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Posts Tagged ‘marathon’

Being a dedicated marathon runner, sport in general and running in particular have helped me to establish contact with people in most of the places where I have been, and to bring me to many of these places. My work in 2010 and 2011 as a coach of a group of distance athletes in Laos (and an Australian runner and vet that joined the squad there) have ended by bringing me to Darwin, in Australia. But the true is that at this moment I live here, where I work as a development officer of Athletics Northern Territory. Of course Australia is not what many would denominate a ‘developing country’ and the situation here is obviously very different to that where I have worked in the past. But given the relative low amount of people doing athletics in the territory, and the isolation in which many rural communities live in this part of the world, this job has many similitude with previous jobs in the development sector. And at the end of the day, sport is one of the most powerful tools to boost personal and community development, isn’t it?

The Athletics NT Development Program for which I am responsible aims to provide athletes from entry level to the age of 23 with the tools they need to advance their outcomes and realize their aspirations in athletics. Two key pillars form the backbone of Athletics NT’s Programme:

  • Athletics Play and Active After School Activities designed to teach of the skills of running, jumping and throwing through organised play and game based experiences and aiming to bring excitement into playing athletics.
  • The Development and Academy Squads, which are designed to recognise and select athletes with talent and potential in the sport and to support them and their coaches in their future development in athletics by organizing activities that include specific coaching clinics, workshops, training camps and assistance in the participation at Athletic events such as Australian All School Track & Field Championships, Australian Junior Track & Field Championships and Australian under 23 Track & Field Championships.

Sounds professional, doesn’t it? Well, my real deep motivation is to introduce kids in the territory to athletics, that they enjoy it and that it contributes positively to their personal development. The Northern Territory is huge (1,349,129 square kilometers), and getting to the different sites with associated clubs or where to implement this program is not easy. The vibrant capital city of Darwin, which has been hand-picked by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top 10 cities to visit in 2012 is closer to Asia than any other capital city in Australia. And, Alice Springs, which has two club in the association, is on a 2 hour plane ride from Darwin. Other places that I will have to visit are Kathrine (just three hours ride from home) and Arnhem Land, which is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500 km from Darwin. During my time in Peru, some young runners I trained with gave the nickname of ‘padrino rapido’ (fast godfather). But given the legend of the Flying Dutchman (a ghost ship that can never make port) looks like the story of my life (I also seem doomed to sail over the oceans forever) and that I may need to fly to do part of my job, I think soon I will get the nickname of flying coach-man (the name of Arnhem Land comes from how the explorer Matthew Flinders named the region after the Dutch ship Arnhem).  By the way, and three weeks already after the Marathon of Amsterdam, I do not feel rapido or flying at all!!

Alex and Noel after finishing the Amsterdam marathon

Alex and Noel after finishing the Amsterdam marathon (picture by Erki.nl)

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Caption contest on Losseveter.nl

Marjolein Stegeman was really sharp while taking pictures during the marathon of Rotterdam last Sunday. The picture above has been selected for the “caption contest” that the Dutch website http://www.losseveter.nl organizes every week. Click on the picture and participate!

My caption is: “por mucho que corra se me sigue viendo los cuernos”.

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Last December, Laos hosted a major international event, the SEA Games, which bring together the 11 countries in the region for a biannual sporting event. I was among the many skeptics who believed that the price that Laos had to pay to host this event was much too high. Many rumors circulated at that time about tracts of forest being cut down to make way for rubber plantations, hydroelectric power, development, mineral extraction, all as exchange value for the support of foreign donors (read China and Vietnam) to Laos to prepare for this event. But the SEA Games also brought lots of pride and enthusiasm to the Laotian. The attention to sports was on a high and, may be because of this, or because Laotian athletes had never trained that hard before, the truth is that Laos never won medals like during the 25th SEA Games before, and representatives of the most deprived strata in Lao society suddenly became national heroes!

Weeks later, billboard-sized posters of the SEA Games, flags with mascots Champi and Champa and stickers on many 4×4 cars driving through Vientiane are still signs of the sport fever that this country experienced. As many worry about the future for new national stadium and the athletes village, both constructed for the Games and now with no visitors except the daily Sun, my attention goes to a group of young runners that represented Laos during the SEA Games. Boys and girls between 15 and 22 years old that followed strict regimes of training and discipline aimed to fuel the country’s willingness to be not only a friendly but also a competitive host. The fuel of the flame of the games is finished, the lights of the stadium are switched off and the objectives of the cameras focus elsewhere. Even the Thai trainer, who was contracted to coach them before the SEA Games, is gone. Yet, they all maintain the passion and desire to become every day better, run every day faster, go always further. Even when they have to work harder now at school – to cover the gap they got for having to quite school for months to prepare themselves for the Games -, or when someone decides to cancel the only race in Laos they could train for in the coming months; they keep on training. With Sirivanh Ketavong, who competed in the marathon at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, as main inspiration and what Tonnie Dirks and Jeroen Zeinstra have taught me as back up to write their programs, after the SEA Games some of us still believe in Laos Su Su!!

