s shirt. Coming from that perspective, I've put together a handy list about some things that stood out for me in my first ever international race, the United Airlines Guam Marathon (UGM).
Race Expo. For running, this is usually found at the end of the race, where you get to enjoy freebies from different merchants or special discounts from certain brands. In triathlon races, this is usually held a day before when you claim your race kit. In the UGM, the atmosphere of the expo was festive, staying true to their hashtag: #runinparadise. It already felt like a real race-cation, especially with the warm welcome from the Guam residents.
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Race Day Ambiance. When it comes to this, two are integral. First, would be attendance. It’s never fun to attend a race with only a few attendees. What's worse is racing an overbooked one. My ultimate pet peeve? A queue of people waiting to cross the finish line. Runners should be able to comfortably weave through other contenders as they aim to cross the finish line to get their best personal time. Having a crowd of people blocking your path can be a hindrance to your attaining your PR (personal record). This can be avoided by proper spacing of the starting times of each event distance depending on the number of participants in each event. An hour difference in gunstart times when there are numerous participants is usually sufficient. In addition to this, starting times also sometimes happen in waves of 5mins within each event to avoid too much bottlenecks during gunstart.
Second would be the atmosphere set by the race. Some races have lights all around, DJs at certain areas along the route, or colored powders being splashed at you, which some fun-runners are into, but ain’t really my thing coz I get stressed at the idea of inhaling the colored particulates in the air. The UGM though, had different kinds of music along the way with DJ’s, plus percussion bands, Chamorro (haha! It’s not racist. It’s really what they call the indigenous race in Guam.) dancers and a lot of Guam residents cheering you along the route to maintain the island’s jovial spirit all throughout the race. The festiveness was consistent from start to finish, giving you a truly delightful and memorable race experience.
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Race logistics. First major consideration is a clear and easy-to-follow race route, one where bottlenecks are avoided so that people are not bunched up at a certain area at any given time. Ideally, the less turnarounds, the better the race route. Marshalls along the way are also essential, particularly in certain tricky areas, so runners won’t get lost along the route.
Second consideration are the race markers: guideposts to show how far you’ve already gone in kilometers, which help you gauge how near or far you are to the finish line. Inaccurate markers throw off the calculations of a runner trying to beat their PR (personal record) for a particular distance. You see, while racing, runners don't really run in straight paths: we weave through fellow racers most of the time. Thus, it is normal to expect some discrepancies in racing distances. Generally, the longer the total distance of your run, the bigger the discrepancy. In a 10K race, having a 100-300 meter discrepancy margin is acceptable; in 21K distances, expect something around the 500 meter range. There have been some races that were announced to be 21K, but in actuality, measured 22K or more. In this case, your PR for those races would be invalid because it will not be an apples to apples comparison to your last one. In UGM, however, the route markers were as accurate as my GPS running app, making it easy to gauge how well I did compared to my last race.
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Lastly and most importantly is the abundance of hydration stations. Ideally, there should be one for every 3Kms or less, with 2.5Kms being the most ideal spacing. The race course map included in your race kit should specify the locations of these stations. This helps you plan your next steps in terms of nutrition and hydration: if you need to bring your own fuel belt or water bottle, or not, depending on your personal needs. Nutrition in the form of quick energy sources like sports gels and also electrolyte supplements like salt sticks and sports drinks are crucial especially in longer distances to make sure your body is properly equipped with the energy requirement of your race and to also prevent you from experiencing fatigue and worse, cramps. Being someone who sweats profusely, I cannot survive a race with just water alone. As such, it is essential for me that hydration stations should have both water and sports drinks to replenish the electrolytes that I lose while sweating. For the UGM, they had hydration stations positioned every 2KMs or less, with marshalls conveniently handing out drinks so the runners don't have to fall in line. With the abundance of hydration stations there, I even afforded to skip quite a few of them. They also offered solid foods like sandwiches and bananas, which is a high source of potassium to prevent cramps. It was also a nice touch to have sports gels at the latter part of the course! How cool is that?! Each runner is wired differently, so observing best nutrition and hydration practices is absolutely necessary.
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Race Route. Each race has its characteristic route. The New York Marathon, for instance, is known for its unforgiving head wind that is almost just as hard as an incline. The Berlin Marathon is known for being the most relatively flat course, where many world records are made. The United Guam Marathon has its own peculiarity: it has a rolling route for the first and last 3KM, where runners would have to retrace the route back to the finish line with quite an incline. It’s perfect for a warmup but makes it tricky on your way back, as you have to preserve some of your energy for some of those hills. Once you get past that, the final stretch is mostly downhill to the finish line. The remainder of the course is relatively flat which means that a PR can easily be made for a half mary, which is what I participated in. Half mary is short for half marathon which is at a distance of 21K and in case you still don’t know, a full marathon is roughly a 42K run or 42.195 km or 26 miles if we wanna be exact. Looking back, I should have trained for it more coz I’m positive that I could have made a new PR. Finally, the finish line of the UGM also featured a special non-slip surface that allowed runners to safely sprint to their finish, no matter the weather. It was pouring as I crossed the finish line and that surface came as a pleasant surprise as I darted through it. Now, that’s a well-thought-of course, if I may say and not something I normally experience in races here in our country.
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Race Extras. Each race has an extra special something to it. The UGM entices you to run in paradise and it truly delivers. Even though the race starts before sunrise, you will see the dawn as it unfolds along the bay where the race course is located, giving you a picturesque backdrop as it gradually paints the sky with its magnificent palette of colors while you approach the finish line. At the end ofy the race, it does fulfil its promise with a barbecue party along the beach with overflowing beers: now that, for me, is a perfect way to celebrate after a race.
With all these considerations, the United Airlines Guam Marathon would have to be the most delightful running event I’ve ever participated in, so much so that I’m targeting to do the full stretch of it in April 2019. The New York Marathon in November has always been on my bucket list and I’m so psyched to running that race next year, too. I look forward to sharing with you what all these international races have to offer as I try tick them off my bucket list, one by one.
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Photographs from the author