Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TR Palau

Apr 5 - 10/17


Palau Marathon
Koror, Palau
Sat, Apr 8, 2017
Marathon # 383
Country # 132

 Some of my readers may recall that there seems to be a trip report missing?


 My announced plans called for a marathon in the Seychelles at the end of Feb.

 Never happened for Maddog!

 A few days after the previous marathon in St Lucia in early Feb, I noticed that I was struggling just to run a few miles? At first I thought I was just tired from the tough marathon in the tropical heat. However, after a few more days I realized that it was more than that. I couldn’t run more than a few minutes before becoming totally fatigued and short-of-breath. I had a good idea what the problem was but preferred to go into denial and keep thinking that “I was tired”. Finally, I had to come out of denial, and call my cardiologist, and tell him that I believed my heart was in A-fib again. He asked me to come into the office that day and an EKG quickly conformed that I was right – unfortunately!

 I was supposed to depart that weekend for Africa but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I had to go to the hospital for another cardio version! The cardiologist jump started my heart back into rhythm and advised me NOT to go to the Seychelles and NOT to run the marathon. For one of the few times in my life, I decided to follow his advice and reluctantly cancelled the trip.

 A few days after the procedure, I felt much better and was able to run again without suffering fatigue, etc.  Since the next marathon wasn’t scheduled until early April, I figured I should be OK to run that race? To increase my chances and reduce stress on the heart, I even stopped drinking alcohol and resolved to stay ‘on the wagon’ until I completed my next marathon. That race was important to me, and I didn’t want to miss it!

 My health and conditioning improved quickly, and I was confident I would be able to run the marathon in Palau. I never ran a training run longer than 12 miles because I didn’t want to stress my heart. I figured this would eventually impact my performance in the marathon but I would deal with that on race day.

 So I kept my plans and departed for Palau on Wed, Apr 5/17. I selected the fastest route from Tampa but it required 4 flights- TPA/IAH/HNL/GUM/ROR.  Unbeknownst to me UA uses old/crappy planes on this route and the service is terrible! No meals on 7 & 8 hr flights, and entertainment is available only on personal devices – or UA will rent you a tablet for $15 on each flight? What a rip off! Avoid UA and these flights if you run Palau!

 However, I did arrive safely and on time 25 hrs after leaving Tampa. When I departed the airport in Palau at 9pm, it felt like I was walking into a steam bath! Oh joy! This race was going to be so much fun!

Since Palau is 13hrs ahead of EST/Sarasota time, my body clock was totally messed up, and I was wide awake when I tried to sleep at 11pm. I got up and went for a walk in the steam bath, and discovered that Koror was a ghost town at midnight? Koror is very small – one short main street – with a population of 11,000 people. Palau only has a total population of 20,000 people, and there is nothing to see or do other than diving and snorkeling.

 After a few hours of sleep and rest I finally got up at 7am and ate an early breakfast. The sun was up and it was HOT! Oh goody – I should be on the final 10K of the marathon about this time. Since shops don’t open until 10am, I had to go back to bed and wait to do the shopping for my mandatory souvenirs. I was actually surprised that I was able to find everything. Now I was bored and there was nothing to do – and it was too HOT to go outside!

 My friends and fellow Country Club members had arrived in the wee hours of the morning so they slept most of the day and we got together later that day. We went for an early dinner and then I went to bed and slept for 5 hrs since we had to meet at packet pick-up at 12:30am on Sat. The Race Director arranged for a car to pick us up and drive us to the pick-up point located at the 20-mile point of the marathon and start line of the 10K race.

 There were 10 runners in the marathon and 5 of those were CC members! There were no local runners in the marathon. After picking up our race bibs, marathoners were driven 20 miles north into the country on Babeldaob Island. It was isolated with few houses and lights. The course was hilly with several BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) and it was dark. Thankfully I had brought a headlamp. Without one it would have been difficult and dangerous to run.

 After taking a group photo of the CC members, the marathon started on time at 2am. Instead of water stations there were 4 support vehicles that cruised the course, and provided water and support. There was no traffic other than the support vehicles so that part of the course was safe. One minor complaint was that were no distance markers, and none of the volunteers had any idea of distances along the course. The only markers were the Shell gas station (packet pick-up at 20 miles), and the finish line!

 Although it was HOT – about 80F at the start – the humidity was lower than expected so we didn’t feel too hot or overheated at the start.  But we felt the hills right from the start. There were several hills. My pre-race strategy was to use a cycle of run 7 min/walk 2 min. However, the hills rendered that strategy useless! So I changed my strategy to run 2 min/walk 2min on the uphills, and run 10min/walk2min on the downhills.

I became frustrated when I couldn’t determine what my pace was and how far it was to the Shell station (20M).  When I reached what I figured was the Half I asked a few volunteers,”how far to the gas station”.  One answered “about 10miles” and another answered “about 5 miles”. Great! And that point, that I later learned was the start of mile 13, was the start of the baddest BAH on the course! That BAH climbed relentlessly for over 1 mile. I thought it would never end? Thankfully, we were rewarded with a long gradual decline on the other side where I ran my fastest mile of the race.

 The sun rose at 6am, and I turned off my headlamp. I still had no idea how far it was to the gas station but I was hoping to reach it by 6:30am? At 6:30am I still couldn’t see the station, and one volunteer told me it was still about 3 miles away. I hope not because I am starting to tire, and if the 20M mark is still 3 more miles, the final 10K is going to be UGLY!

I finally reached the station (20M) in 4:50 (6:50am). And my legs were done!
After passing the Shell station, I had to cross the Japan/Palau Friendship Bridge, and causeway connecting Babeldaob Island to Koror Island. I hit the ’Wall’ at the top of the bridge. My legs were completely dead due to the lack of long training runs. I hoped to shorten the run cycle to ‘run 2 min/walk2 min’, but on the causeway my back tightened and locked up. I was in severe pain! Around 22 miles the pain became so severe that I could not run! l laid on the side of the road, and asked a volunteer to help me stretch my back to see if I could get it to relax and loosen up. However, that stretch caused my left adductor to cramp and lock up. I was screwed! Now I couldn’t even walk without pain. I would have to walk/crawl the final 4 miles because dropping out was not an option!

By mile 23, the back pain was so severe that I could barely walk. Luckily a support vehicle was following me and I asked for an ice pack. The volunteers made an ice pack from a latex medical glove filled with ice cubes, and strapped it to my back. The back cramp still wouldn’t release but the ice did decrease the pain enough so that I could walk again. By now I was walking down the Main Street of Koror with lots of traffic, and no traffic control. It was HOT – mid 80s, the humidity was high, and there was no shade from the sun! And I still had 3 miles of absolute misery and agony to go!

The improvised ice packs helped to keep me struggling/crawling along. Mile 25 was an absolute bitch! One mile up a steep BAH (Bad Ass Hill). At the top of the BAH I had nothing left, and I asked the volunteers to lie to me and tell me the finish line was close. So they did lie to me! They told me I had “less than 1 mile to the finish line”. It was the longest, most painful ‘less than 1 mile’ I ever struggled through. But finally, I could see the Palau Pacific Resort. I stopped and thanked my support team. Without their support and ice packs I would never have made it through the final 5K! I struggled across the finish line in 7:01 – a new PW (Personal Worst). And I didn’t care!

I finished Country # 132 – a new WR and country # 9 in Oceania – another WR. I shared the old WR of 8 countries with my good friend and mentor Wally Herman for many years.
I waited with other CC members for the last CC member to finish. Sadly, Klaus was suffering from a groin injury from his previous marathon and it flared up, and he had to drop out. That really sucked – to spend so much money to travel all the way to Palau and get a DNF!

