Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Everest Marathon Trip Part 3

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 3

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

The final chapter! The race is about to begin and the MISERY and ORDEAL is almost over! All 56 runners had passed the medical check and trekked the three miles from Lobuche to Gorak Shep (5200 m/17,160 ft) where the Everest Marathon would start.

Gorak Shep was smaller and cleaner than Lobuche - except for the outhouses that were just as disgusting. Thankfully our Sherpas set up some latrine tents in the huge sand bowl at the base of Kala Patthar. All three camps were set up together near the start line in the desert sand – yes a huge desert of soft white sand at 17,000 ft? There were only two lodges in Gorak Shep – both located on a ridge on the edge of the glacial moraine. Fortunately they were large enough to accommodate all three groups for dinner so that we didn’t have to eat in a cold mess tent. Everyone was instructed (ordered?) to stay in their tents for the final night because it would be difficult to find people in the lodges at 5:30am.

Some runners climbed Kala Patthar for the magnificent view of ‘The Top of The World’ but most of us just rested and waited for a ‘practice’ run of the race start at 4 pm. At 4 pm all the runners (including 20 Nepali runners) gathered at the start line in the sand bowl to listen to instructions about the race and the start. Attila the Hun (the belligerent group leader) gave the lecture/instructions: 1) at 6:50 am on Mon 11/21 all runners would line up at the start line and Attila would shout “#1”. Race #1 would confirm he was present and then all subsequent race numbers would shout their numbers in numerical sequence. We practiced this difficult procedure. However the Nepalis had difficulty with this process because they are shy and don’t like to be loud or flagrant in public. Attila got very angry and I felt embarrassed for both him and the race organization because he made an ass of himself! 2) all runners must carry a minimum survival kit – 3 layers of clothes, a whistle, headlamp, first-aid kit, etc at all times during the race. Failure to do so would result in disqualification from the race! 3) every runner must wear a race number on the front and back and shout out his number at each check point and then verify that the number was heard. This would simplify any search for a missing runner. 4) if a runner came across a colleague that was injured or ill he must stay with that runner and provide assistance until another runner came by who would then go to the nearest aid station for medical help. Failure to do so would result in disqualification from the race. Any time spent assisting another runner would be deducted from the final finish time of that runner.
Everyone understood and agreed that these rules were necessary for the safety and security of all runners!

After the lecture I visited the team doctor because I felt like my ‘Himalayan cough’ was turning into a chest cold and I didn’t want to wake up on race morning with a terrible cold. He offered me some antibiotics but warned that they would probably cause diarrhea so I decided to decline the drugs and risk the cold? I then went back to our tent and changed into my race clothes. It was going to get very cold that night and it would be too cold to change into polypro tights at 6am on race day. I would sleep in my running clothes! Then I joined our team for afternoon tea in the lodge. I learned that we would not get pasta for dinner but fortunately the lodge had ‘spaghetti Bolognese’ (I believe the meat was minced Yak) on the menu so I ordered my traditional pasta dinner from the lodge. Later we were served a light ‘veggie’ dinner by the Sherpas that I passed on except for the desert. After dinner our group leader – a very nice gentleman (Bruce) from Troon, Scotland – read us a poem. Bruce was running Everest for the 5th time (why???). He had a special gift and love for writing poems. He recited a poem that was written by a friend in Scotland who worked in a Hospice for terminally ill patients. I have not yet received a copy of the poem (as promised) to include in this report but the moral of the poem was: nobody knows how long they are on this planet – so if there is something you want to do - or somebody you want to love – then “Seize the Moment”!
After that inspirational poem there was nothing to do except go back to the tent to check on our last-minute race preparations and go to bed. I wanted my running shoes to be warm in the morning so I stuffed them in my sleeping bag – also my water bottle because I needed to mix an energy drink in the morning. I had only two layers of running clothes on so I decided to put my down jacket on and sleep in it too. It got very cold on Sun night. I can’t say I was cold and I can’t say I was warm – but I sure as Hell can say that I was MISERABLE all night as I laid in the sleeping bag waiting – praying for daylight to come so the race could start and put an end to this MISERY and ORDEAL! I believe there were about 55 others in the same state of mind?

Mercifully I dozed off for a few hours and soon I heard the wake-up call (5:30 am) and a cup of hot tea was thrust into our tent. Francisco and I declined hot porridge because we wanted to stay in our warm sleeping bags as long as possible. Reluctantly we had to leave the bags and pack them separately so the Sherpas could carry them down to Namche – we would need them that night to sleep in Namche. The kit bags would probably not arrive in Namche until the following day. By the time we had finished packing we were freezing! I couldn’t even feel my toes! It was about –20C! At 6:45 am we walked to the start line and the race started a few minutes before 7 am!

The big dogs – the fell runners – raced across the desert sand and charged up the hill of glacial moraine (at 17,000 ft) as they ignored the burning in their lungs! The rest of us mortals jogged across the desert sand and struggled to walk up the glacial moraine while sucking desperately for air/oxygen and trying to get our frozen feet to navigate around and over the dangerous rocks! Unfortunately I found myself in front of a pack of about 10 runners so I felt obligated to push the old bod faster than it wanted to go because I didn’t want to hold anyone up on the narrow trails. I was hurting already! Fortunately we soon reached a short downhill section and I stepped aside to let the faster runners go by.
My feet were still frozen as I struggled across (and up and down) the two miles of glacial moraine. I also discovered that the water in my CamelBack was frozen when I tried to get a drink. Finally we reached a section of the trail that was flat and smooth and I started to run – well I use that term loosely. I figured with 20 pounds of survival gear strapped to my back and the thin air at 16,000 ft the fastest pace I could run without going into oxygen debt was about 12 min/mile! I was running with Bruce and told him we would be lucky to reach Lobuche (3 miles) under 1 hour? We reached the first aid station/check point in Lobuche in 57 minutes!

The sun was just starting to come up so I stopped at the aid station and removed one layer of clothes, drank some water and continued on. The next three miles of trail descended 290 m to Dughla (4620 m/15,246 ft). The trail was in good shape and I was able to run most of the flat and downhill sections so I reached Dughla in 1:35:38 – a blazing 13 min pace! I stopped and removed another layer of clothes. The next checkpoint was in Periche (4240 m/13,992 ft) – another 3 miles. That section of trail had a lot more rocks and was more difficult even on the flat sections. I was following a couple of runners from another group when one stopped and asked if we had missed a turn or junction? We were running on a high trail and could see a lower trail and bridge about 1000 ft below us? He thought we were supposed to cross that bridge. If we missed a checkpoint we would be disqualified! I knew Bruce was not far behind and he would definitely know the proper route so we waited on the trail for about 5 minutes and happily Bruce confirmed that we were on the proper trail and the checkpoint in Periche should only be about one mile ahead! We forged ahead and reached the 3rd checkpoint in 2:16:10. I stopped and removed my last layer of clothes – I was now running in polypro tights and a thin long sleeve T-shirt! But my daypack was starting to get heavy with all the clothes. The Camelback had finally thawed out so now I would have water available between aid stations!

The next checkpoint was in Pangboche (3930 m/12,969 ft) – another 3/4 miles with many hills. I walked all the uphill sections and tried to run the flat and downhill sections. As I ran the narrow trails on this section of the course I observed surprisingly that the trekkers on the marathon route were being very courteous and supportive. Almost everyone stepped aside and cheered us on when we met or overtook them. Only the Yaks were discourteous and a pain in the ass! Several times I got caught behind a Yak team and had to walk for 4/5 minutes before I could find an opening to scamper past them on the uphill side of the mountain – always the uphill side in case a Yak charged and tried to knock you off the mountain! Such delays had been expected so I did not get frustrated. Besides another few minutes would not make much difference in my finish time?

I reached Pangboche in 3:19:06. I wasn’t even at the Half yet – any thoughts of a 6-hr marathon were a dream? I pushed on to the next checkpoint at Tengboche at 14 miles. I knew that we would have to climb a very steep hill between Deboche and Tengboche. It was a bitch! I struggled just to walk up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill). I wanted to reach Tengboche (3867 m/12,761 ft) under 4 hrs but couldn’t do it! I reached the checkpoint in 4:02:12! No time to spend with the Monks at the Monastery – time to push on which meant running down the very steep and dangerous descent to Phunki Tenga (3250 m/10,725 ft). As I started down the hill I caught up with Justin (the one who had suffered serious AMS in Machermo but made it to the start line). We ran the descent together which really helped because we were able to push and watch out for each other. When we reached Phunki Tenga we were faced with a very tough section of the course – all uphill to Sarnassa (3597 m/11,870 ft). I pushed on and Jason wished me “Good Luck” and dropped back. I passed at least 8 runners going up that BAH and reached the checkpoint in 5:21:41. Unfortunately the pain was not yet over as the course climbed another few hundred meters before dropping down into Chorkhung (3520 m/11,616 ft) just above Namche Bazaar. I tried desperately to reach the checkpoint at 20 miles under 6 hrs but arrived in 6:01:09!

I was familiar with the last 10K of the course – the Thamo loop! I was pretty confident that I could run that loop under 2 hrs which meant a sub-8 hr race was in the bag! I thought about ditching my daypack so I could run faster but decided that was against the rules and I would probably need water before the next aid station so I kept it and struggled with the extra 20 pounds as I tried to push the pace on the Thamo loop. On the way out to Thamo I passed many of my teammates and other runners on the return loop. One was a competitor in my age group. He had at least a 10-min lead and I knew I couldn’t catch him. But I also noticed that he was not carrying any daypack or survival kit? I reached the checkpoint in Thamo (3446 m/11,371 ft) in 6:54:31. If the return loop took an hour I would be cutting it pretty close so I got worried and decided to push the pace as hard as I could. I crossed the finish line in Namche in 7:43:38!
It wasn’t fast – it wasn’t pretty – but it was finished! And I was alive – healthy – and injury-free!

