Wednesday, December 07, 2011

TR - Curacao

Trip Report
12/2 – 12/5/11

Race results:
Sun, Dec 4/11
HBN Law Marathon
Willemstad, Curacao
5:43:23 – 1 AG
Marathon #351 – Country # 112

I scheduled and booked this race in the spring when I was feeling OK and in good shape. It is only held every two years and this was the 1st marathon in Curacao since it became an independent country in Oct 2010. Thus I figured I should run it this year because there was no telling what might happen two years from now? Am I fortune teller?

As mentioned in my previous report I ran the Space Coast Marathon last weekend just to confirm that I could “go the distance’ before wasting money on a trip to Curacao. These days I have wisely learned to buy trip insurance because I can no longer be certain that I will be healthy or capable of running a marathon in 6 months let alone 6 days!

Since we have visited Curacao a few times I decided to go just for the weekend – run the race – and return home. I arrived late Fri night and Sat morning set out to explore Willemstad and find the start/finish area. The race website did not provide much detail – no course maps, etc. However the race director Erwin was very friendly and supportive as we communicated by email and he suggested a great hotel and provided directions to the start line.

After I felt comfortable how to find my way at 3 am in the dark so I could pick up my race packet and be ready for a 4am start on Sun, I spent the rest of Sat exploring Punda – the main downtown area of Willemstad. I quickly discovered that Curacao – like most Caribbean Islands is expensive! Don’t know how the locals can afford to eat and drink where the tourists go?

I enjoyed a nice pasta dinner overlooking the ocean and retired early for a 2:30 am wake-up call. I wanted to arrive by 3 am thinking that there would be a line-up for race packets? They were just setting up the start line and packet pick up so I talked to Erwin and a few local runners. It was definitely a small, local and low-key race with only 14 runners – all males! The entry fee was 25 Fl ($14 US). There was no race T-shirt, no finisher’s medal or certificate and even the race bib was ‘on loan’ (it had to be returned at the end of the race). Erwin had been kind enough to make up a bib #112 to commemorate Country #112.

It was 79F and 100% humidity (a light drizzle) as we waited in the dark. We were provided with two red strobe lights to attach to our arms so that cars could see us. Erwin explained that there were no course or distance markers, no traffic control and no water stations! Instead of water stations there were 6 bikers/cyclists roaming the course with plastic bags of water and Gatorade for runners. Since I was the only non-resident in the race and had no idea of the course I was provided a dedicated biker (Arthur) who would accompany me throughout the entire race. I offered my apologies to Arthur since he would be out on the course for a very long time!

A local runner told me that the course was tough with a lot of hills and the worst hill was at the start as the course climbed through the back streets of Otrabanda and climbed a fixed-span bridge that soared 200 ft above St Anna Bay. The race started on time and I followed the group of runners as we climbed the 1st mile to the top of the bridge. I tried to keep the runners in sight but could not run the entire mile up the bridge. I became fatigued after ½ mile (thanks to UC) and had to walk. I was in last place when I crested the bridge but was able to run the next mile down the bridge and pass one runner. Maddog was determined NOT to finish last!

Even at 4 am there was lots of traffic on the bridge so there was police support to control the traffic on the bridge. Once we descended and left the bridge there was no more traffic control. Each runner had to watch for cars and make their own way across intersections.
Thank goodness for Arthur! I would have been lost by mile 3 because there were lots of turns and no course markers! Thankfully I had worn my Garmin GPS and could read distance (whenever I could find a street light) to give me an idea how far I had run. The 1st 10K was on major city streets and there were sufficient lights to see the road and course but after the course entered the outskirts lights were scarce and often I could not even see my feet! I passed 6 Miles in 1:11:27 (close to my now standard 12-min race pace). I had hoped to run a cycle of Run-10 min & Walk -1min but there were too many hills. The ‘run’ cycle varied between 7 to 10 min and on some really tough hills I had to walk up the hill and run down the other side.

Arthur missed at turn near 10 miles and luckily a motorcycle cop came by and redirected us back on course (added an extra ¼ mile to my race). While we were stopped and discussing directions the last place runner caught up to us (he missed the turn too or was following us?). I became a wee bit discouraged and allowed that runner to take off and leave me in last place! But Maddog chewed my ass out and I picked up the pace and lengthened the run cycle to R-10 min and passed him again before I reached the Half in 2:40. The sun had risen and I became concerned about how brutal the sun and heat would get during the 2nd half?

I had been drinking 1 sack (about 4 oz) of water every 20 min and taking a GU carbo gel every 40 min with another sack. But now I felt that I was starting to dehydrate so I increased my water intake to 2 sacks every 20 min. I passed mile 16 in 3:18:34. I figured the best I could do over the final 10 miles was a 13-min pace so I would be lucky to finish in 5:30? We lucked in with the weather – the skies stayed overcast and we enjoyed a light drizzle that kept the heat down in the low 80s! Still – when I passed Mile 20 in 4:13:27 my body temp was on fire. Although I was sweating like crazy I could not vent the heat fast enough to keep my body temp near normal. As we turned on to a major road that headed back into town and the finish line I stopped and dug $10 out of my emergency funds and asked Arthur to find a mini mart and buy four 1-liter bottles of ice cold water.

