Sunday, November 28, 2004

Mississippi Coast Marathon

Mississippi Coast Marathon
Waveland, MS
Nov 27/04

I can sum this race up in one word – UGLY. Or I can expand the description to Ugly, Ugly, Ugly!

The only reason I ran this marathon was to join some of my UK mates who were finishing up a weeklong trip to the US to run 3 marathons in their quest to run the 50 states. They had invited me to join them for the week (and 3 marathons) but I explained that it was Thanksgiving week in the US and I would be lucky to get a pass to run the final race on Thanksgiving weekend. But I agreed to meet them in MS because I needed a 2nd marathon in MS as I work my way around the 50 states for the 2nd time.

So on Fri I flew from Tampa to New Orleans and drove 90 minutes east to Waveland, MS. As I left I-90 and drove into Waveland I recognized that “I’ve been here –done this”. Nicole and I stayed one night in Waveland and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner in the old, historic fishing village of Bay St Louis on the Gulf of Mexico on one of our many trips between FL and CO. I met my usual two mates Roger and Jack at the host hotel and two other runners from the ‘100 Marathon Club (UK) – Warren and Dave as well as Cliff from Waco, TX. We picked up our race packets and ate the traditional pasta dinner provided by the race organization. I don’t normally attend the pasta dinners provided by the races because it is usually terrible food and overpriced. But the UK guys like to go to these dinners to meet and talk to the US runners so I just go along for the ride.

After dinner we retired to our rooms to prepare for the race and watch the weather channel. The forecast was calling for severe thunderstorms on Sat morning – we were hoping it was wrong? When we woke at 6am and checked outside it was sunny and warm – maybe we would luck out and the storms would miss us? But as we drove north 15 miles to the Stennis Space Center the skies became very dark and gloomy and the winds started to increase. The marathon is held totally within the Stennis Space Center – a large complex owned by NASA and located on several thousand acres of MS forest and swamp/bayou land. This complex is where they test all the rockets for the NASA space craft and missiles. I was surprised that Homeland Security still allowed the marathon to be held here but we had no problem getting through the security gates?

The marathon course is two loops around paved roads throughout the base. It is very flat and also very boring. There was also a 5K and Half Marathon race. There were only about 300 runners lined up for the 8am start so I was surprised to learn there were 118 runners in the marathon? About 5 minutes before the start the thunderstorms moved in the skies opened up with rain! Great! I hate starting a race or even to run in the rain let alone a torrential downpour with thunder and lightning. But the race started on time and we were thoroughly soaked within a few minutes so we didn’t have to worry about getting any wetter or trying to avoid the huge puddles and streams on the roads.

I had decided before the marathon to set a goal of 3:40. I have been struggling with a foot injury ever since I ran a 5-mile race in Sarasota at the end of Oct. I wore racing flats for that race i.e. no support or cushioning but lightweight and fast. And I paid dearly for that decision. I thought I was suffering from inflammation in the tendons and since I am scared to take any anti-inflammatory after that little mishap a few years ago I have been trying to run through the pain and control the injury with ice and massages. I had actually taken a few days rest before the marathon and the foot felt the best it had been for the past month. Since I have been unable to do any hard/fast training the past month I figured that 3:40 was a realistic target?

I also made an important discovery the night before the race. As I was massaging my foot and remarking how much better it felt I found a small point in a bone near the joint of the big toe that hurt like Hell to touch? Maybe it was not inflammation but some kind of contusion or worse yet a stress fracture in the foot? That would explain why it was not healing as fast as it should? No matter – I was running the marathon and I would just have to take it easy!

Back to the race. The race started in a torrential downpour. When I reached the 1st mile I discovered that I had somehow screwed up starting my stopwatch. A fellow runner shouted 7:35 for the 1st mile. Too fast but at least I had a gauge on how much my watch was out of synch with the official race clock? This was not turning out to be a good day?
At mile 3 my mate Jack caught up to me and his watch indicated 23:40 for the first 3 miles. Still too fast so I decided to slow down some more. Jack slowed down with me since he had run his previous two marathons in 3:36 and wasn’t sure how much he had left in his legs? We slowed the pace to 8:15s and ran together for the 1st Half. Several times we bitched and whined about the miserable weather and wished that the rain would stop. We passed the Half together in 1:47 and Jack told me to “go on ahead” because his legs were starting to tire. About that same time our wish came true – and it became one of those cases where ‘you should be careful what you wish for’! The thunderstorms, rain and wind passed over and the sun came out. The temps soared immediately into the 70s and we could see steam rising off the blacktop!

The heat and humidity were torturous and immediately every runner started to slow down and many started to crash. I managed to hold an 8:15 pace until 18 miles and then it slipped to 8:30s. I hoped/tried to hold that pace for the last 8 miles but by mile 23 I was struggling and hurting like Hell just to hold the pace under 9 minutes! By then my right foot was killing me and every foot plant brought a cry of pain. My body tried to compensate for the foot injury by subconsciously changing my gait and stride and now my left knee was also hurting like Hell! I just needed to get this ordeal over with before I really screwed up something! I tried to pick up the pace but there was nothing left in my legs and the foot and knee seemed to hurt more when I tried to run faster. So I decided to ignore my time goal and just finish the race – alive and without causing any more serious injury.

Fortunately at that moment the 2nd place female passed me and I decided to try to stay with her. She was half my age, very pretty and provided some nice scenery/distraction to follow. Unfortunately the body was unable to keep up with the mind (seems to happen often at this age?) but I was able to keep her in sight as I followed her to the finish line. Mile 26 was an excruciating, painful and slow 8:59! I was certain that mile had killed any chance of achieving my goal of a sub 3:40. But -----WAIT --- I could see the finish line and the race clock indicated 3:38 and small change. If I could sprint the last few hundred yards I could still beat 3:40! I begged the old bod to give me one last jolt of adrenaline as I ignored the pain and sprinted/hobbled across the finish line in 3:39:40.

I was totally shocked/surprised that I had done it! Don’t know how but I was pleased to accept it. And the strange thing is that my official time was listed as 3:38:17? Either they adjusted the times or I was delirious as I was sprinting towards the finish line? I also didn’t believe that I had placed very well in the race but I was surprised there too. I placed 15th overall and 1st in my age group. Not too bad for an old fart with a broken foot and bum knee?

However it was a painful wake-up call. As soon as I crossed the finish line and stopped my right foot locked up and fired bolts of pain. With my left knee competing for the gold medal in pain level I was barely able to walk/hobble through the finish chute. I tried to stretch and massage the pains/injuries but even that didn’t help much. So I decided to head back to the hotel to apply ice and heat. I managed to stay around the finish line long enough to cheer Jack across the finish line in 4:07 but I couldn’t wait for the rest of the gang. As I applied ice to my foot and knee back at the hotel I finally realized that I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer and hope the foot injury is going to go away. I will have to visit a quack/doctor next week and request an X-ray to see if we can find the problem. I already know it will be an ugly confrontation because his advice is going to be “quit running” and that is not an acceptable solution to Maddog!

I have one more marathon this year (mid –Dec in Jacksonville) and 4 marathons scheduled in Jan and Feb. so I can’t afford to take time off! In fact I need to start some serious speed training so that I can win all those races!

Fortunately all of the guys made it back to the hotel before I had to leave for the airport so I was able to say my goodbyes – but I will see most of them again in May when I go back to Europe for two more marathons.

So in summary it was indeed an UGLY marathon. The course is flat and fast but very boring. It could be a very fast course with good weather. The post race party is good with beer and jambalaya. I don’t know about the awards – I didn’t stick around to get mine.
For me it was marathon #237 and my 37th state on my 2nd circuit around the 50 states.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Trip report - Albania

Macedonia & Albania
11/02 – 11/11/04
Part 2

Photos may be viewed at

Now where did we leave off in Part 1? Oh yes – my support team (Aleksandar and Toni) and I were having a traditional pre-race pasta dinner in Ohrid to discuss our plans/strategy for the marathon in Albania on Sunday morning.

I asked them how many times they had traveled to Albania. I was surprised to learn that they had never been to Albania! They were both in their 30s and only lived 100 miles from the border?
Q: “Why not I asked?”
A: “It is not a nice place – there is nothing there – and no reason to go there!”
Apparently not many of Albania’s neighbors have a burning desire to visit that country? I had the most experience with crossing the border into Albania since I had visited one year ago by crossing the border from Montenegro into northern Albania. But they were willing to help me and curious to see what Lake Ohrid looked like from the Albanian side?

On Sunday morning we left Ohrid at 8am and arrived at the border 30 minutes later. We passed through the Macedonian side of the border quickly with no fees but as soon as we entered the Albanian side the rip-offs began. First we were required to pay a fee of 250 denars ($4 US) to drive the car through a puddle (of water?). An Albanian border guard claimed it was disinfectant but I didn’t believe it was anything but water? But you pay the fee or you don’t go any further. Then we proceeded to immigration where I had to pay a fee to get my passport stamped and Aleksandar and Toni had to pay for visas. I didn’t understand the logic or reasons for the fees: I, the American had to pay a fee of 10 Euros; my support team being Europeans (and neighbors) had to pay a fee of $10 US?
Fortunately as an experienced international traveler I was carrying both currencies and paid the fees for my support team and myself. After 30 minutes of paperwork for visas and car registration we crossed the border into Albania around 9am.

Our map indicated that the highway was a main route west to the capital of Tirana and there was a junction only a few kilometers from the border where a small road split off and ran south along Lake Ohrid. We decided to drive to the junction and begin the marathon there. As soon as we crossed the border we noticed the hundreds (and hundreds) of concrete bunkers along the highways and in the mountains. I had heard and read about these bunkers. The former communist dictator Enver Hoxha in an effort to control the country by fear convinced the population that an invasion was imminent from any or all neighbors and as part of that ploy/strategy implemented a “bunker-in-every-plot’ defense campaign.

