Wednesday, June 16, 2010

RR - Estes Park Marathon

Race Report
Sun, Jun 13/10
Estes Park Marathon
Estes Park, CO
Marathon #331
4:36:29 – 2AG

After my race in Steamboat Springs last week I was not looking forward to the marathon in Estes Park.
The Estes Park Marathon is billed as the ‘highest paved marathon in the world’ although I have informed them that billing is false. I have run two marathons that are higher: Bhutan and Colombia and am searching for a marathon in Bolivia that will surely be higher than both of them!
But the course is higher and harder than Steamboat Springs and I wasn’t confident that my legs had recovered? However we were looking forward to our visit to Estes Park. Estes Park is a pretty little town nestled in Estes Valley at an elevation of 7600 ft. The Big Thompson River flows through the middle of the town into Lake Estes on the east side of the town. It has been a ‘tourist’ town/destination for many years since it is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. To the south the Front Range, including Longs Peak (14, 255 ft) towers above the valley and town. To the west Rocky Mountain National Park unveils a stunning array of mountain peaks, 74 of which reach elevations of 12,000 ft or more. The town has a lot of neat shops, bars and cafes overlooking the Big Thompson River.

We drove via Denver to pick up our 4-Runner at a Toyota dealer where we had left it for a major tune up/maintenance for 100K miles. Since I drive the SUV on some difficult 4X4 roads into remote 14ers I am adamant that it always be in excellent mechanical condition. We continued our drive on through Boulder and approached Estes Park on Hwy 36 from the south east. It is a narrow winding road with some pretty scenery. It was raining when we arrived in Estes Park so we went to the school complex to pick up my race packet before we checked into our hotel. I had booked a nice hotel with great views of Estes Park and the mtns but it was a waste of money because it rained all weekend.

It was cold and rainy Sat afternoon so we didn’t even try to enjoy our usual stroll along Main St. We went for an early pasta dinner at Mama Roses hoping to enjoy the musicians along the Big Thompson River; however the River was only a few inches below flood stage and many sections of the bike path were sandbagged and closed down. So far the weather was wrecking a good weekend?

Sun was ‘M’day! The weather forecast called for cold temps and continued rain! Unfortunately it was accurate! It rained all night and was still raining when I left for the race at 6:15 am. The temp was 39F!
Now 39F can be pleasant for running – if it is sunny and dry! I often start my morning run in temps near 39F but it is sunny and warms up to the mid 50s by the time I finish. But believe me when it is 39F and rains hard constantly for 5 hrs - it is friggin COLD and MISERABLE! I would normally dress in a T-shirt and shorts for that temp but I wisely –and thankfully- had worn running tights, long-sleeve T-shirt and gloves. Even so I refused to get out of the car until 10 minutes before the start of the race. I wore a customary garbage bag to keep warm and dry with the expectation to discard it a few miles into the race.

As I lined up at the start line with about 200 other crazies/fanatics I seriously questioned my sanity and asked “what the Hell am I doing here”? We were soaked and cold when the race started at 7am! The race started at the public school complex (7550ft) and climbed 100 ft over the 1st mile. I ran this race two times previously and knew that 1st mile was difficult and resulted in lots of “sucking for air”. And based on my still-painful memory of going out too fast at Steamboat I decided to start slow – a 10-min pace. By the time we reached the top of that 1st hill and started a 200 ft descent on mile 2 we were totally soaked. The roads were covered in deep puddles and streams running off the mtns so my feet were soaked and frozen – and my gloves were also soaked and my hands frozen. I passed mile 2 in 20:16 and began a long, relentless climb to the highest elevation on the course (8150 ft) at Mile 6.
An old fart passed me at mile 3 and I let him go. Either I would see him later on the course or he would beat me? I was struggling just to maintain a 10:30 pace up that BAH (Bad Ass Hill). I reached a water station near 5 miles and tested the ‘green’ concept of the race. The race was advertised as a cup-free
(no paper cups) race. Instead each runner was given a ‘hydrapouch’ – a pliable, plastic pouch that held 6 oz of liquid. There were special dispensers (1 for water and 1 for Gatorade) located at each water station that filled the pouch in a few secs. They did work but this concept would never work for a large race – in the early part of the race there was a line up to fill up the pouches. I was leery of the concept. The pouch had a clip to clip it on to a waistband but running shorts don’t have a strong waistband so I was concerned about losing the pouch or having to carry it for the entire race. Instead I wore a waist belt with a water bottle and filled the bottle when necessary. Unfortunately at that 1st water stop my hands were so frozen that I couldn’t get the top of my water bottle and had to ask a race volunteer to fill my bottle so I could wash my 1st carbo gel down. That ‘concept/process cost me more than 2 min at that 1st stop – another reason it will never succeed! I considered discarding my ‘rain gear’/ garbage bag but it was still raining and I was still COLD! I figured if my T-shirt got soaked I could suffer hypothermia so I wisely decided to keep wearing the garbage bag!

