Saturday, May 01, 1999

1999 The year of Life-changing Events

The Year of Life-changing Events

 I began 1999 following advice and recommendations from the Baylor Sports Clinic in Dallas, TX to recover from ‘burnout’ in my running life.  I was concerned that I might never be able to run competitively again? That was an important event in my life.

 But little did I know that two more and very important life-changing events would also occur at the start of this year? Well that is a little white lie since I knew one was about to happen. I had made an important decision at the end of 1998. I would retire from my job as an executive in Marketing and Sales for a hi-tech company that manufactured telecom equipment. The retirement would be effective the 1st week of Jan 1999! I had beaten my goal to retire at age 55 by three months! Now what would I do?

 That question was answered shortly when Nicole’s company Nortel, offered her a one-year foreign assignment in England. She was eager to tackle this challenge and since I had nothing to do – other than rest – why not? I encouraged her to accept the transfer. While she worked her butt off, I could travel around Europe – and maybe even run a few marathons after I recovered from my ‘burnout’?

 She needed to start the new job in March so we agreed that she should go ahead and I would stay behind to sell our house in Dallas and most of our belongings. We would not be returning to Dallas. She would retire when the assignment was over and we would move to our retirement home in Florida. We had planned for retirement and had purchased a house in Sarasota, FL in the mid 1990s. Since it was furnished we didn’t need to move furniture. We could sell our Dallas home and put our personal belongings in storage and Nortel would pay all the expenses. What a great deal and good timing!

 I was able to continue with my “REST & recovery’ program while preparing the house for sale and packing. I had to complete my month of rest and begin a 10-week training program with a professional coach that trained pro and elite runners in Dallas. Nicole left for England in March and I stayed to sell the house, pack and complete my training program. I successfully completed those tasks and was ready to join Nicole in England in April. By then she had rented a new 3 BR house in St Michael’s Mead, a new subdivision in Bishop’s Stortford, about 30 miles north of London. Nortel paid all the expenses on the rental house, provided a company car and a monthly stipend to cover additional costs of a foreign assignment. Essentially we lived for free in England for one year and banked Nicole’s entire salary. What a great deal!

 I had contacted the Bishop’s Stortford Running Club before arriving and was welcomed to join the club. I had completed my 10-week training program and was once again running but had no plans yet for racing.  I quickly learned that Running Clubs are much different in England than in the USA. As the members would proudly claim, “we are a bunch of drunks with a running problem”. The clubs are much more social. The BSRC had a clubhouse with meeting facilities, a kitchen and a bar with beer taps. On a typical meeting night members would meet for a run or race and then convene to the clubhouse for a shower, followed by a pot-luck dinner and beer! I really enjoyed my year with the BSRC.

After a few weeks of running in England I started to think that perhaps it was time to run a marathon again? And thus began a very extensive and valuable lesson on how to run marathons in foreign countries. I think it is important to explain and share these lessons and experience with you so you can understand how difficult it was – and take advantage of my experience.

 First recall that it was 1999 and the Internet was in its infancy and not very robust. ‘Big’ races like London, Paris, etc did had informative websites and the capability to register but races in small, poor , 3rd world countries did not have the expertise or budget to develop websites. So the big races were easy to find, get info and register but there were few of those.

The smaller races were a much more difficult challenge. The most common places to find info on those races were running magazines such as Runner’s World, Running Times, AIMS, etc. Another source of info was race brochures handed out at race expos. Those publications provided race calendars and ads that provided the name, address and phone numbers for the race. Very few had email addresses to make the process quicker and easier. Let me explain the process. If I had time I could write the Race Director (RD) and request information. But that process needed weeks to complete and seldom worked because there would be no response? So the next step I tried was to call the RD. Didn’t work! If I called a RD in Greece for example he would answer the phone in Greek (or what sounded like Greek to me?) and I would reply in English  - and that was the end of the conversation! Next step and the one I found to be the most successful and thus became my primary method was to send a fax. I would write a concise fax in English requesting info and fax it. In most cases the RD could not understand or read English – but I usually received a response within a few days! How? The RD would give my fax to a race volunteer who understood English or – more likely – he would take it home and give it to his kids who spoke English. They would translate my fax to Dad, the RD, who would provide a response that they would then  translate into English. And Dad, the RD, would fax a response back to me. We would often exchange several faxes in this manner until I received all the necessary info. By then the RD and I were usually friends and he would often assist me with travel logistics and even invite me to stay with him and his family!

The 3rd method was ‘word of mouth’ from runners I would meet at races. I would ask runners from other foreign countries if there were any marathons in their country and how to get info. Usually they would give me their email address so we could correspond and they would help me find and register for races. And in some cases where there was no marathon in a country I would ask local runners and their running clubs to help me organize one.

Using these methods that I learned through frustration and experience I was able to run 31 marathons in 31 countries (and accomplish my 1st World Record) during our year in England. If I had perfected these methods earlier I believe that I could have completed 50+ marathons and 50+ countries in that year! My biggest handicap was finding marathons and setting up the travel logistics! Even with the robust internet that is available 16 years later I still have to revert to the other methods – particularly  ‘word-of-mouth’ to find marathons in small, poor 3rd world countries!

I started with the simplest method – the Internet – to find and register for my 1st marathon in Europe – the Prague Marathon. When we returned home to England after the marathon I emailed news of the race to my family and friends. And I realized that if I was going to run more marathons and travel more in Europe I needed to write race/trip reports after each race so that I could record the facts accurately. That decision and those reports were a significant and important event. My family enjoyed the reports and without those reports I would not have the material or memories needed to write a book about Maddog’s marathon adventures!

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