Friday, December 07, 2007

TR - Macau

Trip Report
11/30 – 12/03/07

Macau International Marathon
Sun, Dec 2/07
Marathon #295 – Country # 87

Now where did I leave off in the last report? Oh yeah! I was heading from Shanghai to Macau via Hong Kong. The Macau Marathon was the initial reason for this trip. When I arrived in HK I checked for a direct ferry to Macau that allows passengers to transit through HK airport without having to pass through immigration in HK. Saves a lot of time and hassle.

I was able to book the next turbo jet hydrofoil to Macau and arrived at 6 pm. The Sports Manager and I had visited Macau about 12 years ago on a 1-day side tour from HK. I didn’t remember much about Macau except that it was a very small country and was laid back? It is still small but everything else has changed. The part of the city/country on the mainland is now full of gaudy casinos/hotels and every square foot is occupied! Fortunately I was staying on Taipa Island where the race started/finished. Although it has a few large casinos and several under construction there is still some open space and the streets are not congested (yet). My new 4-star casino hotel was located right on the North China Sea and a room with ocean view cost $55/night with full breakfast. I walked over to the center of Taipa Village. It was small but had several shops, restaurants and even a Portuguese Taverna and English Pub.
I was very concerned about not repeating the mistake made in Shanghai by missing any meals before the race so I enjoyed a nice Chinese dinner with lots of rice (carbs).

On Sat morning I ran four easy miles. I don’t normally do that before a race but since I couldn’t/wouldn’t run in China because of the pollution I figured I needed to loosen up the legs and remind them what was expected the next day. After breakfast I wandered over to the Macau Stadium to pick up my race packet. The marathon web site was good and allowed me to pre-register so I was able to get my packet quickly and easily. Since I had the whole afternoon available I decided to take a city/country tour since I didn’t recognize anything. There was one wee problem – the tour was only available in Chinese! No matter – after my final night in Shanghai I was confident in my Chinese language skills! Well that confidence didn’t last long – I couldn’t understand one word the guide said. Thankfully I had a guide book and a young Chinese family who translated some of the important facts for me. We toured most of the major tourist sites in the city and on Taipa Island. We started on the mainland/peninsula that is only
3 ½ square miles. Our first stop was Guia Fort (or Mount Fortess) on top of Guia Hill –the highest natural point of Macau- for panoramic views of the city. Right below the fort are the ruins of 400-year old St Paul’s Church. The ruins are the most famous structure in Macau and were the only thing I remembered from our previous visit. Then we strolled through the old city to Senado Square – the city center.

Next stop was the Macau Tower (330 m high) for panoramic views of the city and country (if you could see through the smog over the peninsula). It also houses the world’s highest bungy jump – and NO – I did not jump! Our final stop on the mainland was at the Temple of A-Ma – the oldest temple in Macau dating back 600 years. It was dedicated to A-Ma, the goddess of seafarers. At the entrance is a large rock, with a picture of a traditional sailing junk engraved more than 400 years ago to commemorate the Chinese fishing boat that carried A-Ma to Macau. The tour finished on Taipa Island with a visit to Macau Stadium and Taipa Village. The tour had covered about 75% of the marathon course which wasn’t surprising since the marathon had to use almost every road in the small country!

On Sat evening I found an Italian restaurant in Taipa for pasta dinner. I wasn’t going to skip dinner before this race! I was so concerned about repeating the disaster of Shanghai that I even ate a light breakfast on Sun morning before the race – I never do that before a marathon but I was going to make sure my glycogen reserves were full! The forecast for the race was warm/hot – 18 C at the start and
25 C at the finish. I walked the few blocks to the start line at Macau Stadium at 6 am. The race started at 6:30 am on the track inside the stadium. There were 2,000 runners in three events – Marathon, Half and 10K. Although we started together the runners spread out quickly after we left the stadium. At 2 Km the 10K runners split off and the others had to make their first crossing over the Sai Van Bridge to the mainland. The bridge is 2Km long and 150 ft above the North China Sea. It was the most scenic and toughest section of the course and we had to cross it four times during the race! Once we crossed the bridge there was a short 5Km maze through tunnels and overpasses as we passed through the city center. I reached 5 Km in 27:41 and a split of 5:20. At 10Km we passed by the Macau Tower and headed back over the Sai Van Bridge to Taipa. I commented to myself that the final loop over the bridge at
38 Km was going to be a bitch! I passed 12 Km back on Taipa at 1:06:46 and a split of 5:19. So far I felt good? Traffic control was good and there was very little traffic (and exhaust fumes) except for the 5 Km maze though the city. At 17.5 Km the half- marathon runners split off and I essentially ran the rest of the race alone. I passed the Half in 1:59:15 and felt good. I was now confident that I wouldn’t crash and burn like Shanghai but I also knew that the 2nd Half would be slower because the sun was up and the temps were rising! I figured that even if I slowed the pace 1min/mile on the 2nd Half I would finish in 4:10 and that would be satisfactory. Sure enough when I reached the Sai Van Bridge again at 30 Km in 2:51:49 the split was 6:00 and I was starting to fade in the hot sun. But I also started passing a lot of runners in worst shape! The 5 Km maze through the city was hotter and I started to struggle as I approached the bridge at 37Km in 3:37:18 and a split of 6:19. I was determined not to walk over that final crossing of the bridge because I knew if I started to walk the race would get ugly! The 1 Km climb to the top of the bridge was a bitch as expected. I had to dig deep and summon up a lot of willpower to keep the tired old legs moving. Km 39 was downhill and easier and I reached 40Km on Taipa in 3:56:41. I figured I had to push the pace to break 4:10 but there was no ‘push’ left in my wasted old legs. I had become over-heated and now survival was the priority. Only experience and sheer willpower kept the wasted old legs shuffling the final 2 Km until I turned the final corner and saw the stadium. Then the old bod provided one last jolt of adrenaline to allow me to cruise across the finish line in the stadium in 4:11:19!

It took a few minutes and a couple bottles of ice-cold water to cool the old bod down and relieve the dizzy/light-headed feeling I had but I quickly recovered. I retrieved my warm-up clothes and proceeded to return my chip. Oh! Oh! Another Chinese snafu! To get my $100 (HK) deposit back I had to return the chip (made sense) and also a race bib (didn’t make sense). I tried to argue/negotiate to no avail. I will never understand the Chinese ‘thing’ about wanting a bib back – and I am sure they will never understand the American ’thing’ about wanting to keep both bibs? I wasn’t willing to sacrifice $100 so I gave them their damn bib!

After a long hot soak and shower I still had an afternoon to explore Macau so I went back to old town to explore the sights at a more leisurely pace. I also needed to find an Internet café to send my readers a field report. After a few hours of strolling around old town I became frustrated with the noise and wall-to-wall people so I retreated to the Village Square in Taipa which was more laid back and less crowded. I enjoyed a few Macau beers and some loud conversation with some (drunken) runners from the UK at the Portuguese taverna. I needed quiet so I found a nice quiet café to enjoy a celebration dinner by myself! But I did have an interesting chat with the owner who had just moved back to Macau after living in Montreal for 20 years.

On Mon I took a direct/transit ferry back to the HK airport for the long journey home. After a long delay on the last leg out of Miami the trip took a total of 33 hours and I arrived home at 4:30am on Tue. And people think that international travel is fun and glamorous? My old bod is still suffering severe jet lag and I am beginning to question the sanity of my plan to return to Asia next week to run another marathon/country in Taiwan?

Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

TR - China

Trip Report
11/22 – 11/30/07

Toray Cup Shanghai International Marathon
Shanghai, China
Sun, Nov 25/07
Marathon #294 – Country # 86

Actually this was a ‘surprise’ marathon that got added to my race schedule very late in the planning cycle. I planned to run the Macau Marathon in early Dec when a friend informed me that he thought there was a marathon in Shanghai in late Nov? I searched the Internet and discovered that indeed the Shanghai Marathon was only one week before the Macau Marathon. Although I planned/hoped to run the Beijing Marathon for China the opportunity to run two countries on the same trip was too appealing. And there was no extra cost to add a stop-over in Shanghai enroute to Hong Kong. However it meant having to spend a week in China so I tried to find a tour to Beijing but that turned out to be too expensive and I decided to play it by ear and look for something when I got to China.

The website for the marathon was informative but did not permit online registration. However when I contacted the race organization they were very responsive and helpful. The only problem I experienced was their response to my request for hotel information was sent to me in Chinese? I emailed a friend in Shanghai and asked for help. Linlai used to work with the Sports Manager at Nortel and was happy to help. He checked out hotels and booked one a few blocks from the start line on the pedestrian mall on Nanjing Rd. and provided much needed directions how to get to the hotel from the airport.

As I made the long flight from FL to Shanghai on Thu I contemplated how to run the marathon? I had run the Philly Marathon the weekend before so Shanghai would be the second of three marathons I would race in two weeks! Should I be smart and run easy to ensure I didn’t aggravate the tear/injury to the plantar fascia in my right foot?

I arrived in Shanghai late Fri afternoon (lost 1 day enroute) and it took more than two hours to travel 34 Km from the airport to the hotel because of horrendous rush-hour traffic . I was surprised (but pleased) to find Linlai waiting for me in the hotel lobby? I had slept on the long flight and wanted to stay up as late as possible to prevent jet lag so I agreed to let Linlai treat me to a special Chinese dinner. It was a delicious dinner with many local Shanghai delicacies. I had no idea what I was eating – but it was good and many times I had to ask Linlai how I was supposed to eat a certain delicacy? At dinner I asked Linlai for suggestions about a side tour after the race? I mentioned that I had tried to book a tour to Beijing but that was too expensive. I always wanted to see the Terra Cotta Warriors but didn’t think that would be possible on such short notice? Maybe I would travel to Hangzhou – west of Shanghai and located on West Lake? At least I could get out of the city and do some training runs while waiting for the next race?
Linlai promised to check with a friend who was a travel agent.

I was hoping that after a great meal and staying up late I would sleep well. Didn’t work! As soon as my head hit the pillow the old bod came alive figuring it was time to get up. The time difference is 13 hours so my body clock was 180 degrees out of phase. I tried to force myself to sleep but all I managed was to toss and turn for 6 hours before giving up and going for an early breakfast. Linlai had insisted on joining me on Sat morning to help me pick up my race packet at the Shanghai Stadium. I told him that was not necessary but it turned out to be a good thing because the location had changed from the details provided on the website. Having a local Chinese guide/translator was very useful although many people in Shanghai speak English. I noticed about two dozen foreign (non-Asian) runners on the list and met a few runners from the UK at registration.

After successfully getting my packet I said bye to Linlai and set off to explore the city on my own. I walked around the Bund & East Nanjing Rd neighborhood. There is a pedestrian mall on East Nanjing Rd with lots of shops, etc and seems to be a major gathering place for locals. Unfortunately my blonde hair and blue eyes were like a giant friggin neon sign for hawkers/scam artists/hookers and I became so annoyed at being harassed that I soon had to avoid that mall for the rest of my stay! I walked down to the Huangpu River to enjoy the views of the Pudong neighborhood across the river with many modern buildings and the Shanghai Tower. By 4 pm my body clock was demanding that I rest and I returned to the hotel for a short nap before dinner. I woke at 8pm feeling like crap and made an executive decision: if I went to dinner I would not sleep again that night so I crawled between the sheets and slept another 10 hours! I figured that sleep was more important that food and besides the flab I have around my expensive beer belly should carry me through a marathon?

