The physical task was daunting, but Renata Kecskes saw it as a challenge and an opportunity.
Kecskes, a Cayman-based self-defence instructor, entered the Petra Desert Marathon in the hopes of seeing an incredibly beautiful country and increasing global awareness of gender-based violence.
Kecskes, who has lived in Cayman for the last 15 years, is no stranger to exotic international travel. She has taught self-defence courses in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Rwanda over the last few years, and she ran the Victoria Falls Marathon in 2018.
But that was on flat ground, and this course would take her on an incline of more than 500 metres.
“I said, ‘You know what? This will be a great, great challenge,’” she told the Cayman Compass Wednesday. “It took me months to train. I do run a lot, but not in the desert. I needed to do something extraordinary.”
And so there she was, waking at 5am on 8 Sept. and walking to the starting line for her race.
Her walk brought her through a famous passage called the Siq and ended in front of the ancient treasury building in Petra that has become one of the world’s most prominent heritage sites.
The race started at about 6:30, and took the field of competitors past many of the most famous sites in Petra and then through the expansive Wadi Rum valley in southern Jordan.
Kecskes, running the half marathon, made her way through Bedouin camps and local villages, but the entire time she was fighting both the distance and the conditions. The weather was just 29 degrees Celsius at the pre-dawn start, but the conditions became hotter as she ran.
“It was very similar [to Cayman] but humidity made a big difference,” she said of the weather. “I could not prepare myself for the altitude, so I had tried my best to go for a run in the middle of the day. I would do my best, and I would improvise. As Arabic people say, ‘Inshallah, God’s willing.’”
The starting line was located at an altitude of 875 meters, and the runners would climb to a height of 1,475 meters over the course of the race.
The sun, said Kecskes, was hiding behind the mountains as the runners took their marks.
Once they started running, they began moving through a travelogue of famous sights, with Petra’s great amphitheatre on the left and the Royal Tombs on the right. The race veered off the road and near a Bedoiun camp about five kilometers into the race, and shortly thereafter, said Kecskes, she came upon a group of Bedouin children who offered her a shortcut.
“This group of boys wanted me to pay them for a donkey ride so I could cheat on the marathon,” she said. “They’re entrepreneurs and thought, ‘This is an opportunity.’ But this is an Arabic country and here I am, a white woman and my knees and shoulders are exposed. That’s not what they see. They see a group wanting to come here and how lovely it is. The local hospitality was very warm and welcoming.”
A tough part of the run came about midway through, and Kecskes said there was a tortuous climb that lasted about six kilometers.
The course passed a small village filled with cheering children, and Kesckes shared a moment with an older woman who greeted her with “Salaam.”
About 16 kilometres into her race, she was at 1,425 metres above sea level and she could see the entire valley below her. The rest of the race was literally downhill.
Kecskes crossed the finish line at 2:30.03, placing 12th of 84 women in the half marathon.
When she came in, she could hear the announcer say, “Here comes Renata, the Hungarian from the Cayman Islands,” and she thought it was really appropriate.
Prior to the race, said Kecskes, she had asked her mom to sew together the Hungary and Cayman flags for her.
“I registered as Hungarian, but wherever I go, I want to make sure they know I’m from the Cayman Islands,” she said. “I was born in Hungary but I’ve lived here for 15 years and I’m very proud to be a member of the community. There’s this amazing, diverse community that never forgets to stand up for those that don’t have a voice or visibility. Whenever there’s any kind of charity, there’s an amazing amount of people that show up and an amazing amount of money they turn into a good cause.”
Kecskes has pledged to hold a free situational awareness and self-defence course at CrossFit Cayman on 23 Nov. in honour of Women’s International Self-Defence Day, and it’s her dream that people will begin to combat violence around the world.