Friday, May 30, 2014

TR Kosovo


TRIP REPORT
Kosovo
5/22 – 5/26/14

 

Race Results:
Sun, May 25/14
Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo Marathon
5:20:35
Marathon # 372 – Country # 121

 My final marathon and final country! And it wasn’t easy. Running the marathon was actually the easy part – getting to the race was difficult. The difficulty started a few days after the Boston Marathon when I tried to get out of bed and became very dizzy and fainted. Once I managed to get up the dizziness diminished but would continue in short spells and frequently? I thought it might be a side effect of a new (heart) med I had started so I immediately stopped taking that drug. When the symptoms continued for a few days I went to my GP who quickly diagnosed the problem as vertigo. He advised me to do Epley exercises frequently and that did help ease the symptoms but did not eliminate the vertigo. A few days later I tried to do a long run to stay in shape and prepare for Kosovo. Half way through the run I woke up (must have fainted?) to find myself falling and heading for a face plant on the road. Luckily I was able to get my arms in front of me and saved myself from serious injury. But it really scared me. I couldn’t stop running/training so I experimented and learned that if I ran and walked a 12-min pace or slower I could avoid triggering the vertigo and prevent another fall.

 
During the 5 weeks between Boston and Kosovo I had weekly phone calls with the Race Director in Pristina to finalize the details and logistics of the marathon. I had been trying since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 to organize a marathon in the new country. Remember I had completed a marathon in every country in Europe in 2005 when I ran Bosnia? Now I needed to run Kosovo to re-establish my World Record #2. I was lucky to meet a fellow member of our local Running Club who traveled frequently to Pristina on business. He put me in touch with a colleague who lived in Pristina. Maury Wray-Bridges is an American expat and runner and she volunteered to help me organize the marathon. We first made contact in Nov 2013 but nothing much happened during the Christmas period. Finally in Jan 2014 I explained that members of the Country Club planned their races 6 to 12 months in advance and we needed to set a firm date asap. It turned out that Maury and her family were returning to the USA in Jun 20414 so that pretty much set the date for May and we settled on May 25. That date prohibited some members from participating but there is no way to satisfy everybody all the time? Maury and her husband Andrew were enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity to organize the first-ever marathon to be held in Kosovo. Without their help the race could never have happened. They handled all the on-site logistics such as choosing a course, recruiting volunteers and meeting with local politicians and officials. I provided the experience and knowledge to organize a marathon, recruited runners and designed and ordered the race T-shirts, finisher medals and awards. Maury and I made a great team!

 

Since I was supplying the shirts, etc for the race I had to go to Kosovo regardless of how I felt. When I departed for Kosovo on Thu I was still suffering occasional bouts of dizziness from the vertigo. I wasn’t sure if I could run the marathon – I wasn’t even sure how or if I could handle the 24 hours of travel to get there? And the airlines didn’t make it easy for me! A delayed flight out of Washington caused me to miss my connection in Zurich to Pristina. It was the only flight of the day to Pristina. I made my way to the Service Desk where I met another passenger going to Pristina. Swiss Airline routed us to Vienna (8 hrs later) to catch the last flight on Austrian Airlines to Pristina. However when we arrived in Vienna I learned that the flight to Pristina was cancelled! I later learned that flight crews were in contract negotiations with Austrian Airlines and causing flight delays and cancellations to make their position stonger? All the airlines knew what was happening but did not advise passengers so that we could avoid Austrian Airlines. Meanwhile I was emailing Maury and my roommate who had already arrived in Pristina to keep them updated. I was supposed to meet with Maury that evening and drive the marathon course early on Friday. Austrian Airlines put me up for the night at an airport hotel. At that point I did not have any confidence that the flight I was booked on early Fri would leave either? And I didn’t have much confidence that my baggage with all the race equipment would arrive with me? I was wondering what had happened to my new friend/travel companion. Taryn is a young lawyer working for a law firm in DC that represents the Kosovo government in contract negotiations with other countries. When I didn’t see her at the ticket counter getting new tickets for the Fri morning flight I figured she must have given up and gone back to DC? However as I was eating dinner at the hotel Taryn walked in and joined me for dinner. She was booked on the same flight the next day. There seemed to be some comfort in the fact that we weren’t alone in our dilemma and frustration.

 On Fri morning I walked over to the terminal a few hours early to confirm that the flight was really going? It was. While waiting at the gate I met two members from the Country Club who were on the same flight. I started to cheer up. The flight departed on time and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my baggage also arrived in Pristina. Maury and Andrew were waiting at the airport along with Fatlum Grajevci, the Director of the Kosovo Sports Federation, so that we could drive directly to the marathon course to check it out. There had been a lot of rain the past few weeks in Kosovo and three miles of the course were on dirt roads. When Maury and I had discussed the course she had told me about the dirt roads and I envisioned dirt roads in the US -  i.e. country roads with dirt and gravel. However these dirt roads were farm roads – roads that farmers used to farm the fields. We tried to drive part of the road and became stuck in mud! Once we pushed the car out of the mud we all agreed that the course had to be changed to paved roads only. We drove to a small gas station on the edge of the village of Gracanica that had room to park cars and set up a start/finish area. We negotiated with the owner to use his station for the start/finish area. The price - a pair of running shoes!

 We drove west on the planned paved course 2.3 miles to a junction in the small village of Laplje Selo. Then we turned south and climbed a long winding hill (79m ascent) to the edge of another village (Livade). We marked a turn-around at 4.4 miles. Runners would have to run this loop a total of six times. We would locate one water station at the start/finish, one at the turn at 2.3 miles and a third at the turn-around. The course was set. Maury and Fatlum recommended that I caution the runners not to wear any flags of symbols of Albania. The two villages were ethnic Serbs and not happy that Kosovo had declared independence from Serbia!

I asked Andrew to drop me off at the hotel so I could check in and try to squeeze my mandatory souvenir shopping into the few hours I had before registration and packet pick up. The flight delays and cancellations had cost me a whole day that I planned to use to explore Pristina and shop. Luckily Pristina is a small city and I was able to find everything I needed quickly – except for a souvenir teaspoon. I wasn’t surprised to find that they don’t exist in Kosovo?

