A broken pair of shoes would not deny up-and-coming Saipan runner Sean Smith a strong debut in the 2012 Guam Ko'Ko' Road Race.
Smith emerged as the top Saipan finisher in last Sunday's race, completing the half marathon in 1:27:19. He placed 14th overall among 853 finishers and also 14th out of 502 male runners. The 2012 Banzai Half Marathon and SIS Fun Run champion went on to finish No. 6 in the men's 18 to 29 age group, missing the podium by only one second.
Only the Top 5 finishers in each age group were recognized at the awards ceremony of the event in Tumon and the No. 5 placer (Japan's Shingo Sato) timed in at 1:27:18.
Smith, who was ahead of the No. 1 female finisher (Guam's Amy Atkinson/1:28:05), could have beaten Sato or the two other finishers ahead of him if not for his broken shoes.
“I brought two pairs of running shoes with me to the race. My main pair was about 4 months old that I bought in the Philippines for $10 from a guy on the street. I was eating breakfast at an outdoor restaurant in Manila and he showed me some shoes that happened to be my size so I took a break from my pork adobo and bought them. My secondary pair was about 11 years old that I ran with in high school track and cross-country. On the day before the race, I went hiking with the boonie stompers group in Guam in my main pair and the bottom of one shoe completely fell through,” Smith said in an email to Saipan Tribune.
“So I used my secondary pair, which fared better but not by much. The shoes laces came undone right after the start and then about halfway through, the bottom started flapping about loosely,” he added.
Despite his misfortunes, Smith soldiered on for a remarkable debut in the annual race named after the flightless bird endemic to Guam.
“There was no question I was going to finish the race. I would have ran barefoot if needed. I put in three months of hard training for the half marathon, and my diet and activity schedule revolved around my training. I gave up playing ultimate frisbee with friends, happy hours and wine Wednesdays all for the sake of maximizing my preparation for the race,” Smith said.
Smith joined three other Saipan runners-Joshua (2:11:54) and Mamiko Berger (1:34:00), and Jack Kabiriel (1:42:04)-in the Guam Ko'Ko' and also met with former Saipan residents Mieko Carey (1:39:52) and Matthew Mancao (1:44:33) at the starting line at the Gov. Joseph Flores Memorial Park at Ypao Beach. Smith and company were greeted by the perfect weather early morning, a big relief for runners, who were worried about the course as it had been raining in Guam the past few days before the Sunday race.
“The race started at 5am sharp so it was dark with a nice breeze and no rain. It rained hard the night before the race so the road was wet and slick, which was slightly worrisome on the long downhill slope towards the finish line, but fortunately no problems occurred. The course itself was well marked and it was nice that three adjacent lanes of traffic were blocked off for runners so there was plenty of room to run and no worries about encroachment of vehicles. There were nice views of the ocean for about half of the course. And the best part was the large amount of race supporters along the way shouting out words of encouragement, which often included 'Go Saipan!' since I was wearing my 'I heart Saipan' t-shirt,” Smith said.
“The toughest part of the race was the hill at about the 11th mile. It was a fairly easy hill but after running 11 hard miles, it was quite tough,” he added.
The Saipan runner aimed at completing the race at the 1:20:00 mark, but despite missing his target, he is still happy with his debut.
“I am still happy with my time because it represents the product of a lot of hard work, discipline, and support from family and friends. My biggest thanks go to Joshua and Mamiko Berger for their unwavering support. They certainly have more faith in my running abilities than I do. I also have to thank my friend Lily Mananita who supported me throughout my training. Lastly, I owe a big thanks to Larry and Elle for generously giving Lily and I keys to their Guam home and vehicle for the four days surrounding the race, which turned out to be a fantastic and adventure-filled vacation,” Smith said.