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Run Barbados Marathon Discussion

Here is the full text of the letter sent to The Nation on Monday 14 December 2015. Most of it was printed as a comment on Page 4B of the 16 December 2015) Midweek Nation:

I have been following the comments by the Nation in relation to Run Barbados and the marathon event in particular for a number of years. This includes Mr. Thornhill's comments.
At this time, I feel compelled to clarify a few things that may not be apparent to anyone who has never attempted to run the marathon distance nor attended similar events in recent times in other countries.

1) Unlike any other running event in the world, Run Barbados is currently organized without any significant input from qualified people in the running community. Advise from qualified members of the Barbados running and road race organizing community has been ignored for many years now.
2) The event is paid for by the Ministry of Tourism (and organized by the BTMI), so that is where the priorities are and should be. It is NOT paid for or organized by the Barbados Olympic Association or Athletics Association of Barbados or National Sports Council or an athletics/running club.
3) From personal experience (regularly traveling to overseas running events and by now being what you call a snail pace marathoner), non-competitive runners choose their holiday destinations based on half marathons and marathons, they do not specifically travel to where there is a 5K or 10K only.
4) Non-competitive runners choose their half marathon and marathon races about 9-12 months in advance. In Barbados, the tourism budget is not normally allocated/approved until May, by which time anyone running a marathon in the fall would have booked another destination already. Yes, the Run Barbados dates are published before May, but unless you can actually register for the event, few people will book their flights unless they are coming to Barbados anyway. They will sign up for marathons in other countries.
5) Non-competitive runners do NOT choose their races based on how many or which elite athletes participate NOR how much price money is available. Anyone saying otherwise is simply misinformed. They do look for a scenic and safe route (no or very few cars, not too hot and humid, medical services, aid stations, spectators).
6) Why use money from the tourism budget to pay for a "Kenyan" or any other professional runner for that matter who will a) take home the price money, b) do nothing to promote the race or Barbados among his friends (they are fast and he'd fear for winning the price money again next year), c) will not normally bring along family members or stay extra nights?
7) Even 15 years ago, there were hardly any other marathons in the region at that time of the year. Today, you can run an official marathon between mid November and mid December in Guyana (15Nov), Cuba (15Nov), Suriname (21Nov), Curacao (29Nov), Panama (29Nov), Jamaica (5Dec), Costa Rica (6Dec), Cayman (6Dec), Grenada (12Dec), St. Croix (13Dec).
8) 30 years ago, the vast majority of people foolish enough to attempt a marathon were well prepared. It was not a bucket list item, it was an athletic competition. I ran my first marathon in Berlin in 1985, finished in 3:20 and came 3815th out of 9820 (38.9%). Only 19% of the finishers took more than 4 hours. In 2009 I ran almost the same time in the same event and came 3499th out of 35035 (10.0%) with 59% of the finishers taking more than 4 hours. The statistics are the same for all major marathon events world-wide today.
9) Conditions (social and weather) in the Caribbean do not seem to be conducive to distance running. Any talent would sooner or later emigrate to compete in North America or Europe to make a living. Because of the climate, regional races will never be suitable to run top times required to qualify for major international competitions (eg 2:20/2:40 male/female for Commonwealth Games), which is required in order to get sponsorship.
10) Adding a half marathon event to a marathon, when promoted properly and to the right audience, does not significantly decrease the number of participants in the marathon. Waiting to confirm and open registration for a marathon until June/July will decrease the number of participants in the marathon.

Answer to "Should the marathon be dropped?"
No, because it is the event that makes visitors want to come to Barbados.
We need to get away from the thinking of 30 years ago when local, regional and international marathoners had far fewer options and were much better prepared. Today's average marathon finish time in North America is around 4:20 for men and around 4:40 for women. Add 15 to 30 minutes for the higher temperatures and humidity and 4:00 hours may not be such a snail pace.
We need to think of it as a tourism event, and start catering for the 60% 'snail pace' finishers, who plan their holidays 9-12 months in advance, don't expect any elites or price money and look for pretty finisher medals, entertainment along the route and generally safe running conditions. They will bring family members or participate themselves in the other, shorter distance events. They will come back the following year.
Conclusion: The problem is not the lack of prize money or lack of elite runners, the problem is the late and half-hearted promotion of the event. The "Friday Fun Mile, Saturday 3K and 10K, Sunday 5K, Half and Marathon" format, when properly executed, makes a lot of sense both from an athletics as well as a tourism point of view. The group of events is attractive to visitors and locals alike and can provide the environment for reasonably competitive racing.

