Strong Mexican performances highlight Maraton Lala & “La Fiesta Lagunera”

March 10th. A HUGE “Thanks”, muchas gracias, to everyone at Maraton Lala last weekend, who gave us such a marvellous time! Torreon is a special place for STWM and Inge and me. From the annual, warm welcome we always receive, to the “Arbol de Canada” we planted near the Finish in El Bosque Venustiano Carranza, to the fabulous race itself, it is always a great, special experience. Major thanks and FELICIDADES to Technical Race Director Ruben Romero and Anita Romero, Luis Delgado, Martin Arballo, Gerardo Gonzalez, Nydia, Rene, Sergio and ALL of the great team at Grupo Lala for your kind and generous hospitality. Here’s my Race Report that I wrote for AIMS. Apologies for the tardiness in the post, but I’ve been sub-par all week with sore throat and cold!   

In addition to the Report, we have a Photo Gallery  with 86 pictures taken by Inge and me.

Lots of energy, lots of specatators at La Fiesta Lagunera!

 TORREON, Coahuila. 4th March. “Ven y vive la fiesta Lagunera” is the invitation and the jingle of Maraton Lala’s catchy theme-song, and this year’s experience did not disappoint. Billed as the “Fastest Marathon in Mexico and Latin America” following Kenyan Hilary Kimaiyo’s superb 2:08:17 performance last year, the 24th edition had a palpable buzz that built all week in La Comarca Lagunera – Mexico’s 9th largest metropolitan area that includes the cities of Torreon, Gomez Palacio and Lerdo, and straddles the border between the states of Coahuila and Durango. While this year’s race saw another Kenyan champion in Eric Monyeye (2:10:40), it was really Mexican performances and the overall “fiesta” atmosphere that dominated the day. With the Olympic marathon qualifying period open until April 22nd, and a 2:15 standard to race for, 5 Mexican men ran under 2:15. On the women’s side, the last 2 kilometres featured a thrilling duel between Mexico City’s Marisol Romero and Tlaxcala’s Karina Perez, to see who would join Medai Perez (who ran 2:27:02 at the Virgin London Marathon last April) on the Mexican Olympic squad, with Romero holding off Perez and Kenyan Genoveva Jalagat, 2:31:15 to 2:31:30 and 2:31:37.

A good-sized pack of 10 runners, mid-race, in Torreon.

Located in a basin of the Chihuahuan Desert, La Comarca Lagunera sits in the high desert, at 1,000m above sea level. This is cow country, dominated by Grupo Lala (whose name is a derivation of LA LAgunera), a huge international dairy conglomerate that employs 30,000 people, 5,000 of these in the Torreon/Gomez Palacio area. It is a hot, dry, dusty land of cattle and cowboys, with hot days and cool nights, with an average annual rainfall of a scant 300mm. Rivers and lagoons exist in name only, but it is a fertile region with irrigation, and Grupa Lala is a major, sophisticated, international corporation that processes, delivers and sells an average of 4 million litres of milk a day across Mexico, Central America and the United States – plus yogurt, butter, and fruit juices. Maraton Lala is their gift to the community. Most of the 5,000 local employees help put on the race and 38 senior executives form the race committee that brings the highest standards of business organization and best practices to the event. Technical Director, Ruben Romero is really the only “outsider”. Together, they have built Mexico’s most-competitive marathon, and a wonderful community celebration.

Conditions were ideal for the 7am start in front of the gates of the main Grupo Lala plant in

Ole, Ole! Ready for the challenge!

 Gomez Palacio – 9 celcius, with no wind, and the usual 20% humidity – as a sold-out record field of 4,500 took off in the pre-dawn darkness. By the time the winners reached “La Meta” at the Bosque Venustiano Carranza under a bright desert sun, it was only 13 degrees. By 1pm temperatures had only risen to 20 degrees. Early on, it became apparent that this year’s men’s race would be tactical, as a large pack of some 30 athletes cruised through 5K in Downtown Gomez Palacio in 15:32, and 10K in Lerdo in 31:05. Conditions were ideal for spectators as well as runners, and crowds were thick, with a record number of 42 community cheering sites. All hosted by local charities, the cheering stations compete for 5 prizes of 5,000 pesos each, plus major media awareness for their causes. There were still a dozen men at the front – 5 Kenyans and 7 Mexicans — by the time the race crossed the completely dry river-bed of Rio Nazas into Torreon (from Durango into Coahuila state) at 16.5k, and the situation remained unchanged as the half was passed in 65:56. By 25K (1:17:47), the pack had broken into 2 groups (courtesy of a 2:58 23rd kilometre dropped in by the Kenyans), with Hidalgo’s Oscar Ceron the only Mexican bold enough to hang onto a Kenyan trio of Monyeye, Isaac Kimaiyo, and Joseph Mutinda. After a valiant 5k stretch, Ceron began to slip back around 29k. Gradually Monyeye began to test and assert himself. 30K went by in 1:33:06, before the eventually winner took charge in convincing style. From a succession of kilometres covered in the 3:05 to 3:10 range, Monyeye ran 3:00 from 31k to 32k, to dispose of Mutina, then a 2:57 in the next kilometre to dispose of Kimaiyo.

How good does this feel? Mexico City's Marisol Romero runs a 10-minute PB and likey book her ticket to London Olympics!

In contrast, the women’s race left the drama to the final stages. By 10K (36:55) a lead group of 6 had separated themselves: it included Angelica Sanchez, Judith Ramirez and Paula Apolonio as well as the key combatants, Marisol Romero, Karen Perez and Genoveva Jelegat. By halfway (1:16:52) there were 4: Sanchez, Romero, Perez and Jelegat. By 25k Sanchez was slipping back and by 30k she had lost contact (1:47:57 to 1:50:03), setting the stage for the final battle. At 35k the trio were still stride for stride with the Mexican duo pressing. Marisol Romero only managed to break away over the final 2 kilometres as they circled the beautiful Bosque Venustiano Carranza park, for her slender 15 second victory.

True to its reputation, the 2012 edition was about a great deal more than the races up front. Participant and spectator costumes, music and the warmth of the people of La Comarca Lagunera were everyone on display. This year’s event reached 20% female participation for the first time, there were matadors and bulls running, mimes, stilt-walkers, packed grandstands and wedding proposals at the finish line. At the pre-race Expo and Press Conference a dance-group “Los Mexicanos Unidos con Corazon” set the tone. It was a weekend of fine competition and strong Mexican performances, but “abrazos” (hugs) abounded and Mexican marathoners celebrated a day of peace, joy and friendship amidst the violence that has so shaken their country.

Maraton Lala's regular Finish Line mime artist adds greatly to the "Fiesta"

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