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!

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