Ralf Luther
Ufukuzo Road Racing Club

Here is the most recent article that prompted the comment:

Also from the Nation Newspaper:
A THORNY ISSUE: Put more in marathon
Andi Thornhill,
Added 16 December 2015
I’M SO GLAD the runners said it and not me. Otherwise I would have been tagged as a naysayer. Again.
I am referring to the marathon runners who said they don’t plan on coming back to the Run Barbados series unless the prize money is increased substantially.
Leading the chorus is this year’s winner, Trinidadian Curtis Cox, a perennial competitor in the series.
It doesn’t take rocket science to understand what has been said and why the athletes said it. Several of these runners are professional – that’s how they make their living, so the dollars and cents factor has to make sense for them to compete in different parts of the world.
Because of their travels they know the prize scale for other big international races, so they can do the maths and make a sensible comparison with ours and the others in the Caribbean and elsewhere.
Obviously, they know that they can’t expect to be paid the same amount of money athletes get for running in marathons in Boston, New York and London, to mention a few.
However, they are still wise enough to know that pocketing just $1 000 for winning our marathon is way below the threshold. It is quite demeaning and unflattering, to be frank.
It also speaks to what appears to be the contempt with which sportsmen are generally treated in Barbados. For argument sake, how can the prize money for the winner be $3 000 in 2010 and five years later be way below that benchmark?
In my own simple-minded way, I don’t think even $3 000 is adequate for people who have to run 26 miles, but it is absolutely ridiculous to have them run for less. We should always take into account the pressure marathon runners put their bodies through in training and competing, as well as their nutritional needs and such like.
Look to the future
Let’s cut the chase and agree that we can’t raise the dead as happened to Lazarus so let us simply bury the past and look to the future. As it relates specifically to the marathon, the organisers should be prepared to pay a minimum of $10 000 for the winner and a special bonus of their choosing if the course record is broken.
We need to be practical and realistic if we want to attract a quality field of local, regional and international athletes.
The bottom line has a major role to play in putting back the spring in the step of the marathon. After all, it is one of the ultimate tests for long-distance runners anywhere in the world, but the best are no longer prepared to travel to our shores for pocket change.
Again, for argument sake, if we were to try to entice top international runners for the event by offering them free accommodation plus a meagre wage for winning or placing in the top three, how many years do you think they would continue coming under those conditions after experiencing sun, sea, sand, our hospitality and night life?
It will take something more tangible to sustain the outstanding quality that is required to keep the marathon alive. The organisers will have to put in additional money in the budget to make it happen. Money can be raised through additional sponsorship, with pending partners receiving the mileage to match their dollars. I refuse to believe this can’t be attempted or done for the real crown in the jewel of the Run Barbados series.
The fact that there were only 38 runners for the rebirth of an event that went off the radar for three years is a telling statistic worth pondering. It tells us straight off that something is wrong. We are not cutting it at the current rate. We definitely need to do something revolutionary or put it back in the intensive care unit until we have the right medicine to restore it to full health.
I am still not convinced either that we need both the marathon and the half-marathon. While it is possible to have multiple events in other international constituencies, we must be mindful that we have to tailor our events to suit the size of our population.
Not only that, if we have tried a particular formula which continues to have clear deficiencies, what makes it so difficult to rethink what is being done and come up with a different strategy? I hope this isn’t an ego thing because it is certainly a head thing and we have the local human resources who can be more involved in charting a new course for the marathon in particular.
Has anyone sought the services of Jerston Clarke, who trained two local winners of previous marathons? Do the names Reuben McCollin and Adelbert Browne sound familiar?
What role was offered this year to Benny Rowe’s team that has played a significant part in this event through the years?
If tourism is our business, it must be all-inclusive by utilising the best talent to get the best results. The marathon falls into this category.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced sports journalist and media consultant. Email - See more at:

