Saturday, October 09, 2010

TR - Ghana

9/21 -9/28/10

Sun, Sept 26/10
Accra, Ghana
Accra International Marathon
Marathon #335 – Country # 105
4:56:05 – 1 AG

Where to begin? It seems so long since I ran this race that my memory is foggy – or is that Old Age?
It is a good thing I make a photo record of these trips so I can refer to the photos to write a report!

I had to go back and check my last race report – Paraguay- to remember where to begin.
Things did not go well after the last race/trip. After a long, frustrating month of waiting for appointments, tests and results (medical care is not as easily available in the mountains as it is in FL)
I was finally diagnosed with UC (Ulcerative Colitis). That was not good news and not readily accepted by Maddog! By then the symptoms – fatigue, stomach cramps and diarrhea had worsened and I was having difficulty training. The GI doc started me on an aggressive treatment program with steroids and a 5-ASA anti-inflammatory. The drugs and/or the disease introduced a new symptom/problem – aches and pains in all the muscles and joints in my legs. I tried to keep running/training for Pike’s Peak Marathon
(carrying a roll of toilet paper for the frequent pit stops required for the diarrhea) but I couldn’t run farther than ½ mile before I would become totally fatigued. I tried to overcome that limitation and then my knees and feet would hurt so badly after running a mile that I would have to stop and rest or walk to reduce the pain. Reluctantly I had to withdraw from Pike’s Peak and another marathon in CO. By early Oct I had built my daily run/walk up to 10 miles but it was difficult at the high elevation (9,000 ft) because my iron levels and red blood cell count was so low.

I had a final meeting with the GI doc before leaving CO and he advised that it was OK to travel to Ghana and run the marathon if I felt I could do it? I visited our son in WA and our precious new granddaughter, Mira in Portland, OR for one week before returning to CO and immediately noticed a big difference on my daily 10-mile runs – I could breathe at sea level and run up to two miles before fatigue set in. My confidence in running (and finishing) the Ghana Marathon improved significantly! I returned home to FL a few days before leaving for Ghana and visited a GI doc here for follow up. He was disappointed and concerned that the meds were not working and had not forced the UC into remission. I was still suffering from chronic diarrhea and leg pains? His opinion conflicted with the CO doc. He thought the leg pains might be a side effect of the drugs so he switched the 5-ASA med and also added an antibiotic in case there was a nasty bug/bacteria in my GI tract?

And off I went to Ghana. I was concerned about the antibiotic making the diarrhea worse and that turned out to be the case. It was a good thing my seat on the 10-hr flight to Ghana was next to a bathroom! After a long overnight flight I arrived in Ghana early afternoon and was met at the airport by a race volunteer. Seth drove me to race HQ to meet the Race Director, Anna and a few race officials. They were all very kind and hospitable – but special kudos to Anna who is such a sweet and dynamic person. Without her this race would never happen or be successful! They had reserved Bib #105 for me.

Later Seth drove me to the Central Bus Station to catch a bus to Cape Coast. It was supposed to be a 2-hr bus ride but turned out to be 4 hrs because of the horrendous traffic in Accra. I don’t know how I made it on that bus for 4 hrs w/o messing my pants but I still had clean pants when I arrived in Cape Coast at 10 pm? Maybe because I hadn’t eaten for about 8 hrs?
I met a young man from Austria on the bus who was staying at the same cheap hotel ($25/night – clean, TV and AC) and we were starving so Andy and I shared a taxi to the only restaurant still open and enjoyed a great dinner and a pleasant conversation.

The following day I explored Cape Coast on foot. Touring presented a BIG problem – I couldn’t be more than 30 feet or 30 secs from a toilet! And there are no public toilets in Ghana! I quickly realized that 80% of the population live in slums that have no electricity and no water/plumbing. Thus the locals did their daily duties wherever and whenever needed. That made things much easier for me. In one instance I was squatting beside a wall when a local woman joined me. We tried to start a conversation but she didn’t speak English so the conversation was short! Cape Coast (founded in the 15th Century) is a small city and can be explored easily on foot. I toured the downtown and market and then toured the Cape Coast Castle – the main reason for visiting Cape Coast. Cape Coast Castle, a World Heritage Site, was first built in 1653. After it was captured by Britain in 1665 it was expanded, fortified and used to ship slaves to Europe and NA. A guided tour takes visitors through the castle and into the various slave dungeons and of course through the infamous ‘Door of No Return’. It is very depressing and one leaves upset that human beings could/can be so cruel and mean!

The next day I visited the nearby village of Elmina and St George’s Castle. Built in 1482 by the Portuguese it is the oldest extant colonial building in sub-Sahara Africa. It was captured by the Dutch in 1637 and used to ship slaves to SA and the Caribbean. The layout and story are similar to Cape Coast Castle – and also depressing!
Elmina has reverted to a fishing port and there are lots of colorful pirogues in the port. The two days spent on the Cape Coast were interesting and enjoyable but it was time to return to Accra. I had made good friends with a local taxi driver who offered to drive me to my hotel on the south (far) side of the city for a ridiculous fee of $40 (about 140 Km). I think he regretted that offer when it took us 4 hrs to reach the hotel (2 hrs to Accra and another 2 hrs through the horrendous city traffic to the hotel!).

