Monday, December 21, 2009

RR Jacksonville

Race Report
Sun, Dec 20/09
Jacksonville Marathon
Jacksonville, FL
Marathon #322
3:43:32 – 2AG

Oh – what a difference two weeks and forty degrees in temperature can make – exactly One Hour!

I had added this race to my calendar as a ‘required’ fast training run because I figured Singapore would be a long, slow run. However when Singapore turned out to be such a disaster it really shook my confidence. I wondered/worried if Singapore was just an exceptionally bad day or was my training program and conditioning also bad? Thus I was lacking a lot of confidence and motivation as I made the 5-hr drive up to Jacksonville on Sat.

I picked up my race packet and as I was checking into the host hotel I met a group of runners whom I knew from the Bradenton Running Club (neighboring city to Sarasota). They invited me to join them for pasta dinner which turned out to be a blessing since it was an enjoyable meal with great company and provided a distraction from my concerns.

Sun was M- day! The weather forecast called for COLD temps and high winds. It was fairly accurate. The skies were cloudy with a temp of 40 F and gusty winds at the 7 am start. It was very chilly with the wind so I wore a throw-away shirt and garbage bag over my race T-shirt and shorts to stay warm at the start of the race. It never warmed above 50 F during the race. On the bus ride over to the Bolles School where the race started I kept thinking “What am I doing here – I don’t feel like running a marathon”? I had little confidence and no motivation! But then I reminded myself that I had faced similar situations and feelings many times before and in most cases ended up running great races.

I decided to stick to my original plan/strategy to run a fast training run. I would go out at an 8:30 pace and hold it as long as possible. If I crashed – I crashed – but at least I would have an answer to my concerns/questions! I lined up at the start line with 2500 other runners (1000 in the Full and 1500 in the Half). As I lined up a few rows from the start line I found myself (coincidentally) lined up with the 3:45 pace group. I asked myself “Why don’t I just stay with that pace group”? They would prevent me from going out too fast and were running the pace I wanted. I don’t normally like to run with a pace group because my old bod experiences several ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ in energy during a race and typically I like to let my body go with the flow and my pace may vary by 10 to 15 secs/mile as my body goes through these cycles whereas a pace group will run a consistent split/pace.

The pace group pulled me through Mile 3 in 25:21 and a split of 8:21 and I removed my garbage bag. When we passed Mile 5 in 42:13 and a split of 8:21 I removed the throw-away shirt since I had finally warmed up. There were a few times when I experienced ‘highs’ and wanted to surge ahead and a few times when I experienced ‘lows’ and struggled to stay with the pace group. But I forced myself to be patient and stay with the group. Another benefit was that I was able to tuck in and draft behind the group when the winds got nasty! I followed the pace group through the Half in 1:51:30 – slightly ahead of pace! The good news was that I felt good and found the pace very comfortable so I decided to stay with the pace group till at least 20 miles and then re-evaluate!

When we passed Mile 16 in 2:16:01 and a split of 8:27 I was concerned that over the next four miles I would face some difficulty with a severe ‘low’ that I usually experience during that section of every marathon? Sure enough, when we reached Mile 18 in 2:32:51 the group had lowered the pace to 8:20s and I started to suffer a ‘low’. I started to fall back but then resolved that I would stay with the group till 20 miles and I forced the old bod to catch up! We passed Mile 20 in 2:49:46 and the pace group started to slow down and break up. As most marathoners know/understand it was crunch time and the race was just starting! And luckily the old bod gave me a shot of adrenaline and a burst of energy and another ‘high’. Maddog wanted to surge ahead but I wisely told him to be patient and stay with the group. When we reached Mile 22 in 3:07:09 the split had slowed to 8:42 and the pace group (including the pacer) started to slow down and fall apart? At that point three of us surged ahead together and fed off each other until we reached Mile 24 in 3:24:29. I knew right then that a sub-3:45 was in the bag and that gave me a boost of confidence and energy and I finally let Maddog surge ahead and left the other two members of the group to cross the finish line on the school track in 3:43:32!

Needless to say I was very happy with both my time and performance. I had run consistently even splits throughout the entire race and other than a few normal ‘lows’ never experienced any serious problems/troubles! I had exceeded my expectations and regained confidence in my training program and conditioning! I stuck around the finish area long enough for a finish line photo and to check the preliminary results. The initial results only showed finish times to 3:35. I naively figured that the best anyone in my AG could finish would be just under 3:30 so I checked the results down to 3:25. Nada? Maybe I did win my AG?

Since I was in a hurry to get back home to attend a Christmas party with our running friends I rushed back to the hotel for a quick shower and then made the trip home in 4 hrs. When I arrived home I quickly searched the race website to see if results had been posted? I was surprised to discover that my time was only good enough for 2nd place in my AG. I was shocked to learn that the winner finished in 3:16! Damn - I could never catch that guy. No matter how much I trained there ain’t no 3:16 left in this old bod! I didn’t recognize the name but I tip my hat off to him because he is a World-class runner – definitely way out of my league!

Although disappointed in a 2nd place finish I am still happy with my time and performance. I will continue my training program with confidence and motivation and lower my target to sub 3:40 for my next race in three weeks.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

TR - Singapore

Sun, Dec 6/09
Singapore Marathon
Marathon # 321 - Country #101 (new World Record)
4:43:41- 3 AG

I can’t say that I was looking forward to this marathon except that I would finally move off the century mark and complete Country #101. I visited Singapore five years ago and knew that the weather would be brutally hot and humid! The Sports Manager did not want to go since she had visited Singapore many times and was still recovering from her hip surgery.

Thus I made the long, 30-hr journey by myself. The journey was extended a few hours and I arrived at my hotel at 3am on Fri morning. When I exited the taxi it was hot and humid at 3am – I was already NOT looking forward to the race! I let the poor old bod sleep as late as possible and then proceeded to the race expo to pick up my race packet. There were 50,000 runners registered in four events – about 18,000 in the marathon.

I was not pleased with the race organization even before I left home. They had been very inflexible, uninterested and non-caring to assist me in obtaining bib #101 for the race. If you are not an elite athlete who can win the race they are not interested in helping you! When I tried to check the age group results for past years I learned that not only were there no age group awards for the race but they didn’t even post results for age groups! Thus my evaluation or rating for the race is LOW! Do not run this race if you are hoping for a PR (weather) or if it is a special milestone like race #100, etc! They could care less!

Packet pick up was well organized but the expo was pathetic! For a race that size there were only two booths selling running gear – the rest were hawking medical services and nutritional items? Fortunately the race booklet was good because there was very little info available at the expo!

Since I had toured the city/country on a previous trip I decided to buy a ticket on the hop on/hop off tour bus on Sat to visit a few interesting sites such as the Merlion (the city symbol) at Esplanade Park, the Singapore Flyer (new) and to check out the logistics at the start/finish area. The race started on the Esplanade Bridge and finished in front of City Hall. Once I was familiar with the area I was free to enjoy the rest of the city, enjoy an early dinner and go to bed early.

Sun was M-day! The marathon was the first race to start at 5:30am. It was HOT (high 70s) and humid (80%) at 5:30am as I lined up with 18,000 runners. There were only 3 race pens – sub 4 hrs, sub 5 hrs and 5 hrs+ with no controls. Thus I lined up a few rows behind the Kenyans and elite athletes to avoid getting boxed in. Because of the expected heat/humidity and no age groups or incentive to race I had decided to run ‘slow & easy’. I figured that I could run an easy 9-min pace for the 1st Half to take advantage of the ‘cooler’ weather and then slow to a 10-min pace in the 2nd Half. I ran the first 3 Km faster than wanted (15:55) because I was boxed in with fast runners. However at that point the course opened up and I was able to slow down. I passed 10Km in 55:30 but was already overheating? I slowed the pace to 9:30s in an effort to cool my body down.

However when I reached 15Km in 1:26:08 and a split of 6:08/km (9:45/mile) I knew that I was in trouble already. My body was burning up and I couldn’t cool off? I decided to let my old bod dictate the pace till the Half and started to stop at each water station located every 2 Km. I would drink one cup of water and dump two on me in an attempt to hydrate and stay cool. I passed the Half in 2:07:15. But the sun was up by then and the temps were in the 80s and I knew the 2nd Half would get ugly! When I passed 25km in 2:33:59 and a split of 6:36/km (10:33/mile) I knew I was in big trouble. My legs felt OK but I just couldn’t increase the pace – my body would not cool down and I had not yet made or had a need for a pit stop. I increased my water intake to two cups at each stop and dumped 3 or 4 cups on my body to try to cool off. I could barely run (jog) to the next water station w/o walking? It became a matter of survival. Run – or shuffle – for 2 Km, then stop for water in and on and repeat the cycle!

Around 37Km the marathon and Half merged to share the final 5Km and the course was clogged with walkers from the Half. Now I had to weave around thousands of walkers and that only exasperated the situation and the agony! I dearly wanted to join them in walking but needed to end the agony as quickly as possible. I continued to shuffle between each water station – then stop/walk - pour two in and 4 on- in a desperate attempt to stay cool and hydrated and finally crossed the finish line in 4:43:41.

I was so frustrated and disappointed with my performance and inability to recover and ‘run’ the race that I didn’t bother to stick around for any after-race festivities. I took a finish-line photo and returned to the hotel for a COLD shower just to cool off. I had planned to spend the afternoon exploring the city and taking a river cruise but the streets were so crowded with Sun/Xmas shoppers that I retreated to my hotel room to watch college football games from the USA and rest for the 30-hr return trip home on Mon.

