I may not have run the best marathons in the world, and I need not to, to know what makes a great marathon. As a runner who has joined quite a few marathons locally and one internationally, I’ve had my fair share of good, bad, and noxious races.
Last year I got tired of a string of heartaches from poor races. The lone marathon that I’ve prepared for, the infamous Subic International Marathon, almost broke me into tears, literally, as I felt abandoned by the organizers in the midst of the race in the absence of the basic but dire need—water. I knew for a fact that I would’ve reached my goal of a sub-4 hour marathon that night had the race been at least decent. And that story was just one of the few. If I can’t get “my race” in the Philippines, I might as well get it elsewhere—and I found it in Singapore.
With last year’s Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM) I found exactly what I was looking for, and more—things that were enough for me to tag it as a “perfect” race. For Singaporeans, SCSM may not top their favorites list, but it was enough to top mine.
This year I decided to give the Philippines another shot as I gave up my Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore race (SCMS as it’s called beginning this year). On the first Sunday of December this year an “international” marathon is to be staged in the Philippines at the same date as SCMS in Singapore: the second Quezon City International Marathon (QCIM2).
The previous QCIM was one of the best of 2009. Yes it had problems and being one of the year’s best gives you an idea how “easy” the benchmark was last year. This year with the new government and under new race director (and improve routes) the race has every potential to be worthy of its name—“international.”
Locally, the “best” race I can set as benchmark for setting the minimum threshold for a good race is the recent National MILO® Marathon (NMM) Manila Eliminations (focusing on its better aspects). These include the long table for hydration alternating water and sports drinks, relatively close spacing of hydration stations, bananas, power gels, plenty and distributed portable toilets, use of timing chips, reasonable registration fees, convenient registration, good cause, and of course a moderately challenging but accurate route to name a few. As per QCIM (2009) its strengths include the decent singlet, pacers, remarkable finisher’s medal, and a good scenic route. Combined, these features make for a great foundation.
With the above mentioned items as minimum here are some of the things I wish to see not only on QCIM2 but on other races as well:
- Sufficient supply of hydration (water and sports drinks) until the designated curfew. Personally, I’ve NEVER joined a local marathon race that didn’t run out of water during the latter part of the event.
- Enough competent marshals that manage traffic (both runners and commuters) until the designated curfew. Before marshals are removed there should be sweeper vehicles that pick up runners or at least inform them that the race is over, the road will be opened to traffic, and it’s at their own risk to continue. Additionally, they should know the race route relative to their post.
- Complete separation of runners and commuters. Road should be properly marked, manned, fenced and barricaded if necessary, and commuters should be informed beforehand of road closures and reroutes. Runners should not be afraid of being side swiped.
- More prominent medical and security staff. Emergencies are always unexpected and runners should easily locate these people for help. Printing emergency contact numbers at the back of race bibs could help.
Some race features I’ve yet seen locally are:
- Deferred race start and segmented starting area. The area before the starting line is segmented based on target finish times with the fastest up front (elites and placers) followed suit by groups in time ranges. Official time is always race time but if you’re not “expecting” to win, chip time is a better gauge for these groups so there’s no necessity for everyone to start at the same time.
- Timing chip testing upon kit claiming. We always wonder if our timing chip works well (we just assume it does) and if it does is really registered with our name.
Some of the things that is nice to have:
- Laminated finisher’s certificate printed with runner’s name and time (chip time) delivered by mail.
- Video of yourself crossing the finish line.
- Quick release of detailed race results (real-time is possible but may be too much to ask)
- Branded singlet and finisher’s shirt (from the official outfitter).
- Option to have your finish time printed on the finisher’s shirt.
Things that I can only dream about:
- Community support. In Singapore, supporters do more than just go out and “look”—people go out and cheer, some make motivating banners, and some even give away chocolates, candies, bananas, and homemade sandwiches and offer it to runners.
- More dedicated volunteers. If you’ve seen volunteers from takbo.ph you’d know what I’m talking about. Multiply them by several folds and distribute to all support stations and you’d get a practically unlimited supply of encouragement!
- Fresh air, picturesque routes, and with IAAF-certified distance (the length must not be less than 42.195K and the uncertainty in the measurement shall not exceed 42m, or 0.1%: IAAF Competition Rules 2009 – Rule 240).
I think most race organizers have the best intentions in mind with every race but it’s in the execution that usually fails. Good intentions and lots of effort are not enough—attention to details separate “good enough” with “best.” As they say God is in the details, and “good enough” is never good enough. In the end it’s the by-product that people see, not the process. With QCIM2 apparently having all the right ingredients it needed to succeed, we can only hope that it does deliver. I mentioned awhile back that the previous NMM Manila Eliminations was the closest thing we have to an “international” marathon—could QCIM2 exceed that and be the country’s first “real” “international” marathon? We’ll find out December 05, 2010.
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I really don’t get the fascination over the use of the word “international” in naming races. There’s no “international” in the names of Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore, ING New York City Marathon, Boston Marathon, etc. These races’ “international” status was earned, not given. Isn’t it a cliché that the most reviled local marathons in recent history were the “international” ones?