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Jakarta Post

The ups and downs of running the Bromo Marathon

  • Andy Fuller

    The Jakarta Post

Tengger, East Java   /   Sun, November 30, 2014   /  11:58 am
The ups and downs of running the Bromo Marathon Enjoy the view: Runner Charis Chan from Singapore pauses to take a picture next to Mount Bromo during the Bromo Marathon in 2013. (Courtesy of Charis Chan)

Enjoy the view: Runner Charis Chan from Singapore pauses to take a picture next to Mount Bromo during the Bromo Marathon in 2013. (Courtesy of Charis Chan)

Dedik Kurniawan, '€œDedy'€ for short, cut an unassuming figure at the start-finish line of the Bromo Marathon. He speaks in a soft voice, yet his posture and gaze are steady and strong.

He is the co-founder of the event, which held its second iteration in September. Dedy, a former jazz bass player in Bali, now lives in Tosari. His job, too, has changed: He sells vegetables and musical instruments to keep close to his wife and child.

The Bromo Marathon is billed as a fundraiser and most of its runners are recreational. However, the course '€” with up-hill and down-hill legs over mountains '€” taught the casual runners a lesson: many competitors ended up walking, not running.

More than 1,600 people from 39 different nations ran this year, choosing either the 10-kilometer '€œmarathon'€, 21.1-kilometer half-marathon or full 42.2-kilometer marathon.

The term '€œmarathon'€ is generally reserved for races that are 42.2 kilometers '€” the distance between the towns of Marathon and Athens in Greece. However, in Indonesia, the term is used for any long-distance, mass running event.

As with similar events held throughout the world, the Bromo Marathon was sponsored by a health insurance company '€” in this case, Bumiputera.

The sponsor fit with Dedy'€™s aim of choosing the means of a marathon to promote Tengger.

'€œI chose a marathon because I want to show the local people what it means to live a healthy and educated life,'€ he says.

Although Mount Bromo is a popular tourist attraction, the marathon offers people a unique way to engage with Tengger, a region with its own language and traditions that converted to Islam relatively recently. Many local residents are Hindus; small shrines are common.

While temperatures drop to around 6 degrees Celsius at night; in the daytime, highs can reach the mid-20s. It feels warmer under a strong sun and cloudless skies. In the afternoon, fog drifts in through the mountains.

Local residents are typically farmers, growing lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and other greens. This produce, however, is generally sent to distributors for shipment elsewhere. It is hard to find a simple dish of vegetables at local warungs or restaurants.

Dedy said sponsors generally gave logistical support, while only a few gave cash up front. The usual companies were on hand: watchmakers, cell phone companies, sports magazines and health insurance companies.

Many of the race'€™s volunteers, clad in lime-green T-shirts, were in Indonesia through the Peace Corps, a US-based volunteer service organization. They live in villages, such as Probolinggo, Cirebon and Ciamis, teaching English over a two-year period.

A marathon requires a major investment in temporary infrastructure: The route needed to be clearly marked, volunteers needed to be spread along 42 kilometers, emergency medical assistance needed to be available. In a remote region such as Tengger, this was not easy.

The race itself is still experiencing teething problems. During the 10-kilometer race, for example, volunteer route markers were absent and runners were not always sure if they were going in the right direction. The final time-marker was also curiously placed away from the official finish line.

Despite the glitches, the full-marathon was won by Sheryl Gruber of the US, in the women'€™s category (3 hours, 43 minutes) and Gaspard Dessy in the men'€™s category (3 hours, 27 minutes).

While running is hardly a part of local culture, residents can be seen busy with their own marathons: the hard work of carrying piles of wood up steep hills.

Their expressions give testament to their endurance and patience. It is hard to imagine that endurance running would ever become a leisure activity here '€” although some people have taken up the sport, according to Dedy.

People do like to move fast '€” albeit on motorbikes: moving quickly is what is attractive when there is much to do.

Dedy says that for next year'€™s event, he plans to invite professional athletes, to give the event greater credibility on the international marathon circuit.

The marathon, he says, is more than just a race '€” it is a community effort aiming to improve education, health and economic prosperity in the region.

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