The nice thing about ‘running’ so slow I have discovered is that my legs were not sore or tired after the run. I should be able to resume speed work in my training program sooner than expected to prepare for one more race in 2009. I decided to run a marathon in FL in two weeks. Hopefully I can run a faster race?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RR - Fort Worth

Sun, Nov 8/09
Fort Worth Marathon
Fort Worth, TX
Marathon #320
3:55:22 – 1 AG

As mentioned at the end of my previous race report (Ottawa Marathon) I figured that since no body parts had fallen off or hurt during that race I needed to schedule another marathon in Nov as part of my training program to regain my ‘marathon shape’. But where to go? Since the Boulder Marathon had been too hot and the Ottawa Marathon too cold and both courses too hilly I needed a location where the course would be flat and the weather pleasant? And the whole USA was open to me since I had a ‘free’ airline ticket! When I was forced to cancel Boston (Marathon) in April because of the mystery injuries US Airways kindly offered me (after heated negotiations) a full credit for future travel – with the caveat that I use it before Dec 09 - or lose it! I selected the Fort Worth Marathon for three reasons:
1) the race was in early Nov when the weather is normally nice in TX
2) the course was mainly on bike trails along the Trinity River and flat
3) my brother lives about 10 miles from the start/finish of the race. I could stay with him and he volunteered to be my temporary Sports Manager so my only expense for the race was the entry fee!
Thus I left Sarasota early on Fri so I could have some ‘Q’ time with my brother Doug and his wife Darlene. Race registration was only a few miles from his house so we picked up the race packet on the way home from the airport so I didn’t have to worry about anything until ‘M’ day on Sun.

The race started and finished at LaGrave Field – a sports stadium near downtown Fort Worth. There were 4 race events and the marathon started first at 7:30 am. I lined up with about 200 runners. The weather was pleasant as expected but a wee bit warmer than forecast with a temp of 58F. Fortunately the skies were cloudy and stayed overcast through the entire race so the temps never rose above the mid 60s! The course was a 13-mile out -and -back loop that left the stadium and dumped on to a series of paved and dirt bike trails along the Trinity River.

I had researched the race results from last year to learn that the winning time in my AG was 3:54. I decided before the race that I had three goals:
1) to finish under 4 hours. Since I had been able to complete two weeks of speed workouts since my last race I was confident that I could beat 4 hrs.
2) to run the first 20 miles as a time trial i.e. run those 20 miles as fast as I could remembering that I would still have to struggle through the final 10K.
3) to win my AG! I figured if I accomplished 1) & 2) then 3) should follow?

I started fairly fast and dropped in behind a small group of runners that included a lovely young lass (half my age or less?) with a firm bod and cute butt. Heh – what better view and motivation can one have for 26 miles? But alas – when she dragged me through 3 miles in 24:43 I had to accept the cold,hard truth. There was no way in Hell I could follow that cute butt at that pace (8:15/mile) for 26 miles! So reluctantly I had to let that cute YOUNG butt leave my sorry OLD ass behind in the dust! (That would never have happened in the good old days!) I slowed my pace and settled into a smooth/comfortable 8:45min/mile pace by the time I passed mile 5 in 42:58. I had run many sections of the trail/course on previous visits to my brothers’ so the course felt familiar which helps. There was only one hill on the course – around 7 and 18 miles. After climbing the hill I passed mile 10 in 1:25:42 and reached the turn-around at the Half in 1:53:17. Oh-oh – a wee bit too fast and I considered slowing the pace but I had noted an old fart on the return leg and he had about a 3-minute lead on me. I decided that I needed to hold my pace as long as I could and hope that the old fart faded or crashed before I did? I did OK until I climbed the one hill again at 18 miles where my legs started to feel very heavy and tired and I knew trouble was not too far ahead! I passed mile 18 in 2:36:42 but my split had slowed to 9:01! I was determined to achieve goal #2 so I continued to push the pace as hard as I could and reached mile 20 in 2:55:25 – but a split of 9:27! And I was in trouble! My legs were tired and sore! I was forced to start playing mind games.

All runners know what I mean. The final 10K of a marathon is 90% mind games and willpower! At first I tried denial – denial that I was in trouble! I was just a ‘wee bit tired’ and if I slowed down just a wee bit for the next few miles the legs would have a chance to rest and recover and I could hammer the final 5K. Right!!! I plodded/struggled along at a 9:25 pace and passed mile 23 in 3:24:08 and a 9:52 split. At that point I played the anger game – pissed off at myself for being such a wimp! That worked for a few minutes and then I struggled to reach mile 24 in 3:33:37 and there was nothing left in my legs and the game changed to ‘survival’! Now I had to convince myself to keep the old, wasted legs moving – “one step at a time” to the next mile marker. When I passed mile 25 in 3:43:44 and a split of 10:06 – my worst split of the race - I had had enough of the whining and feeling sorry for myself. Maddog screamed at me “any old fool can hurt for one measly mile”! He was right! I sucked it up – ignored the pain and screams from my legs – and pushed as hard as I could for the final mile to cross the finish line in 3:55:22!

The screams stopped as soon as I crossed the finish line – but not the pain! My legs immediately tightened and were very sore - I can’t remember how long it has been since my legs were that stiff and sore at a finish line? We stayed around long enough to confirm my finish time and place (while watching the medical staff try to revive a man who suffered a heart attack after finishing the 20-mile run - sadly he died on the way to the hospital). The ‘unofficial’ time posted was 3:54:06. That did not match my watch time and I later confirmed my ‘official’ time was 3:55:22 and 1st place in my AG. The old fart who beat me by 5 minutes was a youngster (only 60 years old!).

I was very satisfied with both my time and performance. I had accomplished all three goals and it had been a very good/valuable training run. I ran a fast/successful 20-mile time trial and then (re)taught the old bod how to cope with pain and exhaustion through the final 10K – both necessary ingredients for that fast and complete race that lies ahead in my future. Once again no body parts fell off or hurt (injury-wise) during the race. And I got a good reading of the gauge or level of my marathon fitness – OK – but not great – and certainly not competitive with the top runners in my AG! Any improvements in time from this point on will come in small amounts with large amounts of pain! But I am willing to expend the effort and hard work and accept the pain to get to the next level. My biggest concern is that I now have to be cautious and manage a very fine line between speed and injury to get my finish time below 3:45. After that I will re-evaluate my goals!

I have already decided the race strategy for my next marathon. It will be a long, SLOW training run because the weather will be brutally hot and humid in S. Asia in Dec!

Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

TR - Ottawa

Sun, Oct 11/09
Ottawa Fall Colours Marathon
Ottawa, Canada
Marathon #319
4:00:40 – 1AG

As mentioned in my last report this marathon was just the result of lucky timing. When I was booking flights for a family wedding and reunion in the fall I happened to notice that there was a marathon in Ottawa the weekend after our family events. I extended our trip to Tundra Land (aka Canada) for a few days in the hopes that I would be healthy enough to run the race?

I really didn’t commit to running the marathon until I finished the Boulder Marathon in late Sept w/o any body parts falling off or hurting. Only then did I call my good friend and mentor Wally Herman to inform him that I would run the marathon with him. Unfortunately by that time the Sport’s Manager’s hip was really hurting and she had to shorten her visit to return to FL to prepare for surgery.

We attended the wedding of our niece (my baby sister’s daughter) on Sat and then Nicole had to return to Ottawa for a family reunion on her side while I stayed in Carleton Place to begin the Wallace reunion. The Wallace family has seven siblings and we meet every two years at a different place hosted by one of the four brothers. Our reunion was fun as usual and since it was held in our hometown/birthplace many relatives and cousins were able to join us for a party/dinner.

The weather was not great – cool and rain most days – but it did co-operate with sun for both the wedding and the family golf match. Each morning I would run out into the country past the old family homestead/farm that had been in the Wallace family for more than 150 years! I fondly remember running the three miles into town often when I was a young kid (is that where it all started?). By race day I had logged more than 60 miles on those country roads!

When the reunion was over and we said our goodbyes I drove to Ottawa to stay with Nicole's sister and brother-in law to be closer to the race. I also wanted to visit Wally before the race. Wally is 83 years young and still runs 10 to 12 marathons every year (OK – what’s your excuse). Ottawa was marathon #714 for Wally and # 322 for Maddog so we represent a total of 1036 marathons and 199 countries! The local paper wrote a nice article about Wally and Maddog before the race -

I visited Wally and Marie on Sat before we drove out to Cumberland (a small village 20 miles east of Ottawa) to pick up our race packets. Wally planned to start at 6am (3 hrs early) so he would finish under the 5-hr time limit. The weather was cool – much cooler than had been forecast two weeks earlier when I packed for the race! Now maybe you can understand why I jokingly (but lovingly) refer to my native homeland as Tundra Land! The race started and finished at the Heritage Village Museum in Cumberland. The course consisted of two loops on country roads around Cumberland. It was hillier than anticipated but scenic with the fall colors in the leaves. On Sun morning the weather was COLD – temps in the low 30s and a wind blowing at 20mph/30Kmh! Since I had not packed cold weather gear I was dressed in shorts and T-shirt with a throw-away long sleeve T-shirt and gloves and stayed in the car until the last minute before the 9am start. When I jumped out of the car and headed toward the start line I was surprised to find my baby sister Mary Lou and Tim looking for me. That was a nice surprise! But short since I had to jump into the crowd of 200 runners (a small race) to start the race.

I had researched the results for the past two years to learn that the winning time in my AG was around 4:05 so I figured 4 hrs should win the race? I wasn’t sure if I could run that fast but if I don’t set a target I can’t push the old bod. It was so cold –especially with the wind - that I didn’t even remove my garbage bag/wind jacket until I passed 5K in 26:47. The first 10K had a LOT of hills – more than I had anticipated – so I was surprised when I reached 10K in 55:04! I had settled into a 5:30/km (8:50/mile) pace and decided to hold that pace as long as I could. The hills continued till 16K and finally we dropped for the next 5K back to the start line. I reached the Half in 1:57:28 – a wee bit faster than expected. I hoped that I hadn’t gone out too fast?? The legs felt OK – much better than they had 3 weeks ago in Boulder so I decided to push the pace as long as possible. I really did not have much confidence that I would run the entire course – I was hoping that I could make it to 37K before the old legs crashed?