I reached the top of that 1st BAH at Mile 6 in 1:05:51 – an average 11:00 min pace! Not good! The next 4 miles were a steep downhill that dropped 800 ft. In past races I hauled ass down that hill only to find my legs trashed by the time I reached the Half so this year I deliberately held my pace at 9:30 to reach Mile 10 in 1:43:29. Obviously a sub 10-min pace or 4:20 marathon wasn’t going to happen. The course passed through downtown Estes Park and climbed another hill along Hwy 36 before dropping down to Estes Lake (7420 ft) at the Half. I passed the Half in 2:15:20. A sub 4:30 marathon was now dubious – but I didn’t care – survival under those miserable conditions was becoming more important! There was a restroom located on the bike path at that location and I decided to make a major pit stop (still some lingering effects of the GI problem). Also my heart monitor was not working properly and I figured the strap needed to be adjusted. With a waist belt and garbage bag that required a major process to half strip and I wasn’t going to do that in the cold and rain. I lost 5 minutes to ‘necessities’ but when I hit the bike path again I felt much better and my heart monitor was reading accurately. It indicated that my heart rate was 10 bpm lower than my normal race level because of my slower pace.

I wasn’t concerned about the 5-min delay/penalty – it wouldn’t have much effect on my overall time or position in the race because the most difficult part of the race was about to begin! I started to climb another BAH at Mile 15 followed by a series of rolling hills. When I crested a hill at Mile 16 in 2:48:32 and a split of 10:50 I wondered why the rain suddenly started to sting/hurt so much? I looked down at the road and noticed ice crystals (sleet) bouncing of the asphalt! Oh Goody! Can these miserable conditions get any worse? Luckily there were only a few short bursts of sleet over the next few miles as I started the long relentless climb back to 8000 ft at 20 miles. Somehow I managed to hold a slow but steady 11:00 min pace up that long BAH as I passed many runners who had succumbed to walking!
I crested that BAH at Mile 20 in 3:33:37. Holy crap! 3:33:37! I am normally finishing or running the final mile in that time – and I still have 10K to go! My legs felt OK but a 1-hr 10K at 8000 ft wasn’t likely to happen so I would be lucky to finish under 4:40?

Mile 21 was downhill and gravity helped me lower the pace to sub 10 min before climbing another BAH that climbed back to 8000 ft at Mile 22. When I crested that BAH in 3:55:07 I noticed the old fart who had passed me at Mile 3. I used gravity again on the next downhill mile to catch and pass him at Mile 23 (4:04:45 and a split of 9:38). I realized that I needed to bury him quickly so I continued to push that sub 10-min pace up the final BAH at Mile 24 and down a steep hill to Mile 25 (4:23:58 and a split of 9:20). But now my legs were trashed! I sneaked a peak over my shoulder – the old fart was still chasing me and about 800 ft behind. There was only one thing I could do – call Maddog! I handed the final mile over to him and as expected he ignored the exhaustion in my wasted old legs – and he ignored their screams and cries as he continued to push the pace over the final mile. He refused to let that old fart catch him!
As we approached a short/steep hill at Mile 26 I sneaked a final glance behind – the old fart was still 800 ft behind! That was enough incentive for the old bod to provide one final jolt of adrenaline to push us up that hill and across the finish line on the school track in 4:36:29!

I waited for the old fart to finish 3 min later and learn that he was in the 50+ AG! Shit! Double SHIT! I nearly killed myself for nothing! I need to learn how to guess the ages of old farts better if I want to save myself a lot of pain and agony.

As I walked to the car for a camera for a finish line photo it finally stopped raining. I took a photo – still wearing my garbage bag – and waited for results to be posted. I wasn’t surprised. The results followed the typical pattern for this race. A fast, young runner in the 60+ AG usually finishes under 4:15 – the next two places finish close to 5 hrs – and everyone else finishes between 5 to 7 hrs! I finished in 2nd place! I was happy with my strategy and performance. I ran a smart race and managed to run a slow/smooth/steady pace throughout the race w/o any problems except for the needless pain over the final 5K. I wasn’t unhappy with my time but more discouraged/dismayed? I set the course record (4:02:11) for the 60+ AG five years ago and if this rate of time degradation continues due to age I will have a difficult time breaking 5 hrs when I turn 70!

