Last Saturday in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, 6,208 runners lined up for a 5K fun run. Most of them were schoolchildren, many of whom had trained using New York Road Runners’ A Running Start videos.
They were joined by the outgoing president of Timor-Leste, Dr. José Ramos-Horta, who walked the race wearing a red NYRR cap and a proud smile.
“It was an honor to be a part of this event,” said Chrissy Odalen, director of program and administration for NYRR Youth and Community Services, who traveled to Timor-Leste for the race. “Seeing thousands of children eagerly lined up to take part in this fun run was a glimpse into the future of running in Timor-Leste.”
How did all of this come about?
In 2010, Australians Richard Bell and Mick Stone were working in the office of President Ramos-Horta and accompanied a Timorese athlete to the 2010 ING New York City Marathon. That was where they learned about NYRR’s A Running Start program, a free online coaching resource with 83 videos developed by NYRR to help youth coaches teach the fundamentals of running through age-appropriate games, activities, and drills.
Because President Ramos-Horta saw running as a means of maintaining peace in the country by building community and strengthening bonds, Bell and Stone reached out to NYRR to help gain access to the videos for distribution to as many Timorese educators and coaches as possible as part of Ramos-Horta’s “City of Peace” initiative.
Beginning in 2011, a 7K was run in conjunction with the Dili Marathon and half-marathon; this year the 7K became a 5K and the series of races added a 10K as well, conducted in partnership with Peace and Sport, an NYRR charity partner. Two of the top finishers in the 2011 marathon, Calisto da Costa and Lola Gonsalves, were brought to New York to compete in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon, where da Costa finished in 2:46:03 and Gonsalves crossed the line in 3:51:43.
This year, da Costa won the Dili Marathon in 2:46:42, while Gonsalves Gama—having discarded her shoes along the way—finished fourth in 4:12:35.
Odalen said the morning began with thousands of children, most in their school uniforms and many either barefoot or in thin sandals, lining the road in the pre-dawn darkness, waiting for the 5K to begin. Once the marathon and half-marathon began, the kids took off in a blur of color.
“Part of our program teaches the kids how to pace themselves, but this race was so exciting that they took off in the same mad dash kids all over the world make when a race starts,” chuckled Odalen. “They’ll know how to pace themselves better next time.”
President Ramos-Horta, whom Odalen said seemed to enjoy talking to the children during the race, walked with 1992 Olympic marathon silver medalist Yuko Arimori of Japan, who traveled to Timor-Leste as part of an exchange program with the Tokyo Marathon.
The series of races kicked off a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the independence of Timor-Leste, commonly called East Timor, from Indonesia.