Friday, May 09, 2008

TR Venezuela

Trip Report
May 2 -5/08

Race Results
42K en la cuidad
Caracas, Venezuela
Sun, May 4/08
Marathon # 303 – Country #91
3:57:21 – 5AG

ONE down – NINE to go!

And this marathon/country was sort of a bonus! I had concluded a few years ago that the marathon in Caracas must have been discontinued because I couldn’t find any news about it. However when I was browsing the NET in early Spring I noticed a brief review about a marathon in Caracas in May, 2007? I tried to find more info but all my searches were fruitless. As a last resort I tried a back-door approach and searched for running clubs in Caracas. That search led me to a Hash Harrier Club and I sent them an email. Finally some success! The GM of the Hash Club, Fredy contacted me. Although he didn’t run marathons or road races he offered to help me. Sure enough about one month later he emailed the website of a Sports Agency that was organizing a marathon in Caracas in May. Several emails to them went unanswered so I asked Fredy to call them and shake them up. Soon I got a response from the race organization that confirmed the date and location of the marathon. I booked my flights and then ran into more problems and blank walls. The race organization (again) would not respond to my requests for more info about hotels, registration, etc? Once again I had to turn to Fredy for help. There were several travel advisories issued by countries warning their citizens about crime/safety in Caracas so I was concerned about booking a hotel in a safe area and also transportation. Fredy confirmed that the Marriott Hotel was located in the new financial district that was modern and safe and close to his place. And then finally he informed me that he and the Hash Club had decided to adopt me and take care of me during my weekend visit.

Fredy had a friend (Ivan) who owned a taxi so we hired him to be our private taxi/driver for the weekend – at a cheaper rate than hiring regular taxis or renting a car. And it alleviated my concern about transportation – the advisory warned that taxi drivers often robbed or kidnapped tourists/customers! Thus when I arrived in Caracas on Fri afternoon I was met at the airport by Fredy, Ivan and another member of the Hash Club (Jose) who escorted me back to my hotel and checked me in.
Later Fredy and Jose met me at the hotel and we walked a few blocks to their favorite bar because I had promised to buy beers to thank them for all their help. The bar reminded me of a Venezuelan version of “Cheers” – it was full of locals and neighbors that all knew each other. I met Fredy’s kids and many of his friends and a few more members of the Hash Club including a few ex-pats from the UK. They quickly made me feel like I was part of the group!

On Sat morning Fredy and Ivan picked me up to drive me to Race HQ and packet pick-up in the Parque del Este. The race organization had pre-registered me so all I had to do was pay the fee ($25) and pick up my packet. As we waited in line around 10am both the locals and I complained about the heat and commented that the final 10Km of the race would be brutal if the weather was as hot on Sun?
After we got my packet Ivan drove us around some parts of the city before we headed north to the Parque Nacional EL Avila. I had visited Venezuela and Caracas twice before so was not interested in seeing the few historic buildings in the old city. I agreed with Fredy that it would be more interesting to ride the teleferico (cable car) to the top of El Avila (2175m). The cable car had not been operational on my last two visits but had been refurbished and opened by a German company in 2002. It offers panoramic views of Caracas on the ride to the top. From the summit you can see almost all of Caracas (6 Million people) lying to the south and the Caribbean Sea on the North. And the weather was much cooler and more pleasant at the top! After a few enjoyable hours at the top of El Avila we returned to the hotel and my minders let me have the rest of the day to myself to shop for some souvenirs and enjoy an early pasta dinner. As we departed I handed out team uniforms for my support team – T-shirts and caps from Longboat Key!

Fredy and Ivan picked me up at 5:30am since the race started at 6:30am in the University Stadium. As I left the hotel I noticed that it had rained during the night and the skies were still overcast. Good thing we left early because we had to walk a long distance after parking and I still had to pick up the timing chip before the race. Fredy introduced me to a few friends that were running the marathon or Half including the only other Gringo running the marathon – an expat, Peter, from the UK who was running his first marathon. We both hoped that the skies would remain cloudy and continue to drizzle to keep the temps from climbing from the high 70s too rapidly? There were 1500 runners - 400 in the Marathon and 1100 in the Half. The course was a Half marathon loop that started and finished in the University Stadium. The course was relatively flat and fast except for a few rolling hills and three short/steep overpasses. The races started 15 minutes late because of a logistical error – the race organization didn’t hand the timing chips out until the morning of the race and 1500 runners were lined up waiting for their chip?

On the first loop I had lots of company and the city had closed down all the lanes on one side of the major roads and blvds for the runners so we didn’t have to worry about traffic. I had decided that I would run smart because of the heat and humidity. I hoped to start out at a 5:20/Km pace (8:30/mile) and re-evaluate at the Half? There were no distance markers until 5Km which I passed in 27:17 – a bit slower than planned? There were water stations every 2 Km and I made sure to drink lots to prevent dehydration. After 5 Km there were distance markers every 1Km which really helped. I passed 10Km in 53:57 – about a 5:25 pace so I decided to stay with that pace. The course started to loop back toward the stadium and as I passed 15Km in 1:21:07 I noticed that my shoes were soaked and sloshing from the sweat pouring off my body and I still hadn’t made a pit stop which was unusual. So I increased my water intake at each water station and started pouring water over my head to cool down.