The race organization had a nice award ceremony and breakfast after the race. Many runners enjoyed the private beach at the Pacific Resort. I preferred to return to my hotel for a hot shower, and then go next door for a massage. $25 for a 1-hr massage, and the masseuse was able to get my back to release and relax. The pain was finally gone!

That evening the Track and Field Federation in Palau invited the CC members to dinner, and treated us to a nice dinner and drinks (I finally had a beer after 1 month on the wagon). We had some good discussions and learned a lot about Palau. Regis Akitaya, the President of the Track Federation, and also a Senator in the government, indicated that he would take us on a tour on Sun.
On Sun morning a driver picked Klaus and I up, and we met with Regis for a nice lunch and a few beers.  We discussed the race, and how to improve and make it larger. Regis also gave us some interesting facts about the economy and politics of Palau. Then he had a driver drive us around the big island of Babeldaob.

We retraced the first 20 miles of the course so we could see the BAHs in daylight. The BAH at mile 13 looked as bad as it felt the day before. We continued on the road to the Capital Building. What a sight and what a boondoggle! The government built a new Capital Building in the boonies and moved the capital from Koror. It is probably the nicest building in the country – looks a bit like the US capital. The plan/hope was that a new town would develop around the new Capital, but 10 years later the Capital still sits all by itself! The only community near the Capital is a small native village (200 people) that has been located on the coast nearby for more than 100 years!
We continued on around the big island for about another 25 miles past the airport, and completed the loop back at the Shell station and Friendship Bridge. It was an interesting tour. We saw the capital and visited a few of the old local villages. But the only civilization and development of Babeldaob are the Capital, the airport and a few native villages with a total population of a few thousand people?  The town of Koror wants the Track Federation to move the marathon out of Koror (only the final 10K is actually in Koror). They could hold the entire race on the big island where there is less/no traffic except near the airport?

After a nice dinner Klaus and I slept for a few hours since our flights departed after midnight. We were ready to leave.
The locals and the officials of the Track Federation were friendly and hospitable. We were treated graciously – but we were ready to leave!

After two PWs in a row, I believe it is time to take a long rest/sabbatical from running and marathons. I do not want to train through the hot Florida summer. I will evaluate my plans for running and marathon goals later this year!
Photos of the marathon and Palau can be viewed in an album titled ‘Palau’ on Maddog’s photo website.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017

TR St Lucia

St Lucia
Jan 31 – Feb 4/17

Race Results:
Thu, Feb 2, 2017
Pitons Peak Marathon
Castries, St Lucia
Marathon # 382 – Country # 131

 This would be my 2nd attempt at running a marathon on one of the Caribbean Cruise Adventure tours organized by my friend Ziyad Rahim of Z Adventures.

 I participated in the 1st WCC (Western Caribbean Cruise) two years ago and sadly did not finish (DNF) in Honduras. I had health issues during that race and knew I could not finish in time to make the ship departure so I wisely withdrew from the race. This time, I decided to fly to St Lucia and join the tour group to run the race. This would allow me as much time as needed to finish the marathon.

 Since the ‘retired’ Sports Manager - aka Nicole’s - birthday was on Feb 3, I invited her to come along so we could run a marathon, celebrate her birthday and explore St Lucia. I was pleasantly surprised when she agreed to go along?

 We arrived in St Lucia on Jan 31. Hewanorra Airport is located near Vieux Fort on the southern tip of the island. Our hotel was located in Rodney Bay near the northern tip of St Lucia. It is only 70 Km but the roads are narrow, 2-lane and in poor shape. And cars drive on the left (wrong) side of the road! The max speed limit on the island is 40mph and it is difficult to reach that limit due to the condition of the roads and the many curves and hills. The entire island is mountainous with only a few areas/villages located on flat sections.

 We reached the capital city, Castries, in 90 minutes and 15 minutes later arrived at the Bay Garden Hotel in Rodney Bay. Rodney Bay has many upscale/luxury houses/condos and lots of good restaurants & shops and the only luxury Mall on the island. Even though the marathon was held in Castries I figured (luckily & wisely) that we would enjoy staying in Rodney Bay more. Castries is dirty, congested and just not nice!

 After checking in, we walked to the Mall to buy water/beer/wine/soda etc. and then explored the area around the hotel. Since it was dark and we were tired, we enjoyed Happy Hour and dinner at the hotel.

 On Wed. I drove into Castries to find the start line for the race. Most of the runners were on the cruise ship, and would be shuttled from the cruise terminal to the start line. The marathon course was an 800m loop located on a flat road next to the runway of the city airport. It was a dead-end road with not much traffic. An out-and-back loop measured 1.6Km or 1 mile and that meant 26 loops! After checking out the course I drove over to the cruise terminal to shop for my mandatory souvenirs. At least that part was easy, and I found all souvenirs within one hour. It’s usually not that easy or quick.

 After returning to the hotel, Nicole and I decided to check out the Garden Bay Beach Resort located on the beach in Rodney Bay. As part of our hotel group, we had access to the Beach Resort and its beach/restaurants/bars/spa. They even provided a shuttle to the resort which was about 1 mile from the hotel. The Beach resort was nice but not worth the price – twice the cost of the hotel and if you include an all-inclusive package it was four times the price of our hotel! We checked out the restaurants at the resort, and nearby, for a nice birthday dinner later in the week. We found a small Italian restaurant for a nice/quiet pasta dinner to prepare for the race.

 Thursday was ‘M’ day. An unusual day for a marathon – but then again the cruise members would run 6 marathons in 7 days – one marathon at each port where the ship stopped! Thankfully, I left the hotel early to make sure I would arrive with lots of time for last-minute preparations for the race. It took 45 minutes to drive 5 miles into Castries in the morning rush hour! I only had about 15 minutes to get ready before the runners from the cruise ship arrived by shuttle. Another friend, Rich, from NC had also flown into St Lucia and he was already at the start line.

 Of course we had to take photos of the Country Club members (there were 8 members) and other runners, etc. and finally the race started at 9am. It was HOT!

 Normally, a marathon in the Caribbean will start at 4 or 5am to take advantage of the dark and cooler temps. But the SCC is limited by the ship schedule. Since the ship arrives in most ports around 7/8 am the race must start at 8/9am which means everyone must run in the hottest part of the day. It was brutal!

Since I did not have to worry about a time limit like the cruise members who had to be back on the ship by 4pm, I decided I would run slow & easy. I started with a strategy of ‘run 7min/walk 1min’ that allowed me to complete a (1 mile) loop in 13/14 min. Since we all had to run 26+ loops (or 52 laps of the 800m loop) we had a benefit of meeting/greeting each other often. I even managed to run/walk a few loops with my friends from the Country Club. However, after a few hours in the heat, the conversations and cheers started to diminish? Thank goodness half of the 800m loop was shaded. There was no shade at each end and that part of the course was like running in a sauna.
Z had organized the race with help from the St Lucia Tourist Bureau who provided police support (for traffic), Red Cross (thankfully not needed), and there was one water table set up at the start/finish line.

 By the time I reached the Half in 2:56:40 my loop interval had increased to 15 minutes. I had already been lapped by most of the runners – but I didn’t care! At 16 miles my loop interval had slowed to 17 min/mile. My legs were shot due to a lack of training because of a nasty cold I picked up on the way home from Qatar in Dec. Apparently, many of my friends had suffered the same cold with the same symptoms and results – a lack of energy to train/run.  My cycle dropped to ‘run 5min/walk 2min’ and I hoped I could maintain that cycle until 20 miles, and then I could walk the final 10Km if necessary?

 When I passed 20 miles in 5:01:16, my loop interval had slowed to 19 min/mile and I was struggling to hold that! The heat was brutal. Most of my friends and other runners had already finished the race. There were only about five of us left on the course! I tried to run/walk but now there was more running than walking. At that point I no longer cared – I just wanted to finish!