The junction was located at the top of a small mountain pass about 500 feet above the lake level. Aleksandar suggested that we drive down to the lake level to start the marathon but I figured it would be easier to start the marathon at the junction and run downhill for the start of the marathon. It was very chilly so I wore a throw away T-shirt to start the run. We agreed that the support team should drive ahead about 3 Km and wait with water and they drove off. And I ran into problems almost immediately! A few minutes after I started running I blew my nose to clean out my sinuses and felt like my nose was running? I wiped it with my sleeve and noticed it was covered in blood? Damn – my nose was gushing blood! In my previous 235 marathons I had never experienced this problem. My support team was already gone and I was alone and running down a steep, narrow mountain road with no shoulders and traffic passing me in both directions! What could I do? Not wanting to stop or waste time I tried to pinch the nostrils but that didn’t work well. I needed to plug the nostrils to stop the flow of blood. I had an idea! Since I was wearing a throw away shirt that was now covered in blood I might as well tear a piece of cloth from the shirt to plug the nostril? Still not wanting to stop or lose time for this delicate medical procedure I tore off a piece of cloth and shoved it up the bleeding nostril – only it was way too big and was hanging down my chin. I started laughing as I ran down that mountain pass! What a strange and comical sight I must have been – a lone, Caucasian male running down a remote mountain pass in Albania wearing shorts and a bloody T-shirt – face covered in blood and a bloody rag hanging out of his nose? My biggest concern was that a cop would drive buy and ask me what the problem was. I knew he wouldn’t believe the answer even if he could understand me which would be unlikely?

Fortunately no police drove by but I did get a lot of strange looks from passing cars. Fifteen minutes later I reached my support team at 3 Km and explained the problem. I was able to swap the bloody rag in my nose for a piece of tissue and wash the blood off my face but I kept the bloody T-shirt on because it was still cold. By the time I reached the 6Km mark the road was at lake level, my nose had stopped bleeding as it had warmed up enough to take off the bloody T-shirt. The next 10Km were almost enjoyable. The road was flat and ran close to the lake. If I ignored the hundreds of concrete bunkers located along the shores of the lake and in the mountains (protecting Albania from evil Macedonia?) the scenery was quite pretty. My support team was amazed with all the Mercedes cars driving on the road – more than half the cars we saw were Mercedes? And Albania is the 2nd poorest country in Europe? I wondered out loud “How many of those Mercedes were brought into the country legally” and “How can they afford all these Mercedes but they can’t afford to destroy and remove all those concrete bunkers that are a blight on the countryside and a constant reminder of their folly and naivety?
I passed through a few small villages where the villagers looked at me very strangely and shouted at me. I wasn’t sure whether they were shouting insults or words of encouragement so I just smiled, waved and kept on running. A few kids rode along beside me on their bikes. We tried to converse but their English was as good/bad as my Albanian and the conversations didn’t last long and they got bored and rode off. I never felt threatened along the route but I also never felt completely safe!

Around 16Km I could see the outline of a large city, Pogradec, in the distance. And the scenery started to look like the Albania I remembered – there was garbage/litter/filth piled on both sides of the road and lots of abandoned and burned-out cars and buildings along the road. And it got worse as I got closer to the city. It confirmed my opinion of Albania. Albania is a DUMP – it is the OUTHOUSE of Europe (and I am trying to be nice!).

I reached the Half on the outskirts of Pogradec where Aleksandar was waiting to join me for the 2nd Half. I was really glad he ran the 2nd half with me because we had to run through the center of the city. It was poor/filthy with narrow sidewalks filled with pedestrians so we decided to stay on the main street and share it with cars/trucks/buses/donkey carts/horse carts. Almost everyone in the city stared at us with strange looks and shouted at us. Even though Aleksandar couldn’t understand the language he claimed that they were shouting encouragement and I accepted that explanation because it was better than the other one? A few even took pictures. I figured that a) they had never seen anyone run in shorts, etc through the city or b) they thought we were members of the Albanian National/Olympic sports team? I would be curious to hear the story they tell when they show the photos to their friends? So I began to worry less about the people and more about the traffic. I did not have any desire/wish to spend any time in an Albanian hospital (or morgue)! Thankfully/mercifully we passed through the city center in about 5Km and soon we were back on a quiet road along Lake Ohrid heading to the border at the south end of the lake. There were very few buildings and traffic on this road.

At 32.5Km we passed through a small village and reached a steep hill with only 1Km to the border. We decided the best strategy would be to turn around and run back 5Km towards the city and then loop back and finish in the village. With only 10Km to go my legs were feeling very tired – both hams were sore and tight and my right plantar fascia was killing me. I now regretted running that 2-mile race on Saturday! But I was determined to finish if I had to crawl the last 10Km – I did not want to have to come back to Albania ever again! I told Aleksandar that I was tired/hurting and intended to let the old legs run whatever pace they felt comfortable with. When we made that final turn at 37Km I tried to dig deep and push the last 5Km to get the ordeal over with but there was no push left in the legs. So we jogged the last 5Km and crossed the finish line in 3:53:06.
Marathon #236 and country # 70 completed. It was a very unnerving and challenging marathon even though the course was easy

As I struggled through the last 5Km I had commented to Aleksandar that some runners/people claim that “running a ‘solo’ marathon is not running a ‘real’ marathon”! Well I finally have a great response for these people. Only after they have duplicated/ran my solo/non-real marathon in Albania will I consider listening to their stupid/ridiculous comments! Running an official/organized marathon (anywhere in the world) is a piece of cake compared to running this solo marathon. And I considered myself lucky to have chosen one of the easiest and safest routes in Albania!

After some finish photos and a brief rest we headed for the border expecting to breeze across? Everything went smoothly until we reached the last gate on the Albanian side and the border guard demanded a fee of 1 Euro (a commission for something)? Toni figured it was another rip-off and started to argue and suddenly the fee went up to 2 Euros? I advised Toni to stop arguing, paid the 2 Euros and we escaped to the Macedonia side of the border. We had to drive about another 30Km to Ohrid to complete the loop around lake Ohrid – a total of 90Km.

We congratulated ourselves on the successful achievement of two goals – I had completed a marathon in Albania and Aleksandar and Toni had completed their first loop around Lake Ohrid! I thanked my support team. It would have been impossible to complete my goal without their help and support!

After a quick shower at the apartment I checked into a hotel in Ohrid because I was wanted to stay and explore the city. Then we went for a quick snack/meal before my support team drove back to Skopje. I agreed to meet them when I returned to Skopje on Wednesday.

I was on my own again and looking forward to exploring the Old City.
Archaeological findings show evidence of civilization in Macedonia between 7000 and 3500BC. Ohrid is the 2nd largest city in Macedonia (50,000) and is one of the most ancient cities in the Balkans. Its ancient name is Lychnidos. The Old City is located on Gorni Saraj – a hill that has been continually settled between the Iron Age and the Ottoman period. It was the site of the acropolis of the city of Lychnidos and later of the citadel of mediaeval Ohrid and Samoil’s Fortress that still exists today. Many of the existing buildings and churches date back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

However when I woke up on Monday morning I immediately knew it was going to be a bad day! The weather was cold, windy and raining and my throat was sore and I was coughing and hacking. Even so I ventured outside after breakfast to reconnoiter the Old City. But after an hour both the weather and my health had deteriorated. I passed many locals on the street who were also coughing so I guessed that the marathons had suppressed my immune system and I had caught some local cold bug. I found a pharmacy and managed to explain my problem to the pharmacist who sold me some cough syrup. I went back to the hotel to rest and take some medicine. That syrup had to be the worst medicine I have tasted since I was a kid? But I remembered my mommy telling me that medicine tasted bad because it was good for me. Damn – this stuff must be really, really good? I took some and stayed in bed and rested/slept for 20 hours!

Tuesday morning started out much better. The weather was sunny and warm – my sore throat was gone, I was coughing very little. That medicine really was good! However the cold had transformed from a cough to a sinus cold and my nose was running like Niagara Falls. But it was my last day and I had to explore the Old City. I started wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets to find the Church of St Sophia. The church and its frescoes date back to the 11th century. Next was the Church of St John the Theologian of Kaneo. This church is built on a cliff above Lake Ohrid and has frescoes painted in 1290. Then I climbed the cobblestone streets up Gorni Saraj to Samoil’s Fortress that was built in the 9th century and is being restored. Next on the agenda was the amphitheater. It was built before the Roman Period and used by the Romans for gladiator fights. It has been restored and is used for musical festivals in the summer.

There are several more churches and monasteries in the Old City but I limited my visit to one more – the Church of the Holy Mother of God Peribleptos (St Clement). It was built and decorated with frescoes in 1295 and has an attached Icon Museum that displays religious Icons dating back to the 9th century. One could spend several days exploring the Old City if you are interested in history.

I had one final task to complete before I returned to Skopje. I wanted to enjoy a dinner of the local trout from Lake Ohrid so that is what I ordered for dinner along with a bottle of wine. I couldn’t taste much difference from the Rocky Mountain trout I enjoy all summer in Colorado? I was feeling pretty good after dinner and decided that I should drown/kill my cold germs with alcohol. There is a local liquor called rajika – a grape brandy that is about 80%alcohol and tastes like kerosene. I asked the bartender at the hotel if I was supposed to chug or sip the rajika. “Sip it”! It tasted terrible so I chased it down with a glass of wine. The bartender warned me not to do that! “Rajika is supposed to be chased with water or coffee – never beer or wine”. I ignored him and ordered two more rajika and chased them down with wine! I was feeling really good when I went to bed and passed out!

There was good news/bad news when I woke up the next morning. The cold was much better but my head and stomach were complaining about the rajika. And I had a 3-½ hour bus ride into Skopje. It was a long bus ride but I arrived in Skopje in the afternoon and called Aleksandar. He informed me that a couple of the local newspapers wanted to interview me so I spent the next few hours giving an interview and running along the Vardar River for press photos. Then I met with Aleksandar to say goodbye and thank him for all his help. On the way to a coffee shop Aleksandar showed me the original home site where Mother Teresa had been born and raised. I had missed that historical site on my self-guided tour of Skopje? Aleksandar gave me a souvenir T-shirt from a previous marathon that his running club had held in Skopje and we said our goodbyes. He promised to help me find marathons and/or contacts in Bulgaria and Bosnia.

