Defending champions Didimo Sanchez and Raquel Agudelo Berrio will headline the University of the West Indies Sport and Physical Education (UWI SPEC) 16th International Half-Marathon and Relay on Sunday.
The annual race which is being presented by First Citizens is themed "A sound mind in a healthy body," and will begin and end at UWI SPEC, the St Augustine Campus of UWI from 5 am. This year, the half marathon will include a new feature of the 4 x 5K relay race.
Sanchez, who won last year with a time of one hour and eight minutes and 49 seconds (1:08.49), has had run solid tuneups for the race with the 34-year-old Venezuelan winning the Tobago Sea to Sea Half-Marathon and the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) 10K in Guadeloupe.
He will be challenged by several elite runners including his countryman Venezuelan Pedro Mora (42) who placed second in this year's Maracaibo Half-Marathon. He represented Venezuela in the marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympics and has a personal best time of 1:03.37.
Another is Kenyan Vitalis Kimeli, the namesake of UWI SPEC course record-holder Ernest Kimeli and a relative of the great Kipchoge Keino. The 23-year-old has been racing in China this year and his best time in four half-marathons there was 1:04.30.
Kenyan Alex Ekesa has been in T&T since May when he placed second to Sanchez in the Tobago Sea to Sea Half. The 36-year-old won the Butler 20K but lost many 5Ks (a few in sub-15) to Sherwyn Stapleton, one of T&T's leading runners for this event.
Stapleton (30) of T&T Road Racing Club (TTRRC) first foray on the road was last year. Among his titles was the UWI Scholarship 5K, he placed fifth overall at last year's UWI SPEC Half and third among the T&T runners.
T&T will also be represented by Matthew Hagley (32) of the Defence Force, UWI Graduate Shirvan Baboolal (28) and Curtis Cox (51).
The women’s race will be equally as competitive as Berrio, who won with a 1:20.34-clocking will be seeking to repeat as champion. The Colombian won the Panama Marathon and the Tobago Sea to Sea Marathon.
Her leading foreign opponents include Charity Wanjiru Mumbi of Kenya, Leah Kigen (40), Linda McDowall of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Zuleima Amaya of Venezuela.
Mumbi enters with a personal best of 1:14 in the half and 34 minutes in the 10K while Kigen was the 2011 UWI SPEC champion and this will be her first time back in the race since then. She placed second in a Mexican marathon earlier this month and is a former T&T Marathon and Run Barbados Marathon champion.
McDowall, this year's women's Caricom 10K and South American 10K winner, ran the 2017 UWI SPEC while Amaya of Venezuela is a former Venezuelan marathon champion. She placed third at last year's UWI SPEC.
In the absence of Tonya Nero, Samantha Shukla, Celine Lestrade and Sjaelan Evans (33) will lead the charge for the T&T women. Evans is a very gritty runner clocking a personal best of 3:08.00 at the Boston Marathon last year when many aborted the race in the wet, freezing conditions
The top four women in this year's Butler 20K in June, Evans, Christine Regis (56), Chantel Le Maitre (45), who was the third T&T finisher at last year's UWI SPEC and Teresa Otero (20), are the top-seeded local women participants.
This year's half-marathon highlights and supports the work of the St Augustine Academy of Sport’s (SAAS) Sports Scholarship Fund, which seeks to increase access to tertiary education for regional athletes. The SAAS Sports Scholarship is open to Caribbean nationals who are full-time UWI students and regularly engage in sport at the elite level.
A relay option, first implemented last year, proved such a success that participants can again register a relay team and run the half marathon in four 5K legs. Organisers plan to use the relay hand-off zones as hubs to facilitate supporters, live rhythm sections and food sales, as well as to engage the surrounding communities in the excitement of the moment.
Speaking on the half-marathon and scholarships, Grace Jackson, Director of UWI SPEC noted that the University is at the forefront of tertiary level sport development, sports academics, and physical education in the Caribbean.
"I am urging everyone to take up the challenge and run to support the SAAS Scholarship Fund. Whether you choose to walk, jog or run you will be helping our students as well as yourselves when you cross that finish line. If you haven’t done so already, please sign up!” said Jackson.
"This year’s race is the Campus’ first since the introduction of new undergraduate programmes in sport – the BSc in Sports Coaching and the BSc in Kinetics – under the UWI Faculty of Sport, represented locally as the St Augustine Academy of Sport. Raw talent is no longer enough to stay at the top of their game and students now have access to the best lecturers and specialists regionally."
The 13.1-mile route remains unchanged with runners enjoying a race of the traffic-free Priority Bus Route from St Augustine to the La Resource Junction in D’Abadie and return.