Thursday, October 26, 2006

TR -Patagonia/Argentina

Oct 11-16/06

Race Result
Sun, Oct 15/06
Maraton Tres Cuidades Patagonicas
Gaiman, Patagonia, Argentina
Marathon # 275
3:30:46 – 1st AG

The previous report on our S. American trip concluded with Francisco, the Sports Manager and I flying from Uruguay to Patagonia. Patagonia is a large region in Argentina that stretches south of Buenos Aires to the tip of S. America and from Chile to the Atlantic Ocean. It comprises 9 of the 23 provinces in Argentina. Francisco and I had spent many hours in a cold tent in the Himalayas talking about a ‘neat’ marathon in Patagonia. The Maraton Tres Cuidades Patagonicas ran between three Welsh cities in Patagonia. Welsh cities? Yes! Francisco had explained how many settlers had emigrated from Wales in the 18th century and settled in a valley along the Rio Chubut. Because that area of Patagonia is so desolate and isolated the Welsh settlers maintained their Welsh heritage and language up to today. In fact Francisco related a story about the 1980s when Wales decided to reintroduce the Welsh language into their schools but couldn’t find any teachers who spoke the old, traditional Welsh. So they traveled to Patagonia and hired teachers in the Welsh cities to go to Wales to teach their teachers how to speak/teach the old language! I found that story very interesting and decided that I would definitely visit and run the Patagonia Marathon.

As we were flying from BA to Trelew the Sports manager and I realized we had been there before! We stopped at that airport on our way to Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego on our way to run the Antarctica Marathon in 1997. We remembered our comments/thoughts at that time: “Who would be crazy enough to get off here”? Us obviously! Most of that region is high desert plateau and very desolate – looks a lot like NV and NM. Fortunately Francisco had booked us into a hotel in Puerto Madryn located about 70 Km north of Trelew and on the Atlantic Coast. It was a pretty city that served both as a major port for the region and a tourist gateway for the beach and a National Park located about 80 Km north. However the city is 1500 Km south of BA and only 1200 Km north of Antarctica so it doesn’t exactly enjoy a lot of good beach weather!

We enjoyed a great seafood dinner that night and the following morning set out for the Park. There is a huge National Park located on Valdes Peninsula that is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Golfo Nuevo and Golfo San Jose. The Park and both Gulfs are land and marine reserves with abundant wildlife. We drove to Puerto Piramides on Golfo Nuevo where several boats offer whale tours. Golfo Nuevo is a marine reserve that protects several species of whales that migrate there each year to calf. We saw lots of whales - mostly Northern Right Whales (Ballena Franca Austral) and also a rare baby white whale that played with the boat and spectators. After the whale tour we had to drive another 100 Km through the Park to the Atlantic Coast. However there had been an unusual heavy rain in that section of the Park and the dirt/clay roads had turned to mud! It was a nightmare to drive! I told our driver (Francisco) that it seemed similar to driving in 12 in of snow – “don’t stop and don’t change direction or momentum suddenly”! He was stressed out and tired when we arrived at the Coast to check out a colony of Magellan Penguins. A few miles down the road we found several colonies of sea lions and sea elephants. The bad roads had delayed us and I had a 7 pm appointment back in Puerto Madryn for a massage and had given up hope of making it. But Francisco drove like a maniacal rally driver through the desert mud – I think we saw some wild lamas and emus along the road but can’t be sure – and we were only 10 minutes late after a very exciting ride!

Later that night we decided to enjoy a carnivorous dinner at a Padilla – an Argentinean restaurant that grills or BBQs several varieties of meat. It was delicious! The next day we drove back to Trelew to pick up our race packets and drive the 2nd half of the course from Trelew to Rawson. That section of the course was flat. That evening I wanted to eat Chinese food as I normally do two nights before a race but there was a slight problem – there were no Chinese restaurants in Puerto Madryn. I told Francisco we had found a business opportunity for him to retire in Puerto Madryn? We selected a close alternative – a seafood paella (lots of rice).

On Sat we left Puerto Madryn for Gaiman. The marathon started in Gaiman and ran through Trelew to Rawson. All three cities were founded by Welsh immigrants but Gaiman is the city with the strongest Welsh heritage remaining. There are several Welsh teahouses that attract tourists to the city and our B&B was one of the most popular Welsh teahouses in Gaiman. We explored Gaiman both on foot and by car as we visited some of the teahouses and many of the churches and old buildings built by the original settlers. One of the teahouses advertised heavily that Princess Di had enjoyed tea and cakes there on a visit in 1995. We really liked Gaiman - it was small and very quaint with a lot of history. We also visited a neighboring Welsh town called Dolovan. It was not as nice as Gaiman but had an old grain mill that was interesting. The mill equipment and building had been manufactured in KY and shipped there in 1880. The owner gave us a tour and turned the mill on to show us that it still operated. There is only one other similar mill in existence – in a museum in IL!