It was time for an early dinner since I had a 5am taxi to the airport for my flights home. The 11-hour flight from Zurich to Dallas was very long/painful with the sinus cold but finally and exactly 24 hours after I left the hotel in Skopje I arrived at my front door in Longboat Key. Doesn’t international travel sound exciting and fun?

But it was an enjoyable and interesting trip/adventure. Macedonia was much nicer than I expected and the Macedonians are very friendly, kind and hospitable. Albania is still a DUMP but we won’t dwell on that anymore.

I have now completed 47 marathons and countries in Europe. Only 4 more to go. After the 5 marathons/countries I have run this past year in Europe I better understand why nobody has ever accomplished this crazy goal! It is very difficult, challenging (and sometimes even dangerous)! If I had known 5 years ago what I know now I would never have started this crazy challenge/goal! But I am too close to the end/success to give up now. In fact I have become obsessive about finishing the goal in 2005. Thus I plan to run the remaining two countries in continental Europe (Bulgaria and Bosnia) in April and the final two island-countries (N Ireland and the Faroe Islands) in May and July!

So stay tuned for the next adventure!

Friday, November 12, 2004

Trip Report Macedonia

Macedonia & Albania
11/02 – 11/11/04
Part 1

Photos nay be viewed at

The plans for this trip began during my last international trip to Eastern Europe in July. I asked my friend Dimitry in Moldova if he could help me confirm a marathon in Macedonia in November and also help me find a marathon or contact in Albania. He succeeded fairly quickly in finding a contact for me in Macedonia who did confirm a marathon in Struga, Macedonia in November but was unable to find a marathon or any contacts in Albania. However my new contact/friend in Macedonia informed me that he and the race director for the Struga marathon were willing to help me run a ‘solo’ marathon in Albania if they were unable to find/confirm an ‘official’ marathon in Albania.

I delayed making the final travel arrangements as long as possible but finally had to commit to the trip in late September before we left Colorado for Florida. By that time I had confirmed a marathon in Struga on November 7 and a preliminary plan to run a ‘solo’ marathon in neighboring Albania a few days later. All my attempts to contact a sports organization/authority, runner/running club and even a government official such as the Albanian Ambassador to the USA were neglected and unsuccessful! Albania is the only country in the world that has refused to offer me help/assistance to run a marathon in their country? It disappointed but didn’t surprise me – and it certainly wasn’t going to stop me!

I had to purchase non-refundable discount tickets because AA and their partners could only get me to Zurich on free air-mile tickets. The airfare from Zurich to Skopje was $465 return but the total fare from Tampa to Skopje was only $865. I couldn’t see wasting 60,000 miles to fly to Zurich to save $400? However the risk/concern was that I now had non-refundable tickets and coach/economy class. Both of these concerns eventually did bite me – and it didn’t take long!

Shortly after we returned to Florida I contacted my friend Aleksandar to inform him that I would be leaving soon and wanted to confirm that everything was OK? His return email stated that he was sorry to inform me that the marathon in Struga had been cancelled! Great! I am getting ready to leave in three days and I have non-refundable tickets? I had two options: a) postpone the trip for one year and hope that the marathon would really happen then. Hopefully AA would let me change my tickets with a penalty/fee? b) go ahead with the trip as planned and add another ‘solo’ marathon in Macedonia. Aleksandar confirmed that it would be possible to safely run a solo marathon in Skopje and that he would help me. I prefer to run an‘official’ marathon (if one exists) in any country but option a) had too many risks so I decided to go ahead with the planned trip.

Thus I left Tampa on November 2 for a 24-hour trip and three flights in coach – the flight from Dallas to Zurich took 10 hours! That is a lonnnnnnnggggggggggg time to sit in one of those small coach seats! I arrived in Skopje on November 3 and called Aleksandar as soon as I checked into the hotel. He invited me to a concert that night but I was too tired and knew that I would never be able to stay awake that long. We agreed to meet the next day so that he could show me the route/course he had selected for my marathon.

I had booked a 2-star hotel where locals stayed because of the low price. Macedonia – especially Skopje - has many foreign visitors/workers from the EU and UN and the western/international hotels have learned that they can charge these people 120 to 150 Euros/night for a room. My hotel cost 40 Euros/night. It was only four blocks from the main square, it was clean and had an ensuite bath and TV. The only drawbacks were that the whole room was smaller than our master bedroom closet and the TV only had three local stations. Actually this turned out to be a blessing since they didn’t provide much coverage of the US election and I couldn’t understand what they did say? It took me two days to learn that Bush had won.

Since the preliminary plan was to run a solo marathon on Friday and then travel to Struga on Saturday I figured that I had better play tourist on Thursday and explore Skopje. Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, has a population of 700,000 – about 1/3 of the population of the country. The city sits in a valley or bowl surrounded by mountains that trap the smog/pollution from the cars, etc and thus the air quality is not good much of the time. An earthquake destroyed 90% of the city in 1963 and much of the new city was built by the Soviets – thus square, unimaginative concrete buildings. However there appeared to be construction cranes all over the center of the city and lots of modern new buildings were being built. The center of the city has lots of modern, upscale shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes. Fortunately the earthquake spared most of the old city that dates back to the 13th century and contains the Old Bazaar, the Turkish Fortress and many old churches and mosques. An old Stone Bridge connects the new city center to the old city.

Since many of the locals like to eat out and go to bars the meals and booze prices are not out of whack like hotel prices. A great dinner with (a bottle of) wine costs less than $10. A ½ liter beer costs about $1.50 in a bar. Thus you can visit Macedonia very cheaply if you stay and eat where the locals go which I like to do anyways because you learn and experience more of the local culture.

I met Alexsandar after work on Thursday and he showed me a bike path along the Vardar River that flows through the center of the city. One section of the path was paved and marked every 100 meters for 2.5 Km. An adjoining section was concrete and 2.8 Km long for a total length of 5.3 Km. I would have to run 8 laps but there was no traffic to worry about. The biggest problem would be water. There were water fountains along the path but I couldn’t risk drinking local water and would have to place water bottles along the course. I planned to start my run early (7am) because very few people used the path at that time of day. Unfortunately Aleksandar could not provide support since he had to work but he informed me that another runner from his club would join me for the last 10 to 16 Km of the marathon.

It was time for my traditional pasta dinner and a good night’s sleep to get ready for the marathon. On Friday I arrived at the path/course by 7am carrying three 1.5 liter bottles of water. It was quite chilly – in the mid 30s – so I had to wear a throw away long sleeve T-shirt at the start. I left one bottle of water at the start and had to carry the other two through the first lap. I left the 2nd bottle at the end of the paved section and the 3rd at the end of the concrete section so I never had to run more than 2.8 Km to get water. It worked out quite well except that I had a problem hiding the bottles so that I would be sure they would not be taken. The path was flat and in excellent shape so the marathon was very easy. Since there wasn’t any competition (or company) I just ran an easy 8:30 to 9:00 min pace. After I finished 4 laps or the first half there still was no sign of a running mate. However as I finished the 5th lap I heard my name called and a male runner introduced himself as Ljubco and joined me for the last three laps or 16Km. He understood English but couldn’t speak well but we managed to converse and exchange some stories. He was a marathoner/ultra runner who ran about the same times/pace as me.
I was glad that he showed up because it made the time go faster and he forced me to pick up the pace for the last three laps. We crossed the finish line in 3:49:11. Marathon number 235 and country # 69 completed!

Later that day I talked to Aleksandar only to discover that our plans had changed once again. Instead of taking a bus to Struga and hiring a taxi there to take us into Albania, another member of his running club had volunteered to drive us to Struga on Saturday and into Albania on Sunday for the solo marathon. The club had a 2-mile race on Saturday morning and we would leave after the race. I expressed some interest in going to the club race to watch and maybe even run if my legs felt OK so I was invited to join them.

On Saturday morning I arrived at the race location in a city park at 8am to meet other members of the club including Ljubco and Toni who would drive us to Albania. They are members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team that is part of the international Sri Chinmoy spiritual organization. I foolishly decided to run the 2-mile race and not surprisingly went out too fast. I finished the race in 14:30 on sore/tight legs and hoped that I wouldn’t regret that decision too much the next day? After the race Aleksandar and Toni picked me up at the hotel and we took off for Struga.

Struga is located on Lake Ohrid in the southwest corner of the country about 160 Km from Skopje. It is a pretty drive over two or three mountain ranges so we had lots of time to exchange information on each of our countries. I learned a lot. There is still a lot of political and ethnic issues/turmoil going on in Macedonia. The constitutional name of the country is ‘The Republic of Macedonia’. However Greece objects to that name and claims it belongs to Greece and has objected to the UN and the EU and closed down its borders to Macedonia many times in the past few years. The UN tried to resolve the issue by admitting the country to the UN as ‘FYR Macedonia’ (The Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia). This did not appease Greece. Two days after the US election (and while I was in Skopje) the US government and George Bush recognized the country in a speech as ‘The Republic of Macedonia’. To the Macedonians this symbolized recognition/approval of their constitutional name by the USA. They were very happy – in fact as I was leaving Skopje they were preparing the main city square for a party on Saturday night to celebrate this important event. I watched on TV as they celebrated and waved both Macedonian and US flags together. It was nice to be loved somewhere in the world. But not in neighboring Greece where they were burning the US flag at the same time in protest and anger at the USA.

I also learned that about 25% of the population of 2 Million are Albanian Muslims whereas the Macedonians are Orthodox. Most of the Albanians live in the western part of the country and two years ago started a brief war for independence. A Referendum was being held on Saturday to determine if the Albanians should be granted more autonomy in certain regions of the country (one of the reasons the Struga marathon was cancelled). The referendum failed. I am sure that you, like I, had no idea any of this political and ethnic strife was/is going on. So you see these marathon trips/adventures are a great way to learn about the history and current affairs of countries around the world.

I learned much more on the 2-½ hour drive to Struga. When we arrived in Struga I went to check into the hotel I had booked but they tried to rip us off by charging almost 100 Euros for the three of us. We agreed that was too much and thankfully both Aleksandar and Toni had visited Lake Ohrid many times and knew of an apartment complex in Ohrid. We rented an apartment in Ohrid that slept all three of us for 20 Euros. We then went for pasta dinner and discussed our plans/strategy for the solo marathon in Albania the next day.