I woke at 6am to walk over to the start line at Century Square on the pedestrian mall on Nanjing Rd. The race start was well organized except that the 12,000 runners were not seeded by bib numbers and there were no corrals for expected finish times. In other words it was a free-for-all and I ended up in the middle of the pack. The weather was warmer than normal (mid 50s) so I wore shorts and a T-shirt as the race started at 7am. The start chute was too narrow for that many runners and it took about 5 minutes just to reach the start line. And the course didn’t get any better! The first 4 km through the city center were scenic but on narrow streets so we were forced to stay in our pace group and fight for elbow space. At 5 Km I thought the course was going to open up but instead it dumped on to a single-lane service road for an expressway! The expressway was already clogged with traffic and we sucked up diesel fumes for the next 5 km! I passed 8Km in 45:40 – a little faster than I wanted to start? At 10Km I thought we were finally going to get relief from the diesel fumes when we turned off on to a major blvd. but we were forced into a single coned lane with traffic passing or clogged beside us. Traffic control was bad – bikes/motor bikes and people were darting across the course in front of us. I bowled over some poor Chinese lady who stepped in front of me unexpectantly!

I passed 18Km in 1:43:54 and a split of 6:20/Km (10:08/mile)! I had slowed significantly and was already starting to struggle in spite of a lot of spectators along the course cheering and shouting “Jiayou”, “jiayou”! I asked a local what that meant. The polite translation is “keep going” – the guttural translation is “move your ass faster”! At that point the course climbed up on to an elevated expressway that we had to share with congested traffic. Could it get any worse? YES! By the time I passed the Half in 2:03:01 it was hot – I was struggling to hold a 10 min pace - and my legs were DEAD! I knew the 2nd Half was going to get ugly! When I reached a water station at 25 Km in 2:29:17 there was nothing left in my legs and I started to walk! At 29 Km we were routed on to another elevated expressway that was straight and long with high walls. It was so boring and depressing that I really wanted to run the entire section just to get off that raised torture oven! I reached the water station at 30Km in 3:04:20 and a split of 6:59/Km. I walked! Then at a water sponge station at 32.5 Km I was forced to walk again. I struggled and played mind games just to make it to the next water and/or sponge station where I would walk for 1 minute and continue. Finally at 39Km we exited the elevated expressway and I managed to keep the wasted old legs moving to reach 40 Km in 4:17:36. I decided to take a long walk at that point so I could run to the finish line although survival was the most important thing on my mind.

I was so thankful to finally see the Minhang Stadium and stumble across the finish line in 4:34:18. I have no idea what caused such a pathetic performance and why I crashed so early in the race? I guess it was a combination of missing the dinner, the terrible pollution during the race and severe jet lag?

Linlai was supposed to be at the finish line but I didn’t see him? I picked up my warm-up clothes and proceeded to the area to return my chip and pick up a finisher’s certificate and award. Slight problem!
To receive the certificate and award (a sports bag instead of the normal finisher’s medal) it was necessary to turn in one of the two race bibs we had been provided? The Chinese seem to need physical evidence that an action has been completed? I tried to explain that I wanted to keep both bibs – one for a souvenir of the race and the other for a friend who owns a running store. (He posts them on a wall to motivate other runners). No way! No bib – no award! I told them what to do with their certificate and award! They were shocked when I refused to return my race bib?

I finally found Linlai at the finish line who volunteered to take a finish line photo and guide me back into the city. I insisted that he join me later for a celebration dinner! After a long hot soak and shower I ventured out to explore some more of the city. Shanghai is a very modern and vibrant city but just too big – too noisy and too crowded for a poor old country boy. I was glad that I had made a decision to get out of the city! Linlai and I met and enjoyed a very good dinner in a restaurant overlooking the Huangpu River and the lights of Pudong. I learned that if you stay/eat in Chinese hotels/restaurants it is reasonably cheap but if you stay/eat in western-style places the prices are equivalent to big city prices in the US! Linlai had great news for me over dinner – his friend had arranged a 3-day tour to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and other tourist attractions in the old ancient capital!

Since I would leave on Tue I had one final day to explore Shanghai. I did a self-guided walking tour through Old Town or Nan Shi that dates back to the 16th century. I started at the Old Stone Gate and walked through back alleys with laundry hanging overhead, past Baiyun Temple and the ‘wet market’ to Dajing Pavilion which contains the only preserved section of the ancient 5-Km city walls. Parts of Old Town have been restored and turned into tourist traps!
I also planned to cross the Huangpu River to visit Pudong but a cold front had brought in fog and I couldn’t even see the tops of the buildings so I skipped that. I met Linlai for a farewell dinner to thank him for his gracious hospitality and went over the itinerary for the tour to Xian. On Tue morning I took the first Mag Lev train to the airport to catch an early flight. The maglev train is more expensive than a bus but it makes the 30 Km trip in 8 min at 300 Km/hr!

I arrived in Xian at 11:30 am and was met at the airport by a private English-speaking tour guide - a lovely young lady, Yao Ming or ‘Meggie’ as she asked English tourists to call her. We reviewed the itinerary for the day and since it included only tourist sites within the city we decided to use taxis for that day. Taxis are very cheap in China and that seemed like the best option – until I lost a brand new pair of prescription glasses in one of them! I hope that cabbie enjoys his new pair of hi-tech glasses that cost $700! Unfortunately I didn’t realize I had lost them until the end of the day.

Xian is the capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China. Called Chang’an in ancient times it was the capital city of 13 dynasties from the Western Zhou (11th century – 771 BC) and Qin (221 BC – 206 BC) through the Tang (618 – 907) and is considered a living history book in China. We started with a visit to the Shaanxi History Museum that contains artifacts from all the dynasties. Then we toured various sites such as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda built by Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty to collect Buddhist artifacts taken from India and Da Ci’en Temple (648). To conclude the day Linlai had suggested to Meggie that she book me a seat at the Dumpling Dinner and Tang Dynasty Music and Dance show. I wasn’t in much of a mood for a traditional dinner show after finding my $700 glasses missing but since the ticket had been booked I went. I was concerned about a dinner of only dumplings – a local specialty/delicacy in Xian but they were quite good. The show was a performance of ancient music and dance from the Tang Dynasty and was very interesting and included many of the musical instruments I had seen at the Museum earlier that day! The next day included sites outside the city so we decided to hire a private car for the day.

Meggie and the driver picked me up early so we could make a quick stop at the Xian City Wall before leaving the city. The wall was built by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1366 – 1644) on the original city wall built during the Tang Dynasty. It stands 40 ft high and 40 ft wide at the top. The rectangular wall is 13.7 Km in length and encircles downtown Xian and is the most complete city wall in China. A Bell Tower used to signal the opening of the city gates each morning sits in the geographical center of the city. I was wishing I had time to run the entire wall because it was impossible to run in the streets of Xian – the roads were too crowded – too dangerous and the pollution was so thick that I could see/smell/taste it! After walking a short section of the wall we left the city to visit the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors – the main reason for the tour to Xian!

The Museum is a small part of the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang that began construction in 246 BC. He used 700,000 workers to construct the Mausoleum site and killed them all when finished to keep the location a secret! It was discovered in 1974 by a farmer (met him at the Museum). I didn’t realize that it is still an ongoing archaeological site! The Museum covers a very large area and is divided into three Pits. Pit #1 is the largest and contains more than 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses marshaled into battle line formations to protect the Emperor in his ‘after-life’. It is an awesome sight but I was also disappointed that only a small fraction (about 25%) of the pit is excavated? Pit #2 contains four mobile combat units consisting of 1,000 warriors and 89 wooden chariots and two bronze chariots that were meant to carry the Emperor and his concubines around in the after-life.

Pit #3 is surmised by archeologists to be a command center for the military who commanded the construction of the Mausoleum. It contains 68 warriors, four horses and one chariot but no battle formations.

The Museum is quite spectacular and amazes a viewer with the obvious wealth of the Emperors! It is worth the visit and the pollution/smog you will have to endure for a few days! After leaving the Museum we visited Huaqing Hot Springs which is famed for the scenery and the romantic love story of Emperor Xuanzong (685- 762) and his concubine Yang Guifei in the Tang Dynasty. A palace built by King You during the Western Zhou Dynasty and expanded by Emperor Qin sits on the grounds with several pools fed by the hot springs. On the way back to the hotel I asked Meggie to help me buy a pair of replacement reading glasses ($4) so that I could read during the rest of the trip. I am still bummed about losing a brand new pair of glasses and even more bummed about having to pay another $700 to replace them! That evening I explored the area of the city close to the hotel. I considered eating outside the hotel but couldn’t find a restaurant with an English menu so I retreated to the safety of the hotel. Very few staff at the hotel spoke English but at least there was an English menu!

On Thu I had hoped to try to find a place to run but when I got up in the morning and looked out the window I couldn’t see the buildings across the street because the smog was so thick! I refused to run in that pollution. And Xian was much different than Shanghai. It is not modern, the buildings are the old square concrete blocks built by the central/communist government and the streets are congested with cars, bikes and people and there are no rules – it is dangerous and unsafe to run! I decided I didn’t need to train/run that badly. Meggie met me late morning and we hired a taxi to take us to the last tourist site – Hanyanling, the Mausoleum of Western Han Emperor Liu Qi and then drop me off at the airport. The Mausoleum is a joint tomb of Liu Qin, the Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty and his Empress Wang. There are several burial pits containing thousands of artifacts. Compared to the Qin Terra Cotta Warriors the pottery figures are one tenth the actual size and not nearly as impressive.

Finally I was finished with the tour and the pollution. I asked Meggie bluntly why she lived there. I think the locals are oblivious to it because they don’t know anything else and couldn’t do anything about if they wanted to? I arrived back in Shanghai around 7 pm and was met at the airport by a hotel rep. Linlai had booked a hotel near the airport since I had to leave early Fri for Hong Kong. When I arrived at the hotel I was a bit disconcerted to discover that not one hotel staff spoke English! Any English! Fortunately my Shanghai tour book had an extensive vocabulary section that I was forced to refer to. With a lot of laughs with/at each other the staff and I selected the necessary words and phrases to check in and arrange a wake-up call and shuttle back to the airport in the morning. Then the next challenge – dinner.
No English menu as expected – it all looked Chinese to me (ha, ha!). Rather than try to recognize the Chinese symbols I made it simple. I looked up three words: yu (fish), baifan (steamed white rice) and baiwei (beer). I had no idea what I was going to get but it turned out to be delicious. And I got to improve my skills with chop sticks eating a whole steamed fish covered in a delicious sauce. The hotel with dinner and breakfast cost a total of $33! As I said you can travel cheaply in China if you are adventurous and stay/eat with the locals!

Now it was time to catch a flight to Hong Kong and move on to the next chapter in the adventure.