I waited around at the finish line for a few teammates to finish and then decided it was time for a much-needed shower. Since the race finished in front of our lodge we were able to sit in the dining room, enjoy a beer and some snacks while we waited for everyone to finish. All but 4 runners finished the race! Unfortunately not without some controversy – some of the Nepali runners and one ‘white’ runner had run w/o the mandatory kit! The race organizers had a sad mess to handle and correct? (More on this mess later).

But now it was time to celebrate! The race was over! – the misery was over! – soon we would be back in civilization! – soon we would be back home! Some of the young runners still had enough energy to celebrate and party. Most of us just wanted to go to bed and sleep! And there was another problem – most of us were broke. The trip information had advised us to take about 100 GBP ($200 US) on the trek and leave the rest of our money and credit cards in Kathmandu. Unfortunately that information was outdated and the amount was not enough. As a result most people were broke or only had enough money to get back to Kathmandu. I had to borrow $20 to pay for food and a room in Lukla. Thus I had no money to celebrate or party!

Tue was a rest day in Namche for everyone to rest and recover for the 6 to 8 hour trek back to Lukla on Wed. Most people did that and a few did some last minute shopping – if they had any money left! Everyone was looking forward to going home! Miraculously many of the illnesses and ailments that people had been suffering seemed to disappear now that the marathon was finished and we were back at lower altitudes. Everyone declared that they would not stay in a tent in Lukla (I declared that I would never stay in a tent again for the rest of my life) - we all insisted on renting a lodge room. On Wed morning Francisco and I packed and left early so that we would be first to arrive in Lukla and be sure to get a decent room in a lodge. It would be necessary to stay one night since the planes normally left Lukla in the morning! We trekked the steep descent from Namche to Phakding in 3 hours and then made the climb to Lukla in another three hours to arrive at the lodge in Lukla by 2 pm. We rented a deluxe room with an ensuite bath (western toilet) – what luxury! Then we pooled our money to buy two beers to celebrate while waiting for the rest of the group to arrive!

By 4 pm most of the group had arrived – but not our kit bags? We began to worry because there is a curfew in Lukla. Nobody is allowed in or out of the village after 5 pm and nobody is allowed outdoors in the village after 6pm! Because of the airport and the strategic location of the village the Nepal government is very worried about Maoist rebels capturing the village. There are hundreds of soldiers and machine gun placements all around the airport and village. We were warned that the soldiers would shoot anyone violating the curfew first and ask questions last! Thankfully with our deluxe room there was no need for us to leave our room after dinner!

On Thu morning we had a very early teatime and after our final egg omelet breakfast we walked over to the airport at 6am to be ready for the first flights out. Unfortunately low clouds had moved in to Lukla Valley and no planes could land. However by 10 am we could hear the roar of a turbo prop and the first plane arrived from Kathmandu. Luckily I had a boarding pass for the first flight and soon we were screaming down the ski jump/runway and catapulting out into space. We arrived in Kathmandu 30 minutes later – wonderful/noisy/polluted/congested and WARM Kathmandu! As soon as I got to the hotel I went straight to the bathroom and stood under scalding hot water for 30 minutes and scrubbed the last remnants of Himalayan dust – and Yak shit – off my body! Then it was time to walk over to Thamel and order a hamburger – a real hamburger with real beef – and wash it down with a beer! It was great!

By early afternoon the rest of our group arrived from Lukla. Our team had decided to go to a popular restaurant – Mike’s Place, owned by a British expat – for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Mike had a special buffet dinner – Turkey/Thanksgiving Dinner! I must have eaten 5 pounds of turkey and mashed potatoes – it was soooooooo goooooodddd!!!!!!! After dinner I made the mistake of accompanying a group of young runners/mates to some bars to celebrate and then I made a bigger mistake of trying to drink with them! I finally conceded defeat around 3am and staggered to a rickshaw to take me back to the hotel. The resulting hangover was so massive that I missed a 9am excursion/tour of Kathmandu. I think I finally crawled out of bed around 3 pm and began the process of recovery to get ready for the Awards banquet/ceremony on Fri night. The awards and prize money were handed out at the ceremony. The race organizers had ‘handled’ the sticky mess of runners w/o kits by backing off their disqualification policy and assigning a penalty of 10 minutes to all guilty runners. This allowed the Nepali runners to still beat the crap out of all foreign runners and claim their prize money!

The first foreign/white runner was a fell runner from the UK who finished in 4:57:56. My friend from NZ finished second. The first ‘white’ female was a runner from the ‘Cuckoos’. In fact four of the top ten ‘white’ runners were from the Cuckoos – the lazy/no-good/laid-back wimps/misfits and party animals who stayed in lodges??? We were very proud of our lazy selves. The trophy for Super Vet (60+) was skipped/ignored during the Award ceremony? However the following morning as the main group was preparing to depart and I was getting ready to transfer to another hotel the owner of the tour agency/race organization approached me and handed me the trophy for the Super Vet Category. She simply stated “This trophy belongs to you since you were the first Super Vet to cross the finish line according to the race rules”! I accepted the trophy because I felt that if I hadn’t been carrying 20+ pounds of survival kit on my back I would have finished at least 30 minutes faster! So the trophy is proudly displayed in my trophy case!

That evening I decided to go to a popular Steakhouse and enjoy a real beefsteak. It was great - but I didn’t get to enjoy it for long. One hour after dinner I was back in my hotel – very sick. I wasn’t sure if it was food poisoning or just all the germs/illnesses I had successfully avoided during the trek catching up with me – all at once! I had bodily fluids coming out of every orifice in my body – all at the same time! It was not a pretty sight! I was sick all night! I had booked a private tour for the following day and didn’t think I could get out of bed to go. By 9am I started to feel OK so I forced myself to get up and take the tour. I wanted to visit the neighboring cities of Pattan and Bhaktapur. These cities were separate kingdoms in the 15th century and each has its own Durbar Square with royal places and temples. Of the three Durbar squares I liked the one in Bhaktapur the best. It was quieter and less crowded (maybe the $10 entry fee had something to do with that). But I was glad I had taken the tour and seen all three Squares because I knew I was never coming back!

By early afternoon I suffered a relapse and returned to the hotel. I was concerned because I had to depart at 8:30am on Mon and I was facing another 40- hour journey home. It would be a long miserable journey! I started to overdose on Imodium to plug up one end and decided not to eat (only sip water to stay hydrated) until I got back home. On Mon morning I crawled out of bed and dragged my sorry, plugged-up ass on to the first flight in Kathmandu. I was able to buy some medicine at a pharmacy in the Bangkok airport to settle my stomach. Fortunately I was able to sleep for about 6 hours on the 12-hour flight from Hong Kong to LA. I actually felt good enough in LA to eat some greasy fries at Burger King while waiting for a red-eye flight to Dallas. They stayed down!
I met up with my wife at 6am in Dallas since she had taken a red-eye flight from Seattle where she visited the kids for Thanksgiving. We flew the final leg together to Tampa and she drove me straight to our family doctor in Sarasota. I wanted a medical check up and tests to determine if I had picked up some strange parasite or bug in Nepal! I was also hoping that the doc would give me some antibiotics or drugs to make me feel better and speed up my recovery? No such luck! He refused to give me any drugs until he saw the test results. Thus I had to go home and lay in bed for 5 days – coughing and hacking and suffering from a high fever with cold chills/hot sweats and constant hallucinations that I was back in the Himalayans! And all the time never more than a few feet from a bathroom. I forced myself to eat for nourishment. Thankfully it stayed down but I was amazed at how quickly the body can change solid food into liquid waste?

It was one of the most miserable weeks of my life! But eventually I did recover and the test results came back normal. I still haven’t regained my strength and endurance but I seem to get stronger each day as I start back running. I remember writing a brief report during that sick week asking “Was it worth it “? “The Everest Marathon/adventure”?
If I focus on the memories of how cold and miserable it was camping in the tents or that week of illness when I got home the answer might seem obvious. However as those painful memories fade I can still remember the spectacular scenery along the trek – I still remember my pride of climbing two 18ers and the magnificent views of “the Top of The World’ – I still remember the warm, friendly smiles of the Nepali people –especially the children – I still remember the camaraderie and friendship of the many new friends I made during the trek and the fact that I became a member of a special alumni – less than 500 people in the world have finished the Everest Marathon – the highest and toughest marathon in the world!

So my answer is a resounding YES!

But then I will quickly add:


But when are you going to run Everest? The next race is in NOV 2007!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Everst Marathon Trip Report -Part 2

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 2

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

Now where was I? Oh yes – we were getting ready to leave Namche Bazaar on Tue 11/08 for a trek up the Dudh Kosi Valley to Gokyo. Since the marathon finished in Namche on 11/21 we were advised to leave a clean change of clothes in Namche to change into after the race. I took the opportunity to leave some more clothes behind to lighten the weight of my kit bag and daypack.

We trekked from Namche to Sarnassas (miles 20 to 17 on the marathon route –all downhill which meant a steep uphill during the race) before turning north into a very dense forest and climbing 300 m to Khumjung (3760 m/12,408 ft) to camp for the night. Khumjung is a fairly large village with a school and hospital that serves that area of the Khumbu region. It is dominated by Ama Dablam (6856 m/22624 ft). Although the mountain is not that high it stands alone and looks quite spectacular!
It was expected to get very cold that night so I changed into thermal underwear as part of my PJs before going to afternoon tea. Dinner actually had some meat – Yak curry – to fortify us and get us ready for the cold night. Temps dropped to –5C and my water bottle froze. I became quite skilled at guessing the overnight low temps by how solid my water bottle was frozen each morning.

