Wednesday, June 02, 2010

TR - Colombia - Part 2

5/15 – 5/24/10
Part 2

Now where were we? Oh yes – you were going to the fridge for another beer and I was getting ready to catch a flight back to Bogota.

I arrived back in Bogota in the late morning and went immediately to the Sheraton Hotel (an overpriced luxury hotel located close to the airport) where Edson and I were staying for one night. I called Mario and we agreed to meet for lunch. I found out that hotels in Colombia are just like hotels around the world. It cost 14,000 pesos/$7 US to call Mario for 5 minutes and only 6,000 pesos/$3 US to take a taxi to his home? Moral of this story: ‘do not use phones in hotels”!

After lunch we had to decide how Edson and I would get to Paipa – about 200 Km north of Bogota in the Boyaca department. Mario offered two options: 1) we could drive up with him – but his car would be packed to capacity and he needed to leave at 4 am to get started on the work/logistics of the race and 2) a friend was taking a bus and agreed to escort/accompany us to Paipa. He spoke good English and would leave around 10 am.
That decision was a no brainer! We chose to sleep in and leave at 10 am!

Edson arrived in the afternoon and I filled him in on ‘our’ decision. He was very happy to sleep in! We naively decided to wait and eat a late dinner but when we tried to find a restaurant near the hotel we discovered that all the restaurants closed at 5 pm! The Colombians do indeed eat their big meal at lunch and many restaurants close at 5 pm? Only the restaurants in the hotel were open.
That evening I took the last of my ‘super’ drug and was concerned that the GI problems might come roaring back? The problems had improved but had not completely abated. On the advice of my doctor and some friends I had been eating yogurt every day and taking probiotics in an attempt to restore the good bacteria and the proper balance to my GI system. I HATE yogurt but had eaten more yogurt in the past week than in all my previous 66 years! But I was willing to try anything to get my GI system back to normal!

On Fri morning Mario’s friend, Domingo Tibaduiza, came to the hotel with his son Ron to meet and escort us to Paipa. We could have made the trip on our own but it would have been much harder and more stressful because we were stopped and checked for ID at the bus station and the police/military stopped the bus twice en route to Paipa. They checked all passengers for ID and all baggage for weapons because the country was in the middle of elections and we were traveling into territory occupied by rebels. The government wanted to stop rebels and weapons from moving into the region! Domingo explained the stops/issue to us was and was able to explain to the police why we were on the bus and traveling to Paipa. During the 4-hr bus ride we had a long discussion with Domingo. He was an elite runner who won the Berlin Marathon in 1983 (2:14:47) and placed 8th in the NY Marathon in 1984 (2:11:28) and won many other world-class races. Domingo and his family lived in Reno, NV for more than 30 years. In fact we discovered that we lived in Reno during the same time period (79-82) when I ran my 1st marathon in Reno. Domingo was the coach at UNR for the college running team and when they terminated their program he moved into the Washoe County School District as a coach. We assumed that we probably met during that time because he assisted the Silver State Striders (local running club) that I had joined for help in my marathon training. It is indeed a “small world”! Domingo had recently returned to Colombia to accept an offer to coach the Colombian National Team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London. His son Ron also returned to train with his Dad in hopes of making the team as a marathoner.

When we arrived in Paipa we were glad to have Domingo because he knew the way to the hotel and arranged for the taxis, etc. The host hotel was the Hotel Sochagota – a luxury resort located on a hill overlooking a lake and the city of Paipa. It had its own thermal hot springs that are common in that area. After checking in and enjoying a ‘big’ lunch we joined Domingo and Ron for a leisurely (2 Km) stroll into town to check out the Stadium and track where the race started/finished. Then Domingo helped us do some souvenir shopping - very few people in Colombia speak English- and finally we went to a market to buy some necessities for the race – bottled water, Gatorade, beer and fruit (and more yogurt for Maddog)!