 I held registration and packet pick up in the lobby of our hotel. There were 18 runners registered but three did not run. Two CC members from the US experienced a flight cancellation (in the US) and one local (expat) runner was injured. Roza offered to be a volunteer and became one of our most exuberant and cheerful volunteers! We lost three runners but they were replaced by three local runners: two Finnish expats including the Charge Affairs from the Finnish Embassy and we had one true Kosovar register for the marathon. Eleven CC members registered for the marathon: 3 from the US, 3 from Germany, 2 from Finland, 2 from Italy and 1 from the Netherlands. This is the largest group of CC members to ever run a race so we designated the marathon as the first CC Reunion.

 After registration we were joined by Maury and Andrew and many race volunteers including the Deputy Chief of Mission from the US Embassy for a pasta dinner at the hotel.

 My roommate Edson and I had to wake early because Maury, Andrew and Fatlum picked us up at 6am so that we could drive the course again and paint distance and direction markers on the road. I painted a 2 and 4 mile mark on the road to allow runners to check their pace and we also pointed turn arrows at the junction in Laplje Selo and Livade. Maury had recruited more than 20 race volunteers and because of the change in the course we had more than needed so she was able to assign shifts so that nobody had to stay on the course for 6 hrs (but many did).

 We were expecting light showers but the weather Gods smiled on us. It was sunny and HOT – great for volunteers but not so great for runners. A professional photographer volunteered to take photos of the race and later posted them to her website http://cmp.pass.us/kosovamarathon. Once she took a photo of the runners at the start line we were ready to start the race on time at 7am. And for the first time in 3 days I was finally able to relax and unwind while I ran the race. There was nothing I could do while running and I had all the confidence in the world in Maury. She was ‘Miss Efficiency’ and had everything under control!

 We had a volunteer riding a bike to guide the lead runners through the first two laps out-and-back. He stayed with the runners for the entire race. I was surprised to find the Kosovo police controlling traffic at the turn at 2.3 miles in Laplje Selo. Maury had written the mayors of the three villages as a courtesy to inform them of the race and they had provided police at the turn and also at the turn-around and I even saw them patrolling the course. By the time the runners reached the hill at 3 miles we had spread out along the course. As I started up the hill I remembered my comment the day before “this hill doesn’t look too tough – but ask me again tomorrow when I am running and not driving”! The hill climbed 79m/260ft over 1 mile. Half way up the hill I figured I would be walking the hill on the next 2 laps – so why not start now? I reached the turn-around at 4.4 miles in 46:00 and looked forward to running back down the hill. The return loop back to the start line took 50:39 due to a pit stop in a farm field. I didn’t have time before the race to perform my usual pre-race functions.  One nice aspect of the course layout was that runners got to greet and cheer each other several times during the race with the 3 out-and –back loops. I stopped many times to take photos of my fellow runners.

 After the first two loops the race came down to a duel between a German CC member, Jurgen Sinthofen, and the local Kosovar runner, Martin Noci. I reached the turn-around on the 2nd uphill loop in 2:27:44 and a split of 50:15. After the race when I downloaded the data from my watch I was surprised/perplexed to discover that I ran each uphill loop faster than the downhill loop? How is that possible? The short loops seem to go fast with all the great support and cheering from our volunteers at the water stops and cheering for all of our comrades along the course. When I reached the start line at the end of the 4th loop in 3:21:05 and a split of 52:39 it was already HOT and I knew the final out-and-back loop was going to be ugly. I was only approaching the 2-mile mark when the lead runners passed me on their way to the finish line. Jurgen had a 200m lead on Martin and I knew he was going to win. I completed the final uphill loop in 4:19:22 and a split of 48:15. That was my 2nd fastest split on the uphill loop but I paid dearly for it on the final downhill loop. By the time I reached the junction in Laplje Selo my legs were shot. I had not been able to do any long training runs in the past month because of the vertigo and it cost me. I decided to walk/run the final 2 miles to cross the finish line in 5:20:35.

I had requested that runners stay in the finish area until all runners finished and everyone cooperated until the last 3 runners behind me crossed the finish line. I presented the Overall Male Winner award to Jurgen. Since we had no female runners in the marathon I presented the female trophy to Mea Kriek who ran the Half marathon in 2:11:23. The first-ever marathon in Kosovo was over and it was a huge success! Fatlum was so impressed with the race that he stated that the Kosovo Sports Federation would continue the race next year. Let’s hope so?

 After a quick shower Edson and I did a walking tour of Pristina to take in a few of the sights and get some photos of the city. I hadn’t had any time until now to explore the city. We managed to visit some of the few tourist sites such as the Municipal Library and the Newborn Monument. Our tour was short since I had invited the Executive Committee of the Country Club to join me at dinner with Maury and Andrew to thank them for their help. It was the first time since I arrived in Pristina that we truly had time to relax and enjoy a nice quiet dinner. Maury had picked a local restaurant that served a typical ‘family’ dinner. The food just kept coming and coming- washed down with local beer!

 Since I had an early flight (7am) I had to go to bed early for a 4am wake-up call. When I checked in I was informed that my connection from Vienna to DC was delayed 2 hrs. During that delay in Vienna I learned about the contract dispute. I will never fly Austrian Airlines again. The delay was longer than 2 hrs and I had to sprint more than ¼ mile at the Washington airport to make my connection. I can’t believe I made it through immigration/customs and security in less than 1 hr? At this point I don’t care to ever get on another plane from any airline. I am tired of being crammed into planes and treated like cattle.

Thus I am glad that this was my final marathon and final country. It is nice to retire on a high note. Marathon #372 and country #121. I established one new WR (121 countries) and re-established my WR #2 of completing a marathon in every country in Europe. It will take many years for any runner to tie this WR!

 Now that I am home and ‘retired’ I am looking forward to taking it easy for a while. No marathon or running goals! No more training. I plan to do some easy jogging as exercise and must find some other activities to keep me busy. In the next week I begin my long treatment program to fix and strengthen my heart. That may affect my activities for the next month or so?

 And look at the upside for you readers! No more reading Maddog’s boring race reports. Thanks for coming along for the ride for the past 33 years. They have been fun and there have been many memorable adventures!