After a long hot soak at the hotel the weather stayed nice (no rain) long enough for us to make a stroll along Main St and stop at the Estes Park Brewery for a few micro brew. But then the rain returned and continued to spoil our weekend and trip! We stayed in Estes Park Sun night with plans to visit RMNP on Mon on the drive home. The sun was actually shining on Mon morning when we stopped at the visitor’s center to learn that the Trail Ridge Road (12,000 ft) through the Park was closed due to heavy snow all weekend! We had to back track on back roads through Blackhawk to I70 and drive though 20 min of snow storms when we crossed the Continental Divide! Oh well – one bad visit/trip out of three ain’t so bad?

Fortunately the weather has improved in the High Country – sunny and mid 70s – as I contemplate concerns about my next race/challenge in 3 weeks. I rate the Leadville Trail Marathon as the 4th toughest marathon in the world! It starts/finishes in Leadville at 10,500 ft and climbs to a highest elevation of 13,200 ft at the top of Mosquito Pass at the Half. I will need to do some serious hill and trail training above 12,000 ft during the next few weeks. My plan is to go out my back door (9000 ft) and run the Ptarmigan trail that climbs 3500 vertical feet over 6.5 miles to Ptarmigan Peak (12,500 ft) – and then turn around and run back down! I will complete that run a few times plus a trial run on Mosquito Pass. That run starts at 10,000 ft and climbs 3200 vertical ft on a 4X$ road over 3 short/steep miles to the top of Mosquito Pass. Believe me – there is a lot of walking and ‘sucking for air’ involved in that run.

Are any of my readers interested in joining Maddog for a few ‘easy’ training runs during the next few weeks?

Stay tuned!

Monday, June 07, 2010

RR -Steamboat Springs

Race Results
Sun, Jun 6/10
Steamboat Springs Marathon
Steamboat Springs, CO
Marathon # 330
4:20:47 – 2AG

This is (er - used to be) one of my favorite races in CO. The course is very scenic and the race well organized. The course is point-to-point starting at Hahns Peak Village 26 miles NW of Steamboat Springs. The elevation is 8128 ft at the start. The first mile drops 100 ft and then mile 2 climbs to the highest elevation of the race – 8178 ft. The course then drops 1450 ft over rolling hills to mile 20 and climbs through 3 nasty BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) over the next 3 miles and finally drops over the final 3 miles to finish in downtown Steamboat at 6728 ft.

I ran this race four times and won my AG three times in my early 60s with times ranging from 3:38 to 3:57. In 2008 my finish time of 4:01 was only good enough for 3rd place so I didn’t believe I could be competitive this year. With only one week of altitude training and still suffering GI issues I figured my target should be 4:10 to 4:15.

The Sports Manager didn’t return from the West Coast till late Sat afternoon so I traveled to Steamboat by myself. I picked up my race packet and enjoyed a nice pasta dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant.

Sun was ‘M’ day. The weather forecast called for sunny and warm temps. It is necessary to catch a bus to the start line at 6am. It was 50F at 6am! It was at little cooler at Hahns Peak Village but sunny and in the low 50s at the 7:30am start. There were 450 runners in the marathon and 1000 runners in the Half that started at the 13 M mark of the marathon course. The 1st Half is fast in spite of a few nasty hills because overall it drops 1000 ft. I have made the mistake in the past of starting two fast in this race so I decided to run a 9:00 min/mile pace through the 1st Half. I passed Mile 5 in 44:23, Mile 10 in 1:28:40 and reached the Half in 1:57:41. I was right on pace!

I knew the 2nd Half would not be as fast because there are five BAHs so I slowed my pace to 10 min/mile. I figured if I could hold a 10 min pace except for the 3 nasty BAHs at mile 20 then I should be able to finish close to 4:10? My legs were already beginning to tire so the 10-min pace felt good. I even managed to hold that pace through the first two BAHs at miles15 and 18. However when I crested the BAH at mile 18 my legs were very tired and heavy and I knew I was in trouble. I hoped I could hold the 10-min pace till the start of the BAHs at mile 20 because I figured there would be some walking required through those hills. But it wasn’t meant to be – by the time I reached Mile 19 my legs were wasted/finished – there was nothing left and I was forced to start walking! I knew right then that the final 7 miles were going to be very ugly and painful. I tried to use the ‘Galloway’ strategy – walk 1 min and run 5 min.

I reached Mile 20 in 3:08:13 and a split of 11:11 and now faced 3 nasty BAHs over the next 3 miles. The 1min/5min strategy/pattern quickly disintegrated and the run time became shorter and the walk longer but I somehow I managed to hold a 12-min pace through the BAHs. I crested the final BAH at mile 23 in 3:45 and realized that my target of 4:15 wasn’t going to happen. I would have to run a sub 10-min pace over the final 5K and that wasn’t going to happen.

Mile 24 was a steep downhill and gravity helped pull me down that mile in a split of 9:47. However when the course flattened and gravity no longer helped my legs refused to move and I struggled to walk/jog the next mile in 11:47. When I reached Mile 25 in 4:06:34 I tried to fool and motivate myself with a goal of finishing under 4:20. However my legs were wasted – totally finished – and refused to move. The last mile of the course runs along Main St in Steamboat and is lined with spectators cheering the runners to the finish. Maddog was not going to allow himself to be embarrassed by walking/crawling along that section so we walked/crawled for about 3 min to give the legs a chance to recover and then sucked it up and jogged the final section of the course to cross the finish line in 4:20:47!

When I crossed that finish line there was absolutely nothing left in the old legs or old bod. I didn’t even have enough energy to fart! Thank goodness breathing is involuntary because I didn’t have enough energy for that either! I shuffled/crawled to the car to get the camera for a finish line photo. After the photo I checked the race results. I was shocked! That pathetic/poor finish time was good enough to place 2nd AG. If I had achieved my target of 4:15 I would have won my AG? Clearly the fast dogs did not show up for this race! I did not deserve an award for such a poor performance and time – maybe for the perseverance and tenacity to accept a HUGE amount of pain to get to the finish line?

I have no idea why I suffered such a bad crash or collapse. The last time I suffered that much pain and hurt that much in a race was one year ago at the Boulder Marathon – the 1st race back after a 6-month sabbatical due the mystery back injury. But at least I had a reason - I was not in shape and had not trained enough! I think I am in good shape and believed my race strategy was smart but I have to assume the 9-min pace through the 1st Half was too fast? Maybe the past few months of illness and GI problems have taken a bigger toll on the old bod that I thought? Now I am concerned about my next race next weekend. The Estes Park Marathon is much higher and much tougher. And it has been a long time since I ran back-to-back (consecutive) weekends. Thus I am going to run much smarter and slower and hopefully finish with a faster time and MUCH less pain!

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

TR - Colombia - Part 2

5/15 – 5/24/10
Part 2

Now where were we? Oh yes – you were going to the fridge for another beer and I was getting ready to catch a flight back to Bogota.

I arrived back in Bogota in the late morning and went immediately to the Sheraton Hotel (an overpriced luxury hotel located close to the airport) where Edson and I were staying for one night. I called Mario and we agreed to meet for lunch. I found out that hotels in Colombia are just like hotels around the world. It cost 14,000 pesos/$7 US to call Mario for 5 minutes and only 6,000 pesos/$3 US to take a taxi to his home? Moral of this story: ‘do not use phones in hotels”!

After lunch we had to decide how Edson and I would get to Paipa – about 200 Km north of Bogota in the Boyaca department. Mario offered two options: 1) we could drive up with him – but his car would be packed to capacity and he needed to leave at 4 am to get started on the work/logistics of the race and 2) a friend was taking a bus and agreed to escort/accompany us to Paipa. He spoke good English and would leave around 10 am.
That decision was a no brainer! We chose to sleep in and leave at 10 am!

Edson arrived in the afternoon and I filled him in on ‘our’ decision. He was very happy to sleep in! We naively decided to wait and eat a late dinner but when we tried to find a restaurant near the hotel we discovered that all the restaurants closed at 5 pm! The Colombians do indeed eat their big meal at lunch and many restaurants close at 5 pm? Only the restaurants in the hotel were open.
That evening I took the last of my ‘super’ drug and was concerned that the GI problems might come roaring back? The problems had improved but had not completely abated. On the advice of my doctor and some friends I had been eating yogurt every day and taking probiotics in an attempt to restore the good bacteria and the proper balance to my GI system. I HATE yogurt but had eaten more yogurt in the past week than in all my previous 66 years! But I was willing to try anything to get my GI system back to normal!

On Fri morning Mario’s friend, Domingo Tibaduiza, came to the hotel with his son Ron to meet and escort us to Paipa. We could have made the trip on our own but it would have been much harder and more stressful because we were stopped and checked for ID at the bus station and the police/military stopped the bus twice en route to Paipa. They checked all passengers for ID and all baggage for weapons because the country was in the middle of elections and we were traveling into territory occupied by rebels. The government wanted to stop rebels and weapons from moving into the region! Domingo explained the stops/issue to us was and was able to explain to the police why we were on the bus and traveling to Paipa. During the 4-hr bus ride we had a long discussion with Domingo. He was an elite runner who won the Berlin Marathon in 1983 (2:14:47) and placed 8th in the NY Marathon in 1984 (2:11:28) and won many other world-class races. Domingo and his family lived in Reno, NV for more than 30 years. In fact we discovered that we lived in Reno during the same time period (79-82) when I ran my 1st marathon in Reno. Domingo was the coach at UNR for the college running team and when they terminated their program he moved into the Washoe County School District as a coach. We assumed that we probably met during that time because he assisted the Silver State Striders (local running club) that I had joined for help in my marathon training. It is indeed a “small world”! Domingo had recently returned to Colombia to accept an offer to coach the Colombian National Team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics in London. His son Ron also returned to train with his Dad in hopes of making the team as a marathoner.