Anna had suggested staying at the Royal Palm Beach Resort – a 5-star resort- on the beach south of the city and close to the finish line. I arranged for a private driver/guide to tour me around Accra the next day. It is a big city with almost no infrastructure and traffic is ALWAYS horrendous! Although Ghana is supposed to have oil and oil money it is not evident that any is being spent on infrastructure or the people? There are very few modern buildings, the only affluent section of the city is called the Cantonments where the Embassies are located and most of the expats and government ministers live in that area. Most of the people live in slums with no water/plumbing, etc. My guide, Justice, drove me around the few interesting sites to see in Accra – James Town, the old part of Ghana with the Lighthouse and Fort James (now a prison). I tried to visit the slums along the beach in James Town but the smell/stench was so bad that I had to leave after a few minutes! We visited Independence Square (also known as Black Star Square) and the Nkrumah Mausoleum before enjoying lunch in Osu – a small upscale section of the city with restaurants and bars.

I had asked Anna about a pasta dinner and she arranged an invitation to dinner at the private residence of an Embassy employee in the Cantonments. Several of the US Embassy employees and some teachers from the American School in Accra were running the Marathon and Half. I met a lot of very nice people and got a great insight into how our Embassy employees live (and cope) in foreign countries. It was a very enjoyable evening!

Sun was ‘M’ Day. The race was scheduled to start at 5:30am because of the heat and traffic. It was a point-to-point course that started in Prampram (south of the city) and finished on Labadi Beach close to the hotel. Anna had arranged for a driver to pick me up at 4:30 am. At 4:50 am – no driver and I was getting anxious. I called Anna. She assured me that a driver would arrive and the race would not start w/o me! A driver finally arrived at 5:15 am! I and about eight other runners arrived at the start line at 6:30 am. The race started at 6:35am! It was sunny and hot!

I was concerned about directions and markers on the course. I wasn’t really concerned about the many pit stops I would probably have to make since I could stop and go wherever needed (I only had to make two?). There were only 50 runners in the marathon and another 250 in the Half that started at the Half marathon point and a later time. I didn’t know what to expect from the old bod? I planned on running about two miles and then walking for a few minutes. That turned out to be my typical pattern for the race. Fatigue, thankfully, never seemed to be a limiting factor. Either there was a water stop and I decided to walk through most of them or my feet would become so sore after a few miles that I was forced to stop and walk to reduce the pain? There was lots of water along the course but the distance markers were not accurate. They seemed to be short in the first half and I reached the Half in 2:15:22. I hoped that the course was not short? The first Half of the course was mostly on the shoulder of a Motorway but there was not much traffic at that time. Traffic control was good and there were volunteers or police at all points where turns were required. Much of the 2nd half was along the Ocean until we reached a small village around 35Km. I had passed a 32Km marker in 3:36:25 but had no faith in the accuracy. That final 10Km was the longest 10Km I ever ran – and one of the worst! Much of it was along a narrow two-lane road through the village with horrendous traffic. On some sections we were forced to run on a sidewalk crowded with shoppers and pedestrians. I had to walk much of it to avoid running someone over! On the sections with a dirt shoulder we had to be careful of buses/taxis/tro-tros pulling into the shoulder and we were constantly sucking up diesel fumes! I never thought I would make it to the turn-off down to the beach? I was almost 5 hrs into the race – it was hot- I was burning up even though I had lathered sun block all over my body. Finally I saw Anna jump out of a support car and she handed me a bottle of water. I pleaded “how much farther to the finish line”? Happily she replied “Only another 600m to the turn-off”! I glanced at my watch – I could still break 5 hrs! I pushed as hard as possible to reach that turn-off and scramble down to the finish line on Labadi Beach in 4:56:05!

I was very happy with my finish time considering the course, the heat, my health conditions and training! I think the Ghana people like to party because nobody was in much of a hurry to hold the award ceremony, etc. They hadn’t given out the finisher’s medal at the finish line and I wanted that! I stuck around for more than one hour but I was tired and burning up in the sun so I finally gave up and walked back to my hotel.

After a cool shower and a relaxing massage at the hotel spa I was so exhausted that I laid down for a nap before dinner. I woke up at 11 pm – too late for dinner- so crawled back into bed and slept a total of 13 hrs! I was a bit disappointed that I had not received a finisher’s medal but as I was eating breakfast before heading to the airport Anna showed up to give me my medal and some other gifts. Like I said the race could not be successful w/o her untiring efforts and positive attitude!

As I made the long flight home I was buoyed by the knowledge and confidence that I could indeed run the next race scheduled for Guatemala one week later. I was hoping that my diarrhea problem would lessen since I would finish the steroids and antibiotic before that race? Only time would tell?

Stay tuned!

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