Wake up/tea time was 6:15 am on Wed. It was so cold that I left my thermal underwear on and pulled my trekking clothes on over them for breakfast. We continued to trek through a forest that blocked the sun and kept the temps so cold that most of the waterfalls we passed were solid sheets of ice! The trails were rocky and covered in ice – very dangerous! We descended to Phorche Tanga where the trail split off to Phortse and Dole and took the fork to Dole. It was a very steep climb up to Dole (4048 m/13,358 ft) where we would camp for the night. Taboche (6501 m/21,453 ft) towers over the village. After we left the forest and started the climb to Dole the sun came out and it got so hot that I had to strip naked on the trail to take off the thermal underwear. I was either too hot or too cold? After another veggie dinner I went to bed early. Expecting another cold night I added a liner to my sleeping bag but actually found it too hot during the night?

After an early tea (6 am) and another egg breakfast on Thu we set off for Machermo (4460 m/14,718 ft) where we were scheduled to camp for two days to acclimate to the higher altitudes. Machermo sits in a large valley that is dominated by three mountains: Machermo (6186 m/20,413 ft), Taboche and Cholotse (6410 m/21,153 ft). There was less traffic/people on this route but the trails were very dusty and covered in Yak shit and this contaminated combination was constantly stirred up by the traffic and ingested by the trekkers so that by the time we reached Machermo everyone was suffering from the ‘Himalyan cough’ – a dry, irritating cough caused by the dry air/dust/Yak shit! For many the cough turned into a chest cold and/or infection. By now many of the runners were also having intestinal problems (vomiting and diarrhea) in spite of our constant attention to hygiene. But we could only take care of our hygiene. I watched a Sherpa in a lodge add Yak shit to a fire and then prepare and serve food to trekkers w/o washing her hands. We were eating Yak shit!!! Thanks to our doctors/medical teams and drugs – they were able to keep all of the runners going in spite of the problems/illnesses. But at 15,000 ft some of the runners started suffering from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness or Altitude Sickness as we call it in CO). One of our teammates, Justin, got so seriously ill with AMS that he couldn’t walk and had to be carried by Sherpas down the mountain in the dark accompanied by the team doctor. The only cure for AMS is to get to a lower elevation to acclimate so they carried him back down to Dole where he stayed for three days acclimating and waiting for us to pick him up on the way back down. Even some of the team doctors suffered from AMS and had to retreat to lower elevations for additional acclimation.

The doctors and race organizers warned/advised us to rest and acclimate during our two days in Machermo – not to do anything too strenuous! I followed that advice for the first day. Francisco and I did our laundry in a mountain stream – the water coming off the Machermo Glacier was so cold that my hands turned blue within a few minutes of scrubbing! Then I enjoyed a hot shower at the lodge where we camped. The shower was an outdoor stall with a 40-liter bucket on the roof that was filled with hot water heated on the kitchen stove. I stood on an inch of ice covering the concrete floor of the shower stall while the hot water scalded my head and body – it was wonderful as I washed all the dust and Yak shit off my body and washed my hair! All for a cheap fee of $2! Then I enjoyed a Yak steak and chips at the lodge. It was a great rest day! However the next day I figured I ‘needed’ to do a hard training run and ran a fast 10K back towards Dole. The first 5K downhill was OK but on the way back I started to suffer a slight headache - a sign of AMS. After the run Francisco and I climbed up a ridge overlooking Machermo. We climbed to 16,000 ft and the headache got worse – not good! I decided to rest and take it easy for the rest of the day in the hope that the headache would disappear by morning?
Actually found some Yak meat in my dinner that night but the headache still persisted.
It had been very cold the first night in Machermo so I added the liner to my sleeping bag to keep me warmer. Good thing – my water bottle was frozen solid in the morning!

On Sat morning we had to pack up everything to continue the trek to Gokyo. It was a short journey and we only climbed 300 m/1000 ft but my headache came back by the time we reached Gokyo (4750 m/15,675 ft). I was disappointed because I wanted to climb Gokyo Ri but decided it would not be wise to climb another 750 m with a headache/AMS. Instead I joined some teammates to climb a ridge about 200m above Gokyo that overlooked the village and the Ngozumpa Glacier. The glacier starts at Cho Oyu (8153 m/26,905 ft) – about 10 miles north of Gokyo and flows down the Dudh Kosi Valley for about 20 miles. When we returned to Gokyo we learned that the lodge where we were camping could not accommodate all our tents and eight of us needed to volunteer to sleep in the lodge. Being the oldest members of the team Francisco and I volunteered. The lodge rooms are not heated so they are not much warmer than the tent but they are still more comfortable than the tent. However it did cause some problems/confusion because of the rule that lodge guests must eat their meals from the lodge. It makes it difficult for our Sherpas to figure out how many to cook for and who they are supposed to feed. But that night turned out to be the coldest night of the trek so we were happy with our decision.

The next morning I was also happy to wake up w/o a headache so I joined some teammates to climb to the summit of Gokyo Ri (5483 m/18,0893 ft) early in the morning. I have climbed many 14ers in CO but believe me there is no comparison when you start climbing at 16,000 ft and have to climb 2,000 + vertical ft on a very steep ascent. I was sucking air all the way up and had to make a lot of rest stops. But the climb was worth it! Gokyo RI stands all alone and thus offers a spectacular and panoramic view of ‘The Top of The World”. You can see twenty peaks over 20,000 ft – from Cho Oyu (8153 m/26,910 ft) in the North to Everest (8850 m/29,205 ft), Lhotse (8501 m/28,053 ft), Makalu (8475 m/27,968 ft) to Thamserku (6608 m/21,806 ft) near Namche. That was a sight/memory I will remember forever!

But now it was time to end this part of the trek and head back down the Dudh Kosi Valley to the Khumbu Valley. After we descended Gokyo Ri we trekked back down the valley past Machermo and camped overnight in Luza (4390 m/14,487 ft). On the way we passed by the Gokyo Lakes again and sighted some lamagons (look like eagles) playing in the mountain downdrafts. After camping in Luza we continued our trek on Mon down through Dole where we picked up Justin and another team mate who were acclimating there and continued on back past the ice waterfalls to camp again in Khumjung. The lodge in Khumjung now looked like a paradise compared to some we had camped at higher up in the mountains. But the Sherpas still fed us another veggie dinner!

On Tue it was time to leave Khumjung and trek back down to Sarnassas to rejoin the actual marathon route. Francisco and I skipped the usual egg breakfast and stopped at a bakery in Khumjung – the highest bakery in the world- for a good old-fashioned cinnamon bun and hot chocolate. It was wonderful! We then descended to Sarnassas and continued on down to the river at Phunki Tenga (3250 m/10,725 ft). This was the lowest point of the Everest Marathon course – about 17 miles. Then we had to climb 617 m/2036 ft to Tengboche (3867 m/12,761 ft) over 3 miles. We had been warned that this was the steepest/most dangerous section of the marathon course and would be a descent on the actual marathon. The trail was indeed very steep and dangerous and at that point I decided that “my primary goal would not be time but rather to finish the race safely and healthy”! After a few hours of very difficult and strenuous climbing we reached Tengboche. There is a very important Buddhist Monastery in Tengboche and we arrived during a 5-day religious festival so the Monks were blowing their horns and performing some very colorful ceremonies that we watched. I managed to order a chicken burger at one of the lodges – pressed/canned chicken but at least it tasted like chicken. I also discovered a satellite Internet café – the highest Internet café in the world – and emailed an update to my loyal readers.

In the afternoon we continued our trek on and downhill to Deboche (3770m/12,441ft) where we would camp for the night. For a marathon course that was supposed to be mainly downhill there seemed to be a lot of ‘uphills’? The lodge and campsite were not great but we did get some Yak curry for dinner. It was another very cold night in the tent.
On Wed, 11/16 we departed early for Dingboche. There were some spectacular views of Thamserku and Kantega (6685 m/22,060 ft) along the way. I was looking forward to our stay in Dingboche because we camped there for two nights and I needed to wash some more clothes. Dingboche (4410 m/14,553 ft) is surrounded by mountains and spectacular views – Thamserku, Kantega, Taboche, Lhotse, Ama Dablam and Island Peak (6189 m/20,423 ft).
By the time we arrived in Dingboche members of our team (and the other teams) were falling like flies. Nine days of trekking, ingesting dust and Yak shit and bad food and water were taking its toll. Many were very sick and opted to stay in a lodge room instead of suffering the cold and misery of the tents! My teammate deserted me and stayed in a lodge room. I decided to tough it out and stay in the tent which I now had all to myself. About half the team stayed in rooms which really confused our Sherpas.
I did pay attention to the advice about rest during our 2-day stay. I made a few short hikes to explore the area around Dingboche but no running! Instead of freezing my hands doing my own laundry I found a local Sherpa woman who agreed to do my laundry. I sent her many customers from our team and she was very happy with the extra income. I enjoyed another shower – I knew it would be my last until I finished the race in Namche!
I expected the weather to get colder again so added another layer to my PJ ensemble in addition to the liner. I can’t say that I was ever actually cold at night – but I can’t say that I was ever warm either! But I was miserable and I was worried that my ‘cough’ was turning into a chest cold?

