Acropora Eco-Trail Race gets Rotarians Moving
Drenched in sweat, one male runner stood out from the pack. Fifty-one year old Emiliano Lemus, clad in red running sorts, made it to the 10km race finish line before anyone else in just 49 minutes and seconds. “The champion is not the winner, but everyone that makes it to the goal,” said Lemus. One minute later, Andrea Piccinini, an Italian runner living on Roatan, finished his race placing second among the men running the 10K.
As Lemus recovered after the race, he talked about his running career and the race. “The race was well organized. Acropora provided great challenges, humidity being a big one,” said Lemus. The professional runner built his reputation racing in extreme 80 kilometers marathons. He started running at a very young age in the small Honduran town of Intibucá. “I would run 42 kilometers to and from school everyday growing up” said Lemus. Throughout his career, he won impressive titles including breaking a first-place record in a Palm Beach 80K Ultra Marathon. He has also won the 42K Entre Ríos Marathon in Argentina and held titles in Central American and Pan-American races. Lemus currently works as a technical director for Club Beltran. The runners’ club, based in San Pedro Sula, focuses on training new young athletes.
For 69 year-old Kevin Cleaver the Acropora Race was a completely different experience. “I did my 10K before my big 7-0,” said Cleaver one week before his birthday. The American runner finished 23rd in the 10K men’s category. He was confident that he would place in the top group to the finish line. Cleaver’s wife, a brown Taekwondo belt holder, also completed her 10K race at age 63.
Elvin Canales, a young Roatan volunteer firefighter, won the 5K run. His time was 27 minutes and 30 seconds. “For me it’s a normal day, its part of our everyday training these kind of challenges,” said Canales. The Roatan Fire Brigade had an important role in the race. The entity provided medical assistance to the runners in trouble. Fit firefighters accompanied racers throughout the trails monitoring their progress and looking for signs of distress. The collaboration of different organizations was vital to the event’s success.
The 2018 Acropora Eco Trail, an event organized by the Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA), and named after the Acropora Palmata coral species, one of the most important species responsible for constructing coral in shallow reef areas, featured a 2K family race, a 5K moderate trail, and a more advanced 10K run. There was a 20K race planned, but it was cancelled as not enough runners signed up. The races started on Palmetto Bay beach and then moved into the tropical jungle overlooking the bay where the athletes were challenged by steep hills and wet descents. Then the runners transitioned onto an extended cement trail before tackling a long stretch of white, sandy beach. Rest stations along the routes offered water and support as BICA employees and race volunteers assisted and encouraged the competitors. The well-planned routes displayed recycled, handmade signs as well as repurposed race trackers. In only its second year, the race attracted 230 competitors: 84 young runners participated in the 2K Family Run; 80 racers tackled the 5K; and the 10K run had 66 participants. Attendees came from all over Roatan and the mainland of Honduras.
The sports company Caciques Trail Runners helped to map out and organize the different trails for the Acropora run. For Rolando Flores Vega or “Rolo,” who funded the company, its been three years of promoting mountain trail runs in Honduras. Flores Vega, a runner who previously worked in accountings, saw the opportunity to organize such events in Honduras. “I would go to different trails in Central America and hold the Honduran flag at the end. It was then that I realized there were no similar trail runs in the country” explains Vega. “I marked the routes from 8 pm to 1 am” said Vega, noting that Roatan provides a safe location for this type of race. Organization of the event on the island is very different than in the mainland, especially in terms of security.
Currently sponsored by adventure brand The North Face, Vega has created four annual eco-runs. The other three extreme mountain races take place in Celaque, Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula. The most challenging race is a 45K in Celaque, the Challenge the Sunset Marathon. This race requires reaching the finish line atop the elevated Celaque Peak before the sun sets. “People want a healthier lifestyle. More young people are becoming involved in similar events,” said Vega while commenting on the growing racing movement in Honduras. Currently, there are four important annual national marathons. The Diario La Prensa Marathon, the largest one in the country, takes place in San Pedro Sula. The event that started in June of 1975 has an average attendance of 5,000 athletes. Other national races include the Sula Marathon, the Gatorade Marathon, and the Atlantic Marathon. These are all full 42K competitions that take place in different parts of the mainland. The races promote and attract participation from both national and international runners. Roatan does not yet have a marathon of its own, but the island has featured smaller races such as the Extreme Roatan Race last held in 2017 in Blue Harbor Plantation and consisting of a 4K obstacle course, and now the Acropora Eco-Trail Race which was inaugurated in 2017 featuring a different route (the race began at Megaplaza in French Harbor and ended in Palmetto Bay).