 At 24 miles my left abductor started to cramp, and I was concerned about it locking up which would mean a painful final 2 miles, so I stopped to massage and stretch the abductor to get it to relax. I decided I would walk the final 2 miles to prevent the leg from cramping. When I returned to the start line at 25 miles, the last of the cruise members were departing for the ship. They felt bad that they had to leave me alone on the course, but I told them to go since I would have to walk the final mile, and that would take about 20 minutes.

 Fortunately, there was still a local race volunteer who was accompanying me on a bike, and he stayed with me until I crossed the finish line in 6:51:08. A new PW (Personal Worst) for me for a road marathon! I am not sure how much longer (or how many marathons) I can (or want to) run if this is going to become the norm?

But at least I finished marathon # 382 and country #131!  And I completed a marathon for my 36th consecutive year!
I returned to the hotel for a cool shower. I figured a cold beer would be good but it tasted terrible.  I felt really bad. I had not eaten all day but couldn’t stand the thought of food. There was a free ‘rum punch’ party at the hotel before dinner. I drank one. It tasted terrible! And I still felt crappy, so I went to bed without dinner or any food that day – and slept 12 hours! I felt alive again in the morning, and enjoyed a huge breakfast.

 Nicole and I decided to explore the island. We drove to the northern tip passing through Gris Islet where the locals live. A stark contrast to Rodney Bay. Then we drove to Soufriere on the southwest coast. Soufriere is a small fishing village nestled at the foot of the Piton Peaks. Outside of town there is a Nature Reserve with a Botanical Garden with waterfalls – and a volcano. It is a very scenic area of the island – but a bitch to get to! The roads are in terrible shape with potholes large enough to lose a car. There is no flat coastline so the roads go up/down/over/around Mountains. Nicole became so car sick that when we arrived in Soufriere she was unable to eat lunch at the Petit Peak Restaurant. We did walk around Soufriere for a few minutes, and then decided to skip the Nature Reserve and head back to our hotel to rest and prepare for dinner.

 The drive back didn’t seem to be as bad, so Nicole was able to recover, and enjoy a nice birthday dinner at a French restaurant (Jacques) overlooking the Rodney Bay Marina.

 On Sat (our last day), we enjoyed another great breakfast and then headed south again to the airport on the east coast. We figured we should give ourselves lots of time for the drive, and we could drive past the airport to explore Vieux Port, and enjoy a nice lunch before arriving at the airport. Vieux Port was a surprise and disappointment! It is a small, poor village strictly for locals. We were certainly out of place but nobody bothered us. However, we quickly retreated back towards the airport to find a nice restaurant located on a beach, and enjoyed a leisurely lunch and a few beers.

 We were glad we had stopped at that restaurant. The airport was a zoo with four airplanes departing for the USA between 3 to 4pm? There was no room to sit at the gates, and no seats available at the two bars/restaurants! But we made it on our plane and landed in Tampa at midnight. Arrived home at 2am knowing that we were hosting a Super Bowl party later that day!

 I have two more marathons booked – one more in Feb and another in April. Both in tropical (HOT) climates! I hope they go better than this last one? I have no plans for another marathon after April!

 Photos of the marathon and St Lucia can be viewed in an album titled St Lucia on Maddog's photo website.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

TR Qatar

Dec 13 - 17/16

Race Results:
Fri, Dec 16, 2016
Education City Marathon
Doha, Qatar
Marathon # 381 – Country #130

After my two previous ‘comeback’ marathons and a few weeks of additional training I was feeling confident that I could complete my unfinished goal to run 130 countries! My only concern was that this race would start at 2am on Fri and I haven’t run a marathon during the night in many years.

The marathon was part of series of races called the ‘Qatar Running Series’ organized and directed by a friend Ziyad Rahim. There is usually a variety of race distances included in each event. The shorter distances start at 6 or 7am, however, the marathoners liked to start the marathon during the dark and coolest hours of the day since temps can reach 50C during the summer months.

I chose this race and country because of a 2nd goal I had – to run my 24th letter of the alphabet – ‘Q’.

After 27 hrs of flights and airports I arrived in Doha on Wed night and proceeded to my hotel in the old town near the Corniche. I was hungry so I explored the area near the hotel and was able to find a small local fast-food restaurant that offered a ½ BBQ chicken for 2QR (about $7 US). It seemed that no matter where I walked or looked there was new construction happening everywhere?

Since the race was in the wee hours of Fri morning I wasn’t sure how tired I might be after the race so I decided I should do a tour of Doha on Thu. I was surprised to learn that there was a hop on/hop off bus and I took the tour and stayed on the bus for a 2 ½ hr loop of most of the interesting/tourist sites around Doha.

I started the tour at the Souq Waqif (the standing market) – the oldest Souq in Doha with a camel Souq/Arabian horse Souq/ Bird Souq/Falcon Souq and of course lots of food and arts and crafts. It was also the place to go in Old Town at night because there were lots of fine restaurants. No bars! Alcohol is only available at luxury Western Hotels.

The tour then took us along the Corniche – a 7Km route along the Persian Gulf with great views of downtown Doha on the opposite side of a bay. We stopped at the Museum of Islamic Art, a majestic building designed by I M Pei. We drove through and around the city center and West Bay with interesting/spectacular architecture, luxury malls and Western Hotels. It looks like a small version of Dubai with each new building trying to outdo the older ones. There are building cranes everywhere.
Next was a stop at Katara, a cultural village, being built as both a cultural center and tourist attraction.
Then we continued on to the Pearl – an artificial island with luxury shops/restaurants and freehold condos that can be purchased by foreign nationals. It is similar to ‘Palm Island’ in Dubai. On the way back to the city center we passed the Lagoona or Zig Zag Towers.

I stayed on the bus as it headed past a new National Museum being built and returned to Souq Waqif to hunt for my mandatory souvenirs. I was lucky. I found everything with 1 hour. That doesn’t happen often?
Qatar in many ways is imitating Dubai in that they are using their current vast oil revenues to build new infrastructure and businesses that will support an economy without oil? Doha is smaller and the population of Qatar is small so they are able to plan and build a better road system and they are also building a subway and light rail system to connect the rest of the country. There are only 2 million inhabitants in Qatar and 80% live in Doha. Only 40% of the population are Qatari. The rest are migrant workers and they cannot obtain citizenship. Qatar strictly controls their population and they ‘assume’ that eventually most of the foreign workers will not be needed and will be sent home?

I am doubtful about this strategy the same way I am doubtful about Dubai?
The tour is over and I have a rough idea of the layout of the city. Now it is time to think about the race. Should I stay up all night and run the race – or should I eat an early dinner and try to catch 5 or 6 hrs of sleep before Ziyad picks me up at the hotel? I opt for some sleep and am waiting in the lobby at 1am.
We drive out to Education City, a new area of Doha being built as an education center with renowned colleges from around the world setting up remote campuses. Everything is new and the architecture and landscaping is spectacular! I was concerned about running in the dark. Silly concern! The entire complex is powered by solar and wind power and it lit up like a Christmas tree.
The races start/finish in a sports venue that has an 800-meter cushioned track on a lower level that passes under waterfalls and a 1-Km upper level that looks down on the lower level. Ziyad explains that marathon course is a 7Km loop that starts with a loop around both the lower and upper levels of this sports venue before it goes out into the campus. He drives me along that 1.7 Km loop to show me a few turns and the final turn-around at 3.5KM. We then return to the sports venue and repeat the same two loops in the venue to finish the 7Km loop. We only have to do this SIX times!
I had planned to run in a race singlet but it was chilly and I had to wear a throw-away T-shirt over the singlet to start the race. There were 13 runners registered for the marathon but only 10 started/finished. Six runners started at 2am and the rest started an hour later. It didn’t matter. Even the runners who started later lapped me, and I finished in last place. The winner lapped me three times and finished the marathon before I finished my 1st half! I had hoped to finish the marathon under 6 hrs but when I crossed the Half in 2:59:28 I knew that wasn’t going to happen! But at least I had people to cheer for throughout the entire race as we passed each other many times.
Because there were no volunteers along the course until 5pm I decided to carry a water bottle to make sure I would always have water. That was OK but the water belt seemed to stress my lower back and hips and by the 3rd loop my hips were very tight and sore. I had to stop for 2 or 3 minutes on every loop to stretch to reduce the stiffness and soreness.
At 6am the Half marathon started and there were volunteers at all the water stops and I had more runners lapping me all the time. But at least I wasn’t alone!

