BELIZE SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL

Could Belize be the next bucket list running destination?

It’s probably not what you think of when you hear “Belize:” running.

You think of snorkeling the Barrier Reef, diving the Great Blue Hole, exploring Mayan caves and relaxing seaside in San Pedro and Caye Caulker. You think islands, jungles, archaeological sites and wildlife.

Marathons and half marathons? Not so much, yet. But it’s happening. Belize is becoming an active vacation destination as it slowly begins to build a reputation for producing top runners and hosting professional running events.

The woman behind the impetus? Patty Ramirez, who with her husband Ralph Capeling, runs the award-winning Splash Dive Center in Placencia, one of the best dive centers in Belize.

One-on-One with Patty Ramirez—founder of #BelizeActive and Splash running events

When I first met Patricia Ramirez, she was intent on getting me to dive. I was terrified of the thought of being 20 feet underwater and depending on an oxygen tank. I was convinced I didn’t need to see all the fish I couldn’t spot directly below the surface.

Patty, a bubbly woman with an inexhaustible love for life and for the underwater wonders of Belize, wasn’t taking no for answer. She wasn’t pushy—on the contrary, she drew me to diving with honey. “Give it just one try, and if you don’t like it, you can leave it,” she said, smiling.

I agreed to a Discover Scuba class. She put me on a boat with her best divemaster at the time, and sent us off to the shores of Laughingbird Caye.

When I saw the iridescent turquoise waters and the island in the middle of nowhere, my fears began to slowly fade. Before I knew it, I was in the water and taking my first scuba class. And the next, and the next.

Patty, you see, is a savvy, successful female entrepreneur. Her dive shop and destination management company are proof, racking up awards and recognition from dive organizations and publications. She has offered divemaster training courses as well, creating a host of professionals who have gone on to become gainfully employed at various dive centers.

She isn’t one to rest on her laurels, and with every trip I make to update Moon Belize, I find her busy changing lives.

For the last five years now, Patty Ramirez has been doing just that with running. She’s gaining momentum organizing running events and supporting professional and the next generation of Belizean running athletes, while building Belize’s reputation as the world’s next big bucket list running destination.


I sat down for a virtual chat with Patty to hear the story behind her big project of building up Belizean runners, and her vision for Belize as an international running destination.

***

I’ve always known you as Belize’s best “diving ambassador” and one of its tourism champions. The woman who got me to become an advanced diver and whose dive shop also helped turn numerous Belizeans into gainfully employed dive masters and business owners. Now you’re changing lives through running. Do you run yourself?

Patty Ramirez: I run almost every day!

I always look for inspiration to continue to run my business Splash. When I do too much of the same, I need more motivation, so I look for passion projects. Every two years, I need something new. It gets me the energy for my dive and tour business to keep going. Before this, I had the scuba diving kids program and the workers dive program.

What was the motivation factor – how did you get started with running and the running community?

It all started five years ago when my friend from Belmopan, Walter Santos, asked me to sponsor one of his teams for the “End Of The World Marathon & Half Marathon,” which is a fundraising run. 

I used to compete in swimming at the national and international level with Club de Natacion Country in Honduras and also in the Honduras National Team. When I moved to Belize years ago, I stopped because there wasn’t much sports at that level; they didn’t really do  sports that way here.  I thought it was a great idea to take up running to get back into sports. 

So when Walter approached me, I said OK and I sponsored one of his groups. I sponsored for three years, and I ended up running  the Half Marathon as well. There was a girl who didn’t want to run by herself and I said to her, “don’t worry, we’ll run together.” I wasn’t planning to compete, it just happened.

When did you decide to then organize your own Splash running club?

So I had been sponsoring a team at the End of Year Marathon for three years. The fourth year, in 2017, the organizers of End of World Marathon asked me to organize a running event.

Patty (center) with friends Dan Edwards and Rodolfo Ugarte, who helped her plan the first Splash running event.

I agreed and everything started to go in a different direction. With the help of my friends Dan Edwards and Rodolfo Ugarte, I planned my first Splash running event, the 2018 Splash Half Marathon. That first team, the Splash Running Club, had 12 runners, and then every year we joined the End of Year Marathon. Each year we gained more runners.

I didn’t know what I was getting into! I didn’t know this would bring me to my Elite Runners, which in turn led me to the kids runners, and that led me to help the Seine Bight Running Club.

Tell us more about these various running groups you mention and that you helped create? 

1. The Splash Running Club (50 members): This was the first group created, made up of runners who want to run for health and fun.

2. Splash Elite Runners (20 members): On the fourth year we ran the End of Year Marathon, the Elite Runners group was created. This group is made up of Belize’s top runners, including some members from Belize’s national running team, as well as Belize Coast Guard members.

3. Splash Junior Runners (15 members): Kids from the Placencia primary schools or Independence High School; they are part of the club as an after-school activity.

4. The Placencia Peninsula Track and Field Club (12 members): This group came together after about 4.5 years into it. These are kids from 10 years to 13 year olds, who want to train to a higher level and want to compete internationally. 

What changes have you seen in one year?

In one year since I started organizing the Splash running event, we have gained close to 100 runners across Belize, across these four groups and of all ages. 

Each of Belize’s six districts now has a running group that trains with a leader. That lead person keeps the running group together for that destination. When I’m planning a race, I get in touch with the lead runners for each district, and we plan.

What’s the difference between the annual running events organized by the End of the World Marathon leaders, and your running events? 