 

 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

RR Boston 2014


RR Boston
Race Results:
Mon, Apr 21/14
Boston Marathon
Boston, MA
4:51:41
Marathon # 371

 This was supposed to be my last race report? Due to health reasons most readers knew that this race would be marathon # 371, my 8th and final Boston and my final marathon! Well 2 out of 3 ain’t bad!
As most of my readers know, a few months before Boston along came a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run Kosovo and I couldn’t pass it up. More about that at the end of this report.

 So I changed my story to “this would be my 8th & final Boston & my final ‘domestic’ marathon”. I have run the Boston Marathon seven times before and when I am undoubtedly asked “what is your favorite marathon” I always answer “Boston”. I like the mystique and tradition of Boston and it is one of the few marathons in the world that a runner must qualify to run. Out of my previous seven Boston Marathons there are a few that are memorable and I want to reminisce about:
    1)      My 1st Boston in 1987. My 2nd most disappointing Boston.
 I had just run my 1st sub 3-hr marathon to qualify and my goal was to break 3 hrs at Boston. I was on pace at 24 miles to narrowly break 3 hrs. When I passed the CITGO sign at mile 25 my pace started to slow and as I neared the turn on to Hereford St I was afraid that I would not break 3 hrs? Worse- I might finish in 3:00 and a few seconds and I would be very mad at myself. So I deliberately slowed my pace and cruised across the finish line in 3:01:51. Later I realized that if I had only sucked it up, ignored the pain and pushed to the finish line I would most certainly have broken 3 hrs. I vowed that I would never ‘give up’ again in a race. It was a valuable but painful lesson – and the only chance I ever had to break 3 hrs at Boston!

 2)      My 5th Boston in 1996. My 100th marathon & 100th Anniversary of Boston. My funnest Boston.
Runners knew that this would be a special Boston – a 26.2 mile party. And it was! I decided not to worry about time or goals – except to join the party along with 38,000 runners, the largest Boston field in history. The runners and spectators were joyous and it was the most fun I ever enjoyed in a marathon.

 

3)      My 6th Boston in 2004. My most disappointing Boston.
        Since I would turn 60 a few weeks before the race and I was still running close to 3 hrs I figured this was my best chance to win a coveted AG award at Boston. I trained hard and seriously for this goal. I was running mile repeats @ 6:30 pace and bridge repeats @ 6:45 pace and I felt confident. Three weeks before the race while running a final speed work on a track I tore my left hamstring – my dream was shattered in one short moment. With aggressive physical therapy and meds I was able to go to Boston and ‘jog’ the race in 3:58:06. I promised myself that if I was still running at age 70 I would try a 2nd time to achieve my dream.

         4)      My 7th Boston in 2005. My proudest Boston.
                I had no intention to run Boston this year until a good friend, Frank Ouseley, aka ‘the Mad Monk had quadruple bypass surgery and then declared that his wish/dream was to run Boston only nine months after the surgery. I helped Frank qualify for Boston and volunteered to accompany him to Boston and guarantee that he cross the finish line. We did well for the first 10 miles but Frank had trouble starting at 16 miles and wanted to quit. I had to play serious mind games with him to coax him to continue. After walking through the hills at Newton I once again had to play serious mind games to coax him to ‘jog’ the final 5K so we could finish under the time limit and collect our finisher’s medals. I was very proud of Frank and his courage and determination to run – and FINISH - Boston under such difficult circumstances.

So now we return to the present and Maddog is returning to Boston also with heart issues but not even close to what the Mad Monk experienced and overcame.  I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep my promise made 10 years ago. There would be no competing for AG awards in my 7th decade. I had to accept and be happy with the fact that I was still running and able to enjoy what would be another memorable Boston due to the unfortunate events that happened last year. I didn’t expect the mood to be joyous or festive like it was in 1996 but I did expect the 2nd largest running field in Boston history to be united and determined to show that a couple of crazy/fanatical terrorists could not intimidate or deter runners from enjoying their passion. All 36,000 runners would be BOSTON STRONG!

 I arrived in Boston on Sat afternoon and after checking into a hotel in Cambridge I made my way over to the Expo. It was a zoo! Actually bib pick-up was smooth and easy but trying to get into and around the expo was difficult. I have never purchased any Boston memorabilia in all my previous races but since this would be my final Boston I decided to treat myself and buy a T-shirt and a Boston Marathon jacket. After squeezing my way through exhibits for about an hour I met a friend at a designated spot. Malcolm is writing Maddog’s marathon book. He explained that he was having problems with the size of the book. Each marathon/country needed about 4 pages and there are (will be) 121 countries. Nobody is going to read that many pages! We decided to focus on a specific number of Maddog’s goals and include a specific number of Maddog’s most memorable races.

 My hotel was located in Cambridge and there are not a lot of restaurants or shops in that area and few of them are open on Patriot’s weekend. Rather than mess with the subway I decided to skip my traditional Chinese/rice dinner and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner at a Legal Seafood restaurant near the hotel. But I did order rice with my delicious seafood casserole.

 On Sun I had arranged to meet a new member of the Country Club for lunch. After a few minutes discussion we realized we had met and spent a lot of time together in the past but didn’t remember it? Jeurgen and his wife (from Germany) were on the same ship as Nicole and I when we ran the Antarctica Marathon in 1997. We will meet again in Kosovo in May.

 Mon (Patriot’s Day) was M-day! This year, because of the large field (36,000) of runners, there were 4 waves of runners with 9 corrals in each wave. I was seeded in the 3rd wave and 7th corral. The 3rd wave started at 11 am – 1hr after the start of the elite men. Runners in the 3rd wave had to board a bus in Boston Commons by 8:30 am for the Athlete’s Village in Hopkinton which is the typical time frame that runners have to begin their odyssey to the start line. I had watched weather forecasts closely since it can be very cold waiting in the Athlete’s Village. With extra security measures in place this year it was not possible for runners to take bags to the start area so I visited a Goodwill store at home to purchase several layers of throw-away clothes to wear before proceeding to the start line. They came in handy since the temps were in the high 30s when we arrived at the Athlete’s Village. However I had discarded all the warm-up clothes before moving to the start corral. But I was glad I had them while waiting in line for more than 30 minutes to use a port-o-potty (they did not have enough for 36,000 runners?).