But as usual this report is much longer and wordier than I planned so I am going to split it into two parts. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Albania!

Monday, October 11, 2004

RR Durango

Race report
Durango Marathon
Durango, CO
Sun, Oct 10/04

220 runners in the marathon , another 220 in the HalfWeather was good - sunny and 38F at the 8am start. Course elevation around 7,000 ft but the course was much hillier and tougher than advertised. Unfortunately I felt bad right from the start? In the first mile the old bod felt tired/run down? I thought I might have a virus or flu bug (or maybe just too many hard marathons in too short a time?). I seriously considered dropping out of the race at mile 2 after running a 9:02 mile -downhill! But I figured I should give the old bod a chance to overcome whatever the problem was. Never happened! I never felt better the whole race!Somehow - mainly guts and experience - I was able to hang in and struggle through all 26 miles and finish in 3:43:17. Good enough for 19th place overall and first in my age group. But I never - ever- want to do that again (run a marathon while feeling so bad/sick)!And all I got for my efforts and a ridiculous/exorbitant $75 entry fee was a very cheap/lousy award and not even a race T-shirt! As much as I like Durango I won't be coming back to this marathon!I am glad that I don't have any more marathons scheduled until Nov in Europe. Can give the old bod some time to rest.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Trip Report - NH & ME

10/01 – 10/04/04

The planning for this marathon trip originated when my running mates from the UK visited me in Colorado this summer. They were planning to run three marathons in three states including back-to-back or double marathons in New England in the fall in their quest to complete the 50 states. Since I needed to run two of the states myself to complete my 2nd loop around the 50 states I agreed to run New Hampshire and Maine with them. My only concern was that the two marathons were scheduled for the same weekend i.e. back-to-back and I hadn’t done that in over 15 years!

But I signed on for the trip and on Oct 1 I woke at 4am and drove through another snowstorm over the Continental Divide to get to the Denver airport. I later learned that my UK mates had also left their house at the same time in London to arrive in Boston one hour before me. That doesn’t seem fair?

I was the last of the team to arrive at the airport in Boston: Roger and Jack from the UK and Cliff from Waco, TX. We left the rental car agency at 4 pm and immediately ran into the infamous Boston traffic congestion. We naively thought that the traffic would get better after we left the city? Wrong! It took over 2 hours to drive 40 miles on the I-93 freeway to Manchester, NH. Since we had already missed the pre-race pasta dinner in Bristol we stopped in Concord, NH for our pasta dinner. We asked the locals if this was normal traffic congestion? Yes! I would move, change jobs or retire before I would put up with that crap every day!!! However it did afford us more time to enjoy the fall colors during the drive and that was also a disappointment. The color change is late this year and 75% of the foliage is still green? There were pockets of vivid colors but I was hoping/looking forward to a huge canopy of brilliant fall colors?

We arrived in Bristol after dark, found our B&B and everyone went straight to bed since it had been a long tiring day. Sat was M-Day and the marathon started at 9am. The race started at the middle school in Bristol, ran north out of town to complete a loop around Newfound Lake and return to the school. The course profile indicated some rolling hills with a total elevation change of 300 ft. Yeah – right! It was 47 F at the 9am start and 100% humidity (fog). There were 120 runners in the marathon. As we waited for the start I met several friends/runners from the 50 States Club that I had not seen for a long time: Steve and Paula Boone, Don Lang and my bud from NYC – Edson Sanches. Edson is one of the ‘tres amigos’ which meant that I would have to defend my ‘tres amigos’ championship.

The first four miles of the course were uphill. I reached mile 1 in 8:01 and Jack blew by me. I tried to stay with him and we reached mile 2 in 7:18. Whoaaaa again and throw out an anchor. I quickly slowed the pace down to 8:15s and let Jack leave me in the dust. Two cute young fillies (female runners - 2nd and 3rd place) caught me around 4 miles and I ran with them until about 12 miles when the hills got very steep and nasty and they dropped back. Some of the hills were so steep that you could not run down them without braking which killed the quads and shins.

I passed the Half in 1:48:19. I didn’t really have a set race strategy other than win my age group, beat Edson and hopefully try to beat my teammates (friendly competition and bragging rights). I figured that I needed to run around 3:40 to accomplish all these goals and I was on target. The course looped back on itself at 14 miles and I discovered that Jack had about a 5-minute lead on me and there weren’t any runners in my age group in front of me. The hills were still very steep and nasty at that point so I decided to stick with the 8:30 pace I was running. The 2nd place female caught me again around 16 miles. Since she was running so smooth and easy I decided to stay with her. At mile 17 I determined she was running an 8-minute pace and I figured if I stayed with her I wouldn’t have much left for the race on Sunday so I reluctantly let her go. She was half my age and half my weight and offered a great view and company vs. running all by myself. However I decided to slow back down to an 8:30 pace and cruise to 20 miles and then re-evaluate my strategy for the last 10K. I reached 20 miles in 2:47:13. I could still see the 2nd place female but no Jack? I felt good so I decided to drop the pace to 8:15s for the next 5k and re-evaluate again. As I approached 23 miles I could no longer see the female runner but – lo and behold – there was Jack about ¼ mile ahead and he looked like he was fading? I dropped the pace to 8 min/mile and caught Jack as he was walking up the last big hill at 24 miles.

As I crested that last BAH (Big Ass Hill) at 24 miles I decided I needed to put a nail in Jack’s coffin and dropped the pace to sub-8s. The last 2 miles were downhill and although I was hurting I figured that it would only take 16 minutes to get to the finish line and any ole fool can hurt for a measly 16 minutes! I crossed the finish line in 3:38:26 and then cheered Jack in as he finished two minutes later. I finished 20th overall and had won 1st place in my age group and Jack had won 3rd place in his group (50+).

Since our teammates would take another 45 to 60 minutes to finish Jack and I had time to get a nice massage, shower and change clothes before we cheered them across the finish line. Roger finished in 4:29 and Cliff in 5:19. Then we had to rush them through their showers, etc so we could get on the road again and drive to Portland, ME to pick up our race packets for the Sun marathon and attend the pasta dinner.

We arrived in Portland at 6pm – starving since we had not eaten anything (maybe a banana at the finish) all day. We went directly to the pasta dinner and pigged out. I needed to replace the carbos and glycogen that had been used up in NH marathon. My legs felt OK but I was very concerned about the delayed toll/effect those hills would have on my legs the next day? When we finally checked into our hotel in downtown Portland I immediately filled the tub with the hottest water I could stand and soaked my legs for about 30 minutes. Then I went to bed to get as much sleep/rest as possible.

The Maine Marathon starts at the University of Southern Maine and runs along the Back Cove of Portland. It is an out and back course with a 2-mile loop in a rural neighborhood before turning back into the city. The first and last four miles are flat – the remainder of the course is rolling hills. There are 2500 runners in the Marathon and Half – about 800 in the marathon. The race started at 7:45am on Sun. The weather was 48F and sunny as all 2500 runners lined up to start the race. I jumped on to the start line even though I planned to start slow to let the legs warm up. I reached mile 1 in 8:24 and the legs felt OK so I dropped the pace to 8 min for the next 4 miles while the course was still flat. As we got into the hills and a head wind about 10/15 mph I slowed to 8:15s. I passed the Half in 1:47:30 – about 1 minute faster than the NH race! My legs felt OK so I decided that I should be able to run a sub 3:40 again. I figured that a sub 3:40 would place me in my age group but would probably not win it?

The 2-mile loop through the neighborhood stretched through miles 12 to 14 so I couldn’t tell during that section if there was anyone in my age group in front of me but I had to assume there was because it is a big race with stiff competition. When I reached mile 16 in 2:11 I was still one minute ahead of yesterday’s pace but my legs were beginning to tire. So I told myself to relax and cruise to 20 miles and then make a push over the last 10K! I reached 20 miles in 2:45 – 2 minutes ahead of yesterday’s pace. That was the good news! The bad news was that when I went to ‘push’ there was no push left in the legs? I decided to ‘hang on’ till mile 23 and then sheer willpower would take me the last 5K? At mile 23 there was nothing left – absolutely nothing left in the legs! Time – 3:10:32! I had 29 minutes to run/walk/crawl the last 5K! It just became a matter of willpower and mind games. “One more mile – just get me to mile 24!” Then “one more mile –just get me to mile 25!” Then I missed the mile marker at mile 25! That really psyched me out because I couldn’t determine how slow/fast I had run the last mile and how much I needed to pick up the pace (I was so tired/confused/out of it - that I couldn’t even do the math to figure out how much time I had left to get to the finish line – my mind could not work on those terms?). Instead I simply focused on a new goal – I had to finish under 3:38:26 – my time from yesterday! And the only way to do that was to push the old bod beyond its limits – ignore any pain – Hurt like Hell – and get to the finish line asap! I got some incentive and small bursts of adrenaline each time I passed a runner in that last mile and they looked at me and cheered. I am sure I looked like shit and I was loudly crying out in pain with each step – but I was not going to quit until I crossed that friggin finish line. I finally struggled across the finish line in 3:38:11!

I had actually beaten my finish time from yesterday – the first time I had ever run the 2nd race of a double faster than the 1st race! Later when I checked the results I was actually surprised to discover that I had placed 2nd in my age group. I had missed 1st place by less than one minute and beaten 3rd place by only 30 seconds. I must have passed the 3rd place runner in the last mile and I don’t even remember? And even if I knew the first place runner had been that close I don’t think I could have done anything about it – I had nothing left to give when I crossed that finish line! So I am happy with my performance, time and award.