When we arrived in Paipa we were glad to have Domingo because he knew the way to the hotel and arranged for the taxis, etc. The host hotel was the Hotel Sochagota – a luxury resort located on a hill overlooking a lake and the city of Paipa. It had its own thermal hot springs that are common in that area. After checking in and enjoying a ‘big’ lunch we joined Domingo and Ron for a leisurely (2 Km) stroll into town to check out the Stadium and track where the race started/finished. Then Domingo helped us do some souvenir shopping - very few people in Colombia speak English- and finally we went to a market to buy some necessities for the race – bottled water, Gatorade, beer and fruit (and more yogurt for Maddog)!

On Sat morning Edson and I decided to do an ‘easy’ 5-mile run along the lake to explore some of the course and to acclimate to the 8200 ft elevation. We confirmed that we would have to slow down and run easy if we wanted to finish the marathon at that elevation! After breakfast we picked up our race packets and started to meet many runners including some of the elite Colombian runners. We met Alvaro Mejia Florez who won the Boston Marathon in 1971 (2:18:45) and many other big races. We also met Carlos Grisales, the current national marathon record holder (2:11:17 and 5th place in Boston in 1996). I informed Carlos that I ran the same race (the 100th anniversary of Boston) to celebrate my 100th marathon – but I finished a ‘wee’ bit behind him!
It soon became apparent that the elite runners were considered National Sports Champions and heroes – as they deserved to be. I was honored that they respected my running accomplishments as much as I respected theirs. Both Edson and I were pleased and comforted by the friendship and hospitality offered to us by the elite runners and all the people of Colombia! We left the country with many new friends and fond memories. Later that morning Mario took Edson and I on a tour of the marathon course. He wanted to make sure that we were familiar with the course and would not get lost!
It was a 14 Km loop that started and finished on a track at a Stadium in Paipa. There were three ‘gentle’ hills in the loop that we had to complete three times. There were a number of turns and one out-and back loop but the course was easy to remember. There would be lots of water along the course but the only toilet facility was at the stadium which was a slight concern to me (and my GI problems)?

Mario had asked me to make a 1-hr presentation at the race expo to discuss when and why I started running and how it led to a world record 103 countries? The seminar was well attended and Mario translated my talk and the questions/answers that followed. Later Maddog was invited to join the National Sports Champions and local dignitaries on the podium for the Opening Ceremonies of the race. That was followed by an excellent pasta dinner where we shared a table with Domingo, Ron and Alvaro and enjoyed sharing running stories and experiences.

Sun was ‘M’ Day. Edson and I were concerned about getting to the start line – it was either a 2Km walk or take a local bus and that was the concern – taking a wrong bus! Domingo promised to guide us to the start line. The marathon started at 7 am and at 6am it was much warmer than expected. I had packed a long sleeve T-shirt and gloves thinking it would be cold at 8200 ft? I selected a short sleeve shirt and wished I had packed a singlet. Thankfully the sky was overcast which would help keep the temps down. At 6:45 we were still sitting in the hotel lobby waiting for Domingo and very worried that we would miss the start of the race. Ron was running the 10K race that started at 8am so they weren’t in a hurry. Luckily a pretty young lady who had driven up from Bogota to run the 10K offered us a lift and dropped us off at the start line at 6:55 am. Now I was really stressed! I have a pre-race ritual that must be followed to prepare for a race and that takes 15 minutes! Thankfully the stress was alleviated quickly with an announcement that the race would start in 20 to 30 minutes? That allowed Edson and I plenty of time to perform our rituals and time for several pit stops at the bathroom (and a few in the bushes) as I attempted to flush out my GI system. I knew it was a futile attempt and that many more pit stops would be required during the race – but there wasn’t anything I could do about the problem!

The marathon started at 7:30 am. As we left the stadium for the 1st loop I reminded myself of my race strategy. I could not be competitive in this race - my Age Category was classified as ‘Master B’ – males 50+ and there was no way I was going to beat a ‘good’ 50 year-old Colombian on his local turf at 8200 ft! Add in several pit stops because of GI/health issues and there was no sense in trying to kill myself. I figured if I could run a 6:15 to 6:30 min/Km pace (10:00 to 10:15 min/mile) I would finish under 4:30 and that was the best I could hope for? I passed10Km in 59:59 and finished the 1st loop (14Km) on the track in 1:24:19. I was actually ahead of pace! However I had to take advantage of the toilets at the stadium and make a major pit stop that cost 2 to 3 minutes. I figured there would be at least one pit stop on each loop?
I left the stadium again and climbed the first two hills of the 2nd loop and reached the Half in 2:10:30 – right on a 10 min pace. However my legs were already beginning to feel the effects of the high altitude and I knew the 2nd Half would not be as fast.