 The 3rd wave was instructed to make their way to the start corrals at 10:30 am. We barely made it into our corrals when they started the 3rd wave at 11:00 am. It took 6 minutes for me to reach the start line where I started my watch and began the race.  As most runners who have run Boston know the 1st few miles are downhill and you can see runners ahead of you for at least 1 mile. I remembered to run my pace and not get sucked in by the pack but I still passed mile 3 in 30:06 and a split of 10:48. I stopped on the top of a hill at mile 7 (1:15:03 and a split of 10:19) to take a photo of the pack chasing me. I passed mile 10 in 1:46:23 and a split of 10:28 – I was running faster than expected. Runners were serious but joyful and we were inspired by a record 1,000,000 spectators that lined the entire 26.2 miles of the course who were jubilant and noisy. It was the best crowd I have ever experienced at a race!

 As I passed mile 12 in 2:07:43 and a split of 10:41 I could hear the ‘Wellesley tunnel’ ahead. My only disappointment with the race was that they had limited the Wellesley coeds to only the college side of the road whereas the coeds used to form a tunnel and narrow the road down to single or double file for runners. The noise this year was not near as deafening (or thrilling). However the coeds did their best and still held signs up asking for kisses. I almost stopped for a cute coed whose sign said “kiss me – I’m from Florida” but I would have had to cut off other runners to reach her. So I stopped and took a photo of the Wellesley tunnel. I passed the Half in 2:20:36 and I was feeling good. I was way ahead of my predicted pace but figured the 2nd half would be slower because of the hills.

 When I passed mile 16 in 2:51:21 and a split of 10:41 I figured that if I ran the final 10 miles at a 12:00 pace I could break 5 hrs so that became my goal. When I helped Frank complete his dream in 2005 I had noted after the marathon that it was the 1st time I ever “saw the course”. In previous years I had been too focused on competing to actually see the course. As I continued at an easy and smooth pace I think I noticed hills that I had never noticed before? I passed mile 20 in 3:36:52 and a split of 10:55 and started up Heartbreak Hill. I always thought it was much tougher and steeper? Half-way up the hill my right calf started to tighten and I became concerned about cramping. I refused to walk until I crested the hill in 3:49:35 and a split of 12:42 (my slowest split of the race). At that point I could tell that the calf was on the verge of cramping and locking up so I wisely stopped and stretched the leg and walked for a short distance to let the muscle relax. I hoped that preventative action would get me to the finish line without cramping?

 However as I passed mile 24 in 4:24:00 and a split of 11:43 the calf started to cramp and I was forced to stop and stretch again. I knew that a sub 5-hr race was in the bag if I could prevent the calf from cramping. When I passed the CITGO sign at mile 25 in 4:39:17 the calf started to tighten again but this time I decided to ignore it and just slow my pace down a little and try to get to the finish line. Thankfully I held off the cramp and crossed the finish line in 4:51:41. Needless to say I was very HAPPY to finish my final Boston and final ‘domestic’ marathon under 5 hrs!

 After a long hot soak back at the hotel I decided to attend the Mile 27 party hosted by Sam Adams at a pub near Fenway Park. Bad mistake! The subway was packed. Every restaurant and pub near Fenway was packed and noisy and the line to get into the party was over two blocks long! I turned around and went back to the area near the Hynes Convention Center where I had noticed lots of pubs and restaurants. Another bad mistake! Everything was packed and noisy. I returned to my hotel in quiet Cambridge and enjoyed a snack of greasy food and fries before going to bed. I had been looking forward to a delicious meal to celebrate my success.

 I am back home and trying to restart my training program for my final marathon and country. As I mentioned at the start of the report a ‘one of’ opportunity came up. I completed a marathon in every country in Europe in Oct 2005 but then Kosovo declared independence in 2008. I have been trying for the past six years to find or organize a marathon in Kosovo. A few months ago I managed to contact an American expat living in Kosovo who volunteered to help me organize the ‘first-ever’ marathon in Kosovo. She is returning to the USA in June so it was organize a race in May or lose the opportunity ‘forever’?

 Fortunately ten members of the Country Club were able to arrange/change their schedules to join me. We will have about 20 runners for the marathon and once again I will re-establish my World Record of completing a marathon in every country in Europe.

 Stay tuned!

 

Thursday, March 06, 2014

TR Tanzania


TRIP REPORT
Tanzania
2/27 to 3/4/14

Race Results:
Sun, Mar 2/14
Moshi, Tanzania
Kilimanjaro Marathon
5:17:50
Marathon #370 – Country # 120

 A visit to Tanzania and Mt Kilimanjaro has always been on my bucket list. There were two items in the bucket list.
 1)  Run the Kilimanjaro Marathon  
  2)  Climb Mt Kilimanjaro after the race.
Sadly with recent health issues – especially a heart that doesn’t seem to do well at high altitude anymore I had to forgo the 2nd item. But I could still accomplish two goals:
  1)      Run the Kilimanjaro Marathon & complete Country #120
  2)      Run my final country

Well, the first goal was accomplished but more about the 2nd goal at the end of this report.

 I was not looking forward to the 30-hr journey to get to Kilimanjaro – especially in economy class – but I did arrive safely late Fri night. On the 45Km drive to our hotel in Moshi I met a few other runners including a member of the Country Club, Domitilia Dos Santos from NYC, that I had not met before. I didn’t even know she would be there? Most of us in the shuttle were being lodged at the Keys Hotel Annex that was located about 5 miles outside of Moshi and was not convenient to the town or race events. And the hotel was pretty rustic as the brochure had promised. A very poor and slow Wi-Fi was one of my many complaints about the hotel.

 After a midnight beer to relax and unwind I enjoyed about 4 hrs. of sleep before I was wide awake and could not sleep anymore?  Jet lag? At breakfast I met with my new friends and we decided to taxi into the main hotel in town to check out the race HQ. I was supposed to meet up with a photographer/cameraman who was making a documentary about the race and had requested an interview with Maddog about country #120. The documentary film will be broadcast throughout Africa and later be available on You-Tube. After a 15-min interview I joined my friends to continue into the shopping area of Moshi. I was able to find all of my mandatory souvenirs in a few hours and then we enjoyed a pizza for lunch. We quickly learned that Tanzania, like most 3rd world and hot countries, operates on a different time scale.  Nobody is in a hurry!