Soon it was time to move on and up the Khumbu Valley to Lobuche (4910 m/16,203 ft) for another 2-day camp and more high altitude acclimation. We had been warned that Lobuche was a dump – they did not lie! The village is located in a very small desolate valley and only has a few lodges. The lodges and campsites were filthy, the outhouses were so filthy and despicable that everyone refused to use them and instead found an empty spot on the mountain to ‘do their job”. The lodge where we camped was a dump. The first night they didn’t even start a fire in the stove until we chipped in and bribed them to start a fire – and then they let it go out after a few hours! The 2nd night they had a full house of guests and kicked us out of the dining room so we had to eat in the mess tent. There was one exception. A new lodge had been built on the edge of the village. It was modern and clean. And our team rented every spare room in the lodge! Mainly the members who were sick but also some who were just sick of staying in cold tents! I opted to stay in my tent (by myself again) and stick with the program.
By this time all the teams were sick and had frayed/tired nerves and were edgy. So the other teams (including their group leaders) got angry/upset with the ‘Cuckoos’ saying we were wimps and would have an unfair advantage in the race because we were staying in lodges! One group leader forbid his group from staying in a lodge – “it would not be in the true spirit of the game”? It started to get very ugly and personal until one of our team members – a young British army officer – invited the belligerent group leader to step outside to settle the affair. Good thing he declined because Matt is a champion kick boxer! Finally the group leaders got together to diffuse the situation. It is amazing how quickly a group of total strangers can bond and become a close-knit team when they face hardship and adversity together?

On Sat many of our team members decided to trek 3 miles to Gorak Shep, climb Kala Patthar (5623 m/18,55 ft) for another/different view of ‘The Top of The World” and return to Lobuche. It was a long trek but we decided it would be best to do it a few days before the race and not the day before the race. Some thought the climb was harder than Gokyo Ri but I thought it was easier? But it was worth the effort because the views were much different. Everest and Nuptse are only a few miles away and just tower over Kala Patthar. It is hard to believe that you are standing at 18,000 ft and those mountains still tower 10,000/11,000 ft above you? Other than that great memory the two days in Lobuche were the two most miserable days of the whole trek! I just kept counting the time and hours till we moved on to Gorak Shep, ran the marathon and put an end to the MISERY!

Finally on Sun 11/20 it was time to move on to Gorak Shep where the marathon would start. But first we had to pass a medical check and collect our numbers in Lobuche before we could begin the trek to Gorak Shep. Almost everyone was sick – chest colds/infections, intestinal problems and AMS. All runners would be assigned three race numbers for the race. We had to pick up the first race number which we then took to one of the team doctors. If we passed a medical test the doc would sign the number and we could pick up the other two numbers. The medical test relied mainly on honesty – although nobody wanted to be held out of the race it would be foolish to lie if you were seriously ill with AMS. We also had to perform a toe-to-heel walk forward and backward – much like a sobriety test. Apparently this is difficult to do if you have serious problems with AMS? Thanks to the supreme efforts of our medical staff (and drugs) all 56 runners were deemed fit to go to the start line!

It was a 3-mile trek to Gorak Shep across a moraine field deposited by the Khumbu Glacier. It was not a steep climb but the moraine was very difficult and dangerous to cross. I realized that this 3-mile section and the 3-mile descent at Tengboche were the two most difficult/dangerous sections of the course! It took us more than 2 hours to trek those three miles and we arrived in Gorak Shep (5200 m/17,160 ft) – our final camp - by noon. The marathon was getting close!

I will leave the report on the final preparations and final night of the trek and the actual race for the final chapter of this report.
Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Everest Trip Report -Part 1

Oct 31 – Nov 28/05
Part 1

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com

The Everest Marathon – billed as ‘the highest and toughest marathon in the world’ lived up to its billing. What the brochure left out was that is also the hardest marathon in the world to get to the start line!

The marathon first attracted my attention a few years ago and my research revealed that it is only held every two years in the fall/Nov. and you had to ‘qualify’ for the race. You had to have experience in endurance events at high altitudes and the cut-off age was 65. I requested more details and learned that it was an expensive race/event to run because the packaged trip/tour lasted 26 days that included three weeks of trekking in the Himalayans. I tried unsuccessfully to find a corporate sponsor to help with the costs but in the end finally accepted Maddog’s advice: “forget the cost – you don’t know how much time you have left in this world so go for it – it may be your last chance”!

I figured I had an advantage in that I could train all summer in the Colorado Rockies to get used to mountain trails and high altitudes. As most of you know I trained very hard all summer in ‘Maddog’s Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’. By the end of the summer I had climbed eight ‘14ers’ and raced three mountain trail marathons and felt I was in pretty good shape? I was ready for the Himalayans and Everest!
Now I had to put my kit together. I am not a camper and had very little of the required camping gear – a sleeping bag good to –20C, warm hikingclothes, headlamp, etc. The only compromise I made was the sleeping bag. Instead of spending a lot of money on a top quality down bag I bought a cheaper bag that was rated for –20C but was twice the weight and volume. That decision did cause a lot of inconvenience on the trek! However I did buy the best (and largest) Camelback Daypack I could find and that turned out to be a great decision.

So now that I have explained some of the background it is time to get on with the story. Before leaving for Nepal at the end of Oct I had to return to Europe to run my last two countries in Europe –Bulgaria and Bosnia. I finished Bosnia on Oct 15/05 and returned home on Oct 20th. I had ten days to get ready for Nepal. To save money I had booked my own air travel with free miles and would meet the group in Kathmandu. The downside of the ‘free’ travel was that I had to accept a routing that took 41 hours of airplane and airport time from FL to Katmandu! I left FL on Mon 10/31 and arrived in Kathmandu on Wed 11/2. I arrived one day before the main group so I had an extra day to recover from the long trip and jet lag. While I was waiting for the main group to arrive on Thu I met a few runners from Christchurch, NZ who had arrived a week early and had been trekking on their own in the West region of Nepal. Robert was a fell runner and serious about winning the marathon – not in my league! He had been running every morning at 4am in Kathmandu to beat the traffic pollution and congestion – I had just decided that it wasn’t worth it to run in those conditions?

The main group arrived from London on Thu night and on Fri we held some group meetings to discuss the plans/itinerary for the trip. There were a total of seventy runners, race volunteers and medical staff so we were split into three groups of about 24 people: ‘The Early Birds’; ‘The Late Birds’ and ‘The Cuckoos”. I was with the ‘Cuckoos’ and my roommate/tent mate for the trip was a very nice gentleman, Francisco, an economist from Buenos Aires, Argentina! Our group seemed to be the most laid back. We had a few fell runners from the UK but most of the team members were running their first marathon? The other groups had fell teams from different regions of the UK and most were very intent on competing and winning the race! I soon realized that I was totally out of my league!

On Fri afternoon our tour operator took the group on a tour of Kathmandu. We started with a visit to the 2,000 year-old Buddhist shrine of Swayambhunath or the ‘Monkey Temple’ located on a hill overlooking the city. It has one of the oldest stupas in the world but is a strange mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Next we visited Durbar Square with its multitude of palaces and temples. It was started in the 1500s by the Malla kings and enlarged in the 17th century. We stopped at the Kumari Bahal, the home of Nepal’s living goddess – a young girl selected from a Newari Buddhist family at the age of four. She can only leave her palace seven times a year when she is carried through the streets to assure Kathmandu of her protection. When she reaches puberty she is no longer considered ‘pure’ and is replaced!
We walked past many of the Hindu temples as we made our way to Thamel – the main tourist area of the city! It is a madhouse of pedestrians, rickshaws, motorcycles and cars fighting for room on the narrow streets as hawkers try to sell you their junk souvenirs!

We were limited to a total weight of 12 Kilos for our kit bags that would be carried by the sherpas/porters and the bags were weighed before they were transported to the airport on Sat morning. My oversized/heavy sleeping bag was already a problem. I had to stuff more equipment into my Daypack that I would have to carry myself! I also left a lot of clothes and gear in Kathmandu.

On Sat morning we departed early for the airport for a flight to Lukla. Lukla is the gateway into the Everest region in the East region of Nepal. There are no roads into Lukla – only an airport and trails! The airport is built into the side of a mountain at 2860m/9438 ft - it is only 500m long and looks like a ski jump. Planes land up the ski jump/runway and take off down the ski jump. All landings/take offs are visual and there is only one chance! The Airlines use old Canadian Beaver aircraft equipped to carry 16 passengers and land on a short runway. It is an exciting flight in both directions! We all arrived in Lukla safely, collected our kit bags and assembled near the airport to meet our Sherpas and depart for Phakding where we would camp for the first night.

Phakding (2652m/8750 ft) is 200 m lower than Lulka so we actually trekked downhill through the Lukla Valley. Francisco and I trekked together and arrived in Phakding in about three hours. Along the trail I had noted that at that elevation the terrain was similar to Colorado – lots of forest/trees but the mountains were higher. Lukla Valley is dominated by Khatang (6353/20,969 ft) – higher than any mountain in CO. I also noted that the trails were much wider than CO and much busier. There were hundreds and hundreds of trekkers, Sherpas and Yaks going in both directions. I thought I was trekking (or hiking as we say in CO) on 45th St in NYC? And since the trail from Lukla to Namche Bazaar is the main route into the Everest region there are teahouses or lodges located every 1000m along the trail. These ‘teahouses’ serve tea/beer/ pop and food to the trekkers and offer lodgings – a dormitory room or double room for as little as 50 cents/night! I am used to hiking in CO where I can go for hours or days and never meet another person. This was just too busy and commercialized for me. We were supposed to be in the Himalayan Mtns – not 45th ST in NYC!