Sun was M-day! The race started in the city center of Gaiman. On Sat we had driven the course from Trelew to Gaiman and learned that there were two nasty/steep BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) – one at 5 Km and another at 9 KM. The rest of the course was flat. The course ran West to East and normally the prevailing winds blow in that direction. Thankfully the Weather Gods were smiling down on us. The temp was in the high 40s F at the 7 am start and the winds were blowing 20 to 30 mph –West to East- so we would have a strong tailwind for most of the race! My strategy was to run the first 10 Km at an easy 5:20/Km (8:30/mile) pace until I got through the BAHs and then push the pace. As we looped around the streets of Gaiman at the start Francisco passed me at 2 Km? He wasn’t even going to run the marathon but I convinced him he could do it since he had run an ultra only 4 weeks before. I passed 3 km in 14:56 and then started to climb the BAH out of Gaiman up to the desert plateau. I reached 5 Km and the main 2-lane highway to Trelew in 25:21. And became totally shocked and then amused with the crazy zoo/bedlam I encountered. The marathon course followed a major 2-lane highway that ran from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains. One lane had been reserved for the runners. However every runner had an entourage of family/friends accompanying them on every type of vehicle – bike, motorcycle, car, truck, ATV, etc. Typically there would be one or more vehicles on each side of a runner so that any vehicles trying to use the highway were forced to drive in the ditches beside the highway! There were all types of vehicles going in every which direction – all at the same time! This crazy bedlam lasted throughout the whole race with no concern or control by the police? Francisco later told me that this is the only race in Argentina with such crazy bedlam. I quickly learned how to cope. As long as you stayed on course and ran straight ahead the vehicles would adjust to you. But if you foolishly made a sudden sideways move your life could be in danger!

I tried to slow down and follow a group of local runners through the 2nd BAH but I still passed 10 Km in 49:43. I decided that since we were enjoying a 20 mph tailwind I might as well take advantage of it and push the pace. I soon caught up with a group of local runners that included a female runner and a huge entourage. She had 4 male runners pacing her, and a bike, motorcycle and car on each side of the group. I figured I would be safer staying with that group and ran with them until 15 Km (1:14:49). There was a big advantage of being with a group because the cars blocked off any side winds, etc and all the supporters offered us water, Gatorade, etc. and protected us from other vehicles!

But at 15 Km I felt a strange burst of energy and decided to surge ahead on my own as I dropped my pace to 4:50s. We approached Trelew around 18 Km and ran about 6 Km through the city. I passed the Half in 1:44:49 and saw Francisco on a short section that looped back on itself. He was about ½ Km ahead and I figured I would never catch him unless he faded because I was pushing the pace as hard as I could. As I left Trelew around 25 Km the female runner and her entourage caught up to me and I realized that they were running a smooth/easy pace and it would be smarter to join and stay with them. I thought that she might be one of the lead women but then I heard a fan tell her she was in 5th place overall. I joined her group of pacers and took my turn pacing her at 5.00/Km.
We continued to hold that pace until we passed 30 Km in 2:29:20 and then a few of her male pacers including another old fart tired and dropped behind. When we passed 35 Km in 2:53:59 there was only her and I left in the group – but we still had numerous support vehicles! I was starting to tire but was determined to stay with her since we were on pace to finish the race in sub 3:30! She couldn’t speak/understand English so there wasn’t any communication but we had developed a silent bond to support and push each other to the finish line. Or so I thought? However when I slowed down at a water station at 37 KM to swallow my last carbo gel and wash it down with water she continued to push ahead and I was soon 100m behind her. I tried desperately to catch back up and lowered my pace to 4:50s over the next 3 Km but I could not catch her. When I passed 40 Km in 3:18:58 I figured a sub 3:30 was in the bag? But then disaster hit suddenly! My right calf started to cramp and at 40 ½ Km it cramped severely and locked up! The pain was so excruciating that I had to slow down and even stopped once to stretch it in the hope of getting it to release. It wouldn’t release but the pain decreased enough that I was able to jog and limp the final mile to cross the finish line in 3:30:46. That damn cramp cost me a sub 3:30 marathon!