At the end of the 5th loop it had finally warmed up enough that I took off the throw-away shirt and also removed that burdensome water belt. The final loop was my most comfortable loop and I crossed the finish line in 6:12:35.

Not a great time or performance! But I had completed marathon # 381 and Country # 130 and completed my unfinished goal to run 130 countries!

I also completed my 24th letter of the alphabet “Q’. Any goal to complete the alphabet will remain unfinished. No country starts with the letter ‘X’ and ‘Y’= Yemen is not likely to happen in my lifetime! The only person in the world to complete 25 letters is my good friend and mentor, Wally Herman, who ran ‘Y’= Yugoslavia.

I did make it across the finish line in time to enjoy the award ceremonies and receive a special award for completed country #130 – a new World Record!

After the awards, one of the runners, an expat teacher from Canada kindly offered me a lift back to my hotel. I was able to ask her about her thoughts and experience of living in Qatar. Most expats like the high salary with no tax, free accommodations and a free transportation home once each year.

I actually made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy their great breakfast buffet and then enjoy a long hot soak in the tub. I decided to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up later, things started to go downhill rapidly! I felt terrible? My head was stuffy, my stomach was queasy and I was starting to cough?

I figured I should walk over to a Western Hotel near the Corniche and enjoy a beer. When I stepped outside the weather was colder and more miserable than during the race. But I ordered a $10 beer at Happy Hour – and it tasted terrible! No sense spending another $10 on something that tastes so terrible.
I wanted to eat a nice dinner – steak/seafood but that meant taking a taxi or walking to the Souq Waqif and I wasn’t feeling well enough for that. So I went to bed early without dinner and immediately started to suffer from high fever/hot & cold sweats/hallucinations and constant coughing. This continued all night and I was sick camper as I boarded my 1st flight to London the next morning.

I won’t bore you with how tough and miserable that trip home was but I finally arrived home at midnight on Sun and immediately collapsed into bed. Once again the fever, etc continued. I was unable to get out of bed until Wed!

I think the cold/flu bug has broken but I had a lot of time to consider whether I want to risk another long international trip and illness?

I am going to take my time thinking about that.

So, will there be any more marathons/countries? I would have answered ‘probably’ one week ago but now I am not so sure.

Stay tuned!

Photos of Doha and Qatar are available in an album titled 'Qatar' on Maddog's photo website https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Qatar/

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TR Kuwait

Nov 16 – 20/16

Race Results:
Sat, Nov 19, 2016
Gulf Bank 642 Marathon
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Marathon # 380 – Country # 129

After running my first marathon in almost one year, I was feeling a wee bit more confident about running this race. It was a good thing since they had lowered the time limit to 6 hours from the 6:30 posted on the website.

I was a bit surprised that it took over 6 hours to fly from Beirut to Kuwait City (with a 1-hr layover in Bahrain)? However, I arrived in Kuwait City (KC) in time to catch a taxi to a hotel downtown and then walk around for a while to find dinner. I had booked a cheap(er) hotel downtown since my friend/roommate Edson wouldn’t arrive until Thu and western hotels are expensive in KC.

I quickly realized that nothing is cheap in Kuwait. The downtown area I was staying in, was full of restaurants – but no bars since alcohol is forbidden in Kuwait! And the area was crowded with Indians/Pakistanis who are the workers in the country! The Souqs were still open and I was able to find the Gold Souq and start looking for a charm for Nicole’s bracelet. I seemed to be on a good roll?

After a $15 hamburger at an outdoor cafĂ© I retreated to bed. The next morning I returned to the Souqs to buy a charm but that was the only souvenir I was able to find? I tried to follow directions from the desk clerk to a post office and after getting lost many times and asking for more directions I finally found it only to discover that it didn’t open until 1 pm?

So I packed and moved to the Marriott Hotel which was located closer to the start/finish line but not really convenient to downtown. My friends and fellow members of the Country Club arrived later.
On Sat morning, we shared a taxi to the Souqs and explored all the shops trying to find the rest of my mandatory souvenirs. I quickly determined that a souvenir teaspoon didn’t exist in KC? So I bought a package of stainless steel teaspoons (real ones use to serve tea) figuring I could have one engraved with ‘Kuwait”. Hey – sometimes it is necessary to be resourceful! Kuwait is definitely NOT a tourist destination! There are very few souvenir shops and souvenirs.

Later Edson, Brent & I walked over to the Souq Sharq (a luxury mall similar to any mall in the USA) to pick up our race packets and last-minute information. Luckily I noticed post cards in a tobacco/magazine shop. They were the only post cards I found in the entire country (except at the airport on my departure). Of course, I couldn’t mail them from Kuwait since the post office was now closed, and didn’t open again before I left.

Edson & I walked along the beach on the Persian Gulf to enjoy some of the upscale restaurants located on the beach and a view of the Kuwait Towers - a group of three slender towers that symbolizes Kuwait’s economic resurgence and also World cultural as well as touristic landmark. The Towers serve as a water reservoir for KC. At night they light up with colorful images of the Kuwait flag and other images.
Kuwait is very modern and affluent. It was such a contrast to Beirut!

Sat was M-day.  The start/finish line was at the Souq Sharq.  There were several races of different lengths and unfortunately they all started at the same time and place. Thus I was forced to sneak up close to the front (still behind baby strollers, etc) so that I wouldn’t be delayed too long at the start. The weather was going to be sunny and warmer than expected so I was concerned about how much the heat would slow me down?

The first section of the race had runners from all races but by the time we passed by the Grand Mosque and through the Souqs downtown we only shared the roads with half-marathoners. We returned to the Souq Mall around 14Km. I reached that point in 1:45:39 and a split of 7:38. The run/walk strategy I used in Beirut had worked well so I stuck with it – walk 2 min and then run to the next KM marker. It was already HOT when I started the first of 4 loops along the Gulf, out past the Kuwait Towers and back. Each loop was 7Km so we had to complete 4 loops. The KM markers were not accurate and that messed up my interval times.

I passed the Half in 2:42:10 and a split of 6:21 (a short KM marker). By the time I passed 30Km in 3:55:34 and a split of 8:24/Km it was HOT! I kept meeting friends at various points along the loop and we were able to cheer each other on.

When I finally reached the 42Km marker I was frustrated because I knew it was grossly inaccurate! It took me 8:34 to run the final 200 meters? Clearly the last 200m was closer to 1Km?

But I crossed the finish line in 5:44:01! Marathon # 380 and Country # 129! Only one more country to go to complete my original goal of 130 countries!

Edson & I walked back to the hotel for a hot shower and then we joined our other friends Brent & Sue for a quick snack – but no beer - before going to bed! We had to leave for the airport at midnight and needed to catch at least 5 or 6 hours of sleep before starting the long 29-hr journey home. Edson had to be at work on Mon and I had to get home to spend time with Jason, Ami and my two Princesses Priya and Mira who were visiting for Thanksgiving.

