Wednesday, August 11, 2010

TR - Paraguay

8/4 – 8/9/10

Sun, Aug 8/10
Asuncion, Paraguay
Maraton Paraguay Bicentario
Marathon #334 – Country # 104
4:28:01 – 2 AG

This was an unplanned/unscheduled marathon (& country) in my 2010 race calendar. In May just before I was leaving for Colombia my friend Edson happened upon a race calendar with information about a marathon in Paraguay. We had been looking for years for a race in Paraguay but there was none. This new marathon was being held to celebrate Paraguay’s Bicentennial. We figured it would probably be a one –of race and we both decided to take advantage of the one-time opportunity. When I returned from Colombia I started looking at flights – it is not easy or cheap to get to Paraguay! There are no direct flights from the USA and it is necessary to fly via Argentina or Brazil.

Edson became point-man and communicator with the Race Director, Myrta, who spoke Portuguese. She was very helpful and supportive. She reserved Bib #104 for me and arranged for a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel. I ended up leaving one day early because it reduced the airfare by $300? I figured an extra day to visit the city would be OK.

I didn’t do any special training because I was focused on training at high altitude and trails in preparation for Pike’s Peak. As you read in previous reports I ran a very tough and challenging Mountain Marathon two weeks before leaving for Paraguay – and never seemed to recover from that race! I seemed to be fatigued all the time and a few days before leaving I started bleeding internally? I didn’t have time to go to a doctor and there usually isn’t an easy/quick fix to that kind of problem so I ignored it and hoped it would go away. It didn’t! It got worse during the trip.

After 22 hours of flights and airports I arrived in Paraguay late morning on Thu. Myrta sent her daughter and a driver to meet me at the airport because her daughter spoke English. Edson and I agreed to share a room at the best luxury hotel in Asuncion ($130/night). It was located downtown close to the tourist sites and only a few blocks from the start/finish line. Although I had flown all night I had managed to get a good sleep so I spent the rest of the day walking and touring the downtown and historic sites of the city. Asuncion is the capital and largest city in Paraguay (1.5 million residents – only 6 M in the country).
The downtown is compact – about 10 square blocks and can easily be explored on foot. I managed to visit and take photos of most of the major tourist sites – the Presidential Palace, the Parliament buildings, Independence Park – to share with my readers (see my photo website). I quickly learned that Paraguay is not a tourist destination when I had difficulty finding the typical souvenirs (a silver charm for the Sport’s Managers bracelet and a silver teaspoon for my collection) that I collect in every country.

I managed to stay awake for dinner and was surprised to find the downtown area closed down after 6 pm. The stores were shuttered with iron bars/gates and there were very few bars and restaurants open after 6 pm? On Fri I decided to walk/tour, take more photos and find the expo and packet pick-up. Before leaving the hotel I met Francisco and Mercedes (friends from Buenos Aires) in the hotel lobby and agreed to meet them later. A few hours later I bumped into Dieter – a friend/member of the Country Club from Germany in the Plaza de los Heroes.
He had only recently learned of the race and had booked the trip at the last minute figuring also that it was a one-time opportunity. We agreed to meet for dinner. I walked over to the expo located at the Estacion Ferrocarril Central- the first railway station built in South America (1856). It now serves as a museum and conference center. I picked up my race packet and met Myrta to thank her for all her help. I had brought some old running shoes and some health supplements for elite runners in Paraguay who could not afford those items. She introduced me to a young runner who was the top 10K runner in Paraguay. I gave him a 4-month supply of Glucosamine to help him with his training.

Later I returned to an area of the old historic town near Independence Park that intrigued me. The Presidential Palace and Parliament buildings were located in that area that overlooked the Bahia de Asuncion and the Rio Paraguay. The Palace and old Parliament buildings were immaculately maintained and other government buildings were modern and luxurious – and they all overlooked the poorest/worst slum in Asuncion! The slum called Ricardo Brugata was located in a floodplain along the Rio Paraguay. The politicians and President had to look out at the slums from their back windows! I walked along a wall on the edge of the Park overlooking the slums taking photos of the slums and the residents. A National Police Officer who was guarding the Senate Building approached me shouting in Spanish? At first I thought he was trying to scam me but I eventually understood that he was warning me that my expensive camera (and wallet) presented a rich reward/target for the gangs from the slums. I tried to explain that the camera was strapped around my neck but he explained that the gangs would not hesitate to cut the strap – or my throat- to take the camera and wallet! I thanked him for waiting beside me (with his machine gun) while I quickly put my camera away and moved to a safer part of the city! When I later recounted the story to my friends Dieter said that he had received the same warning! Now my readers have advance knowledge/warning not to venture too close to Ricardo Brugata!

Later that day Edson arrived and I guided him back to the expo to pick up his race packet and we spent more time with Myrta. She invited us to attend a show that evening at the expo. There would be dancers performing traditional dances. We met up with Dieter for dinner and asked him to go along to the show. There was entertainment – but to our surprise - WE were it! Myrta invited us up on the stage, introduced us, described our running accomplishments and then invited us to participate in a dance contest. The upside to this amusing/embarrassing situation was that she provided some very lovely young Paraguay women to be our dance partners. We joined in the fun much to the applause of the locals. And then they finally brought out the real dancers who performed some very nice and colorful traditional dances.

On Sat Myrta arranged for a bus and tour guide to escort 50 runners on a tour of the city and marathon course. The first few hours were just a repeat of my self-guided walking tour (with local narrative) and then the bus drove us over the marathon course with a detour into an exclusive residential neighborhood where the President and other affluent residents lived. Very nice area – but each home had a high wall topped with barb wire and/or broken glass and an armed guard at the entrance. You can live very well and cheaply in Paraguay – but Florida was looking good!