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 19, 2007

RR - Philadelphia

Race Report
Sun, Nov 18/07
Philadelphia Marathon
Philadelphia, PA
Marathon # 293 - State #50

I did it! I did it! I completed a marathon in all 50 States + DC for a second – and final – time!
Read my lips “I will not run the 50 States a third time!” Why did I do it a 2nd time? Good question!
After I finished the 50 States for the 1st time in 1995 followed by the provinces of Canada in 97 and the Continents in 98 I figured I needed another goal to keep me motivated. So I checked my marathon log and determined that I had already run about 20 of the States a 2nd time – so I might as well run all 50 again? Well it took three years to complete the 1st loop and 12 years for the 2nd! At that rate I don’t believe I will stay healthy or live long enough to do it a 3rd time? And I would rather spend my limited marathon/travel budget on countries instead of doing the States again! I have two running buds in Sarasota who are psychologists/psychiatrists and I have given them permission to commit me to an institute if I even talk about running the States again!

Now that the cheering is finished it is time to write the actual race report.

It was only fate and convenience of schedule that dictated that PA was the final State. I chose Philadelphia as the marathon because I had heard that it was a good marathon and I had not run it before (a rule of the 50 States Club). The marathon did not live up to its good reviews!
Since my Sports Manager is on the injured/disabled list I asked a good friend from Sarasota if he wanted to go along as Sports Manager? Frank – the only other sane person in the world- is recovering from back surgery but the allure and reward of also watching his lovely daughter Alexis (who lives in Philly) cross the finish line of the Half Marathon was enough to entice him to make the trip. Until we saw the weather forecast a few days before the race! Cold, windy and rain!

I flew up on Sat afternoon, picked up a rental car and tried to find my way to Temple University’s Liacouras Center to pick up my race packet. What a mess! The traffic in Philly is horrendous! The Liacouras Center was much too small to handle 16,000 runners and there were over 1,000 runners lined up to pick up their packet. I called Frank and Alexis and told them that they had better get down there asap because the wait/delay looked very long. Fortunately I was only half wrong – the line moved quickly and it only took about 30 minutes to get my packet. I didn’t even try to visit the expo because the crowds were too big and the space too small!

There was no race info in the race packet but luckily I had picked up a race guide while standing in line. It explained that instead of a timing chip the race was using a RFID Tag that attached to the shoelace and could be discarded after the race. It is much better than the old chip technology because you don’t have to struggle to hand it back in after the race! After another fight with traffic to drive two more miles to my hotel and find parking (very little parking in Philly and very expensive), I barely had time to check in before my support team picked me up for dinner. Alexis had a neat goody bag for me (made up for the fact that the race had no goody bag) – salted chips, M&Ms and Gatorade – all part of my evening ritual before going to bed! I didn’t have to find a mini mart after dinner.

We enjoyed a great pasta dinner (instead of paying $25 for a pasta buffet offered by the race organization?) and retired early since the race started at 7am. I watched the weather channel – the news was not good – cold and wet on Sun morning!

I dressed in layers for the race. Tights and LD race shorts with three layers on top – and gloves. Luckily the forecast was not 100% accurate. It was cold and windy with a temp of 42 F at 7am but the rain held off. There were some light drizzles before and during the race but mostly it was just cold and windy! I joined 16,000 runners at the start line in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts while the Emcee raved about Philly and delayed the start of the race by 15 minutes I was upset because I had arranged a late checkout (12:30pm) with the hotel and they were using my shower time! I lined up with the 3-hr pace group to reduce my delay in getting to the start line – I crossed the start line exactly 1 minute after the official start. By mile two I was concerned that I had overdressed. I was HOT! I shed my throw-away sweat shirt and continued on. I passed mile 3 in 27:38 but was still fighting with elbows to maintain my own space in the crowds. When I passed mile 5 in 45:44 I had settled into a smooth/easy 9-min pace. Decision time! That pace would get me across the finish line under 4 hrs but I would have to hold that pace over the entire course and I knew that was unlikely because of the lack of training. If I wanted to beat 4 hrs I would have to lower the pace to 8:50s for the next 10 miles! I didn’t feel comfortable/confident in doing that because this was only the 1st of three marathons I must run in the next two weeks and I was concerned about aggravating the injury to my foot. So I decided to hold the 9-min pace for as long as I could and see what happened? The first half of the course was interesting as it passed by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, Drexel University, the Zoo and arrived back at the Museum at the Half. I passed the Half in 1:58:47. I was still on pace but my legs were telling me that the 2nd Half would not be as fast. I decided to hold the pace as long as I could. However when I reached mile 17 in 2:35:39 the split was 9:33 and I knew a sub 4-hr finish wasn’t going to happen. So I decided to slow down and let the old legs dictate the pace and not aggravate the foot injury. It started to drizzle again and the temps actually dropped and I was so glad that I had not discarded my 2nd layer of clothes as I was going to around the Half!

I continued to jog though 20 miles in 3:04:24. At mile 21 the 4-hr pace group passed me and my mind must have been foggy because I decided to stay with them figuring they would drag me to the finish line? The pace dropped to 8:50/9:00 and my heart monitor started beeping wildly as my heart rate soared past my upper limit but with the excitement of breaking 4 hrs the body started kicking in extra shots of adrenaline and I felt good! Until mile 23 (3:32:00) when the pace setter announced that they had crossed the start line at 3 minutes! They had 2 extra minutes in the bank! Poof! - my balloon/hopes burst immediately, the extra shots of adrenaline ceased and my legs suddenly felt like they weighed 1000 pounds! I had to really struggle to keep the old legs moving the final 5 Km to cross the finish line in 4:02:40.

I was happy. I had finished Marathon #293 and State # 50! And my foot had not hurt until about 20 miles into the race! In spite of not having to hand in a timing chip the finish chute was a mess and it took about 5 minutes to get through the food tent to the family meeting area where I had arranged to meet my support team. By then I was starting to feel cold because I had not left any warm-up clothes at the start line. After waiting 15 minutes I started to shiver and figured that Frank must have become cold and left – and I didn’t blame him! Unfortunately they had my camera so there is no finish line photo. The roads near the finish line were closed to traffic so I couldn’t hail a cab and it was a very long and cold walk back to the hotel!

I later found out that my support team and I missed connecting by only a few minutes and they waited around for about 30 minutes after I left. They were obviously tougher (or more stupid) than me?
Because of all the problems with the race organization, late start, poor water stations, etc I cannot give the Philadelphia Marathon a good rating! I would not run the race again!
For me the best part of the race is that I finished it and my 50th State so I am finished with my insane quest! I can now focus my energy and time on my next (immediate) goal. I must run another six marathons between now and March 2/08 when I line up at the start line of my hometown race in Sarasota to run my 300th marathon! And instead of running states I can spend my money on adding countries to my list. In fact my next four races are international marathons. If I can get through the next two marathons in Asia next week – I believe I will be able to accomplish my next goal!

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

RR - West Virginia

Race Report
Sun, Nov 4/07
Marshall University Marathon
Huntington, WV
Marathon #292 – State #49 (2nd loop)

This was to be another ‘revenge or make-up’ marathon. Many will recall that last year I was forced to drop out of the Breakers Marathon in RI because of a painful leg? When the pain was diagnosed a few days later to be DVT I had to cancel a marathon in WV a few weeks later. I ate most of the costs but was able to rebook airline flights for 2007. This year’s problem/injury with the foot almost added insult to injury but thankfully I have been able to continue my marathon schedule and my one-year-delayed quest to complete the 50 States for a 2nd time.

Thus on Sat I flew into Lexington, KY and drove 130 miles east to Huntington, WV. I had learned that many friends/mates from the 100 Marathon Clubs (UK & US) and the 50 States Club were also running the marathon. We got together at the pasta party on Sat evening and shared new ‘war’ stories. Fortunately Sat night was the start of daylight savings time so we all enjoyed an extra hour of sleep before meeting again at the start line for an 8 am start.

The weather was great for running – sunny and a temp of 34 F at the start and only warmed up into the low 50s during the race. There were about 300 runners in the race that started at Marshall University and looped through the downtown area and suburbs of Huntington. Since I had managed to run 40 training miles since the last marathon and the foot felt OK my goal was to run the entire race at a sub 10-min pace! I had to get the old legs used to going the distance!

I was a wee bit surprised when I passed mile 3 in 27:10 – I was starting out too fast? I passed mile 10 in 1:32:21 and the Half in 2:02:30. I was ahead of my target pace but already knew that the 2nd Half would not be as fast. When I passed mile 16 in 2:29:55 my foot started to hurt but it was just a constant, dull pain and since it didn’t get worse I quickly learned to ignore it!
When I reached mile 20 in 3:08:06 my legs were starting to tire as expected and my mile split had slowed to 9:51 (my slowest mile in the race). And as most runners know the race was just starting! But I was determined to run the final 10K at a sub-10 min pace! The next few miles were tough but when I reached mile 23 in 3:37:07 I knew I could finish the final 5 Km on sheer willpower. By then I had developed another blister on the injured foot (3 races in a row thanks to the new orthotics) but I just ignored it and crossed the finish line in 4:08:06.

As I crossed the finish line in the Marshall University football stadium and stopped the right foot tightened up and the plantar fascia told me very clearly that it was not happy with being pushed that hard! I had to limp to the car to get the camera for a finish line photo. I hoped that I had not aggravated the injury too much? But other than my concern about the foot I was happy with my time and the fact that I had been able to run the entire race. And I had taken another 20 minutes off my last finish time! However my foot was telling me that I had reached the lower limits of time and I may back off some at the next race. I have two weeks to rest/recover but then I head into the toughest part of my schedule – 3 marathons in 2 weeks! If I can get through that hump I should be OK?

But for now I am very happy that I have finished state #49 in my second loop around the States. I am really looking forward to completing this insane goal at Philly in two weeks!

Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

RR - Rhode Island

Race Report
Breakers Marathon
Newport, RI
Sat, Oct 20/07
Marathon #291 – State # 48 (2nd loop)

As I play catch-up on my race/trip reports the good news is that the reports will be shorter!

After I returned from Ecuador we were very busy. The Sports Manager had flown to Portland, OR to visit Jason and Ami while I was in Ecuador. We met at the airport in Denver and returned home to close up the house, pack the car and head back to FL for the winter. We drove through TX for a family reunion in Fort Worth and finally arrived in FL on Oct 16. We unpacked and started to settle in. I had an appointment with a podiatrist in Sarasota on Thu to get a second/better opinion on the foot injury? I did an easy 5-mile run before going to the Doc to test the foot? And I did get a better opinion. He told me that I could continue to run the busy marathon schedule I had planned as long as I could stand the pain!
The worst case scenario was that I might rupture the tendon which would mean surgery and 9 months of healing – or I could take 6 to 9 months off and let the foot heal before running again? He thought the risk of rupture was small if I didn’t push the foot during the races. He gave me a shot of cortisone in the foot and wished me luck!

My next marathon was scheduled for two days later – the Breakers Marathon in Newport, RI. Many of you will recall that I tried to run this marathon last year and had to drop out after 1 mile because of severe pain in my right leg. That pain was diagnosed as DVT a few days later and I have never managed to regain my ‘marathon shape’ since suffering that problem? I was disappointed in not finishing that race because I needed that marathon/state to complete a goal to run all 50 States a 2nd time. Thus I immediately registered to run the marathon again in 2008! My plan was to be fully recovered, healthy and kick ass during the fall marathon season in 2008! Well, here it was – one year later and time to go to Plan B? Just try to walk/run/finish the race so I could scratch the state off my list! I should be finished my 2nd loop by now! I am determined to finish this goal in 2007!