On Sat morning Edson and I decided to do an ‘easy’ 5-mile run along the lake to explore some of the course and to acclimate to the 8200 ft elevation. We confirmed that we would have to slow down and run easy if we wanted to finish the marathon at that elevation! After breakfast we picked up our race packets and started to meet many runners including some of the elite Colombian runners. We met Alvaro Mejia Florez who won the Boston Marathon in 1971 (2:18:45) and many other big races. We also met Carlos Grisales, the current national marathon record holder (2:11:17 and 5th place in Boston in 1996). I informed Carlos that I ran the same race (the 100th anniversary of Boston) to celebrate my 100th marathon – but I finished a ‘wee’ bit behind him!
It soon became apparent that the elite runners were considered National Sports Champions and heroes – as they deserved to be. I was honored that they respected my running accomplishments as much as I respected theirs. Both Edson and I were pleased and comforted by the friendship and hospitality offered to us by the elite runners and all the people of Colombia! We left the country with many new friends and fond memories. Later that morning Mario took Edson and I on a tour of the marathon course. He wanted to make sure that we were familiar with the course and would not get lost!
It was a 14 Km loop that started and finished on a track at a Stadium in Paipa. There were three ‘gentle’ hills in the loop that we had to complete three times. There were a number of turns and one out-and back loop but the course was easy to remember. There would be lots of water along the course but the only toilet facility was at the stadium which was a slight concern to me (and my GI problems)?

Mario had asked me to make a 1-hr presentation at the race expo to discuss when and why I started running and how it led to a world record 103 countries? The seminar was well attended and Mario translated my talk and the questions/answers that followed. Later Maddog was invited to join the National Sports Champions and local dignitaries on the podium for the Opening Ceremonies of the race. That was followed by an excellent pasta dinner where we shared a table with Domingo, Ron and Alvaro and enjoyed sharing running stories and experiences.

Sun was ‘M’ Day. Edson and I were concerned about getting to the start line – it was either a 2Km walk or take a local bus and that was the concern – taking a wrong bus! Domingo promised to guide us to the start line. The marathon started at 7 am and at 6am it was much warmer than expected. I had packed a long sleeve T-shirt and gloves thinking it would be cold at 8200 ft? I selected a short sleeve shirt and wished I had packed a singlet. Thankfully the sky was overcast which would help keep the temps down. At 6:45 we were still sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for Domingo and very worried that we would miss the start of the race. Ron was running the 10K race that started at 8am so they weren’t in a hurry. Luckily a pretty young lady who had driven up from Bogota to run the 10K offered us a lift and dropped us off at the start line at 6:55 am. Now I was really stressed! I have a pre-race ritual that must be followed to prepare for a race and that takes 15 minutes! Thankfully the stress was alleviated quickly with an announcement that the race would start in 20 to 30 minutes? That allowed Edson and I plenty of time to perform our rituals and time for several pit stops at the bathroom (and a few in the bushes) as I attempted to flush out my GI system. I knew it was a futile attempt and that many more pit stops would be required during the race – but there wasn’t anything I could do about the problem!

The marathon started at 7:30 am. As we left the stadium for the 1st loop I reminded myself of my race strategy. I could not be competitive in this race - my Age Category was classified as ‘Master B’ – males 50+ and there was no way I was going to beat a ‘good’ 50 year-old Colombian on his local turf at 8200 ft! Add in several pit stops because of GI/health issues and there was no sense in trying to kill myself. I figured if I could run a 6:15 to 6:30 min/Km pace (10:00 to 10:15 min/mile) I would finish under 4:30 and that was the best I could hope for? I passed10Km in 59:59 and finished the 1st loop (14Km) on the track in 1:24:19. I was actually ahead of pace! However I had to take advantage of the toilets at the stadium and make a major pit stop that cost 2 to 3 minutes. I figured there would be at least one pit stop on each loop?
I left the stadium again and climbed the first two hills of the 2nd loop and reached the Half in 2:10:30 – right on a 10 min pace. However my legs were already beginning to feel the effects of the high altitude and I knew the 2nd Half would not be as fast.

