It’s 4 a.m. in a deserted parking lot in Panama City. My stomach is doing flip flops, adrenaline is pumping through my veins, and for a brief second I consider hitchhiking home and collapsing back into bed to avoid what I rose so early to do. The morning is unusually cold for Panama, and I start shivering a little as I pace back and forth, cursing my brazen overconfidence in signing up to run 21 kilometers, when on most days at this hour I am still struggling to get out of bed.
To say that the morning of the Panama City International Marathon was chaotic would be an understatement – well, for me anyway. I had made it doubly stressful for myself by signing up for the race online through active.com rather than in person, and assumed I would receive exact instructions on the start time and location. I was wrong.
In a last-minute panic the night before, I called around to every contact listed on the event website, and learned that all of the other runners had somehow been notified to pick up their raceday information from a hotel the day prior. My only option, according to an official, was to arrive as early as possible and hope that the powers that be would permit me to run. Which leads us back to me, alone on this abandoned stretch of the Amador Causeway, carrying nothing but my iPod and some orange slices.
I must have been a sad sight, because the marathon director took pity on me and deemed me fit to compete. Success! My panic gave way to excitement as the lot started filling up with runners, spectators, and promotional tents and crew. Within an hour the once-deserted space looked like a full-blown festival complete with a party atmosphere. Lady Gaga’s greatest hits pumped out of giant speakers, and runners joined in warm ups led by very enthusiastic Zoomba instructors, which I took a pass on in order to avoid overstraining/embarrassing myself before the long run ahead.
Like many events in Panama, the marathon and half marathon ran slightly behind schedule. I didn’t begin my race until around 6:30 a.m., but after the initial confusion, the day proceeded like clockwork. I was impressed that race officials had taken pains to shut off sections of the well-trafficked oceanfront road, or Cinta Costera, for runners’ safety, and water stops were frequent and well-supplied. Any lingering apprehension about running my first half marathon in another country was put to rest within the first mile.
The course itself was a really fantastic running tour of the city – starting at the Amador Causeway, making its way around the famed Ancon Hill, down the Cinta Costera, and all the way to Costa de Este, or the newest area of development in the city. (Check out Jerrod’s post on great jogs in Panama City for some fun run ideas.) Thank goodness for the changes in topography and varying scenery along the way, because even at the harder parts of the race, there was always something new and interesting to look at. There were plenty of breathtaking ocean views to take in along the way, and a few sun-sweltering uphill stretches that left me panting.
The race finished at the same point where it began and with more over-the-top celebrations. The fantastic, well-coordinated day more than made up for the chaos of the morning, and it was one of my favorite experiences in Panama thus far. After the race, I met a Brazilian runner who claims that running in a new city is the best way to get to know it (and he’s an expert after running 20 marathons in 20 different cities) – and I think the race planners did a great job of introducing foreign runners to Panama City. I feel like I have a new appreciation for the scope and variety of this city after relearning it on foot.