The 2nd loop followed the same loop for 10.5K – which meant 10.5K of climbing hills – and then looped back down the hills to the finish line. It had warmed up a wee bit and I contemplated finally removing my warm-up shirt - but when we started up the hills for the 2nd time the 20mph wind was directly in our faces and COLD so I never did remove my warm-ups! I also decided that the wisest strategy would be to slow down and try to conserve energy going up those hills and into the headwind in the hopes of having some energy left to push the pace on the return loop down the hills with a tailwind. I reached 25K in 2:19:31 and caught up to a fellow Country Club runner, Hajime Nishi, from Japan (he started 1 hr early). I slowed and ran with Hajime for a few minutes to catch up on his stats. He confirmed that he has now completed 72 countries which moves him up into 4th place on the CC list. I then pushed on and passed 27K in 2:31:56. A quick calculation – 15K to go in 88 minutes if I wanted to break 4 hrs! It would be very close since I still had 4K of uphill to run. I had to run a sub -6min/Km pace? That was very difficult on the uphill into a headwind but hopefully I could lower the pace to 5:30/Km on the return loop downhill with a tailwind?

I met Wally for the 1st time near 30Km as he was on the return loop and finally I reached the turn-around at 31.5K. I sucked it up and pushed the pace down to 5:30/5:40. I passed Wally again at 37K – the old legs were still churning and I knew right then that I would be able to keep them churning to the finish line. However when I reached 39K in 3:41:52 the course became flat and turned back into the wind which was then gusting at 40Kmh. I had 18 minutes for 3.2Km. It was going to be real close! But that wind was too tough! I just couldn’t keep the old legs churning fast enough to make up the minute I would need for the final 200 meters! However Maddog was not willing to give up and he dragged my tired/sorry ass the final 3.2k to cross the finish line in 4:00:40! I was not disappointed! In fact I was very pleased that I had been able to run the entire race and I soon learned that my time had indeed won 1st place in my Age Group. And no body parts fell off or hurt during the race!

The weather seemed to get COLDER as soon as I finished so I retreated immediately to the car to add more warm-up clothes and get my camera before returning to the finish line to cheer Wally across the finish. He finished in 7:13. After a few finish line photos we both beat a hasty retreat to the warmth of our cars! I hope to see Wally again in the winter and run a few more marathons together in FL?

I am back in FL now. The Sports Manager has successfully completed surgery to replace her hip and begins the recovery process under the careful care of Nurse Maddog!
Cooler weather finally arrived in FL this weekend (Oct 17) so I can start adding some intensity and speed work to my training program in the hopes of getting my marathon times below 4hrs again!

As part of my program I plan to run another ‘training’ marathon in Nov in Fort Worth, TX.

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 21, 2009

RR - Boulder Marathon

Race Report
Sun, Sept 20/09
Boulder Marathon
Boulder, CO
Marathon #318
4:30:04 - 1AG

I’m Baaaaaaaaaaaaaccccccccccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

After a 7-month sabbatical from marathoning – 5 months of rest/recovery and physical therapy to heal those mystery back and leg injuries and only 10 weeks of training I decided to run the Boulder Marathon as a long training run.

With two 20-mile training runs under my belt I felt confident that I could finish the race but was not so confident that the final 10K would not involve a lot of walking??
A bonus for choosing this race was that two of my good mates from the UK – Roger Biggs and Jack Brookes were also running the race. They planned to arrive late Sat night, run the race and continue on to CA to run the triple marathon in Lake Tahoe next weekend. Roger is on a quest to run at least one marathon every weekend in 2009.
We always have a ‘friendly’ competition when we race together but I figured my goose might be cooked in this race. It was going to be a contest to see if my advantage of altitude and jet lag could overcome their superior marathon conditioning?

I drove over to Boulder on Sat and picked up our race packets since Roger and Jack would not arrive from London until 6 pm. Since I had the afternoon to kill I decided to check out the racecourse. The race started and finished at the Boulder Reservoir northeast of the city. The entire course was located in the foothills of the Flat Irons (a mountain range west of Boulder). The lowest elevation was 5100 ft – the highest 5600 ft! About 20 miles of the course were dirt roads and the rest paved roads – all in a rural setting. There were lots of rolling hills but no shade on the course. I didn’t consider the course to be as difficult as Steamboat Springs where we had all raced together a few years ago and felt comfortable with the target I had proclaimed a few days before the race – to finish with a BQ time of 4:15!

My mates arrived on time and we enjoyed a nice pasta dinner while I described the course and we caught up on ‘war’ stories. The marathon started at 8am on Sun. The weather forecast had called for temps of 52F at the start and a high in the low 70s. They lied – or were wrong because a warm front blew into the region in advance of a severe cold front that was supposed to bring snow on Mon? The front included strong gusts of wind from the west – a tailwind for the 1st Half and a headwind for the 2nd Half!

It was sunny and 54F at the 8am start as we lined up with 3000 runners. I have to commend the race committee for great organization. They had lots of portable toilets – it is the first race I have never had to line up – even 10 minutes before the race – to use a toilet. And the race started on time! I figured Roger was determined to beat me and get revenge for my victory in Israel in Jan – and I was right. He took off and Jack and I tried to keep him in sight.

Jack and I passed Mile 1 in 9:30 and stayed together until Mile 5 (45:55) where Jack started to pull ahead. I started to get my answer about which was more important – conditioning or altitude acclimation? With the long straight stretches of country roads I was able to keep both Roger and Jack in sight. Miles 6 to 8 were uphill and I managed to close the gap a little and then we turned on to a paved road that dropped for 2 miles and I closed the gap some more. When I passed Mile 10 in 1:30:57 I was concerned that I was pushing the pace too hard to keep my mates in sight and hoped that I wouldn’t suffer for it later? I passed Jack at the Half in 2:00.45. I felt OK but was now very concerned that I was running over my head. And by then the sun was beating down on us and the temps had soared! It didn’t take long to confirm my fear. When I passed Mile 16 in 2:28:46 my legs were starting to tire rapidly. I hoped that I could hold the pace to 20 miles and then worry about walking? As I approached a turn at Mile 17 I was surprised to find that Roger was only about 1000 ft ahead of me? I figured if I could hold my pace I might catch him in the hills around 22 miles? Wishful thinking! Roger later told me that he faded and started walking at 18 miles – but he didn’t fade as much as I did.

By mile 18 I knew I was in trouble and tried to hold on until mile 20 before the inevitable walking started – but I couldn’t do it. As I reached mile 19 in 3:00:39 my legs were completely out of energy and I had no option but to start walking. The next mile was my worst/slowest of the race – a split of 13:22 as I tried desperately to keep my wasted legs moving. Finally I decided it would be better just to walk slowly and take a short rest at the water stop before mile 20 to give my legs a much-needed rest in hopes that they would start to recover? I knew that the final 10K was going to be ugly and painful and thus I figured the smartest strategy would be to use the ‘Galloway method’ – walk for 1 minute and run for 4 minutes. That worked OK until I got into a series of rolling hills near 22 miles and then it became ‘walk up the hills and jog down’. By the time I got through the hills my legs had recovered a wee bit and I was able to walk/jog a 12-min pace. During the final 5K I was both frustrated and happy that I was able to run a sub 12-min pace. Each time I tried to push the pace down to 10 min my legs would protest and quit moving. I calculated that a 12-min pace would get me to the finish line in 4:30 – and that would just have to be good enough!

I crossed the finish line in 4:30:04. Roger finished in 4:21 and Jack in 4:34. We checked the results. Roger and Jack had placed 3rd in their Age Groups and I had finished 1st place in my AG. I wasn’t surprised because I had checked results from 2008 and learned that 1st place in my AG was more than 5 hours. We collected our awards and said our farewells. Roger may come to Sarasota next spring to give me an opportunity to beat him and reclaim my title? I can’t say I was happy with my time or performance but I am not disappointed either because I finished as expected. The Good news was that no body parts fell off or hurt during the race. And one benefit of running so slow is that my legs were not sore after the race. The Bad news however is that I confirmed that I am in poor/pathetic marathon shape and I have a lot of hard/painful training to do to get back into peak/competitive shape. But it can be done if I can just stay healthy and injury-free!

I now have one day to pack and close up the house since we leave for FL tomorrow. We will only be home for one week and then we leave for Tundra Land – aka – Canada for a family wedding and reunion. By chance I will be there during the Ottawa Fall Colors Marathon and have decided to join my good friend and mentor Wally Herman to run his hometown race!

Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

RR - US Half Marathon

Race Report
US Half Marathon
Copper Mountain, CO
Sat, Aug 22/09
2:10:55 – 3 AG

Well, this was to be a BIG test – my first race since the Sarasota Marathon in Feb! After 5 months of rest/recovery and PT for the mystery injuries to my back and leg and 5 weeks of training I wanted to test my conditioning.

I had won this tough grueling race the past two years and set the course record (for OLD farts) but had no delusions that either were a possibility this year. I decided I would be happy if I could finish in 2:10 (a 10 min pace).
The race starts in the Copper Mountain Resort at 9500 ft. The weather was great – sunny and low 50s at the 9am start. The 1st mile climbs and then drops about 100 ft to the East Village. I thought I started slow as planned and couldn’t understand why I was hacking and sucking for air until I passed Mile 1 in 7:59! Too fast for the shape I am in! I immediately threw out an anchor and slowed down and passed Mile 2 in 16:51 – more reasonable! The next 2 miles we traversed and climbed a trail across a ski hill and I struggled to reach Mile 4 in 37:01. And we were just starting the tough part of the course since it climbs from 9400 ft to 10,600 ft over the next 5 miles!

