“Uh-oh…”, I said to my wife, as I pointed at a few people, effortlessly jogging right down the middle of the busy road connecting Antigua and Ciudad Vieja. Understand that pedestrians on Guatemalan roads have fewer rights than roadkill, so it was startling, for half a second anyway, to see people in alarmingly increasing numbers, running right down the middle of the road on one of Antigua’s busiest roads.
We quickly realized – the numbered placard affixed to each jaywalker being the giveaway – that this was annual Half Marathon of the Roses, a popular sporting event I learned later was in its 32nd edition. I knew immediately we’d be late for church that day, the way the road was packed with runners.
This half-marathon is not the only popular race in Antigua – I heard an estimated 5,000 people participated. It’s only Q90 ($11) to register, and you got a cool shirt for the trouble. There are other races run here throughout the year, which are also very well attended. After soccer or futbol as it’s called here, running – and its variants – is one of the most popular sports in Guatemala. It makes sense since little is needed in the way of equipment required to take part. Even acquiring cheap running shoes is a challenge for most people.¡
While millions of quetzals are poured every year into fielding the best national soccer team possible – and nothing to show for it, it was a young man, named Erick Barrondo, from the poor, rural lands of Alta Verapaz, who finally delivered Guatemala its first ever Olympic medal, silver, won at the 2012 London Olympics 20k Marching Race. A mighty feat, considering he was often short on money to feed himself and lacked even basic running shoes to train with, which he had to borrow from someone else during his initial stages of training.
This half-marathon race is well-known outside Guatemala too. I could tell since it attracted professional Kenyan runners. By the way, Kenyan runners captured first place in both men and women categories. A Guatemalan national missed out on winning by thirty seconds – an eternity actually – as he ran the half marathon in 1:02:53 to the Kenyan’s 1:02:23.
Only a handful of people can compete with Kenyans when it comes to long distance running. This means most people run the race for personal enjoyment and not because they have any remote hope they might actually win the thing. Check out all the other races in Guatemala here: RunGuate.com
And yes, Antigua’s cobblestones were a problem, which is why most people cleared the sidewalks to allow runners a stable running surface. Saw more than one runner hobbling, cursing cobblestones under their breath.
Everyone gets in on the action and many line up near the meta (finish line) to cheer other runners on, myself among them.
Other Things to do in Antigua Guatemala…
Patron saint festivities have been ongoing throughout the month and reach their climax on July 25th, which is the official San Santiago (Saint James) day. It’s common to find random events happening all the time, such as the Zumba demonstration we saw at Parque Central last week.
Of more appeal to me was the Gastronomic Festival, a competition/local food fair which took place in the front courtyard of Centro Espanol soon after the half-marathon ended. This is another excellent opportunity to sample some of Guatemala’s best cuisine, inexpensively. You could stuff yourself silly sampling every expertly prepared plate and still end up spending less than Q100 ($12.50).
If your slow travels take you through Antigua, make sure you check out Holy Week processions first. Once that’s out-of-the-way, come by in July to enjoy the local festivities, which attract considerably less foreign visitors, to take in a wonderful atmosphere and food Guatemalans adore.
Are you a runner?
How would you manage Antigua’s cobblestone streets?