Punta Cana Marathon
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Marathon #375 – Country # 124
I first learned of this marathon when fellow members of the Country Club ran the inaugural race in 2014. However I had a conflict with Boston so I decided I would run this race in 2015 – if I was still running? I almost didn’t make it! Remember I ‘retired’ from running in June 2015 after having a pacemaker implanted. I still hadn’t registered for this race in Feb when I ran two ‘trial’ marathons in the Middle East because I wanted to see if my old bod could still survive a marathon?
The two trial marathons did not go well. I struggled through both races and decided that marathons were no longer easy or fun to run. However I wanted to round my total country number off at 125 so I needed two more countries. One of those countries needed to be the Dominican Republic so that I could maintain my claim of completing a marathon in every country in North America.
My training after the Middle East marathons was not good – my pace slowed down and I had difficulty running more than 10 miles without walking? My longest training run for this race was 16 miles of run/walk. But that was enough to convince me that I could run/walk a marathon.
A few weeks before the race my training seemed to degrade even more? I found out why a few days before leaving for the DR. My cardiologist called to inform me that my heart had been in A-fib for the past week! My pacemaker is monitored 24 X 7 by a wireless monitor located at home and it automatically sends data to a control center that notifies the cardiologist when there is a problem.
I arrived in Punta Cana on Fri afternoon and met up with a friend from the Country Club. Klaus is from Germany and was running country # 93. He plans to reach 100 countries this year and may well be the runner that breaks my World Record. He is only 57 – heck I didn’t even start running countries until I retired at age 54!
Punta Cana is located on the northeast tip of DR. It is a pretty area with beautiful beaches. There are lots of luxury resorts located on the beaches. But Punta Cana Village is located near the airport and a few miles from the beaches? Our hotel was located across from the Blue Mall in Punta Cana Village because the race started/finished in front of the hotel. The hotel provided shuttle service to a public beach (Playa Blanca) and a few of the resorts. The beaches are beautiful but the areas away from the beaches are not! The interior is scrub vegetation and not pretty! And the roads are built so that you can’t see any beaches or coast from the roads? The resorts are located at the ends of side roads so that it is difficult to walk between resorts – a car is necessary! And prices are very high! The resorts are very expensive and meals at the resorts and even in the Village are equivalent to big-city prices in the US? I assume that most tourists purchase cheap all-inclusive vacations at resorts - otherwise it would be an expensive vacation? The main activities are beach, water activities and golf. If you don’t like vegetating on a beach for the entire day then you probably won’t like Punta Cana?
On Sat Klaus and I picked up our race packets. The race director had kindly reserved Bib # 124 for Maddog. I needed to buy my mandatory souvenirs but there was a problem. There were no souvenir shops in the hotel or Village? I couldn’t even find postcards? The concierge arranged for a tourist shop to send a car to pick me up and take me to the shop. I was able to buy all my souvenirs except postcards? No postcards at a souvenir shop? Then they drove me back to the hotel. Later Klaus and I took a hotel shuttle to Playa Blanca to explore the beach. It is a beautiful beach and the water is clear and multi colors of green and blue. The sand is white and soft. However the water is shallow with lots of grass/weeds that would not be nice to walk through. We were able to walk along the beach to the Westin Resort – a luxury resort – where we found a gift shop with postcards – and stamps! It cost $3 per postcard (with stamp) – proof that things are not cheap in DR! One hour was all we needed to explore the beaches and buy our postcards. It was too damn HOT to stay on the beach! We returned to the comfort of our air conditioned room to watch the Masters Golf tournament.
Sun was ‘M’ – day! The race started at 5 am to enjoy a few hours of dark and cool temps. It was a cool 75 F and 85 % humidity at 5am! There were about 300 runners running the Marathon & a Half. Both races shared a half marathon loop so we marathoners got to enjoy the course twice! Since water stations were located every 2 Km my strategy was to run between stations and then stop and walk for 30 secs. I figured there was going to be a lot of walking involved so I might as well start early to try to delay the point where I would have to do a lot of walking? When I passed 3Km in 21.08 and a split of 7:09/km (11 min/mile) I was in last place - in both races! That was discouraging for Maddog but there was nothing I could do about it since I was running as fast as I could! I finally caught up to a young runner –about half my age – near 16Km. As I passed him I could tell by his race number that he was running the Half. However he didn’t like being passed by an ‘old fart’ (probably older than his Dad) so he sprinted by me! I wasn’t going to get into a race with someone half my age and besides I liked following him because I just watched him and didn’t have to focus on the course markers. However by 18Km he faded and I cruised by him. By then we started to catch other half-marathoners who were walking and also 10 K runners. The race became very confusing – I wasn’t sure if I was on the right course? Fortunately I soon reached the 20Km marker in 2:22:48 and a split of 7:10/km. I reached the start/finish line or Half in 2:31 and started my 2nd loop. I knew that the 2nd half would not be that fast or easy because the sun was up and it was getting HOT! At 22Km I passed another runner – hallelujah – I was no longer in last place! I passed three more runners in the next few kms and caught Klaus at 25 Km. He had started fast to cover as much distance as possible before the sun came up but was now paying the price! We talked for a few minutes and I continued to cruise by him. Surprisingly I was still feeling pretty good? My strategy was working so far but I figured it would get ugly after 32Km? I had already decided that WHEN that happened I would just run 1 Km and walk 30 secs.
When I reached a water station at 31Km in 3:48:40 my legs started to feel heavy and tired and my pace had slowed to 8:20/Km (13 min/mile). And I was baking! I started to pour cold water over my neck and head in an attempt to cool down. I figured I would have to walk again at 32Km. Strangely when I passed 32 Km my legs had recovered – I felt OK so I kept cruising to the next water station? As I passed 38Km in 4:449:04 my split had slowed further to 8:49/Km but I was still moving! A race support car pulled alongside and dropped off a young kid who stated that he would escort me to the finish line. I looked at him and said “OK – whatever – good luck”! He couldn’t stay with me and when I stopped at the water station at 39Km for a good cool soak and drink a cyclist joined me. He was half my age and in good shape! He informed me that he was training for the Chicago Marathon and he biked and ran the last 3 Km with me. I was the oldest runner in the race (by many years) and I think they were worried whether ‘Pappy’ could finish? There was a problem/confusion with distance markers over the last 4Km and I wasn’t sure how far it was to the finish line and I found that discouraging. Finally I reached 41Km in 5:16:35 and my ‘supporter’ encouraged me to ‘go for it’ and break 5:30. I didn’t really push the pace until I reached 42Km and could see the finish clock was still under 5:30. I sprinted the final 285 yards – my fastest 285 yards of the race – to finish in 5:28:47!!!
I was very pleased with my time and performance. I hadn’t really struggled during the race and had been able to stick to my strategy of ‘run 2Km and walk 30 secs’. I will try that strategy again in my next race.
I walked to the hotel to get my camera and wait for Klaus to finish in 5:48. We took the mandatory finish line photos and then the race director made a public announcement about the two ‘celebrities who had just finished – and we were besieged by local runners wanting to pose with us for photos! Finally we were able to escape and return to the hotel for a shower and rest.
Later we enjoyed a light snack and a few beer before Klaus headed to the airport for his return home. I had booked an extra night in Punta Cana – believing there might be some fun things to see and do? Instead I stayed in the hotel room and watched the Masters again. It was too damn HOT to go outside!
But whether I run any more races beyond that will depend not only on that upcoming race but also what the cardiologist says next week!