When I entered the Stadium at the Half and detoured around the timing mats for the Half finish line I was surprised to find several photographers and TV crews shouting my name (Mr. Wallace/Maddog) and requesting that I smile for the cameras? The TV cameras followed me around the track and finally when I exited the stadium it got lonely quick. I had passed the Half in 1:54:58 and I could already tell that my legs were starting to get heavy with the heat and humidity and I knew that 2nd Half would not be as fast. I figured I would be lucky to finish under 4:00? I could see runners in front of me and slowly started to pull them in? However the city had now opened all the lanes but one to traffic so we had to watch for cars/buses, etc and especially buses as they pulled in and out and forced us to suck up their diesel fumes! The 2nd loop was not nearly as enjoyable as the first! As I approached 25Km near Fredy’s place my support team (Fredy and Jose) were waiting there in their team uniforms cheering and taking photos. I asked them to take over for me but they said that wasn’t in their job description? I was glad when I reached 31Km in 2:52:28 and left the busy blvd and started the loop back to the stadium on a less congested route that was still closed to traffic. I had slowed to a 5:40 pace over the last 10Km but now my legs were really heavy and I started to struggle and my pace slowed to 5:50s! And I still hadn’t needed to make a pit stop which was definitely not normal?

I tried to increase my water intake even more and finally made a pit stop at 32Km. Shortly after a sports photographer came by on a motor bike and started shooting hundred of photos of Maddog. At first I was amused and courteous but it quickly became annoying! He would stop every 500m and wait for me to approach and then stand directly in my path and force me to run around him as he snapped several pictures? This continued on for the entire final 10Km and it really started to upset my rhythm and more importantly my ability to focus and tune out the world and surroundings and block out the pain. By the time I reached 40Km in 3:45:24 I was hurting and really pissed off with that idiot photographer! I was ready to NOT run around him – to flatten him on the road or even punch him out to get rid of him. If that was a wee taste of what the paparazzi do to movie stars – it sucks! He never left me alone until we approached the stadium at 42Km and then he scooted ahead to wait at the finish line.

When I entered the stadium I was determined to block out the pain and lack of energy to sprint the last 200m down the track to cross the finish line in 3:57:21. The photographers and reporters immediately started to converge on me but luckily a race official stepped in and escorted me to the side and promised them that I would return for interviews in a few minutes when I recovered/rested! After gulping down lots of fluids to rehydrate I did go back to provide interviews and photos and the paparazzi finally left me alone! However the race emcee then made an announcement that Maddog had completed his 303rd marathon and 91st country and suddenly several local runners approached and asked if I would pose with them and their family. But I enjoyed posing for the ‘family’ photos because I met lots of nice people. Finally I was able to get some finish line photos of Maddog and his support team and my gringo buddy, Peter crossed the finish line just under 5 hrs!

The race results still had not been posted so I used my sports/celebrity status to ask the race officials for my individual results because I wanted to go back to the hotel. My official finish time was 3:57:21 and I didn’t expect that to be good enough to win my age group – but I was surprised to learn that it was only good enough to place 5th (out of 20 runners) in such a small race? When I checked the results a few days later I was shocked to learn that the winner finished in 3:11! Heck – I would have needed a bicycle to beat that guy – especially in those conditions. All I can say is that there are some very fast ’Old Farts’ in Venezuela!

On the way out of the stadium we met a team of very beautiful Venezuelan ladies who were working a booth for Coca Cola/PowerAde. I stopped and asked them if they would become my ‘support team/sports managers’ for my next race and they agreed! My next race should be much more fun but probably my performance will suffer and there definitely will never be a trip report? (See photo!)

My old support team dragged me away from my new support team and dropped me off at the hotel and we agreed to meet that evening for a celebration/farewell dinner. After a long soak in the tub and shower I decided I needed something to eat – greasy and fatty as usual after a race. I didn’t want to pay $25 for a hamburger at the Marriott so I walked a few blocks to a MacDonalds and got robbed – figuratively – since a Big Mac cost $10! That was just another typical example of prices in Caracas that I found shocking! I expected things to be cheap like other countries in S America but prices in Caracas are ridiculous. They are equivalent or higher than NYC prices but the residents don’t make NYC wages? I don’t understand who can afford to pay those prices? Certainly NOT Half the (6 Million) population who live in poverty and shacks without water or electricity!

Later we enjoyed a great dinner and some very cold Venezuelan beer and I thanked my team for all their help and support. It would have been very difficult – actually impossible- to have run that marathon w/o their help! They offered to help me locate marathons in Bolivia and Columbia where I am having the same problems finding a marathon and anyone to respond to my emails?
On Mon morning Ivan returned me safely to the airport to complete a successful and enjoyable trip!

My next two international marathons are in mountains – the Andes in Aug (Peru) and the Himalayans in Sept (Bhutan) so we leave next week for our summer home in Colorado where I can train and race at high altitude in the Rocky Mtns.

Stay tuned!

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