Tuesday, April 10, 2007

TR Santiago Marathon

Mar 28 – Apr 05/07

Santiago International Marathon
Santiago, Chile
Apr 1/07
Marathon # 284 – Country # 82
3:50:19 – 2AG

I started planning for this marathon/trip last fall when the Sports Manager and I were running three marathons in two countries (Argentina and Uruguay). I had asked my friend (Francisco) from Buenos Aries if he had run the Santiago Marathon and if he would meet us there for the next marathon in 2007?
I started booking the air travel and hotel as soon as we returned home.

There were a few unfortunate surprises as we packed to leave. Francisco could not join us because of work commitments and I had picked up a bad cold on the return flight from Korea a few weeks earlier and was feeling sick. I was hoping that I would recover in the few days we had before the race.
As usual most flights to S. America are red-eyes so we arrived in Santiago at 7:30am on Thu. We checked into our hotel in downtown Santiago and set off to explore the city. We were in a shop around 12 pm when suddenly the shop owner and the security guard scrambled to close the iron shutters at the front of the store. Thousands of young students were marching past downtown stores on their way to the University. They were celebrating the anniversary of a protest 22 years ago when two students were killed by the military government. They celebrated their right to protest – by protesting? The shop owners obviously had seen this before because everyone locked their stores and pulled the security bars down? After the students passed our block we left the store and went in the opposite direction to get away from the protest and made our way back to the hotel for a nap.

A few hours later we decided to do some more exploring. When we reached the lobby hundreds of residents were streaming by the hotel with scarves over their faces? When the security guard opened the door to let some people into the hotel we got a whiff of tear gas that made our eyes sting and tear. Apparently the protest had turned ugly and the police/military had used tear gas on the students. Our hotel was only one block from the university so we sat in the lobby and watched the action for about one hour as many students and citizens scurried by. Whenever somebody ducked into the hotel we would get another whiff of tear gas – we had front row seats to the riot! Finally the crowds thinned out and we decided to venture outside against the advice of the hotel staff. We went in the opposite direction and didn’t have any problems but every store downtown was locked and barricaded. We bought a bottle of wine and some cheese and returned to our room for a picnic. After the picnic we decided to walk downtown to find a restaurant but the hotel staff stopped us and warned us that it was not safe to go outside. This time we followed their advice and retreated to the hotel restaurant for a nice traditional Chilean dinner.

On Friday everything in the city was back to normal. We took a city tour in the morning to get the layout of the city while touring most of the tourist sites in the downtown area: Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, Mercado Central, Cerro Santa Lucia, Palacio de la Moneda (President’s office) and the Barrio Bellavista – an upscale neighborhood with lots of pubs and restaurants. We had the tour guide leave us there so we could take a funicular to the summit of Cerro San Cristobal. Santiago sits in a big bowl surrounded by the Andes and Coastal Mtns. On a clear day (and fortunately Fri was one of those few days) you can see the entire city and both mountain ranges from Cerro San Cristobal – a spur of the Andes that is 860m high and topped with a 22m statue of the Virgen de la Immaculada.

By the end of our tour my cold had congested my sinus so badly that I went to a local pharmacy for help. In these countries you can speak to a pharmacist and get drugs over the counter that would require a prescription in the US. I bought a spray mist and it worked so well that my sinus/nose started to run like a water tap and I couldn’t turn it off. Back to another pharmacy. This time I asked for a pill that would clear up the sinus. It worked well also but knocked me flat on my ass! I was like a walking zombie so we had an early dinner and I went to bed and slept 12 hours!

On Sat morning I felt much better and we headed off to Parque Araucano to pick up my race packet. The park is about 15km east of downtown. I learned that the race started and finished in the Park – they had changed the course from the one posted on their website? Fortunately I was able to find a few volunteers that spoke English so I was able to learn all the important facts I needed. We would have to take a taxi to/from the race on Sun. By the time we returned to the hotel, I was sliding downhill fast with the cold. I went to bed with a high fever and hot/cold sweats and stayed there for the rest of the day. The cold seemed to peak late Sat night but I was very concerned about how well I would be on race day?

Sun was M-day. I felt better but was still suffering from a mild fever and had developed a bad chest cough. I really didn’t want to run the marathon but didn’t have a choice (spent too much money to get there) so we took a taxi to the Park and I lined up with 5000 runners for the 8am start. Fortunately the weather was nice- a temp of 9 C and foggy. It stayed foggy until the last ½ hour of the race so heat was not a problem. There were about 600 runners in the marathon and 4,000 in the Half. They seeded all the marathoners at the front which was foolish because as soon as the race started we had the fast Half racers almost bowling us over? I wasn’t sure what to do. I have run a few races under the same circumstances and learned that no matter what you do you are still going to run out of energy by 20 miles because the body is tired/weak from fighting the illness!