Francisco and I ate lunch while we waited for our Sherpas to arrive with our tents and kit bags. Typically the Sherpas would set up our tents in an area adjacent to a lodge. There was a charge for using the campground and an outdoor cookhouse. If we ate in the dining room of the lodge which was warmer and more comfortable than eating in a mess tent there was also a fee for that. (paid by the event organizer). That first night we ate in the mess tent – I assume to get us used to such luxury? Although it was not too cold at that elevation the pattern of the trek started to emerge. The Sherpas would usually arrive at our campsite after us (since they were carrying 80+ pounds of gear up and down mountains) but hopefully before the sun went down and it started to get cold. After they put up our tents we would empty our kit bags and get our sleeping bags, etc prepared for the night. We soon discovered that when the sun dropped behind the mountains the temps dropped 20/30 degrees and it got very COLD – very quickly! Thus it was necessary to change into your sleeping clothes/PJs before the sun went down! At 4pm each day the Sherpas would serve hot tea and biscuits in the mess tent or lodge dining room. I went to afternoon tea in my PJs and stayed in the warm lodge until dinner was served at 6 pm as did most of the team! We would read/play cards or write our daily logs until dinner. By 5 pm it was dark and very COLD in the tents! Read – DAMN MISERABLE !
Dinner always started with a bowl of hot soup (usually quite good) with some kind of bread or popcorn – they put popcorn in the soup because it is easy to carry and prepare! Then there are two or three portions of veggies – usually potatoes and/or rice served with lentil soup (the Nepal traditional dish of dal bhat) and another veggie such as steamed cabbage. I became very frustrated that there was very little meat served! After our delicious ‘veggie’ dinner they would serve a dessert. All of this food is prepared in an outdoor cookhouse and carried to the mess tent or dining room. After dinner hot tea and/or hot chocolate is served. I soon became so tired of tea that I started drinking a lot of hot chocolate.

Now back to Phakding. While the Sherpas were setting up our tents I decided to do a short hike along the trail towards Namche to explore the next day’s route? About 1 mile from the camp I came upon a young Nepali woman lying on the side of the trail. Another woman was trying to coax her to get up. I asked if she was sick and if she had sent for help. We had a communication problem because I understood that help was coming. So I continued on. But 30 minutes later when I returned the woman was still lying on the trail? I ran back to our camp and explained to our team doctors what I had found and asked them to go and look at the woman. I escorted them back to the young lady and she was indeed unconscious and they could not revive her so we carried her back to the camp in a portable stretcher. They revived her and gave her some IV and antibiotics to treat a serious chest infection. The docs arranged to put her up in the lodge for the night so they could continue to treat her but when they checked on her in the morning she was gone? She had yanked out the IV and left during the night?
I still felt good that I had done my good deed for the day!

The next morning we enjoyed our first breakfast in the (COLD) mess tent and learned the morning pattern. First a Sherpa wakes you about 6am with a cup of hot tea. Then you have about 30/45 minutes to pack up your kit bag and leave it outside the tent for the Sherpas to pick up and carry to the next campsite. That first morning I changed from my PJs into my trekking clothes – damn cold on the butt at 6am in minus temps! Then you go to breakfast. Breakfast would start with a bowl of cereal but it was served with HOT milk. The milk is made from powder and they can’t use cold water because it wouldn’t be safe to drink. I just couldn’t stomach cereal with HOT milk so I skipped that after the first day. Sometimes there would be porridge – kind of a sloppy/liquidy mixture of oatmeal. I had wisely brought a pound of brown sugar that I carried all through the Himalayans – but it helped make the porridge edible! That was followed by eggs – usually an omelet on dry toast or some kind of local bread. This was actually quite good but after 18 days I swore that I would never eat another egg or drink another cup of hot tea!

After breakfast it was time to move on to Namche Bazaar. We continued up the valley through blue pine and rhododendron forests with Kusum Kanguru (6369 m/21,017 ft) on our right and crossed the river several times on wire/rope suspension bridges. If you met a Yak team on the bridge you would have to retreat and give them right-of-way! We entered the Sagarmatha National Park and started a very steep climb to Namche Bazaar (3446 m/11,400 ft) – a 2400 vertical foot climb! I noticed another big difference from CO – Nepal does not use switchbacks. The trails go straight up the mountain – if it gets too steep they add steps. Believe me - climbing steps for a ½ mile at 11,000 (or 16,000 ft) is not easy! But I kept chugging away and was the first runner to arrive in Namche!

Namche is the administrative center of the Khumbu or Everest region. Our itinerary called for two nights in Namche for altitude acclimation. Our race organizer had booked rooms in lodges for all runners so we got to live in (relative) comfort for two days. Francisco and I shared a room above the kitchen so our room actually had some heat until about 9 pm each night. Each room had two beds/cots where you spread your sleeping bag out. The walls were paper-thin so we could hear people snoring/coughing three rooms away. There was no indoor plumbing – the toilet and hot shower were located outside. This didn’t bother Francisco and I since we had come equipped with ‘pee’ bottles – you peed in the bottle during the night and emptied it in the morning – instead of getting out of a warm sleeping bag at 3 am! Don’t know what the women did? Renting a room for $1/night also required that we eat at least one meal in the lodge so the Sherpas did not prepare our meals for those two days. I was able to order meals with meat – always pieces of Yak meat. I even ordered a Yak steak for one dinner!

Many of the runners were able to buy additional gear that they already realized they needed. I bought a fleece sweater for another layer of sleeping clothes and some trekking poles for the steep trails. Since we had two ‘rest’ days in Namche many of us explored the area and got in an actual training run. The marathon finished in Namche and the 20-mile mark was located on a trail above the village and the final 10K of the marathon was a 5K loop from Namche to Thamo. Namche and Thamo are essentially at the same elevation but there were several hills between them so the loop was not that easy as Francisco and I found out on our first day. We ran an easy 5 miles out and back – it took 80 minutes! The following day the whole group ran the 10K loop to become familiar with the route – 90 minutes to run 10K – on fresh legs! It would be much harder on race day after 20 miles! I was beginning to realize that my pre-race goal of 6 hours was probably not realistic?

Many of also took time to visit the Sherpa Museum dedicated to the Sherpa people. It was very interesting. And most of us trekked about 3 miles up above Namche to the Everest View hotel for our first view of Everest – about 30 miles away. Our two days of rest were gone quickly and it was time to start the real trek. The first leg of the trek would take one week as we trekked up the Dudh Kosi Valley to Gokyo (4750m/15,675 ft). This trek would be the first attempt to acclimate to the high altitudes and strengthen our legs for the race!

I will continue the story of this trek in Part 2 of the trip report.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Bosnia Marathon

Oct 9 –19/05

Race Stats:
Bihacki Jensenji Maraton V
Bihac, Bosnia – Herzegovina
Oct 15, 2005
Marathon #251 – Country # 75 – European country # 51
3:51:59 – 2nd OA - 1st AG

Photos may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com. Album is called ‘Bosnia’.

Now where did I leave off from the earlier part of the trip to Bulgaria? Oh – yes I was departing on a bus from Belgrade, Serbia to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. As I was making the 8-hour bus ride I had time reflect on how events had changed so much during the past few weeks. Originally Sofia was supposed to be the official marathon and Bosnia had just been an idea for a Maddog ‘special’ marathon that had developed into the first official marathon in Bosnia since the war! How did this happen?

Since Bosnia did not have an official marathon I had been working for the past year with a runner in Germany –Wolfgang – to organize a marathon in Bosnia to conclude my quest/goal to run a marathon in every country in Europe. Bosnia was to be the final marathon/country and I wanted it to be an official marathon. Wolfgang had a contact in Bihac and I had a contact in Sarajevo. We hoped that one of them would help us organize an official marathon? We had set a tentative date of Oct 15/05 so that I could run both Bulgaria and Bosnia on the same trip.

Two months before our tentative date of Oct 15 we had not made much progress except that two runners from the UK committed to run the marathon with us. I ordered six medals and 10 T-shirts for the marathon expecting that we would find at least two local runners to run the marathon? One month before the race date we struck pay dirt! Wolfgang made contact with the Bihac Athletic Club and the President - Nedzad Hadzic (Dzipsi). Dzipsi replied that the Club was considering a half marathon in mid-Oct and they would hold it on Oct 15 and furthermore would add a Marathon for us! (two loops of the Half marathon course). It would be the first ‘official’ marathon in Bosnia since the war!

Since I had never been to Sarajevo I still wanted to visit that city on my way to Bihac and I wanted to meet and thank my contact in Sarajevo for his efforts. It was worth an 8-hour bus trip. As the bus crossed the border from Serbia into Bosnia I immediately noticed the change in terrain. Serbia was flat and boring – Bosnia was very mountainous with lots of forests and lakes – very pretty! After 4 hours of driving on mountain roads the bus approached Sarajevo and dropped down into the city. The city is located in a narrow valley with steep mountains on all sides- ummm – would be tough to run a marathon there? I was lucky to find a hotel on the east side of the city overlooking the ‘old town’ and the Miljacka River that runs through the middle of the city. It had seen better days but was a bargain at $50/day considering its location. I called my contact Vladimir and arranged to meet him for dinner. In the meantime I decided to explore the old town. It reminded me very much of the old town in Skopje, Macedonia – only larger! Lots of shops, cafes and even a few bars (Bosnia is 60% Muslim!) I decided to shop for my souvenirs and postcards in Sarajevo because I wasn’t sure if I would find those items in Bihac?

Later that evening Vladimir and his wife Nidzara met me at the hotel and we walked over to the old town for dinner. They were much younger than expected – students in their early 20s. Vladimir is studying computer science and Nidzara is in her 3rd year of medical school. They both have part-time jobs and have run a marathon! No wonder Vladimir didn’t have much time to help me organize a marathon in Sarajevo? They gave me a guided tour of old town and we ate some traditional food at a local fast food restaurant. There are no American fast food restaurants in Bosnia – no MacDonalds, no KFC, nada, none in the whole country! But they do have fast food restaurants – a ‘Cevabdzince’ serves cevabd – a flat, leavened bread filled with meat. Nidzara calls then meat fingers – they are not spicy but have a strong taste and are delicious. A ‘Buregdzince’ serves buregd – a kind of pastry or pie filled with cheese, meat or vegetables. A typical dinner costs about $2. We talked about the history and culture of Bosnia. Everyone starts out every sentence with either “before the war” or “after the war”. Vladimir was a young boy in Sarajevo during the war (92-95) and was not allowed to go outside for 4 years! He is bitter that the war robbed him of his youth but he is also determined to get on with his life and be successful. They were very friendly and gracious hosts.

