Friday, December 07, 2007

TR - Macau

Trip Report
11/30 – 12/03/07

Macau International Marathon
Sun, Dec 2/07
Marathon #295 – Country # 87

Now where did I leave off in the last report? Oh yeah! I was heading from Shanghai to Macau via Hong Kong. The Macau Marathon was the initial reason for this trip. When I arrived in HK I checked for a direct ferry to Macau that allows passengers to transit through HK airport without having to pass through immigration in HK. Saves a lot of time and hassle.

I was able to book the next turbo jet hydrofoil to Macau and arrived at 6 pm. The Sports Manager and I had visited Macau about 12 years ago on a 1-day side tour from HK. I didn’t remember much about Macau except that it was a very small country and was laid back? It is still small but everything else has changed. The part of the city/country on the mainland is now full of gaudy casinos/hotels and every square foot is occupied! Fortunately I was staying on Taipa Island where the race started/finished. Although it has a few large casinos and several under construction there is still some open space and the streets are not congested (yet). My new 4-star casino hotel was located right on the North China Sea and a room with ocean view cost $55/night with full breakfast. I walked over to the center of Taipa Village. It was small but had several shops, restaurants and even a Portuguese Taverna and English Pub.
I was very concerned about not repeating the mistake made in Shanghai by missing any meals before the race so I enjoyed a nice Chinese dinner with lots of rice (carbs).

On Sat morning I ran four easy miles. I don’t normally do that before a race but since I couldn’t/wouldn’t run in China because of the pollution I figured I needed to loosen up the legs and remind them what was expected the next day. After breakfast I wandered over to the Macau Stadium to pick up my race packet. The marathon web site was good and allowed me to pre-register so I was able to get my packet quickly and easily. Since I had the whole afternoon available I decided to take a city/country tour since I didn’t recognize anything. There was one wee problem – the tour was only available in Chinese! No matter – after my final night in Shanghai I was confident in my Chinese language skills! Well that confidence didn’t last long – I couldn’t understand one word the guide said. Thankfully I had a guide book and a young Chinese family who translated some of the important facts for me. We toured most of the major tourist sites in the city and on Taipa Island. We started on the mainland/peninsula that is only
3 ½ square miles. Our first stop was Guia Fort (or Mount Fortess) on top of Guia Hill –the highest natural point of Macau- for panoramic views of the city. Right below the fort are the ruins of 400-year old St Paul’s Church. The ruins are the most famous structure in Macau and were the only thing I remembered from our previous visit. Then we strolled through the old city to Senado Square – the city center.

Next stop was the Macau Tower (330 m high) for panoramic views of the city and country (if you could see through the smog over the peninsula). It also houses the world’s highest bungy jump – and NO – I did not jump! Our final stop on the mainland was at the Temple of A-Ma – the oldest temple in Macau dating back 600 years. It was dedicated to A-Ma, the goddess of seafarers. At the entrance is a large rock, with a picture of a traditional sailing junk engraved more than 400 years ago to commemorate the Chinese fishing boat that carried A-Ma to Macau. The tour finished on Taipa Island with a visit to Macau Stadium and Taipa Village. The tour had covered about 75% of the marathon course which wasn’t surprising since the marathon had to use almost every road in the small country!

On Sat evening I found an Italian restaurant in Taipa for pasta dinner. I wasn’t going to skip dinner before this race! I was so concerned about repeating the disaster of Shanghai that I even ate a light breakfast on Sun morning before the race – I never do that before a marathon but I was going to make sure my glycogen reserves were full! The forecast for the race was warm/hot – 18 C at the start and
25 C at the finish. I walked the few blocks to the start line at Macau Stadium at 6 am. The race started at 6:30 am on the track inside the stadium. There were 2,000 runners in three events – Marathon, Half and 10K. Although we started together the runners spread out quickly after we left the stadium. At 2 Km the 10K runners split off and the others had to make their first crossing over the Sai Van Bridge to the mainland. The bridge is 2Km long and 150 ft above the North China Sea. It was the most scenic and toughest section of the course and we had to cross it four times during the race! Once we crossed the bridge there was a short 5Km maze through tunnels and overpasses as we passed through the city center. I reached 5 Km in 27:41 and a split of 5:20. At 10Km we passed by the Macau Tower and headed back over the Sai Van Bridge to Taipa. I commented to myself that the final loop over the bridge at
38 Km was going to be a bitch! I passed 12 Km back on Taipa at 1:06:46 and a split of 5:19. So far I felt good? Traffic control was good and there was very little traffic (and exhaust fumes) except for the 5 Km maze though the city. At 17.5 Km the half- marathon runners split off and I essentially ran the rest of the race alone. I passed the Half in 1:59:15 and felt good. I was now confident that I wouldn’t crash and burn like Shanghai but I also knew that the 2nd Half would be slower because the sun was up and the temps were rising! I figured that even if I slowed the pace 1min/mile on the 2nd Half I would finish in 4:10 and that would be satisfactory. Sure enough when I reached the Sai Van Bridge again at 30 Km in 2:51:49 the split was 6:00 and I was starting to fade in the hot sun. But I also started passing a lot of runners in worst shape! The 5 Km maze through the city was hotter and I started to struggle as I approached the bridge at 37Km in 3:37:18 and a split of 6:19. I was determined not to walk over that final crossing of the bridge because I knew if I started to walk the race would get ugly! The 1 Km climb to the top of the bridge was a bitch as expected. I had to dig deep and summon up a lot of willpower to keep the tired old legs moving. Km 39 was downhill and easier and I reached 40Km on Taipa in 3:56:41. I figured I had to push the pace to break 4:10 but there was no ‘push’ left in my wasted old legs. I had become over-heated and now survival was the priority. Only experience and sheer willpower kept the wasted old legs shuffling the final 2 Km until I turned the final corner and saw the stadium. Then the old bod provided one last jolt of adrenaline to allow me to cruise across the finish line in the stadium in 4:11:19!

It took a few minutes and a couple bottles of ice-cold water to cool the old bod down and relieve the dizzy/light-headed feeling I had but I quickly recovered. I retrieved my warm-up clothes and proceeded to return my chip. Oh! Oh! Another Chinese snafu! To get my $100 (HK) deposit back I had to return the chip (made sense) and also a race bib (didn’t make sense). I tried to argue/negotiate to no avail. I will never understand the Chinese ‘thing’ about wanting a bib back – and I am sure they will never understand the American ’thing’ about wanting to keep both bibs? I wasn’t willing to sacrifice $100 so I gave them their damn bib!

After a long hot soak and shower I still had an afternoon to explore Macau so I went back to old town to explore the sights at a more leisurely pace. I also needed to find an Internet café to send my readers a field report. After a few hours of strolling around old town I became frustrated with the noise and wall-to-wall people so I retreated to the Village Square in Taipa which was more laid back and less crowded. I enjoyed a few Macau beers and some loud conversation with some (drunken) runners from the UK at the Portuguese taverna. I needed quiet so I found a nice quiet café to enjoy a celebration dinner by myself! But I did have an interesting chat with the owner who had just moved back to Macau after living in Montreal for 20 years.

On Mon I took a direct/transit ferry back to the HK airport for the long journey home. After a long delay on the last leg out of Miami the trip took a total of 33 hours and I arrived home at 4:30am on Tue. And people think that international travel is fun and glamorous? My old bod is still suffering severe jet lag and I am beginning to question the sanity of my plan to return to Asia next week to run another marathon/country in Taiwan?

Stay tuned!

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