“Acropora represents a new way the organization is creating consciousness and providing environmental education,” said Gisselle Brady, BICA’s program director. The race was initially started with funds given to BICA by the governmental Coastal Marine Project to increase awareness of the northern Honduran protected areas. Since 1990, BICA has worked tirelessly in environmental education while also establishing research projects and patrolling the coastal national parks. “Isn’t our municipal dumpster a big enough sign that we have a problem?” said Brady while discussing the race’s details. For Brady, also a research biologist, waste management and preservation of the ocean and its wildlife will ensure a future for the island and its inhabitants. This year, the International Year of the Reef, the event’s educational focus was to raise awareness about the impact of plastic waste on our oceans and to support two recently proposed municipal ordinances. One would ban the use of plastic bags and the other would eliminate plastic drinking straws in the municipality. The petition to ban plastic straws was also made available on international online platform change.org. To date over thousand supporters had signed the petition.
Representing the Roatan Municipal Corporation, Councilman Rully Siguenza delivered a donation of Lmp 10,000 in support to the event. The current administration has expressed its will to provide solutions to the island’s different environmental problems.
Acropora also had the support of diverse Roatan-based businesses. “I think education and eco-responsible tourism is very important for a small piece of paradise like Roatan. This island is growing very fast and we need to do the changes right now,” said Patrice Bellemare, owner of a Sandy Bay dive shop. The presence of national sponsors was also visible. Banpais bank sponsored awards for first to third places in the different running categories. The 5K and 10K winners received a Lmp 3000 prize. All winners also received a reusable bag and varied gift certificates from the business sponsors. For next year, the organizations expressed their hopes in continued improvement and expansion of the event.
MY OWN 5K
It was my first time running a race in five years. My friend and I drove into the venue early in the morning to find that people were already jogging & stretching. Everyone seemed excited and looked prepared under the bright Roatan sun. One of the registrants, who was also celebrating her daughter’s birthday, greeted us with a smile while busily signing up all the attendees. Experienced runners were warming up and gaining focus. Less experienced runners were figuring out what exactly to do.
The start of the 5K race was announced. We all went under the big red start line that proudly displayed the #onlyforthewildones slogan. As the horn was blasted, young runners sprinted towards the natural trail. I decided to not rush into the trail and stayed behind figuring out my pace.
Faced with an uphill route, the participants started climbing and the pack of competitors quickly established a pace. The top was reached without much difficulty. The downhill proved far more challenging as single runners began to slide down the muddy, slippery trail. My friend and race partner fell and twisted her ankle, wincing in pain. While I was providing assistance, other runners asked if they could help, but she insisted that she would finish and would continue by herself. Taken as my official “go” sign, I started to run.
The trail started to get flatter and my pace accelerated. Quickly enough, a new segment surfaced, a cement road that extended into a big mud lot. As I went through the mud, I finally saw white sand again. Once my feet made it to the sand, I could see the beautiful turquoise beach was ahead. At this point, my body was tired and my legs had started to hurt. It seemed like all the runners were struggling. As if in a mirage, a runner dressed all in red started to outrun every runner he passed. Right behind him, there was another runner with golden-tanned skin. They both seemed to have a similar pace. It almost looked synchronized.
The end was near. My mind kept pushing me to run as hard as I could. Every time I felt another runner picked up their pace I did so myself. After passing the shoreline curves, there was movement again. The finish line was greeting every runner. In those last minutes, all the runners gave their best. The beach was filled with running shoe tracks and sweat drops. Everyone was a winner on their own terms.