Thus I let myself be carried along with a fast group and passed 5Km in 25:47. If I had not been sick that would have been my target pace so I decided to stay with it. When I passed 10Km in 51:08 I was coughing and hacking and already starting to struggle. At 15Km (1:17:01) I passed our hotel and seriously thought about detouring to my bed. However I hung on and passed the Half in 1:48:53 but I could already tell that the 2nd half was going to get ugly! By the time I reached 25Km in 2:11:08 I was struggling to hold a 5:40/km (9 min/mile) pace. When I reached 30Km in 2:38:31 there was no energy left and I switched to ‘survival’ mode and started playing mental games because I knew that sheer willpower was the only thing that would get me to the finish line. When I reached 35Km in 3:07:57 Maddog and I started having a fierce /angry discussion – I wanted to walk and he refused! At that point a young Chilean runner passed me and asked me if I was OK? I guess if I looked as bad as I felt that was a reasonable question? Anyways he decided that he was going to stay with me to the finish line. At first I was appreciative because he used all the standard mental and motivational tricks to keep me moving. But a few Km later I wanted to kill the whining, mean bastard so he would leave me alone and let me die in peace! He refused to go away and when we reached 40Km in 3:39:15 I decided that I needed to dig deep and stay with him for the final 2 Km. He dragged me across the finish line in 3:50:19.

I grabbed my new friend and thanked him sincerely for his kindness and effort to carry me to the finish line. I would have finished at least 3 to 4 minutes slower without his help. I found the Sports Manager to take the obligatory finish line photo and asked if the results would be posted at the finish line – not until later that day. I later learned that my official time was 3:50:19 and 2nd place in my age group.
We returned to the hotel for a hot soak and then headed over the Barrio Bellavista for some Chilean food and beer. I believe that I felt better after the race than I did at the start line – I always believed that a hard run raises the body temp and burns up the bad germs/bugs?

On Mon we had decided we would leave the city and tour other parts of the country. We planned to drive over to the Pacific Coast and to Mendoza, Argentina. Our plans quickly hit a snag when the rental agency warned us that the car could not be taken out of the country. Bummer! Since we were playing this part of the trip by ear we drove to Valparaiso first. Valparaiso is one of the most memorable cities in Chile. It is spread over an amphitheatre of hills encircling a wide bay along the Pacific Ocean. The hills are covered with brightly colored houses and most of the hills are so steep that there are no roads. There is a network of 15 funiculars to take people to their houses. The few roads they have along the coast are so congested that we explored but decided to drive further north to Vina del Mar to find a hotel. Vina del Mar is Chile’s biggest seaside resort and has lots of nice beaches, hotels, bars, etc. We booked a hotel overlooking the Ocean and planned to enjoy a nice seafood dinner. However I had a relapse of the sinus congestion/fever and had to go to bed without dinner.

The following day we decided to drive through the wine valleys and up into the Andes Mtns. Although we couldn’t cross the border we wanted to visit the Portillo Ski Resort that is only 7 Kms from the border. It was not what we expected! The Andes Mtns are very rugged but desolate. There is very little vegetation/trees. The road climbs steeply via switchbacks (no guard rails) from 500m to 3500m and there are lots of transport trucks since it is the main highway between Chile and Argentina. A scary drive! The Portilla Ski Resort is an exclusive ski resort located at 3150m overlooking the Laguna del Inca. The views are very rugged and spectacular. And it was definitely nippy at 3000m! Nevertheless we decided to spend a night there with only one other couple so we enjoyed great service. I did manage to hike up into the Andes along the lake to get some photos for y’all.

Now what to do? Return to the city or back to the beach for our final night? By then the Sports Manager was coming down with ‘the’ cold and neither of us wanted to suck in the smog in Santiago so we decided to drive back to Vina del Mar, rent another room on the beach and finally enjoyed a scrumptious seafood dinner. Since we had a late flight out of Santiago we explored Vina del Mar in the morning and then stopped in the Casablanca wine valley on the way back to Santiago and the airport.

So it was good trip – would have been much more enjoyable without the cold/illness. Chile is nice but I would recommend Argentina or Brazil for anyone making a first visit to S. America.

We are back home still suffering from this ‘cold from Hell’ that won’t go away! Fortunately we have 5 weeks to rest and recover for the next international marathon/adventure.

Stay tuned!

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