I did wait to for Roger and Jack to finish – Roger in 4:15 for his 300th marathon and Jack in 4:18 - but then my legs started to cramp and I decided to walk back to the hotel before Cliff finished (4:57). I soaked the old legs in almost-boiling water for about an hour to soothe the muscles and prevent cramps.
We later went to dinner and we all walked kind of funny down the street – the marathon walk! My legs felt just like they do after a very hard Boston Marathon. On Monday our UK mates dropped Cliff and I off at Logan airport in Boston. They will tour MA for a few days before heading to Hartford, CT to run the Hartford Marathon next weekend. I have to close up the house and drive to Durango to run the Durango Marathon. And if you think we are crazy then you don’t want to hear about Cliff. He is flying to Tahoe to run a triple marathon starting on Thursday that runs a complete loop around Lake Tahoe. Three marathons in three days! Good Luck you bloody fool!

Monday, September 27, 2004

Quad Cities Marathon

Sept 26/04

Why Quad Cities? Three reasons: a) I wanted to run a tune up race before running two marathons at the end of the month b) if I was going to run a marathon out-of-state then I might as well pick a state I have only run once (I am working my way around the 50 states for the 2nd time) and c) I had enough air miles on US Airways for a free ticket and figured I better us them before I lose them? Thus I settled on the Quad Cities Marathon.

Flew into Chicago and drove to Moline, IL (long, shitty drive)! The race is kind of unique in that it runs though four cities and two states – Moline and Rock Island, Illinois and Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa. There are four racing events- marathon, relay, Half and 5K. All races start and finish in downtown Moline. There were 2500 runners in all events – only 500 in the full marathon. On Sun morning the weather was pleasant – sunny and 47F – when I lined up at the 7:30am start. Since all races started together I lined up right on the start line with the big dogs. And there were some really big dogs! Surprisingly for such a small race there were elite runners from Kenya, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and the USA competing for the prize money (only $2500?).

The first mile ran over the I-74 bridge across the Mississippi River into IA. It was the biggest hill on a course that had only a few small hills and four bridges across the Mississippi. I passed the 1st mile in 8:05 and the 2nd mile in 7:30! Whoaaaaaaa! Way too fast! So I threw out an anchor and slowed my pace down and quickly settled into an 8-min pace. There were a few more hills and two more bridges before I crossed the Half in 1:44:55. I knew at that point that any goal/hope of a sub 3:30 race was gone. That meant I would have to hold that pace or run negative splits in the 2nd Half - and my body was telling me it was not having a negative split day! But I decided to hold an 8-min pace for as long as I could and ‘see what happens’? We crossed the final bridge back into IL and I passed 16 miles in 2:08:13. But my legs were tired and I lapsed into a ‘lull’ and slowed drastically. Fortunately two youngsters (in their 40s) blew by me around mile 17 and stirred up my competitive juices. I dropped in behind them and let them drag me through the next 5 miles at an 8-min. pace.

We had passed mile 20 in 2:40:57 – a minute behind a sub 3:30 pace and I didn’t believe we could make up that minute in the last 10K? It didn’t matter because when we reached mile 22 my legs were tired and out of energy! I figured I had two options: a) try to stay with my new young friends. That would require a lot of pain and ‘hurtin’ over the last four miles and I doubted we could break 3:30 and b) slow down and try to push the old bod just enough to keep the pain and ‘hurtin’ at an acceptable level. I had been looking for runners in my age group and figured that I was either in 1st place by a whole bunch or behind in 2nd place by a whole bunch. So increasing the pain level was not going to change my position in the race. I opted for plan B. Even so it took a lot more pain and ‘hurtin’ than expected to hold an 8:30 pace over those last four miles. I reached mile 26 in 3:31:25. Then for some strange/inexplicable reason I got a crazy notion that I had to finish under 3:33? That meant increasing my pace (and pain) and sprinting the final 100 yards to cross the finish line in 3:32:57. Now doesn’t 3:32:57 sound much faster/better than 3:33:07? As suspected the extra seconds and pain were not necessary to finish 1st in my age group – 2nd place was 7 minutes behind me!

I was pleased with my performance, disappointed with my time and happy with my 1st place award. And it was a good/hard/fast training run that should help me get back below 3:30 in the next few races.

Race comments: a flat, fast course on roads and bike paths with only a few hills. The race organization was good. Good traffic control and lots of water stations. Great post-race party with lots of beer!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

American Discovery Trail Marathon

Race Report
American Discovery Trail Marathon
Colorado Springs 9/6/04

I am beginning to wonder if 'Mother Nature' is picking on us? This past weekend she battered our house in FL with a second hurricane - Frances. Fortunately we dodged the second bullet (again) and there was no damage. Now I hear that a 'third' bullet/hurricane may be on the way?

While the hurricane was raging in FL, Mother Nature battered us in the High Country with an early snowstorm and freezing temps. Fortunately we had already planned to go to Colorado Springs on Sun but we had to drive through a snowstorm for 30 minutes as we drove over the Continental Divide and down into Denver. The weather was sunny and warm in Denver and Colorado Springs.

However the temps were a bit chilly (low 40s) as I lined up at the start line of the 'American Discovery Trail Marathon' at 6:30 am on Mon along with 200 runners in the marathon and another 200 in the Half. I had to wear gloves for the first 5 miles. The race started and finished in Confluence Park in downtown Colorado Springs. The course was paved and dirt bike trails along Monument and Fountain Creeks north towards the Air Force Academy. The course started at 6200 ft and was fairly flat for the first Half but miles 13 to 18 were rolling hills that climbed to 6500ft. At 16 miles the course turned and looped back to Confluence Park.

I had researched the finish times for the past two years and determined that a time of 3:45 should win my age group so that became my goal/target. It was a reasonable time based on the altitude and the fact that I hadn't been able to run/train for 10 days due to the heel injury suffered at Pikes Peak. Also I didn't want to push the heel too hard since it was beginning to heal. I reached the Half in 1:50 which was a bit ahead of target but I knew the 2nd Half would not be that fast because of the 6 miles of hills! I came out of the hills at mile 19 in 2:41:16. I wanted to run an 8:30 pace for the next 7 miles but by mile 23 I was struggling to run 8:50s. I reached mile 25 in 3:34 and decided that it was time 'to hurt a little' and pick up the pace if I wanted to be sure to beat my goal. I crossed the finish line in 3:44:15!

I wasn' t sure where I had placed because I had met one runner at the turn-around (16 miles) who looked like he might be in my age group and I was never able to catch him. Turns out he was only in his 40s ( the flock of premature gray hair fooled me?). So the 3:44 (as predicted) was good enough to win my age group. In fact I beat 2nd place by more than 45 minutes! And surprisingly the 3:44 was good enough for 3rd place in the 40s age group!

So it wasn't as fast as I think I could/should run this course (I believe I could knock 10 minutes off my time if I was healthy and ready) but I was happy with both my time and performance. The left foot never hurt during the race but was a bit tender after I finished. However I believe that I can now resume my normal training program to get ready for my next four marathons (in two weeks) at the end of the month. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Pikes Peak Marathon