I normally average a 10:15 min pace over those 5 miles but really struggled just to keep running up the mountain to reach Mile 9 in 1:32:12. I figured I could easily lower the pace to sub 9 min on the descent but what I didn’t figure on was missing the turn around shortly after 9 miles (for the past 2 years it was located at the top of Vail Pass)? There was no race volunteer, sign, etc at the turn so I continued to climb another 1/3 mile and 200 vertical ft to the top of Vail Pass before a kind person informed me that I had missed the turn! I was pissed off and immediately lost any incentive or motivation to push or hurt myself on the descent. I reached mile 10 in a 16:12 split and decided at that point just to jog the final 3 miles to the finish line!

I crossed the finish line in an official time of 2:17:55 but if I subtract the estimated 7 min for the extra 2/3 mile I figure I finished the HALF in 2:10:55? I was OK/happy with that time but immediately hunted down the race director and gave him royal shit for a poorly organized race and course!

Officially I finished in 3rd place in my AG and am not sure if the extra 7 min made any difference?

Since I didn’t expect to win I wasn’t disappointed and I still achieved my goal of running a long/hard training run w/o any (injury) problems so I was happy.

I followed that hard training run with another challenging training run (very) early Sun morning. I woke at 2am to drive to Leadville and arrive at the final check-in point at the 86.5- mile mark of the Leadville 100 Ultra Race at 3:30am. I had promised to pace a fellow runner/friend from FL (Adam Bright) through the final (13.5 mile leg) of the race. Adam arrived at the checkpoint at 5 am. We had 5 hours to finish the race under the 30-hour limit to earn the coveted Silver Belt Buckle. It was dark but unusually warm for this time of the year. We needed headlamps for the 1st hour through the forest along Turquoise Lake with a few sections of rocky and treacherous trails. However by 6am there was enough light to see the trails and by 7 am it was sunny and warming up. Adam was able to run and walk till the final 4 miles and then it was mostly walk and I had to play mind games with him to keep him moving. I know how bad I feel sometimes in a marathon – I could only imagine the pain and complete exhaustion he felt! But he used willpower, guts and determination to keep his wasted legs moving and crossed the finish line in 29:06!

As I watched him and others struggle and overcome their complete exhaustion to finish I confirmed my long-standing decision and wisdom to NEVER- EVER run an ULTRA!

Since both training runs went well I now have confidence to sign up for the Boulder Marathon in mid-Sept even though my longest run since Feb has been 15 miles?

Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Lance Armstrong - Spenco 500

Spenco 500 Home Movie

In case y’all thought the story about my video project keeping Maddog from going stir crazy during his injury/recovery was a lie or fairy tale I thought I should provide some proof. I have uploaded one home video to ‘You Tube’ for your enjoyment. It was a strange coincidence that when I decided to start the video project the first home movie or videotape I grabbed from my collection was the “Spenco 500”. I had even forgotten that I had filmed this event. I used this home movie to learn and practice how to use the video software I purchased to convert and edit tapes/film to DVD.

This home movie is very relevant now that the Tour de France has started and has an interesting story behind it that I will try to relate/share as briefly as possible.

Our son Chris attended high school in Dallas, TX at the same time as Lance Armstrong. Chris and Lance competed throughout high school in track and cross-country and in 5 and 10K road races in the Dallas area. They were both gifted athletes and became good friends and usually biked 50 to 75 miles every weekend with a group of friends. One day in 1986 Lance and Chris approached us with a group of 5 friends (all 15 years old) and asked if they could compete in the Spenco 500 – a grueling 24-hour/500 mile bike race through the Texas Hill country. The race started and ended in Waco, TX.

Since most of the parents were super jocks (in their own minds) who raced 10Ks and marathons and considered their kids to be even ‘better’ athletes we consented and agreed to support the team. My wife/sports manager and I drove the kids in our custom Ford van (shown in the video) so that they could relax and rest when not racing and other parents drove a van with the bikes.

When we showed up at the pre-race meeting in Waco there was a big surprise! The race officials took one look at the ‘kids’ and declared that they could not compete because they were too young! We reminded them that they had cashed the check/entry fee and had accepted and confirmed the kids’ registration that truly stated their age as 15 years old! After much heated negotiations where we informed race officials that one parent was a lawyer and would sue the race organization and request an immediate injunction to halt or delay the race they reluctantly conceded that the ‘children’ could participate. However they stated that they would accept no responsibility for their health or safety since the race was too challenging and grueling for such young ‘children’!

There were several ‘elite’ teams entered in the race including the US National Cycling Teams (men & women). A few members of the Women’s National team made the mistake of teasing the kids saying “you should not be in this race – you are not even old enough to shave”! This pissed the kids off and provided motivation to not only compete and finish – but they made it their goal to beat the Women’s US National Team!

The race started out well in the warm light of early evening. The kids were full of energy and motivated by all the negative comments and reaction to their participation. They averaged better than 30 miles/50 Km per hour during the initial daylight hours of the race. However as the race entered the hill country and light turned to dark and it became cold, rainy and miserable the enthusiasm started to fade. By midnight the riding shifts had shortened to 20 to 30 minutes and two team members wanted to quit and could/would not take their shifts. At that point Lance became the foundation and cheerleader for the remaining teammates and urged them on through the cold, miserable night. Often he would take every second shift to give his mates a longer rest. I watched in amazement each time he would bolt from the van in the miserable weather and bike furiously to catch up to the Women’s National team. All through the race – even through the miserable, cold night – the kids and the Women’s National team had played tic-tac-toe. Usually the women were in the lead but always within sight!

I was amazed with Lance’s athletic ability and stamina for a 15-year old kid. But what impressed me most was his drive and competitive spirit. He refused to give up or lose! I remember commenting to the Sports Manager “ this kid is truly unique – he has the ability to become an elite athlete”! (He didn’t let me down). Fortunately as the sun began to rise and the temps warmed up all five team members revived and became rejuvenated and motivated again. They were determined to finish – and beat the women!

As we approached the final 100 miles of the race Lance gathered the team together in our van and told them that if they could keep the women in sight until we were 25 miles from the finish he would take the final leg and guaranteed that they would beat the women!!!
Upon hearing their strategy I ordered Lance to skip his next few turns/legs and to rest for a few hours.

The team rallied and did their part. When we were 25 miles from the finish line the Women’s National Team was about 2 miles ahead. We let Lance loose. It was like letting a pit bull loose on a postman! He attacked like a possessed demon and averaged better than 30 miles/50Km per hour and passed the women 10 miles before the finish line- and never looked back as we beat the US Women’s National Team and placed 11th overall!!!

We were very proud of our kids and more importantly they were very proud of themselves and their accomplishment – as evident at the finish line in the video!

So now I share this ‘home movie’ with y’all. And you are lucky that y’all also get to share the story and memory that regular viewers on You Tube will never know about.



P.S. Pls feel free to pass this story and link on to friends.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Injury Update

Injury update: No improvement!

I ran a total of 3 times in June – and each time was a calamity! Let me explain.

At the end of my 2nd week in the High Country my leg was hurting badly. I decided to rest, cross train (2 hrs on an exercise bike, weight machines and pool at the Rec Center) and let it heal. A few weeks later the leg felt OK so I tried an easy 5-mile test run. After the run the leg hurt badly again and throbbed 24 X 7. I decided to go for some/more PT (physical therapy) with an old friend/masseuse Peggi de Sade who specializes in massage and PT for injuries. She started a treatment of stretching and applying pressure to trigger points. For those not familiar with this ‘torture’ technique she probes ‘trigger’ points along the legs and back to find the ones causing the pain and then applies pressure to each point to a level where I cry/scream in agony and beg for mercy (what a wuss – I am surprised you didn’t hear my screams in Africa?). After what seems like an eternity the pain eases and she begins again. Eventually the trigger points release and the pain goes away! It works and after each session the leg would feel much better and I would wait a few days and try another test run. Same result – the leg would hurt after the run and I was back to Square Zero and more ‘trigger’ torture. After the third test and a short rest the leg started to hurt even after 30 minutes on the exercise bike? Peggi thinks that one of the major muscles – probably the hip flexor- is so screwed up that it is not able to function properly and believes it is causing the other muscles and tendons such as the ITL Band and the piriformis tendon to compensate and overwork until they are also messed up. It is a never-ending vicious/painful circle that starts again every time I try to run? And now my back has started to hurt again? So Peggi and I have agreed on a new strategy/direction: NO running – NO biking – NO anything that causes stress/pain in the leg. Cross training will now be restricted to weight machines for the upper body and the pool/swimming. Have you ever tried to swim 1 mile in a lap pool? Boring!!!!! It is impossible to keep track/count of your laps after 10 minutes!

Maddog would probably have gone off the deep end by now – except for two things:
1) After I cancelled the marathons in Guatemala and Boston I wisely refused to make any more ‘goals’ or commitments for running. This has alleviated any stress or motivation to run through the injury. I will wait until I am 100% healthy and injury-free before I make any more commitments!
2) I started a project that I had been delaying for years. I have always wanted to convert and edit more than 30 years of family home movies to DVD. It is a tedious and time-consuming task – even more so when you are handicapped with an ancient computer (in Colorado) that is agonizingly slow and inefficient and only has a 75GByte hard drive! (I didn’t remember that computers actually had such small memories?) A typical video file runs 10 to 20 GB so I would have to finish one file, copy it to a portable hard drive and then delete the file from the main hard drive to free up space for the next file/project. On one particularly frustrating/bad computer day after 8 hrs of editing several hrs of home movies down to a 90-min video file my computer locked up and I lost the whole file and had to start over! I am surprised y’all didn’t hear the screams and foul language all the way to NZ that day? Fortunately that project kept me busy for almost 6 weeks but alas I finished this past week.

So now I am bored! Really bored! Hopefully in a few weeks Peggi can straighten out the tangled mess in my leg to make both it and my back pain free and I can continue training? I am trying valiantly to accept this couch-potato life but a day seems very long when you can’t exercise for 2 to 3 hrs!! Perhaps I can get some clues/suggestions from all you couch potatoes out there?

If this strategy/treatment doesn’t work I am not sure what the next step is? Probably I will look for a Sports Clinic/doctor that specializes in runners and biomechanics to see if he can figure out what the Hell the problem is and how to fix it?

