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!


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