Vladimir told me that there was an old highway/road beneath my hotel that ran along the Miljacka River. It had been closed to traffic and was used as a walking/bike path and was safe to run. I checked it out the next day. It was only 3km long but was flat – I probably would have used it for my marathon if we had planned it in Sarajevo. I had to wait until noon to run because it was so cold early in the morning. And I noticed/complained that the hotel –in spite of the cold nights – had not turned on the heat to save money? I believe that is the reason that I started to come down with a cold/cough? After my noon run I explored the old town and the city. There are lots of old churches and mosques. Unfortunately there are still many signs of the war. The old City Hall that had been converted to the National Library was badly damaged and burned along with all the books and artifacts. There is no money to restore it. Across from the Holiday Inn (the only international hotel in the country) stands a row of military and government buildings that were bombed. The exterior shells of the damaged buildings are covered with pot marks from bullets as are many houses in the city (and country).

On my final evening in Sarajevo I invited my hosts to dinner at a Thai restaurant –the only one in the city. They are vegetarians in a country where the main diet is meat so finding a vegetarian meal is difficult. We enjoyed a great meal and I thanked them for their hospitality. But it was time to move on to Bihac and prepare for the marathon. I caught an early bus to Bihac so that I could meet up with Wolfgang as we planned to meet with Dzipsi and another club member – Branislav Versic – to offer them any advice and assistance we could provide. They said that the city had provided some financial support and they had enough medals, certificates and T-shirts for 100 runners. They had printed up posters and invited runners from neighboring countries and hoped for 50 runners in the half and 20 in the full marathon. And to alleviate traffic problems the marathon now had its own course. We were very excited. They had organized the race very well in less than one month!

On Thu evening Dzipsi and Bran invited us to do a training run with them. When they picked us up at the hotel they asked if we wanted to run in the city or the country? When they said “country” we thought they meant country roads? However we drove outside the city and started running through fields. We were very concerned because we had been advised not to run or stroll in the country because of land mines. But Dzipsi assured us that those fields were ‘safe’. Nevertheless I ran behind our hosts and followed exactly in their footsteps! Later than evening I could feel a bad cold coming on and hoped this race would not be a repeat of Belfast in May when I became very sick the night before the marathon?

On Fri my two mates arrived from the UK and I told them the good news about the marathon as I guided them on a tour of Bihac. It is a small city with 70,000 people located in the northwest near the border with Croatia. The center of the city is compact and the Una River flows through the middle of the city. The river is so clean and clear that you can count pebbles on the bottom. After traveling through Bosnia by bus for two days I had learned that the country is very mountainous and the region around Bihac is probably the flattest area in the country.

Sat was ‘M’ day! We walked over to the start/finish line – on an island located in the Una River opposite the center of the city – early to see if we could offer any help? Dzipsi had the race under control so we talked to the local runners and watched registration. The race was supposed to start at 10:30 am but was delayed by 30 min. because of fog. The weather was cool/chilly and foggy but was expected to warm up into the 50s. Unfortunately I was not feeling well – the cold/cough had gotten worse on Thu night and the cold weather felt really cold! One of the UK runners (Tad) had arrived with the same cold and was having trouble breathing – but of course it was not going to stop us from running! By 11am Dzipsi was ready to start the races – there were 21 runners in the Half and 13 in the marathon. Strangely there were no women entered in either race? I looked over the competition in the marathon – I figured there were two runners that would be hard to beat?

Both races started together at 11am and we ran two short loops around the city center before heading south out of the city. I was running with a small group of half-marathon runners and could see three marathoners in front of me. We were running a sub 5 min/km pace so I decided to let them go and just try to keep them in sight. Around 8 Km the Half and Marathon split and I was running all by myself. I could no longer see the marathon leaders in front of me. Fortunately they assigned a volunteer – a young boy on a bike – to accompany me so that I would not get lost. The course started to get very hilly and then made a small loop across the Una River and past a scenic set of waterfalls before returning to the main road. At this point I met some of the runners coming from the city and Tad told me that the leaders were about 4 minutes ahead. I was still running under 5 min/km and decided to be patient and not try to push the pace any harder. I didn’t know what affect the cold would have on me later although it wasn’t bothering me yet?

I passed 15Km in 1:10 – too fast if the marker was accurate? Soon the course turned left and headed towards a small gravel road that climbed up past an old castle. Dzipsi had warned us that this was a BAH (Bad Ass Hill) – but he forgot to mention there were dozens of other hills along the course? I reached 20Km in 1:34:26. Either the marker was wrong or the course was short? Then the tough climb to the castle began and my guide left me at that point. I was a bit concerned at first but soon realized that there were no turn-offs on this road so I couldn’t get lost? Finally I crested the top of the BAH and was relieved to find a water stop and a nice 2Km downhill section that brought me back to the main road out of the city. I reached that point (23Km) in 1:53:13. I was averaging close to a 5 min/km pace and decided the course was not short as I made a turn to run the same 17Km loop a 2nd time.

At 25 Km I passed one of the lead runners – a young 20-year old who was walking. At 26 Km I passed a 2nd runner and at 27Km I passed a 3rd runner. However he wasn’t the runner I expected and I realized that there had been four runners in front of me! As I approached the intersection for the small loop across the river I met the leader (and eventual winner) finishing the loop. That meant he was about 2/3Km ahead and I knew I couldn’t catch him unless he crashed. Since nobody could catch me I decided that there was no sense in pushing the old bod too hard and eased off my pace. Now that I was running slower I had some time to observe the beautiful scenery around me.

After I finished that loop and had crested a hill on the main road I made a wee mistake. I had not been paying attention on the first loop because I had a guide and I thought the first intersection I came to was the one that turned left to the castle? So I turned left! After running ½ Km and not recognizing any of the scenery I realized that I had turned too early and had to double back to the main road. I figured that mistake had cost me about 4/5 minutes but it I didn’t think it would change my position in the race? Soon I reached the proper intersection and turned left. As I approached the road to the castle and the 20Km marker I was shocked to observe something I had not noticed on the first loop! I guess I had been so focused on my pace and blindly following my guide that I hadn’t noticed on both side of the roads – there were large red signs and areas marked off with bright yellow tape warning of land mines! Some of the areas were less than two feet from the sides of the road! It definitely confirmed my earlier decision – if I needed to make a pit stop or even pass out – it would be in the middle of the road and NOT on the sides of the road! I later confirmed with Dzipsi who works with the military to clear mines that yes indeed those areas along the course were active mine fields that had not been cleared yet. He also informed us that there are more than one million mines and another one million unexploded ordinances that need to be located and cleared from Bosnia!

Soon I was climbing up the road past the castle again – it was much harder on the 2nd loop. I came close to walking but was concerned that I might not break 4 hours so I kept the legs moving. The 2Km downhill section helped my legs to recover and I reached the main road again at 40Km – 3:38:00. I coasted the last 2 Km back into town and crossed the finish line in 3:51:59. I had done it! I had finished my final country in Europe and had become the 1st person in the world to run a marathon in every country in Europe. And as a nice reward/surprise I had finished in 2nd place Overall. The winner – their local champion – had beaten me soundly in 3:32!

As I waited for my friends to finish, many of the local runners came over to talk to me. Even those who couldn’t speak English brought their kids to act as translator. They were all very friendly and inquisitive about the USA. The Athletic Club had awards for the top three winners in each race. Since I had won 2nd place I gave one of our medals and a T-shirt to the 1st and 3rd place winners in the marathon. They were very pleased and excited to receive these awards. We waited for Tad to finish and Dzipsi awarded him a medal and certificate even though he had exceeded the time limit of 5 hours.

That evening we invited Dzipsi and Bran to dinner to celebrate and thank them for all their work. Dzipsi said that they would hold the marathon again next year and it would be bigger and better since they would have a whole year to organize it. We promised to provide any assistance we could and advertise the race on our websites.
So I include a plug/advertisement. If you like small, friendly races with adventure then this is a great race. And if you are running ‘countries’ then this race is a must! Contact me if you want more information.

But it was time to move on again and start the trip home. All four of us foreign runners were returning home via Zagreb so we all took an early morning bus to Zagreb and then parted ways. I tried to phone the relatives of some Sarasota friends who live in Zagreb but they were not home so I decided to catch an afternoon train to Belgrade. Instead of taking a night train that would only provide a short sleep (the banging on the doors) I decided to take an afternoon train and get into Belgrade around midnight. That allowed me to get a good night’s sleep and revisit the city before I caught my flight to London. I had arranged with my UK mate (Tad) to stay at his place in London for a few nights and make up for that pub crawl I had sadly missed after the Faroe Islands trip.

I beat Tad back to his place and had already sampled his beer fridge before he arrived. I insisted that we run an easy 5 miles the next morning but it was so chilly when we got up that we decided a full English breakfast sounded better. After breakfast we were too full
to run so we rested and then decided to go to lunch for fish and chips. After lunch I was so full and tired that I decided that a nap was more appropriate than a 5-mile run to prepare for a pub crawl! Later that evening we joined some more UK mates for a pub crawl near London Bridge. It was a fun evening and a pleasant/memorable way to conclude my trip to Europe.

I am now back home and preparing in one short week to leave on my next adventure – the Everest marathon! Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Trip Report -Bulgaria

Maddog finishing the Sofia Marathon with the help of his support team. Rossen (l) and Elenko (r) holding the tape and Nikolai pacing him to the finish line!

Oct 6 – 9/05

Photos of the trip may be viewed at www.maddog.smugmug.com. Album is called 'Bulgaria'.