I managed to catch lots of sleep on the flights so I actually felt OK when I arrived home at midnight on Sun.

Unfortunately, I caught a cold on the flight home (or I accuse Jason of giving it to me), and that has reduced the amount of training I have been able to do. But I need to ramp up my miles again to prepare for my next adventure in Mid –Dec.

Stay tuned!

Photos of the marathon and Kuwait City are available in an album titled Kuwait on Maddog’s photo website: https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Kuwait/

TR Lebanon

                                                                         TRIP REPORT
                                                                          Nov 10 - 16/16

Race results:
Sun, Nov 13, 2016
Blom Bank Beirut Marathon
Beirut, Lebanon
Marathon # 379 – Country # 128

Where to start? It has been so long since I last wrote a race/trip report. I never planned to write another one?

However, in Sept I helped organize a marathon in San Marino for the Country Club, and it was important that I attend the race to host an annual meeting for the Club. I volunteered to help at the race, and as I watched my friends compete and enjoy themselves, I realized how much I missed the competition/participation and camaraderie with my friends. Since I was also unhappy/unsatisfied with not completing my original goal of completing 130 countries, I decided to ‘unretire’ and complete my goal.

I found three marathons in the Middle East in Nov/Dec but that didn’t give me much time to train and get into shape! I had not run since my last marathon in Dec 2015! It was tough training in the Florida heat after we returned from Europe. I trained wisely to use a strategy of run/walk. I built my long run up to 14 miles by early Nov and with only six weeks of training I had to be ready?

I found marathons in Lebanon and Kuwait only one week apart so that I could run two races on the same trip. I planned to spend more time in Lebanon since it looked more interesting to visit.

I am no longer used to long international trips so the 27-hr journey to Beirut was hard on my old bod. I arrived on Fri so that I could relax and recover from jet lag. I also discovered that I am out of shape/practice for organizing logistics of a race/trip. I booked a hotel about 10Km from downtown where most visitors stay. There is no transportation system in Beirut and traffic is horrendous so I had to take a taxi everywhere. And there were few restaurants – and no bars – in the area where I stayed! Unfortunately, I had prepaid and the hotel refused to let me switch the reservation to another hotel (in their chain) that was located downtown.

On Sat I hired a taxi to take me downtown to explore, and shop for souvenirs. The driver informed me that it would cost about $60 to take me to the various locations I needed to visit that day – shops/packet pick up/start line, etc. He offered to be my personal driver/guide for the day for $100, and that turned out to be a good decision. He gave me a brief tour of Beirut as we drove along the waterfront, the Corniche and stopped at Pigeon Rocks before visiting shops in Hamra. There can’t be many tourists in Beirut because there are few souvenir shops, and less souvenirs. Without my guide I probably would not have been able to find all I wanted?

I met friends from the Country Club at packet pickup (at a Mall in the East end of the city). I was able to drop them off at their hotels on the way back to mine.
Sun was M-Day! The race started at 7:30am but I had to depart by taxi from my hotel at 6am since the roads closed near the marathon at 6:30am. I met more friends from the Country Club at the start line for a group photo, and then the race started. It was warm but not too humid. The roads were completely closed to traffic so there were no problems with cars. During the first Half there were lots of bands and music along the course, but I was running so slow that many of the bands had quit by the time I reached their location in the 2nd Half? I planned to walk 2 min and run 6 to 8 min. Since the course was marked in Km it worked out well. I would walk for the first 2 min, and then run to the next Km mark.
I was averaging about 7:30 to 8:00 min/Km so the interval was good. There are a few hills in Beirut so I just walked up the hills and ran down. I passed 10Km in 1:19:19 and a split of 7:52, and I felt comfortable. I passed the Half in 2:46:52 and a split of 7:48. I was doing much better than expected! However, my longest training run had been 14 miles so I figured the 2nd Half would be much tougher and slower.

I managed to maintain an 8 min/Km pace until 30Km but then my lack of training caught up with me, and I started to struggle to hold a 9 min/Km pace. I had to increase the length of my walk interval and when I became real tired, I would add an extra walk period in each Km.

I was surprised and pleased to cross the finish line in 5:56! My goal had been 6:30.
And the nice thing about running so slow is that my legs were not sore at the end.
I jumped in to a taxi and returned to the hotel for a nice long soak in a hot tub followed by a few beers. The only place I could buy beer was in my hotel bar.

Since I had two more full days in Lebanon, I had booked full-day tours for Mon and Tue outside Beirut. I wanted to explore the country. My first tour on Mon was to Southern Lebanon to visit Tyre, Sidon and Maghdouche.  There are two mountain ranges in Lebanon. The Lebanon Mountains run north-south along the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Mountains run north-south along the Syrian border. We drove along the coastal valley to Tyre to tour a UNESCO World heritage site that includes ancient ruins of a Phoenician and Roman cemetery.

A Palestinian refugee camp has been built on prime waterfront property next to (and on part of) the cemetery ruins and both Muslim and Christian cemeteries have been built on top of the old cemeteries?
The guide explained that some refugees have been there since 1948 and they and all their dependents are stateless! They are not allowed to become Lebanese citizens. They can work and drive but can’t own land, can’t vote and don’t pay taxes. Tyre and many of the Palestinian refugee camps are located about 10 miles from the Israeli border where a UN peacekeeper force of 6,000 is stationed to keep peace. There are more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Then we visited another site that contained ruins of a Roman city with a theatre, bath and a hippodrome. On the way back to Sidon we visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mantara in Maghdouche. We visited the cave where Virgin Mary would wait for Jesus while he preached in Sidon. Then we drove down the mountains to visit a 13th Century Crusader Castle in Sidon.
We enjoyed a delicious Lebanese lunch (Lebanese bread with many types of dip and hummus, followed by chicken and rice and finally dessert with several kinds of fresh fruit – all washed down with cold Lebanese beer) at a nice restaurant overlooking the Crusader Castle. After our bellies were full, we wandered through the ancient Souqs of Sidon and visited Khan al-Fanj before returning to Beirut. We passed through many police/military checkpoints. I asked many taxi drivers and guides what they were checking for and probably the most truthful answer I got was “They aren’t really checking for anything – just maintaining a presence”!

On Tue the same tour company took us north and east over the Lebanon Mountains, and into the Beqaa Valley. Our first stop was the ruins of the Amayyad city of Anjar built in the 8th century. It is located at the base of the Eastern Mountains and Syria is on the other side! Then we drove north to Baalbeck. On the outskirts of the city we stopped in Hajjar al-Hibbla to see an old Roman Quarry where stone was quarried for the nearby Roman temple.

Baalbeck is one of the most ancient cities of the world which was first built as a center of pagan worship. The Phoenicians later transformed it into a temple in honor of the god Baal. After the conquest by Alexander the Great, the Greeks named the town Heliopolis. And the Romans later built the biggest Roman temple in the world on the same site. There are three Roman temples, Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. The temples are slowly being restored.

On the way back to our tour van, Hezbollah tried to sell us ‘Hezbollah’ T-shirts (symbol is an AK 47). I was tempted but didn’t think it was a good idea to wear one on the plane?
There are more than 200,000 Syrian refugees settled in tent camps in the Beqaa Valley and many cross over into Syria to join the fight/war. But there was no threat/concern/fear among the Lebanese people in the area.

After our guided tour of the temples we drove back into the Lebanon Mountains to Ksara for another delicious Lebanese lunch followed by a visit to the Ksara vineyard and winery established by priests in 1857. The wine was quite good!

We were treated to a spectacular sunset over Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea as we crossed over the Lebanon Mountains on the return to Beirut. After several more ‘check points’ we returned to Beirut for my last night in Lebanon.