Race Report:
Pikes Peak Marathon
Manitou Springs, CO
Sun, Aug 22/04

Warning: If you don't want to read the rantings and ravings and profanities of one pissed-off/frustrated/humiliated and injured runner then fast forward to the great joke that follows this race report.
For some reason this race is cursed for me? As I was driving to Colorado Springs on Sat afternoon there were violent thunderstorms all the way which meant that Pikes Peak was probably getting rain and most likely snow? After I checked in and got my race package I asked a few of the runners who had run the Ascent that day "what was the course like?" There had been rain/snow on Fri night so there was snow, slush and water on the course. Oh Great! However we did get a weather break on Sun - it was sunny and 56F when we lined up at 7am. Since there are 1200 runners in the marathon I took off with the big dogs at the start because I didn't want to be stuck behind a lot of runners when we reached the trail at mile 1. I was surprised when a lot of runners passed my lazy old butt during the first 2 miles?
The first 7 miles of the race/trail are dirt and in good shape so we all made good time in spite of the fact that the trail climbs relentlessy. After mile 7 the trail becomes very steep/rocky and difficult/dangerous.When we reached the tree line above 12,500 ft around mile 11 we started running into a lot of water and some slush. Above 13,000 ft the trail becomes very steep and rocky but I was able to pass a lot of runners who were having a hard time with the altitude. About 2 miles from the Summit we started meeting the lead runners coming back down the mountain and this slowed everyone down since the protocol states that downhill runners have the right-of-way. It was made even more difficult because of snow and slush on the course which made footing very dangerous.
As I approched the Summit I noted one runner coming back down whom looked like he was in my age group. Damn - he had at least 10 minutes on me. I doubted that I could catch him unless he ran into problems on the descent? I reached the Summit in 3:42 - more than 7 minutes slower than my last race on Pikes Peak 3 years ago. I knew that this (slow) time coupled with the dangerous condition of the trail ruled out any chance of breaking 6 hours. I decided to stick with my pre-race stategy to run smart and slower on the descent. I figured as long as I didn't let anyone in my age group pass me I would at least place second?
The descent was very difficult/dangerous especially back to the tree line. I ran very easy/slow/careful. I let a lot of young bucks pass me but nobody in my age group! Finally I was back down below the tree line and the trail got better so I picked up the pace. Around 18 miles I was feeling strong and good about my race. There was only one minor problem. Some dirt and small pebbles had gotten into my left shoe and were irritating my left heel - but I didn't want to lose time to stop and empty my shoe. Very BIG/bad/serious mistake! By mile 20 my left heel was really sore and I decided I would have to scarifice some time to check out and fix the problem. So I stopped beside the trail and cleaned out my left shoe and sock. Damn, there was a blister on the bottom of my heel about the size of a toenail? I hoped it woudn't get any worse now that I had cleaned out my shoe?
By mile 22 my heel was on fire and every footplant on that foot brought agonizing pain. I had to stop again to find out what was happening. The blister now covered the whole bottom of my heel but the skin had not broken yet. There was no way I was going to quit with only 4 miles left in the race and there was no damn way I was going to slow down and lose 2nd place! So I tried to rearrange my sock and tighten the shoe to minimize the friction. It didn't work! The course was all downhill and that causes too much friction on the heel. At mile 24 I reached a water station and asked if there was any medical assistance available? Thank goodness - YES! So I asked if they had any 'second skin' or other blister treatment. YES! So I stopped a 3rd time and took off my shoe. But the friggin bozos couldn't find the blister treatment and after about 3 minutes I was getting ready to put my shoe back on and run the last two miles without it. They finally found it and applied some 2nd skin to my whole heel. I had lost over 5 minutes at that aid station! I had been trying to keep my eye on the trail to see if any runners in my age group had run by/passed me but I was not able to see all the runners? I didn't think any had gone by?
So I took off again for the last 2 miles of the race. The foot felt better for about 1/2 mile and then the pain was back. I slowed down some hoping that would alleviate the pain but it didn't work and soon I was at mile 25 and I decided "to hell with - forget the pain and run the last mile as fast as possible to get this torture/agony over with asap! I made damn sure nobody passed me on that last mile and I limped across the finish line in 6:12:27. I was not pleased with that time but at least I had finished in 2nd place? After receiving my coveted finisher's medal I went directly to the medical tent and requested medical attention for my foot. When the volunteer removed my shoe I was shocked with the sight/mess of my heel. The skin had broken and peeled back for the entire heel. The volunteer called a doctor who told me that he would have to cut off all the skin and sterilize the 'wound'.
While he was doing that another doctor came over and asked me how I felt? "OK" I said - other than my foot. "Well you look like shit" he said and strapped a blood pressure bandage on my arm. My blood pressure was so low (70/40) that he wanted to put an IV in my arm. I told him where to put his IV because I actually felt much better than I normally do after a marathon ( because I had run the last 10K so slow). But I did agree to drink another liter of water to replenish my liquids/blood volume. As soon as they finished treating the heel injury I limped over to the results board and received a huge shock/disappointment. Somebody had finished in 2nd place - FOUR minutes ahead of me.
I know damn well that nobody in my age group passed me on the course/trail during the descent - except maybe when I was receiving the medical attention at mile 24 (which cost me 5 to 6 minutes)! I was so pissed off/frustrated/humiliated that my heel injury and those friggin inept medical volunteers had cost me 2nd place that I didn't even bother staying to collect my 3rd place award. I already have a 3rd place award from Pikes Peak - I don't need another one!
I have decided that it will be a very long time (if ever) before I run this friggin race again. I have run it twice now - and both times I have suffered disasters and injuries.Obviously this course and my body are not compatible?
The biggest disappointment of the race is that the heel injury will cost me at least 2 to 3 weeks of training (and marathons). The doctor said that it will take at least that long before the new skin is tough/thick enough to stand up to running. And I have two marathons scheduled for the next two weekends. Just trying to walk on that foot has convinced me to accept the fact that next weekend's marathon is definitely out. It is a mountain trail marathon almost as tough as Pikes Peak. No way the heel would be able to handle that stress! However I am still hoping that the heel will heal enough by Labor Day Weekend to allow me to run another trail marathon in Colorado Springs. It is a much flatter course so shouldn't cause so much strain on the injury? I'll wait and see.
In spite of the injury and disappointment/consequences let me state unequivocably that if I had to do it all over again knowing what the results would be - I would do it again! There is no way I could ever quit in a marathon after the 20-mile mark. The word 'QUIT' is not in Maddog's vocabulary/dictionary after the 20-mile mark of a marathon! May be stupid - but that's the way it is!(and always will be).
So now it's time to limp out to the garage and check the old bike - looks like I may be doing a lot of biking for the next few weeks?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Trip Report - Ukraine Part 2

UKRAINE (Part 2)

Photos may bw viewed at

The final chapter!

Armed with some local knowledge from my roommate I proceeded into the train station in Kiev to negotiate/hassle with a taxi driver for a ride to the hotel. Of course as soon as I opened my mouth and spoke English $$ signs registered all over most of them and they demanded $20. After arguing with three or four I finally found a sane/honest driver who agreed on 30 HV ($6). The only way I could get a lower price would be to argue in Russian so I accepted and off we went to the Hotel Rus. I had selected this hotel from a list provided by the agency mainly because of price - $79/night for a 3-star hotel. Turned out to be a good choice. The hotel was located next to the Olympic Sports Stadium, close to the metro and only a few blocks from the main street (Khreschatyk). It had been renovated recently and was modern and luxurious. It was a big step up from my previous 1-star hotels. The front desk staff even spoke English! But I also hit my first travel snag – the hotel only had me booked for one night vs the four nights I had paid the agency for?

But they let me check in at 6am so I managed to nap for a few more hours and shower before venturing off to explore Kiev. It didn’t take long before I determined that I liked Odessa much more. Kiev is the capital of Ukraine, big, spread out and more difficult to explore. I also came up with these quick observations: 1) Somebody had money as I saw several Hummers in the first hour 2) There were more beggars (mostly old people) in the streets 3) There just as many alcoholics walking around at all hours with a bottle of beer in their hand and 4) Beautiful women must be prohibited in Kiev because I could count the number of pretty women I saw in four days on one hand? (Same observation I had on my trip to Moscow four years ago). To top of my assessment/opinion of Kiev I was the target of a scam within the first hour of my walk. What was the scam?
As I walked along the main street a guy passed me quickly, bent over and found/picked up a big roll of bills/money. He showed me the roll that included some US $50 bills and then exclaimed excitedly “we were so lucky to find this money and we should share it”! Well, I wasn’t born on a Russian fishing trawler but it took about 10 seconds for the light bulb to light and I realized I was being scammed. So I told him he could keep all the money and to go away! He persisted for a few minutes until I shouted angrily “ Get lost or I will call the police”! He disappeared quickly. I just love big cities. But it was my fault. I had become lackadaisical in my dress in Odessa. I was wearing jeans and running shoes instead of my European/Russian disguise – black pants, black shirt and black shoes! Nobody in Kiev wore running shoes – I was obviously a tourist!

After completing my preliminary scouting trip around the hotel area I returned to the hotel to call the local travel rep to correct the problem with the hotel. Fortunately she spoke English and promised to fix the problem immediately. It was time to explore more of the city but that required using the metro. The metro was much bigger than the one in Minsk with three lines so the interchanges were more complex. And of course all signs were in Russian/Cyrillic. At first I just memorized the number of stops to a destination but by the end of my stay I was able to recognize metro stops even though I couldn’t say the name. My first destination was the Dnipro station on the Dniper River. My friend in Moldova had told me that this was the best place to do a long run and I wanted to check it out and make sure I knew how to get there? Found the station OK and decided that the sidewalk along the river and a park would work for a run. Next stop was the Podil district – the oldest section of the city. The cobblestone Andriyivskyy path is Kiev’s most touristy area with cafes, bars, galleries and souvenir vendors lining both sides of the street. At the top of the hill is St Andrew’s Church, a restored 18th century Baroque church. Enough fun for the 1st day!

The next day I woke very early to go to the Dniper River. I wanted to finish my run and get back to the hotel before the metro got too busy – I was going to have to return on the metro all sweaty and stinky. When I exited the metro station I decided to stay on the path near the river and park but it was only 5km so I ran two loops and called it a day. It had started to rain and people were giving me strange looks – I was the only runner on the path? After a nice hot shower it was time for breakfast. I was hoping this hotel might have something I could eat? What a pleasant surprise – they had a chef to cook eggs any style I wanted along with bacon and hash browns and even toast – the first toast I had seen this trip. It was wonderful!

I wanted to take a city tour but there is no tourist infrastructure in Kiev and no tourist office. The hotel offered to arrange a private tour for $30/hr but it was raining hard and I didn’t want to spend/waste that much money for a tour in the rain. So I ended up spending the afternoon in my room watching the Tour de France in Russian. Euro Sports didn’t spend much time covering Lance? The following morning it was still raining so I decided to go to the track in the Olympic Stadium next door and run laps in the rain – at 7am! I don’t know if I was allowed on the track but the guard just looked at me and shook his head. It was raining too hard for him to come outside to tell me to stop? Needless to say I was the only one on the track as I ran 3 miles and then retreated back to the hotel looking like a wet puppy. But I was ready for the next marathon. And then I became concerned/worried if there really was one? I had never communicated directly with the race director in Rovno because he didn’t speak English and didn’t have email. My friend Dmitry would telephone him and then pass the information to me via email. What happens if I get to Rovno and the race has been cancelled or postponed? Oh well, there is no other plan except to show up in Rovno on Sat and hope that there is a marathon on Sun?

After another wonderful breakfast I decided rain or not I am going to play tourist and explore the city. The front desk gave me an English map of the city that included a suggested ‘one-day walking tour’ so I set off. Most of the touristy sites are within a one-square mile radius of the city center so it was actually quite easy to tour the city on my own. Kiev, like Minsk and Chisinau had been almost totally destroyed during WWII. Only a few monuments and churches survived. However many of the palaces, churches and monasteries have been restored or rebuilt since Independence in 1991. The oldest structure in the city is the ‘Golden Gate’ a wooden and stone gate that has marked the entrance to the city since 1037! There are several church and monastery complexes that are magnificent and very colorful.

My last day in Kiev (Fri) fortunately was sunny so I decided to revisit some of the sites from the previous day to take more/better pictures in the sun. I figured that I probably would not get a marathon T-shirt from the race so I should buy a souvenir T-shirt from Kiev. Had to go back to the Podil district to find the T-shirt. Then I decided to visit Kiev’s oldest and holiest religious site, the Kyiv-Pechery Monastery that sits on a hill overlooking the Dniper River and dates back to the 12th century. It provides some spectacular views of Kiev from the Bell Tower.

As I finished my final tour of the city I figured that maybe I should buy a sandwich for the train ride tomorrow? I knew there would not be any food available on the 8-hour train ride from Kiev to Rovno and I would miss both breakfast and lunch. Good idea but sandwiches do not exist in Kiev – and I looked everywhere?
So on Sat morning I was catching a train at 6:30 am with only a power bar to eat for breakfast. All that was available was a 2nd class cabin (4 persons/beds). The beds were still made up so I just stretched out on my bed and slept for half the trip. When I stepped off the train 8 hours later in Rovno there were three smiling/happy faces to greet me.