I reached the stadium and the finish of the 2nd loop (28Km) in 2:59:14. I had slowed significantly on the 2nd loop! Thankfully and surprisingly I didn’t need a pit stop so I continued around the track and left the stadium for the 3rd loop. As I started up the 1st hill of the final loop my legs felt very tired and heavy and the temps were getting very warm and my pace slowed to 7:05/Km - or more than 11:00 min/mile! I figured there was no sense in trying to push the pace lower – it would be better to let my legs and body set the pace because they were definitely feeling the effects of the high altitude! I managed to hold a ‘slow’ 7:00/Km pace through the final two hills that no longer felt like ‘gentle’ hills! As I approached the final hill near 38 Km we were blessed by a sudden change in the weather. The skies darkened and a thunderstorm rolled across the area quickly. The temps dropped 15 degrees and when I crested the final hill at 38Km in 4:02:48 it started to pour. At first I was upset with the rain but the rain and cooler temps helped me lower my pace back down to sub-6:00 min/Km as I descended the next 2 Km. When I reached the flat section at 40Km the rain stopped and I caught up to a young male runner who decided to stay with me. We fed off each other’s energy and maintained a smooth/easy 6:00/Km pace to reach the stadium and cross the finish line in 4:27:01.

My time was not competitive in the Master B age group as expected but I figured that I had placed OK in my normal (60+) AG. Mario later confirmed that I placed 3rd in the ‘unofficial’ AG of 60+ so I was pleased with both my time and performance considering the altitude and health issues. Shortly after I finished, the awards ceremony was held and Mario presented Maddog with an award for completing Country #103 – a new World record! I was besieged with requests/invitations to pose with runners and their families for photos and was happy to accommodate to return the kindness and hospitality offered to me. But I was thankful when Edson finished in 4:42 and after a few finish line photos we headed back to the hotel. We went straight to the hot springs. Gosh - were they ever wonderful! The temp of the water was about the same as my hot tub – around 108 F and all the natural minerals seemed to rejuvenate our tired old legs and bodies.

We were joined by Ron who didn’t seem to be too tired after winning the 10Km race? He blew by me on the course like I was standing still? After a long soothing soak Domingo and Alvaro invited us to join them and Mario at a local restaurant in Paipa to enjoy a traditional Colombian lunch. During lunch I had to make an executive decision. I was supposed to return to Bogota with Mario and his family and spend the night with them. However Mario looked so exhausted from managing the races and needed some ‘down’ or rest time and some ‘Q” time with his family so I decided to return to Bogota on the bus with Domingo, Alvaro, Ron and Edson. I figured it would be more convenient and easier for everyone for me to stay at a hotel close to the airport and catch a shuttle early in the morning for my flight home.

We took an express bus back to Bogota- with no police/military checkpoints – apparently the government doesn’t care about rebels and weapons ‘leaving’ the region? Our only concern about taking a bus to Bogota was how to get to the airport safely because our guides were getting off the bus before it arrived at the central bus station? Domingo assured us that there was a government controlled taxi office at the bus station that controlled and certified the safety of the taxis. We did find the taxi office and arranged a safe ride that dropped me off at the closest hotel to the airport and took Edson on to the airport.

During our discussions with Domingo and Alvaro we learned that the Boston Marathon Association invited Alvaro to Boston in 2011 to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the race and the 40th anniversary of his win. Domingo, Mario and others plan to accompany Alvaro to Boston so Edson and I are seriously considering going back to Boston in 2011 to meet many of our American friends and to meet our new Colombian friends again.

But back to the present! I am now home and have in fact moved to our summer home in the Rocky Mtns of Colorado. The Sports Manager is still visiting our kids on the West Coast and will join me this weekend – except I won’t be here! I will be running a marathon in Steamboat Springs, CO. I have been training hard at 9,000 to 10,000 ft to acclimate to the high altitude and prepare for the race. And I am still force-feeding myself with terrible-tasting yogurt! The GI problem seems to be improving slowly and I hope it will be back to normal in a few weeks? With that ongoing issue and the altitude it is not possible to get in competitive shape in one short week so I intend to keep my promise to ‘run for fun’ and consider the race a long, high altitude training run to prepare for the next three mountain marathons. Each one gets progressively higher and harder.

Stay tuned!

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