He soon caught back up to me and I poured 1 liter of cold water over my head, neck and body. It felt shockingly and wonderfully COLD and provided the desired effect of lowering my body temp back to normal. As I started to drink the ice cold water I realized that I had become slightly dehydrated and drank the entire bottle. I felt much better. However during my lengthy water stop the last place runner had closed within sight. Fortunately I was able to get my pace back below 13 min/mile and extend the Run cycle to 10 min and quickly leave him behind. When I reached Mile 23 in 4:57:49 my pace had slowed to 15 min/mile. I would be lucky to finish under 5:45? I stopped for a 2nd and final water break – 1 liter on the body and 1 liter in the body. I felt much better again. I couldn’t pick the pace up much but I was able to keep the Run cycle at R-10 min & W -1 min.

As I approached mile 25 I spotted another runner walking ahead and decided to catch him. However when he saw me closing he dug deep and started running. I chased him through the final mile w/o walking but much to his credit he refused to let me catch him. I crossed the finish line in 5:43:23.

There were many runners at the finish line – about 200 runners in a Half and 10K that started at 6am – waiting for the award ceremony. Erwin announced my finish and my running accomplishments so many of the local runners introduced themselves and asked questions. I was awarded a trophy for 1st AG (oldest runner in the race) and for my 112th country.

Again I discovered that a positive upside/benefit to running/walking so slow is that nothing hurts at the end of the marathon – except my pride!

After walking back to the hotel and enjoying a long, hot shower I decided to walk over to Punda for some greasy food and a beer. As I was crossing the Queen Emma bridge (a floating bridge declared a World Heritage Site) and taking photos to share with my readers I struck my head on a Christmas decoration that had been hung too low – but just the right height to peel about one inch of scalp of the top of my head! I was bleeding like a stuck pig! Luckily some kind tourists went to a restaurant for some paper napkins to use as a compress to stop the bleeding. A doctor/tourist proclaimed that I could probably get by w/o stitches. A cop called an ambulance who wanted to charge me $500 to take me to Emergency. I told them what to do with their ambulance. I walked back to the hotel to wash out the wound and my ‘red’ hair. I managed to stop the bleeding and soon returned to Punda for my beers! Brought home an unwanted/undesired souvenir the next day.

Now that I am back home – “What’s next”?

I had a lot of time – almost 6 hrs to contemplate that question during the marathon on Curacao. It is so maddening and frustrating for Maddog to be forced to run and walk a race so slowly! What’s the point in racing if you can’t be competitive and run at a level you are capable of? I am willing to accept the frustration for a bigger goal and for a short term but not for a long time or permanent basis.

I have scheduled and booked 4 international marathons/countries in 2012 that represent the completion of significant goals (world records). I am willing to do whatever it takes to complete those marathons and goals but if the health issues with the UC still continue after the final race – I will hang up my racing shoes! I will quit running marathons and all races!
I would probably still run a few miles each day to stay in shape and enjoy my daily endorphin fix – but No More Races!

I have known that this decision would come eventually. But I expected it to be the result of an injury and hoped that I could switch to biking or swimming as alternative exercises. But this nasty disease has robbed me of that option. I can’t do any exercise which requires anaerobic or fast aerobic effort!

But the fat lady ain’t singing yet! There is still about 9 months for the GI docs to figure out a combination of drugs that might force this disease into remission and let me get my (running) life back?

Stay tuned!

Health update: 1/5/12

I need to apologize to the UC. Even though it is a nasty disease and has greatly impacted my health and running for the past year I falsely blamed it for all my woes during the past few months. The symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath that I suffered for the past few months are typical of UC and ones I had suffered each time the UC flared up. So I falsely believed all my problems were due to UC and the GI doc was aggressively treating the UC with new drugs and combinations of drugs. When no improvement was seen and in fact the symptoms and my running seem to get worse over the past few races I decided that I should make an appointment with my GP to see if there might be other reasons for the problems?
A few days after I returned from Curacao feeling tired and depressed I met with my GP. Five minutes after checking my heart and doing an EKG in his office I was ordered “to go directly – do not go home or collect $200” to the Cardiac Unit of the Sarasota Hospital! My heart rate was hovering in the low 30s and my heart was experiencing A-Fib (Atrial Fibrillation).
Both the GP and cardiologist were convinced that I needed a pacemaker – immediately!
Needless to say I was in shock. However I did insist that we slow the rush/process down and explore other options. I was not excited about getting a pacemaker!

Fortunately it was decided that a cardio version should be tried to shock the heart back into rhythm and it was successful. I was released from the hospital after a few days and a stress test later that week confirmed that my heart was still in rhythm and the muscle and arteries were in good shape. I started running again and for the first time in months I was able to run w/o suffering fatigue and shortness of breath. I was even able to run at a sub-10 min pace again!
I stopped taking all additional drugs for the UC other than the main one that I must stay on and all the other ‘crappy’ symptoms of that nasty disease quickly disappeared! It is the best I have felt in months – both physically and mentally.

I just completed a 2-week cruise through the Panama Canal over the Christmas Holidays where I truly rested and relaxed for the first time in many years – no running. However I am now ready to resume my normal training program (and lose the 10 lbs gained on the cruise) and get back into ‘marathon’ shape for the 2012 racing season!

Stay tuned!

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