If you visit Cuba in November and happen to be a jogging enthusiast or avid runner, you mustn't overlook the opportunity to participate in Marabana; Cuba's biggest marathon race.
It's a worldwide recognised event that has significantly grown over its three decades of existence, to the point of fulfilling every requirement by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS).
Its story begins in 1987, a year after Cuba hosted the Pan-American Physical Education Congress. It was then that the first half marathon race of the kind was organised. Shortly after the full marathon followed, and later; the 10-killometre race. In each of these distances the runners compete within their age group category, while disabled participants do so within a category of their own.
The marathon eventually grew bigger (albeit this being a slow-moving process) despite the enormous economic blow that the collapse of the Soviet block brought forth. It was only thanks to international that the marathon survived the Periodo Especial (Special Period – referring to Cuba' 90s economic crisis, a time of hardships, stress and great economic difficulties); especially thanks to the backing support of AIMs and Madrid's Marathon.
What to do to enrol and other important details
If Marabana's first ever edition saw only about 300 running participants (Cubans in their vast majority) today the annual number generally stretches to 3,000; with many more foreigners participating than ever. The record of 644 foreign competitors was set in its latest 2014 edition. Such a high level in the number of participants has only been surpassed in Cuba during the 1982 Central American and Caribbean Games and the 1991 Pan-American Games; when the island hosted those multiple sport events.
And these numbers will inevitably keep growing. It's expected that the steps taken to restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States will make the giant from the north the foreign country sending the most runners to the event, displacing Germany and the Scandinavian countries. Carlos Gattorno, Marabana's director and promoter has pointed out that:
"... the cultural and social experience, the safety and security measures in place as well as the solidarity that foreign runners can perceive in Cuba; are all factors that favour Marabana's permanent growth."
The preparations for this year's edition already march on at full steam ahead, including the installation of technical devices like the state-of-the-art chip timekeeping system. International enrolment officially opened on 26th January, and in order to participate you must fill out an online form which can be accessed:
Regarding the cost of enrolment, those who sign up early pay €50 when enrolling before 30th July; €60 from 1st August to 30th October and €75 from 1st November to the actual date of the event. The enrolment fee also gets you a race T-shirt to wear on the day, an electronic measuring chip and the unforgettable chance to admire breathtaking Havana landmarks such as the Capitolio Nacional (National Capitol), la avenida Malecon (Malecon Avenue) and the Plaza de la Revolucion (Revolution Square).
The marathon throughout the entire country
The universe of the Cuban runner is tireless, and the benefits of running are so widely spread, that every large company has a working team that runs. The individual plans the time it'll take him or her to run each stretch, and re-lives the experience time and time again, knowing that it contributes to enhance his or her health.
Maracuba is another one of Cuba's long distance races which always takes place on a Saturday, exactly the day before the start of Marabana. It began three years ago and it gets the whole country running simultaneously across its 169 municipalities. Twenty-four hours later, the starting shot is heard for November's main attraction, whose circuit has been certified by the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS). Not by chance then that it is renowned as one of the most prestigious and well-organised races in America.
But in the end, the race isn't just about winning. The main goals are the possibilities it brings to socialise with fellow runners and rivals as well as test your endurance when faced with the challenge of overcoming the distance. At the end of the day you are then left with the kind of satisfaction that can be easily summed up in this long distance runner's phrase:
"I now have one less thing to do in my life."