Also from the Nation Newspaper:
A THORNY ISSUE: Memories of a good Run
Andi Thornhill,
Added 02 December 2015
HOW SUCCESSFUL will be the comeback kid in the Run Barbados Series this weekend?
He used to be part of a double dynamite team that the nation fell in love with; so passionate was their love that breaking up their night rest to cheer him on in the wee hours of the morning was a routine, a labour of love that asked for nothing in return for their unquestioned loyalty.
His running mate stole the spotlight and the headlines on the Saturday and he did the same on the Sunday. Hundreds came out to see him before the cocks could crow to signal the dawn of a new day.
I was part of that brigade as his guests made their way from the airport to Heywoods via routes like Oistins, Bridgetown, Black Rock, Fitts Village, Paynes Bay, Holetown, Weston, Road View and Speightstown.
I was also there the year his management team switched his course from Heywoods to Sam Lord’s Castle and witnessed an unprecedented dead heat, with Irishman Hugh Jones and Canadian John Maher sharing the top spot. It was so amazing that some wondered if it was planned.
I admired Jones for his tenacity and grit and could see why he was a perennial champion. He always wanted to win. Perhaps it was the presence of the legendary Kenyans that pushed him to prove a point.
Richard Kessio was a standout too, but Jones is a six-time winner and his record between 1990 and 1996 will take some beating.
Caught my eye
Victor Ledger from St Lucia is another that caught my eye. He was irrepressible with his loping strides and a determination that blew his opponents away a couple of times. He made his country proud not only as a long-distance ambassador but also as an amicable and humble human being.
Vincentian Pamenos Ballantyne added attitude and flamboyance, while American Kim Goff brought dominance with 11 victories. Bruce Lauckner set the standards.
Of course, my proudest moments and most exciting moments came when my homeboys Reuben McCollin and Adelbert Browne won accolades in the 26-mile events in 1988 and 1989 respectively.
It was a collective triumph not only for their dedication and persistence, but also a major fillip for coach Jerston Clarke and the multitude of partisan supporters who were willing them on and other leading foot soldiers like Keith Cumberbatch, Andrew “Micey” Brathwaite and David “Devil” Griffith to give their best from the start in 1982.
The event was doing fine on its own, enjoying the stardom it earned when lo and behold somebody came along and changed the script, apparently ignoring the adage which states that you shouldn’t try to fix it if it isn’t broken.
After 24 years of glory, acclaim and prosperity, the “king” was made to share his subjects with a member two notches down in the royal line and succession. It was an earth-shattering decree that saw the entourage go from as high as 300 or more in the embryonic years to as low as 70 or thereabout as it turned into a mature adult.
Its half brother was fast tracked and took away too much of its human capital to keep it credible. Consequently, its confidence was so badly bruised and its will so decimated, that they were forced to pull it off the road a few years ago.
It is rumoured that it spent the last three years on life support, but now sufficiently recovered, that it is able to hit the road again like it used to back in the day.
It is understood that new management decided the time was right to do the honourable thing and give a proven star a chance to enhance its track record or some would prefer to say regain lost ground.
Some hold the opinion, though, that the virtual simultaneous clash with its half brother again might condemn it to defeat and could force it back into retirement, if not for good, for a lengthy period. Surely, another enforced sabbatical will hurt its once spotless and glorious reputation.
The kind of support it gets on the road will be crucial. Anything less than a provisional 150 to 175 could be considered a disappointment if we juxtapose the huge numbers similar events attract in other jurisdictions. We have to take into account our size, comparatively speaking, and we shouldn’t attempt to create a rivalry, even if inadvertently, because our overall numbers might not be adequate to accommodate two major events.
Not only that, even if the comeback kid commands the numbers I suggested or hopefully even more, I hope the idea of developing another cadre, another generation of outstanding marathoners like Browne and McCollin will be high among the long-term objectives of those who are plotting its return.
The tourism numbers will always be a focal point; the more the merrier, because it’s the lifeblood of our economy, but the development of our young distance runners must be deliberate and not incidental in our premier road running festival. Perhaps greater financial and other incentives can be considered to create more attention from more world-class runners.
I truly wish for a triumphant return of the marathon and all the other events this weekend. Good luck to all.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist. Email - See more at: