Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TR - Taiwan

12/17 – 12/22/08

Race Results:
Taipei Marathon
Taipei, Taiwan
Sun, Dec 21/08
Marathon # 313 – Country # 98

Country # 98 – EIGHT down – TWO to go!

This marathon turned out to be a difficult one to get to and run! The difficulty/frustration started three years ago when I first scheduled it into my race calendar. That year I couldn’t get the necessary information and details from the web site or race director to finalize my travel plans? Last year the web site improved and I had actually booked my flights, etc. but had to postpone them at the last minute when the Sports Manager needed unexpected surgery to replace her hip. I just rescheduled my travel plans to 2008. However in early summer a friend informed me that the race organization had changed the date? Sure enough – he was correct. I was concerned and upset because the race is usually just before Christmas and travel is expensive and difficult to book for that time of year to Taiwan. Surprisingly I was able to reschedule my flights – but I was forced to book 1st Class seats using award miles. This turned out to be a blessing in the end!

The change in date also helped my goal in a big way because later in the year I confirmed that the Puerto Rico Marathon was scheduled for Dec 14 which allowed me to schedule both races into my calendar. It made for a tough travel schedule but I could run both races in 2008!

Unfortunately on the return flight from Puerto Rico I caught a cold bug. At first I thought it was only a minor sore throat but as I made my way across the Pacific on the 30-hr flights to Taiwan it blossomed into a severe head cold and congestion. I was glad that I had the 1st Class seats so I could sleep on that long journey. When I arrived in Taiwan at midnight Thu I was not feeling well - a raging headache and stuffed-up sinus. I woke early the next day, found the location for race registration and picked up my race packet. I was pleased that the race director had accommodated my request for Bib # 98! My next stop was a pharmacy where the pharmacist spoke some English and gave me some strange Chinese medicines and herbs to combat the cold. I desperately wanted to keep the congestion from moving into my chest! I then visited Taipei 101- the world’s (current) tallest building – to get a panoramic view of the city and learn the layout and directions of the major landmarks. By the time I came down I was feeling so sick that I returned to the hotel, took the medicine and immediately crashed! I woke groggily about 5 hours later and managed to eat a light dinner before crashing for another 12 hours!

I had booked a morning tour of the city so forced myself out of bed to tour the few major tourist sites:
The Palace National Museum (has more Chinese artifacts that the Chinese Museum in Beijing); the Martyr’s Shrine, Chiang Kai -Shek Memorial Hall; the Presidential Building; and the Chung Fu Temple. After the tour it was more medicine and crash immediately? Best damn sleeping tonic I ever had?
Six hours later I woke and contemplated my next move? I was very sick and groggy and considered just crawling under the covers and skipping dinner. But I remembered when I did that in Shanghai last year and suffered one of my worst races. So I forced myself to crawl out of bed to eat a pasta dinner. And then back into bed with more medicine and crashed for another 10 hours. When I woke at 5 am I did not want to get out of bed – I felt like SHIT! Thankfully the congestion had not moved deep into my chest and I could breathe. Besides I really didn’t have an option – I had to run and finish the marathon no matter how painful or how long it took!

I walked over to the start/finish line at City Hall. The weather was nice – temps in the low 60s. I was disappointed that I was not healthy so that I could make a strong attempt to run a fast time. The start area was a zoo – 3,000 runners in the marathon; 8,000 in the Half and another 16,000 in a 9 Km fun run – and we all started together! I had to climb over a fence to squeeze in with a pack of runners about 20 ft from the start line. The race started at 7 am. The course was so packed that we couldn’t veer or pass for the first 5 Km. There were supposed to be distance markers every Km but I missed the first five because of the crowds. Finally I saw the 6 Km marker – 32:16. The pack was moving me along faster than expected so I decided to stay with them. The first 15 Km of the course was through the city and past many of the tourist sites so it was enjoyable. At 16 Km the course entered an elevated freeway and stayed there for the next 23 KM – not very scenic or interesting! However the city had closed all the roads along the course so we didn’t have to worry about traffic or suck up exhaust fumes – much better than most Asian races!

At 17 Km (1:31:22) the lead pack of runners from Kenya (big prize money in the race) blew past us in the opposite direction – 28 Km for them! That meant we had an 11Km out-and-back loop on the elevated hwy. Fortunately the Half marathoners turned at 18 km and we finally had room to run and it was easier to get water at the stations. I passed the Half in 1:55:15 – faster than expected but the temps were increasing rapidly and I knew the 2nd Half would be slower. Around 25 Km my pack started to fade and surprisingly I still felt OK so I decided to push ahead and started to pass many runners succumbing to the heat. As we approached the exit off the freeway near 29 Km we had to dodge slower Half marathoners leaving the freeway and continue for another 10 Km loop on the elevated freeway. I don’t remember much after that because the wheels started to fall off? I passed 32Km in 2:57:16 but I was struggling and my splits had slowed to 6:00/Km (9:30/mile). I calculated that if I could hold a 6 min/Km pace I could finish under 4 hours! That became my sole goal/purpose in life (other than finishing ALIVE)! But my splits continued to slow so I summoned up Maddog! As expected he was able to focus so strongly that we blocked out the entire world – the lack of energy - the pain - and lowered the pace back to sub-6s! All I remember is reaching the exit off the freeway at 39 Km (3:38:59). Only then was I confident that a sub 4-hr finish was in the bag!

We left the elevated freeway and entered a long tunnel. We exited the tunnel at 41 Km (3:50:25). I had no idea where I was and just focused on following the runners ahead and pushing the pace for the final Km to get the ordeal over with! I crossed the finish line in 3:56:59. They must have made an announcement as I crossed the finish line because several local runners approached and asked if I would join them for photos. Of course I was obliged/pleased to do so and I got to meet and talk to a lot of nice people!

After collecting my warm-up bag I tried to confirm my official time and place but was disappointed that the results were still not available (the race used chips and electronic timing?).While waiting I met a Canuck in my AG (one of 10 Caucasians in the race) who finished in 3:45. We both gave up and left without any results! So I didn’t place 1st – and I didn’t expect to with my slow time. I am still disappointed that the results have not yet been posted on the NET!

As I walked back to the hotel along a route and streets that I had become familiar with I was surprised to see runners finishing the race? Then I passed Km marker 41! Unbelievable! It was on a street corner close to my hotel where I had eaten meals at a British Pub. I couldn’t believe that I had been so focused and so out-of-it at that point of the race that I didn’t even recognize where I was? And people wonder why I don’t respond when they wave and cheer for me along a course?

After a long hot shower I actually felt alive – the best I felt since arriving in Taiwan. I went for a stroll to find some hot/greasy food that my body craves after a race. By the time I ate my health was going downhill – FAST! I realized that the ‘false’ good feeling had been the result of residual endorphins and adrenaline from the race! It was back to the hotel – take more strange Chinese medicine and crash.
I can’t remember the last time I slept so many hours in so few days?

Fortunately I did feel better the next morning when it was time to leave for the airport. However that ‘better’ feeling faded away as I made the long 30-hr journey back home. Once again I was glad that I had booked 1st class seats. The trip would have been pure HELL back in coach! By the time I arrived home at midnight on Mon the cold had reached its peak. It was an ugly night with hot/cold sweats and vivid hallucinations that would be the envy of any LSD junkie!

We were supposed to leave for the West Coast on Wed to visit our kids but there are bad snow storms in WA/OR so we delayed our departure till Fri. Hopefully by then I will be healthy and ready to get back on a plane?

As I said in my field report the summary of this race was ‘Disappointment’! Disappointment that I had not been healthy because I believe I could have run a fast time (low 3:40s) on that course and weather. And disappointment that I did not get to see much of Taipei or Taiwan. But I am glad that it is over. And I am glad that this long/difficult/challenging quest is almost over! I can finally see the end of the tunnel.

I have three weeks to rest and get healthy for the next marathon/adventure where I will tie the World record in Israel.

Stay tuned!

Footnote: another disappointment - official time 3:56:57 and 13th place in AG!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TR Puerto Rico

12/13 - 12/15/08

Race Results
La Guadalupe Marathon
Ponce. Puerto Rico
Sun, Dec 14/08
Marathon # 312 – Country # 97
3:53:38 – 1 AG

Country # 97 – SEVEN down – THREE to go!

I had been trying (unsuccessfully) for the past few years to find a marathon in PR? My luck/search finally changed when I ran the St Croix Marathon on New Year’s Day. The race director was certain that there was a marathon in PR and agreed to use his contacts in the IAAF to find out where and when. It took him five months and a lot of work but eventually he did provide me with a contact in PR who I called immediately! Success! I was quickly routed to the race director who was also the Secretary of Sports and Recreation for the Municipality of Ponce. There is no advertising for the race – it is not listed in any race calendars – and there is no website! But there is a marathon (usually in Dec) and Nelson promised to call me in Sept when the date was confirmed.

I was nervous about the race because I plugged it into my race/marathon schedule to get me to 100 countries so it was important that it take place! Thankfully Nelson called me in Sept to confirm a date of Dec 14/08 and gave me some general info on hotels in the area. I booked my flights and continued my quest. As the date drew near I emailed Nelson to confirm the race was still on? Yes it was!

I flew into San Juan on Sat morning, rented a car and drove to the other side of the island. Ponce is located on the south side of PR on the Caribbean Sea. It quickly became apparent that this area is not a tourist destination and I was thankful that I had only booked a weekend trip! The only information I had on the race was the location and time of registration. As I said there is no information available on the Net? I found my hotel which fortunately was only a few miles from registration and the start/finish of the race in La Guancha Recreational Area. That was pure luck!!!