Footnote: While waiting for the Sports Manager to have surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff on Jun 29 I visited the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, CO. After meeting with a team of medical experts for about one hour I scheduled an appointment the 2nd week of July to begin diagnosis and treatment of whatever ails me. I am optimistic that this team can fix my problems?

Stay tuned ( and keep your fingers crossed).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

RR - Sarasota

Race Report
Sarasota Marathon
Sarasota, FL
Sun, Feb 15/09
Marathon #317
4:03:36 - 5 AG

My hometown race! When I registered for the race right after last year’s race I had no idea I would be running a tough marathon (weather-wise) in Tahiti the week before. But there was no way I was NOT going to run my hometown marathon! Many of my running buddies from the local running club participate in this race and we always enjoy a great post-race party!
My legs were totally wasted/trashed at the end of the Tahiti marathon and then I had to do three training runs in the brutal heat on Bora Bora just to keep the old legs in shape for Sarasota. When I struggled during a 10-mile training run on Wed I decided to take an extra day’s rest to let my legs recover for Sarasota. Then we had the long flights and a midnight arrival home on Fri. On Sat when I picked up my race packet I had no idea how well my legs would be for the race on Sun. And even though the race had moved up three weeks from 2008 the weather forecast was calling for warmer weather than normal. Oh great! Just what I needed – another warm/hot weather race!

About the only good thing to happen before this race was the great pasta dinner the Sports Manager cooked- she makes the best spaghetti bolognaise in the world!

Sun was ‘M’ Day. There were about 2500 runners lined up at the Ringling Museum for the 6 am start About 400 in the marathon and 2100 in the Half). The temp felt much cooler than Tahiti – 64 F and 90% humidity. I decided to go out at a 3:45 pace and see how long I could hold it? Not long apparently as I passed 5 miles in 43:00 but a split of 9:14/mile.
When I reached 10 miles in 1:27:19 and a split of 8:58 I knew at that point the race was essentially over for me. I struggled to lower the pace but my legs were already tired/wasted so I decided the smartest thing to do was to back off and treat the race as a long training run. I tried to hold an ‘easy’ 9:00-min pace but by the time I crossed the Half in 1:56:15 my pace had slowed to 9:30s. I knew that a sub-4 hr finish was not going to happen but I hoped that I might finish close to 4 hrs? I let the pace slip to 9:40s which really helped and around 17 miles I started to feel the old legs recovering some? When the 4-hr pace group passed me at 19 miles it was discouraging but I tried to keep them in sight as long as possible. I passed mile 20 in 3:03:52. A quick calculation confirmed that I needed a 9:00min/mile pace over the last 10 Km to beat 4 hours. That wasn’t going to happen so I just tried to follow the 4-hr pace group for as long as possible. When I passed mile 23 in 3:32:31 and a split of 9:39 I figured the best I could do was to finish close to 4:05? Somehow I managed to keep the old legs shuffling and crossed the finish line in 4:03:36.

It wasn’t pretty and it hurt even though I backed off but I fared much better than the many runners who were in the medical tent at the finish line. A lot of runners suffered from cramps and dehydration due to the high humidity! I was disappointed that my body/legs had not been able to recover as fast as they normally do after a run but am smart/experienced enough to know that can happen and it is best just to forget a ‘bad’ run and move on to the next one.
Some of my friends enjoyed a good race and finish time but many were disappointed because they were not able to qualify for Boston as planned. However we all met after the race at Linda’s for a great post-race party with lots of food and beer. Next year I am going to focus on this race and try to regain the championship in my AG. I am tired of getting beat in my own race!

But right now I realize that I need some rest and ‘down’ time from running. My legs are totally wasted. My body is sending me ‘HUGE’ signs that it need rest. I have come down with another head/chest cold and the constant coughing/hacking is killing my back. I developed a severe pain in my lower back in Tahiti. It is the same old symptoms/problems I usually suffer every spring. I always figured it was caused by the long drive to CO but this time I believe it was the bad/soft beds in Tahiti. I am going to take most of the week off from running and then try some easy runs.

I am scheduled to run the Gasparilla Marathon in Tampa in two weeks. However I may decide to skip it or just do it as a long training run?

Stay tuned!

Monday, February 16, 2009

TR - French Polynesia

Feb 1-12/09

Race results:
Tahiti-Moorea Marathon
Moorea, French Polynesia
Sat, Feb 7/09
Marathon # 316 – Country #100

TEN down – ZERO to go! Country #100 ** New World Record**

I DID IT! I accomplished my goal of breaking the World Record!

It seems like a long time ago (April 08) when I announced that I was going after the World Record of completing a marathon in 99 Countries. There were times when I thought Maddog was being too aggressive/obsessive in demanding that I accomplish this goal before I turned 65 (in March)!

I had initially wanted to run countries #99 and 100 in English-speaking countries but Maddog’s time table did not permit that option so I chose Tahiti as # 100 because it is a place I have always wanted to visit and I would have my Sports Manager and personal translator along for the trip. A good friend in Sarasota, Frank Ouseley, who I often referred to as ‘the only other sane person in the world’ (now nick-named the ‘Mad Monk’) decided to join us at the last moment. On Feb 1 we all left for the long trip to Papeete, Tahiti. Due to flight cancellations and schedule changes by Air Tahiti (before the start of the trip) we were scheduled to spend a few more days in the French Polynesia Islands than originally planned.

We arrived in Papeete on Sun night and had 2 days to explore the capital city and Tahiti. This was enough time to do our shopping for gifts/souvenirs, do some training runs to acclimate to the heat/humidity, explore the city and take a circular drive/tour of the island. On the first day we toured Papeete on foot while shopping and enjoying some Polynesian food and beer. The food was OK but not spectacular and the beer is not very good but everything is expensive! One can easily do a walking tour of the city in a ½ day to visit the Harbour, Place Vaiete, the Market, City Hall and the old military section of the city. On our final day we took a ½ day circular tour of Tahiti to visit the Maraa Grotto Caves, Faaurumai Waterfall, Paul Gaugin Museum and One Tree Hill (see photos). That evening we celebrated the Sports Manager’s birthday at a fancy French restaurant and she received a lovely black Tahitian pearl for a present!

The following day we took a short 10-minute flight to Moorea where the marathon was being run. We had booked beach bungalows near Hauru Point. The road around Moorea is 60 Km long – we were located at Km 28 – mid way around the island from the airport and Temae Beach where the marathon started/finished. There is no public transport on Moorea except-only busses that take tourists to/from the ferry terminal. The race had arranged for these busses to transport runners to/from the race activities. It took exactly 1 hour for the 30 Km ride no matter which direction the bus went and we ended up having a few circular island tours free of charge!

On Thu we enjoyed such a circular tour to travel to the finish area on Tamae Beach to register and pick up our race packets. I had requested Bib # 100 and was pleased that the race organization had granted my request. On Fri we had to return to Tamae Beach for the pasta party and Polynesian show. I had an opportunity to meet and talk to Horst Preisler from Germany. Horst had emailed me to let me know that he and another member of the ‘Country Club’, Stefan Schlett, would be running the race. Horst holds the World Record for marathons with 1604 marathons completed. We took advantage of the opportunity to pose for a photo – together we represented a total of 1920 marathons and 152 countries!

Sat was ‘M’ day! I was concerned about the weather. Before we left for Tahiti we had checked the forecast. It looked like a broken record- highs around 88 and lows around 78 F with showers – every day! It had rained hard both nights and early mornings before the race. I was actually hoping for rain since it might cool down the temps. No luck – the weather was nice on race morning with temps around 80 F at the 4:30 am start in the dark. We didn’t expect the race to start on time and were surprised as we walked up from the beach to a paved/lighted road to start the race. I was double-knotting my shoe laces a few hundred meters from the start line when the gun went off? I ran to catch up but wasn’t concerned because 26 miles provides lots of time to catch up. I had a special singlet printed for the race that read “Pays # 100” on the front and “John’s 100th Country” on the back so received a lot of comments as I caught up and passed most of the pack. My race strategy was to go out at a 3:45 pace for the 1st half during the dark (and cool) hours because I knew I would slow drastically when the sun came up. I reached 10 Km in 54:36 – right on pace – but my split for that Km had slowed to 5:45/km (9:12/mile). That was not good! I managed to lower the pace back down to 5:30s (8:40s/mile) until I passed 15 km in 1:23:18 and a split of 5:45 again. I had to struggle to hold that pace until I reached the Half in 1:58:04. I knew right then that a sub-4 hr finish was not going to happen! I was already struggling to keep the pace below 6:00/km (9:30/mile) and my heart rate was running about 10 to 15bpm faster than normal. I figured it was high because of the extra work needed to cool my body?

As the sun started to come up the heat/humidity soared and I wilted like a prize flower! By 30 Km (2:44:50) my pace had slowed above 6:00/Km and I was desperately trying NOT to walk! It became a very painful struggle and mind game. I tried to drink as much water as possible and poured water over my head and body at every water station. I was hoping to finish under 4:05 but when I passed 35 Km in 3:23:12 and a split of 6:39 (10:40) I knew that wasn’t possible but I became determined that I would finish under 4:15 and BQ (Boston Qualifying) time – or die trying! The latter might have been less painful. The last 2 Km were sheer Hell as my pace slipped above 7:00s/Km (11/mile). Those were the longest 2 Km I have ever ran (in slow motion) in my life. But finally I reached the entrance to the beach and crossed the finish line in 4:14:27 to lots of cheers. A photographer from Runner’s World (German issue) took a photo at the finish line for the running magazine. Hopefully one of my German friends will forward a copy if the photo does make the magazine?

After a few finish line photos I walked straight into the ocean in an effort to cool down. Boy – did that water feel good! A quick check of the results confirmed that I did not place in a tough Age Group (Veterans 55+) so we decided to take the first bus back to the hotels to shower and rest up. The MadMonk had registered for the marathon but wisely changed his mind during the race and completed the Half marathon instead. Otherwise he would have been out on the course – and in that heat/humidity for almost 6 hours!