 I was supposed to meet other friends/CC members but I did not realize that I was being housed at the Annex and they looked for me at the main hotel and we never connected until the start of the race. I was not happy about the hotel arrangements and the fact that it was not made clear to me that I would be staying at the Annex! Because of the remote location I did not feel like taking a taxi into town for a pasta dinner and was forced to eat a terrible buffet pasta dinner at the Annex.

 The race started at 6:30am in the Stadium in Moshi and the race package included transport to/from the stadium for the race. I asked for a 4am wake-up call knowing that it would never happen (it didn’t) so I woke up at midnight and every hour on the hour so that I would not miss the bus to the start line.

 The temps were in the low 70s at the start but the humidity was low so it felt cool. Fortunately Domitilia and I were able to find the other 2 members of the Country Club and take a group photo at the start. One friend, Jay, who I ran with in Ecuador in 2007 was running his 30th country and qualified for the CC at the finish of the race.

 My stomach and GI system were feeling better than my previous marathon so I hoped I wouldn’t have any problems or many pit stops? However when I hooked up my heart monitor a few minutes before the start I experienced the same strange problem as the previous race? My HR was only 32 bpm? When I reached 2 Km in 13:07 it had only climbed to 88 bpm but on the 3rd Km jumped suddenly to the normal range of 130 bpm. I felt less worried about my heart rate but was starting to suffer mild stomach cramps so I knew a pit stop would be needed before the Half. However the first few miles were along a route by our hotel and there were lots of spectators and few bushes and no port-o-potties? There weren’t any at the start either for more than 5,000 runners in the various races?

 As I passed 8 Km in 53:49 and a split of 6:51 another new and strange thing happened? My HR dropped suddenly to 85 bpm and stayed there for the next 4 Km even though I was running a series of hills. How can my HR be 85 bpm when I am running hills? I started to worry again.

 As I passed spectators they were shouting and cheering “Babu”, “Babu”. I confirmed with a fellow runner that word was Swahili for “grandpa”. How did they know I was a grandpa? At least they were cheering me on and not laughing at me! After the course made a turn-around at 10Km I started looking seriously for a bush or tree and managed to make a discreet pit stop near 12 Km. Ahhh! I felt much better and seemed to have more energy and my HR had surprisingly increased back to a normal range of 130 bpm. So I increased my pace and started to pull in two of my fellow CC members who had left me behind at the start. I passed Domitilia near 18 Km as we approached the stadium again. At 20Km the half marathoners returned to the stadium and the marathoners started a long 11Km climb up Kilimanjaro. The ascent wasn’t steep but it was constant and relentless. I passed the Half in 2:28:04 and a split of 7:21/Km but I knew the 2nd Half would be much slower because of the climb and the temps had now climbed into the 80s.

 I passed another CC member, Klaus from Germany, near 23 KM and continued a slow methodical climb up the mountain. I was able to keep the old legs shuffling until 25 Km and then I had to start walking. I would take short walk breaks or walk short steep sections of the ascent but otherwise I tried to keep the old legs churning until I reached the top of the loop near 31Km in 3:51:29 and a split of 8:20. The next 9Km were back down the mountain. For the next 4Km I felt like I was flying down the descent but when I passed 35Km in 4:22:42 and a split of 7:45 my legs were totally trashed and I knew I had to slow my pace if I wanted to avoid a crash!

 Around 37Km the cameraman came by on a motorbike and started filming and interviewing Maddog in action. What a bitch that was! I was trying to run a smooth easy pace, smile and look like I was having fun while I was pleading under my breath for him to screw off and let me die or at least walk in peace.

Fortunately he finished filming as I passed 38 Km in 4:45:21 and a split of 7:09 and as soon as he was out of sight I started to walk. My legs were totally thrashed from the ascent and then the constant descent and I had to walk/jog the final 4 Km along with a few other runners that were struggling to reach the finish line. Finally as we approached the stadium at 42Km I was able to summon up enough energy to run/sprint the final few hundred meters into the stadium and cross the finish line in 5:17:50.

 I was quite pleased with my time & performance. That was the hilliest and toughest course I had run in a long time. And it was very HOT when I crossed the finish line. After a mandatory finish line photo I went straight to the hospitality tent provided by the travel agency where food and drinks were available. I drank a coke and ate some chocolate to restore my blood sugar levels. However it was so hot that I couldn’t cool down so I took a shuttle bus back to the hotel. I wanted to take a hot shower to soothe my beat-up legs followed by a cold shower to cool down. There was no hot water in my building so I had to make do with a quick COLD shower. Suddenly I felt extremely tired and sleepy and laid down for a ‘short’ nap and woke up 2 hours later.

 I was ready for a greasy snack and some local African beers brewed in Tanzania. My friends joined me for some beers and we swapped stories about the race. Everyone finished much slower than expected? I was looking forward to a nice (beef) steak dinner to replace protein and repair damaged muscle but the damn hotel was only offering a buffet again for Sun dinner. I was too tired to taxi into the city so I managed to talk the chef into cooking me a chicken steak with fries.

 The service at the hotel had been so terrible that Domitilia found the owner and chewed out his butt. He agreed to let us stay in our rooms on Mon until we left for the airport at 7 pm and he also offered us a huge discount on a tour to a Maasai village on Mon. Since our flight didn’t depart until 10 pm we wanted to spend our last day seeing part of the country. We really enjoyed a 1-day tour of the Maasai village of Olpopongi. We learned a lot about their culture. They still live like they have for the past few hundred years. They herd cows, goats and sheep and do not use any modern conveniences – no electricity, no running water, no TV, no internet. Marriages are arranged and a man can have as many wives as he can afford – 5 to 10 cows for a wife! Ten to twenty wives and up to 100 kids is common for many men! Sounds good but each wife must have her own house/hut and divorce is not allowed. The Maasai explained that they don’t have any doctors and rely on herbs and natural medicine from local plants. I am thinking of spending a few weeks at their village to see if the witch doctor can cure my UC?

 When we returned to the hotel to check out I was treated to a steak dinner – a real beef steak with fries – the best meal I enjoyed during my 4 days in Tanzania. But then it was off to the airport for the long, 31-hr journey home.