The race director Yuri had brought along a friend Alex and an English teacher from the high school, Tanya, to translate for us. They welcomed me to their city and escorted me to my hotel. The Hotel Mir (means ‘Peace’ in Russian) was a one-star hotel but the best hotel in the city (and only $18/night). It was right out of an old Soviet/Russian movie – you walked past a security guard to get to the elevator and when you got off on your floor there was a matron at a desk to monitor the floor. Picture the movie “From Russia With Love”. Remember the Russian bad girl/matron with the knives in the shoes? That was my floor matron! Fortunately Tanya helped me check in because nobody in that hotel spoke English!

After my hosts got me checked in we sat down and discussed the agenda for the race. I had lots of questions and wanted to see the course. Tanya and Yuri agreed to pick me up at the hotel at 6 pm to go to the stadium and the course that were close to the hotel. Then Tanya insisted on helping me shop at the supermarket for water and some snack food. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was an expert shopper in the Ukraine – heck I could even buy ‘monoko/milk’! After I got my supplies back to the hotel I told Tanya that I could survive on my own and would see her at 6 pm. A hasty decision! I realized that I was hungry and needed something to eat. But the restaurant in the hotel only had Russian menus and nobody spoke English. I couldn’t order a meal. So I walked around the hotel and luckily found a pizza joint. By now I could read/understand pizza menus in Russian and was able to order a pizza and coke ($2). After that delicious snack I explored the downtown area. The main street was about ½ mile long with a post office, telecom office and about a dozen shops. That was it! Across the street was the central park with a statue of Taras Shevchenko, an 18th century Ukrainian Poet who is credited with re-inventing the Ukrainian language. The city had torn down a statue of Lenin after Independence and replaced it with Shevchenko who is now a national hero.
At 6pm my hosts met me at the hotel and escorted me to the stadium. Yuri gave me a race number and explained that after the race he was going to give me a book about the city of Rivne (Tanya explained that the city is called Rovno in Russian but Rivne in Ukrainian) and a ceramic statue of the club symbol. His running club was called ‘The Flame’ and the symbol is a runner with an Olympic torch. I thanked him and asked how much for the entry fee. He said that there was no entry fee but that I could make a donation if I wanted. I donated 100HV ($20). I could tell by the way that his eyes and smile lit up that I had probably covered most of his race budget. I asked about water on the course. Yuri showed me some bottles of tea and local water. He also had some bottled sparkling water. I explained that I was concerned about intestinal problems from local water so I would buy some bottled still water and place it at the water station for my own use. Tanya, my dear, sweet translator/angel said that she would come to the race and hand me my water and watch my belongings.

Yuri and Tanya then walked me over to a park near the stadium and showed me the course. It was a figure 8 loop. Because of the strange distance of the loop (about 2.38km)
the race would begin with two laps around a lake followed by 16 more laps of the whole loop. One water table/station would be placed in the path in the middle of the two circular loops. I was ready. Yuri would meet me at the hotel at 6am to escort me to the start line.
To thank Yuri and Tanya I invited them to join me for a pasta dinner (and I needed Tanya to order it)! It costs less than $10 for three pasta dinners.

Sunday was M-day! This trip was really going to happen/conclude as planned! Yuri picked me up at 6am and we walked over to the stadium. I met some of the other runners - a few even spoke English and were eager to practice their language skills with me. There were 12 runners in the marathon and another 12 runners in the Half. The race started at 7am. I had decided beforehand to stop every 2nd loop for water and gel. But this time I would carry the gel with me so that I could eat/swallow it on the run and only have to stop for water. This would save some time. By the time I finished the 2nd lap Tanya was standing at the water table with a cup of water (what an angel). It took about 20 to 30 seconds to stop, drink some water and return the cup to her. I was only allotted one cup. I later asked Yuri why only one cup? Why not have lots of cups and just throw them away like most races? He was shocked. He considered that to be an unnecessary waste and expense! Because of the strange distance of the loop it was impossible to determine my pace - all I could tell was that I was averaging about 12 minutes per loop. At one point I couldn’t remember how many loops I had run. Fortunately they had a volunteer shouting out the number of loops left for each runner.

It got a bit warm/toasty by the end of the race but I finished comfortably in 3:38:50 – good enough for 1st place in my age group and 5th place overall. More importantly I had accomplished my goal of 3 marathons and 3 countries in 3 weeks! After the race Yuri pulled me aside for interviews and photos with the local press. They were writing an article for both the Rivne and Kiev papers. Tanya said that she would translate the article and send me a copy. Yuri then presented me with the book and ceramic statue.
Yuri had invited Tanya and I to a party/dinner at his place after the race. The party was to start at 3 pm so I had lots of time to go back to the hotel for a hot shower and rest. After my shower I decided that I had better eat something because Yuri warned me that there would be lots of vodka at the party. Right – you guessed it! I had to go back to the pizza joint because it was the only place in town where I could order a meal.

At 3 pm Tanya met me at the hotel and we walked over to Yuri’s apartment. He had invited some runners, friends and local musicians. He had prepared a special, traditional Ukrainian meal – a type of meat pie. It was like a meat dumpling with minced pork. It was very good. The specialty was preceded with bread, meat and vegetables. I skipped the raw veggies but enjoyed the mashed potatoes, meat and bread. I think I forgot to mention how delicious the bread is in those countries. They have dark bread that is to die for – I ate it with every meal. I also needed it to wash down the vodka – it was very strong.
I had brought what was left of the bottle of Crown Royal and all the locals drank whiskey while I drank vodka for the many toasts! Everyone was very interested/curious about life in America and asked many questions about salaries, pensions, health care, etc. I answered their questions and then asked them the same questions. Some of the answers were surprising.

When I commented about the Hummers in Kiev they stated that there is a very small minority of super rich but the majority of the people are very poor. Tanya has been teaching for 20 years and makes $60/month. One runner, a retired electrician used to make about $60/month and his pension is now $40/month. He claimed that he lived quite comfortably on that amount. He had to be very careful with his budget – couldn’t buy much expensive food like meat but he was happy. They have ‘free’ health care but it is not as good as it used to be. A doctor makes about $100/month! But nobody that I talked to wanted to go back to the ‘good old days’. They felt sorry for the old people and thought that they had been better off in the old days and that was the reason most of the beggars are old people. But they preferred to continue down the road of freedom and opportunity!

After dinner the musicians played Ukrainian/Russian music for the party. One musician, a professional singer, had written a song to commemorate my visit to Rivne that she sang to me (in Russian). The words/story according to Tanya’s translation were about “John, the American runner who traveled all the way to our city of Rivne to visit us and run our marathon when he could have gone anywhere in the world”. I was overwhelmed with the kindness, warmth and friendship of these people. They are poorer than church mice but all have BIG hearts of pure gold!

After the party Yuri and Tanya insisted on escorting me to the train station. They stayed with me until the train arrived and made sure I got on the right car and only then did they wish me goodbye. I was very thankful that chance or timing had selected Rivne as my marathon in Ukraine instead of Kiev or Odessa – I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that wonderful experience!

My 2nd class cabin was full but I didn’t care. After a marathon and lots of vodka I just made up my bed and passed out again. The conductor woke me at 4am for our 5am arrival into Kiev. I heard some voices speaking English? Turned out there was a church group of 12 people in my coach from NY State. They had been operating a church camp in Lutsk for two weeks for Ukrainian children. They had been isolated but had the same observation/comment as me: “The Ukrainian people are poor but so very warm and friendly”.

As soon as I arrived in Kiev I headed back to the Hotel Rus. I had wisely negotiated/booked a room for half price for 8 hours. That allowed me to leave my larger bag in the hotel luggage room while I was in Rivne and now I had a place to sleep for a few more hours, shower and have another great breakfast before leaving for the airport. But I was at the airport by 12pm to catch my 2:15 flight to London. I was ready to head home! What a mess at the Kiev airport! First you have to line up and go through security to get into the international terminal. Then you have to line up to go through customs. The customs officer asked all the usual questions about money. I answered that I was leaving Ukraine with only 20 HV and $800 US. He tried to ask more questions but we had a communications problem so he got frustrated and told me to go. I had to go through another security check at that point and another customs officer pulled me aside and into a private room. I didn’t like the looks/feel of this situation? He spoke English and demanded to know how much money I was taking out of the country. 20 HV and $800 US. He inspected both of my bags and had a special interest in my handbag that contained a travel pouch with my address book and other documents. Since I had nothing to hide I let him inspect his little heart out. But I did get the feeling that he was looking for a ‘bribe’ to let me pass. Screw him – I had nothing to hide and I was not going to offer him a bribe! He finally gave up and told me I was free to go. I still had to pass through Passport Control but that went OK. However I felt relieved when I passed that final hurdle and went straight to the Business Class Lounge for BA for a nice English beer and to read my first English newspaper in three weeks. I felt even better when the wheels lifted off the runway and I was on my way to London Heathrow.

Four hours later I was in the London Tube heading to my mate’s place in the Vauxhall district. His house is a few blocks from the Thames River and the MI6 building. After a quick beer we headed out to a pub near Victoria Station to meet up with another running mate – and a surprise. A new English ale has just been introduced and those crazy guys had called the brewery to find out which pubs were serving ‘Maddog’ ale. They had taken me to a pub serving ‘Maddog’ ale. It was quite good – maybe that is why we poured it down like water? At 9 pm we had to head off to another pub to meet up with two more mates – the same two that had just stayed with me in Colorado. We drank at that pub until they kicked us out! But I blamed the hangover the next morning on that damn ‘Maddog’ ale and called it a wee Maddog hangover. To get the poison out of my body I coaxed Tad into taking me on a 5-mile run through London. His route took us down to the MI 6 building and along the Thames past the ‘Big Eye’, then across the Thames and around Big Ben, the Parliament Buildings, and Westminster Abbey and finally back across the Thames to MI 6 and home. Nice historic/scenic route but I am not used to dodging cars, buses and people?

One last wish/requirement before I leave England – I must have a good feed of fish and chips. Unfortunately that is not so easy anymore. Most of the ‘chippys’ have closed down and it is hard to find a good ‘chippy’ these days. But Tad came through and I got my fill of fish and chips. Time to go home, rest up and train for the next adventure?