Edson and I thought about doing a short run on Sat afternoon but there was no safe place to run in Asuncion. The streets downtown are narrow- there are no traffic lights/stop signs – and the rule seems to be “the fastest and bravest rules”. We quickly learned not to step off a sidewalk w/o looking in all directions and making sure there was time to cross a street because cars would not stop or even slow down for pedestrians! And there was another problem – I was still bleeding internally and had become concerned about the amount of blood I was losing. For one of the few times I was not concerned about all the rest I was getting!

There was a pasta dinner and party on Sat night. We attended but hid in the back to avoid another surprise. However this time there was a formal program with lots of dancers performing traditional dances from various cultures in Paraguayan history. After the entertainment the party got noisy and the line for the buffet was too long so Dieter, Edson and I escaped to an Italian restaurant for a nice quiet pasta dinner.

Sun was ‘M’ Day. The race started and finished a few blocks from the hotel at Independence Park. There was no problem with gangs from the Ricardo slum because the park was filled with hundreds of National Police and military to protect the runners – and the President who started the race! It was warm – 58F – but low humidity with a light breeze so it felt quite pleasant. There were 3 races – a Marathon, Half and 10K. Each race participant had been given a colored T-shirt that identified the race and it was mandatory to wear it. The Marathon was red! The President started the race at 7am and as we took off hundreds of firecrackers went off and scared the shit out of me. I had taken the warning about the slums seriously and thought it was gunshots?

I had no idea how my old bod was going to perform. I had 4 days of rest so if the health issues didn’t affect me I should be able to finish in 4 hrs? I planned to run a 9-min pace for the first 5 Km and see what happened. The first 5Km of the course looped around streets in downtown Asuncion and was quite hilly. When I passed 5 Km in 30:40 I knew 4 hrs wasn’t going to happen and I decided to let the old bod dictate the pace. At that point I started suffering stomach cramps that indicated a need for a major pit stop (GI problems continue). But the course was leaving the downtown area and proceeding along a major blvd that was occupied by businesses and homes with no alley or bushes to hide behind (and no porto-pottys on the course). By the time I reached 10Km in 59:58 the cramps were severe and I knew that if I didn’t find a bush soon it was going to get messy! Fortunately I passed a lot where a house was being demolished and provided a wall to hide behind for a much-needed pit stop. I hoped that would be it but by the time I reached 15Km in 1:29:50 I was suffering severe cramps again. By then the course was on the road going to the airport with lots of empty land so a pit stop was not a problem.

When I passed the Half in 2:06:04 I knew I was in BIG trouble. I was struggling to keep my feet moving and not to walk – and it was getting hotter! As I reached the turn-around at the airport at 24Km in 2:24:43 and began the loop back to the finish line time was no longer a priority. The priority was now SURVIVAL and reaching the finish line! I was out of energy and desperately needed to walk. I knew if I started walking that early it would get very ugly so I started playing mind games. I promised myself that if I could keep running/jogging until I returned to the main blvd (near 33 Km) than I would allow myself to walk/jog the final 10Km! It was very tough but I kept the wasted old legs shuffling and churning until I reached 33 Km in 3:28:36.

When I turned on to that bvld I knew it was a straight 9Km stretch over rolling hills to the finish line and somehow that gave me a mental lift. I could see another old fart about 1 KM in front of me and although I figured our times and positions were irrelevant I decided to catch and pass him before the finish line! I finally passed him at 39Km and continued to ‘push’ the pace until I crossed the finish line in 4:28:01. I was totally exhausted and felt really bad – even worse than I did after the previous Mountain race. Edson finished only 3 minutes behind me and he doesn’t care about time/performance, etc. I would have been very upset and embarrassed if he had passed me!

After a few finish line photos we decided to walk back to the hotel for a much needed hot soak and shower. However I was feeling so poorly that I had to sit down several times to rest. I was totally fatigued and suffering from nausea and dizziness? Edson suggested that we go to a hospital but there was no way in Hell I was going to a hospital in Paraguay. He helped me back to the hotel and after a long hot soak and shower I felt a wee bit better. I hoped that some greasy food and a beer might help (as it normally does after a race) but nothing tasted good and only made me feel worse so we decided to head to the airport for the trip home. The first leg to Sao Paulo, Brazil was not pleasant and when I arrived in Brazil I went to the executive lounge at AA hoping a beer or coke might help. One again beer tasted horrible (and you know you are sick when beer tastes bad) but the sugar in the coke seemed to help. I had not eaten all day! When I boarded the flight at midnight I was so grateful that I had the foresight to upgrade to First/Business on the AA legs. As soon as the plane left the tarmac I reclined that wonderful seat into a bed and passed out – for 9 hours!

When I finally arrived back home on Mon afternoon I asked the Sports Manager to call out local GP to see how soon he could see me? Thankfully he squeezed me in that afternoon and began a series of blood and other tests to figure out what is going on. Why am I still bleeding internally and what is the cause? The blood tests have already confirmed no anemia which is good news. I am still waiting for the results on other tests. And for one of the few times in my life I am in no hurry to start training again.

However I am starting to get concerned about Pike’s Peak. I only have 10 days to figure out what is wrong – and fix it – or cancel the race! The way I feel right now there is absolutely no way I can race 8,000 vertical feet to the top of Pike’s Peak (14,110 ft) and back down – the toughest marathon course in the world!

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

BALEIAS said...

Caro amigo, infelizmente a barreira da língua me impediu de entender o que você trouxe no relato, porém, como também corri a prova e estive lá com você na Feira da Maratona, seu que tudo foi muito bom e que espero um dia estarmos juntos novamente em uma prova internacional Pense no Brasil, em Foz do Iguaçu, 26.09.2010.Abraço. Miguel Delgado. CEo Baleias!