Planning for this trip began one year ago shortly after the Sofia marathon in Oct 2004. I had wanted to run that marathon but only found out about it after the race was finished.
I managed to find a contact in Sofia (Anton) who was the editor of a Track and Field magazine in Bulgaria. He was not on the race committee but had contact with it. He asked me to send him an email each month to remind him to get information on the next marathon in 2005. I faithfully sent an email every month and finally in the spring I received a reply confirming that the Sofia marathon would be held on Oct 9/05. I was able to confirm this date through a second source and began planning the trip. I needed to run a marathon in Bosnia also and since there was no official marathon in Bosnia I decided to organize a small marathon for the weekend following Sofia so I could run both countries on the same trip.

Since the marathon in Sofia was an official/organized race I had no work to do except show up? Thus I spent most of my time trying to organize a marathon in Bosnia. A friend in the UK promised to run both marathons with me. As I continued to work throughout the summer with a friend from Germany to organize a Bosnia marathon I kept sending emails to Anton requesting more information on Sofia. In late August we received wonderful news – an Athletic Club in Bihac, Bosnia agreed to hold an official marathon on Oct 15/05 (more details on this effort and marathon in the Bosnia Trip Report). Everything had miraculously fallen into place? For two weeks!
Two weeks before I was to leave for Europe I emailed Anton requesting necessary details like “ where do I register and pick up my race packet” – “where and when does the race start”? He replied with the details plus a casual note “the marathon has been postponed from Oct 9 to Oct 16”! I was totally shocked – then angry! Anton had known for a year that foreign runners were coming to Sofia specifically to run the marathon – on Oct 9th! Surely he had passed this information on to the race committee? I am certain that if I had not sent that email we would not have been informed about the change in date until we had arrived in Sofia!

My UK mate was so upset and disgusted that he threw his non-refundable plane tickets in the garbage rather than waste any more time and money on Bulgaria! I was in a bigger dilemma – my tickets included Bulgaria and Bosnia and I had already made custom T-shirts for the Bosnia marathon declaring the finish of my European Tour/Goal! And I wanted to finish Europe on this trip! Like I told Tad – even if we skip Sofia and go next year there is a high probability that we will encounter the same incompetence and problem? So I decided to keep my reservations and run a Maddog ‘solo’ marathon in Sofia. Luckily I was able to scramble at the last minute and locate some marathon runners in Sofia who agreed to help me.

My first contact, Katerina had run the Sofia marathon last year but she was going away on business so she asked another runner Elenko to help me. We communicated a few times and Elenko agreed to help. An emergency plan was in place.

As the plane approached Sofia on Fri afternoon I noted the city reminded me a lot of Reno, NV. The city is in a large bowl/valley surrounded by mountains. Bulgaria has several mountain ranges with the highest mountain - Mussala (2925m) - located south of Sofia. The population of the country is 8 million – 1.1 million live in Sofia. As soon as I checked into my hotel I called Elenko and we agreed to meet for dinner to discuss our plan for the marathon. I also called Anton and he kindly met me at the hotel. He stated that the change in date was not his fault. I did not blame him and asked only that he pass my comments/criticism along to the race committee and that I would advise all international runners to avoid the Sofia marathon until they got their act together!

Although I was very tired from the 22-hour trip and jet lag I figured it would be best to stay up so I decided to explore the city and do some shopping. Sofia has no ‘old town’ or town square like many European cities and the city center is fairly compact so it can be explored on foot. I noticed that there were many upscale/chic shops and restaurants – I wondered who had the money to support these shops? I found the TZUM – the old communist/government store that had been converted to a mall and a small underground shopping area that included several souvenir shops so I was able to collect my souvenirs and postcards on the first day.

Elenko met me at my hotel – a modern 4-star hotel a few blocks off the main street where locals stayed ($42/day, B&B) – and we walked to a nice restaurant for a pasta dinner. Elenko informed me of the plan. The biggest park in the city only had a 5km path and he figured that would get boring to run a marathon so he and his friends decided to drive me up into the mountains. They had found a road between two mountain villages about 20km apart and the road looked flat on a map and would have very little traffic. Three runners would accompany me and run with me in 10km shifts. It sounded great to me.

Elenko and another runner Rossen picked me up on Sat morning at 9am. I was glad they had decided on a late start because the weather was still very cool. We met up with a 3rd runner Nikolai and Rossen’s girlfriend Milena. I had a support team of four and two cars as we drove south out of the city and up into the Vitosha Mtns. The road was actually on Mt. Vitosha (2290m). Rossen and I started the first 10km of the marathon about 10am. The weather was cloudy and cool and there was little traffic. That was the good news. The bad news was that the road was NOT flat – in fact the first 3 miles climbed steadily up the mountain. The next 2 miles were downhill into a village where the locals looked at us very strangely? The cars took turns leap-frogging ahead and providing water every 3km. Then the road climbed again –steeply! Elenko had loaned me a watch/GPS to measure the distance and pace. We had crested a very steep hill at 10 miles and found the road to be closed and guarded by the military so we were forced to turn around. At least the next 10 miles would be downhill! We reached the edge of the village and the Half in 1:55. I was happy with the pace since the course was hilly and I didn’t see any need to push myself. The easy pace also allowed me to talk to my running partners during the marathon. We asked each other many questions about our respective countries/culture etc. I asked Elenko if he knew anyone on the marathon committee. He explained that the organizers were not runners – just a group of people/bureaucrats who managed to get some money/grant from the government to organize the marathon. They were only interested in making money – they did not care how many runners participated or if any foreign runners participated. They did not have a website – they did not advertise nor put up posters and the date is always subject to change? And they are completely incompetent – the marathon was only 38km in 2004! We continued on past our starting point into another village around 22 miles. Only four miles left! The road did become flat but had lots of hills so when we crested a big hill at 24 miles we decided to turn around again and run back downhill to finish the marathon. As I approached the marathon distance I could see the cars in the distance and had to start laughing when I noticed my support team were holding a red ribbon across the road/marathon finish. I broke the ribbon in 3:50:18. Marathon #250 – Country #74 – European country #50 completed! I thanked my support team and new friends for their hospitality and support. It would have been very difficult without their help!

We drove back to the city for a hot shower and I said goodbye to all my new friends. Later that evening I joined Katerina (who had returned from her business trip) and some of her friends for dinner. Since Katerina is the head of a division of ING Bank in Bulgaria I asked her many questions about the economy and standard of living. I got an answer to my question/curiosity about the chic shops. About 5% of the population is super rich and 95% is poor. The super rich have enough money to keep the shops in business because the poor can’t afford to shop there! The average salary in Bulgaria is about 200 Euros/month.

On Sun Elenko met me at an Internet café to show me how to set up my own web page on a Blogger site. I now post all my trip reports to this web page http://www.maddogwallace.blogspot.com/. After saying goodbye and many thanks to Elenko for all his help I decided to play tourist and visit the sites in Sofia until it was time to catch my night train to Belgrade. There are many old churches – some dating back to the 6th century – Roman ruins - and interesting buildings built in the 18th century. But soon it was time for dinner and a taxi to the railway station. I had reserved a sleeper cabin on the night train to Belgrade. After settling into my cabin and ordering a few beers from the conductor for a nightcap it was time to sleep – until the expected banging on the door started! Since I have traveled many times across Europe on trains I am familiar with the procedure. First the train stops on the Bulgarian side of the border – then there is a loud banging on your cabin door from the passport control officer who wants to check and stamp your passport. Just as you start to drift off again there is another loud banging – this time it is the customs officer to check your luggage. After 30 minutes the train moves across the border into Serbia and the process starts all over again. You lose more than one hour of precious sleep. Soon however I was sound asleep again and the next banging was from the conductor telling me that we were 20 minutes from Belgrade.

I planned to travel straight on to Sarajevo from Belgrade. A contact/friend in Sarajevo had advised me to take a bus because the railway system in Bosnia is very slow. So I walked next door to the bus station and asked when the next bus left for Sarajevo? In one hour! I bought a ticket and exchanged some money to buy breakfast – a ham sandwich! I could never get used to eating/enjoying a ham sandwich for breakfast at 7am! At 8am I was on my way to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and my next adventure.

Stay tuned!

But before I conclude this trip report I must update and advise all runners about the Sofia marathon. My friend Elenko ran the half marathon on Oct 16/05 and sent me a report on the race. A friend of my UK mate – Witold, a 60 year-old marathoner from Poland had traveled for 3 days by train from Poland to run the marathon. He was refused entry into the race (even though he had a letter of approval from his doctor) because he didn’t pass their mandatory medical exam. He took the EKG results back to his doctor who said that the equipment used was so obsolete that the results were meaningless. Witold did what I would have done – he ran the marathon as a bandit (without a race number) but now he is fighting with the race organization to be included in the race results.
Elenko also reported that the half was 17km and the marathon 38km in distance? Since he is a journalist he wrote a scathing report of criticism in a local paper and asked for an investigation into the race committee.

Thus I must issue a WARNING- DO NOT RUN THE SOFIA MARATHON – until they get their act together!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Kansas City Marathon, KS

Race Stats:

Waddell & Reed Kansas City Marathon

Kansas City, KS

Marathon #249 - 38th state (2nd loop)

3:35:52 - 36th OA - 1st AG

I decided to run this marathon for two reasons:

a) I wanted to arrange/schedule my marathons so that I ran marathon #250 on my trip to Europe

b) I needed to run a 2nd marathon in Kansas as I slowly work my way around the 50 states for the 2nd time.

And besides it was conveniently located on the route home from Colorado to Florida. Thus my sports manager and I stopped in KC on Fri afternoon to pick up my race package at the Crown Center in downtown KC. The expo was a disappointment – only a few sports/shoe vendors and the prices were not attractive. The marathon date had been changed to coincide with several other events/activities happening in KC. But that was not all good because it was difficult to get around the city and the restaurants were full. We had to find a small local neighborhood restaurant for our pasta dinner.