I treated myself to a nice seafood dinner at a nearby restaurant washed down with some Ksara wine, and finally on Wed morning, it was time to move on to my next adventure.

Before I left for Beirut many family and friends expressed concern/fear about going to such a dangerous place! I didn’t see or experience any concern or fear during my visit. Lebanon is a vibrant mixture of people/languages/culture/religion and they all seem to get along well. The only thing I saw/experienced were the many ‘check points’, and all they did was slow down and worsen the horrendous traffic in Beirut. You do NOT want to drive in Lebanon! That was the most fearful thing I experienced!

Photos of Lebanon are available in an album titled ‘Lebanon’ on Maddog’s photo website @ https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Lebanon/i-DJDG48H

Friday, December 18, 2015

TR Grenada

12/10 – 12/15/15


Race Results:
Sat, Dec 12/15
Marathon de Spice
St George’s, Grenada
Marathon # 378 – Country # 127

 This race has a strange story to start. In June, a member of the Country Club indicated that he had run a marathon in Grenada. I didn’t know of any marathon in Grenada? Upon further discussion I learned that the 1st marathon had been a disaster with only my friend showing up and being accompanied by a relay of a few local runners. However he did give me the name of the President of the Tri-Club in Grenada who had organized the race. I contacted Marco and asked if he would assist the Country Club (me) in organizing an ‘official’ marathon in Grenada.

 He was excited and interested in having another opportunity to organize a marathon in his country. He volunteered to organize and direct the race if I would commit to bringing at least 10 foreign runners to Grenada for the race. We set a date in Dec to provide enough advance notice to runners to add/change their race schedules and I quickly had confirmation from 10 friends/members of the Country Club and Marathon Globetrotters to participate in the race. Having Marco manage all the logistics in the country made the organization much easier.

 Traveling to Grenada was harder than the planning the race! Direct flights were scarce and expensive because the weekend we chose coincided with the end of the school term for the Medical School on the island and most of the students were flying home for the Holidays. An AA flight from/to Miami that weekend was over $1000! I was able to find cheaper flights on Caribbean Airlines out of Fort Lauderdale but they were not direct and the outgoing leg required an overnight layover at their hub in Trinidad.

I arrived at a hotel in Trinidad at midnight and had to catch a shuttle at 5am for my early morning flight to Grenada. I am getting too OLD for that crap!

Nevertheless I arrived safe and tired at 9am on Friday and thankfully the Radisson let me check in early. The Radisson Resort is one of two 5-star hotels on the island. It is located on Grand Anse Beach – a two mile stretch of white sand and the nicest beach on the island. I decided to explore St George’s, the capital and largest city on the island. My first surprise was that the island was not as upscale and affluent as expected. In fact it is very poor and the buildings and infrastructure are in poor shape. Many buildings were destroyed by hurricanes in the past 20 years and there is no money to repair or even tear them down so they sit empty and ugly! Most of the roads follow the contours of the hills along the coast and are narrow and in bad shape– and the cars drive on the left/wrong side of the road! There is no public transportation and taxis are expensive! However there is a private transportation system provided by mini-vans/buses that will take you anywhere in the city for $1 US ($2.50 EC). They cram about 14 passengers into each mini-van (no AC) so you get to know the locals really well on your $1 ride.

 There is a Cruise Terminal in the city center so I headed there to buy my mandatory souvenirs. I figured if there is a cruise terminal there will be lots of souvenir shops and I finished my shopping within a few hours! The Cruise Terminal was new and modern – the only modern and upscale building in the city center. The rest of the city center was disappointing and ugly! Most of the shops and buildings are in disrepair and many of the damaged ones are empty. St George’s is over 200 years old and the roads are so narrow that they can only accommodate one lane so most of the streets are one-way. I would not want to drive there! After a quick walking tour to explore some of the old churches and Fort George I retreated back to the luxury of the Radisson to wait for my friends. I was eager to meet my friends and colleagues from the Country Club since it would be a historic meeting! The top six (active) country marathon runners in the world (all members of the Country Club) would meet for the 1st time at this race. We all know each other but it would be the first (and probably last) time that we would meet at the same race!

 Later that afternoon Brent, Klaus and I met at the hotel so we could go together to pick up our race packets. The other members would arrive late Fri night so I picked up their packets. At packet pickup we met other runners including another CC member, Goran, from Sweden. I met the RD, Marc, for the 1st time and thanked him for organizing the race. Marc kindly offered us a ride to a good Italian restaurant to enjoy a pasta dinner.

 On Sat morning the five friends/members of the CC staying at the Radisson Resort met for an (expensive) buffet breakfast at the hotel. I volunteered to escort them downtown for souvenir shopping and a look at the marathon course. Marc had selected a 5.275Km course that started in the Morne Rouge Playing Field close to the hotel and followed the main road along the hilly coastline and finished along the Carenage near the city center. The course was a series of hills with one BAH (Bad Ass Hill) that dropped down to the Carenage along St Lois Bay and the Marina. The only flat section was the final 1Km along the Carenage. The roads were narrow and in bad shape and since there would be no traffic control we would have to share them with cars. We all decided to use the sidewalks where possible but even those were in bad shape and many sections of the sidewalks had stairs and in many places there were no sidewalks. We all agreed that safety should be the primary goal – especially since the race would start at 4pm and most of the race would be run in the dark!

 I hadn’t realized how hilly the roads were until we rode the bus down to the city center. I decided I would walk the uphills and run all the downhills and flat sections! And I would have to do that eight times!

We agreed to meet early at the start line to take a historic photo of the top six CC members with a combined total of 611 countries! It was hot at 4pm. The race started on time with 19 runners – 12 foreign runners and 7 local runners! I set a goal of running each 5Km lap in 40 minutes. But my main priority was safety! I was careful to stay on the sidewalks wherever possible and when I encountered steps – I walked up and down the steps. Where there was no sidewalk I watched carefully for cars and if necessary stopped and waited for an opening in the heavy traffic. I ran the start of each uphill and then walked the rest. I managed to run all the downhills and all the flat sections. I was happy to reach the turn-around at the end of the 1st 5Km lap in 39:05 in spite of the heat and direct sun. And the good news was that my heart was functioning normally. It had increased to my typical marathon rate of 140 bpm right after the start and had stayed in that range for the entire lap!

 The return lap back to the start/finish line was mostly uphill so I was happy when I finished that 2nd lap in 1:19:51 and a split of 40:45. The 3rd lap presented the best conditions – it was now twilight with enough light to see but no direct sun to burn our backs! I finished that lap (about 16Km) in 2:00:17 and a split of 40:26. But now it was dark as we turned back uphill for the 4th lap. I had worn a headlamp in anticipation of needing light to navigate the dangerous conditions of the sidewalks. That turned out to be a wise decision that prevented a lot of falls. To warn cars of our presence the RD had provided runners with small finger lights and glow sticks. Happily nobody was injured during the race! (As a side note, many of us were very concerned about the cars! The day before I arrived in Grenada a female jogger and her dog had been hit and killed by a car! The body of the woman was not found for a few days. The driver took the body and tried to hide it! And that accident happened during the day!)

 A nice thing about the short, 5Km lap was that we got to meet all our friends many times during the race and even in the dark we could look out for each other and cheer other runners on!

After the sun set it did not seem as hot with the lack of a direct sun but I still slowed. I finished the 4th lap and 21K in 2:43:33 and a split of 43:16. I figured I would slow even more in the 2nd Half but I was hopeful that I could break 6 hrs? I finished the next 2 laps (out-and –back) and reached 32K in 4:12:13 and an average split of 44:00. I figured I could slow my pace down to 50:00 and still break 6 hrs. Thus I slowed my pace down on the 7th lap and walked more of the uphills. I wanted to make sure I still had energy for the final uphill lap! I reached the final turn-around in 5:01:31 and a split of 49:18. I had almost 1 hr to run the final lap. That final uphill lap was the toughest one. My legs were tired and I walked all of the uphills so I could run the rest of the course and I crossed the finish line in 5:53:14.

