Friday, November 28, 2008

TR - Suriname

11/19 – 11/24/08

Race Results
Suriname Srefidensi Marathon
Paramaribo, Suriname
Sat, Nov 22/08
Marathon # 311 – Country #96
4:02:16 - 1 AG

Country # 96 – SIX Down – Four to go!

This marathon and country came to my attention and plans when a friend from the Netherlands ran it a few years ago. The first question from many readers is “Where is Suriname”? It is the former Dutch Guiana and is located on the NE coast of South America between British Guyana and French Guiana and bordered on the South by Brazil. It is not easy to get to! After much research I decided to route through Trinidad & Tobago because the connections were easier and cheaper. The next problem was getting information and registered for the race. There is no website or info on the Net but I finally managed to contact a Captain in the Suriname Army who was organizing the race. The race is organized and managed by the Army!

I was on my way and all went well until I arrived in Trinidad and tried to board the connecting flight for Suriname. The airline refused to allow me on the flight because I had no visa! Visa? Somehow it never occurred to me (after all my travels) to check for a visa since most countries in SA do not require one or it can be purchased at the airport if needed. But not Suriname! I had to scramble and develop a Plan B on the fly because it was not acceptable NOT to get to Suriname and run the marathon. All my plans and arrangements were in place to run Country #100 and Suriname had to be # 96!

I checked with Information at the airport to confirm that there was a Suriname Embassy in Port of Spain. It was closed for the day so I would have to spend the night in POS and go to the embassy early. I managed to book a hotel near the Embassy and tackle the next hurdle. Trinidad and POS had been experiencing rain for the past week and the city was suffering from floods and landslides. It took 3 hours for a taxi to drive me 20Kms to the hotel because of the horrendous traffic jams due to streets closed and flooded! I was waiting at the door for the Embassy to open at 8 am. And I was worried because the notice on the door read ” You must apply for a Visa at least one week prior to departure”! I had bad visions of returning home to the US without running country # 96! However I talked to the head honcho, explained the problem and the fact that I had worked with Capt. Klein of the Suriname Army to help with the marathon and had provided free publicity for the race on my website. Thankfully they processed my Visa in 2 hrs and I was ready (and legal) to continue on to Suriname.

It was another 3-hr drive to the airport and a long wait over many Trini beers waiting for the late night flight. I finally arrived in Suriname at 1 am – and 1 day late. The airport was built by the Americans during WWII to protect the bauxite mines that were the main source of aluminum for the war effort so the airport was built near the mines and miles from the capital city of Paramaribo. I finally arrived at the hotel at 2 am and had to wake at 7 am to take a boat tour on the Suriname River. Suriname has a population of 500,000 – half live in Paramaribo with the next biggest city having a population of 8,000!
27% of the people are East Indian, 18% Creole, 15% Amerindians, 15 % Javanese and Chinese and 25% others. Many of the small villages are still inhabited by descendants of the original workers who were slaves or indentured workers from India, China, Philippines, etc. The boat cruised down the Suriname River towards the Atlantic and made a stop at New Amsterdam. The local story is that the Dutch traded New York for New Amsterdam (if so the Brits got the better of that deal). We toured Fort Amsterdam, built to protect the colony and plantations before continuing the cruise to the Commewijne River. We cruised up the Commewijne River where we visited the Frederiksdorp Plantation for lunch and stopped at Margrita and Rust & Werk – small settlements still inhabited by descendants of the original plantation workers. The only access to these villages is by boat and there are no roads in the villages. And no A/C – and the heat is unbearable! (See photos on website).This is the typical tour in Suriname – mostly Eco tours where you cruise on rivers and visit rain forests and Amerindians and sleep in tents in mosquito-infested forests! Not my cup of tea!

On Fri I needed to meet Capt. Klein to get more info on the race so I was not able to take any organized tours. Instead I did a self-guided walking tour of Paramaribo to take photos to share with my readers. I visited the historic section of the city – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I toured the Presidential Palace, Fort Zeelandia, the Waterkant and Independence Square where the race would start/finish. Then I passed a Synagogue and Mosque side –by-side that is indicative of how well the multi-cultural society gets along! I quickly learned that the heat (and sun) was unbearable between 11 am and 4 pm!

I had called Capt. Klein to learn that the marathon started at 5:30 pm on Sat and there was a pasta party on Fri night where more race details would be provided. There was a Dutch Army team staying at the same hotel and I was invited to join them to be picked up by an army bus. There were 3 runners and a coach and all spoke English which was a big help. Dutch is the official language of Suriname but most people in the capital speak English. However the presentation at the pasta party was completely in Dutch so I had to find a few volunteers to learn the specific details I needed for the race! My only complaint about the marathon was that there was NO information before, during or after the race - in English – and that led to a few problems for me! Another complaint was that I had requested Bib # 96 and they did not reserve it for me – although they reserved special bib #s for other racers that were presented during the party?

Sat was M- Day! But the race started at 5:30 pm so I had a whole day to kill? I knew that the city would close down on Sun so I did my final souvenir shopping on Sat morning and stayed in my A/C room for the afternoon. A thunderstorm began at 4 pm that was good/bad news:
Good News: The rain lowered the temps from the low 90s to the mid 80s for the start of the race
Bad News: The rain increased the humidity into the 80s (%) and the temps didn’t drop much after dark.

