The marathon is a long-distance running event with an official distance of 42.195 kilometres (26.2 miles), it is usually run as a road race. The event was instituted in commemoration of the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, a messenger from the Battle of Marathon to Athens. Many runners in Lagos were excited when we heard that Lagos will be hosting a marathon event. The opportunity offers many runners an avenue to test themselves with the ultimate running experience.
The time the announcement was made to the time of the event was short. Preparation for a marathon race takes about 6 months.
Myself as well as many other runners quickly registered. We assumed that the race will be well organized because it is being sponsored by a major financial institution in Nigeria.
When I went to collect running my kit & bib, I started sensing that all may not be well. After verification, & registration, I was given a bib showing my race number. I also noticed with pleasure that the bib has an electronic tag. This device is meant to track the split time between distances along the race track, I moved onward to the collection point, a man toss a bag to me, I quickly informed him that I will need an extra large vest, he smiled and said it is one size fits all, that the vests are expandable. When I brought out the vest, the quality was very poor and my instinct started telling me that this race may not live up to expectation.
On race day, I got ready quickly, I had heard on the news that the roads will be blocked around 6.30am. I joined my 2 other friends that are also participating to the stadium. We trekked from Costain roundabout to statdium because the road had been closed.
By 7.12am the race started. The weather was a little bit cool. Spectators were cheering us as we go. From stadium to Ojuelegba to Anthony, at around 3km, we saw the first casualty been lifted into the ambulance. I said to myself “no be small thing o” many participants were not regular runners. The shoes some people wore were not running shoes. Considering the hot and humid weather, some people were over dressed. Some believed they can win the prize money. Knowing Nigerians for who we are, I believe some may have gone to their place of worship to pray for success in the race. $50,000 in this tough economic dispensation would definitely go a long way.
The organizers had promised that at 5km intervals, there will be water, energy drink, sponging spots and probably toilet. The disappointed came when I, as well as many runners got to where we were meant to refresh with water and energy drink and found nothing. Alas !, all the drinks were gone. Many runners started experiencing dehydration after 6 – 10km. When we enquire from the volunteers at the water stations, they just waved us on as if we were speaking a foreign language. For the rest of the race, I never got any form of support in terms of drinks or water to sponge myself. The temperature was getting high. The temperature was around 34 degrees centigrade.
Thankfully, I had a running pouch with 2 water bottles, I had filled it up with energy drink. I also had three hundred and fifty naira (N350) in my pouch. That turned out to be my saving grace. At Oworonshoki, as we approach the 3rd mainland bridge, some spectators brought out 2 bags of pure water, myself and other marathoners rushed to grab the pure water sachet as if our lives depended on it, we drank some, poured some over our bodies and kept on with the race.
While we were on 3rd mainland bridge, many participants started retiring from the race, I suspected fatigue and dehydration have set in, many BRT buses, filled to capacity passed by, conveying participants.
At Adeniji area, we were lucky to find a woman selling cold pure water, I bought 5 for N50, I took two and gave 3 to other marathoners. We needed to urinate at that time, we had to do it near the edge of the bridge. There was no toilet facility throughout the race course.
We continue to endure the race, at Osborne just before the traffic light, a gardener selling plants was wetting his flowers, we begged him to shower us with his hose. He gladly did and we thanked him profusely. The lowest point for me is when I saw a young marathoner picked up a leftover energy drink from the road and drank it. I felt so depressed. That was desperation and survival.
At the Ikoyi registry & Lekki – Ikoyi link bridge some good Samaritans gave us pure water & bottle water respectively. We thanked them and moved on. All these while, I was running and walking intermittently so that I can finish the race within 5 hours 45 minutes which was my previous personal best at the last marathon I ran in Chicago 2013. The scorching sun with no fluids to replenish made me slow down drastically. From 37km to 41km, I trekked at a pace of 11 minutes 30 seconds per kilometer. I started running as I entered the Atlantic city. I am happy I completed the race but so sad that I have been let down by the organizers of the race. At the finish point, there were no more medals for people like us that finished the race after 5 hours. I finished my own race after 6 hours 13 minutes. There was no water nor energy drink or food. Instead, we were lining up for medals which had been given out to participants that did not finish the race but boarded the board to the finish line. After taking pictures with my friends, I was eventually able to get a blank certificate. There was nothing to recognize my position or the time I finished the race. I now wonder what benefit is the tag on my bib for?
As I leave the venue, runners that came after 2.12pm which is after the official cut off time were treated shabbily, there were not allowed to pass through the gate of EKO Atlantic. They were pushed and shoved by the security personnel at the gate. This, in my own opinion summarized in totality, the underlining factor which I call the Nigerian factor, we do not have respect for ourselves. We do not treat each other with dignity. This lack of respect & dignity has eaten into the fabric of all our institutions.
The experience taught me once again that I cannot rely on organizations, whether private or public to deliver a world class event. The organizers registered 36,500 participants and probably 20,000 runners started the marathon but catered for only 1,000. My running pace was about 7 minutes 20 seconds many runners before& after me did not get any water & energy drinks neither was there any sponging area to cool the body temperature down. We were simply left to our fate and for many people that did not have money on them; they suffered through the race and were left to the kindness of proactive spectators that provided pure water while many simply retired.
I had voiced my concern that since the event is free it may not be properly organized. Many people said but they have a big sponsor, it is pertinent to note that despite having big sponsors, Chicago & Dubai Marathons participants still pay $175 & $125 respectively in order to register.
I will implore the organizers to plan future events carefully & properly and pay special attention to the following areas;
1. Weather – the event should be held when temperature in Lagos is coolest (for instance temperature on Saturday, 23rd January was cooler than on the 6th of February)
2. Cooling / refreshment stations – There should be adequate drinks (water & energy drink) as well as sponges (for cooling) for all the participants not just few.
3. There should be toilets for participants that need to ease themselves.
4. The integrity of the marathon race track should be protected throughout in order to ensure every participants starts at the same time and are not able to join the race at any other point.
5. The participants that could not finish the race and joined the bus should not have been taken to the finish line because medals & certificates should only be for finishers. They should have been taken to another area where they can get refreshment and go home.
6. There should be more ambulances to attend to the participants that require medical help. There should be more buses to convey runners that could not finish the race.
7. Participants should pay a registration fee in order to improve the quality of event.
8. The organizers should organize training workshops for aspiring participants and also inform aspiring runners that marathon should be prepared for appropriately. Many runners that have never run more than 5km showed up for 42km. what do you expect?
9. There should be an official result of the event of all participants that finished the race showing their position and time.
Many people have made their concerns known to the organizers through various media. I seriously hope that the organizers will take note of my sincere critic of the Lagos city Marathon 2016. Organizing this marathon is a right step in the right direction because it can attract tourists and thereby generate revenue for the state & country but the way it was organized and implemented on Saturday, the 6th of February, 2016, left much to be desired.
The organizers owe the public this duty of care.
Lagos City Marathoner – Bib number 1598