Stay tuned!

Monday, July 12, 2004

Trip report - Ukraine Part 1

UKRAINE (Part 1)

Photos may be viewed at

As I remember I concluded my previous report with saying goodbye to my new friends from Moldova and stepping off the train in Odessa. I had arranged for a private car and driver to meet me at the train station because I had booked an apartment in Odessa and figured I would need help to find it. It was a good plan because the apartment I had booked had problems with water and the agency had upgraded me to a bigger apartment at a different address. The driver drove me straight to the new apartment and showed me how to work some of the Russian appliances.

I had booked an apartment because hotels were very expensive in Odessa and I figured it would be a chance to live like a local? But that was before I learned how locals lived from my friends and tour guides in Belarus and Moldova! The ‘Khrushchev’ apartments built after the war were based on the central command/control principle. All the utilities were supplied and controlled by the government. For example the buildings are heated by a central hot water system that is turned on (and off) by the government on specific dates. Thus the apartments are heated in the winter but not in the summer. That also means that there is no hot water in the summer months for washing, etc. I asked how they took showers/baths? Cold showers and heat some water on a stove if they want a hot bath for about six months in the summer!. So the first question I asked the driver was “Is there hot water”? Thankfully the owner had added two important upgrades to this apartment: 1) an instant-type hot water heater and 2) a satellite TV system. I was living in luxury compared to my neighbors.

However the driver/agency forgot to inform me that the city turned off all water between midnight and 6am. I could live with that except the first morning the water in my section of the city was not turned back on until 2pm? Apparently there was a problem in that section of the city? But hey – I was experiencing/enjoying life just like the locals!
After I got settled into my new pad it was time to explore the city. My apartment was located in the old city and only ½ block from the main street that had been converted into a pedestrian mall. It was a great location because the main street was the gathering/focal point for the city. It was lined with shops and sidewalk cafes/bars and was a great place to stroll or sit and drink a beer and people watch. My first priority was to find an ATM and get some Ukrainian money – 5 Hryvnya = $1 US. I always try to use ATMs because the currency exchanges tend to rip you off with poor exchange rates and high commissions. The next priority was to shop for water and some food. I was looking forward to a regular American type breakfast (orange juice and cereal) in my apartment. Third priority was to learn the layout of the jungle/city.

Odessa does not have much of a tourist infrastructure even though there are lots of tourists. I even saw busloads of Japanese tourists – there was a cruise ship berthed in the harbor. There is no tourist office but I did find a travel agency that offered several tours of the city. I booked a city tour and a tour of the catacombs for the next day. The only city map they had was in Russian. Since I no longer had access to a front desk staff (that usually didn’t speak English anyway) I dropped into a nearby luxury 4-star hotel and used their concierge staff. They spoke excellent English and were very courteous and helpful. They even gave me an English map of the city. I asked them where I could run and they told me about a road along the Black Sea called the ‘Road to Health’ where all the locals ran and walked. I almost wished I were staying at that hotel but it was three times the price of my apartment. The rest of that day I walked/explored the old city and arrived at the following observations. 1) There seemed to be more money/wealth in Odessa than the previous two countries/cities visited. There were several BMWs and Mercedes parked on the streets and the main street had several high-priced jewelry stores. But there appeared to be a high risk of crime also because every jewelry store and upscale restaurant had an armed security guard on the premises during operating hours? 2) Most of the buildings in Odessa were old, in good condition and there were lots of interesting architecture like you see in other parts of Europe.3) No matter what time of the day you walk around the streets there is always someone (actually several people) walking around with a beer in their hand? 4) The young women (18 to 25) had the same traits as the women in Belarus and Moldova (shame on me for forgetting to report this very important observation until now). They were all slim with long slender legs, unbelievably slim/flat waists and big boobs! I can’t comment on their looks because my eyes never seemed to get above the breast line? The women in Odessa seemed to have more money for nicer clothes and dressed very well to display all their ass(ets)! Yeah, yeah – I know! I am a male chauvinist pig – and I like it!
Eating meals was also much easier because most restaurants had an English menu and at least one server who spoke English. The food wasn’t any better but I was able to enjoy some fresh seafood. The prices were much higher but still a bargain compared to the US.

The following morning I woke early to try a run along the Black Sea before the temps got too hot. My apartment was about one mile from the Black Sea and I got some strange/curious/dirty looks from some people as I ran through the city streets to get to Shevchenko Park and the ‘Road to Health’. I ignored them. However I couldn’t ignore the packs of stray dogs in the Park. I was very alarmed/leery at first but soon realized that the dogs were afraid of people and stayed out of my way. However I did watch a pack of about 20 dogs attack a pet dog that foolishly wandered into their pack. They would have killed that dog if the owner hadn’t stepped in and saved his pet. Once I got through the Park and on to the Road to Health it was much better. The road runs along the Black Sea for 6 km to the sea resort of Arkadiya. The road is lined with shade trees and is marked every 100m in case you want to do speed work. There were hundreds of locals running and walking along the Road to Health. I felt very comfortable while running on that road. That first day I continued on into the sea resort to check it out. Arkadiya is the ‘play’ area for Odessa. There are great beaches and the resort has several restaurants, bars and discos. The locals and tourists play on the beaches during the day and at the discos at night. They were still drinking and partying at 6:30 am that first morning I ran through the resort?

I arrived back at my apartment at 8am only to discover that I had no water? And I had booked the Catacomb tour for 10am. Fortunately I realized that this was not an uncommon occurrence because the apartment had several large jugs of water spread about the place. I used one of the jugs to wash myself in the sink. Not as good as a hot shower – but hey – I wanted to live like a local? The next surprise came when I started to pour the milk on to my cereal –‘Snow Flakes’ – the Russian version of ‘Frosted Flakes’. It wasn’t milk! It was thick and yucky! Not as thick as yogurt but close. I threw that in the sink and walked across to a store to buy ‘milk’. Of course everything is labeled in Russian/Cyrillic so I can’t read a damn thing. This time I decide to buy a plastic bag of white stuff that looks like milk and is very liquidy? Take it home and it is the same shit!
Now I am frustrated so I go back to the store and stop a young person (hoping he can speak English) and ask “milk”. He can’t speak English but he takes me over to the dairy cooler and points to a bottle and says “monoko” – “milk”. I trust him – pay for it and rush back to the apartment. Halleluiah – it’s milk – monoko – whatever – and it tastes wonderful on my Snow Flakes! It’s great living like a local!

After a great American breakfast I was ready to tour the catacombs. When Catherine the Great founded Odessa in 1794 she granted the citizens free land and the right to mine the limestone under their land to build their homes. The city and surrounding region is built on a solid outcrop of limestone. The residents would mine/cut the limestone down to 12 ft for a basement and use the blocks to build their house. Then they would continue to mine down two or three more levels and outwards from their property to get more limestone blocks for their house. It was free building material. Every building was built with limestone blocks mined from the ground below it. The result is a labyrinth of catacombs stretching over 2,000 km under the city and surrounding area. Most of the entries and exits have been closed because there are only maps for less than half the catacombs and people (mostly children) were getting lost in them – never to be found again. The city has left only two openings to the catacombs on the outskirts of the city. This section of the catacombs were used by the resistance fighters in WWII. They lived in the catacombs for four years. The tour takes you through a section of the catacomb where the resistance fighters had set up a camp. It is very cold and very dark in those catacombs. I couldn’t live or stay down there longer than a few hours. But it was an interesting tour and story.

In the afternoon I decided to take a tram to Arkadiya to check out the beaches and cafes. The beaches are sandy and nice and they are packed – from sunrise to sunset. I never did find the ‘nude’ beaches but based on some of the bodies I saw with little clothing (and should have been clothed – in a tent) it was just as well. I had an early seafood dinner at one of the cafes and decided that I couldn’t stick around till midnight when the action really started. Hard to party till 4am and run 10 miles at 6am?

So a new day and another pleasant run along the Road to Health followed by a hot shower and a hearty breakfast of Snow Flakes and I was ready for the city tour. I had already explored much of the old city but was eager to learn the history of the city. As previously noted Odessa is a relatively young city in Europe only being founded in 1794 and built in the early 1800s. Catherine the Great wanted a seaport on the Black Sea and therefore opened the development of the city to all nations and nationalities in Europe. There is an interesting mix of architecture and buildings and almost all of the original buildings survived WWII. Romania had asked Hitler to give them Odessa as a present for joining his alliance and therefore Odessa was spared from bombing except for the train station and seaport that have been rebuilt since the war. The landmark of the city is the 192 steps of the Potemkin Stairs that descend from the old city to the seaport. There is supposed to be an old murder/mystery movie shot in Odessa and around the Potemkin Stairs – I’ll have to rent it? There are several interesting building to see including the city opera that was unfortunately under restoration.
After the tour I explored the old city on my own and enjoyed some time in the city’s central park. The local artists set up booths in the park every day and sell arts and craft such as matryoshka dolls. It is a great place for watching the local scenery (read –beautiful women with long slender legs, big boobs, etc).

I was running out of things to see and do in Odessa and I still had one more day to go? On that last morning I did a long 13-mile run along the Road to health because I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to run in Kiev. I had to check out of my apartment by noon so I took my bags down to the train station and checked them into the baggage storage. Then I went back to the central park with a good book, bought a few beers and sat down and spent the afternoon in the park reading – and watching – you are right - slim waists, slender legs and big boobs. It’s so great to be a male chauvinist pig!
After a nice final seafood dinner on the main street it was time to head back to the train station to catch the overnight train to Kiev. The train left at 8pm. I found my train and 1st class cabin easily but discovered that I had a roommate – a businessman going to Kiev. Didn’t matter – after drinking beer all afternoon in the park and then a bottle of wine with dinner – I immediately paid the conductor $2 for the sheets and blanket – made my bed and passed out!

The following morning the conductor woke us early for our 5am arrival into Kiev. My roommate didn’t speak much English but I was able to ask him how much to pay a taxi for a ride into the city center. I thanked him and stepped off the train to begin the next part of my adventure in Ukraine.

Stay tuned for Part 2!