The race started at 7am at the Crown Center and finished in the Freight House District in downtown KC. There were about 2,000 runners in 3 events – marathon/Half and a relay - about 700 runners in the full Marathon. The weather was not good (for running) – about 70F and 100% humidity (fog) at the start. I lined up with the Big Dogs and took off. There were no mile markers until mile 4 and I passed that in 29:17. I thought that pace was too fast but was not sure if it was correct so I kept pushing in spite of a lot of hills? I reached the next mile marker at mile 7 in 53:26! Way too fast for the weather and hills so I slowed my pace. I passed mile 10 in 1:18:48. I felt OK but was concerned because the first 9 miles had been very hilly. Fortunately the course flattened out with a few rolling hills over the next few miles and I passed the half in 1:44:03.

I still felt OK but knew that I couldn’t repeat that pace for the 2nd Half with the hills and heat so decided to slow the pace down some more. That turned out to be a wise decision because the sun burned through the fog around 14 miles and the temps soared into the 80s. I figured right then that most runners would be in ‘survival’ mode by 20 miles because of the heat. I reached mile 20 in 2:42:10. The heat had become brutal and although I felt OK my legs were feeling very heavy so I decided to ignore my pace for the last 10K and just run off my heart monitor. I kept my heart rate below 90% Max in order to give the old ticker some cushion to handle the extreme heat. The course had looped back on itself around mile 15 and I had not seen any old farts in front of me so I was fairly certain that I was winning my age group and did not have to kill myself in the heat. I managed to run/cruise at an 8:30 pace w/o getting into any trouble and passed about 30 runners who had succumbed to the heat and were walking.

I crossed the finish line in 3:35:52. Even though the race had been timed by chip they still did not have any marathon results for the winners so I figured there was no sense waiting around. We returned to our hotel for a quick hot soak and shower and by noon were back on I 70 heading east towards St Louis, MO. I drove for 6 hrs until we reached Marion, IL and then told the sports manager it was time for a beer and something to eat – I had not eaten all day!

I didn’t get any official results until we returned home. I was not surprised to learn that I won my age group but was surprised to discover that 2nd place finished 48 minutes behind me and that my time was good enough for 36th overall (700 runners). I guess the heat took a bigger toll than I thought?

That was my final tune up race for my European trip. Hopefully the weather will be a little better. I would like to run a flat course in cool weather to see if I can break 3:30 again?

Stay tuned for the next trip report!


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Road Kill Half marathon

Road Kill Half Marathon
Kremmling, CO

Race Stats:
Sept 10/05
Road Kill Half Marathon
Kremmling, CO
1:38:24 1st AG

This race was to be my final race and speed workout for the summer season in the High Country. To make it more fun and memorable I invited (or coerced) a running friend - Fast Freddy – from Dallas, TX to visit and be my ‘rabbit’ for the race.

Fred arrived on Wed. to allow himself some time to acclimate to the altitude. I thought it important to initiate him quickly into Maddog’s ‘Suicidal High Altitude Training Camp’ so we immediately hit the hot tub with some margaritas and Colorado microbrew to prepare for a hike on Thu.

On Thu morning we hiked to the 12,000 ft level of Ptarmigan Mtn to acclimate Freddy to the high altitudes and single track trails that we would encounter during the race.

A side note is necessary here to explain some of the events to follow.
During the weeks before Fred arrived some friends (Joe & Brenda) who go back 30+ years and who live(d) in New Orleans had been forced to evacuate the Big Easy because of Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately they had evacuated a few days before Katrina hit and the rest is history. Unfortunately they thought they were only leaving for a few days so had only packed a week of clothes and belongings and were wandering around TX wondering when they might be able to go back home to collect more clothes and belongings and check on their home? We invited them to visit and stay with us in Colorado. Well, they arrived the same day as Fred - only late that night! Now on with the story that will make more sense.

Fred is renowned for making a great margarita and happily Joe, Brenda and Nicole love margaritas so we decided it was necessary to initiate Joe and Brenda to the pleasures of the High Country – margaritas in the hot tub while watching the Blue river flow by! They adapted very quickly although they may have a tough job selling a story to FEMA that they are refugees?

On Fri we took all our guests to a musical festival in Fairplay and then Fred resumed his job as margarita bartender even though he and I were sadly on the wagon in preparation for the race on Sat. The race – the ‘Road Kill Half Marathon’ – was held in Kremmling, CO, about 40 miles north of Silverthorne. The race started at 12 pm/noon, which is unusual for a race in CO? All of us piled into a car for the drive to Kremmling. The sports manager and the Treiges decided they would watch the start/finish of the race and explore the town while we were running.

The description of the race was not pretty –start /finish in the town square at 7300 ft, 50% trails, 50 % road, lots of hills and a climb to the top of the landmark ‘Kremmling Cliffs’. My research had revealed that the winning time last year in my age group was 1:53. Based on the description of the course I believed a sub-1:50 should win the age group?

It was sunny and warm at the 12 pm start with temps in the low 60s. The race director advised the 50+ runners that it had rained hard on Fri night and the course was very wet and muddy. They did not want to change their challenging but scenic course so we were warned to be careful in the muddy sections? And the race started!

Well let me tell you – the course description and explanation before the race left out a lot of wee details? Like the wooden rail fence that we had to climb (or hurdle) in the 1st half-mile and all the ravines/gulleys that we had to jump over or climb down and up? There was lots of water and mud as promised and my shoes had picked up about 10 pounds of mud each in the 1st mile. The race was essentially a cross-country and steeplechase run on single-track trails across the high plains /desert around the town! It was a bitch!
And the best was yet to come?

Around 2 miles the trail climbed the Cliffs. The trail went straight up the cliffs that rose 300 ft in elevation above the town. And I mean straight up – no switchbacks – straight up the cliffs! My rabbit was right behind me as we approached the Cliffs (aren’t rabbits suppose to set the pace – in front?). An old fart passed me at the bottom of the cliffs and I tried to stay with him on the steep climb but half way up I decided the wisest strategy was to walk the top section and save some energy for the run back down on the other side!
When I reached the top of the Kremmling Cliffs the rabbit was still behind me but I decided to catch the old fart and took off and never saw the rabbit again?

The next 3 or 4 miles were the same challenging terrain – water, mud, ravines and hills! When I reached the 2nd water stop I checked my watch – about 50 minutes! There were no mile markers anywhere on the course but I figured that the water stop was between 5 and 6 miles, which meant I was averaging about 10 min/mile. If the rest of the course was this tough I would be lucky to finish under 2 hours? However shortly after the water stop the course climbed a very steep hill and dumped out on a dirt road – a real road that cars traveled on. I was finally able to scrape off the 10 pounds of mud on each shoe and haul ass down that road for a few miles. Unfortunately the course again turned off into the plains/desert but the trail followed the tire ruts/tracks of an old 4X4 road and if you selected the proper rut the footing was OK. I managed to hold a fast pace on the ruts and finally reached the 3rd and final water stop. I asked a race volunteer how far it was to the finish line. “About 3 miles” was the response. I looked at my watch – only 1:16. It didn’t make sense – if this was really 10 miles I was running a sub 8-min pace? I didn’t believe the answer – there had to be at least 4 miles to the finish?

I continued to push the pace on the 4X4 ruts in the hope of catching the old fart in front of me but I could never get closer than 300 yards and a few miles later the ruts reached the edge of the town and dumped out on to a paved road. Again I asked a volunteer how far? He didn’t know. Shit! I needed to know how far to determine how hard to push the old bod! I decided to push as hard as I could and hope I didn’t crash. The paved road was a straight shot into the town center and soon I could see the town square and finish line about 1 mile ahead. I looked at my watch –about 1:31! I was really confused and concerned because this could only mean one of three things:

a) I was running ‘way over my head’ and would finish under 1:40

b) The course was short? But they had emphasized that the course was the same as last year and the times had not been that fast.

c) There was an ugly surprise waiting near the town square – an additional loop of a ½ mile or more around the town center?

I really hoped it wasn’t option c) because I was hurting and didn’t think I had either the energy or willpower to run a loop before the finish line. I decided to push as hard as I could and fortunately there was no ugly surprise and I raced across the finish line in 1:38:24 to the cheers of our supporters/Fan Club!

I joined the Fan Club to wait and cheer Fast Freddy as he finished in 1:48:19. I could hear him grumbling “Too damn many hills – I hate hills – there are no hills in Dallas”! We both concluded/agreed that no matter what date the ‘Road Kill Half Marathon’ is next year that our social calendar “is busy”. It was a BITCH!

There was a great post-race party with live band and a lunch of wild game dishes- Buffalo lasagna, Venison chili, Elk Fajitas and tacos and other wild game delicacies.
Unfortunately I had pushed the old bod too hard and was suffering severe stomach cramps and couldn’t stand the thought of food. Fred wasn’t very hungry either so Joe bought one lunch and filled up a sampler plate so the group could taste all of the wild game dishes. That worked out OK.

I wanted to see the race results but they never did post any at the finish area nor have they posted them to the website yet in spite of my requests and complaints! There were no age group awards - only awards for the top three overall and Masters. I didn’t win any of them nor did the old fart who beat me? The three Master winners didn’t even look like they were 40? I am curious to see the results but can’t delay the report any longer.
Update: I did win my age group and established a new course record by 15 minutes. However it may not last long since the old fart who beat me was 59 and will be in my age group next year.

After the race we returned home for a soak in the hot tub – and yes – more margaritas and microbrew. Then we fed the racers and the refugees some great grilled steaks and of course more margaritas/wine/beer. In fact we had to make another (of several) run to the liquor store for more tequila and margarita mix in preparation for our nightly party in the hot tub!

A great way to finish the race season in the High Country – with good friends, a hot tub and lots of margaritas!

I have scheduled one more marathon in Kansas City on the drive back to FL.

So stay tuned for the next race report!