The Guyana Marathon! Can it be revived?
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Four time female marathon runner Alika Morgan and her Coach Leslie Black.
Four time female marathon runner Alika Morgan and her Coach Leslie Black.

HEADLINES of the Guiana Graphic newspapers dated March 12, 1956 screamed: CLEM FIELDS WINS MARATHON-BEATS ISHMAEL BY 880 YARDS.

Written by Sports Journalist Cedric Wiltshire the story continued:
“Three hours and a second after yesterday’s marathon started it was over .
And as predicted Clem Fields of Rose Hall Estate was the winner.
Although finishing 880 yards behind, H Ishmael (Sandbach Parker ) was considered a good second.
A scientific fact is that distance is the only type of running in which humans routinely outperform most mammals.
Animals can run faster but none can endure for twenty six miles.
The 26.2 miles road race is a truly mythic race.
It has been described as the perfect distance to truly test the human physiology ; to test the amount of fuel in the human gas tanks.
The marathon, worldwide, is a race thoroughly enjoyed by spectators who are awed by the magnitude of the physical and mental toughness and the heroism required by the athlete, male or female, to run the distance.
Wiltshire’s report of March 12, 1956 continued: “Fields hinted that he was going to make the pace a blistering one. But as things turned out he could not get the rid of Ishmael.
In fact, it was Ishmael who dictated the pace for the first eleven miles.
It was for the next fifteen miles that Fields, the stronger of the two, took complete charge and won convincingly amidst tumultuous applause.
Crowds lined the entire route and there were big cheers for every athlete as he passed.
Naturally the crowd was thickest at the Seawall Bandstand where there was a deafening roar as Fields approached – a solitary figure.
It was not very long after that Ishmael was spotted and he too was given a big ovation.”
From the tone of the report it can be concluded that the late 1950s were arguably the glory days of the marathon race in Guyana.
Historically, the marathon race is based on the legend of Pheidippides, a hero of Ancient Greece.
The story is that in the year 490 B.C., an invading Persian Army landed on the plains of Marathon and prepared for attack on Athens the largest city of Greece.
During the ensuing battle of Marathon the Athenian Army was outnumbered 4 to 1 but they launched a surprise offensive thrust which at the time appeared suicidal.
By day’s end, it was recorded, 6400 Persian bodies lay dead on the field while only 192 Athenians had been killed.
The Persians retreated and the soldier Pheidippides was called upon to run to Athens (26 miles away) to carry the news of the victory .
Pushing himself past normal limits of human endurance, he reached Athens in 3 hours, delivered his message “ Rejoice ! We have won!”and died shortly thereafter from exhaustion.
Centuries later, in 1896, the modern Olympic Games introduced a “marathon” race of (40,000 meters or 24.85 miles).
The winner was Spiridon Louis, a Greek postal worker from village of Marusi and veteran of several long military marches.
His time was 2 hours, 58 minutes, 50 seconds for the 40 kilometer distance (average pace of 7:11 minutes per mile).
At the 1908 Olympic Games in London, the marathon distance was changed to 26 miles to cover the ground from Windsor Castle to White City stadium, with 385 yards added on so the race could finish in front of King Edward VII’s royal box.
Then after 16 years of extremely heated discussion, this 26.2 mile distance was established at the 1924 Olympics in Paris as the official marathon distance.
The Guyanese marathons of the late 1950s were followed by the equally glorious Banks Classic Marathons.
With the Marathons of the 1950s the route started at the then Atkinson Airport and ended at the seawall bandstand- the athletes ran against the wind.
When sponsored by Banks DIH the race started at Mahaica and ended at Thirst Park a far less arduous course in relation to wind resistance.
But it has been quite a few years since we have had a 26 mile race in Guyana much to the sadness and disappointment of athletic sports lovers and fans.
What are the prospects for the revival of this mythic race in Guyana?
Minister of Sport Dr. Frank Anthony has said: “Well I can tell you this Ministry would really like to see a Guyana marathon. We need the Athletics Association to be fully involved in it because they would have the technical people the technical expertise to manage something like this.”
He added: “I have been talking about that for quite some time now but we are not getting traction and we don’t want to go it alone because we don’t feel that is a sustainable way of doing it.”
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Alfred King concurred with the need for involvement of all stakeholders.
He added that the general view is that Guyana does not have a wide pool of long distance athletes to complete that grueling race.
He, however, pointed to the fact that the Ministry of Sport has been staging the Independence Half Marathon (13.1. miles) .
He is hoping that participation in this race will grow and eventually create a field for a resumption of the epic Guyana marathons.
Veteran Athletics coach Leslie Black agrees that the Marathon is a truly great race.
He said: “Look if we don’t have enough locals to do it. We gotta bring in international athletes. We may not get it right, right away but once things are back the Guyana Marathon will pick up.”
He stressed: “ I met long distance runners from Kenya who want to come to Guyana. One of them Kenyans told me he hear about Kaieteur Falls and he wants to come. But the price gotta be right. A lot of long distance athletic stars will come to Guyana once the incentives are right.”
He said that a Guyana Marathon has great potential for sports tourism.
In his report on the March 1956 Marathon Wiltshire continued: Athletes and officials slept at Atkinson on Saturday night.
Some were still sound asleep while others were wide awake as starting time approached- 5 a.m.
The boys freshened up and everyone looked confident and in the best of spirits when Major Wingate Gray of the Black Watch sounded the pistol to get them going.
Thirty six runners started, a mere 11 finishing up to the time the cream of the crowd left the Seawall Bandstand, the finishing line.”
Wiltshire ended his report on the March 1956 Marathon, with the following information: “The first six in were as follows: Clem Fields, Rose Hall Estate; H. Ishmael Sandbach Parker/ Humphrey trophy, O Lashley-Sandbach Parker; Sandbach Parker Cup; H. Persaud (Sandbach Parker Clipper Cup) H Rahaman Uitvlugt Estate (AAA and CU Cup); D Das (Sandback Parker AAA and CU Cup),
Ken Richardson who was the seventh to cross the line received a special prize.
The presentations were made by Mrs. Ena Luckhoo Mayoress of Georgetown.”
In further comments on a revived Guyana Marathon, Minister Anthony recently said: “We can get private sector people to give support but we need the Athletics Association to be fully involved. We need to encourage people to work on it. It’s not only a Ministry thing all of us have to be involved.”

(By Clifford Stanley)

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