Several speakers at the 2nd IAAF Global Road Running Seminar spoke of the need for heroes to engage the public and broaden the appeal of the discipline and one day later IAAF/Trinidad Alfonso World Half Marathon Championships Valencia 2018 hosts Spain found their man – Carles Castillejo.
The 39-year-old distance runner has been a stalwart of Spanish international teams for 15 years and has competed in four Olympic Games, the last two in the marathon, and can boast of having won medals at the IberoAmerican Games and Mediterranean Games.
Nevertheless, while Castillejo is well-known and highly respected among the running cognoscenti in Spain, he is hardly a household name and was erstwhile overshadowed in the public’s eyes by men who have taken major titles such as European 10,000m champions Jesus Espana and, more recently, Ilias Fifa.
However, on Sunday morning, Castillejo woke up to find himself adorning the pages of Spain four sports dailies and many of the mainstream media – and later on Sunday’s TV and radio sports programmes he shared the air with that day’s Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Spanish football team’s preparations to face Argentina – after starting in the mass run of nearly 13,000 people in Valencia and passing 128 of the 157 runners in the international race before finishing 29th in 1:02:14.
As a participant in the mass race, wearing bib number 15638 rather than the now-usual championship version sporting his family name, you will not find Castillejo’s name in the results for the event and he didn’t count in the official team standings – which would have elevated Spain from eighth to sixth and earned the team some prize money – but he certainly made his mark in Valencia.
Living the dream
The widely-used finish line photo shows Castillejo leaping into the air and shouting with exultation.
“Nine months of training, nine months of dreaming, nine months of running with an obsession,” he later wrote on Instagram.
Castillejo’s emotional roller-coaster ride started two days before when Spanish federation officials realised that they had erroneously named six runners to compete in the men’s and women’s races in Valencia, rather than the officially authorised five, and Castillejo was the unfortunate man to be told the bad news that he had been dropped.
"I want to apologise to the affected athletes. The IAAF allowed us to enter six athletes, although only five could compete, and that was a mistake we made when we contacted the runners,” admitted Spanish federation president Raul Chapado last week.
However, Castillejo was afforded the opportunity to stay in Valencia and run in the mass race, if he wished.
And he did, knowing that he was in good shape and ready, perhaps, to run his best half marathon since he ran his personal best of 1:01:18 back in 2013, when he memorably finished second in that year’s Granollers Half Marathon after a race-long duel with the then reigning Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich.
“A few days beforehand in Valencia, the national team coach José Enrique Villacorta asked me how I thought I could do. I jokingly told him I was going to go under 65 minutes. He laughed and said, ‘Don’t mess with me.’ I then replied that what I meant when I said I could go below 65 was that I could do 64, 63 or 62.
“I then told him, more seriously, that I thought realistically I would do between 62 and 62:30, because I knew, from the training sessions I’d been doing, that I could be in that range,” reflected Castillejo.
“When I was told I was not going to be part of the team, I had mixed emotions, but I usually react well in adverse situations.
“The day before the race, I was a bit tired mentally. I slept a siesta of one hour and a half, when normally 20 minutes is enough, but I also slept very well that night and I got up on Saturday filled with desire to do well although I still did not feel 100%.
“In the afternoon of the race, I did my usual warm-up with my friend (2012 Olympian) Nacho Cáceres but we did not talk about the situation. We chatted about other things.
Nothing to prove
“However, when the gun went, I told myself that I had come to run, and I wanted to show what I had trained for. I did not run to prove anything in particular, I just wanted to make the best possible time, the one I had in my legs, and the circumstances of the race allowed me to do a great performance.
“It was probably not the most special race of my life, after all I have been to many major championships including four Olympics, but it is perhaps the one in which I have got the most recognition.
“In August I will be 40, and so just wearing an international vest once again did not matter much. The big thing was that this was a world championships at home,” he added, explaining his motivation to run regardless even though he had to start 50 metres behind the championship race.
“My chip time was 62:06 so I’ve been asked whether I could have broken 62 minutes if I had been in the main race but I’m not so sure. I was running on sheer adrenalin and motivation, and chasing from the back, I gave everything. If I had been in the leading pack, I’m not so sure how I would have reacted when the big change of pace came at 15km. For me, on this day, not being in the championship race might have even been an advantage,” he joked.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF