Sunday, December 10, 2000

RR Tampa

Race Report
Hops Marathon
Tampa, FL

I was so tired Sunday night when I was writing the wake-up call that I didn't even take time to report on my last marathon for 2000!
A bunch of close friends from the BBR club in Dallas visited us to run the inaugural Tampa marathon with me. The course was flat but the weather turned out to be 10 to 15 degrees warmer than forecast. It was 65 degrees at the start and about 78 degrees when we finished. But that was about 10 degrees cooler than the past two marathons so I was able to take 10 minutes off my time to finish in 3:35 and 3rd place in my age group. A nice way to finish off the year! Time to take some rest before I begin the grueling pace again next year!

Sunday, December 03, 2000

TR Panama & Costa Rica

11/24 – 12/3/00

Unfortunately this report has been delayed for almost two weeks because of too many things to do and not enough time. Yeah! Yeah! I know, I’m retired and have lots of time. But instead of going into hundreds of excuses it might be best that I use the time to get on with the job!

Even before we returned from the UK I had researched the availability and scheduling of marathons in continental North America because I figured that it would be easier to travel to countries in North America than Europe once we returned. I also had a secret or hidden agenda/goal to complete a marathon in every country in continental North America.
I quickly discovered that there were only three countries that had marathons that I had not run –Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala. Fortunately Panama and Costa Rica had fall marathons that were scheduled one week apart which meant that I could complete both in one trip. Getting this far had been easy but now the quest became a very difficult challenge.

In retrospect and to simplify the process for fellow runners who might want to run these countries/marathons all the roadblocks that I encountered were strictly due to the problem that I could not communicate in Spanish! When I tried to find more information and register for the marathons I constantly ran into brick walls (or as I later found out –communication walls!).
Luckily I started with Panama and eventually one of the members of the race committee who understood English responded to my emails and we began a chain of correspondence and to form a friendship. My new friend, Armando, was also running the marathon and he helped me register for the race. He also provided me with information on the race and travel/tourist tips for Panama and even booked a hotel for us.
At the same time I was trying to accomplish the identical tasks with the Costa Rica marathon but I got absolutely nowhere. Armando put me in contact with a running friend in Costa Rica who ran interference for me and managed all the logistics for me locally –race entry, hotel booking, etc. I could never have accomplished the simple(?) task of setting up the trip and registering for the marathons without the help of these two new wonderful friends.
So a tip to fellow runners –do all communications for both races in Spanish if you want to be successful and save a lot of frustration!

I now had confirmed dates and entries for both marathons and it was time to set up the side trips and itineraries to visit these countries. We decided to fly direct to Panama City and return from San Jose, Costa Rica. How we would get from Panama City to San Jose was left open –“play it by ear when we get there”!
As soon as we arrived at our hotel in Panama I called Armando and he picked both Nicole and I up at the hotel to take us to a press conference for the race. There we met several of the club members, the Mayor of Panama as well as the elite runners who had come from Kenya, the Czech Republic, Columbia and Cuba. Armando had some fun with them by introducing me as ‘the Great White Hope’! I continued the charade with the Kenyans who kept asking me what my race strategy was. I replied that I liked to hang back and kick at the end and that I had never lost a race that came down to a final kick! I just didn’t inform them that I did that at an 8-minute pace rather the 5-minute pace they would run. But I finally relieved their concern and advised them that my goal was 3:45, NOT the 2:20 they were aiming for! The local club treated us to a pasta dinner and drinks and were very friendly and hospitable.

The following day we did a ½ day tour of Panama City. The tour started in the ruins of Old Panama. This site was established by the Spaniards over 300 years ago and includes the ruins of a mission that was burned by the English pirate, Henry Morgan. As he was searching for gold he massacred most of the priests and burned the mission to the ground as he sang ”There’ll be a hot time in the Old Town Tonight”! Fortunately the priests disguised the gold altar by covering it in mud and Morgan thought it was worthless. That gold altar now resides in a church that was built in the Casco Viejo or Old Compound where the city was relocated to 273 years ago. This section of the city reminds one very much of New Orleans with its narrow streets and decorative iron balconies. Unfortunately they have only begun to renovate this area and most of it is in disrepair and is mainly slums.
In the past twenty years the city has grown and modernized into a section called Punta Paitilla. This area is completely modern with glass skyscrapers, etc and when viewed from across Panama Bay the skyline looks like Miami! The banks, international hotels, restaurants and bars are located in this area. I was pleasantly surprised at how modern and affluent Panama is compared to the other Central American countries! We stayed in a new, 5-star hotel in Paitilla for $69 per day including breakfast so Panama is still a tourist bargain. A good dinner for two with wine, tip, etc costs about $30!
The last stop on the tour was the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. The French started the canal in 1880 under Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal, but had to give up after 20 years due to malaria and financial problems. In 1904 the US bought the properties and equipment from the French and an American doctor discovered a cure for malaria so the Canal was finished in 1914. It is quite impressive but I had a bit of a problem as a US taxpayer when we passed the $BILLIONS of US military bases and administrative buildings that were handed over to Panama. The Panamanian government is now selling the US military houses to the citizens. And they are some of the best houses in the city!

After our city tour was completed we decided to venture out and visit the interesting sections in more detail on our own. By this time we had already discovered (surprisingly) that very few people in Panama speak or understand English. Once we left the hotel we had to speak Spanish to communicate. There is a public transportation system but they advise tourists not to use it! The bus system uses school buses purchased from the US and painted in wild psychedelic colors or scenes and are affectionately called ‘red devils’. We chose to follow the advice and took taxis but not one taxi driver could understand English! But they were cheap –you can go anywhere in the city for about $3. One driver interpreted our request incorrectly and dropped us off in the middle of a local market area. Immediately a little old lady approached us and with a few key words and gestures told us it was not safe for us there so we retreated quickly to the safety of Paitilla. But I do want to emphasize that at no time during our visit did we feel threatened or unsafe. On the contrary, we found the Panamanians to be very friendly and hospitable!

The next day, Sunday, was M-day! The marathon started at 5am to permit the race to be completed before the hottest part of the day. At least that was the theory! It was the most brutal marathon, weather-wise that I have ever run. The temperature at 5am was in the mid-70s and humidity was 90%+. By 10K, my feet were sloshing in my shoes due to the sweat that had dripped into them –I knew even at that point that it would be a tough day! The first half of the course was scenic as we passed through Casco Viejo and along a causeway that offered terrific views of the Pacific Ocean as the sun came up. But by the time I passed the half-marathon point around 7am the temperature had passed 80 degrees and the humidity and course started to climb as we ran along the Canal. The course then returned through the city and traffic control was terrible or non-existent. So now I am fighting excessive heat and exhaustion while trying to prevent cars from running over me! Another interesting thing I noted was that my heart rate was between 85 to 90% of Max throughout the entire race. This is 10 to 15 beats per minute faster than normal which I attributed solely to the extra work placed on the heart to keep my body cooled? But Damn! – I must have a good ticker to keep working at that level?
Thankfully the race had water at every 1K so I could drink lots and pour even more over my head and I eventually crossed the finish line in 3:48! After collapsing on a park bench for 10 minutes I was finally able to get up and walk back to the hotel.

After a quick shower Nicole and I went out for some lunch and when we returned there was a message waiting for me from Armando. I had finished in 3rd place in the Senior Division and had won a cash award of $100! Armando came and collected me at the hotel for a celebration party at his home. The winners of the race and other elite runners were there plus most of the directors of the running club. Never having won money before, I didn’t know what to do or how it would affect my amateur status, so I donated the money to the running club! I had a wonderful time at the party and again was very gratified by the sincere friendship and hospitality offered by the Panamanians.

But now it was time to move on to Costa Rica. After checking with a few local travel agents Nicole and I decided that instead of flying from Panama City to San Jose, we would take a bus up the Pan American highway. We had traveled from San Jose to Managua, Nicaragua on a previous trip so figured that we might as well see the southern part of the highway. And we would see a lot more of Panama and Costa Rica by bus! It is a 17-hour trip by bus so we decided to break it up into two days. The first day we left Panama City, crossed the ‘Bridge of the Americas’ that connects South and North America and headed north through countless miles of rain forests. The highway is mainly inland although we did follow the Pacific Coast for some time in the Province of Cocle. We passed through a few beach resorts and some fellow travelers told us that the beach resorts in Panama were very nice. Our stopover for the first day was at David, the provincial capital of Chiriqui, the westernmost province of Panama. David is located very close to the border of Costa Rica and is at the base of el Volcan de Baru (elevation 11,450 ft). Our new Panamanian friends had recommended that we stay in Boquete, a small mountain resort on the volcano. But that was another hour of bus ride each way so we decided to stay in David. Fortunately the best hotel in town was also the nicest and only modern building. You definitely knew you were in a 3rd world country! We went for a stroll and quickly realized that the locals were not used to seeing gringos as we noticed several curious looks. Of course we stood out like neon signs with our fair skin and shorts and tennis shoes (that American uniform again!). But the locals were very friendly and courteous as we requested assistance in finding the post office. Again at no time did we feel unsafe!

The next morning we were off again for Costa Rica and within an hour were at the border. What an intimidating experience that is if you are not familiar with it! Fortunately we had been through the process at the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border a few years ago where we had the assistance of a private guide. However this time we had to do it all on our own and not one person on either side of the border including the bus driver spoke English!

It goes like this: stop at customs/immigration in Panama –take all your baggage into customs where they hand search every piece of baggage. If they find no drugs, etc and you are not arrested –put your baggage back on the bus and proceed to immigration (no directions or signs to tell you any of this). Get passport stamped with exit stamp. Bus has now left for Costa Rica. Walk across border into Costa Rica –look for Immigration and get passport stamped with entry stamp. Now find bus and remove baggage again. Put baggage on table at customs for another hand search and drug-sniffing dogs. If not arrested put baggage back on bus and get ready to leave!
Two hours later all the passengers were loaded and ready to depart for San Jose!

The 6-hour ride from the border to San Jose was much more exciting than the drive through Panama as we crossed two mountain ranges –lots of narrow, winding mountain roads through rain forests. Finally we arrived in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It is a dump! It was a dump when we visited two years ago and it is still a dump! Unfortunately we had to overnight in San Jose to wait for the morning bus to Jaco Beach. Jaco Beach is the closest beach to San Jose, only 90 miles west over another mountain range and through several rain forests and coffee plantations. I expected it to be larger and more developed. Instead it is a small laid-back resort village with only a few large hotels. We stayed at a Best Western resort on the beach ($68/day) that was the nicest resort on the beach.

We liked Jaco Beach. We had arrived a few weeks before high season and there were very few tourists so the locals were extremely friendly (everyone spoke English) and desperate for dollars. A great lobster dinner for two with wine, etc cost us $30! Jaco even had an Internet café where we went every day to catch up on our emails and Wall Street news. The only negative was the weather –boy was it hot and humid! I tried running one afternoon to simulate expected race conditions and I thought I would die just on a 5-mile training run! It was worse than Panama!
Because we had been to Costa Rica before and had done tours to the volcanoes, rain forests, white water rafting, etc., we decided just to relax and enjoy the beach.
But as usual I got bored and decided to do a ‘canopy tour’. What is a canopy tour? There are two varieties based on the same theme which is to build platforms at the top of the trees in a rain forest (the canopy) and provide a means of traveling between them. The sissy version provides suspension bridges to walk between the platforms. The macho version provides wire cables and ‘Tarzan-type’ swings between the platforms. Guess which one I chose?

Two guides assist you in this adventure. One goes ahead to assist you at the receiving platform and the other guide assists you in connecting your gear –similar to rock climbing gear- to a pulley that is placed on the cable. You then shove off and fly across the canopy on the wire cable like a bat out of hell towards the next platform. How do you stop before you crash into the platform/tree? Good question! You place your hand, wrapped in a leather glove on the cable BEHIND the pulley and friction slows you down! The platforms are placed further apart as you progress into the tour and gain experience. And there is one Tarzan swing where you swing on a rope between platforms. The last platform was the longest-about 500 feet. I was the first to cross because I had agreed to take pictures of the others. Well, it was raining so hard (remember it’s a rain forest) when I came flying across the cable that I could not see the guide or hear him shout the order to ‘Brake’. As a result I came flying into the platform too fast but the guide placed his body between me and the tree to cushion the impact. The others did the same thing and he saved every one of them. This was definitely an exhilarating experience and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is not afraid of heights or speed! And as a bonus you do get to see bird and animal life at the top of the rain forest.

But now it was time to return to the dump er. San Jose and run the marathon. Our friend had booked us into a small B&B close to the National Stadium where the marathon started and finished. This B&B was located in a very nice affluent section of the city but the first thing we noticed was that every house had concrete and/or iron fences completely surrounding the property and topped with coiled barbed wire. The bigger and more affluent houses also had a guard hut built at the gate or in the front yard that was manned 24 hours per day with an armed guard. It felt like you were walking around a prison but the walls were definitely built to keep people OUT! Our host told us that we were safe to walk around the neighborhood but we did not venture too far.

Saturday was M-day but this race had a new twist. It started at 2 pm, in the heat of the day, and finished in the dark –at least for those of us who ran longer than 3 hours. I had been concerned about the heat and humidity after Panama but had forgotten that San Jose is located in the mountains at an average elevation of 2500 feet, which meant it was cooler and drier than Jaco. Luckily it was overcast with a few rain showers on race day that kept the temperatures in the low 70s at race start. However the course was very hilly which negated the positive weather. I was pleased with the race logistics and course management for the first 3 hours as they had closed down all the roads and controlled traffic very well. When I had passed through the first half at a pace under 8 minutes/mile and still felt good I became confident that I would finish in a great time. But at 30 Km and approximately three hours into the race ‘everything went to hell in a hand basket’!

I was still running strong and felt good but something was wrong? At my calculated pace I should have been near the 35 Km mark? Had they screwed up the distance markers? And I had wondered why all the local runners were wearing reflective patches on their clothes? I quickly found out as they opened up the roads to traffic that whizzed by us at 50 mph in pitch dark since the sun had set! I tried to stay close to other runners with the patches but kept passing people while trying to look behind me for cars. At 3:33 into the race I expected to see the Stadium but instead I crossed the 40 Km mark! I was totally disgusted, dismayed and deflated at that point! I would have quit except I had no idea where I was so decided the best strategy was to continue following the course to the end. The traffic got very bad for the last 2 Km and I literally had to weave my way in, out and around buses, trucks, etc on a major boulevard in the dark! But finally I could see the stadium. I ran into the stadium, did a final loop around the track and crossed the finish line in 3:45 –totally disgusted with this race! I collected my finisher’s medal and left immediately – never to go back!

After a quick, hot shower Nicole and I walked to a nearby restaurant for a great steak dinner but then retreated to the safety of our B&B to await our flight home the next day.

In summary, both Panama and Costa Rica are very nice countries to visit. The beaches, volcanoes/mountains and rain forests are the highlights of the countries and you should spend most of your time in these areas. The cities deserve very little time –a ½ day or day in each capital is enough. The people are very friendly and hospitable.
As for the marathons, they are not yet of the caliber that we expect. Besides the brutal weather, the courses and traffic control are terrible. These races are not for novices. If you are an experienced runner trying to notch up countries or races, OK- otherwise pass until they get better organized!

Monday, October 23, 2000

TR Switzerland

10/19 –10/23/00

Now that we had finished the marathon and our adventures in Turkey it was time to move on to Switzerland. I had mentioned in the Turkey report that prior to setting up this marathon trip that I had been fortunate to find a marathon in Switzerland in the same time frame so that I could complete two countries and marathons on the same trip. I was doubly fortunate that the marathon was being held in Lausanne which meant it should be fairly flat and easy compared to some of the other Swiss marathons that are mainly trail runs up one of the higher mountains in the country.

We flew direct from Istanbul to Geneva on an early morning flight that got us into Geneva about noon on Thursday. After finding a 4-star hotel close to the Gare (train station) we caught a train into the city. Since we had been to Switzerland before on ski trips with the kids and had done the city tour in Geneva, we decided to walk around the city on our own to explore some of the side streets in ‘La Vieille Ville’ (the old city). Later we took a cruise on Lac Leman, commonly called (incorrectly) Lake Geneva. Most of Lac leman is situated in Switzerland with about 1/3rd of the southern shores located in France. We had seen news flashes on CNN about the storms and floods in Northern Italy and the south of Switzerland but did not see any damage or affect in Geneva other than the Rhone River was very high and fast. The cruise started near the Pierres du Niton (Niton Rocks), two large rocks sticking out of the lake (elevation 373.6 m) that are used as the base for all altitude measurements in Switzerland. We then passed by the Jet d’Eau, a fountain that shoots lake water to a height of 140 meters. As we continued cruising along the south shore we viewed many homes and mansions along the shores such as the Diodati Villa where Lord Byron lived in 1816. We then crossed over to the north shore to view some more castles and mansions including Baron Rothschild’s castle and the villa where Josephine de Beauharnais ( Napoleon’s wife) lived. Autumn leaves were at their peak and the city and parks on both sides of the lake provided a kaleidoscope of colors. We continued on past the Palais des Nations, the European seat of the United Nations and the World Trade Center before finishing near St Peter’s Cathedral, dating from 1150 and rebuilt in the 16th century.

After the cruise we found a small gourmet shop, purchased a loaf of bread, some gourmet Swiss cheese and a bottle of French wine and returned to the hotel to have a picnic in our room while I watched CNBC on satellite TV. I had not had any update on financial markets since we left the US! Nicole finally pulled me away from the TV after we finished our great picnic and we decided to find a good restaurant for dinner. A travel acquaintance who had lived in Switzerland recommended that we try lake perch when we were in Geneva or Lausanne. There is supposedly a perch that lives only in Lac Leman and is only served fresh in restaurants along the lake. So we tried ‘les fillets de perch’ and it was excellent!

The following morning I got up early and did a final training run along Lac Leman passing many of the parks and mansions mentioned above. The weather was much milder than expected; highs in the mid 60s and lows in the high 40s. It was such a beautiful and peaceful run that I would have ran much longer if I didn’t have a marathon in two days. But it was time to catch a train for the 40-minute ride along the lake to Lausanne.

Lausanne is a small and compact city (population 125,000) built into the hills overlooking Lac Leman. The countryside on both sides of the city is covered in vineyards and is very picturesque. Lausanne seems to be divided into three sections based on the level of the land. The Ouchy district is located along the lakeshore and is the most scenic. The Gare or city center is located at the next flat level up from the lake and is the business section of the city. La Vieille Ville or old city is located at the top levels of the hills where it was built in the 6th century for defensive reasons. A cog rail or metro system connects the three levels.

Our hotel was located in the city center across from the Gare and next to the Metro. It was a great location for access to the city but I would recommend that a visitor stay in the Ouchy district along the lake. But we had a great 4-star hotel for less than $100/day including breakfast which is a bargain in Switzerland! There were no city tours operating because it was off-season so we picked up a brochure of walking tours from the tourist office and did our own tour. We spent a few hours walking around La Vieille Ville visiting some of the old castles and the Cathedrale Notre-Dame built in 1150. Then we took the metro down to Ouchy to explore the mansions and castles along the lakefront. This district is also the home of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) founded by Pierre de Coubertin in 1894 but moved to Lausanne in 915. It contains an Olympic Museum and Park and a plaza named in honor of Pierre de Coubertin.

You may have noticed that I have been using a lot of French? Based on past trips I expected the Swiss to speak French, German or Italian depending on which part of the country you are in and the nearest neighbor. Most of the citizens usually speak English too but on this trip we found that we had to speak French the majority of the time. Even in government offices such as the post office and train station we had to converse in French to conduct business since these cities are so close to France.

Since we had explored most of the major attractions in Lausanne on our first day we figured that we should explore some of the country on Saturday. The marathon was on Sunday and fortunately it was a 10am start with the race HQ open until 9am for packet pickup. I don’t normally like to leave the logistics that late but when we investigated the time needed to get to the Matterhorn we learned that a full 10 to 12-hour day was needed.
So we caught an early train for the long ride to Zermatt. Normally it only takes 3 ½ hours as you take a normal train to Brig, near the Italian border, and then switch to a narrow-gauge railway for the rest of the trip to Zermatt. But the storms had indeed inflicted damage in the area near the Italian border. We had to train to Sierre and change to two buses as we bypassed sections of the rail tracks that had been washed out by floods. We saw some of the damage as we bussed through Visp and Brig in Wallis Province. Finally 4 ½ hours later we arrived in Zermatt where we switched again to a cog train that carried us from 4900 feet in elevation to Gornergrat at 9400 feet. It took 40 minutes to make that climb but the ride offered many spectacular views of the Matterhorn and its neighboring mountains. Four mountains including the Matterhorn form a huge basin or bowl with the ski resort of Zermatt at the bottom of the bowl. The Matterhorn (13,500 feet) is by far the more majestic of the mountains with its well-known pyramid shape even though the others are higher – Mount Rosa is 14,000 feet.
There are four permanent glaciers in the bowl that offer year-round skiing. The recent storms had dumped about 3 to 4 feet of new snow on the mountains and it looked like there was about 12 inches of fresh powder. Some of the runs were groomed but nobody was skiing? It looks like a great ski area and resort but it is a bitch to get to and will be for a while.

We only stayed at Gornergrat for about twenty minutes –just long enough to enjoy the many views of the Matterhorn and snap a few pictures. Then we headed back down the mountain to Zermatt because there were more restaurants to choose from for lunch. After lunch we strolled through the village for a while to pick up a few souvenirs and then decided to start the long trek back. It was a long day but well worth it!

The following morning I had to pay for my frivolous adventure of the day before by getting up at 6am to look for race HQ and pick up my race package and final instructions. Fortunately I was successful and was on the starting line and ready to go at 10am. The weather was perfect –overcast, almost foggy and cool. I was cold but waited for someone else to put on a garbage bag (remember Istanbul) before I pulled mine out and put it on!
The course started in Ouchy and ran northeast along Lac Leman through vineyards and small villages to La Tour de-Peilz where it looped back over the same route. It reminded me a lot of the Napa marathon –very scenic but lots of rolling hills. I passed through the half too quickly (1:47) and knew that I couldn’t hold that pace on those hills so slowed down. I felt good throughout the whole race and at mile 23 knew that if I wanted to break 3:40 that I had to lower the hammer and run about an 8-minute pace for the last 5K. This day was much different than the previous week in Istanbul – when I dug down there were energy reserves available and I crossed the finish line in Olympic Park in 3:39:06!

After the race and a quick shower Nicole and went back to Ouchy and strolled along the lake, stopping now and then for a glass of wine before deciding to eat dinner. I wanted to find a nice small intimate restaurant in La Vieille Ville –silly me- so we took the cog metro up to the old city –only to find that it was completely shut down! Not a single shop or restaurant open! So we had to retreat back to the city center and eat at the hotel restaurant –not very intimate!

But all in all it was a great trip. Although Switzerland is very expensive it provided a sharp contrast and nice change from Turkey. Time to go home and get recharged for the next adventure! See you then.

Thursday, October 19, 2000

TR Istanbul Marathon

10/11 –10/19/00

Planning for this trip began back in March while I was running the Turin marathon with a friend from New York City. He indicated that he planned to run the Eurasia marathon in Istanbul. We both needed to complete a marathon in Turkey as part of our quest to run a marathon in every European country. The Eurasia or Istanbul marathon also has the distinction of being the only marathon in the world that runs through two continents.

Thus I agreed to meet him in Istanbul in October. As I was researching airfares, etc I looked for a second marathon in that same timeframe so that I could complete two marathons/countries on the same air ticket. Luckily I was able to locate a marathon in Lausanne, Switzerland the following weekend and I still hadn’t run a marathon in that country so I decided to combine the two. However I will talk about the Swiss part of the trip in a separate trip report.

Nicole and I planned to spend the first few days of the trip in Istanbul to recover from jet lag, tour the city, run the marathon and then escape to one of the coasts. After that we were going to play it by ear. After leaving Sarasota at 10am on Wednesday and flying via JFK in NYC we arrived in Istanbul at 11am on Thursday – 18 hours of flying and airport time and 7 hours of time difference. Needless to say our bodies were not happy with us! But we managed to stay awake and when our friend Edson showed up a few hours later he and I decided to find the marathon office and pick up our race packages. This turned out to be a bit more difficult than imagined and to explain why I must first give you a geography lesson plus some travel tips for Istanbul.

Turkey is spread across two continents, Europe and Asia. About 1/8th is in Europe, the other 7/8ths is in Asia. The continents are separated by the Bosphorus Strait and the Sea of Marmara. Istanbul sits on both sides of these bodies of water and is connected by two bridges across the Bosphorus and many ferries. The old historic city and business sections of the city are located in Europe; the residential sections are mostly located in Asia. The old city lies across an inlet called the ‘Golden Horn’ from the downtown area called Taksim where most of the tourist hotels and restaurants are located. There is a newer business district called Maslak located northeast of Taksim. We stayed in Maslak. Although it is only about 6 miles from Taksim the traffic in Istanbul is horrendous and public transportation is poor. Istanbul has 15,000,000 people and I think they all drive – and the road system was not built for that many cars! It reminded me very much of Rome and Cairo – there are no traffic rules other than the bravest gets to go and pedestrians have no rights! Taxis were surprisingly cheap when you consider that gas was $4/gallon.
But it took at least 30 minutes and $10 to get downtown from our hotel. So my advice – stay in the Taksim or old city districts! Now back to the story about the race packages.

After a 30 minute taxi ride through sections of Istanbul never before seen by tourists as our driver used back streets and alleys to avoid the congested main roads, he finally dropped us off in front of the soccer/football stadium in Taksim where the race HQ was supposed to be located. Right!
We finally did find race HQ and also found that there was very little organization and even less English spoken. Somehow we managed to get our race numbers but when we tried to get additional information such as how to get to the start, etc. the only answer we could understand was that we were expected to catch a bus at the race HQ to take us to the start. Oh well, we had two more days to figure out what to do. Now it was time to get some sleep and start our sightseeing.

Oh yes! There is another interesting tidbit that I need to pass on. Take a calculator with you! The exchange rate was 675,000 TL (Turkish Lira) per $US. And things in Turkey are not cheap which means you are talking big numbers. Fortunately big-ticket items such as hotel rooms and tours are quoted in $US. Can you imagine being quoted 168,750,000 TL ($250) for a hotel room? But restaurants and taxis charge in TL so you need to carry about 100,000,000 with you in cash. If you charge a purchase they quote $US but actually put TL on your credit slip. I signed a Visa slip with the biggest number I have ever seen on one – well over 1,000,000,000 (yes –that’s BILLION). Hopefully Citibank applies the correct conversion –otherwise I will be asking all my family and friends to donate $50,000,000 each to pay off my Visa bill at the end of the month!

But now it is time for some sightseeing. On Friday we took a full day tour of Istanbul. The first stop was in the old city to visit St Sophia; a Byzantine basilica built by Emperor Justinian in 537 on the same site as the first church that was completed in 360. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks rebuilt and expanded it using remains from ancient cities such as Ephesus (more on that later) and converted it to a mosque. Today it is a museum.
Next was the Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque renowned for the millions of blue tiles used in the interior decoration. Then on to the Hippodrome where the Romans held their chariot races. The last stop of the morning was the Grand Bazaar, a labyrinth of streets and alleys containing over 4,000 shops –reminded me a lot of the ‘souks’ in Dubai.
After a nice Turkish lunch we proceeded on to the Suleymaniye Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. The palace is the former residence of the Ottoman sultans from the 15th to 19th centuries and has been converted into a museum. It contains the famous emerald dagger, star of the film ‘Topkapi’ and the 86 carat Spoonmaker diamond. And finally we had to have the compulsory stop at a carpet factory. Actually it turned out to be quite interesting and informative since they explained how to distinguish carpets from the various regions of Turkey based on their designs and color of the dyes. A silk carpet costs as much as $40,000 US (27,000,000,000 TL) –how would you like to see that charge on your credit card?

The following day we decided to treat ourselves and sleep in to overcome the jet lag. We opted for an afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus that took us along the shores from the fishing village of Sariyer to the Golden Horn. We made a stop to explore the Rumeli Fortress that was built in 1452 at the narrowest point of the strait. We passed under both bridges as we viewed the magnificent mansions and palaces that line both sides of the Bosphorus. Finally at the Golden Horn we made a visit to the Spice Bazaar where they sold Turkish and other spices that I have never heard of? The tour bus dropped us off in Taksim where we found an Italian restaurant to have our pasta feed the night before the race. Over dinner Edson and I pondered how we were going to get to the start of the race. We figured that since we would have to take a taxi into Taksim to catch the marathon bus that we might as well just take a taxi to the start line.

When we returned to the hotel we discussed our plan with the concierge and were immediately advised of some glitches. The Bosphorus Bridge would be closed to traffic Sunday morning until after the race started. No problem – we would have the taxi drop us at the entrance to the bridge on the European side and walk across to Asia. Wrong! Both bridges have been permanently closed to pedestrian traffic because too many Turks were jumping into the Bosphorus to kill themselves! Thus the final plan was to have a taxi take us across the second bridge, drive through the suburbs in Asia and drop us off at the entrance to the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side. Time for bed now that we have a plan!

Sunday was M-day! Up early – get the concierge to explain to a taxi driver exactly where to take us. The driver scared the crap out of both of us as he insisted on carrying on a one-sided conversation in Turkish while he drove like Michael Shumacher in the Indy 500! Almost kissed the ground when I got out! But he did get us to the right spot and 45 minutes before the start. Since we had no idea where to find the baggage bus we decided not to take any baggage or warm-up clothes with us. But I did take the customary black garbage bag and as we approached the start area I decided to put it on. Well ! –ALL HELL broke loose the second I put it on!!! Two TV stations including CNN-TURK and a few newspaper teams descended upon me like vultures?? My first thoughts or concern was that I had somehow offended their culture or morals. The interviews went something like this:
Q “ Where are you from”
Q “ Did you come here just to run the marathon”
A “Yes and to visit your beautiful country”
Q “Are you going to win the Eurasia Marathon”
A “No (laugh), I’ll be happy just to finish healthy”
Q (As they touch the garbage bag) “ Why are you wearing this disguise or costume”
A “ In the USA and Northern Europe many runners wear these bags to keep warm and dry until the race starts and then we throw them away”
Q “Are you a top runner and are you going to win the race”
Q “ Can we take your picture for our newspaper”?

By this time more photographers and a big crowd were converging on me so I ripped the damn bag off and quickly blended back into obscurity among the other runners. I never did find out why that damn bag caused so much commotion??
But I do have two recommendations for my fellow runners who may consider running this marathon in the future: 1) Stay in Taksim and walk or take a taxi to the marathon bus to get to the start and 2) DON”T wear a garbage bag –(unless I have started a new fashion trend among Turkish runners?)

Finally it is time for the race to start and all the runners make their way to the start line that is about ¼ mile from the Bosphorus Bridge on the Asian side. The gun shoots and we’re off and soon crossing the bridge for some fantastic views of Istanbul, the Bosphorus and the Sea of Maramara. But I quickly realize that I have another problem! In my anxiety to escape the limelight I never had a chance for my last-minute pee! And I am certainly not going to stop by the side of the road and relieve myself like most runners do in a marathon –until I see some locals pull over. I’ve had enough attention for one day thank you! Fortunately within a few miles after we cross the bridge I see some locals finally pulling over to do their deed and I join them. Now I am ready to run – it is difficult to run with your legs crossed!
After crossing the bridge into Europe the course skirts around the Taksim area and at the 10K point the marathon and 15KM races split. The marathon crosses a bridge over the Golden Horn into the old city where it passes many of the tourist sites mentioned above as it makes it way to the shores of the Sea of Marmara. It then heads west along the Sea until the 15 mile point where you turn and loop back to finish in the football stadium. By this time they started to reopen the roads on the other side of the boulevard and we were sucking in wonderful gas fumes. My buddy Edson caught up to me at 15 miles and we ran together until mile 23 when he lowered the hammer and left me behind so quickly that I had to look down to see if my feet were still moving? But I just didn’t have the energy reserves to respond that day so I followed him across the finish line in 3:47:12!

After a quick shower and a massage we all decided to head over to a small fishing village on the shores of the Bosphorus and find us a great seafood restaurant and some wine. We enjoyed a great meal but it wasn’t cheap –about the same as big-city US prices. Then it was time to go back to the hotel and get ready to leave: for Edson –back to work in NJ; for us – on to the Agean Coast of Turkey!

Since this report is turning out to be much longer than expected and I haven’t even started on the most interesting historical part I think it is time to close and provide the remaining part of the adventure in Part #2.

Monday, October 16, 2000

TR Istanbul Part 2

10/11 –10/19/00

Now where did we leave off in report #1? Oh yes! We were getting ready to depart for the Aegean Coast. Why the Aegean Coast? To answer this question I need to backtrack a few days. Since we had no set plans and not much knowledge of Turkey I simply gathered as many tourist brochures as I could find from local travel agencies and reviewed the canned tour packages. These not only told me what the most popular destinations were but what attractions or sites they offered. Most of the tourist destinations seemed to be located on the Aegean and Mediterranean Coasts with the more important historical and biblical sites being on the Aegean. Our choices were to take a canned package or do our own thing. After experiencing the traffic, driving and communication problems in Istanbul I was concerned that they might even be worse in the rural areas, so I opted for a tour. However it was off-peak for tourists and most tours were only one or two days so I put together a proposal for a three-day custom tour and asked three agencies to provide quotes. They ranged from expensive to exorbitant in price; hence my visa charge for 1,000,000,000+ TL mentioned in the previous report. By the way my visa bill arrived and I am happy to report that you can go ahead and spend that $50,000,00 y’all had set aside for me –you did set it aside –right? But I will admit it is a nice way to travel!

The agency arranged everything- booked our air travel to Izmir and reserved the hotels including one at the airport in Istanbul for an overnight stay before leaving for Switzerland. A tour guide met us at the airport in Izmir with a car and driver and they baby-sat, er, I mean escorted us around for three days. Our first stop after arriving in Homer’s birthplace (Izmir) was the ancient ruins of Ephesus. But on the one-hour drive to Ephesus our real education of Turkey began. I had some idea beforehand of the many ancient Greek and Roman ruins – but I had no knowledge (or had forgotten) how much biblical history there is in Turkey. Since I will talk about both throughout the report I need to provide a bit of a prelude on the Biblical history.

The land of ancient Asia Minor or Anatolia is today’s Turkey. The biblical history starts in the Old Testament (Genesis 2:14) with the Tigris and Euphrates, two of the four rivers that flow through the Garden of Eden. These rivers rise from the mountains of Eastern Anatolia. Mount Ararat (Agri Dagi –16,800 feet) is in Anatolia. It is believed that Ararat is the place where Noah’s Ark landed and his son Japheth and his descendents populated Anatolia. And the biblical history terminates at the end of the New Testament (Revelation 16:12:15) again with the Euphrates where it dries up to allow the crossing of the forces of the nether world before the final battle at Armageddon. The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse are all situated in Anatolia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum,Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Did you know all that? No? Then read on to begin your history and bible lessons!

On the way to Ephesus I noticed that the geography and topography of the region were similar to California. The coastal highway reminded me of Hwy #1 from LA to San Francisco- beautiful ocean scenery on one side and scrub mountains on the other. When you pass over the mountains there is a very fertile valley where the majority of Turkey’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Our guide stopped at a few roadside stands to buy us some samples of the local produce. We followed the rule ‘If you can peel it, it is safe to eat’ and had no problems.

And finally we were in Ephesus. There have been four cities built on the same site/area dating back to 3,000 BC. We were visiting the ruins of the second city built and inhabited by the Greeks and Romans from 300BC through 800AD.
At its peak it had a population of 250,000. The city had been built on the confluence of the Aegean Sea and a river for easy transportation. But the ruins are now located about 3 miles from the Coast because of the silting of the river over the past 2,000 years. Only about 10% of the ruins have been excavated to date. A few buildings such as the Library of Celcius – the fourth largest library in the world at that time- have been partially restored and are quite impressive. Across the street from the library was a brothel. It had it’s own indoor hot pools and bathrooms (with running water no less). But the most ingenious feature was a secret tunnel that ran under the street to the library. When an angry wife came banging on the door of the brothel demanding that her husband come home she was informed “her husband was at the library”. Meanwhile hubby would beat a hasty retreat through the tunnel and magically appear coming out of the library with the book of the day. Things haven’t changed much in 2,000 years have they?
The city also contained the Great Theatre, an amphitheatre with a seating capacity of 24,000 – the largest in Anatolia. There were several temples and statues dedicated to the Gods including one to the Goddess Nike. And stupid me didn’t even know that they had running shoes back then?

Just down the road from the ruins at Ephesus were the ruins of the Temple of Artemis (Goddess of Fertility), one of the ‘Seven wonders of the Ancient World’. All that is left is one column – the rest were taken to Istanbul to be used in the remodeling of St Sophia and other mosques. Remember that information from the first report? No? You forgot? Can you remember what the other Six Wonders of the Ancient World were? OK, they are: the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Pharos of Alexandria.

After a nice Turkish lunch we continued on to ‘Meryemana’ or the ‘House of the Virgin Mary’. At the crucifixion Jesus assigned the care of his mother to the Apostle John (Jn 19:26-27). John brought her to Anatolia and he and his disciples built her a house on the top of Mt Solimus very close to Ephesus where they could protect her. She lived the rest of her life there. The house has been restored and converted to a small chapel and shrine.

Next our guide took us to a museum located in the current city of Ephesus. Up until 1923 most of the antiquities found in Turkey were taken to other countries. But when Mustafa Kemal (‘Ataturk’ –the father of the Turks) took control of the country in 1923 he ruled that no more antiquities could leave the country. And he did a smart thing by building museums in each local community so that the treasures and antiquities found in that region could be displayed for the locals to see as well as tourists.
In Ephesus we also saw the ruins of churches dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the Apostle John as well as the prison where the Apostle Paul was held for starting a riot.
Our final stop in Ephesus was a government co-op where they trained women-young girls actually- to weave carpets. They were one of the government controls and distribution centers for Turkish carpets and their prices were about 1/3rd those in Istanbul. So yes! We broke down and bought a carpet made in the Bergama region. That region is noted for it’s earth tone colors because they use tobacco plants for their dyes.

Our guide then took us to our 5-star hotel in Izmir and made sure we were given a room overlooking the main square and the harbor on the Aegean Sea. Izmir was founded by Alexander the Great and is Turkey’s 3rd largest city (3,000,000). The city had just refurbished the harbor area and there were lots of new restaurants and shops and most importantly a new park along the harbor with a dirt running trail about 1 ½ miles long. I had to run up and down this trail several times each morning to get my training runs in –I didn’t dare use the roads since very few have sidewalks!

The following morning our guide collected us and headed north to Bergama. We passed through Smyrna (another Church of Revelation) on our way to the ancient Roman city of Pergamum. Pergamum was the Roman capital of the Aegean region even though it was smaller than Ephesus. It was built on the top of a mountain for defensive purposes. Initially the Romans were able to supply the city with water from wells and catch basins that they built into the side of the mountain. But as the city grew they had a water problem. How did they solve it? Good question. The emperor declared a contest and the winner who could provide the best solution would marry his daughter. The solution was to build an aqueduct to another mountain range 35 miles to the west that had snow and much more rain. Since that range was 2,000 feet higher, gravity and water pressure would force the water to the top of the city. However there was a major problem. The water pressure on the route up the mountain was too high for the clay pipes to handle. So they wrapped the clay pipes in a lead sheath and encased those pipes in solid rock. Examples of those pipes still remain at the ruins. I was intrigued by how an engineer had solved the puzzle 2,000 years ago. And did he marry the emperor’s daughter? The story goes that he got so excited when the system worked that he fell off the defense walls and was killed! I guess they had nerds in those days too?

Pergamum had the usual temples, baths and amphitheatre and the second largest library in the world (200,000 books). Only the library in Alexandria was larger and when it burned down the Romans sent books from Pergamum to replace some of those destroyed. The most interesting attraction in Pergamum was the Aesculapium or ancient medical center built in the name of Aesculapis, the ‘God of Medicine’. The Romans used herbs, venom from snakes and insects, and thermal water and muds for treatments. They also used psychology in their healing: the medical center had it’s own theatre to offer comedy and music, the library only contained books of comedy and poetry –no drama. The wards even had acoustic pipes or channels built into them so that the doctors could whisper to the patients while they slept to reinforce that they were getting better. We also saw examples of medical and surgery instruments that were used at the Aesculapium. Once again it doesn’t appear that much has changed in 2,000 years. I think that Jason could have spent $5 for admission to Pergamum and learned as much as he has at med school – and saved $100K!

From Pergamum we toured the city of Bergama with stops at the Church of St John’s (another Church of Revelation) and the local museum to view many of the artifacts excavated at Pergamum. Then it was back to Izmir and another good dinner overlooking the harbor. I ordered a pepper steak assuming that it would have the normal peppercorn sauce. Wrong! The sauce was made from local Turkish peppers and was the hottest/spiciest thing I have ever tasted. So I had the waiter run a hose to the beer tap and I managed to keep the flames doused while I enjoyed every bite! The meals were a bit cheaper in Izmir – 22,000,000 TL ($33 US) for two with wine and lots of beer.

On our third and final day in the Aegean region we headed inland about 150 miles to Pamukkale. Our driver knew the back roads and took us through many small villages and towns so that we got a good look at how the country folk really live. I was somewhat surprised to discover that everyone had tractors and modern farm equipment. There were a few donkey and horse carts but they were the exception. While driving through one village we passed a funeral procession where the men were carrying the deceased wrapped only in a blanket and laid out on a wooden cot that they carried on their shoulders as they paraded solemnly through town.
Finally after a very long drive we arrived at Pamukkale or the Cotton Castle, a beautiful and spectacular natural site, unique in the world! The waters of thermal springs laden with calcium carbonate have over the past 14,000 years, formed a dazzling white petrified cascade of stalactites called Travertines ( Pamukkale in Turkish) flowing over the edge of the Salpak Mountains into a series of basins and pools.

The Romans believing in the healing powers of thermal water built a city named Hierapolis on the site in the 2nd century BC. They had several bathhouses and pools spread around the city and built an aqueduct or pipe system to channel the thermal waters to the various sections of the city. They also directed the outflow to various sections of the mountain resulting in the Travertines being spread over about two miles of the mountain. This aqueduct system is still being used today to direct the flow of the thermal waters. Hierapolis also contains a Necropole that is one of the largest ancient cemeteries in Anatolia. The Martyrium of the Apostle Philip is in Hierapolis where he taught until his death and was martyred in 80 AD.

Now it was time for our babysitters to return us to the airport in Izmir for our return flight to Istanbul. After a pleasant dinner and a good night’s rest we were ready to leave on our next adventure to Switzerland. But that is another story.

In summary Turkey was interesting but a land of many surprises. It is not as poor and undeveloped as I expected. It certainly is not as cheap to visit as I expected. And there is a lot more history to learn and enjoy than expected. I would go back but then there are lots of other places that I want to see first.

Sunday, September 17, 2000

RR Albuquerque Marathon

Race Report
Albuquerque Marathon
Albuquerque, NM

Now that you are awake you can go to work or read on to find out some
information on Albuquerque and the NM marathon if you have any interest.

Nicole and I closed up the condo on Friday and headed south. We traveled the backroads through Alma, Fairplay and along the Arkansas River through Salida and Canon City to enjoy some of the Colorado back country. We finally emerged out on to I 25 at Pueblo, CO; set the cruise control to 80mph and headed directly to Albuquerque, NM. We stayed in Old Town which is the original town center. The marathon finished at the Sheraton in Old Town so it was a convenient location. It had been about 5 or 6 years since I last visited Albuquerque so I had forgotten how flat, barren and ugly the city is. The only thing that prevents it from being as ugly as Dallas are the Sandia
Mountains at the eastern edge of the city.
On Saturday we toured out to the Sandia mountains and up to the Sandia Crest at 10,600 feet where we enjoyed a spectacular panoramic view of the city.
Then we toured some of the back roads through Madrid and Cerillo which are old mining towns that have been taken over by artists and craftspersons. The landscape is mostly high desert plains with lots of tumbleweeds.

The marathon started at 6am on Sunday on Tramway Blvd, the boulevard that runs along the base of the Sandia mountains. The temperature at the start was 70 degrees which is 10 to 20 degrees above the norm. The first 7 miles climbed gradually about 400 feet to 6,000 feet and then dropped 1,000 feet over the next 7 miles. As a result I ran the first half too fast. I was on an 8 minute pace at the half and paid dearly for it over the second half that was flat - but at 5,000 feet! The last 10K was very difficult and I had to struggle and use all my willpower to keep my legs moving at a 10 minute pace over the last 4 miles! As many of you know that can get real ugly and believe me it was! But I had no artificial time limit - my only goal was to finish without stopping or walking and I did manage that! But some quick math will
show that my finish time of 3:43 meant that I added one minute per mile to my pace on the second half! The temperature was a balmy 80 degrees when I finished!
It is not a very interesting course or marathon but it happened to be in the right place at the right time. And as I proved to myself, I needed the training!

We decided that we had seen everything interesting to see in Albuquerque so we left right after the race and drove through some very boring desert and mountain scenery but some interesting towns such as Socorro, Elephant Butte, Truth or Consequences, Hatch and Las Cruces to El Paso. We wanted to get a head start on our visit to the Big Bend region of Texas. So tonight is time for a huge TX steak (24 to 36 oz)to replace all that protein and iron I used up in the marathon and then we head out to Big Bend in the morning.

I will try to keep y'all woke up and smiling during our travels. Take care all!

Monday, May 22, 2000

TR Denmark

DENMARK – 5/19 –5/22/00

This trip had been placed on my itinerary over one year ago. The 1999 Copenhagen Marathon conflicted with the Prague Marathon on May 23/99. We chose to go to Prague last year to begin my comeback from the ‘marathon burnout’ of 1998. But I immediately placed Copenhagen on my 2000 schedule. For awhile it looked dubious that we would be in England long enough to make the one-year anniversary of that date but Nicole came through and delayed our departure. I was very happy to be able to run the 2000 Copenhagen Marathon on May 21/00 because it accomplished many significant things for me:
1) It represented the 31st marathon that I completed during that year – a personal record for me with regards to the number of marathons run in one year
2) It represented the 31st country completed in the past year and a total of 40 countries that I have completed a marathon in
3) It represented the completion of a marathon in all the Scandinavian countries

Thus it is no surprise that the focus of this trip was the marathon. But I was also pleased that our last trip of this wonderful and exciting year in England should be back to the Scandinavian region that is my favorite area in Europe. The Scandinavian countries have some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Europe including the beaches and coastline of Sweden’s archipelago, the lake districts of Finland and the fiords of Norway.
The Scandinavian people are friendly, nature loving and athletic. And the Scandinavian women in my humble opinion are the most beautiful in the world! But –and there is always a but- the region has two major negatives: 1) the winters are cold, dark, and long! and 2) the Scandinavian countries have the highest taxes and cost-of-living in Europe!
So you don’t want to live there but it is a great place to visit – in the summer!

Nicole and I had been to Copenhagen last summer to start our Baltic cruise and had done the city and canal tours so this time we decided to explore the outskirts of the city and countryside. Fortunately we arrived early Friday and I was able to pick up my race package, etc that afternoon which freed us up to explore all day Saturday. We decided to take a Castle tour of North Zealand even though we are kind of ‘castled out’ because it offered the best tour of North Zealand.
Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is located on the eastern tip of Sjealland Island ( Zealand Island) that sits in a strategic position, separated from Sweden by the narrow Strait of Oresund. This strait is the only passageway from the Baltic Sea into the North Sea and the rest of the world!
The tour followed the coast north through the suburbs of Copenhagen along the ‘Danish Riviera’. There are many beaches, parks and beautiful homes and mansions ($500K to $5M) along the coast. The views are great as you can see the coast of Sweden across the Oresund. One thing that I noticed as we left the city was that the bike paths common throughout the city continued alongside the roads even out in the country.
We passed the Eremitageslot – a royal hunting lodge built by King Christian VI in 1736 before arriving at the Kronburg Slot (Slot = Castle) in Helsingor. It overlooks the port of Helsingor at the narrowest point of the Oresund.

Helsinborg, Sweden is only 4.5Km away. The castle was built in 1420 as a defensive fort from which the Kings of Denmark charged a toll or tax for all ships passing through the Oresund. It is also renowned as the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet that was based on this castle and a Danish King. Each year live performances of Hamlet are performed in the courtyard of Kronburg Slot.
We then proceeded into the lake district of North Zealand to visit Fredensborg Slot, a royal palace built in 1740. It is still used as the summer residence for Queen Margaret and the royal family. And finally we continued on to the city of Hillerod to visit Frederiksborg Slot. This castle, built in 1560 by King Frederick II, was severely damaged by fire in 1859. It was restored by the Carlsberg brewery in 1865 and turned into a national museum. It contains many of the original furnishings that were saved from the fire and is the most spectacular of the castles visited.
In addition to the castles we enjoyed the scenery of the Danish countryside and the small villages that we passed through so it was an enjoyable tour. But it was time to return to the city and partake of the standard pasta dinner in preparation for the race.

Sunday was M-day and it started out as a very nice day weather-wise – sunny and warm. But by the time the race finished (for us slow pokes) it had turned to overcast and some light rain. That was fine since the water stops were only every 5K like most European races. And I was surprised to find that the race provided local water in plastic cups vs bottled water like most races.
The course started and finished in the center of the city close to the Radhuspladsen – the City Square next to the City Hall. That and the fact that it was flat are the only two good things to say about it. I did not like the course! Only about 3 or 4 miles were run through the historic and interesting part of the city. The rest was run through the suburbs and industrial area near the docks. And the entire second half was run on bike paths and sidewalks next to the roads which meant a lot of stepping up and down which is hard on the legs and dangerous when you are tired.
I ran with a gentleman from Copenhagen for about ten miles. He was two years younger than me and running his 41st marathon this year in an attempt to set a world record for the most number of marathons run in one year. The record is 100 and he hopes to run 105! He had run a marathon on Saturday and I had to let him go at 18 miles because I was slowing and he was still pushing hard. In this sport if you start to feel cocky or mighty it is so easy to meet someone to slap you down and put you in place quickly.
I was doing OK time-wise and pain-wise until I hit that invisible brick wall at 36Km. The last 6 Km were not fun! I can’t remember how many hundreds or thousands of times that I told myself “Just one more step-just run one more step John”! But it worked as I willed myself to struggle across the finish line in 3:49:14. I was not pleased with my time but at least I finished alive and injury-free!

Now it was time for a quick shower and to spend the rest of the day enjoying ‘Wonderful Copenhagen’. The entry fee included free entry into the Tivoli Gardens so Nicole and I visited the park. It contains many gardens, concert halls and stages, an amusement park and several restaurants. Unfortunately we did not find it appealing or interesting. The restaurants and amusements rides were exorbitantly priced so we had a small snack and a beer and left. Instead we strolled down the Stroget to the Nyhavn.
The Nyhavn or ‘New Port’ was built in the 17th century and is now one of the major tourist sites in Copenhagen. It is very colorful with lots of great restaurants. We enjoyed an excellent dinner and wine while watching the beautiful women of Copenhagen stroll by. But the view wasn’t cheap –I had almost forgotten how expensive the Scandinavian countries can be. But then again, it was out last dinner and trip in Europe and it was worth it!

Now we are back home in England. The movers came this morning to pack up and move the majority of our stuff. We leave on Saturday, May 27th. We are flying to Houston via Dallas so that we can drop off some baggage in Dallas before continuing on to Galveston to visit Jason and pick up Nicole’s car. We drive back to Dallas on Monday. The movers come on Thursday, June 1st to load our stuff from storage and we will depart the next day for Florida.

So my loyal readers, this is the last trip report! I hope that I haven’t bored you too much and that I have passed on some interesting and useful information that will help you in your future travels. I thank you for giving me a forum and the incentive to write these reports. I am already finding that I need to refer to them to remember or sort out what happened to whom and where. If I had not kept this written record I am sure that I would have forgotten many of the small but amusing details. Thanks again and as a parting gesture I offer the following ‘Travel Advice for Europe’.


When visiting the Scandinavian countries make sure you take a walk or run along the (nude) beaches. You will probably get lost but you won’t care!

When visiting Scotland, don’t bother to pack your fish sonar to hunt for Nessie

If you stay at a haunted castle in Ireland don’t be surprised when your door opens mysteriously at 3am

When visiting Egypt do not forget the most important phrase of your life - “yella imshe”

In Casablanca, don’t bother looking for Bogie or Ingrid

In Italy remember to leave your donation for the pickpockets in your pocket and everything else of value in the hotel safe

Before going to any Balkan country (or Morocco) visit a tanning booth and dye your hair black

When visiting Portugal you may be able to afford a new, modern hotel. If you go out on the patio to enjoy the view, take a coat, umbrella and food because you may be out there a long time after the self-locking door closes

In many European restaurants meat and fish are sold by weight (Kg). Be careful or you will get to enjoy an $80 lobster!

Remember – it isn’t mainly Rain in the Plains of Spain, it’s Dastardly Doggie Doo-doo! (so be careful where you step)

When staying in a hotel in Moscow and a sexy female voice calls you at midnight and asks “Inglis- you want beautiful Russian girl come your room and give you massage or sex” - remember that you are in a foreign country and should not upset the locals – just answer “Da”!

Wednesday, May 17, 2000

TR Andorra

France, Andorra, Spain, Andorra, France
5/12 –5/17/00

As I sit here looking out the window of my office at a violent rain burst accompanied by a cool wind I remember why I told Nicole that we needed to travel away from England as much as possible in these last few weeks. She had hoped/expected to make some business trips into Europe but when they didn’t materialize we decided to take off on our own.
Nicole wanted to visit Marseilles and since I had only spent a few hours there on a previous trip I figured why not? Besides I wanted to experience the real bouillabaisse which Marseilles is renowned for.

We caught a direct flight to Marseilles and stayed in a hotel right on the Vieux Port. Marseilles is the 2nd largest and oldest city in France. It was founded in 600 BC by Phoceans (Greeks from Asia Minor). The Vieux Port (Old Port) is a natural inlet (calanque) and is the heart of the city. Most of the old city was destroyed during WWII but some old buildings remain and have been restored. The Forts of St Jean and St Nicholas were built in the 16th century to guard the entrance to the harbor. St Victor Basilica was built in the 3rd century and the Notre Dame De La Garde Cathedral, built in the 15th century on the highest hill, overlooks and protects the city and Vieux Port. Vieux Port and the old historical part of the city are the only sections worth seeing as far as I am concerned and that can be accomplished easily in two days. We also took a boat trip out into the Mediterranean to visit two islands – the Ile d’If and Ile de Frioul. Ile d’If has a large fort called Chateau d’If that was built to protect the entrance to the harbor and was turned into a state prison in the 17th century. The fame of Chateau D’If owes much to the French writer Alexandre Dumas, who made it the place where his hero, Edmond Dantes, was imprisoned, in The Count of Monte Cristo.
We stopped for a late snack on Ile de Frioul where I had some of the best tasting moulieres aux cremes (mussels in a cream sauce) that I have ever eaten.

If you enjoy seafood then you will like Marseilles – there are hundreds of great restaurants. As I mentioned before Bouillabaisse is the most renowned local dish. What we did not know is that there are several kinds of bouillabaisse. They are categorized (and priced) by the quantity and types of fish and shellfish that are included. The most expensive contain 6 types of fish and 3 types of shellfish. The soup or stew is a thick stock containing many secret spices. And then if you are still not confused enough they offer a ‘marmite’ that is bouillabaisse in which they remove all the bones from the fish (and charge more). And finally for those still not confused enough you can try ‘bourride’ which is bouillabaisse with a creamy garlic stock? Of course all these varieties also come in different prices and names just like the bouillabaisse.
We tried a top-of –the-line marmite (didn’t want to pick the bones) and we were both disappointed. We did not like the secret stew stock – maybe because we are used to the tomato based stock we normally get in the US. I was very disappointed because I was expecting/hoping for a true gourmet experience like the Bolognese sauce in Bologna? Oh well! Another surprising aspect of Marseilles was the language. They speak a dialect of French that contains many local or slang words that my interpreter did not understand. So we once got a double order of food for lunch and another time she received a local delicacy for an appetizer that was squid boiled in its own ink – and she is not a seafood lover like me!

After a few days in Marseilles it was time to move on to Andorra. We had reserved a car with the intention of driving but when the Budget clerk advised us that it was an 8 to 9 hour drive we changed our minds and took a train to Toulouse. We later learned that it was only a 4 to 5 hour drive and we would have had much more flexibility in our travels. As it was we had to rent a car in Toulouse and drive 200 km (3 hours) south to Andorra.
Andorra is located in the heart of the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It covers approximately 180 square miles and the average altitude is 3000 feet. There are 65 mountain peaks ranging from 7500 to 9000 feet. The only way into the country is by road that runs from the French border in the northeast to the Spanish border in the southwest. The road through Andorra is 30km long. The entry from France is a challenging route as it rises from about 500 feet in France to the Andorran border at 7500 feet. There is a ski resort situated right at the border. Then you have to continue up another 1000 feet over the top of a mountain and drop rapidly on the other side. I now understand why the cyclists train in the Pyrenees for the Tour De France! I also realized how much I miss my cars in the US that have real motors instead of rubber bands like European cars. Several times I thought that I might have to get out and push my brand new rental Renault up the damn mountain!

Andorra is very beautiful. It reminds me very much of Colorado and British Columbia. Three rivers cross the country in a Y shape. The Valira d’Orient and Valira del Nord originate in the snowcaps along the French border and flow south to merge into the Gran Valira in the capital city of Andorra La Vella. Andorra has a population of 65,000 of which 60% live in the capital city and the rest are spread among small villages in the mountains. The official language is Catalan, a Spanish dialect. About 50% of the locals also speak French and only about 5% speak English. After the first day we gave up on English and tried French first and Spanish last. Money was also a difficulty. Most shops and restaurants posted prices in both French Francs and Spanish Pesetas but government offices such as the post office would only accept FF so you had to carry both currencies.

The country was first established in the 13th century with a ‘Pariatage’ or joint sovereignty shared by the Bishop of Urgell (Spain) and the Count de Foix (France). This pariatage still exists today even though a constitution was approved in 1993. One thing I noticed is the lack of an identity or nationalism that is so fervent throughout the rest of Europe – or maybe they just don’t display it (or flaunt it) as much?

Nicole and I stayed in Andorra del Vella but we explored every major road in the country (there aren’t that many). I was looking for a possible marathon route but the prospects were not very appealing. The best route would have been a start in Andorra del Vella and run 26 miles into Spain. The Spanish border was only 10 km south- all downhill and continuing downhill well into Spain. We actually checked out that route as we made a trip into Spain and visited the nearest town –a village called La Seu D’Urgell. We had a pleasant lunch there and discovered that the white-water kayaking events for the 92 Olympics were held there on the Gran Valira.
I decided against that route because there was too much crap to go through to get across the Spanish border. So we explored an alternative route that followed the Valira del Nord out of Andorra del Vella as it climbed up to the snowcaps along the French border. Yes, that meant that the road went uphill all the way! By starting in La Massana at 4,000 feet and climbing 1,000 feet to El Serrat the distance was 11km. Unfortunately there were also many, many, many hills of 200 to 300 feet elevation in between! But that was my route! So Tuesday became M-day for another Maddog special marathon. I rose at 5am while my trusty sports manager slept in and made my way to La Massana. I started the run by 6am and watched the sun come up as I ran the first leg uphill. I had the roads to myself, it was quiet, it was postcard pretty and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole run! It was so quiet and peaceful and the scenery so beautiful. The road followed and passed over the Valira del Nord which was rushing down the mountain full of spring run-off. The mountains were covered with forests and the tops still had snowcaps – it was so beautiful and inspiring that I didn’t even notice the hills along the route. But I was thankful that the last 10 km were downhill! I was pleasantly surprised to finish the marathon under 4 hours (3:58) considering the route I had chosen.

After the run we had to pack and head back to Toulouse to catch a train back to Marseilles. I was wishing at that point that we had driven from Marseilles so that we could drive part way back, stop and finish the next day. But we had to catch the last train that day because the early train on Wednesday would not get us to Marseilles in time to catch our flight home. So it was a very long day! But we finally made it, grabbed a late dinner in Marseilles and went to bed and crashed!

Now we are back in rainy England for one whole day – enough time for Nicole to show up at the office, then repack and head off on our last adventure in Europe. We have made all our moving arrangements and leave England on Saturday, May 27th!

Sunday, April 30, 2000

TR Poland

4/21 –5/1/00

I had intended this report to only describe Poland but there were some events in the UK leading up to this trip that adversely affected the Poland trip so thought it would be best to include those also.

And you probably thought that I was just sitting around on my hands after I had waved goodbye to my team of ex-virgins from the BBR at the end of the London Marathon.
Wrong! Four days later my baby brother Doug and his wife Darleen arrived from Richardson, Texas. I made them stay up that first day as I toured them around Cambridge in the rain. From experience we have determined that it is best to stay awake till your normal bedtime and then crash and sleep for as long as you need. When you finally do get up most of the jet lag is behind you! The next day (Friday) was the start of a long weekend so all four of us took off (in the rain again) on a worldwind tour of England and Scotland.

We drove up through the Lake District and stayed in the Lake Windermere area. The following day we toured through some of the back roads in the Lake District as we made our way north to Lanark, Scotland. We stopped in Lanark for lunch and a short walking tour to discover more facts about Sir William Wallace –Braveheart. This is where he did indeed marry 18 year old Marion Braidfute in 1296. And she was later killed by the mean old English sheriff of Lanark called Haselrigg whom William killed for revenge by splitting his skull with his huge broadsword. But contrary to the movie version, William and Marion did have a daughter before she was murdered.
We traveled on through the city of Perth to Stirling where we stayed overnight and Doug was able to complete his pilgrimage to the Wallace Monument. Stirling is the location where William Wallace reached his historical peak with a magnificent victory over an overwhelming English army on September 11, 1297. In 1298 he was appointed as ‘Guardian of Scotland’ and in 1305 he was betrayed by Sir John Montieth. On August 23, 1305 in Smithfield, he was hanged, disemboweled whilst still conscious and his entrails burned. His head was displayed on London Bridge and the four quarters of his body sent for exhibition at Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. And you thought this was a PG-report!
It is fitting that the Wallace National Monument was built on top of Abbey Craig, Stirling – a 330-foot volcanic plug from which Wallace mounted the attack. The Monument was completed in 1869 and the top of the 220 feet high tower is reached by climbing 246 steps. Three chambers house various Wallace artifacts including Wallace’s famous double-handed broadsword. I always told my kids that if they could raise the sword above their head that they could lay claim as chieftain of the Wallace Clan!
The movie ‘Braveheart’ did provide a lot of positive exposure to Wallace and Scotland but I think that they might have gone too far in their appreciation when they built a new statue of Wallace or ‘Braveheart’ at the base of the Monument – in the image of Mel Gibson!

But now it was time to move north to Loch Ness and like everyone else who is captivated with the legend of the monster - look for ‘Nessie’. I told my baby brother that since he was the youngest and therefore more agile and quicker that it would only be fair that I hold the fishing pole and he swim out into the Loch with the line and bobber. He was to splash and act like a big fish and call “Here Nessie, here Nessie”! After we checked into a local hotel/B&B in Drumnadrochit we met a local Scotsman called Willie in the bar. We asked him where to look for Nessie. He told us that the only chance we had to see Nessie was to buy a large bottle of local Scotch Whiskey and the more we drank the better the better our chances would get! We had a delightful evening talking with Willie. And how smart he was!
For the next morning we went directly to the ‘Loch Ness 2000 – the new exhibition’. It is a high-tech, multi-media exhibition and presentation on the history of Loch Ness and Nessie. It covers everything from sightings over a hundred years ago to recent scientific studies and explorations including the last one a few years ago where an armada of sonar boats scanned ever square inch of the Loch. The conclusion was damnable frank! There is no Nessie and the Loch cannot ecologically support a monster or mammal of that size! Well- Burst our Bubbles! The next thing you know some scientific jerk will tell us there is no Santa Claus! And then none of us will get any more Christmas presents from Santa!
We were so flabbergasted and shocked that we just left and traveled on to St Andrews through the rain and intermittent sun. At least I knew that we would find great golf courses, some castle and church ruins there!

Everyone enjoyed St Andrews as it is a very pretty and picturesque town with a lot of history. We even managed to buy some Wallace tartans and momentos there since they were impossible to find in Stirling- I guess everyone believes that they become an honorary member of the Clan if they visit the Monument?
But now my own misery was about to begin. Did I mention rain a few times? Did I mention that this past April has been the wettest April on record in the UK? Well of course I had been running in this wonderful liquid sunshine all month including each day of the trip. Now I don’t know if weather is the reason but as each day of the trip progressed I seemed to feel worse and worse with a cold or flu. That final morning in St Andrews I got up early to run along the ‘West Sands Beach” where they filmed ‘Chariots of Fire’. It was so cold, rainy and windy as I ran along the beach that I quit after two miles. By the time we started the drive to Edinburgh I was feeling very poorly. But I wanted to show Doug and Dee the city of Edinburgh since it is a pretty city with a lot of history. It was raining so hard that we had to take a city bus tour and stay on the bus. Finally we left the city after lunch and started the 8-hour drive home. It rained all the way but thankfully my kind wife took pity on me and drove for two hours through torrential rain while I grabbed a nap. By the time we arrived home my cold or flu was in full bloom –and I was schedule to leave for Poland in two days!

Not only did I feel sick for the next few days but I felt badly that I could not accompany Doug and Dee into London to explore the city during those days. But they managed fine without me as I stayed in bed trying to kill off the flu bug that was unfortunately winning. Finally on Friday it was time to leave for Poland. If I had not prepaid the nonrefundable tickets and booked the hotel, etc I would have stayed at home. But the marathon was on Sunday and I still had hopes for a recovery in the next few days? So off I went! What a long miserable journey as I flew from Heathrow to Warsaw and then connected with a commuter flight on to Wroclaw. I had done a fair amount of research on Poland before leaving and was to find out that 75% of what I read or learned was wrong - at least when applied to Wroclaw.

Wroclaw, the city of 100 Bridges, is the fourth largest city in Poland with a population of 700,000. It is situated in the southwest province of Silesia. The city is celebrating its 1000th anniversary this year and has had a tumultuous history. For centuries the city was known as Breslau when it was part of Prussia. At the end of WWII, the city was confiscated from Germany and the German population forced to leave. Polish citizens from the city of Lwow in Ukraine were then forced to leave that city and occupy Breslau which reverted back to its Polish name of Wroclaw. Most of the city was destroyed in 1945. Wroclaw’s city center or ‘Old Town’ is delineated by the River Odra to the north and the original defensive moats to the south. The town square, called Rynek is the heart of the city and is the largest in Poland. It reminds me very much of the town squares in Tallinn, Estonia and Prague, CZR. The center-piece of Rynek Square is the Ratusz or town hall which was built in stages between 1290 and 1504. It has a large astronomical clock like Prague and much of its interior is well preserved and contains many original furnishings and paintings. The rest of Rynek Square has been reconstructed since 1945 to resemble the buildings of the 15th century. They have done an excellent job and the square is very colorful and artistic. But in Prague and Tallinn the old town squares contain the original buildings that have been restored and you really can tell the difference! And this is one of the first major errors I found in the guidebooks. They claimed that the cities were dirty and crime-ridden – I found just the opposite. Wroclaw is clean and most of the buildings in Old Town have been rebuilt or refurbished and new office buildings and hotels are being built. There are no signs of crime; e.g. bars or security screens on windows and storefronts. People walk around at all hours of the day and except for a few beggars there is no hassle or threats. The people are very friendly and strangely unfamiliar with tourists because tourism has yet to be discovered. It is a very pleasant city to visit. The only drawback is language. The guidebooks stated that most Poles speak English. Wrong! The only person I found to speak English in the whole city was the desk clerk at the hotel. Surprisingly even the young people could not speak English!

There are many other tourist attractions in the city. If you are into old churches then Wroclaw is your place. It could easily be called the ‘City of 100 Churches’. Most of the churches were built in the 14 and 15th Centuries and have been fully restored. But I have been ‘churched out’ and only viewed them from the exterior. But I did enjoy Wroclaw’s best-loved sight –‘The Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice’. This gigantic painting/mural, 360 feet long and 45 feet high, was commissioned in 1894 to celebrate the centenary of the defeat of the Russian army by the Poles near the village of Raclawice. It is housed in a specially designed rotunda that includes soil and props from the actual region and is so well done that it is difficult to tell where the props end and the mural begins. It is accompanied by a half-hour presentation to describe the battle scenes depicted in the mural. It had lain damaged and in storage for years until Poland escaped the communist cloak and is now Poland’s most visited site!
All these wonderful sites and attractions I was able to visit in only a few days while still feeling like a piece of warmed-up crap! Fortunately the weather was sunny and hot –very hot - which seemed to help me. Or maybe it was the scantily clad Polish women enjoying the first heat wave of the year as they walked around Old Town. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many young Polish women have unbelievable Barbie-Doll type figures –ultra slim bodies with large wonderful boobs! Forgive my male hormones – but the truth is -it was wonderful! Again a major drawback was that none of them spoke English.

The language issue did cause a few problems during my visit. When I finally found the race HQ to pick up my entry, etc. not one race volunteer spoke English. Since I have been through this routine a few times I was able to sort my own way through the process until it came time to pay. The entry fee was a whole 30 Zloty (zl) or $7.50 which included a T-shirt, goody package and finisher’s medal ( vs the norm of about $50). When I tried to pay they just kept saying “Nie” ( No). They refused to take my money? The only reason I can guess that they comp’d me is that I was the only American entered in the race and maybe they figured I spent enough just getting there? Another problem was that all the race instructions were in Polish and I couldn’t figure out what the last minute instructions were. But I did figure out where the race started so I just made sure to show up early so I could follow the crowd.
And lastly I had a difficult time with the menus. Piwo (beer) and woda (water) were easy to learn but most of the other important food groups were not as easy. But its amazing how quickly you can adapt to survive.

Finally Sunday or M-day arrived. When I woke up I felt about 60% which is the best I had felt all week. So I figured “shit, I’m here, I’ve nothing else to do and if I run real easy there is a good chance I may not die”! So off to the start you lazy bugger! It was a 9 am start which was probably OK in a normal year but the temperature had already climbed above 70 degrees F. This already had the signs of getting real ugly! Things actually went fairly smoothly for the first 20 miles but then my prediction started coming true. My body was still running a fever with the flu and by 20 miles the temperatures were exceeding 80 degrees and I just couldn’t cool down fast enough. And the race only had woda every 5 K which was not enough in that heat. But to make a long agonizing and painful story short, I finished (3:57:57) and I survived to do it again another day and another race!

Now for the reward! Lots of cold piwo while sitting under a cool umbrella at an outdoor café on the Square while watching all those wonderful Barbie Dolls parade by in their mini skirts, shorts and halter-tops. Ah! Life doesn’t get much better!

But I would probably trade at least a few minutes of that glorious R &R to get rid of this damn cold that is still plaguing me even after my return. I have now resolved to rest and back off running until I beat this thing completely. Fortunately I have a few weeks before my next running adventure. Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 16, 2000

TR London & Paris Marathons Part 2

France and England –Part 2
4/6 – 4/16/00

Now where were we? Oh yes! Arriving in Stortford after a 7-hour drive from Versailles. Did I mention that it started to rain as we approached the North Sea coast and it rained from the time we exited the chunnel until we arrived home? Welcome to England!
That evening the Wallaces and Ballingers stayed at home to rest and enjoy a home-cooked meal by the renowned ‘Chef Jean’ and complimented by some of the excellent French wines that we imported and liqueurs from other European countries.
A quick phone call confirmed that the rest of the BBR had arrived in London and Debbie and Holly were on a final shopping binge before they caught their flight back to Dallas Wednesday morning. John had to leave also on Wednesday for a business meeting in Budapest, Hungary so Fred planned to catch a train to Stortford and reunite with the rest of us for a few days at the ‘Wallace Hilton’ where the rates were much cheaper and the rooms better.

The following morning Dick and Sue visited with an elderly friend in a neighboring town while I picked Fred up at the train station. Nicole unfortunately had to go to work. Work –yuk! What a waste of good time that could be spent doing things that you LIKE TO DO!
Anyway the four of us non-workers took off to visit Cambridge. We toured around the city and the various college campuses. The weather unfortunately was not pleasant – sunny for one minute and cold and rainy for the next fifty-nine – not a satisfactory ratio! So after a few hours we returned home to prepare for an evening with the Bishops Stortford Running Club. I took Fred and Dick to the club to experience an evening with the local runners while Nicole and Sue went off to a local pub to experience local pub food and beer. The club members led us on a fast 8-mile tour around Stortford and as Fred commented “every hill in Stortford”. Actually it was only our regular route but Fred doesn't like hills. After the run and a quick shower at the club, I treated Fred and Dick to a massage by the club masseuse Sue – I call her ‘Magic Fingers Sue’ because she always finds some muscle that is hurting even when you think everything is fine. She didn’t let me down as she made all three of us writhe and scream in pain – but we all felt better after she was done!
Then we drank beer and talked with the club members whom explained to Fred and Dick that they weren’t sure whether the club was made up of “runners with a drinking problem” or “drunkards with a running problem”? I think both Fred and Dick were impressed with the camaraderie of the club and the participation for a small town like Stortford.

The following day (Thursday) turned out to be a rest or recharge day. With the weather still very inhospitable and everyone needing to do laundry we just lazed around the house and recharged our batteries for the next onslaught of activities. And of course another home-cooked gourmet meal by Chef Jean complimented by his exquisite wine cellar and liqueur cabinet –all part of the Maddog pre-marathon diet

Finally it was time to swing into action again! On Friday morning I accompanied the BBR into London on the train and they checked into their hotel – and indeed did confirm that the rooms were much better at the ‘Wallace Hilton’. The hotel selected in Paris by Marathon Tours was much better than the one in London. After they checked in we departed for Covent Garden to see if we could find tickets for ‘The Lion King’. I had tried to buy tickets in advance but the musical was sold out through October 2000. I didn’t hold out much hope but we proceeded directly to the Lyceum Theatre to see if they had any returned tickets. No luck! So we walked around Covent Garden until we found a discount ticket vendor to determine what shows he did have tickets for. As a joke I asked if he had six tickets for the Lion King and was shocked when he claimed that he had six tickets in a row in the balcony or Grand Circle for the evening performance. Sure enough – he did! He charged a 100% premium but we still jumped on them! Then I made a quick phone call to Nicole (still at work – yuk!) and asked her to meet us at the theatre. She wanted very badly to see the Lion King before we left London.
Then we were off to the marathon exhibition to pick up our race packets and visit the booths. It turned out to be a hectic day as we had to rush back to the hotel to meet and inform John that he was going to the Lion King and then meet Nicole at the theatre for dinner.
The Lion King is a great show. The sets and costumes are spectacular and according to Fred whom has watched the video many times with his six year-old son, follows the story line fairly closely.

On Saturday I left the BBR to do their own thing in London while I caught up on some personal chores at home. The weather was still miserable (cold and rain) and I have done the city tour too many times already. Apparently so had most of the BBR as they decided to spend the day indoors at Harrod’s! On Saturday evening I rejoined the group for the pasta feed and bunked out in Fred and John’s hotel room so that we could all catch the bus together to the start line. The marathon starts in Greenwich and Marathon Tours provided a charter bus to take their clients to the start. On Saturday we had reluctantly accepted the fact that the weather was going to be miserable during the race and were prepared to run in cold weather gear.

Boy, were we pleasantly surprised to wake up on M-Day to SUNNY and DRY skies! By the time the race started we had stripped down to shorts and a singlet! I forgot to mention that we all ran both marathons in a Texas-flag singlet that brought us many cheers from spectators that recognized the flag!
The marathon starts in Greenwich and the course passes many of the major tourist sites in London such as the Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, over the Tower Bridge, along the Thames River, past the London Eye, Big Ben and the Parliament Buildings to finish in St James Park.
Again we pledged that it was all or none – especially for the second one. Remember, I was escorting three running virgins on the second leg of their first-ever back-to-back marathons. Thus our primary goal was that everyone finish –the secondary goal was to beat 3:45 and our Paris time! And London did not want to make it easy to accomplish goal # 2! Although they used computer chips for timing just as Paris did the big difference was that the official time started with the gun and not the actual time that you crossed the start line (most races using computer chips start your time when your chip crosses the start line). It took us 02:15 to cross the start line plus 09:41 for the first mile so we had a huge time penalty to overcome to accomplish goal # 2. Again there were 30,000+ runners and the narrow streets squeezed the runners together and made it very difficult to stay together. But we used the same strategy that worked in Paris and always had each other in sight. We made up some of our penalty time in the first half and continued the strong even pace throughout the second half. John started to fade a bit after mile 20 (he hadn’t received the benefits of Magic Fingers Sue’s recuperative massage) but we took turns pulling him along with encouragement and lies. The last 10K are all willpower and mind games and we just helped him fool his mind. Much to his credit he sucked it in, focused on overcoming the pain and kept up with us! All four members of the BBR crossed the finish line hand-in-hand in 3:44:22! The three virgins accomplished an amazing feat –they not only ran the second leg of their first back-to-back marathons faster than the first but they ran a negative split in that second marathon. They should be very proud of themselves! As we walked back to the hotel through Hyde Park John commented “Well, we have just experienced a brief sample in the life of a Maddog – and once is enough!”

After showers and a short rest, Nicole and Sue joined us and we enjoyed a bottle of French Champagne to celebrate our success! Then we headed for the nearest pub to eat greasy food (to replace all the fat cells burned during the race) and wash it down with beer. Properly replenished we headed for the London Eye or as Dick calls it “the big-ass Ferris wheel”. I was able to reserve tickets in advance so we walked straight on for our ‘flight’ as they call it. The views of London are spectacular from the Eye. And unbelievably the weather was still cooperating with us –it remained sunny and dry until about 5 minutes after we got off the Eye and then it started to rain again. Thus we decided to tube it back to the hotel and find a restaurant close to the hotel for our victory dinner. Although we were all very pleased and wanting to celebrate it was a quiet dinner because fatigue was setting in. So we said our final good byes at the hotel and parted ways.

It was a fun time and I hope an enjoyable and memorable experience for all members of the BBR and their spouses who participated in this adventure. Maybe I will find out later this year as I threw a parting challenge out – there is an inaugural marathon in December 2000 in Tampa Bay (just up the road from our new home in Sarasota) the week after the Dallas White Rock Marathon- why don’t we do both????