 I am back home. The jet lag isn’t as bad this way and I am able to sleep most of the night.

 I can start to prepare for my next race. And this where things get confusing. My next race is the Boston Marathon. It was supposed to be my 3rd goal and final marathon before hanging up my racing shoes? Kilimanjaro/Tanzania was Country #120 and my final country! BUT - a few days before leaving for Kilimanjaro that plan fell apart?

 I completed a marathon in every country in Europe in Oct 2005. However in 2008 Kosovo declared independence and I have been trying (unsuccessfully) ever since then to organize a marathon in Kosovo. Well, I just recently discovered that I have finally been successful. I won’t go into details but I had a ‘one of’ opportunity to organize a marathon in Kosovo in May or lose the opportunity forever. I accepted the challenge and the ‘first-ever’ Kosovo Marathon is scheduled for May 25/14. That will be my final country and final marathon! I can’t think of any other opportunity that could entice me to postpone my ‘retirement’ once again.

 Stay tuned!

 

 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

RR Gainesville




Sun, Feb 16/14

Five Points of Life Marathon

Gainesville, FL

5:08:22  - 2 AG

Marathon #369

 

I decided to run this race for a 3rd time because I needed to run a long training run. My longest run since the Haiti Marathon had been only 16 miles and that doesn’t build a lot of confidence when preparing for an important race. After Haiti I decided to cut back on my training program and just do the minimum amount of miles needed to get me through the next few marathons. I decided to run a marathon as a long training run and I chose Gainesville because it was close and I could drive to it and I had run this race twice before.

 

You would think after 368 marathons that it would be difficult to experience a ‘first’ in a marathon so I was shocked to experience TWO ‘firsts’ in this race. Let me explain.

 

I drove up to Gainesville on Sat and picked up my race packet and enjoyed a nice pasta dinner at Carrabba’s where I usually eat so no ‘firsts’ yet. Sun was ‘M’-day. The weather was cool with a temp of 39 F at the 7 am start – the first time I had enjoyed cool weather for a race in a long time – but not really a ‘first’. There were about 200 runners in the marathon and 500 in the Half. The race starts and finishes on the UF (University of Florida) campus. I wore 2 layers of clothes on top plus a garbage bag and gloves to keep warm – the first time I have had to do that in a long time – but not really a ‘first’. I had to make two last-minute pit stops before the race. That concerned me but wasn’t a ‘first’.

 

A few minutes before the start I hooked up my heart monitor and checked my HR. It was only 32 bpm? That was a ‘first’ (for the start of a race) and really concerned me. I ran a few sprints to see if I could get my HR to rise higher but it never got above 39 bpm. I had bought a new heart monitor/watch to replace the old one that had malfunctioned in the past 2 races. I had wisely practiced with it on a few training runs to be certain that I knew how to use it. But my HR hadn’t been that low since the ablation over a year ago? I wasn’t sure if my HR was actually that low or had I screwed up a setting on the heart monitor? I didn’t want to mess with the watch in the dark so I took off with the pack when the race started. Although I tried not to be concerned I watched the heart monitor every few secs during the 1st mile to see if my HR would rise? It never rose above 40 bpm during the 1st mile. Now I was becoming concerned! Shortly into Mile 2 the monitor jumped suddenly to 130 bpm which is the normal race rate for that new watch and I was able to relax after confirming that it stayed in that range. Whew!!!

 

As I reached Mile 2 in 20:51 I took off the garbage bag. At the same time I started to suffer severe stomach cramps and knew what that meant – an emergency pit stop! There was a port-o-potty but it had a line so I found a bush for pit stop #1. Two miles later the stomach cramps started again and this time I was able to use a port-o-potty. Now I was concerned again. The cramps and diarrhea are symptoms of UC (Ulcerative Colitis). Was I suffering a flare-up of my UC? I haven’t had a flare-up in more than a year? At mile 3 I removed my throw-away sweat shirt so that I was now running in a long sleeve T-shirt and shorts – the sun was up and the temps were in the low 40s. At mile 4 I got my answer to the UC question when I suffered severe stomach cramps and had to make another emergency pit stop behind a bush! Two more pit stops were necessary by the time I reached mile 10 in 2:06:18 and a split of 11:58. This was not the second ‘first’ – I had experienced this problem before when my UC was severe.

However as I approached the UF/Gator football stadium at 11 miles I could feel stomach cramps starting again so I decided to use a port-o-potty near the entrance of the stadium for a pre-emptive pit stop to prevent an embarrassing situation in the stadium. On previous pit stops I had noticed that the elastic band in my race shorts was starting to lose its elasticity so I had tightened the drawstring.  I couldn’t waste time trying to untie the drawstring so I yanked the race shorts down and –Oh Crap!- both the elastic band and the drawstring broke. When I pulled my shorts back up they just fell to my knees! There was nothing left to hold them up. This was certainly a ‘FIRST’!

 

I had visions and concerns about running and holding my shorts up for the next 15 miles! However my Boy Scout and military survival training took over. I removed two safety pins from my race bib and folded each side of the waist band and pinned them. The fix seemed to work but I was concerned about how long since the pins were very small and not very strong? After I passed the half in 2:32:33 and a split of 11:56 I noticed a medical station so I stopped and asked if they had any large safety pins. Unfortunately none. When I explained my problem the medical staff used stretchy/sticky medical tape to wrap around my shorts and waist. The shorts felt much more secure but I was going to have a problem if I needed another emergency pit stop!

 

The next 4 miles were my fastest of the race. I had enjoyed lots of unplanned rest stops and now had no worry about shorts falling down and there were no more stomach cramps or pit stops! I recall reaching Mile 15 in 2:54:54 and a split of 11:16 and reminding myself  how good I felt compared to the last time I ran this race in 2012. At that race I was sick with a flu and totally crashed at mile 15 and had to struggle for the last 11 miles. Not today! I felt good!

