By Oli Bazely, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – On Sunday July 18th the streets of Rio will once again host the annual Maratona do Rio – The Rio Marathon. The 42.195 km (26 miles and 385 yards) course stretches from Barra da Tijuca in Zona Oeste, along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, to Flamengo.
For most of the 15,000 or so participants (the author included), the marathon will be the culmination of many hard weeks of grinding effort and committed training. For the elite runners, it is just another day at the office and a chance to grab a share of the prize money.
In addition to the race, organizers have established a half-marathon based on the same course, but while the 21km route finishes in Flamengo, participants in the full marathon continue back towards the Barra upon reaching that point (see the map). In a bid to avoid the midday heat it will start at 7am, meaning that in addition to the intimidating race all participants also get to enjoy a pre-dawn alarm-call to get the adrenalin flowing.
The Rio marathon was first contested in 1979, although with several missed years and variable attendance levels, it has a checkered history since it was founded by Eleonora Mendonça, who began running marathons while living in America.
On her return to Rio, she started ‘Printer’, a company aimed at organizing and promoting informal road races along the beaches of Copacabana and Leme. This led to the establishment of the first full marathon in 1979, when, along with 120 other runners, she ran a circular course around Rio, starting and finishing at the army’s Physical Education School in Urca.
The validity of the first marathon course was undermined by accusations of mis-measurement of all things, and suggestions that the car odometer used to determine the course length was perhaps not the best tool for the job. Despite these initial troubles, the race flourished and was run annually until 2000, when sponsorship troubles prevented the race from taking place.
Since 1979, there have been a number of course alterations, with participants previously setting off in Leme, Niterói and even the Sambôdromo. During the 1980s, there was also a period where two separate races were contested, with one organized by the Journal do Brasil.
This period has been described as a golden age for running in Rio, with a rapid rise in the number of both national and international participants, due also in part to the lack of any alternative events. In recent years, such events, particularly those in cooler-climate cities like Porto Alegre, have detracted from Rio’s marathon, eventually leading to a hiatus at the turn of the millennium.
In 2003 a new sponsor was secured, the national bank Caixa Economica, and a new course, such as the one run today, was established. Since then, the podium has been dominated by Brazilian runners, registering times of under two hours and seventeen minutes for the men and two hours and thirty-nine for the women, and the race has even been completed by members of native Brazilian tribes, who ran barefoot while decorated in traditional face and body paintings.
Race fans are encouraged to line the route which follows the beach front roads of Barra, Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana, Botafogo and Flamengo to support those taking part.