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!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Central States Marathon

Race Report
Central States Marathon
Ames, IA
Sun, May 13/07
# 286 – State # 47 (2nd loop)
3:47:37 - 2 OA

I apologize that this report is two months late but I had a very hectic travel schedule after the race. Better late than never?

I needed to run a marathon in Iowa to continue my (silly) quest to finish the 50 States for a 2nd time. The Central States Marathon was the only race in IA that fit my schedule for the year even though it was not convenient since I would have to leave on the following Tue for the South Pacific- i.e. I would only have one day to get ready and pack for a long trip!

There were a few benefits to picking this race. A friend, Rick K. from Tampa was also running and we agreed to share expenses and the cost of the race was $10! No entry fee but we had to join the Ames Running Club to get our free entry! Rick and I flew out separately from Tampa on Sat and met in Des Moines for a short drive to Ames. We checked out the route to Brookside Park to make sure we knew the route and then enjoyed a traditional pasta dinner.

It was a very small and informal race. The race was on Sun and 47 runners had the option of starting at 6 or 7 am. You just signed in at the appropriate hour and your time started from that hour! We chose to start at 6 am to enjoy cooler weather and finish earlier so that we could catch our flights home. The weather was sunny and cool (50s F) when we started but it was forecast to reach the low 80s. About 35 runners started at 6am. Rick and I had returned to the rental car to change into singlets for the warmer weather and the race started (on time) as we were walking back to the start line! We had to sprint to the start line and then turn around and chase the group! It took about 1 mile to catch/pass most of the runners. Finally I pulled up behind the 3rd place runner – a young male runner from Des Moines. I confirmed that there were only two runners (male) in font of us. The course was a 5.25-mile loop that consisted of a 3.75-mile loop back to the start/finish line followed by a 1.75-mile loop. Since I had no idea where the loops went I decided to stay with the young runner until we finished the first total loop. At the turn-around on the smaller loop we met the two lead runners who had about ¼ mile lead. We reached the start/finish line at the end of the first 5.25-mile loop in 44:54. Since there were no other distance markers on the course that was the only gauge I had to set pace. I calculated that if I could hold that pace I would finish in 3:45. I still didn’t have much confidence that I could run that fast without suffering cramps in my legs so I decided to hold that pace and see what happens?

I soon left the young male runner behind and continued to chase the two lead runners. At first I thought that I would be bored with the short 5.25-mile loop but it turned out OK. Many of the runners were fellow members of the 50 State Club trying to add another state to their list and I knew most of them. So we kept passing each other through the race and eventually I even lapped some of them. By the time I had completed my 3rd loop in 2:14:53 (fairly even 45-min splits) the 1st place runner had increased his lead to almost 1 mile but I was still within ½ mile of 2nd place. I decided to hold the pace for the 4th loop.
I completed the 4th loop in 3:00:19 but was starting to tire. However I was closing the lead on 2nd place so I used the course layout to my advantage. I convinced myself that I could hold the pace for at least the next 3.75-mile loop and then assess the situation for the final short loop. When I returned to the finish line for the 9th time the lead runner had just crossed the finish line and won the race in 3:30. But I could now see the 2nd place runner in front of me and he was fading. That was enough incentive to accept some pain and continue to push the pace! I caught and passed him near mile 25. I was hoping he wouldn’t respond because I didn’t have much left? Fortunately he was hurting too much to respond and wished me good luck. At that point I figured there was no reason to continue to hurt so I slowed down and cruised to the finish line in 3:47:37!

I was pleased with my time and place – 2nd place overall! I was even more pleased that I had not experienced any cramps in my legs! Maybe those problems were finally behind me? Because the race was so small the race director was handing out awards as runners crossed the finish line. He offered me an award – a second hand trophy from another race! I graciously refused. I didn’t need another running trophy. I only accept awards that are unusual/unique or practical like running gear.

I then had to wait for Rick to finish but there were lots of other friends still on the course so I cheered them to the finish line. One running mate from the UK was in the race so I walked/jogged about ¼ mile of the course with him to catch up on the latest news in the UK. Finally Rick finished in 5+ hrs and we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and back to the airport.

I arrived home late and thus had only one day to prepare and pack for a 3-week international trip to the South Pacific for two marathons/countries. Now I have to write the trip reports for those races and they will be much longer.

But I did finish state #47. I only have three states left – RI, WV, PA – the same three states that I should have finished last year but missed due to that darn DVT/blood clot! I will finish them and my quest this fall!

Stay tuned for the reports!