 

However as I approached Mile 18 in 3:38:39 and a split or 10:37 the stomach cramps returned. Another emergency pit stop was needed. I didn’t want to wreck the ‘fix’ on my shorts because I didn’t think there was any way to re-fix the fix? I won’t provide graphic details (TMI) but suffice it to say I found a way to make an emergency pit stop without dropping my race shorts – and without making a mess. I was back on the road and still feeling good. When I reached mile 20 in 3:53:44 and a split of 11:23 I felt really good energy-wise but my legs were starting to tire due to the lack of long training runs. So I stopped and walked for 1 minute and decided to follow that strategy (run 2 miles and walk 1 minute) for the final 10K. I had no more problems during the final 10K and crossed the finish line in 5:08:22 and 2nd AG.

 

I was a wee bit disappointed in my time because I knew that I could easily have finished the race under 5 hrs if I had not experienced all the problems. It would have been nice to finish a marathon under 5 hrs before hanging up my racing shoes because I don’t believe I will have another opportunity. But I was happy that I felt strong and good at the finish and now have confidence that I can complete my personal goal # 2 – country # 120 – at my next international adventure.

 

I plan to join a few Country Club friends in Tanzania to run the Kilimanjaro Marathon on Mar2/14.

 

Stay tuned!

 

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

TR Haiti


TRIP REPORT
Haiti
                                                                                  1/3 to 1/6/14

 

Race Results:
Sun, Jan 5/14
Cap Haitien, Haiti
Let’s Go Haiti Marathon
Marathon # 368 – Country # 119 
5:02:00

 At the end of my last report I stated that I had three personal goals to complete before I hung up my racing shoes. Well this race enabled me to accomplish my 1st goal – but it wasn’t easy. This was ‘The trip from Hell’! Let me explain.

 After the last race it took about 1 month of difficult and frustrating work to organize and book travel to the start line of the marathon in Cap Haitien. There is no tourist infrastructure in Haiti and the few businesses (hotels, airlines) that do serve tourists have no idea what ‘service’ means. They would not respond to emails, were difficult to reach by phone, had no website or it didn’t work and few spoke English. I thought I lucked in when the race director referred me to a manager at a local airline (Haitian Aviation) who booked flights to Haiti for me and was working on hotel reservations. Unfortunately 2 weeks before the race (a few days before Christmas) I learned that the airline went out of business. He hadn’t even bothered to call me to inform me of this issue! I scrambled to find a travel agency located in Port-au-Prince that was reliable and knowledgeable who helped me book alternative flights and confirm a reservation I had made at a hotel (the hotel wouldn’t respond to my emails to confirm the reservation). The last-minute alternatives cost me twice the original price (that I asked my credit card to refund?).

 I drove to Miami on Thu afternoon and overnighted at the airport to catch a 7 am flight to Port-au-Prince (PAP) on AA. The AA flights were easy but the problem was getting from PAP to Cap Haitien (CAP). There are a few local airlines but it is impossible to book them from outside Haiti. My original flight/route was to fly to PAP and take a shuttle (provided by the airline) to CAP – a 6-hr drive. Boy am I glad that didn’t happen. As it was the travel agent forgot to mention some critical details such as I would arrive at the International airport in PAP (no surprise) – but the domestic flight left from a small domestic terminal at the other end of the airport. I was waiting at the gate for the local airline in the International terminal and was lucky a curious employee finally asked me where I was flying to? He arranged for a taxi to rush me to the domestic terminal ($10 US taxi fee for a 1-mile drive) and he demanded a tip for his help. I quickly learned that everybody scrambles (or begs) for money/food in Haiti and they expect ‘rich’ tourists to hand out money like candy! I made it safely to CAP on a small 12-passenger plane that flew right over the Citadelle Laferriere, a large 19th century fortress built on top of a mountain about 17 miles south of CAP. I also noticed that the country is very mountainous and barren. A 6-hr drive would have been very boring – and long!

 During the 5-mile taxi ride to my hotel I wasn’t surprised at the poverty and filth along the route but I was surprised that there were no – I mean NO – nice shops, buildings, etc.? My hotel was the nicest building I saw in the whole city during my 4-day stay. The Hotel Roi Christophe was built in the 18th century but has been updated and is very luxurious by Haitian standards. It was conveniently located near the ocean and close to the city center. I spent the rest of the day and Sat morning walking around the city looking for my mandatory souvenirs (a souvenir teaspoon and silver charm) but I already knew that I wasn’t going to find them in CAP or Haiti.

The entire city is a dump filled with old, dilapidated buildings. There are a few small shops in some buildings but most of the ‘shops’ are stalls in the streets or at the Central Market and sidewalk vendors. The shops and market sell ‘life’ essentials – food, soap, clothes, etc – to locals. There are no souvenir shops. Well, I lie – I found one small corner near the hotel with 3 or 4 stalls that sold local arts and craft – mainly carved wood, etc to tourists. Only local handicrafts (read dust collectors) – no souvenir teaspoons or silver charms. In fact I could not find a jewelry store anywhere in the city?

 Although I did not feel unsafe walking around CAP I did not feel comfortable because I stood out like a Christmas tree with lights – white skin, blonde hair. I was a walking magnet for every local who would approach me and ask (in French/Creole) where I was from and then ask for money. If I had $100 in $1 bills I would have been broke within the 1st hour! I found it frustrating and intimidating not to be able to help. So I walked to the local city gym to pick up my race packet and final instructions and then returned to the hotel. I decided not to leave the hotel again during my stay except for the marathon!

 I ate and drank at the hotel. It had a beautiful restaurant but it also had problems. Half the items on the menu were not available. I tried to order fish for dinner – no fish available so I ordered goat. I hadn’t enjoyed goat since the Sahara Marathon. I ordered a glass of red Chilean wine (cheaper than French wine) – no Chilean wine available? On Sat for lunch I ordered a pizza – no pizza so I ordered spaghetti bolognaise. It was OK so I tried to order it again for pasta dinner that night – no spaghetti bolognaise available? At that point I started to ask what was available on the menu before I ordered.

 I had already decided to stay in the hotel and watch the NFL playoffs. Problem – only 3 channels on the TV in my room. So I went to the lobby where the TV had satellite – sadly the major US networks were blocked! No NFL playoffs! I was not a happy camper. I was able to get status reports and scores on ESPN.