I found La Gauncha and registration and finally many of my questions were answered. The Marathon La Guadalupe is the only marathon in PR. It is organized and sponsored by the Municipality of Ponce. I was shocked to learn there was no entry fee and each runner received a race bib, T-shirt, finisher’s medal and certificate. After the race a breakfast was served and there were cash awards for the top 10 runners in both male/female! Now I understood why this marathon is a closely guarded secret! The city prefers to keep the marathon a ‘local’ event and does not advertise or encourage foreign participation since the taxpayers are paying the bill! However they were very courteous and hospitable to me – but then I was no threat to win prize money! There are no Age Group awards and it is not a fancy event but it is well organized and managed.

There was no formal information provided at registration – no course map, no race sheet, etc. I was required to pass a mandatory physical/medical check before they gave me my race bib - #97! Fortunately the race volunteers spoke some English and I was able to get the specific info I needed to show up at 4am for the start. I couldn’t find an Italian restaurant in Ponce so was forced to eat my pasta dinner at a Pizza hut – it was OK and cheap!

I made sure I was at the registration/finish area by 4 am because I still didn’t know much about the race? Luckily I met another runner from a Running Club in San Juan who spoke good English and he decided to adopt and help me? He was very kind and translated what was going on. Of course everything was in Spanish since I was the only English-speaking runner in the race! My new friend informed me that I was supposed to pick up my race T-shirt before the race and then busses would transport the runners to the start line about 1 Km from the finish line? He explained that the course was a 7-Km section of the highway from downtown Ponce to La Guancha. The city closed both sides of the hwy for 7 Km and we ran back and forth three times and finished near La Guancha Boardwalk.

I met several more runners from the San Juan Running Club as we waited for the start. There were about 200 runners in the race including the national male/female champions! The weather was hot as expected with temps in the mid 70s (F) at the 5 am start in the dark. My new friend was a waiter in San Juan and had not run a marathon for about five years but was confident that he could break 4 hrs? I told him that would probably be a challenge for me because of the heat and I had been suffering from leg cramps the past few weeks and did not want to risk an injury! I decided to go out at a 9-min/mile pace and see what happened?

As we started the race I recognized the course because I had driven that highway a few times. My friend pointed out that there were four overpasses or ‘hills’ on the 7-Km section which meant we would get to run each overpass/hill a total of six times! Oh Goody! The first and highest hill was around 2 Km.
We passed 5Km in 27:51. By then I was wishing I could lose my new friend. As kind as he was – he wouldn’t shut up – he was driving me nuts! At that point we caught up to a female runner from his Club and he introduced us. Carmen was in my Age Group – 63 years old – and running a smooth/easy sub 9-min pace –very impressive! In fact she decided to stay with us and at many times took the lead and we struggled to keep up with her! We passed 10 Km in 54:47 – ahead of pace. My legs felt OK so I figured I could stay with these two new friends? We passed 15 Km in 1:21:52 and Carmen pulled us through the Half in 1:55:23. Damn – that was fast for that heat. But the sun had just come up and I figured we would not be able to hold that pace through the 2nd Half?

As we headed back toward La Guancha on the 2nd leg of the 2nd loop my new friend started to struggle around 24 Km and told me that he needed to stop talking (oh Joy!) and focus on his pace. The winner lapped us at 25 Km and Carmen and I found ourselves alone? When I made the turn at 28 Km (2:33:32) Carmen started to fade and fall behind. I continued to push the pace by myself and passed 32Km in 2:56:09 and when I made the final turn around 34 Km (3:07:33) I noticed that Carmen had fallen about 1 Km behind. I was confident that a sub 4-hr marathon was in the bag and continued to hold the pace. I started to pass many runners who had succumbed to the heat and were walking/jogging. The reward of a sub 4-hr finish was enough incentive to keep the old legs churning although they began to tighten. I was pleased when I reached La Gauncha at 41Km (3:47:12) and turned into the park for the final 1 Km. I crossed the finish line in 3:53:38. My friend was waiting at the finish line to cheer me across – he had dropped out at 28 Km with leg cramps.

It felt good to finish a race under 4 hrs again! I waited around for the award ceremony but skipped the breakfast – I can’t eat for hours after racing! I believe I won my AG but must wait for the race director to confirm my place since they don’t track Age Groups in this race. They only give cash awards to the top 10 in each gender! I took some photos of the La Gauncha area – it is one of the nicer areas of Ponce. Then I returned to the hotel for a long hot shower to soothe/relax the legs and set out to visit the old historic section of the city. It wasn’t a long walking tour – a Cathedral, Park and a few museums. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed for Sunday? So I retreated back to the El Tuque area where my hotel was located to enjoy a great seafood dinner and sunset in a nice restaurant overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

I decided to leave early Mon morning to alleviate any concern about traffic delays back to San Juan – and if I arrived early I would have time to explore Old San Juan. That plan worked out well and I enjoyed a nice 2-hr stroll through Old San Juan and took some photos to share with my readers.

It was a quick trip – a good race and now I have one day to repack and leave for Taiwan. I am surprised that I found time to write a quick trip report. It will reduce my burden when I return from Taiwan.

Stay tuned!