Monday, August 20, 2007

The Kumbo Marathon

We of the Mezam Stars Athletic Club travelled up to Kumbo this weekend for the Kumbo "international" Marathon (I being the one who made it international, although they didn't know I was coming until I arrived. Wishful thinking on their part, I guess.)

There were three distances, the veterans and "minims" (children) ran about 7.5k, the juniors (teenagers) ran what I think was probably about 21-25k and the seniors (adults) ran a marathon (42k) or maybe a bit more. . . Here are photos of Benedicta coming in 5th for the senior women and Emmanuel coming in 7th for the senior men.

The courses were all death-defyingly hilly. I ran the veteran's race of 7.5k and did my fastest pace time ever (5:35/mi) as I flew straight down the hill that started the course. Then, I had to climb a monster hill, descend again and finally climb up to the finish. My pace varied from 5:35 to almost 12:00 per mile! Even though we have all been training on hills -- doing from 200m to 600m uphill repeats for the past couple of months -- this course killed every one of us. Personally, I still came in second for the veterans (second overall and second woman), but that was out of a field of six. Unfortunately, they only gave prizes for the top 3 finishers of each gender in each race, so I was the only one who got any payout.

Oh yeah, people here, at least in my club, are not running for the sheer enjoyment of moving their bodies. They bust their asses in training because if they win one of the big races, they actually can make some decent money (the winner of the Njalla Quan marathon last April got 2,000,000 CFA which is $4,000 -- slightly less than my annual stipend and enough for a modest family to live on for a year). And if they are really good, they might catch the eye of one of the Cameroon Athletic Federation's sponsor managers who will pay for them to travel and compete internationally, thereby having the chance to win some real money.

Not only was there disappointment at the depth of the prizes awarded in Kumbo, but the prizes themselves were really small (the marathon winners each received 30,000 CFA or $60). For such a brutal course it seemed really unfair. And I learned why everyone was so keen to know what the prizes were going to be before we even decided to go. As it turned out, they kept saying they "didn't know" -- even up to the night before the race -- and especially those athletes who travelled from Bamenda to compete felt exploited. Even though we found free places to stay, transport cost each of us 4,500 CFA.

I have learned a lot working out with these folks who are actually trying to make a living at it. I know the situation has very recently improved for runners in the US with the advent of a few sponsored teams, but I also know that it can still be quite difficult to make a living at a sport that isn't football (either the "real" kind or the American kind), basketball or baseball.

1 comment:

Stacey said...

Tracy, I'm in awe at your splits and so moved by your description of why people run there...

Love to you from DioCal where Rev keeps rowing and not posting too much!