Marathon training is well underway for Punta del Este on September 9th, with my novia and I now 2 weeks into a 16-week programme that I devised for primerizos (first-timers). The goal is to get her over the line in Uruguay in a little over three months from now, before ultimately repeating the trick for larger groups in the future as a side project, when I have more experience. One-to-one works great for now though, and we’re both learning lots as teacher/student, respectively. In the meantime, today’s early morning challenge for myself was the River Plate 10K, or Maratón Monumental.
Up earlier than I am during the week for work, it was a slow start to the day. Still a bit heavy-limbed after having concluded an hour’s running just 12 hours earlier (per the 16-week programme), there was I, dopily fumbling around in the pitch black at 6:30. Not long afterwards, because it had been a while since I last ran competitively, breakfast was an exotic assortment which included tuna pasta and a chocolate bar for some extra lift-off at the 8am gun.
As my taxista dropped me off outside the stadium, there was a tranquillity in the air, lent from the haze of the pink dawn we had both marvelled at silently, as night exploded into day between us leaving Recoleta and reaching Núñez. Chilly. That had been my initial reaction to the day, and it persisted when I was out in the open again. Those poor stewards, already sat patiently at their respective posts in fluorescent yellow high-vis when I arrived, both seen and doubtless bitten by the unrelenting cold.
A stadium-centric course, the Maratón Monumental was to begin, end and even detour via River Plate’s iconic home ground. An important footnote to add here is that almost all runs are, rather misleadingly, promoted as marathons and therefore the small print regarding actual distance must always be read, to avoid disappointment/under-preparedness. On this occasion anyway, 10 kilometres.
Meanwhile, it was 40 years ago this month that Argentina lifted the World Cup for the first time, here at El Monumental. There is no public celebration, or even acknowledgment of this milestone however; rather, it is a hollow anniversary of the tournament that no-one talks about.
Shrouded in acrimony, due to the foreboding presence of the military dictatorship throughout, the political implications of Argentina 78 from start to finish were ugly at best. Used as pawns for the regime, many players from that Argentina squad understandably now feel embarrassed and choose not to talk about what would otherwise be a football-mad nation’s crowning glory.
At the time, nobody knew the extent of the atrocities characterising the Dirty War that were taking place yet unfortunately the players were effectively representing the perpetrators by representing their country. Unfairly, this unwitting complicity felt in retrospect like an act of betrayal by the victorious players to their countless fallen compatriots. This was a burden that weighed heavily on everyone here afterwards, only lifted somewhat eight years later when Maradona’s cohort was triumphant in Mexico 86.
Bearing the history and physical scale of the 60,000-seater in mind, it was perhaps unsurprising that any loose game plan I had went completely out of the window in the final kilometre. Although many legs were clearly fatiguing, the voices of the River fans running alongside me were only getting stronger. Indeed, the terrace chants grew louder to a crescendo in unison with cheering well-wishers as we entered through the stadium gates and then the stadium itself, scaling the pitch in its entirety on the encircling running track.
What would have been a finish time of 43 minutes became ’46, as I unashamedly stopped to take photos and soak up the fantastic scene once inside El Monumental. A veteran runner and I swapped phones and, from various angles, made sure we both captured the moment for posterity. Once ready, I briefly got back into gear to head back out, past the next incoming batch of would-be amateur photographers, and crossed the finish line metres later.
Reviewing the smattering of photos taken by the kind gentleman, whilst on the bus home, it was liberating to be able to choose and edit the ones I liked, whilst deleting the others. These handpicked shots of me smiling, with the sunshine in the background, from hereon will be my only ever memory of the Maratón Monumental 2018. Moreover, today was a reminder that everyone should always be granted the opportunity to narrate and recount their own story – especially if they were not given a fair chance to write it in the first place.