Mexico City, officially México Districto Federal or as locals call it DF, is the capital of Mexico and a major economic and cultural centre for Latin America. And if there’s one thing that strikes you about DF when you first arrive, it has to be the sheer volume of people. Just under 9 million people in the city itself and 21 million in the metropolitan area. The city also hosts the annual Mexico City International Marathon, the highlight of the country’s running calendar.
This year marks the 31st edition of the Mexico Marathon. It’ll also be my first marathon in Mexico city and my first marathon this year so I’m determined to finish well. So far, my record in marathons has been mixed. My first was two years ago in Puebla where I started off well but hit the wall with low sugar levels around the 30k mark. Overall I didn’t do too badly though with a respectable finish of 3 hours 16. The next one, in Germany last year, took me down to 3:12 and on a difficult course through the countryside. I really pushed myself at the end of this race and couldn’t run (or walk properly) for the next week. This was a third place category finish and gave me hopes of maybe breaking 3:10 to qualify for the Boston marathon with my next try. Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be as I crumbled at the 30k mark again in Puebla finishing in 3:30. This time I think the problem was taking too much sugar too early on. The altitude and heat are also important factors at this distance.
The fact is, the marathon is a difficult distance whatever the conditions. It’s short enough that you need to keep running fast but long enough that you are likely have problems with nutrition and hydration. It’s hard to prepare for these types of problems since they only really arise when we are pushed to the limit and its difficult to do this too often during training. Marathon distance races are also quite rare in places like Mexico and it’s difficult to find longer stretches of flat uninterrupted tarmac to practice on. I always think its advisable to train under circumstances similar to those you expect to encounter in a race but when this isn’t possible you need to improvise. For me, the most important thing is to put the hours in. Since there isn’t a flat road near my house, I’ve been trying to build my endurance with longer runs in the hills. It’s either this or the track and, to be frank, anything more than 10 or so laps just doesn’t appeal to me. Running in the hills also brings me a couple of hundred meters closer to the race altitude. In order to at least get some experience on tarmac before the race I finished my training with the Telcel half marathon in Puebla last week. While this didn’t go too well in terms of my target pace, it allowed me to acclimatise to a the altitude and try out my new road running shoes.
To date I’ve already ran four races in Mexico city, an 8k night race, two 10ks and the international half marathon. My best performance from these was the 8k night race were I finished third in my category in 33 minutes 16. Both 10k times were over 42 minutes and I finished in just over 1 hour 30 minutes for the half marathon but felt like I was really running well. I felt I paced myself properly without any obvious dips and finished strongly. Taking my other times into account, these results suggest that the altitude and heat make me about 5% slower with a slightly worse effect over larger distances.
One problem I expected with the half marathon in Mexico was to be held up behind slower runners at the start. For larger races in Mexico this can be a real problem. They don’t really go in for staged starts over here and when they do they never seem to work out that well. A lot of the runners here also tend to push themselves toward the line before races seemingly oblivious to how many runners they’ll be holding up during the race. There’s nothing like confidence. This tends to be more common for the bigger races and generally results in chaos as people bang into each other and fall over each other at the start. I always try to find a fence to jump to get where I need to be at the start and if I’m stuck behind slower runners after we start I wont hesitate to nudge folk out of the way. If it gets to the stage where I would need to weave in and out I prefer to slow down a bit since weaving can take a lot of energy for very little return. I’ve only been in one race with any sort of human pile-up with people actually falling over. Fortunately, I was just in front of the action but I heard it and when I turned round it looked nasty. As it turns out however, the Mexico international half marathon started quite smoothly. I was behind a lot of slower runners at the start but was able to jump onto the pavement to pass them without much bother. Everything else, the aid stations, the crowds, the scenery, was perfect.
Most of the buzz around the marathon this year is around the change of route and fact that its still a mixed distance race. The new route is based on that of the 1968 Olympic marathon. It starts at the Zocalo, twists around the Paseo de la Reforma and the Park of Chapultapec and follows a long straight road to finish inside the Olympic stadium. It should be stunning and I really like the idea of a grand stand finish but I’m just a bit worried about it being too crowded at the start. There could also be problems when the runners from the full marathon merge with the runners from the half. The half marathon starts about an hour and a half later than the full marathon but the routes overlap and finish in the same place. I really don’t know why this race needs to be mixed distance. Normally organisers use this sort of format to sell more places, but this year the marathon sold out early and I’m sure the event would have sold out anyway without the half marathon and more places for the full marathon. They could even have held a dedicated half marathon on another day and sold that out too.
As the race is only a few days away now the orginizers have already released the design of the race shirts and medals. The shirts are made by Adidas and come in two colours, yellow and plum. They look nice but I hope I get a yellow one as the plumb looks a bit too much like pink for me. The medals look nice too and I’m looking forward to finishing well and getting one round my neck on Sunday. As for the time, I’ll settle for anything under 3:25 but if the conditions are good and I’m feeling comfortable going into the last 10k, who knows.
Wish me luck!
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