 Maddog was happy and I was pleased that I finished under 6 hrs without any problems. Marathon #378 and Country # 127 – a new World Record! And more importantly I had re-established some confidence that I might be able to complete the next two marathon adventures that I have already booked and pre-paid?

 There weren’t many runners/spectators left at the finish line and I needed a hot shower so I walked back to the hotel. My roommate Edson had finished in 5:34 so he had already showered and gone to bed since he had a 5am shuttle to the airport to return home. After a shower I had an urge for a beer and greasy food so I walked to a bar close to the hotel. I was a wee bit concerned when I entered and discovered that I was the only ‘white’ guy in the bar. Although I got a lot of strange looks nobody bothered me! But I ate my fries, drank my beer and left quickly!

 On Sun I had to move from the Radisson Resort (too expensive w/o a roommate) to the True Blue Bay Resort – a small boutique resort located on True Blue Bay close to St George’s University. It was more laid-back and remote and not nearly as luxurious. None of the common areas had AC and the service was not as good. But it was much cheaper and included breakfast.

 I only had one day (Mon) left on the island and I wanted to see more than a 5Km lap so I booked a full-day Island tour. A couple from Cleveland joined me for the day as we enjoyed a guided tour around the island. We drove through the city center and then north along the Caribbean Sea. We passed by the Underwater Sculpture Park and through Happy Hill, Brizan, and a few small villages before turning inland to visit Concord Falls. They seem to be proud of those Falls although they are not very spectacular? We then continued north along the coast through Grand Roy, and stopped in Gouyave to visit a nutmeg factory. They still process nutmeg by hand and the workers are paid piecemeal – a good worker can make $40 EC per day. Our next stop was at the Jouvay Chocolate Factory where they still make chocolate at the same plantation established in 1774. I bought a 6-lb chocolate bar (100% organic) for $10 US that should last a few weeks?

 After a nice Grenadian lunch (spicy chicken & fish) with rice & beans and washed down with a few Caribe (beer) overlooking Sauteurs Bay we proceeded south and into the interior mountains to Lake Antoine, a small volcanic lake on the Atlantic Coast. We then stopped at the River Antoine Estate where they have been making rum since 1785. They still use the same process and machinery to crush the sugar cane, boil the sugar and distill the liquor that has been used for the past 200 years! Thus they have a limited production and the rum is only available in Grenada – or at Maddog’s bar since I brought home a bottle of 138 proof rum!

Upon our return to St George’s I asked our guide to drive us through St George’s University since it was near the True Blue Bay Resort. It is a nice university – located on the Caribbean Sea & True Blue Bay with modern, upscale buildings. It is the nicest complex on the whole island!

 That evening the hotel hosted a free cocktail hour for guests that I and my new friends from Cleveland enjoyed. I didn’t think the rum punch had much punch/kick - until the next morning when I had to catch a 7am shuttle to the airport!

 My overall opinion of Grenada is – disappointment! It is not as nice/upscale/affluent as expected. The buildings and infrastructure are in desperate need of repairs. The country is in desperate need of money to do the repairs! Hotels and food are expensive – seem to be out of whack for the conditions and the economy? I would not recommend Grenada as a vacation destination!

 However it was OK to run a marathon and add another country to my World Records!

 And now I am happy to have a month to rest & recover for my next adventure. I ran a few short runs since my return and my legs seemed very tired & heavy? I just can’t seem to recover as quickly as I could 20 years ago?

 Stay tuned for the next adventure & report!

Monday, December 07, 2015

TR Western Caribbean Challenge

Trip Report
Western Caribbean Challenge
11/29 – 12/6/15


Race results:
Mahogany Bay Marathon
Roatan, Honduras

 The above race results tell the story. ‘DNF’ – Did Not Finish! That should be the end of the story but I need to tell readers and other runners about the experience of the first-ever ‘Marathon Cruise’ - the Western Caribbean Challenge.

 This marathon adventure/event seemed so interesting and exciting! An opportunity to run 5 marathons in 5 countries in 6 days while enjoying the pleasures of a cruise ship to guide you to the different countries. It was to be a new and unique experience offered by a friend and member of the Country Club. Ziyad or ‘Z’, as everyone calls him, created and offered this event through his Adventure Tour Company called ‘Z Adventures’.

 The event would start in Miami where runners would meet and run a marathon in South Beach on Sun morning before boarding the Carnival Splendor for a 1-week cruise to the western Caribbean. I had already run marathons in 4 of the 5 countries so I only planned to run the marathon in Honduras.  I tried to skip the cruise and fly directly to Honduras for the single marathon but it was difficult to get flights and I would have had to overnight at an airport in both directions. That itinerary would cost more than the cruise so I opted to take the cruise. However I skipped the marathon in South Beach where runners ran a 5.275K loop along Miami Beach, and joined them on the ship on Sun afternoon. The event had only been announced 4 months earlier so there were only 9 runners/participants for this first event. I was a bit dismayed and concerned to learn that only 4 runners were running the marathons since the Country Club requires a minimum of 5 finishers to qualify a marathon as a ‘marathon’. However for the race I planned to run there would be another CC member joining us in Honduras so it would ‘pass the test’.

 Four runners were running Half marathons in each port/country and one spouse was walking 5K in each port. Two of the marathoners were running part of the distance on the ship (either on a track on a deck of the ship or on a tread mill in the gym) and then completing the marathon on land. Although this concept is not acceptable to the CC or any other Running Club, the RD and the runners were content to call their effort a ‘marathon’?  I made it very clear that such a ‘marathon’ would not qualify or count as a marathon for any member of the Country Club nor for entry into the Country club!

 The first day of the cruise was ‘a day at sea’ as the ship made way for Cozumel, Mexico.
I quickly confirmed my dislike for large cruise ships! The Splendor is Huge! It holds 3000+ passengers, has 2 large restaurants, one large theater and several smaller theatres for all the entertainment on board. There was lots of kids.  The entire ship was crowded, busy and noisy! I spent more time than usual in my room because it was the only place on the ship where I could enjoy ‘quiet’ time! I hate huge cruise ships!

 On Tue the Splendor docked in Cozumel at 8am. I decided to run one loop of the (out-and-back) 5.275K course as a tune up for my race on Thu. I joined two Half-marathon runners on a course that started at the dock and ran north through town along the Sea. The course was not marked and there was no mark to indicate the turn-around point? The lead runner used a GPS to determine the turn-around point?

We had to run on the sidewalk and avoid walkers/shoppers/tourists/etc. It was a good thing that nobody was taking the race seriously! There were no volunteers/water/support on the course – but we knew that when we signed up! Each runner had to carry their own water and supplies for the entire race that they were running. By the time I reached the turn-around it was HOT! I did a lot of walking on the return loop and was very happy that I didn’t have to run 4 more loops. If this trial was an indication of what the remaining races would be like it was going to be very tough! The races had to conform to the ship schedule which meant that all of them started in mid-morning – after the sun was up – and continued through the hottest part of the day. The sun and heat was brutal! And to make it tougher we had to jump up and down on sidewalks, avoid traffic, pedestrians, shoppers and tourists! And finish the race before the ship left!

 I returned to the ship for a shower and breakfast before going on shore again to enjoy a few beers and surf the Net while waiting for the other runners to complete their races. Everyone realized that it was going to be very difficult to run 3 more races in the next 3 days in this Heat & Humidity! I was glad that I was only running one marathon.