I reached the stadium and the finish of the 2nd loop (28Km) in 2:59:14. I had slowed significantly on the 2nd loop! Thankfully and surprisingly I didn’t need a pit stop so I continued around the track and left the stadium for the 3rd loop. As I started up the 1st hill of the final loop my legs felt very tired and heavy and the temps were getting very warm and my pace slowed to 7:05/Km - or more than 11:00 min/mile! I figured there was no sense in trying to push the pace lower – it would be better to let my legs and body set the pace because they were definitely feeling the effects of the high altitude! I managed to hold a ‘slow’ 7:00/Km pace through the final two hills that no longer felt like ‘gentle’ hills! As I approached the final hill near 38 Km we were blessed by a sudden change in the weather. The skies darkened and a thunderstorm rolled across the area quickly. The temps dropped 15 degrees and when I crested the final hill at 38Km in 4:02:48 it started to pour. At first I was upset with the rain but the rain and cooler temps helped me lower my pace back down to sub-6:00 min/Km as I descended the next 2 Km. When I reached the flat section at 40Km the rain stopped and I caught up to a young male runner who decided to stay with me. We fed off each other’s energy and maintained a smooth/easy 6:00/Km pace to reach the stadium and cross the finish line in 4:27:01.

My time was not competitive in the Master B age group as expected but I figured that I had placed OK in my normal (60+) AG. Mario later confirmed that I placed 3rd in the ‘unofficial’ AG of 60+ so I was pleased with both my time and performance considering the altitude and health issues. Shortly after I finished, the awards ceremony was held and Mario presented Maddog with an award for completing Country #103 – a new World record! I was besieged with requests/invitations to pose with runners and their families for photos and was happy to accommodate to return the kindness and hospitality offered to me. But I was thankful when Edson finished in 4:42 and after a few finish line photos we headed back to the hotel. We went straight to the hot springs. Gosh - were they ever wonderful! The temp of the water was about the same as my hot tub – around 108 F and all the natural minerals seemed to rejuvenate our tired old legs and bodies.

We were joined by Ron who didn’t seem to be too tired after winning the 10Km race? He blew by me on the course like I was standing still? After a long soothing soak Domingo and Alvaro invited us to join them and Mario at a local restaurant in Paipa to enjoy a traditional Colombian lunch. During lunch I had to make an executive decision. I was supposed to return to Bogota with Mario and his family and spend the night with them. However Mario looked so exhausted from managing the races and needed some ‘down’ or rest time and some ‘Q” time with his family so I decided to return to Bogota on the bus with Domingo, Alvaro, Ron and Edson. I figured it would be more convenient and easier for everyone for me to stay at a hotel close to the airport and catch a shuttle early in the morning for my flight home.

We took an express bus back to Bogota- with no police/military checkpoints – apparently the government doesn’t care about rebels and weapons ‘leaving’ the region? Our only concern about taking a bus to Bogota was how to get to the airport safely because our guides were getting off the bus before it arrived at the central bus station? Domingo assured us that there was a government controlled taxi office at the bus station that controlled and certified the safety of the taxis. We did find the taxi office and arranged a safe ride that dropped me off at the closest hotel to the airport and took Edson on to the airport.

During our discussions with Domingo and Alvaro we learned that the Boston Marathon Association invited Alvaro to Boston in 2011 to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the race and the 40th anniversary of his win. Domingo, Mario and others plan to accompany Alvaro to Boston so Edson and I are seriously considering going back to Boston in 2011 to meet many of our American friends and to meet our new Colombian friends again.

But back to the present! I am now home and have in fact moved to our summer home in the Rocky Mtns of Colorado. The Sports Manager is still visiting our kids on the West Coast and will join me this weekend – except I won’t be here! I will be running a marathon in Steamboat Springs, CO. I have been training hard at 9,000 to 10,000 ft to acclimate to the high altitude and prepare for the race. And I am still force-feeding myself with terrible-tasting yogurt! The GI problem seems to be improving slowly and I hope it will be back to normal in a few weeks? With that ongoing issue and the altitude it is not possible to get in competitive shape in one short week so I intend to keep my promise to ‘run for fun’ and consider the race a long, high altitude training run to prepare for the next three mountain marathons. Each one gets progressively higher and harder.

Stay tuned!