After crossing the finish line I tried everything – massage, stretching, etc- to get the calf to release and relax but it was all in vain because it stayed hard as a rock and very painful. So I found Francisco and congratulated him on beating me by 3 minutes and asked the Sports Manager to take a finish line photo so I could retreat to a hot bath/shower. We had wisely booked a small hotel near the finish line in Rawson for a few hours so that we could enjoy a shower after the race. Unfortunately there was no tub so I couldn’t enjoy a much-needed HOT soak but the hot shower seemed to help a little. We then walked to the finish area to check for the results but were advised that the results would only be available at the awards ceremony in Trelew at 5 pm. Plan B – drive to Trelew and find some food and beer while we waited for the awards.

At 5 pm we arrived for the awards and (not surprisingly) they were not ready? We had a 7:45 pm flight back to BA. At 6 pm I told Francisco to skip the awards and go to the airport. He wanted to wait because he was sure I had at least placed in my Age Group. They started the female awards at 6:15 pm and finished at 6:30 pm. By then I was concerned that we would miss our flight and wanted to leave. They started the male awards at 6:30 pm and thankfully started with the oldest age group. My name was called to go to the podium to collect the 1st Place trophy for my age group. The trophy was HUGE – so huge that I figured that there was no way the airlines would let me take it on a plane? A few minutes later Francisco collected a similar trophy for 2nd Place in his age group and we threw them into the car and rushed to the airport. We made the flight and even more surprising was that they let us carry the trophies on to the plane! When we arrived in BA Mercedes was waiting at the airport and I gave her my trophy and asked her to keep it or donate it to a Charity for kids.

Mon was our last day in BA as we waited for an evening/red-eye flight home. We met our gracious hosts/friends Francisco and Mercedes for a farewell lunch in Recoleta to thank them for their hospitality and invite them to visit us in CO and /or FL. I do believe that Francisco was relieved and happy to be finished with his ‘babysitting’ duties? We spent the final afternoon in Buenos Aires sight seeing and completing last minute shopping for (more) souvenirs and finally we were on the long red-eye flight home.

It was a great trip! Three marathons and two countries in 8 days. We met a lot of new friends in both countries and saw a lot of interesting things/places.


It is usually at this point that I say, “Stay tuned for the next report”! But as most of my friends/readers know I left S. America with a ‘bum’ leg/calf. I didn’t think I had suffered a serious injury – just a minor strain that could be fixed with a good massage. After two massages and a week of rest I attempted to run the Breakers Marathon in RI but was forced to drop out of the race after two miles because of the pain in my leg. Then the nightmare truly began. I visited my orthoped on Tue morning believing that I might have a torn calf muscle or stress fracture in the tibia? An X-ray didn't show any problems with the leg as expected. So we scheduled a MRI because we both felt that there was a strong possibility of a stress fracture in the tibia?
After I left his office he called to ask me to play along with a hunch and go for a Venous Ultrasound Scan on the leg. I was totally shocked (as was the technician) to discover a DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis) or blood clot in the lower right leg! I was ordered to proceed directly to the Emergency Room of a local hospital to begin treatments with anticoagulants and blood thinners! The doctors in the ER did not provide very good service or any information so I was eager to meet my GP the next day and ask a lot of questions.
Got answers to most of my questions but nobody can tell/guess what caused this problem/big surprise? I was aware of the risk of DVT and flying and was religious and cautious in my efforts to stretch and exercise on long flights to reduce the risk. I can only guess that the combination of 3 marathons in one week and the long flight to BA was the cause? Now that I know about that problem I am hoping that it is the sole reason for ALL the pain and I don't have a stress fracture? I can recover much quicker from the DVT. Will take another week before I meet with the orthoped again for the final results from the MRI.
At first I was feeling down/depressed about the whole injury thing but I had a long talk with Maddog. He reminded me that "Shit Happens" and that "this problem is just another speed bump on the road of life"! We will recover and continue on down the road at full speed!
My GP and many friends have advised/recommended that I "stop running"! That ain't going to happen - EVER! To 'stop running' or 'stop exercising' would be worse than a death sentence to Maddog! Sitting around on my fat ass and doing nothing just so I can continue to breathe (and be depressed and unhappy) for another 20 years does not appeal to me. Not my idea of a 'good life'!
So I will continue to run and write race reports and interesting stories as long as I can breathe and move my old legs!

So – Stay tuned for the next report!

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