So I flew into Providence, RI on Sat and arrived after dark in a pouring rain storm. The weather was so bad I got lost driving to Newport and arrived around 9 pm – ate a late pasta dinner and went to bed and listened to it rain buckets all night. This sure was looking like a pleasant event? I had to rise early to find registration and pick up my race packet. The race director found a bigger/richer sponsor this year and changed the course so there were about 600 runners for the new marathon. It started at the Newport Yacht Club in downtown Newport. The finish line was at Easton’s Beach, about 1 mile away so I parked at the start line to pick up my race packet. Luckily the rain stopped around 7 am but the temps were higher than forecast – 64 F at the 8 am start but never rose above 66 F!

The registration and organization were good at the start and we started off at 8 am. The 1st Half of the course wound through downtown Newport, along Ocean Dr and past the famous mansions on Bellevue Ave. The foot felt pretty good after the cortisone shot so I hoped to average a 10 min/mile pace for the first 20 miles and then I expected the last 10K to get ugly! I had only run one 5-mile run since the last marathon and had not had time to do any cross training. The blister on my big toe had healed and I had worn the new orthotics for the past few weeks so I wasn’t expecting any further problems with blisters?

I passed 5 miles in 48:26 and the mansions at 11 miles in 1:47:27 to reach the Half at Easton’s Beach in 2:07:27. I was doing well – I had at least beaten the winners to the finish line and I still felt OK? The 2nd half followed the old marathon course through suburbs in east Newport. When I passed mile 15 in 2:28:19 I could tell that I had developed another/new blister on the same big toe! Damn – I still had a long way to go! I reached mile 20 in 3:20:33. I had achieved my 1st goal and realized my fears were starting to happen. My legs were already tired, the blister was starting to hurt – the last 10 K was going to be ugly! I struggled until mile 24 (4:05:12) and at that point decided that I needed to again suck it up, ignore the pain and get the ordeal/misery over with. I needed to finish under 4:30 to have any chance of making it back to my hotel in time for a shower before going to the airport. I managed to get the pace back down to a blazing 10:15 for the final 2 miles and crossed the finish line in 4:28:31.

I was happy with my time – I was happy that the foot (other than the blister) hadn’t hurt much – but I was not happy that my legs were in such pathetic shape and got so wasted the last 10K! I need to change that! And I definitely was not happy with the race organization at the finish line! There were supposed to be buses to shuttle runners back to the start line/parking every 10 minutes. It took 30 minutes to get back to my car and by the time I got back to the hotel they had locked me out of the room and checked me out! I had to towel off the sweat in the car and dress without a shower. I felt sorry for any passengers sitting next to me on the plane!

But most importantly I was happy that I had finally finished this marathon/state for the 2nd time and now I only have two more states to go to finish my goal. I run the 49th state this coming weekend in Huntington, WV. I managed to run 40 training miles in the past two weeks in the hope/expectation that those miles will strengthen and improve the condition of my legs. I also switched the orthotics to a different set of shoes and haven’t had any problems with blisters during the training runs. I am hoping that I can run a 10 min pace for an entire marathon?

Stay tuned!

TR - Ecuador

Oct 1 -8/07

Guayaquil Marathon
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Sun, Oct 7/07
Marathon #290 – Country #85

Sorry for the 3-week delay in writing this report but there has just been too many (exciting) activities and things to do since I returned from Ecuador – had to close up the home in CO, pack the car, drive to TX for a family reunion and finally arrived back in FL in mid-Oct. Then we had to open up the home in FL, fix the A/C and hot tub, see another doctor for the foot and leave almost immediately for another marathon!

So where do I start? At the end of the last report – the ADT Marathon in CO Springs – I had limped home with a serious injury to my right foot. Unfortunately X-rays and a MRI revealed that I had suffered a severe (60%) tear in the plantar fascia. The doctor advised me not to run for 6 to 9 months in case I ruptured the tendon. I believed his advice since it had taken 1 year to heal the other plantar fascia when I ruptured it completely in 1991. But this time the advice was not acceptable to Maddog!
I tried desperately to get a better prognosis and treatment for the injury but there is not much you can do to treat a tear in the plantar fascia. I certainly had a dilemma! After following other doctor’s advice to take the summer off from racing to let other injuries heal I had expected to be healthy and in good shape for the fall/winter racing seasons and had scheduled 10 marathons over the next 5 months!

I needed to complete those marathons to accomplish my goal of running Marathon #300 at my home town race in March 08! And not only had I scheduled and registered for all those races – I had prepaid most of the travel expenses! Thus I had to try to complete the races – either by walking/crawling – whatever it took! And the most immediate problem was that the next marathon/trip - only one month away - was in Ecuador!

I had booked this trip in May before I left FL. I had a lot of problems booking the race and a tour of Ecuador because of language difficulties. I finally managed to contact an English-speaking volunteer for the race and completed all the details just before I suffered the injury. It was too late to cancel the trip. I had to go even if I didn’t run the race! Since I couldn’t run or even walk without pain, I cross trained at the Rec Center in Silverthorne, CO for 3 weeks before I left for the trip. I tried one 5-mile training run a few days before leaving and that aggravated the injury and made the foot very sore so I could only hope that one week of touring around Ecuador and resting the foot would let it heal enough to run the race?

I arrived in Quito on Mon evening. A tour guide met me at the airport and drove me to my hotel. On Tue we started the tour and my education of the country and its cultures. Ecuador is one of the smallest countries in S. America and lies right on the Equator. The population is 13 million – and very few of them speak English! There is not much infrastructure in place for tourism (except for the Galapagos Islands). There are three distinct regions and cultures – the Coast, the Amazon and the Highlands with inhabitants dating back to 8800 BC.

Quito or Quitsa-to, the original name, means ‘middle of the earth’ in the ancient ‘tsafiqui’ language. Quito is the only site on the planet where the Equator crosses over highlands. Quito lies at 9,184 ft and is surrounded by active volcanoes – Pichincha (15,000 ft) to the west; Antisana (18,700 ft) to the east and Cayambe (18,725 ft) to the northeast. When the Incas invaded in the 15th century they destroyed the city and then the Spanish conquered the city in 1534 and destroyed it yet again. The old part of the city dates back to the Spanish period and Quito has been designated a ‘World Cultural Heritage Site’. We toured all the main tourist attractions in the old city – the Government Palace, the Cathedral. Plaza de la Independencia, and la Virgen De Quito on the summit of El Panecillo overlooking the city. And in a country where the average wage is $250/mth we visited the Iglesia de La Compania dating back to the 15th century where the interior is completely decorated in gold leaf?

In the afternoon we visited the Mitad del Mundo and Museo de Sitio Intan-Nan, a museum/attraction built on the Equator – Latitude 0’0’0’. The guide showed me some neat physical anomalies that occur only on the Equator – you weigh 2.2 Kgs less; water drains straight down and does not swirl clockwise (or counter-clockwise) like it does north and south of the Equator and the strangest one – you have more strength on the Equator?? Don’t understand the physics of the last one but I saw it with my own eyes?

On Wed I departed on an early flight to Cuenca, the 3rd largest city in the country located in the Southern Highlands. Cuenca was built on the ruins of Tomebamba, a city built by the Incas after they destroyed Guapondelig, a city built by the indigenous people called the ‘Canari’. At the Ruins of Todos Los Santos you can see ruins of Canari, Inca and Spanish constructions. Cuenca is at 8,315 ft and surrounded by 16,000 to 18,000 ft mountains and has four rivers flowing through it. It was the former Northern Capital of the Inca Empire. After touring the city with a private guide I invited him to join me for dinner and a local delicacy – guinea pig! It was quite tasty – and NO – it does not taste like chicken. It tastes like pork. The guide was the only person I met in the Southern Highlands who spoke English!

The following day my guide took me to the Inca ruins at Ingapirca north of Cuenca. It is the most significant archaeological site in Ecuador. The Canari used the area as a ceremonial and administrative center until the Inca conquered them and rebuilt the site. The ruins include a circular Temple of the Sun and the knowledge the Incas had of the sun and the solaces was remarkable! The guide drove to Ingapirca over some back roads through the Andes Mtns where we passed many indigenous Canari people. They still live and dress as they have for the past 500 years! We passed women washing their clothes in the river and men ploughing the fields with a wooden plough pulled by two bulls. I thought: “ This would be a neat and cheap place to retire. The Sports Manager could make lots of friends while washing our clothes in the river with the other women and I could have a beer with the men after ploughing the fields all day”! Yep – a nice, cheap place to retire!
On the way back to Cuenca we stopped in Biblian to visit a Cathedral – the Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Rock - that is built into the side of a mountain. The guide claimed that 50% of the male residents in Biblian had moved (illegally) to the USA and send back money to build new homes in the town. Half the homes in the town were new – and empty! I guess the illegal aliens don’t want to move back to their new homes?

On Fri I flew to Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, located on the Pacific Coast. It is the main port for the country and the financial capital. The city was founded by the Spanish on Santa Ana Hill in 1534 and was burned down many times by pirates! The city had a reputation for crime, clutter and being unsightly/dirty but the city government has made significant improvements in the past few years to restore and clean up the city. I was impressed with the changes that had been made. They completely restored Santa Ana Hill and gave the restored homes back to the poor people who lived there! They demolished the old harbor and rebuilt Malceon 2000 – a 5km pedestrian walk along the Rio Guayas. It is a pleasant area to walk along and enjoy a drink while watching the locals. The city is currently restoring another old neighborhood along the river called Las Perlas. The downtown financial area is very modern! I spent all afternoon walking around the downtown area and along Malceon 2000 exploring many of the tourist attractions such as the Cathedral, the Morrish Clock Tower and Hemicicio de la Rotunda – a historical monument commemorating the meeting of two Latin American liberators; Simon Bolivar and San Martin when it was decided that Guayaquil be annexed to the Gran Colombia. In spite of the very hot (85 F + 80 % humidity) weather I walked up the 444 steps to the top of Cerro Santa Ana. Near the end of my long walking tour I noticed that the new orthotics I had custom built to help the plantar fascia had caused a huge blister to develop on the bottom of the big toe on the right (injured) foot. When I returned to the hotel I had to switch the new orthotics to an old pair of cushioned insoles to relieve the pressure on the blister. Oh Goody – now I had another problem to deal with during the race!

On Sat I found the registration office at the old airport. Registration and packet pick up were not as well organized as we are used to. Runners had to line up while two volunteers checked and entered everyone into a computer. Took about an hour to get my packet but the race director was kind enough to introduce himself and welcome me to his race and the city.

Sun was M- Day! The race started at 5 am because the weather is tropical (hot & humid)! The race started at the Puente 5 de Junio (5th of June Bridge). I took a taxi since I didn’t want to aggravate the foot (and the new blister) with a 1-mile walk before the race. I had decided to forget the new orthotics and run with my old insoles. I lined up with about 600 runners. The weather was hot (temps in the 80s) and humid (80+ %) as expected. I went straight to the back of the crowd since I intended to walk most of the race! I was surprised to find a runner back there wearing a ’50 States’ T-shirt? He was from MN and experiencing problems similar to mine. He was healing from a stress fracture in his tibia and wasn’t sure if he could ‘run’ the entire race? We started out together – running – and the foot felt OK so we ran the first 8 km at a 10-min pace. The first half of the course was interesting and scenic as it wound through the downtown area, along Malceon 2000, through a tunnel under Santa Ana Hill and back to the bridge. My foot still felt OK at 8Km but I was concerned about how it would feel at 30 Km so I wished my new friend ‘good luck’ and let him leave me. I started to walk! Since there were water stations every 2 Km I decided that I would stop and walk at every 2nd station and drink lots of water to prevent dehydration. I passed 15Km in 1:34:09 and reached the Half back at the bridge in 2:20:27. I was happy with that time until I realized that the cheers from the spectators were not for me - the lead marathon runners were crossing the finish line at the same time! Damn – they were finishing the marathon and I was just starting the 2nd Half! Pretty demoralizing!