 I requested a wake-up call for 4 am but figured it wouldn’t happen (it didn’t) so I woke up every hour after midnight to check my watch so I could walk to the gym to catch a bus at 5 am to the start. But first I had to find a guard (sleeping in the lobby) to unlock the gate to the compound to let me out. I was first to arrive but shortly other runners started to arrive - a total of 80 runners including 8 (Caucasian) foreign runners. The bus was supposed to leave sharply at 5 am but the bus was too small to accommodate 80 runners so they had to scramble to find a bigger bus. We finally left at 7:30am - 90 minutes after the race was supposed to start! The local runners starting chanting/singing a derogatory song in Creole about the delay and incompetence of the race (organization) and were finally requested to stop. The foreign runners were just riding the wave knowing that we were helpless to the situation. As we drove on an ancient dilapidated bus (worried about whether it would make it to the start line) I became concerned about the amount of traffic and pollution along the course at 8am. I thought the course would be traffic-free on Sun morning? I commented to fellow runners that it was going to be ugly – and dangerous- when we returned to the city later. We drove 42 Km south of CAP although I became concerned that I might have to run my 1st ultra because it seemed that we drove a long time? We stopped at one point and the locals starting getting off the bus but were ordered back on because we had not arrived at the start line. We finally arrived at 8:15 am. – and waited another 30 minutes before the race actually started. It was 8:45 am! We had missed an hour of dark, cool temps and the cooler temps of early morning. It was going to get hot and ugly! There were no distance markers on the course – NONE! However the highway had markers every 5 km. We started at the 35K marker and I located every marker to 10K so had some idea of distance and pace. There were supposed to be water stations every 2 miles but by the time I reached the 2nd one there was no water left. I had wisely anticipated this probability and had worn a belt with a 20 oz. water bottle. And fortunately a race (support) car would pass by every 20 minutes or more and I would get water to fill up my bottle.

 I didn’t bother starting my stop watch. It was a good thing I didn’t need it because my useless heart monitor/watch crapped out again and would only function as a watch. I was hoping it would last a few more races but I will have to junk it and buy a new one before my next race (and only use it for a few races?). I reached 10 Km in 1 hr and 20Km in 1:59. I was surprised that I was doing so well. Since there weren’t enough distance markers I set my strategy to run 40 min and walk 3 min. I kept that cycle until I reached 25Km in 2:40 and then the sun/temps started to get brutal so I reduced the cycle to run 30 min and walk 3 min. Half of the runners were young locals – teenagers and early 20s- who had signed up for free in hopes of winning prize money. By 10Km many started to drop out and hop on buses that served the small towns we ran through. I wondered why there were so many course monitors –every 2 miles? It was to record bib #s every 2 miles to prevent cheating! Another annoying thing I quickly noticed was that all the spectators along the course and in the villages would laugh as I ran by. I had experienced this behavior before in S America and in East Timor. I was the oldest runner in the race and the locals were shocked that such an ‘old man’ would/could run a marathon. Their response was to laugh and make crude remarks in French/Creole that I understood because I understand French. I soon learned to ignore them and point out that there were many young local runners behind me! As I approached 30Km (no more distance markers on the highway) the course started to enter the city and traffic became a problem and danger. There was no traffic control. A that point a young male race volunteer joined me and started to run with me. He was wearing a bright red shirt and directed traffic around us so at least I didn’t have to worry about being run down from behind. I only had to avoid cars, buses, donkey carts, bikes, wheel barrows and street vendors in front of me or approaching from side streets. The other benefit was that he carried bags of water in a back pack and became my portable water station.

 At that point I passed a young couple from Montreal who had succumbed to the heat and were walking (it was now 12:45 pm and the noon sun was beating down on us). They thought they only had about 5 Km left to the finish line. I didn’t have the heart or meanness to tell them that I figured it was at least another 10 to 12 Km to the finish? As I approached what I figured was close to 32K I asked my ‘guide’ how far it was to the finish line. He stated ‘about 4 km”. I knew that was incorrect. I even hoped it was incorrect or I would finish under 4 hrs which meant the course was short? Not knowing how far it was to the finish line started messing with my mind because I couldn’t determine how hard to push myself. And I didn’t want to run a ‘short’ race! So I said “screw it” and reduced my cycle to run 20 min and walk 3 min. After I ran other 4 km we were joined by a UN police jeep that stayed directly behind us to prevent vehicles/traffic from running us down from behind. They stayed with us until the finish line and provided water. I quickly realized that they also had no idea how far it was to the finish line. I kept asking “Combien de kilom├Ętres de la finition”? The answer always seemed to be ‘deux kilometers’! 

When we finally approached a main intersection near the city center I recognized where we were but still had no idea where or how far the finish line was. But I did get a different answer to my question. This time it was “Environ cinq minutes”.  I took a final long rest/walk break so I could run across the finish line in 5:02.

Marathon # 368 and Country # 119. And more importantly I had accomplished my 1st goal – to maintain my WR #4 of completing a marathon in every country in N. America.

 The award ceremonies were already under way –in French/Creole – as I cooled down and after a mandatory finish line photo I walked back to the hotel for a soothing shower. It was already 4 pm! I enjoyed a greasy snack and a beer and decided to enjoy a nap before dinner. I never woke up. I slept until 7am Mon morning!

 After breakfast (I was starving) I walked to the Post Office to mail postcards (the hotel had some) to my family. I was shocked to learn that it cost $300 HG/$7.50 US to mail a card to N America. That is more than many locals make in a week? Needless to say the postcards did not get mailed from Haiti. That is the 1st time I ever had to bring cards home to mail them?

 Finally and HAPPILY it was time to leave. And I was lucky to get on an earlier AA flight in PAP to arrive in Miami 4 hours early. But Uncle Sam took care of that opportunity. I was pulled aside at Immigration (not Customs) and detained for 2 hrs while they checked my biometrics – fingerprints/photo, etc. They didn’t ask a single question or answer a single question that I demanded.  Two hrs later they handed me my passport without an explanation or apology and told me I could go? I am still very pissed about the power and abuse that the government has (and uses arrogantly)! I have been in/out of the country hundreds of times and never experienced that problem/abuse before.

 Now I am trying to forget the “Marathon Trip from Hell”. I felt good during and after the race in spite of the problems and heat so I am ready to start planning my next trip and adventure. I will accomplish goal #2. It is not hard to guess what that is – Country # 120!

 Where? Stay tuned!