Sunday, October 10, 2010

TR - Guatemala

9/30 – 10/04/10

Sun, Oct 3/10
Amatitlan, Guatemala
Maya Marathon
Marathon # 336 – Country # 106

While I am on a roll I figure I should finish part 2 of the past two weeks of travel/adventure.

I left Ghana on Mon for the long flight home – and thankfully had the same great seat close to a bathroom. I arrived home in FL and had 2 days to repack, pick up the Sports Manager who had stayed on the West Coast for 1 month with the kids and our precious new granddaughter Mira, get in a few 10-mile training runs and head off to the next race in Guatemala.

I had been looking for a marathon in Guatemala for the past 3 years and finally established contact with some local runners in 2008 who confirmed that there is only one marathon in Guatemala – the Maya Maraton that is held on the 1st weekend of Oct. each year in Amatitlan. Since I had a conflict in 2009 I committed to run the race in 2010 and didn’t want to break that commitment because of some minor health issues! There is a website for the race but it is difficult to find and has limited information (in Spanish). Without the support and assistance of local runners it would be difficult to participate in this race.

One of the nice things about travel to Central America is that the flights are short and there is only a few hours time difference. I arrived in Guatemala City at 8 pm and still had time to arrange for a city tour the next morning. Since it was not high season there was no demand for tours and I was provided with a private driver/guide. He misunderstood the request and instead of a tour of GC he took me to Antigua – about 40 miles west of GC. I wasn’t disappointed! The Antigua tour was more expensive than the city tour I paid for and it was much more interesting! On the drive through GC and along the highway to Antigua I noticed with much surprise how clean the streets and roads were? No litter – no garbage – no filth like most cities and countries in C. America? I expressed my surprise to the guide who explained that the mayors of both cities strictly enforced rules against litter/garbage. My kudos to them – the cities and roads are neat and clean!

I really liked Antigua. Antigua was founded in 1543 as the capital and once was the largest city in Central America. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and the capital was moved to GC. However some residents stayed behind to rebuild the city and many of the old buildings have been restored. The original cobblestone streets are quaint (but Hell to drive on) and many of the original buildings have been restored and upgraded to boutique hotels, upscale restaurants, shops and bars. There are several ‘live-in’ schools teaching Spanish. We visited a few of the major tourist sites such as the Iglesia Y Convento De La Merced with its’ beautifully restored architecture and Central Park with the famous fountain restored in 1936 to the original version built in 1738. Central Park is bonded on the East side by the Catedral de Santiago (1542), on the South by the Captain-Generals’ Palace (1558) and the North by the City Hall (1743). My guide took me to a silver factory where I was able to buy both of my typical souvenirs – a teaspoon and silver charm- in the same place! I was disappointed that I had to leave Antigua so soon – I could easily spend/enjoy 2 to 3 days in that beautiful city!

The next day I did take the city tour of GC. It was a disappointment – not much to see or do in GC for a tourist. We visited some museums in Zona 13 and then drove around Zona 10 (Zona Viva) that is the affluent section of GC. Western hotels, upscale shops, restaurants, bars and modern shopping malls are located in this zone – and also the Embassies and many affluent residential areas. We drove through one gated community that looked like any subdivision back home except for the bars on the doors and windows and electrified barb wire on the walls and roofs of the homes? I noticed many runners/walkers and bikers in this community and a local runner later confirmed that this is the area where most runners train because it is safe and there is little traffic! We continued to Zona 1 which is the old section of the city to visit a few old churches and Central Park that is bounded on the East by the Catedral Metropolitana and the North by the Palacio Nacional de la Cultura. Few of the buildings have been restored or maintained and are not in good shape? We finished the city tour with a drive through the slums in the North end of the city. GC is built in a huge bowl surrounded by volcanoes. Most of the slums are built on steep hills on the sides of the volcanoes. They have great views – but no water/plumbing and are destroyed frequently by earthquakes and landslides!

My tour of the city was over except for brief walks near my hotel in Zona 10. Since the city was so neat and clean emergency pit stops were not possible but thankfully there were many modern fast-food restaurants in the area. As convenient as they were there unfortunately were still a few wee accidents and I concluded it is difficult to travel with health issues like I was suffering!

On Sat evening Fernando and his lovely wife Thatiana met me to deliver my race packet- including
Bib # 106 – and invited me to join them for a great pasta dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant to discuss final logistics for the race. Fernando had arranged for another runner, Raul, to pick me up and drive me to the race. He warned me about some tough hills in the 1st and last 10 Km of the race.