TR - Colombia - Part 1

5/15 – 5/24/10
Part 1

Sun, May 23/10
Paipa, Colombia
Andina Marathon
Marathon #329 – Country # 103
4:27:01 – 3AG

It was a great trip and marathon thanks to many new friends I met in Colombia. So, go to the fridge, get a sandwich and beer and settle into your favorite chair for a good story.

Where to start? I had been looking for a marathon in Colombia for many years and my luck changed when I met a runner from Colombia while running a marathon in Nicaragua in 2008. I asked for help in finding a race in Colombia and he put me in contact with his friend who was organizing a marathon in Paipa in May 2009. I contacted Mario Mesa and he provided me with all the info about his inaugural marathon and I agreed to run it. Unfortunately fate and health did not work in my favor and I suffered that mystery back injury in early 2009 and had to cancel my plans to run Colombia.

When the injury disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared in the fall of 2009 I called Mario to confirm that I would come to the 2010 edition of his race. He was most helpful in providing info and suggestions about where to go and what to see while I was in Colombia and he invited me to stay with his family in Bogota. I decided to visit for nine days to enjoy as much of Colombia as possible on the trip.
While running the Bahamas Marathon in Feb with my friend Edson from NYC, I mentioned the race in Colombia and he asked to go along. He planned to join me a few days before the race since he works (yuk) and can’t afford a long vacation time.

As the race date drew nearer Mario was again a big help as he booked rooms at the host hotel for us and arranged for a special race bib for me. And I became concerned that I might have to cancel the trip again? I was suffering from a prolonged illness that started when the Sports Manager and I babysat our precious granddaughter in early April. She gave us both a severe cold and bronchial infection that wouldn’t go away so we finally took penicillin to kill the infection. During that period I had to cancel a marathon in KS because I was too weak and tired to run. And the nightmare was just beginning – the penicillin killed all the bacteria – bad & good – and resulted in a GI infection (and you know what happens when you have a GI infection). The first antibiotic failed to cure the GI infection and I was forced to take a super drug (and super expensive) that was developed to cure that specific bacteria. I started the drug only a few days before leaving for Colombia and was not sure how it would affect me and the trip. But I had no option at that point!

I had agreed to spend the first three days with Mario and his family in Bogota. Mario met me at the airport at midnight Sat. because my flight was 3 hrs late out of Miami. The next day I met his lovely wife Maria Elena and their two kids, Sebastian and Pablo. Pablo was a few months younger than our granddaughter and I had a blast playing with him. Mario and his family speak very good English, which made the visit much easier.

Although we got to bed very late Mario had arranged a surprise for Sun morning – a 15K race at 9am in downtown Bogota. We arrived at packet pick up at 7am to beat the huge crowd. The race, including the bib, chip and T-shirt was FREE! (US race directors take note!) Mario introduced me to hundreds (?) of friends/runners – I swear he knows every runner in Bogota? While we were waiting for the race to start Mario took me on a ‘jogging’ tour of La Candelaria – the old town. We jogged over to the Plaza De Bolivar that is surrounded by the Catedral Primada, the Palacio de Justicia (Supreme Court), the Edificio Lievano (Mayor’s Office), the Capitolio Nacional (Congress) and a 16th century home that houses the Museo del 20 de Julio where the rebellion started for independence. It was being renovated for Colombia’s Bicentennial in 2010.

We continued our ‘jogging’ tour down some side streets off the Plaza past the Teatro Colon built in 1792 and the Museo Del Oro (Gold Museum). By then I noted that I was sucking for air – Bogota is 8400ft in elevation! We decided not to run the 15K for safety reasons. It was a point-to-point race so we could not set a specific point to meet if we got separated and I wasn’t sure I could ‘race’ a 15K at 8400 ft on the 1st day? And Mario was concerned that a gringo – especially one with white skin, blonde hair and blue eyes and not fluent in Spanish- would be at risk in Bogota. Instead we continued our jogging tour for a few Km along the racecourse north out of La Candelaria past the Parque de la Indepencia and the bull ring and then we took a taxi home.

After a big breakfast Mario’s sister Gloria and a friend visited and we drove to a nearby Mall for an ATM and to shop for food. Maria Elena prepared a typical Colombian meal for lunch and we ate – and ate! Lunch is the big meal of the day for Colombians. They typically eat a light snack for dinner but I declined dinner because I was still full!

Monday was a holiday in Colombia so Mario and I woke early and did a ‘fast’ 10K in a local park near his house. By 5K I was sucking for air and realized that I would have to slow down the pace in the marathon if I wanted to survive and finish the race. After breakfast I wanted to visit the Cerro de Monserrate – a 10,400ft peak overlooking the city. Mario needed to work on marathon details so I offered to take a taxi to the funicular station. Mario would not allow it! He claimed there was too much risk/danger for me to travel around the city alone so he asked his wife and sister to baby-sit/guide me to the top of Monserrate. Yes – the women and kids went along to protect Maddog! He picked us up later at the station and we enjoyed another (huge) lunch at a Peruvian restaurant before going to a Mall for ice cream. Needless to say I skipped dinner again!