We enjoyed a great dinner that night (washed down with lots of beer and wine) to celebrate a new World Record. 100 Countries!
The following day we took another plane on to Bora Bora for four days of R & R. Bora Bora is smaller and much prettier/scenic that the other islands visited but after one day we decided to change the name to Boring Boring! There was not much to do. None of us were beach people who could enjoy just laying on the beach in the sun. It was too damn HOT and the sun would burn you to a crisp in 30 minutes. So we sat on the patio of our beach bungalow (drank beer) and enjoyed the scenery. Both Maddog and MadMonk had to run very early (4 am to escape the heat) every day to prepare for our hometown marathon the next weekend when we returned home. But the rest of the day was boring- boring so we got desperate and rented a car to tour the island. The drive/tour took one hour. We used the remaining 23 hours of rental to visit the main village of Vaitape to shop for groceries, visit an internet cafĂ© and later go to Bloody Mary’s for dinner. MadMonk scheduled a visit to the studio of Alain Despert – a world-renowned artist – to buy a painting.

On our final day on Bora Bora we took a boat tour around the island and snorkeled in the lagoons with stingrays and sharks. That was a pleasant and exciting tour/adventure. Although the FPI are beautiful and scenic and the people are friendly we were glad to be heading back home. It was so Damn HOT!

Now that we are back home what’s next on the agenda. First is my hometown marathon in Sarasota, FL. Hopefully the weather will be much cooler than Tahiti?

After that there are NO goals! Yes – you read that right! NO MORE GOALS! Whenever I set a goal it immediately becomes an OBSESSION for Maddog and he almost kills me getting it done!
I still want/plan to run a few more international marathons and countries but at a much slower rate – maybe 1 or 2 per year. I still plan to run domestic races but mostly home-state races in whichever state I am living in during the year. I am tired of airplanes and need a rest from travel.

So that is also Good news for y’all because you hopefully will get a rest form reading trip/race reports?

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RR - Miami

Race Report
Miami Marathon
Sun, Jan 25/09
Marathon # 315

I will try to make this report brief since nothing exciting or interesting happened during the race. The interesting events took place before the race!

I only signed up for this race for the 4th consecutive year because of the 50 % discount on the entry fee if I registered within a few days after last year’s race. I was glad I had because the marathon offered a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity to visit with my good friend and mentor Wally Herman and enjoy a short time together while we share the World Record of 99 Countries!

After a boring drive across Alligator Alley the Sports Manager and I picked up my race packet in Miami Beach and drove up to Wally’s winter home near West Palm Beach about 60 miles north of Miami. We joined Wally and his wife Marie for a pleasant pasta dinner at a nearby restaurant. Wally is a very fine and reserved/shy gentleman - 83 years YOUNG – who still runs 12 to 15 marathons every year! We caught up on running news/gossip and discussed our latest stats. Wally was running marathon # 709 at Miami and Maddog was running a comparatively low # 315. And for a very brief time we would both share the World Record of 99 Countries! I almost feel sad and guilty about breaking his record – a record he has held for as long as I can remember – certainly before I started running 27 years ago! However Wally has approved and is content that a good friend will be the one to break his record! To celebrate the occasion I broke a cardinal rule about imbibing the night before a race and joined our friends for a glass of wine with dinner.

Sun was ‘M’ Day. It was a little warmer than expected – 63 F at the 6:15 am start in the dark. Luckily I arrived early and managed to line up at the front the 2nd corral where I was seeded. I was only a few feet behind the Kenyans and pack of elite athletes. There were 15,500 runners behind us – 3500 in the Marathon and 12,000 in the Half. My race strategy was to go out at a 3:45 pace and hold that pace as long as I could. From past experience I knew that time would not be competitive in this race but I mainly wanted to do a long/hard training run.

As we charged across the MacArthur Causeway and enjoyed the spectacular sight of many cruise ships lit up in the dark I passed Mile 1 in 8:30 and Mile 3 in 24:59 – right on pace! However when I reached mile 6 on South Beach in 50:51 I became concerned because my legs had not settled into a smooth/easy flow like they normally do by that distance? Instead I was forcing the pace which was not good because it takes more effort/energy. I passed Wally around Mile 9 (he started 45 minutes early to beat the 6-hr time limit on the course) and reached Mile 10 in 1:24:56. I passed the Half in 1:51:42 – 5 secs faster than Tiberias a few weeks ago – but there was a big difference! My pace was still not smooth/easy and my legs did not feel as good/fresh as Tiberias. I knew right then that the 2nd Half would not be as fast and that the race was probably going to get ugly around 20 miles! My prediction proved to be true sooner than expected as I reached Mile 18 in 2:33:37 and a split of 8:40. I struggled to hold an 8:40 pace over the next two miles and reach Mile 20 in 2:51:06. I knew at that point that a sub-3:45 wasn’t going to happen! I figured that if I could hold 8:40s till Mile 23 I could hopefully ‘gut out’ the final 5 Km and finish under 3:50?

However the next 3 miles were a painful struggle and when I reached Mile 23 in 3:17:32 and a split of 9:00 I knew the race was essentially over for me. I had ‘hit the wall’. There was nothing left in my legs! I knew that if I stopped or started walking the final 5 Km would be very slow/ugly/painful so I had no choice but to summon Maddog and hand the final 5 km and race over to him. Somehow he managed to block out the pain and keep my wasted old legs moving/shuffling on energy fumes and willpower. As we shuffled towards the finish line all I could think about was how painful and tortuous the final 5 km of this race had been for the past 3 years? As a desperate attempt to provide a distraction from the pain and create an incentive to keep my legs moving I promised myself a nice reward if I didn’t walk – I would give myself a break and skip these 5 km from Hell and the entire race next year! That was reason/incentive enough to keep my tired/wasted old legs shuffling at a 9:15 pace – even over the final bridge into downtown Miami – and across the finish line in 3:47:23 -- without walking!

As expected that finish time was not competitive (9th place out of 25 runners in my AG) but I was satisfied with my time and effort. It had indeed been a long and hard training run and good preparation for my next adventure – the BIG event – Country # 100 in Tahiti on Feb 7/09!

Maddog, the Sports Manager and Mad Monk leave for Tahiti next weekend.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

TR - Israel - Part 2

1/05 – 1/15/09
Part 2

Now where did we leave off? Oh yeah! I had finished the Tiberias Marathon and we were ready to begin a one-week tour of Israel. I had always wanted to visit Israel with its many historical and biblical sites. When registering for the marathon I researched extensively on the Net for tours. The first thing I discovered was that most tours offered the same itinerary and all the tours were expensive! Another problem was that most tours started in Tel Aviv on Sun and ended there one week later. That meant going back to Tel Aviv for a few days and extending the trip? However I found a tour agency that agreed to let us join the end of one tour as it passed through Tiberias on Fri after the race and join a new tour on Sun in Tel Aviv. We waited for our tour guide to pick us up at our hotel in Tiberias on Fri morning.

But first before I begin the stories (or ‘fairy tales’) of our tour I must state this disclaimer: my stories/tales are my recollection of the stories/tales related to us by our tour guides which were supposedly based on historical facts and the bible! I accept no responsibility for the accuracy or truth of these tales! Let us begin. Also I suggest that to make it easier to understand and follow our tour that you print this report and follow the photos posted on my photo website.

Our guide, Ezra, picked us up at 8 am and we joined three English-speaking couples (Wales, NZ and Australia) for a short drive along the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum. According to Christian belief the village of Capernaum was the home base of Jesus during the most influential period of his Galilean ministry. He preached at the synagogue and healed the sick including Peter’s stepmother. He stayed in St Peter’s house. Then we continued along the Sea of Galilee to the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus preached to his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount. We continued into Northern Israel to the ancient city of Safed founded in the 2nd Century BC. The labyrinth of cobbled streets is lined with medieval synagogues and an artist’s colony.

From Safed we drove through the Hula Valley and across the Jordan River into the Golan Heights. As we climbed the Golan Heights Ezra pointed out the mine fields on both sides of the road. Instead of spending time and money to clear the mines the Israeli government allows the farmers to graze their cattle in the mine fields. If a cow steps on a mine there is instant, cheap hamburger available! We stopped in Katzrin, a new Jewish settlement in the Golan Heights, for lunch. It looks much like a new American town with wide streets, bungalows, etc. The town and the locals go out of their way to provide tourists with publicity and information about how much they have accomplished in the Golan Heights and fervently state that they will not move if Israel gives the Golan Heights back to Syria in a peace accord! After lunch we continued farther north into the Golan Heights to visit a former Syrian fortification near Nimrod on the Syrian border. It was cold standing on top of that mountain looking down into Syria! We then drove west back through the Hula Valley to the Banias Nature Reserve that is one of the sources of the Jordan River. Ezra pointed out that the six-day war with Syria was all about controlling the water from the Jordan River and Israel will never give up that control! We had hoped to visit a waterfall but the guards were locking up the gate at 3 pm to make an early escape for Shabbat (sunset Fri to sunset Sat). So we drove on to Kfar Giladi near the Lebanon border where we stayed one night at a kibbutz. Ezra advised us not to leave the compound of the Kibbutz since we were so close to Lebanon. He warned us NOT to climb the mountain behind the kibbutz because Lebanon was on the other side! We obeyed and went to the bar in the kibbutz. I wanted to do a training run on Sat morning but decided my legs needed an extra day’s rest ( read – chicken or smart – but I wasn’t running that close to the border with the risk of rockets flying).

