Hi everyone! It’s been a long day, since 4am, but a super day with great excitement and a true Mexican “Fiesta” in La Lagunera. I’ll write a more personal blog when I get home, but here for now is my Race Report — which I hope conveys something of the day and the Lala, Mexican marathon experience.
Kenya’s Hillary Kimaiyo smashes Mexican All-comers record with 2:08:17 victory at Maraton Lala
TORREON, Coahuila. March 6th. As if they needed it, Kenya’s Hillary Kimaiyo gave the this region of North-Central Mexico cause for major celebrations at “La Fiesta Lagunera” with a stunning 2:08:17 performance that not only laid waste to the 2:10:57 Course Record, but destroyed the Mexican All-comers mark of 2:09:54. Kimaiyo had established the previous mark at the Monterrey Marathon in 2008. He remains the only person to have gone sub-2:10 on Mexican soil. Today’s race was all the more impressive, being run at 1,000m altitude, and a solo effort from 30k onwards.
The Comarca Lagunera is John Wayne cowboy country. It’s the region where The Duke filmed many of his movies with director John Ford, and where he owned a ranch of his own. It’s high-desert, with temperatures that hit 50 celcius in the summer: brown, dry and dusty. Only the friendliness and hospitality of its people exceed the temperatures. Torreon is the largest of the 3 communities of the Comarca Lagunera, that have a combined population of some 1.3 million. Together, Torreon, Gomez Palacio and Lerdo straddle the state border of Coahuila and Dorango. The marathon passes through all 3 municipalities, but starts and finishes in Torreon, the headquarters of the large dairy conglomerate, LALA [a derivation of La Lagunera]. The 42 kilometre high-desert tour begins at 7am at the Main gates of the Lala factory, just as dawn is breaking, and finishes in “the lungs” of the city, the remarkable Bosque Venustiano Carranza — a wonderful park, an oasis of greenery, that exists only through irrigation.
Lala Marathon is a gift to the Lagunera from the Lala milk company – Mexico’s largest dairy conglomerate that operates throughout Central America. It is a model of how international marathons can thrive in developing countries. Lala corporation bring not only sponsorship money, but the best business practices of a highly-successful multinational company, and 2,000 of their employees including a 40-person Management Committee, to stage the event. Only mastermind “Technical Director” Ruben Romero is an “outsider”.
Maraton Lala’s reputation for international-standard organization has been a beacon for both elite and recreational runners, and it has long been considered Mexico’s #1 marathon. Today’s 23rdedition further cemented this reputation and took the event to another, truly international level. Lala’s achievement is even more impressive when one considers how La Lagunera is dwarfed by the nation’s other metropolitan centres such as Mexico City [20 times larger!], Monterrey, Guadalajara and Puebla.
Maraton Lala is a race of two halves – -especially for the fleet of foot. Overnight temperatures dip sharply, sometimes into single figures. With a 7am, dawn start, the first hour of the race is pleasant. The second hour is a completely different story as the sun blazes down from cloudless skies and the challenge shifts from comfort to survival and attrition. Today was no exception. Almost 4,000 runners from every state in Mexico and a number of foreign countries took off with the thermometer showing 13c, a scant 24% humidity, and virtually no wind. Kimaiyo immediately charged to the front and took 5 hostages with him. The initial pack included 5 Kenyans and Mexico’s Juan Luis Barrios making his marathon debut. There was much pre-race hype about the prospective battle of Barrios verses the Kenyans, with high hopes pinned on the 27:40 10,000m man, an Olympian and native son. To add a little more pressure, legend Dionicio Ceron was on hand for the weekend as a guest speaker at the Expo, a reminder of Mexican marathoning’s Golden Age of the ‘90s. Barrios carried not only the hopes of his compatriots, but the hopes for the current marathon scene here which could politely be described as being in a rebuilding phase.
Kimaiyo pulled the pack of 6 through 2k in a crisp 5:54. They hit 3k in 8:55, with the group whittled down to 3. Five kilometres was passed in 14:55, and 6k in 17:53. Then it was down to Kimaiyo and Barrios, and the duel in the desert had begun. Side by side, they hit 10k in downtown Lerdo in 29:51, with great crowds out in the cool morning air, and even the church bells ringing for the marathoners. Then at 15k [44:52] Barrios surged, visibly working hard to shake the African challenger. All through Gomez Palacio and back into Torreon the Mexican pushed the pace in an effort to get away. He pulled off and discarded his long-sleeve shirt as the pair went by 21k [62:50], and he had managed to open up a 10m gap by the Half – passed in a very rich 63:09. At this point La Periquera [Press Truck] was a mixture of hope and despair. By 25k [1:14:54] Barrios had 40m on Kimaiyo. But after running 3 minute/3:01 kilometres like clockwork, the Mexican slipped to a 3:10 between 27k and 28k. By this point, the sun was scorching high in as cloudless blue sky. High noon at 8:30am. Sensing blood, the veteran Kenyan dropped down a 2:59 30thkilometre and surged into the lead. Kimaiyo hit 30k in an impressive 1:30:13. The duel in the desert was all but over, the Kenyan left to battle the clock. This he did in impressive fashion, hitting the tape at the Bosque in 2:08:17, a HUGE Mexican All-comers record, and a US$70,000 pay day. To his credit, Juan Luis Barrios hung on for 3rd in 2:14:20 – perhaps not quite what he’d hoped for but still a promising debut. It also gave him a qualifying time for London 2012, under the 2:15:00 Mexican standard.
The women’s race was not quite as dramatic, but gave the enthusiastic, record crowds something more to cheer about as Guanajuato’s Paula Apolonio prevailed over Kenyan Neriah Asiba, 2:34:27 to 2:37:43.
But Maraton Lala is about so much more than the pursuit of excellence and record-setting elite times. It is about community and Lagunera pride. This year’s 4,000 participants equalled the race’s previous best, and 18.5% of those on the Start line were women — up from 16% last year, and proof of Lala’s efforts to promote broader participation and healthy lifestyles in the community. Throughout the 42 kilometres of the course, the warmth of the Lagunera people was in evidence. Crowds were strong everywhere, but particularly in Lerdo and at the record 41 community-charity “animation” sites that featured bands, dancers, costumes, and great energy. Best of all, is Maraton Lala’s Finish line. Running 42 kilometres is always a victory worthy of major celebration; Lala does it better than most, with packed grandstands, hour after hour of Latin music that keeps you on your feet, stilt-walkers, noise-makers, confetti, and an outstanding mime artist who annually threatens to steal the show. Rightly so, the celebrations go ON at El Bosque Venustiano Carranza. Lala corporation has again delivered a gift to their hometown that is worthy of its name: “Ven y vive, La Fiesta Lagunera”.
- Hillary Kimayo, Kenya. 2:08:17 CR, Mexican All-comers Record
- Erick Monyenye, Kenya. 2:12:10
- Juan Luis Barrios, Edo de Mexico. 2:14:20 [debut]
- Simon Njoroge, Kenya. 2:14:39
- Roman Arroyo, Edo de Mxico. 2:16:16
- Paulo Apolonio, Guanajuato. 2:34:27
- Neriah Asiba, Kenya. 2:37:43
- Angelica Sanchez, Tlaxcala. 2:38:24
- Liliana Cruz, Veracruz. 2:42:43
- Judith Ramirez, Veracruz. 2:44:28
Complete results at www.asdeporte.com