Later that day Mario and I went to a Sports Shop in a nearby Mall to pick up race registrations. The major race sponsor, New Balance, had asked Mario to present me with a pair of New Balance shoes in appreciation of my participation in the race. I was asked to pick out any pair of New Balance shoes which Mario then presented in an ‘official’ ceremony and publicity opportunity. Maybe it was a return for the dozen pair of used and new shoes that I had carried to Colombia to give to Mario to distribute to ‘gifted’ runners who could not afford good racing shoes!

On Tue I was scheduled to fly to Cartagena – located on the Pacific Coast near Panama. Mario was not allowed to drive his car on Tue (pollution control) so again I offered to catch a cab – there were hundreds of cabs on the streets at all times. Now Mario started to scare me. He said it was not safe – it was common for taxi drivers to rob or kidnap their clients – especially tourists! They have developed a system for safety. You call a specific taxi company and provide your name, address and destination. The company provides the number of the taxi and a ‘secret’ code. You do not get in any taxi except the one with the proper number and before you get in you provide the driver with the code, which he radios to his dispatch. They confirm the code and only then is the driver allowed to take you to the predetermined destination. That way if you don’t reach your destination the cops know where to begin the search? It worked and I arrived at the airport safely and 2 hrs later I arrived in Cartagena.

When I departed from the plane the heat and humidity hit me like a blast furnace. Damn – it was hot! The airport was only a few miles from the city so I risked a taxi to the hotel and had no problems. I had booked a small hotel in the old town – it was clean and in a good location – but none of the staff spoke English. So I had to get my Spanish dictionary/phrasebook out and practice my limited Spanish. I managed to check in and get all the info I needed before setting out to tour the old city. Cartagena’s old town, a Unesco World heritage Site, is a maze of cobbled alleys and colonial houses dating back to the 16th century. Cartagena was founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia on the site of the Caribe settlement of Calamari. It became the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast and the major northern gateway to South America. Since pirates often attacked the city the Spanish built 13 Km of Las Murallas or fortified walls to protect the city. The original walls are still intact. The Spanish also built a number of forts to protect the city and they are still in great condition and can be explored.

I planned to explore the city on foot but soon located a travel agent who offered a 4-hr tour by bus and foot so I signed up for that afternoon. It turned out that I was the only English-speaking tourist but the guide kindly explained everything in English. We drove around the city to tour the Convento De La Popa –built on the highest hill overlooking the city in 1607 and the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas – the greatest fortress ever built by the Spaniards. (1657) It has an extensive network of tunnels throughout the fort and connecting to the old city. The tunnels were not built for gringos – I constantly hit my head on the ceilings! We then toured the old city on foot so that by the end of the tour I was quite familiar with the layout of the city. I had also found a better hotel – more modern, better location and cheaper (with staff that spoke English) and I decided to change the next day.

On Wed I woke very early to do a 7-mile run. I was able to wind myself through the maze of cobblestone alleys to the peninsula south of the city that is occupied by Bocagrande. It reminded me of South Florida – every square inch was crammed with modern high-rise condos and luxury hotels. Certainly better hotels but all the tourist sites are in the old city so I preferred to be located there. The run was tough – I had GI problems that required finding a scarce bush – and the weather was brutally hot and humid and my shoes were completely soaked with sweat when I finished – and I hadn’t packed another pair of shoes! All I could do was put on dry socks and carry my luggage a few blocks to the new hotel. Then I spent the day exploring the old city on foot. There were too many sites to describe them all so look at the photos on my website – a picture is worth a 1000 words! During that day two old sailing vessels – the ‘Gloria’ from Colombia and the ‘Cuauhtemo’ from Mexico were escorted into the Cartagena Marina by the Colombian Navy. They are part of a flotilla of sailing ships touring South America to celebrate many Bicentennials in 2010. I had to return to the hotel every few hours to change my shirt because it would become drenched in sweat. By mid-afternoon I was looking for bars with A/C so I could escape the heat and cool down with Club Colombia beer!

My hotel was located one block from the Las Bovedas – 23 dungeons built into the walls in 1792. They now house arts and craft shops and I was able to find all the normal souvenirs I collect from every country. After a very hot day the temps cooled down after sun set and I enjoyed a great seafood dinner at an outdoor cafĂ© in preparation for an early departure on Thu back to Bogota to meet up with Edson.

And as expected this is going to be a long report so I will split into two parts. Thus go back to fridge, get another beer and get ready for Part 2.