After breakfast we drove south and west along the Lebanon border to the Mediterranean Sea. This region contains a lot of orchards and vegetable farms. We stopped in the ancient city of Akko – more than 5,000 years old. It has a natural port that was captured and used by the Crusaders in the 11th Century and it has changed hands many times. There are ruins dating back before the Crusaders but fortifications built by the Crusaders are still intact and original. We visited Crusader City and Knight’s Hall and then strolled through the Arab market to the Port passing the El Jazzar Mosque and the Khan El Omdan. I really liked Akko and suggest that you allocate at least 2 days to visit the city. Our visit lasted three hours before we left and continued south to Haifa. Since it was Shabbat not much was open and we enjoyed a falafel –pita bread stuffed with spicy meat and vegetables – at a local fast food stand. It was strange but no matter where we ate lunch – at a fast food stand, restaurant or cafeteria – it always seemed to cost 100 NIS (shekels) ($25 US) and dinner cost 200 to 300 NIS? Nothing was cheap in Israel! And most of the food/meals sucked! Very little variety or taste!
After lunch we visited the Baha’i Gardens on Mt Carmel dedicated to Baha’ullah, the founder of the faith. We continued south to Caesarea that dates back to the 4th century BC. Herod built a city and his Palace there in 22 BC. And the crusaders rebuilt the city in the 11th Century. We visited the Hippodrome, Herod’s Palace and a restored Amphitheatre that is now used for concerts. We again continued south along the Sea to Tel Aviv and stopped in Old Jaffa – a port city that offers fantastic views of Tel Aviv. We visited the market and strolled along the cobbled streets of the old city and over the Wishing Bridge. It is rumored that if you touch your zodiac sign to the rail while looking towards the Sea and make a wish it will come true? Ezra then dropped us off at our hotel in Tel Aviv and we bid farewell to our fellow tourists who had finished their tour.

Sun was a free day in Tel Aviv for Nicole and me as we waited for the next tour group to arrive and the tour to start on Mon. On sun I enjoyed a pleasant 12-mile run along the Sea in Tel Aviv and discovered a network of trails/paths that allowed runners/bikers to go more than 100 Kms without having to worry about traffic. As I was running I shouted my normal “good morning” to all runners/walkers/bikers that I met. They looked at me like I was crazy? Israelis are not very friendly! There are not a lot of tourist sites in Tel Aviv so we did a self-guided walking tour through the Yemenite Quarter that took us through Carmel Market and along Rothschild Blvd past Independence Hall and the Haganah Museum. It finished along Sheinken St, one of the principal shopping areas of Tel Aviv.

On Mon morning we joined 12 new tourists and tour guide Avi for the start of the next tour. We experienced the first minor change in the itinerary caused by the war/problems in Gaza. The tour was supposed to drive south along the Sea to Ashkelon and then head west to the Dead Sea. However Ashkelon is ‘very’ close to Gaza and the tour agency considered the city and highway unsafe. Good thing because Hamas fired 15 rockets into Ashkelon that day! There were no objections or disappointment expressed by the passengers as we headed directly west from Tel Aviv via Jerusalem and Jericho to the Dead Sea. At Beit Ha’arava we turned south along the Dead Sea. We made a brief stop for an obligatory factory tour – only this was one of the few times it was welcomed. It was the Ahava factory that manufactures (expensive) cosmetics from minerals in the Dead Sea that are therapeutic for the skin. Nicole uses the product and surprisingly the factory prices were 50% less than US prices. I told her to load up because it was probably the only bargain we would find in Israel! We continued on to Masada.

Masada is a historic site that I have wanted to visit since seeing the movie twenty years ago (Peter O’Toole). Masada is a desert mesa that rises high and alone above the Dead Sea. It was fortified in 103 BC and Herod built a palace and more fortifications as a potential refuge against a Jewish revolt.
In AD 66 a small band of Jews revolted and captured Masada. The Romans sent 8000 soldiers and set up eight camps at the base of Masada. Over a period of three years the Romans built an earthen ramp up to the fortress walls and prepared to breach the fortress. Rather than allow their families to be captured and put into slavery the men burned their homes and chose 10 men by lots who killed everyone and then nine of the ten were killed by the final zealot who killed himself! It has become Israel’s symbol for a “they’ll never take us alive” attitude and the term ‘Masada complex’ is a part of modern-day Israeli parlance! We rode the cable car to the top instead of walking up the ‘snake path’. Avi toured us around the fortress including Herod’s Palace, the Synagogue , cisterns and a 2000-year old bathroom! It was very interesting and the views of the Dead Sea from Masada were awesome.

After leaving Masada we stopped for another bland cafeteria lunch (another 100 shekels) before continuing to Ein Gedi Beach for a ‘float’ on the Dead Sea (the lowest point on earth at 420 m below Sea Level). We declined since I had already enjoyed that experience after running the Dead Sea Marathon in Jordan last year. Nicole and I sat and enjoyed a beer while some of our companions floated and rolled in the Dead Sea Mud. Then we drove back across the Judean desert and mountains to Jerusalem. As the bus climbed up into Jerusalem traffic was slowed by a security checkpoint and the driver rode the clutch and almost burned it out. It was smoking and smelling badly and the bus limped through the checkpoint and pulled over to the side of the road – next to the border/wall of the West Bank! The ‘ugly’ 20-ft wall was not completed at that point. The wall/border was a chain link fence with barbed wire and on the other side a group of Palestinian youths were throwing rocks at the cars. They never bothered with our bus but it was the one time during the trip that I felt nervous and was glad when the clutch cooled down and we were able to continue to our hotel.

Our hotel was located in West Jerusalem near the Central Bus Terminal. Although there was a shopping mall next door and the bus terminal (with lots of fast food kiosks)it was not a good location. There was only one restaurant in the area other than the hotel that only had the usual bland (expensive) buffet dinner. We were quickly introduced to security measures in Jerusalem. It was necessary to pass through a security check to get into any major building – hotel, shopping mall, super market, restaurant, bus terminal, museums, public buildings and most tourist sites! The check can be as simple as a security guard with a wand and check your bags to the same security used at airports! What a pain in the ass! I don’t know how the locals can stand it - but as inconvenient and annoying as it was it helped to make us feel safer!

I had planned to run the next morning but at 6 am it was too friggin COLD (mid 30s), too dark and too hilly! But the real reason I didn’t run was because I was concerned about running into a wrong neighborhood and finding myself in trouble? I easily convinced myself that my legs would appreciate a sabbatical or rest until I returned home! In two days I only saw two people jogging in Jerusalem?
The first day of touring in Jerusalem was the least hectic. We started with a visit to the Israel Museum that included the Shrine of the Book where the Dead Sea Scrolls are kept. There is a huge scale model of Jerusalem as it was in AD 66 which Avi used to describe the layout of the city and what we would see the next day. Close to the Museum is the Knesset – the home of the Israeli Parliament. Next we visited the Hadassa Medical Centre to view the twelve stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall for the Synagogue. Each window depicts one of the tribes of Israel. Then it was on to Yad Vashem or Holocaust Museum.
It contained many photos, videos and artifacts from the Holocaust but we had visited the Death camps in Auschwitz, Poland that were much more graphic and shocking. However I noticed that there were many teary eyes and people crying as I walked through the museum.

After lunch we drove to the West Bank and Bethlehem. The first thing we saw was the massive, ugly 20-ft walls separating Jerusalem and Israel from the West Bank. (You have probably seen them on TV?)
We had to leave the bus , walk through an entrance in the Wall, pass security and join another bus and guide in Bethlehem since the city is in Palestinian territory and control. We drove through Bethlehem to the Church of Nativity. We entered through the Door of Humility (must have been short people?) into a Greek Orthodox Church. We were quickly educated in the hierarchy of religious sites. Three or four religions or faiths share every religious site in the Holy Land. The Greek Orthodox Church enjoys the dominant position and location (usually right over a religious site) because the Turks gave them that position/control several centuries ago when they controlled the Holy Land. The Catholic Church usually holds the second best location followed by the Armenian Orthodox and Lutheran churches. There is a lot of dispute about control and Avi explained that only a few weeks ago riots and fights broke out in Manger Square between the various factions. Anyone want to bet that it is all about the huge amounts of money spent by Pilgrims??? Anyways back to the tour. We descended steps below the Greek Orthodox Church into caves to visit the Grotto of Nativity – the spot where Jesus was born. A few feet away is the Grotto of the Manger where his crib was kept. Well blow my mind – my Sunday school teacher and Christian teachings always depict the manger as a stable with animals?
St Catherine’s Church, built next to and attached to the Church of Nativity is where the Christmas Eve broadcasts originate.

We returned to the Wall and left Bethlehem. That evening Avi offered to take us on an optional (read more money) night tour of Jerusalem to see the Old City and tourist sites lit up. It was interesting but friggin cold! We had not packed for weather that cold and had to layer several T-shirts under a light spring jacket. Each time we stopped we would get out, look, and run back to the bus to warm up. Other than seeing the main tourist/religious sites lit up the best part of the tour was a walking tour on the pedestrian mall on Ben Yehuda St in the city centre. That mall/area contained many shops, bars and restaurants- what we had been missing and looking for in the area where our hotel was located! We were definitely going back there for our last night in town!

Wed was the final day in Jerusalem and the final and most hectic day of our tour. We started by entering through security at the Dung Gate and visiting the Western or ‘Wailing’ Wall. Then we had to pass though another set of security to gain access to Haram Ash-Sharif or Temple Mount. This is one of the most religious –and disputed- sites in the world. The Jews consider the large slab of rock protruding from Mt Moriah as the foundation stone of the world. It was here that God gathered earth to form Adam , Abraham nearly sacrificed his own son Isaac and where Solomon built the First temple and placed the Ark of the Covenant. For Muslims this is the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven to join Allah and is Islam’s 3rd holiest site! Temple Mount is located in the Muslim section of Jerusalem and is controlled by the Muslims. The Dome of the Rock that is the symbol of the city covers the slab of stone sacred to both the Muslim and Jewish faiths. We exited Temple Mount through the Gate of the Cotton Merchants into the souqs of the Arab Quarter. Avi guided us through the souqs to Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) – the route that Jesus is believed to have taken from where he was pronounced guilty to carry his cross to Calvary. There are 14 stations along the route dedicated to ‘holy’ events/places such as where was received the cross –where he fell for the first time, etc. The last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the sites where he was nailed to the cross, crucified and the final station is the Tomb of Jesus.
Many of the sites had churches of one or more faiths built over or on them. It became confusing by the end of Via Dolorosa what we had actually visited and seen?