Fortunately I arrived at the start line around 5 pm because the Dutch coach grabbed me and informed me that I had to weigh in. Nobody informed me of that requirement at the pasta party and I had specifically asked if I needed to be at the start line early? Because of the extreme heat and humidity the weight of every runner was taken before and after the race. If a runner lost too much weight (i.e. fluids) he would be taken to the medical tent for IVs at the end of the race! I was going to make sure that didn’t happen! There was a formal starting ceremony with the Minister of Sports and other dignitaries in attendance. There were about 40 runners in the marathon, 60 in the relay and 80 runners in the Half.
As I was waiting on the start line I met two Old Farts/competitors in my Age Group – one from Barbados and one from Suriname. The Barbados runner stated that he hoped to finish under 4 hrs! I didn’t think that was reasonable (for me) with the heat but I decided that I would try to stay close to him? The race started on time and I passed 1km in 5:03! Way too fast for the heat & humidity! I tried to slow down but passed both AG competitors by the time I reached 3Km in 15:22. Surprisingly/happily there were distance markers every Km which really helped to monitor/control my pace and there were water stations every 3 Km. I drank one bottle of water (500ml) and poured one over my head/body at every station starting at 3 Km – I wanted to make sure hydration didn’t become a problem! I finally managed to settle into a smooth/easy pace by the time I passed 5 Km in 27:06 and 10Km in 53:22. I had been following a group of four young runners who were running a wee bit faster than I wanted to run but it was easier to let them pull me through the course. I was disappointed when they turned off near 11 Km for the Half and I found myself all alone! It had already turned dark and there were no runners in front of me! I ran the next 14 Km alone! Fortunately the course was well-managed with lots of volunteers and police. The roads were closed to traffic and there volunteers at every intersection. The temps didn’t seem to drop much with darkness and without anyone to push me there wasn’t much incentive to hurt so I eased off the pace. And without any runners to follow I had to focus on following the course in the dark which meant I couldn’t let the endorphins lull me into la-la land! I could read my splits but not total time in the dark which didn’t help much. As I approached the Half I could see runners coming in the opposite direction on the far side of the boulevard but I had no idea where the turn-around was or how far they were ahead of me? I reached the Half and stopped under a street light to read my watch – 1:57:28! I was surprised that my time was that fast?

And I was pleasantly surprised when I reached a turn-around point at 23 KM (2:08:08). That meant that there were runners about 1 Km ahead of me – finally some motivation to hurt and push the pace! And for extra and more serious motivation the Old Fart from Barbados was only about ½ Km behind me! Clearly he had been following me and keeping me in sight! I decided to dig deep, push the pace and pull in the runners ahead of me. That strategy should also take care of the competitor chasing me? I caught the first runner at 25 Km (2:19:28) and started pulling in many more over the next 15 Km. However when I passed 30 Km (2:42:21) I could feel my energy waning and my legs started to tighten? I figured it had to be the heat – I was drinking water like crazy and still hadn’t made a pit stop? When I reached 32 Km I stopped under a street light to check my time – 3:00:00! I would have to finish the final 10Km in 1 hour to break 4 hrs! I dug deep again and tried to push the pace but my legs started to tighten up and I eased off! I caught a young runner at 35Km (3:19:02) and encouraged him to stay with me to the finish line. Surprisingly he responded and ran with me. He was from French Guiana and I immediately seized the opportunity to ask about marathons in that country. He informed me that there are two marathons and gave me the website for his running club. Then he asked/demanded that I be quiet to save energy so he could be sure to pull me across the finish line. Sure- right! I dug deep and pushed the pace in response and by the time I passed 38 Km he had mysteriously disappeared?

When I reached the final water station at 39 Km I stopped to check my time. It was actually 3:43:11 but my old eyes misread it to be 3:45 in the dim light? I would have to run a 5 min/Km pace for the final
3 Km and I didn’t think that was possible. But I wouldn’t know unless I tried so I dug as deep as I could and lowered the hammer. All went well for about 1 Km and then both legs started to tighten and warning signals were going off to indicate that they were both close to cramping! I didn’t want to risk a serious cramp or injury just to break 4 hours so I wisely backed off the pace and continued jogging. When I reached 41 Km near Independence Square I tried to pick up the pace again in response to the cheers from the spectators but again my legs sent warning bells that they were close to cramping and I wisely jogged across the finish line in 4:02:16.

I was escorted directly to the weigh station where I learned that I had lost 1.5 Kg (3.5 lbs) in spite of drinking gallons/liters of water during the race. Fortunately it was within safety limits and I didn’t need any IVs. Since I had no idea what the Age Groups were or if there were any awards I decided to go back to the hotel for a long hot shower. I returned about one hour later and was grabbed by the coach of the Dutch team who explained that I had just missed the awards for my age group and had won 1st place! He accompanied me to the podium and helped me collect the 1st place trophy for Men 55+ and an envelope. I was shocked when I opened it and found $200 (US) cash! Well I had plenty of extra money to buy Suriname beers to celebrate! When I finished a (very) late dinner and beers at 2 am they were still drinking/partying at the outdoor cafes and in the streets?

On Sundays the country and city closes down. There are no tours, no shops open, etc. I tried to relax around the hotel pool with a beer but Maddog could only stand inactivity for about 30 minutes and then we explored another section of the Historic city and took more photos to share with my readers. I enjoyed a seafood dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the Suriname River - a local fish called ‘bang bang’ – OK but not great! Since I had an early (6am) flight the hotel shuttle left for the airport at 2:30am!

I am back home and catching up on sleep after all those early mornings! I have three weeks to rest and prepare for the final two marathons/adventures before the end of the year. Fortunately the next trip will be a quick/easy direct flight to Puerto Rico. I think I can see a light at the end of the tunnel?

Stay tuned!

1 comment:

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