The 2nd half of the course was not near as interesting. It wound through some industrial and poor sections of the city. I became frustrated! My engine (cardiovascular system) felt good but the foot and legs could not keep up with it and the blister was starting to bother me. Maybe that was good? I became more concerned about the blister than the plantar fascia? I passed 32 Km in 3:37:16. I should be finishing by now! Thankfully the skies were still overcast which kept the sun from heating up the roads. My foot started to hurt and the blister started to grow bigger and hurt and I thought “I need to push the pace to get this over with sooner”! I tried but quickly realized there was no ‘push’ in the old legs. They were tired and starting to hurt due to the lack of actual ‘running’ in my training the past month! Cross training may keep the engine fit but it doesn’t do anything to keep your legs in shape! I started to struggle! When I finally passed 37 Km in 4:12:06 I decided I needed to suck it up – ignore the pain – and run the final 5 Km to get the misery over with. I somehow managed to get the pace back down to a blazing 7 min/km and crossed the finish line in 4:47:28. That was my PW (personal worst) for a road marathon (other than when I helped a friend through Boston after his quadruple bypass)! And I didn’t care!

I had finished my 290th marathon and 85th country! And my foot hadn’t fallen off or exploded/ruptured which was a good indication that I might be able to pull off the other nine marathons in my race schedule? The foot did hurt like Hell the next day as I headed off to the airport to catch the flight back to the US but I was still optimistic that I could continue to walk/run the other marathons?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

RR American Discovery Trail Marathon

Race Report
American Discovery Trail Marathon
Colorado Springs, CO
Mon, Sept 3/07
Marathon #289
3:58:23 - 1AG

I wanted/needed to run this marathon for a number of reasons:
a) it is close to home in CO and thus easy/cheap to get to
b) another marathon in my quest to reach #300 in Mar 08
c) needed a race to get me in marathon shape
d) needed to defend my Senior Title

I did not have much confidence in my conditioning/shape as I drove down to Colorado Springs. I had not run a marathon since early June since I took a 3-month sabbatical to rest and resolve the nagging leg cramps and my long distance runs for training included only two –15 milers! But you have to start somewhere and I needed a marathon/race to start getting me back into marathon shape for the upcoming Fall marathon season.

The race started at 6:30 am in ‘America the Beautiful Park’ (elev. 6200 ft) in downtown Colorado Springs. The course follows paved and dirt bike trails along Monument and Fountain Creeks to the North entrance of the Air Force Academy at mile 16. Miles 14 to 18 are a series of BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) that rise to 6500 ft elevation! I had run this race five previous times and won my age group each time including the last three consecutive years! Since the awards are beer mugs I needed to defend my Senior Title and complete my set of beer mugs! From my past experience with the race and course I figured a sub 4-hr finish would win my Age Group and that became my target as I lined up at the start with 200 other runners. I needed to start slow to save some energy for the BAHs and the final 10Km which I figured was probably going to be very ugly and painful because of my lack of long distance training?

The weather was the warmest I can ever recall (global warming?) with sunny skies and a temp of 60 F at 6:30 am. The temps rose quickly with the sun to the high 70s by the time I finished. I tried to start slow but my splits at mile 3 were 8:10s. As I reached the 1st turn-around near 3 miles I noticed another old fart only 500 ft behind me. He caught me at mile 4 and we ran together for about 1 mile and I let him pull ahead as I slowed my pace to my target range of 8:45 to 8:50. I kept him in sight through the 1st Half in 1:53:40. At that point my right plantar fascia started to hurt? It had been bothering me for the past few weeks but four days of forced rest before the race to heal an inflamed adductor in the right leg had seemed to heal both problems? It was also strange that the plantar fascia would flare up while running – it normally only hurts after you finish running? I ignored the pain and continued to follow the old fart into the BAHs.

I expected to pass him in the hills but when I closed within a few feet I decided to stay behind him through the BAHs. As we made the final turn-around near 16 miles I caught up to him and asked him what age group he was in? We were both relieved when he replied “55-59”. I informed him that we didn’t need to do something crazy and try to kill each other! As we raced back through the BAHs to mile 18 I picked up a pebble in my right shoe. I tried to ignore it but remembered what happened a few years ago at Pike’s Peak so when we exited the hills at mile 18 I stopped on the side of the course and removed my shoe and sock. That little diversion lost me more than 90 seconds and by the time I was back on the trail I couldn’t see the old fart – and never saw him again! I decided against trying to lower the hammer to catch him.

I passed mile 18 in 2:40:21. My right foot was killing me – each foot plant sent a shock of pain screaming up my leg. That 90-second stop had allowed the plantar fascia to tighten up! I had no choice but to ignore the pain and push on. I was too close to the finish line to quit! My pace slowed to 9:15s and when I reached mile 21 in 3:08:02 with a split of 9:35 I knew I was in trouble! I struggled to average a sub 10-min pace over the next three miles! My body was hurting and my right foot was killing me. I reached mile 24 in 3:37:48. I had 22 minutes to run/crawl the final 2.2 miles! I figured that was too close so when two youngsters passed me I decided to use them to pull me to the finish line. I dropped in behind them, blocked the pain/agony out of my mind and focused solely on staying with them. The pace dropped to 9:30 on mile 25 and 9:08 on the final mile as they dragged me across the finish line in 3:58:23!

I had achieved my goal of sub 4-hrs and successfully defended my Senior Title! But I was in excruciating pain! The second I crossed the finish line and stopped the plantar fascia tightened up and I was unable to walk without terrible pain. I almost had to crawl back to the car to get the camera for a standard finish line photo.

I limped back to the car again and returned to the hotel for a quick shower before returning to the finish area for the awards ceremony! It was embarrassing when I almost had to crawl to the podium to get my award. CRAP! They changed the award from a beer mug to a beer glass! I still don’t have a complete set of 6 mugs!

By the time I drove 2 hours back home the plantar fascia had completely frozen and I couldn’t get out of the car or walk into the house. I had to crawl to the couch and ask the Sports Manager to unload the car. I tried icing the foot most of the day and applied copious amounts of whiskey/medicine to the internal body in an attempt to alleviate the pain in my foot. All to no avail. When it came time for bed I had to crawl upstairs on hands and knees to go to bed!

I am hoping that ice and a visit to Peggi (de Sade) for a massage will help to reduce the pain and inflammation so that I can continue training? I have several marathons scheduled and paid for through the Fall season and cannot afford to be injured. Getting healthy again must be my top priority!

Fortunately my next marathon/race is not scheduled until the 1st week of Oct so I should have time to recover?

Stay tuned!

The ice didn’t work. A few days later a MRI revealed a severe (60% longitudinal) tear in the plantar fascia in my right foot. The orthoped advised that it would take 6 to 9 months to heal. I believed him since it took 1 year to heal when I ruptured the plantar fascia in the left foot in 1991. However at that time I didn’t have a next international marathon scheduled for 1 month later?


Sunday, August 12, 2007

RR Georgetown Half

Race Report
Georgetown to Idaho Springs Half Marathon
Georgetown, CO
Sat, Aug 11/07
1:44:25 - 5 AG

This half marathon is one of my favorite races in Colorado. It starts in Georgetown at 8500 ft and drops 1000 ft over rolling hills to finish in Idaho Springs at 7500 ft. It is considered a fast, downhill course and attracts more than 2000 runners each year – most of them ‘Big Dogs’ or fast/elite runners from Denver, Boulder and the Front Range. It is very competitive and I have never been able to place better than 5th in my Age Group in the five times I have competed in this race! I can’t afford to devote the time and effort for the speed work necessary to compete at this ‘short’ distance (that’s my excuse and I sticking to it!).

This year my friend Cynthia (aka Atilla the Huness) who is visiting from Sarasota joined me. After we climbed Mt Elbert (the highest peak in CO at 14,433 ft) on Thu we decided to rest on Fri for the big race on Sat. Since it is a point-to-point race, which makes the logistics harder, we invited Cynthia and Homayoun to have pasta dinner and stay at our place on Fri night. That way Cynthia and I could drive to the start early Sat morning and Homayoun volunteered to meet us at the finish line. My regular Sports Manager seemed very happy and content to relinquish her duties to Homayoun???

Thus Cynthia and I arrived in Georgetown at 7:15 am to allow time to prepare – stretch, etc. for the 8 am start. It was sunny and unusually warm – low 50s at the start. I warned Cynthia to start slow because the first two miles loop around Georgetown over rolling hills at 8500 ft. If you start too fast the altitude will kill you! I wisely followed my own advice and reached mile 2 back at the start line in16:03. I normally (always) finish this race under 1:40 so I needed to average a 7:30 min/mile pace. No problem as I started the 1000 ft descent over the next 11 miles? I passed mile 4 in 31:17 after two one- mile splits of 7:37. OH! OH! It was not looking good! I needed to lower the pace and I was already hurting and I knew right then that a sub-1: 40 wasn’t going to happen! I was beginning to realize that taking a summer off from racing and speed work is not compatible with expectations of racing fast times and being competitive!

I decided to back off/slow down to 7:45s to see if I could regain some energy? However when I encountered a few miles with lots of rolling hills my splits slowed to 8:15s! When I reached mile 10 in 1:19:30 I was hurting – really hurting- and I began to wonder if I would even be able to break 1:45? I considered saying “Fu** It” and cruising to the finish line but luckily Maddog jumped in (or should I say jumped all over me). He chastised me mercilessly for my ‘quit/give –up/wimpish’ attitude! He reminded me that I should not expect to be competitive in this race – especially after a summer without racing. My goal had been to use this race as a speed workout and to test my race conditioning. So I now knew the answer - my race condition sucked – it was pathetic! And the only way to improve it was to push the old bod as hard as possible to the finish line! A finish slower than 1:45 was totally unacceptable to Maddog!
Unfortunately everything he said was true and I agreed that it was necessary to accept pain and teach the old bod (yet again) how to deal with and run through PAIN! I struggled to reach mile 12 in 1:35:34. The (new) target was in the bag as long as I could keep my feet moving? However the final mile had some bad (but not BAH) hills as we approached the finish line in Idaho Springs. They felt like friggin Mt Everest! I started to become nauseous? I figured it was either because I was pushing my old bod beyond its limits or I was suffering some minor symptoms of altitude sickness because I was pushing too hard at the high altitude. No matter (as long as I didn’t puke in the middle of the course)! I ignored the nausea and pushed the old bod to cross the finish line in 1:44:25! The nausea disappeared almost immediately after I stopped (obviously altitude sickness from pushing too hard).

My new Sports Manager was at the finish line to take a photo. We waited for Cynthia to finish. She was aiming for 2:30 and when that time approached I walked back down the course to meet her and run in with her. Unfortunately I missed her because of cars parked on the course and missed cheering as she crossed the finish line in 2:32. She took one minute off her PR – at 8500 ft – so she was pleased.