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Lao Su Su

A few kilometers north of Vientiane, on the road 13 to Louang Prabang, one can find the National Sport Center, a compound that Vietnam has “gifted” for Laotian sport men and women preparing for the 25th SEA Games. I had made there an appointment with Sirivan on Sunday – 5th of December – at 6 am in the morning. After a long time looking for the “big blue sign on the right hand side of the road” (as if there was only one!) I could meet Sirivan. Sirivan represented Lao PDR in the olympic marathons of Atlanta and Sydney. With a personal best (pb)of 3 hours 22 minutes, Sirivan is also the marathon national record holder. Besides a job in an organisation promoting readings and writing among Laotian children, she is also assistant coach of the national long distance running team. For many ‘falang’ (foreigners) like me she has been a good contact into Laotian road running as well. After a short introduction, she introduced me to the Thai coach and two of their runners. They spoke few English, and I speak no Lao, so the only thing we could really do was starting to run and see what would happen. Just before starting the Thai coach told me “25 kilo, OK with you?”. It was 6.30 am in the morning, pfff, but what could I say? “No problem (I hoped)”. Using signs and few English words, Seng, one of the two running mates, explained me that he has a pb of 37 minutes in the 10 km, and that the SEA Games marathon would be his first marathon ever. Kond Ke, the other runner, has a pb of 38 minutes, and has run the marathon already; in 3 hours and 2 minutes. As we had run 18.35 minutes, I saw a scooter driving by my side: “5 kilo, water!” It was the Thai coach. I had not looked at any km sign on the road, but the feeling I had while running made wonder if I had understood well; “do they have a pb of 37 minutes, or do they want to run today 10 km in 37 minutes?!”… The second time I saw the coach, I was already alone with Seng. I did ask him whether we should wait for Kond Ke, but: “no, no, go, go. 10 kilo, water!” By then I knew already some more things about Seng, i.e. he is 23 and student, he is married, his wife is pregnant (men talk, of course) and more important for me he was going to run a pb in the half marathon… today! Sunday, 8 am, 25 degrees, very humid, I had gone to bed at 1 am…why were we “training” that fast?! After 55’35” (or the third time the Thai coach appeared with his scooter) I decided to play my last card in order to have an “lazy Sunday” I would accelerate, make a gap with Seng and wait for him a little later and run then slower. After some minutes, I was able to make a gap of 50 meters. “Pai pai, pai pai!!” The Thai coach telling Seng to follow me. “Ach!, this guy is going to be tired the day of the race (the marathon is next 15th of December), and I am going to feel guilty for that…” And actually I rather slow down and follow him. Back on the main road I see a km sign and decide to check the speed: last km in 3’43”. “In the stadium do 10 laps, OK?” (fourth time the coach brings us water: thank you!) Once back at the National Sport Center, Sirivan shouted: go, go, go. And suddenly just after stepping on the track Seng slowed down. Don’t ask me why. Anyhow I kept that pace and finished the 10 laps as the coach had told me. About 1 minute later Seng finished as well. Kond Ke, finished 4 minutes behind. I asked Sirivan about the purpose of the training and she explained me that the coach had asked the guys to push that day and test themselves for the games.

Yesterday I went to the new national stadium to watch football with Ebel, Thomas, and Rio. We met there with Michel and Elias. Ebel and Thomas could only stay for the first match (by the way, Myanmar 3 – Indonesia 1). While I walked out with Ebel and Thomas, a young Laotian man walks to me and shakes my hand. It took me a while to recognise him: “Seng, Sabaidee! How are you?” “Good thank you! I feel good for the marathon. Good training. Thank you!”. Lao Su Su!! Seng Go Go!

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Tick and go

Today, like almost every morning, I went for a long run just after waking up. After 35 minutes I ran close to the “athelics” track of the Politechnical College of Vientiane. The football field inside the track was full of teenagers, approximately 80 young boys who seemed to have a sport lesson. Although, what they actually did was to observe how 15 others ran on the track with flags of Sout East Asian nations. I guess that they were practising for the opening ceremony of the SEA Games. After some minutes watching, and doubting whether I should run on the track, a group of these boys noticed me and started to shout something in Laos. I understood they were inviting me to get closer. After more doubting, I decided to run back to the entrance of the college and run on the track, what motivated a big group rumour. After half a lap, I had a couple of guys running besides me, much faster than what I actually felt like to, while all the others screamed and encouraged us while we passed by. Luckely for me, they both stopped after one lap, moment in which I turned to them and asked them to not stop and continue running. This provided me a blig applause and the feeling that I was being accepted there, so I decided to keep on going. Every lap a new youngster joined, normally after a split sprint at the end of each lap. As I was getting tired, but did not dear to stop, my strategy was of not running too fast the first 300 meters and not loose the last 100 before a new boy joined in. The rest of the group kept on cheering us and I kept wondering how many of them was willing to join in!! Luckely for me, this happened in Laos and not in East Africa, otherwise I would have had to drop after one single lap. And luckely for them I am no real top runner, otherwise they would not dear next time again. After 10-12 laps there was no one else who wanted to join, so I decided it had been enough for my humble body. I thanked them and layed immediately on the ground, what concluded in a very big group laugh! Kop chai lalai guys!!

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Hamburg marathon

Yesterday, I was one of the 20,000 athletes and hand-bikes from 85 nations who took part in the annual marathon around Hamburg’s city centre. Together with friend and runningmate Marc Roig, I was the pacemaker for Alessandra Aguilar just more than 40km. Few times an amateur runner like me has the chance to experience such a race close to professional runners. The fact that Alessandra is a friend of mine made it even nicer. In fact, this was the fourth time time I make the pace in an international marathon for a friend. In the past I did it as well for Noel Keijsers in Eindhoven (twice) and for Claartje Maase in Amsterdam. Every time has been very special. Running for a friend is perhaps nicer than doing it for yourself. But the fact that Alessandra tried to qualify for the World Chmaps in Berlin this year, made the job quite tense. Luckly everything went fine, as you can see in the picture below.

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