The organizers of End of World Marathon host the run to raise funds for Rotary Club scholarships; that’s their only aim. My objective is more about helping the community, helping the kids from Seine Bight, helping the Elite Runners—all with the aim of pushing Sports tourism in Belize. My vision is that Belize will have big running events one day.

Splash Elite Runners – Photo courtesy of Belize Active

How did you get pro runners to join your first Splash running event, as someone who’s relatively new to planning marathons?

The first Splash Half Marathon I organized in 2018, some of them signed up at the last minute to participate. I never had in mind that runners that experienced would sign up for a new event!

I said to myself, “Oh my God, to have these types of runners in a competition, for sure you need to have cash prizes, Patty!”

I decided to give a good prize to the first and second place in the relay and the half marathon.

Why focus on Elite Runners as well as the kids?

The Elite Runners often have no funding, which is why I want to help promote them. The inspiration for the kids are also the Elite Runners. 

In turn, the Elite need inspiration, so I invited Mexican and Guatemala runners to join the Elite team.

We now have teams in all the districts of Belize, and we partner with running clubs from Mexico and Guatemala.

The most emotional moment is when I see our Elite Runners helping the kids with advice and during competitions. We are like a big family, and all of us feel proud to be part of it at any level. Click To Tweet

When did the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) come on board as a sponsor? How did you manage that?

So the first year, in 2018, I did it all on my own.

For the second year I planned my Splash Marathon event, I invited BTB and BTB joined in 2019 as an official sponsor. I explained to Mrs. Karen Bevans—Belize’s Director of Tourism—my vision for sports tourism in Belize, and she was very interested, which is amazing. Everything changed from that moment.

The idea is that the Belize Tourism Board, the Belize Tourism Industry Association and the Belize Hotel Association could assist us with the marketing at that level to help the tourism industry.

What are the main running events in which your runners participate?

Our top event is the End of World Marathon, but we participate in a total of four long distance running events in Belize:

1. The Chiquibul Marathon & Half Marathon

2. San Pedro Half Marathon & 10K, Belize Defence Force Half Marathon

3. The 5K & 10 K Splash Half Marathon and
Relay Race 

4. The End of the World Marathon

The runners who are in the district closest to the location of the race will complete.

For the Splash Half Marathon, it’s an expensive event, and I need to make it run smoothly and make people want to come back and invite other runners. I try to get as many sponsors as I can, but I still put about 30% of the total cost of the event. 

There are many 5K and 10K runs during the year as well, and the group that is closer to the event will go.

Splash runners participating in the first ever Ambergris Caye Half Marathon and 10K Race this year.

Tell me about the kids who run. What is it like training them?  

That is the most difficult, to put this team together. It’s difficult because you need to inspire the kids all the time, and keep them motivated. The kids are into sports, but they get bored easily. It’s hard to find the type of runners that will be dedicated.

Of all the teams, the kids’ one is definitely the hardest.

But I believe it’s important to also mention one of the root causes. When there is school, there’s so much homework. It’s so hard today for kids in Belize to practice sports; they go home after school and they can’t be kids anymore or make time for sports because they have so much homework.

In my days, in Honduras, I remember that after school I’d go to the swim club all the time, Monday to Friday.

The ones in high school in Belize especially, deal with this issue. Primary school students are the ones who go more often to train to run.

Who trains the kids?

The kids from Seine Bight had a running club, but they only practiced on Saturdays. The people in charge of that club aren’t professional coaches, they do it because they love sports and they want to help.

So one day, I got the opportunity to hire this Cuban coach, Coach Andres Rojas, who used to coach Cuba’s national running team. He moved to Belize, living between Placencia and Belize City. 

He’s been training the kids for five months now; this is the newest part of our running project.

The second coach for the kids’ club is an Elite Runner. The kids train three times a week in Placencia with these two coaches.

Your #BelizeActive hashtag is brilliant. Tell us about it.

I launched #BelizeActive during the planning of the first Splash Half Marathon, and I started working with influencers in all Belize, Mexico and Guatemala.

 #BelizeActive is a SplashBelize brand to sponsor anything that has to do with sports – at the moment, it’s just running.

What makes Belize an attractive running destination?

We have lots of choices in terrain, from paved roads to jungle trails to running on the beach. Belize also has a low population density, so there’s lots of space for running and cleaner air. Low elevations make it easy to adjust to breathing conditions.  

Placencia is a beautiful, safe place to run where lots of people can participate. We have to grow slowly to get to where we want. We try to win as many first and second places as possible to build the reputation of the running club.

When is your next big race?

Our next race is on December 8 at the 2019 End of the World Marathon, which is the main event that started it all. It takes place in Placencia.

What are #BelizeActive plans for the near future?

Two more years to grow locally and then internationally.

Is your passion for running now right next to diving ?

My passion for diving is always there, but I have found a family and great friends with running and that keeps me going with my business and with running.

Will running in Belize become as popular as scuba diving?

Running has a low entry cost, you just need running shoes, rather than scuba gear! You can also start at an early age. You can run without being certified; training helps but lots of runners do it without taking training. You can run anywhere, you don’t have to be close to the water.

Come to Belize and it’s easy to do both!


If you’re going to be in Placencia on December 8, join the 2019 End of Year Marathon—to run, or to support the teams. Stay on afterwards for all the fun and exploration in southern Belize, on and offshore. Be sure to meet Patty, as well—an inspiring woman who’s changing lives, showing Belize and the rest of us that one person can make a huge difference.

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