Maddog was not pleased! He was very disappointed with the time but not with my performance. He was shocked that I had placed 5th with such a pathetic time? I had run a smart race and given everything I had but the finish time was a clear indication that I have a long and painful road ahead of me to get back into race shape/condition! I will have to start speed work next week to beat my fat, out-of-shape ass back into race shape! Unfortunately there is no easy or fast solution. It will take weeks of intense/dedicated and painful training to become competitive again. But nothing else is acceptable to Maddog!

I must show some improvement at my next race/marathon in early Sept!

Stay tuned for the race report – or Orbituary!

RR US Half Copper

Race Report
US Half Marathon Copper
Copper Mountain, CO
Sun, Jul 15/07
1:59:06 – 1AG

This was one of two races I had planned to run this summer because – “Are you sitting down”? - I am not running any marathons this summer (Jun/Jul/Aug)!
I am taking the advice offered by several doctors and my trainer during this past spring when I was suffering all the problems with DVT and cramps in my legs –“You need to take some time off from running/racing”! I interpreted that advice to mean marathons?

As most of you know I have not raced since the Christchurch Marathon on Jun 3rd. I have been doing ‘easy’ runs in the mountains and a lot of hiking and climbing 14ers. But I wanted to run a few Halfs in the mountains this summer as ‘speed work’. This race was the first. Last year this race/event was a full marathon but it was changed this year to a Half and organized as one of a series of National US Races. When I looked at the race entries I figured that it would be difficult to be competitive since there were lots of elite athletes registered to compete in the National Series? On top of that Chris and I had just completed a tough climb of three 14ers on Fri. Thus I wasn’t expecting much!

The race started at 9 am on Sun – a bit late even for the mountains. It was sunny and mid 50s at the start. There were 350 runners in the Half. The race started in the center of Copper Village (9600 ft) and the first mile was uphill for about ¼ mile, then dropped down towards the East Village. Because the course had lots of hills and climbed to 11,000 ft I figured it would be difficult to run an 8-min pace and had set a pre-race target of 1:50. By the time I reached mile 3 in 25:42 I was becoming concerned and when mile 4 turned off on to a rocky trail that traversed and climbed the Alpine Ski Run at Copper Mtn I knew that a sub -1:50 wasn’t going to happen. I soon realized three facts:
1) My legs weren’t as tired/trashed as I thought they would/should be after climbing six 14ers in the previous week?
2) I found myself (surprisingly) to be in 1st place in my Age Group when I made the turn at the top of the trail on the Alpine Run?
3) A sub 2-hr finish would probably win my AG

However we were about to start the toughest section of the course! When we returned to the East parking lot at the bottom of the trail (mile 4) the next 5 miles climbed from 9500 ft to 11,000 ft. near the top of Vail Pass! Mile 5 climbed back through Copper Village to a paved bike path at 9600 ft. The path climbed relentlessly for the next 4 miles. I knew I had to save some energy for the final 4 miles back down the path and it was a painful struggle just to hold an average 10:30 pace over those 4 miles to the top of Vail Pass.
I reached mile 9 and the turn-around at 1:26:02. I had 34 minutes to run the final 4.1 miles! I needed to run an 8-min pace on the 1400-ft descent back to Copper Village!
Thankfully I got some incentive/motivation when I saw that another old fart had closed within 1000 ft of me at the top of the Pass. I stretched out my stride and let gravity pull me down the bike path and mtn. I reached mile 10 in 1:34 - a split of 7:58! Surprisingly –and thankfully – my legs felt OK and I managed to hold that pace until I entered Copper Village and crossed the finish line in 1:59:06!

I was very pleased with my time and performance – and very surprised that I had been able to hold off some of the best runners from Denver and the Front Range? And since it was an inaugural race I have the honor of holding the course record for my AG – for at least one year! I did stick around and collect my award because it was useful – running gear!

I am again surprised that my legs feel amazingly fresh after the race so Chris and I are going to climb another 14er on Mon before he heads back to Seattle.

Stay tuned for the report!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

TR - Christchurch Marathon

New Zealand and Fiji
5/23 – 6/8/07

Race Results
SBS Christchurch Marathon
Christchurch, NZ
Sun, Jun 3/07
Marathon # 288 – Country # 84
3:40:25 – 5AG

Where were we at the end of the Fiji report – chapter 1 of this long trip? Oh yes – on a plane heading to Christchurch, NZ via Auckland. Let’s continue the story.

Recall that this trip was incubated in the Himalayas during the Everest Marathon (2005) when I met two Kiwi brothers (Robert and Dave) from Christchurch. They invited me to visit. I had been in contact with Robert – a very good ‘fell’ runner (finished 2nd at Everest). He invited us to stay with him. The plan was to arrive in CHC, stay 1 night with Robert and then head off for a 9-day self-drive tour of the South Island. We had toured the North Island with our kids about 20 years ago and were looking forward to touring the South Island. A slight kink occurred in the plan when I lost email contact with Robert about 1 month before the trip. Turned out that he had activated a Spam filter to get rid of Spam but it blocked all his email until he realized the problem. We re-established contact a few days before we left FL but I had already booked a hotel in CHC for our first night and couldn’t cancel the booking.

We had a 4-hour layover in Auckland and had to switch terminals. It was a wee shock when we went outside – the temps were in the low 50s and it was raining! We had to dig into our bags for a jacket! A big change from the weather in Fiji! Late May/early June is the start of the Kiwi winter. But we were lucky – after that brief rain in Auckland we enjoyed sunshine and above- normal warm temps for our whole trip. When we arrived in CHC at 7 pm Robert met us at the airport and drove us to our hotel. We discussed our plans for the tour and agreed to stay with him when we returned in about 9 days. He informed me that he was not going to run the CHC Marathon as planned because he had fallen recently during a training run in the mountains and cracked some ribs. His priority was to heal so that he could train for a 250 Km race across the Atacama Desert in Chile in Aug! But he had family and friends running in the CHC races and would provide support and cheers for us.

The next morning (Thu) I woke early and ran a hard/fast 10 miles around Hagley Park in the center of CHC. It was very nippy with temps in the mid 30s at 6 am. I realized that I had forgotten to pack cold-weather gear! After our rental car was delivered to the hotel we stopped on the way out of CHC at an ‘Outdoor Store’ to purchase some polypro tights and gloves! The Sports Manager did not feel well when she woke up – she thought she was experiencing the same symptoms she suffered many years ago when she had a minor stroke. By the time we reached the outskirts of CHC she had worked herself into a tizzy and was suffering anxiety attacks because she was worried that if she really were on the verge of a stroke there would not be proper medical care available in the remote areas of the South Island. I agreed it would be a problem and it would be safer to turn around and drive back into the city and visit the ER of the CHC Hospital. Thus we spent our 1st day in CHC in the ER where they did every possible test – a Cat scan, EKG, blood tests, etc. Happily all the tests were normal and the doctors assured us that there was no serious problem and we could continue our journey. We had to stay in CHC for the night and I enjoyed another hard/fast run in Hagley Park – but with gloves this time. We finally started our tour on Fri morning even though Nicole was still not feeling well. The symptoms seemed to come and go and after a few days I noticed that she was not eating well. After I convinced her to eat more the symptoms seemed to ease? She later found out when she visited her neurosurgeon in FL that these symptoms can be caused by long flights and jet lag. She announced that her duties of ‘Sports Manager’ were finished for long international trips!

Our first drive and stop was along the Banks Peninsula to the fishing village of Akaroa. It was such a lovely and quaint village that we would have stayed there for 1 night if it had not been so close to CHC (only 82 Km east). We had to move on and drove south on Hwy 1 to Oamaru an old Victorian town with many buildings built out of the local sandstone. We stayed the night in Oamaru and I had a very difficult run in the morning through the hills east of town. We continued our drive along the Otago Coast with a brief stop to view the Moeraki Boulders – giant spherical rocks on the beach that look like alien eggs? We continued on through Dunedin and turned inland through the Southern Alps to Gore and reached our destination – Fiordland or the Southwest Coast. We stayed in a beautiful little village called Te Anau located on Lake Te Anau. This setting was so beautiful that we immediately knew that we wanted to spend a few nights there. We found a lovely new motel on Lake Te Anau and then looked for the tourist center to book a cruise on Millford Sound. By that time we had learned some important facts:
a) Nothing is cheap in NZ
b) Hotels were the only reasonable expense. Since it was off-season we were able to negotiate rates around $100 NZ/night
c) Motels did have TVs and phones – some even had Internet access. However the TV was useless unless you wanted to watch reruns of ‘Get Smart’ (remember that show) in prime time. There is no cable TV in NZ – but they do have satellite TV. The government restricts Satellite TV to 3 stations: Sky News (either CNN or BBC), Sky Sports that shows rugby or cricket 24 X 7, and Sky Movies (like HBO). Most hotels offered Sky News (for a premium charge).
d) Meals were expensive! Breakfast ranged from $10 to $20 NZ so we usually bought a muffin ($3) at a bakery and a small orange juice ($3) for breakfast in our room. The hotels provided ‘free’ coffee/tea in the room. Dinner entrees ranged from $20 to $30 in a restaurant so we ate in Pubs (like the UK) that offered specials for about $10 to $15 NZ. A bowl of soup was $10 to $18 NZ! There were no ‘free’ side dishes. If you wanted bread you paid for it! (at least $4).
e) Beer/wine in a pub or restaurant was about $5 to $10 so we bought 6-packs of beer at the supermarket for about $10 and enjoyed a beer each day at the end of the drive and limited ourselves to one drink with dinner!
f) Gas was about $6/gal and as high as $8/gal in remote areas.

A friend had asked me to check out NZ as a potential retirement spot. I believe it would be cheaper to retire in San Francisco!

Back to Te Anau. A lovely town in a beautiful setting! I would love to go back there for a few weeks to hike on the many trails around Te Anau and Millford Sound. We booked a cruise on Millford Sound for the following day. It is a long but scenic drive into Millford Sound so I had to rise early and do a hard/fast run through the dark streets of Te Anau at 5 am. It was friggin cold! Temps near freezing! But I needed to do some speed work. I knew I probably couldn’t be competitive with the fast Kiwis but I didn’t want to embarrass myself with another 4-hr marathon! We enjoyed the scenic drive in to Millford Sound and the cruise was spectacular. The 18 Km-long Sound is hemmed in by sheer walls of rock that rise 4,000 ft. As you leave the dock the first sights you enjoy are the 5560 ft Mitre Peak and Brown Falls tumbling 520 ft into the sea. What amazed me was the vegetation including trees growing on the sheer cliffs of rock! Millford Sound is definitely a sight that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. The Sports Manager and I agreed that Te Anau and Millford Sound were the highlight of the NZ tour!

The following day was a short drive (172 Km) to Queenstown – the adventure capitol of NZ! It is located on the edge of the glacial Lake Wakatipu with stunning views of the Remarkables Mountain range. We expected Queenstown to be much larger – it reminded us of a small ski resort town in CO. We lucked in when the tourist center guided us into a new, boutique hotel situated in the hills just off the center of the town with fantastic views of the lake and town – only $125 NZ including a full NZ breakfast! And it was close to a bike path so I was able to do another speed work out along the lake. We visited most of the tourist sites including the famous AJ Hackett Bungy jump off the Kawarau Bridge (No – I didn’t jump!) and concluded the first day with a scenic through the gold mining town of Arrowtown and along Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. That evening we found a nice Pub in town that offered delicious lamb shanks as a special.