 The next day the Splendor anchored off Belize and we were tendered into Belize City. I had decided to rest and save myself from the brutal heat and serve as official race photographer at the start line. The rest of the group – “the group of crazies” – as I affectionately called them, started at the Lighthouse in Belize City. We were supposed to be joined by another CC member, Klaus, who was flying directly into Belize to join us to run the marathon distance. Klaus had volunteered to mark out a 5.275K course but his flight had been delayed so the runners just had to take off and use their GPS to determine the turn-around point? After taking a start photo I retreated to an air-conditioned bar to drink beer and surf the Net while waiting for my comrades to finish their races. They are all looked like wet and beaten puppies when they finished and joined me for a beer.

 On Thu the Splendor anchored off Roatan, Honduras and we tendered into the port. This was the one and only race I planned to run. There was good and bad news. The good news was that Z had arranged with a friend who lived in Roatan and managed a golf course at the Princess Bay Resort to mark out a 2.1K course along the golf course and also provide water at the start and end of the loop. One out-and-back loop was 4.2K so the marathon runners had to run 10 loops. The bad news was that the Splendor was only in port for 8 hours and it took 30 minutes for the tender and another 30 minutes to bus us to the start line at the Princess Bay Resort so we only had 6 hours to complete our races! More good news was that Klaus met us at the port and now there was 3 CC members plus the 2 other marathoners running their ‘strange’ race so in effect we would have 5 starters /finishers in the marathon.

 We arrived at the Resort and started the race about 8:45am which meant we had about 6:15 to complete our races. Any longer and we would miss the ship! No problem for the Half marathon but it was going to be close for the marathoners due to the heat and humidity. It was already hot but the weather Gods were kind to us and the skies were overcast and cloudy for the first 3 hours which kept the sun from broiling us. There was a BAH (Bad Ass Hill) at the start/finish and I figured it was going to hurt running that BAH ten times! But the rest of the course was flat and on dirt service roads around a golf course. The road was muddy in many sections and covered in water at one section but we were able to detour around it on a fairway so overall the course was easy and good. The golf manager had indeed arranged for water at each end of the loop which meant we didn’t have to carry water.

One nice benefit of a short loop course is that you get to see and greet your fellow runners often during a race. I figured I needed to run each loop under 36 minutes to finish in 6 hours. I figured that was possible although it would be difficult in the heat and humidity. My friend and CC member, Brent from WY, was running smooth and easy but Klaus and I struggled right from the start. Klaus had completed the marathon in Belize the day before (he had to run the course solo after he arrived late) and was fatigued from that race. The day started out badly for me as I experienced an (unexpected) heart issue? My heart went into Afib at the start of the race and dropped to a dangerously low HR of 32 bpm and stayed there for most of the race. It is difficult to run a smooth and easy pace with such a low HR since the legs become fatigued and heavy very quickly and it is more difficult to keep my old bod cool in the brutal heat. I was determined to push/struggle though the problem until I reached the Half. When I did reach the Half in 3:08:16 I knew I could not finish in time to catch the ship. However Maddog played mind games with me and convinced me to struggle through 2 more loops and when I reached 30K in 4:38:25 I was certain I could not finish in time to catch the ship so I wisely gave up and dropped out of the race.

 I was disappointed/demoralized! My last 3 marathons had been tough/ugly and definitely NOT fun! I believed my old bod was telling me emphatically “IT IS OVER”! Maybe it is time to retire?
The only part of this race that I enjoyed was the cool swim and cold beer at the Clubhouse after I dropped out.

Meanwhile Brent and Klaus were still struggling to finish out on the course. Brent barely made it across the finish line as we were loading the bus to go back to the ship. Klaus had to stop and he planned to run his final 4K from the port back to his hotel to complete his 42K. It was definitely a hard race for the marathoners with the artificial time limit imposed by the departure of the ship!

 The next day the Splendor arrived in the Cayman Islands for the final port and race. Brent had planned to run the marathon but wisely recognized that his old bod did not have another marathon in it so soon in that brutal heat and humidity and decided to run a shorter distance. He and the other runners lined up in Georgetown where they were joined by a few new runners from Marathon Maniacs who were in the Cayman Islands to run a larger/formal marathon on Sun. I served as race photographer and then retreated to a nice restaurant/bar overlooking the harbor to enjoy a cool Caybrew and surf the Net.

 As the Splendor headed back to Miami we gathered together for a final celebration and group photo and then Brent and I had a long discussion with Z about the first-ever Marathon Cruise. It is a great idea and we hope it can become successful but there are many improvements that need to be made.
One important fact we did determine is that although it looks great and easy on paper to have an adventure that offers 5 or 6 marathons/countries in 1 week it is not practical for the Caribbean or a tropical climate. Because of the ship schedule it is necessary to start the races in mid-morning and run through the hottest temps of the day with an artificial time limit hanging over your head. If you don’t finish in time – you miss the ship! In addition to that problem, runners must run on sidewalks or roads with no traffic control and avoid obstacles/people/etc. Under these conditions it is very difficult to run multiple marathons in consecutive days. I believe it would be possible for a young athlete/runner in good shape (who typically runs under 4 hrs) to run multiple marathons in consecutive days under this format. However, for a runner who typically runs a marathon in 5 to 6 hrs it is not practical or realistic to plan on running all the marathons offered!

 For runners competing at shorter distances the problems are the same but the time required on the course and in the sun and heat is less so it is possible. This was proven by the 4 runners who completed a half marathon at each port. I tip my hat to them!

 Z may contemplate changing the format of the Cruise Challenge to only offer Half-marathon races and shorter distances but I hope he keeps the marathon distance and advises marathoners to lower their expectations about the number of races they plan to run? The next cruise – the Southern Caribbean Challenge – will be better test since 22 of the 28 race participants plan to run marathons?

 On the final ‘at sea day’ I retreated from the crowds and noise on the ship to my room to write my trip report. At this time I am in a quandary. Not only do I recognize/believe that my running career is over, but more importantly, I am no longer in denial and I am willing to accept that truth/fact because I no longer have the ‘passion’ and the races are no longer fun! However I have booked and paid for 3 more marathon adventures in the next 2 months and it unlikely I can get any refunds if I cancel. The next adventure is in 10 days in another Hot/tropical climate so that will serve as another test for my theory?

If I can struggle through the next marathon adventures then I will probably participate in the ‘Southern Caribbean Challenge’. I had planned/hoped to run 2 marathons/countries on that cruise but I now realize that is not practical even if I get my heart issue resolved. So I need to think about that plan. In the worst case I could do the cruise as a monitor for the Country Club and provide support for Z so that the event runs smoother. But I am not excited about another cruise on a huge cruise ship!
Who knows?

Stay tuned!

Footnote (Dec 22/15): I finally visited my cardiologist to figure out what is going on and why I have been feeling so poorly? After checking my pacemaker and the data stored on it, he determined that my heart has been in ’heart block’ more than 30% of the time.  Most of the episodes have been brief and the heart was able to get back into synch. However during the Honduras episode it stayed in ‘block’ for a very long time! He turned the pacemaker back on and calibrated it to prevent ‘heart block’.

I was hopeful that this procedure would end my problems, however, when I tried to run an easy 10Km the next day I felt even worse and couldn’t even run 1 mile w/0 walking and feeling light-headed?

Third-degree heart block – With this condition, also called complete heart block, none of the electrical impulses from the atria reach the ventricles. When the ventricles (lower chambers) do not receive electrical impulses from the atria (upper chambers), they may generate some impulses on their own, called junctional or ventricular escape beats. Ventricular escape beats, the heart’s naturally occurring backups, are usually very slow. Patients frequently feel poorly in complete heart block, with lightheadedness and fatigue.