Sun was ‘M’ day. Raul picked me up promptly at 5:15 am for the 30 minute drive south to Amatitlan. The race was scheduled to start at 7am. The race started and finished at La Parque las Ninfas on the shores of Lake Amatitlan. I noticed on the drive to Amatitlan that this region of Guatemala did not have the same ‘litter’ rules – there was litter/garbage everywhere like I expected to see?
Amatitlan is located at an elevation of 4,000 ft and is warmer than GC. There were about 800 runners – 300 in the marathon and 500 in the Half. Both races started in La Parque Las Ninfas at the same time. The race was delayed by 45 minutes to allow runners to pick up race packets (1st time they allowed pick- up the day of the race?) During the delay I met two other ‘gringos’ – a young man from Toronto who was working in Honduras and a runner from St Pete, FL. Maddog was also busy fulfilling requests for poses for photos since his participation and running accomplishments had been pre-announced in a press release and website. I enjoyed these requests because I got to meet a lot of local runners who were very friendly and nice!

I was a wee bit worried about the weather because of the delay but we were lucky. The skies were cloudy and overcast and the temps were only in the low 70s (10 degrees cooler than normal) – and stayed that way throughout the race. Thus the only things I had to worry about were the 4,000 ft elevation and the hills? I was not in good shape or trained for either!
The race started at 7:45 am and the first 5 Km looped through the cobblestone streets of Amatitlan. The houses were blocks of buildings that concerned me if I had to make an emergency pit stop? Luckily I made it though the city and out to the western side of Lake Amatitlan where there was lots of vegetation to hide behind before I was forced to make my 1st pit stop. We reached the series of three nasty BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) around 8Km. Fernando had not lied about those hills but I soon learned that he had forgotten to mention the rest of the course that followed the west shore of Lake Amatitlan was a continuous series of rolling hills! There were more hills than there were flat sections along that lake! I was definitely not in shape or prepared for a hilly course at 4,000 ft! And the course was a narrow two-lane road that had not been closed to traffic so we had to share the road with cars and buses. Many times I found myself stuck between two buses sucking up diesel fumes. I decided to stay with a group of local runners at all times believing that there was more safety in numbers. I was a wee bit surprised when I calculated that I was running a sub-10 min pace. My plan was to run 5 Km and then walk for a few minutes. I quickly realized that fatigue was no longer a factor – in fact the limiting factor became the ache/pain in my feet? After a few miles both feet would start to ache/pain so badly that I would have to stop or walk for a few minutes to give the pain a chance to subside? I (nor the docs) have any idea what is causing this problem – for now I just have to live with it and adapt!

Fortunately it worked out that water stops were located every 5Km or less and I used them as an excuse to walk so I avoided reaching a point where my feet hurt so much that I would have to stop. There were distance markers located every 5Km and most were accurate for the 1st half. I passed the Half in 2:10:10 but I figured the 2nd half would not be that fast because of the hills! Then I noticed that the 25Km and 30Km markers were both located within 5Km of the Half so I knew any markers in the 2nd Half would be useless. That was confirmed when I passed 35Km in 3:00:18. If that marker was accurate I would finish under 4 hrs – or - the last 7 km was going to be very lonnnnnnnggggggg? I believe we reached the series of BAHs near the true 35Km and there wasn’t any consideration of running them. I convinced Maddog that it would be better for my feet to walk up the hills and run down them! When I reached a distance marker at 40Km in 4:09:54 I knew it wasn’t accurate but I started to wonder if I could break 4:30. I had no idea what the real distance was to the finish line but I decided to ignore the foot pain and go for it. I was happy when I finally saw La Parque las Ninfas and crossed the finish line in 4:25:36!

Needless to say I was very pleased with both my time and performance considering the course and my health. If I can get healthy again I am confident that I can get my finish time back below 4 hrs quickly!
Raul and I waited around the finish area for another 30 minutes and more photo requests and then drove back to GC. After a hot shower I felt much better than I did one week earlier in Ghana and was able to enjoy some beer and greasy food while watching football in the sports bar at the hotel. After a great steak dinner and early bed I was ready to head back home to FL.

I am back and since I had such a bad time with diarrhea in Guatemala I decided to advance my appointment with the GI doc to discuss the current status of my health. He agrees that the UC could/should not be causing that level of problem (after 6 weeks on meds) and believes that there must be one (or more) causes lurking in the old bod. Bottom line is he doesn’t know but he wants to be aggressive in looking. Thus I am scheduled for another scope on Mon - both ends this time to see if they can determine where and what the problem is? In the meantime he is guessing that the GI infection (C-diff) may have come back in spite of two recent tests that were negative and has started me back on that super drug ($50/pill) specially designed to kill C-diff. I am already noticing some improvement in the diarrhea so maybe that is the problem? However I am really tired of being treated like a druggie. I have got to get off all these damn drugs! In the short term I am prepared to do/try anything to find and resolve the problems. But if I don’t get some concrete answers in the next few weeks I am going to start exploring 2nd and 3rd opinions!

And finally – are you sitting down because I don’t want y’all to hurt yourself when you faint? I am sticking to my vow that my primary focus is to find the problems and restore my health as close as possible to 100%. I have no plans for travel or marathons in the foreseeable future! None! Nada!
I even took the past week off from running and training! None.! Nada! However I did break down and run an easy 10 miles on Sun. it felt good! I have decided to resume running/training until a doc tells me that running is not good for my health. But no races!

Stay tuned!

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