The next day we set off over the scenic but scary Crown Range Road past the Cardrona Ski Resort to Wanaka as we headed to the Westland National Park and the glaciers on the West Coast. We stopped at Thunder Creek Falls before we reached Haast Pass. The roads became a bit treacherous as we came around a blind curve or over a hill at 70 Km/hr to find a single-lane bridge? Thankfully there was not much traffic and we only had to stop once for oncoming traffic! We reached an entrance into Fox Glacier in the afternoon and hiked about 2 miles into a forest before we saw a paved road going directly into the glacier! Back to the car and drive to the damn glacier! We stayed in Franz Josef that evening and the following morning were disappointed to see rain and clouds. We couldn’t even see the tops of the mountains so decided there was no point in driving and hiking into the Franz Josef Glacier?

As we continued our tour north along the West Coast the weather cleared as we drove through Hokitika and Greymouth. We decided to turn back inland and head to Hanmer Springs. Hanmer Springs is called Waitapu (Sacred Waters) by the Maori for the thermal springs. It is a small Alpine village located 120 Km north of CHC. We explored the area and found a hotel close to the springs so that I could walk over to the springs and enjoy a hot soak. The hottest spring was 41 C – about the same temperature that I keep my hot tub at! The legs felt great the next morning when I did my final speed work out in preparation for the CHC Marathon.

Instead of driving back to CHC we decided to take a detour to Kaikoura on the East Coast. It is known for its whale watching and crayfish. We explored the town and decided to stay for the night to taste the crayfish. Crayfish is the Kiwi version of Maine lobster – and they are proud of it! $100 NZ for a crayfish dinner! We visited a local winery and bought an excellent bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that we took to dinner. I refused to pay $100 for a whole crayfish but did allow myself $50 for a Half that I enjoyed with the excellent wine. It was good but not any better than a $19.95 Maine lobster!

The next day (Fri) we drove back to CHC. We parked downtown, called Robert to let him know we had arrived and spent the afternoon touring downtown CHC. CHC is known as the ‘garden city’ for its many parks and gardens. Founded in 1856 it is the oldest city in NZ. There are many beautiful and historical Victorian buildings in downtown Christchurch. The CHC Tramway allows tourists to get on and off at 11 stops in downtown CHC. We visited Cathedral Square, Victoria Square, Christ’s College, Hagley Park and finished the day by picking up my race packet at City Hall. Then we followed Robert’s directions to his home in Halswell, a suburb on the south side of CHC. He had a beautiful new home – a surprise for a bachelor that spends all his time working and running? After we settled in his brother Dave joined us and we went drove downtown for a Thai dinner – lots of carbs!

On Sat morning the Sports Manager and I made a final drive tour up into the hills of Banks Peninsula overlooking CHC and Lyttelton Harbour. The hills are steep and covered with bike/hiking trails that the CHC runners use for training. The views are spectacular! CHC on one side and Lyttelton and Sumner on the ocean side. We returned the car to the rental agency on Sat afternoon since Robert volunteered to drive us to the race on Sun. Sat night I treated my support team to a pasta dinner.

Sum was M-day. There were 2500 runners in 3 races - Marathon/Half/10K – that started together at 9 am in front of City Hall. The weather was sunny and cool (high 30s F). The course was a Half Marathon loop that started at City Hall and followed the Avon River east for about 8 Km before returning downtown and through Hagley Park in the center of the city. We lucky marathoners got to run the course twice! Robert and Dave had a sister and other family members running the various races and told me that they would be cheering us along the course. Their Mom & Dad even cheered me on at one point along the course. I had some good training runs during our tour and felt that I could run a 3:40. Based on past times in my Age Group that would not be competitive but I told Robert that my goal was to start out at a 3:40 pace and assess the situation at 30 Km. If I still had energy in the tank I might try to push the last 12 Km?
I passed 5 Km in 24:49 – ahead of pace. 10 Km in 50:45 – still ahead of pace! I slowed my pace to reach 15 Km in 1:16:58 and the Half in 1:49:31. I was right on pace but not sure I could hold that same pace for the 2nd Half? When I reached 30 Km in 2:35:24 I felt OK and knew I could hold that pace for the final 12 Km – but I wasn’t sure that if I pushed the pace I wouldn’t ‘hit the wall’? And I saw Robert at that point taking photos and asked him if there were any old farts in front of me? He replied, “yes there were but they were too far ahead to catch”! So I wisely decided to hold the pace and re-evaluate at 35 Km. I passed 35 Km in 3:01:49. I had 32 minutes to run the final 7 Km. I decided to push the pace through Hagley Park since it felt familiar to me. I passed 40 km in 3:28:53 but suddenly my back started to tighten on me? I had never experienced that problem and I had to slow down to let the back loosen up. I was able to push the final 1 Km but it wasn’t enough and I crossed the finish line in 3:40:25! But I was happy with both my time and performance and I had not suffered any problems with leg cramps!

We returned to Robert’s for a quick but wonderful hot soak and shower and then Robert and I decided to go to the awards ceremony or ‘prize giving’ as the Kiwis call it. We couldn’t find the results posted anywhere so we went into the ceremony inside City Hall. I couldn’t believe it? There were 2500 runners in the races and half of them were at the ceremony. You would never see that kind of attendance at a US race! Unfortunately it dragged on too long including the Emcee asking Maddog to stand while he announced his accolades and accomplishments! As suspected I was soundly beat in my AG – finished in 5th place. 1st place ran a 3:15! A 52-year old Kiwi ran a 2:32! Those Kiwis are FAST!
As we were leaving the ceremony a sports announcer for a local radio station asked Maddog for an interview and that delayed us more.

We finally returned home in the afternoon so that Robert and Dave could cook a roast of lamb. Their Mom & Dad and sister joined us for dinner. Dave raises sheep on his Dad’s farm for a hobby and he supplied the lamb. It was so tender and scrumptious! I don’t understand why we can’t get lamb like that in the US?

On Mon we had a very early flight and Robert graciously drove us to the airport. We were on our way back to Fiji. We arrived in Nadi at 5 pm and were met by the staff of the Beachcomber Resort. I had learned that the best beaches in Fiji were on the out islands so I had booked a 4-day stay at the Beachcomber Resort. They didn’t seem to be affected by the coup and drop in tourism. Most of the island resorts were full and the prices were high – ridiculously high! Beachcomber Island is a small private island in the Mamanuca Islands – only a 30-minute boat ride from the mainland. I didn’t think I would like that sort of vacation or R&R but the Sports Manager said she would love it – and it would provide much-needed rest after a hectic 3 weeks of traveling!

I was correct – I hated it! The island was very small – took 10 minutes to walk around the entire island. There were some ’free’ activities like snorkeling and beach volleyball but everything else was expensive. I snorkeled one day and dove another but was still bored. We had a private bure (thatched hut) on the beach but there was no A/C, no TV, no phone and no Internet! Meals were included but they were all buffet and about as tasty as school cafeteria food! They assured us the water was safe to drink and since I didn’t have any marathons to worry about we drank it instead of buying bottled water. No store in the resort – had to buy everything at the bar! We didn’t have any problems (other than boredom) until the last night. The Sports Manager came down with an intestinal bug and was very sick. The final day was pure Hell for her. We had to check out at 10 am but our boat to the mainland left at 5 pm. I rented a lounge chair so she could lay in the shade and suffer all day! Our flight to the US departed at 10 pm. It was a long flight to LA. Fortunately we had to overnight in LA and that gave her a chance to go to bed and sleep. I felt great – did a long run along the beach near LAX and then enjoyed a great steak dinner. Thirty minutes later it all came back up! I had caught the bug. It was not a pleasant journey back home to FL the following day for either of us!

We have since recovered and I have already booked my next international marathon and flights – in Oct. The Sports Manager is not going!

This trip was perhaps a bit too long but we enjoyed both Fiji and NZ. We would go back to NZ in a heartbeat but have no desire to return to Fiji!

I am looking forward to the next trip/adventure.

Stay tuned for the trip report!

Footnote: I ended up taking a 3-month sabbatical to rest and try to resolve the nagging leg cramps that had plagued me for the past 6 months.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

TR - Fiji Marathon

Fiji & New Zealand
05/15 – 06/08/07

Race Results:
Fiji International Marathon
Coral Coast, Fiji
Sat, May 19/07
Marathon #287 – Country #83
4:02:26 - 4th OA – 2nd Male

Sorry about the delay in writing this trip report but we just tried to cram too many events into too tight of a time frame!
Now that we have moved and settled into our summer home in CO and our son has visited and thoroughly beat me up climbing 14ers during his visit I am ready and in need of a rest so I hope to get at least one report finished before we leave on another international trip?

So let’s get started!

The idea for this trip was incubated during the Everest adventure in 2005. I met two brothers from Christchurch, NZ and they invited me to visit and run a marathon in NZ. Since it is such a long trip I searched the web and running calendars to find another marathon in the South Pacific to spread the cost over two races. I came up with marathons in Fiji in mid- May and NZ in early June. That would work – we could spend one week in each country?
We wanted to use air miles for free tickets to Fiji and that required booking almost a year in advance because it is a popular destination and even then we had to extend the trip to a total of 24 days. We would spend one week in Fiji to run a marathon and play, and then travel on to NZ for 11 days and return to Fiji for 4 days of R&R! This would break up the long trip and reduce the effect of jet lag and the risk of DVT!

That was the plan. We booked our ‘free’ tickets and bought tickets from Fiji to NZ in the summer of 2006. When I booked the hotels in Fiji availability was scarce and rates not cheap. NZ we decided to leave wide open since we wanted to tour the South Island on our own. Little did we know that there would be a military coup in Fiji in Dec 2006?
The coup killed the tourist industry in Fiji and many tourists cancelled their reservations. That event helped us because the hotels reduced their rates to entice tourists back and we were granted the lower rates for our reservations. The race director informed us that the coup would not result in cancellation of the marathon and that events and turmoil had cooled down so we did not change our plans.

The Fiji Marathon is held on the Coral Coast which is on the west coast of the main island of Viti Levu so we booked a hotel close to the start/finish line. After a long flight to Nadi the first thing we noticed upon arriving at 5:30 am (2 days after leaving FL) was that the Fijians are very friendly and hospitable – and it was sincere. We arrived at our hotel after a bumpy and slow drive along the Queen’s Hwy. – about 120km south of Nadi. The hotel was a small boutique hotel and it was almost empty. Only 4 (of 19) rooms were rented! The coup was still affecting the tourist industry severely. But it was good for us during our whole stay because the Fijians were eager to serve and please the tourists that were there! We quickly learned that Fijians are serious about guests/tourists relaxing – there were no TVs and no telephones in the rooms and Internet access was hard to find! To be honest I didn’t like it!