We left the Old City and drove to Mt Zion to visit the Tomb of King David, the Room of the Last Supper and Dormition Abbey on the site where Virgin Mary died. By that time we were totally confused by the many, many religious sites or churches for almost any event. About the only site/church we did not see was one dedicated to where Jesus took a Holy crap??? Sorry – give me a break - but that is the way I felt! But we still weren’t finished. On to the Mount of Olives to visit the Church of All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested. The garden still contains olive trees over 2000 years old. The final stop was the Tomb of Virgin Mary. Once again I was confused because I swear we had already visited two other places where Virgin Mary was buried! I needed a drink and time to sort out this confusion! The Mount of Olives also provided fantastic views of the Old city – especially the East Wall and the Golden gate. The Muslims sealed the Golden Gate in the 7th Century to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering Haram! Kind of makes you wonder what they were smoking back in those days?

Thankfully Avi returned us to our hotel to pack and get ready for the trip home. Since we had a very late flight we took a taxi to Ben Yehuda St to stroll along the pedestrian mall, purchase some last minute souvenirs/gifts and enjoy a farewell dinner. We ate at El Gaucho, an Argentinean restaurant that serves Argentinean beef. It was the best meal we ate in Israel!

After touring both Jordan and Israel and traveling up and down both sides of the Dead Sea and observing the barren , desolate land of that region I now understand why it is called “The Promise(d) Land”! -------- “I promise never to go back”!!!

Now that we are back home I am trying to ramp up my training miles to make up for the miles lost during my sabbatical in Jerusalem and also lose the three pounds I gained. I will use the Miami Marathon this weekend as a long training run and final tune-up for my 100th country in Tahiti in Feb.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TR - Israel

1/05 – 1/15/09
Part 1

Race Results:
Tiberias Marathon
Tiberias, Israel
Thu, Jan 8/09
Marathon # 314 – Country # 99
3:44:39 – 4 AG

NINE down – ONE to go! Country # 99 (tied the World Record)!

This marathon and country were included in a list I prepared at the beginning of 2008 because I wanted to find English-speaking countries for #99 and #100! At the time all was peaceful in Israel!
Imagine my surprise when war broke out a few weeks before the race? I contacted the tour company to ask if the war in Gaza would affect the marathon and tour plans. They said “NO” and would make any changes necessary for safety! The Sports Manager and I decided to go because the marathon and tour were not near Gaza and there was no way to substitute another race/country before #100 planned in Feb! Many of our family and friends expressed concern and advice not to go but I responded that “Maddog was faster than a speeding bullet”! Thus we departed for the long flight to Tel Aviv.

We arrived in TLV late afternoon on Tue. And quickly received surprise # 2! Very few people in Israel speak English and all signs/information are in Hebrew? I had made a false assumption that their close ties with the US would mean most would speak English. Wrong!!! We had to find our own way to Tiberias. The guide book stated that it was necessary to take a bus from the airport to the Central Bus Terminal in TLV to catch an express bus to Tiberias. What it did not inform us however was that the buses were local – even the ‘express’ bus! It was an interesting trip since it was the end of the work day and soldiers were getting on/off the buses at various locations – and carrying their rifles and sub-machine guns! By law they must carry their guns at all times. It seemed strange but we felt very safe on the bus. Other than that we did not see any signs of the war/problems in Gaza – except for a dumb bus driver who listened to the news on the radio complete with the sounds of shooting/war from Gaza?

Shortly after we arrived at the hotel in Tiberias we met up with two friends/fellow members of the 100 Marathon Club UK. Roger and Peter had also planned this trip/marathon a long time ago to join me for #99 and were not about to change their plans for a ‘little’ problem in Gaza! We agreed to meet for breakfast and tour the city in the morning. Tiberias is located on the western shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is one of the four holy cities of Judaism and also a tacky holiday resort. There were not a lot of tourist sites to visit but we did stroll past the Greek Monastery and Leaning Tower, El Bachri Mosque and the southern Wall. Then we strolled along the Allon Promenade to the Sea Level Measurement – a visual display of the current sea level of the Sea of Galilee (213 m below sea level). We then headed to race registration to pick up my race packet.

I was concerned because the web site for the race was poorly organized/managed and the race staff refused to respond to emails. All of us were forced to ask the tour agency to register us for the race because of problems with the website. I had emailed several times to request Bib # 99 with the obvious explanation but received no response. I even had the tour agency call the race committee with my request. Thus I was not surprised when I learned that my race number was NOT # 99! I asked to speak to the race director and his excuse was that I had asked for two race numbers (99 & 100) and they could only give me # 100? I was pissed but it was too late to fix the problem! And later that day when we went to the pasta dinner they wouldn’t let us in? Roger had specifically asked what coupon or ticket in our packet was required for the pasta dinner but when we presented that coupon they informed us that we needed a different coupon? By that time I was so frustrated and annoyed with the incompetence and uncaring attitude of the race organization that I didn’t even care if I ran the race! I just wanted to run/finish the race to count # 99 and get out of there! Fortunately our hotel package for the race included meals so we returned to the hotel for a much better meal that we probably would have gotten at the race dinner.

Thursday was “M’ Day! The race started at 9 am. There were 700 runners in the marathon. The weather was sunny with temps in the high 40s F. I had a special T-shirt printed for the race that read “Country # 99” on the front and “John’s 99th Country” on the back. That t-shirt solicited some comments and conversations with a few runners before and during the race but very few runners spoke English? Roger and I have always been closely matched and competitive and although neither of us would admit it we intended to beat each other as usual. I decided to go out at a 5:20/km (8:30/mile) pace since we both felt that a 3:45 finish would be the best either could do (in our current shape)and that time would hopefully be competitive in the race?

The race started in the center of town and comprised a 21 Km loop south and then north to Ein Gev on the east side of the Sea of Galilee before returning to Tiberias. Fortunately the race and course were better organized/managed than the pre-race events! There were distance markers every Km that helped to monitor/manage my pace and water stations every 3 Km. The two lane highway was closed to traffic and there was excellent police control at intersections. I passed 5 km in 26:15, slowed a wee bit up a long, steep hill at 8 Km and reached 10 Km in 52:50. I had left Roger behind but knew he was following me. I reached 16 Km in 1:24:45 as the lead pack of Kenyans blew by me on the return loop (26 Km). The winner finished in 2:08 so it was a fast race! I passed the turn-around at the Half in 1:51:47 – almost right on pace! I didn’t think I would be able to run the 2nd half that fast but I still felt good and figured I would try to hold that pace as long as possible. I met Roger 2 minutes later which meant I had a 4-minute lead but I knew that he would come after me in the 2nd Half! I couldn’t slow down! I passed 25 Km in 2:12:28 and later learned it was around that time when Muslim extremists in Lebanon fired five rockets into Northern Israel about 10 Km north of the marathon course. I was so focused that I never heard a thing but Roger later said that he and the pack he was running with heard explosions and a few of the local runners commented “ That is not good”!

I reached 32 Km in 2:49:32 – I had 55 minutes to run the last 10 Km. I thought about trying to push the pace harder but wisely decided to wait till 35 Km before making any change to my pace. Good thing because when I passed 34 Km in 3:00:41 my split had slowed to 5:36 and I was starting to tire! It was time to summon Maddog because I knew he could accept the level of pain necessary to push the pace back below 5:20! We started playing the old mind game – “just run the next Km in 5:20 and we will re-evaluate”. It is much easier to lie and fool yourself to accept pain for one more Km than knowing that you have to do it for 8 Km! At the end of each Km you just continue the lie for the next Km! I passed 40 Km in 3:32:58 and a split of 5:26. But I was hurting and the pain level was high! Only when I passed 41 Km in 3:38:18 was I confident that a sub-3:45 finish was in the bag because I was confident that Maddog could push the pace for the final Km on willpower alone! I crossed the finish line in 3:44:39!

As I walked around the finish area trying to recover Roger finished in 3:48. He had tried to catch me as expected but just couldn’t make up the 4-minute lead I had at the Half. We figured Peter would finish close to 6 hours so we decided to go back to the hotel for a shower and return to cheer him across the line. Ninety minutes later Maddog, Roger and the Sports Manager waited at the finish line as Peter finished in 5:44. We found race results posted at the host hotel to confirm that I had finished in 4th place and Roger in 6th place in our Age group. We were both pleased with our times and performances and acknowledged that both of us had run faster than expected because of our friendly competition. However we were a little disappointed/surprised that 3:45 wasn’t competitive? Third place finished one minute ahead of me – Damn! – I could have pushed the old bod for one more minute had I known?

Later the four of us enjoyed some celebration beers at a local restaurant before a farewell dinner. We planned to start a 7-day tour the next day while Roger and Peter returned to Tel Aviv to tour and visit relatives.

I will leave the story about the tour for Part 2 and conclude this section with a review/evaluation of the race. The pre-race organization and information is very poor. The race staff will not respond to emails and do not seem to care about the runners or any requests. The race and the marathon course were well organized and managed. I would recommend that you avoid this marathon unless your list requires the addition of a race in Israel!

Although I was not happy about the race committee’s failure to provide Bib # 99 for this special race I was happy to finish marathon # 314 and country # 99! That ties the World Record held for a long, long time by my good friend and mentor Wally Herman (83 years Young and still running). I still consider Wally to be the World Champion until somebody passes him. The Sports Manager and I will meet Wally and his lovely wife Marie for pasta dinner next weekend in Miami before Wally and I run the Miami Marathon. That will be my final tune-up before I run Country # 100 in Tahiti in Feb.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this trip and the next adventure.