We had arrived early Thu morning so we spent the rest of the day reconnoitering the area where our hotel was located. We were within walking distance of the small village of Korotogo that had one small grocery store and a short taxi ride to the fishing village of Sigatoka that had shops and restaurants. We went into Sigatoka in the afternoon for lunch and finished all our shopping for souvenirs the first day! We also arranged to hire our taxi driver – an Indian who spoke good English – to be a private driver/tour guide for Fri. It cost $100 FJ to rent a car not including insurance and gas. It cost $120 FJ to hire Babu for a day! That was a no-brainer and a wise decision! We were fortunate that our hotel was noted as the ‘gourmet’ restaurant in that area so we ate most of our meals there.
On Fri Babu drove us south along the Queen’s Hwy to Suva – the capital of Fiji. We stopped at a few ritzy resorts that seemed to have more tourists than the hotels in our area. We visited Pacific Harbour – an exclusive resort area with hotels, private homes, golf courses, etc but it was very isolated. Babu took us to a small native village where a guide escorted us through his village. He showed us one of only three native temples left on the island and explained how the Fijians in the village were self-sufficient. They live off the land using plants for food and medicines and to build their homes – like they have for several hundred years. Babu later explained that native Fijians own about 90% of the land in Fiji although the population is 51% Fijian and 49% Indian. The Indians were brought over by the British in the 1800s as indentured servants and stayed. There is a lot of animosity between the Fijians and the Indians. The Fijians don’t like to work and most live off the land. The Indians run the economy but have to lease most of the land and buildings from the Fijians! We arrived in Suva in time for lunch. Suva is big, congested, dirty and not nice. I would not recommend staying there! Babu drove us past most of the tourist spots – the Parliament Buildings (closed because of the coup), the President’s Palace (now occupied by a military commander), old churches and the harbour. A few hours to visit were all we needed.

We planned to hire Babu to take us into the interior and mountains on Sat but when we returned to the Coral Coast and picked up my race packet I discovered that the marathon was on Sat? I thought it was Sun? I couldn’t find pasta on any dinner menus – even the host hotel – but the chef agreed to cook pasta for us.

Sat was M-Day! The marathon was supposed to start at 6 am but we had already learned that nothing happens on time in Fiji. The start/finish was about ½ mile from our hotel. I lined up with 11 other runners for the marathon – all foreigners – no runners from Fiji! It was still dark but the temps were already in the 80s with humidity to match! The course included a 4 Km loop along a private road where our hotel was located before climbing a BAH (Bad ASS Hill) up to the Queen’s Hwy and along the two-lane hwy to the Naviti Resort where it turned around and returned to the finish line. The race director lined us up about 200m before the finish line and started the race. Maddog was the first runner across the finish line – looked good for the newspapers and TV cameras! But WHOA – what’s going on here? I slowed down and let the younger runners (I was the only runner over 50?) pass me and then I tried to stay behind them. There were ten of us in the lead pack. I stayed with them until we started up the BAH and I decided the pace was too fast. I let them go ahead but tried to keep them in sight. When I passed 5 Km in 24:35 I knew I had started too fast and slowed down more. I passed one runner after the BAH and kept the pack in sight until 10 Km – 51:22. I had slowed the pace and felt OK but was already concerned about the heat and the hills! The course followed the Queen’s Hwy along the coast so there were lots of hills and curves and it passed through several native villages.
It was early Sat so there was not much traffic on the narrow road. Water stops were located every 5 Km. When I reached 15 Km in 1:17:29 the pack had started to stretch out and I had lost sight of the leaders. I was beginning to wonder when I would see them on the return leg? I passed 20 Km in 1:44:25 and still hadn’t seen the lead runners? But I didn’t have to wait too long. As I reached the Half in 1:50:30 the lead male runner flew by me. I knew I wouldn’t see him again. Then the two lead female runners flew by. They were only 100 ft apart and I figured that was going to be a tough race (turned out they finished 1 min. apart). I passed one more male runner when I entered the Naviti Resort before the turn around at 24 Km. I passed 25 Km in 2:11:33 and was starting to hurt but could see two more male runners in front so I continued to push. I passed the 2nd runner just before I reached 30 Km in 2:38:21. By then I was hurting and I knew I was becoming dehydrated because I couldn’t think clearly. I was confused and couldn’t remember how many male runners were still ahead of me? I asked the runner as I passed and he confirmed that there were still 3 male runners (and two females) ahead of us. I knew I couldn’t catch the lead male or the two females but if I wanted to take home some silverware I needed to catch one more male because the awards only went to the top three runners in each sex! So I let Maddog talk me into continuing to push the pace for another 5 Km. But I grabbed two bottles of water at the water station – 1 bottle inside and 1 bottle outside to cool down hoping that would ease the dehydration? It didn’t! By the time I approached 35 Km in 3:06:01 I was in serious trouble. I was overheated, dizzy and nauseous – all symptoms of serious dehydration and heat stroke!

I had promised myself that if I didn’t see any runners ahead when I reached 35 Km I would slow down. It wasn’t difficult to keep that promise! The second I passed 35 Km my body and mind shut down! I started to walk and grabbed 3 bottles of water in a desperate attempt to re-hydrate. I was in BAD shape! The water seemed to help ease the nausea and after a few minutes I tried to jog. That lasted about 1 minute before my body shut down again and the nausea returned. There was not going to be a quick recovery/cure! The next 5 Km were pure Hell and agony! I kept looking over my shoulder expecting one of the runners I had passed to catch me. And each time I tried to jog I would last about 1 to 2 minutes before my body would just shut down again.

I reached the BAH at 40 Km in 3:47:02 – 41 minutes to walk/crawl 5 Km! And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it! I walked up the BAH with still some hope/desire that I could finish the race under 4 hrs? At the top of the BAH I valiantly tried to run the final 1 Km to the finish line. Didn’t last long! My body shut down again after 1 minute and I reluctantly accepted that sub-4 hrs was not going to happen. I would be happy to cross the finish line ALIVE! Finally as I approached the final corner about 500m before the finish line I sucked it up and managed to jog to the finish line and crossed it in 4:02:26! I was so nauseous that I wanted to throw up but started drinking tons of water instead hoping that I could replenish the much-needed fluids that my body needed. The sports manager tried to talk to me but I was hurting too much and was too sick to stand still. I vaguely remember her telling me that I was the 2nd male finisher but that didn’t make sense to my confused mind?

Finally I felt well enough to walk back to our hotel where I drank a liter of hi-carb sports drink to replenish electrolytes. That turned out to be a BIG mistake. It didn’t stay down more than a few minutes. Everything came back up but I felt much better! That has happened twice before – both times at Boston when I pushed my body beyond its limits!

Now that I felt much better I was able to enjoy a nice hot shower and we returned to the awards ceremony. I was even able to enjoy a beer! I was very shocked when the race director announced that I had finished 4th Overall and 2nd place Male? I guess those other two male runners must have dropped out? In addition to that award I also received an award for being the oldest male participant in all the races. I am not sure that is good?

Now that the race was over we could get back to exploring Fiji. Not so easy. Turned out that on Sun the island closes down. Shops are closed – none of the tours operate – and all the museums/public buildings and Parks close! There was no point in hiring Babu to drive us anywhere. We ended up spending the day with a long walk along the beach and walking over to a nearby resort (the Outrigger). It was big – it was fancy – it was nice – but a massage cost $120 FJ and breakfast cost $33 FJ. We considered celebrating with a nice dinner at that resort but I couldn’t convince myself to spend $150 FJ. Instead we found a local restaurant on the beach and enjoyed a delicious red snapper cooked in Fijian style for $30 FJ including beer!

We were booked to stay on the Coral Coast until Tue but we decided to move into Nadi a day early so we could explore that area of the island. Also the beaches on the Coral Coast were not very good. They were nice to look at but there was lots of coral and rocks and some kind of plant that looked like water snakes. They were not dangerous but were scary? We hired Babu to drive us into Nadi and make a few tourist stops along the way. Our first stop was at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes – huge (20 to 60 m high) sand dunes along the ocean. We hiked about 45 min through the dunes and decided they were not as spectacular as the sand dunes in CO. Thus don’t waste your time if you visit Fiji! Next we stopped at the Tavuni Hill Fort –a defensive fort built by the Tongan chief Maile Latumai in the 18th century and destroyed by the British in 1876. The fort overlooks the Sigatoka River and Valley known as the ’salad bowl’ of Fiji because most of the vegetables are grown in that area. We continued into Nadi to make stops at the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami (Indian) Temple, the market and downtown. Nadi is the 2nd largest city and is also dirty, congested and not nice!

Fortunately and wisely we had booked a small hotel north of Nadi close to the airport on Wailoaloa Beach. It was a nice area with a few modern hotels and the beach was much nicer than those on the Coral Coast. And although our hotel room had no TV, phone, Internet, etc – at least the lounge had a TV and we were able to catch up on news on CNN and BBC! On Tue we booked an Eco-Tour into Koroyanitu National Park. Four native villages had donated their lands to the country to form the National Park in exchange for government assistance to set up an economy based on Eco tours. The native Fijians from those villages guide tourists on hikes into the Park and allow them to visit their villages. We were joined on our tour by a honeymoon couple from Cleveland, OH. Our native tour guide escorted us on a hike to a scenic viewpoint above the village of Abaca where we enjoyed panoramic views of the Highlands and the Mamanuca Islands.
Then we were ‘invited’ into Abaca. There is an ancient and traditional protocol that must be followed when visiting a Fijian village:
a) You must be invited
b) You must bring a sevusevu (gift) of yaqona (kava)
c) Your legs must be covered with a sulu or sarong
d) You must not wear a hat or sunglasses in the village
e) You must remove your shoes before entering the bure of the turaga-ni-koro (chief)
f) You must participate in a kava ceremony before visiting the village

There are other rules but those are the main ones. Our tour guide brought the kava on our behalf. Since I was the oldest male in our group I was designated the ‘visiting chief’.
After we were welcomed into the chief’s bure the chief and other natives began the kava ceremony. A young woman takes the kava - ground powder from the root of a kava tree/plant. She puts it into a cloth and passes water through the powder into a large wooden bowl that is made specifically for the kava ceremony. OH! OH! I see Fijian revenge coming on since they use water from a local stream? This process produces a thick, brown liquid that looks like mud! The liquid is narcotic! A European drug company uses the kava root to produce an anti-depressant similar to Valium!
The chief blesses the kava and takes the first drink. He then offers a small wooden bowl of kava to the visiting chief – me! Before accepting the bowl of kava I must say “bula”, clap once and accept the bowl with two hands. Then I must drink the complete bowl of kava without the bowl leaving my lips and return the bowl to the chief. I finish by clapping three times and saying “bula” to show that I appreciated the kava. Then the chief repeats the process with all the guests. It is an insult to refuse the kava or not to drink the whole bowl!

Fortunately the kava does not taste as bad as it looks! It numbs your tongue and mouth! I was the only guest to accept seconds – after all I was the visiting chief! After the kava ceremony the young woman escorted us around the village showing us how they are self-sufficient. They grow vegetables/plants in addition to harvesting natural plants from the tropical forests. Their houses were built from bamboo. The village has a central kitchen where all meals are cooked. I did note that the village had a central generator and each house had one light bulb – and a TV and DVD! I told the Sports manager that we should move there because it would be cheap retirement living? I won’t comment on the look I received? But we both agreed that it was the best tour and activity that we enjoyed in Fiji!

After a great farewell dinner at our hotel we rose early on Wed for our flight to NZ where the adventure continued and will be the subject of the next report.

Stay tuned!