Thursday, December 12, 2013

TR - Belize

Trip Report
                                                                               12/6 -12/11/13


Race Results
Sun, Dec 8/13
Placencia, Belize
End of the World Marathon
Marathon # 367 – Country # 118

 Where do I start? I would have ran the inaugural marathon in 2012 (hence the name to reflect the end of the Mayan calendar) but I was on a sabbatical from running to rest and resolve health issues. One year later not much has been resolved and I did not have much confidence or enthusiasm as I walked to the start line. I feel it is important to tell my medical history during the past year that got me to this point for my own records and so that my readers can understand my mental attitude and dilemma at this time. It may be boring so feel free to skip the first page and go to the start of the actual race report.

 When I finished the Guernsey Marathon in Aug 2012 I was in bad shape health-wise. My two health issues had become serious: the UC (Ulcerative Colitis) was in a major flare-up that could not be controlled by normal meds and my heart was back in A-fib. I knew I wasn’t feeling well and announced that Guernsey might well be my ‘final’ marathon. A cardio version was needed to jump start the heart back into rhythm but that only lasted for a few months. The cardiologist refused to perform another cardio version and recommended an ablation procedure to stop the heart from going into A-fib. I reluctantly agreed to have an ablation procedure the day after Christmas. During this same time the GI doc had increased my meds to a cocktail of toxic meds to force the UC into remission and this cocktail had some nasty side effects. When I was released from the hospital a few days after the ablation I was able to walk a few miles without problems. However when I tried to run after one week it was a total disaster – I couldn’t run more than 500 ft. without collapsing from fatigue and shortness of breath. One week later my heart went back into A-fib and another cardio version was needed to get it back into rhythm. I was very discouraged at that point and agreed to follow the cardiologist’s orders NOT to run for a few weeks to give my heart a chance to recover from the ablation.

In early Feb I started training again. I was determined to train wisely and slowly. I would walk and add a few short runs until I suffered shortness of breath. Once I built the run up to 1 mile I would slowly increase the distance to 2 miles and then add another mile. It took 2 months to build my run up to 10 miles. During this period the cocktail of toxic drugs finally forced the UC into remission and I was able to quit the cocktail and return to my normal (1 toxic) meds. However my ‘long’ run had become limited to 10 miles? After 10 miles I would become fatigued and suffer shortness of breath? So I added 1 and then 2 miles of walking to my 10-mile run. Finally after I reached a total of 13 miles I reached a significant breakthrough – I was suddenly able to run 12 miles. I became exited and optimistic that I might again be able to run another marathon. I set a goal to run an inaugural marathon in St Kitts in May 2013. As my trip report indicated that race was ugly and slow but I did manage to run/walk and finish. I was hopeful that Maddog was on the road to recovery. Unfortunately that optimism was short-lived and came to a painful and screeching halt at the Vietnam marathon in Sept. I felt so bad during and after that race that I knew my health problems were not resolved! I asked the cardiologist to perform another echocardiogram to compare my current heart condition to the initial echocardiogram done before the ablation. I was not surprised but I was disappointed/discouraged by the results and diagnosis: cardiomyopathy with an EF (Ejection Fraction) of 30%. A normal EF is 50 to 70% so that means my heart is so weak that it is only pumping half the normal amount of blood volume and can’t support strenuous exercise. The cardiologist stated that he would not order me to “NOT” run because he knew I would only ignore his advice. But he was concerned that the marathons were stressing my weak heart and could cause further damage?  I denied this medical fact/truth for almost one year but could no longer deny the fact that there had been no change or improvement in the past year. I was hoping that a wise exercise program would strengthen my heart. I still tried to go into denial and decided to try one more test. I ran Bill’s Beer Run – a popular and fast 5-mile run in Sarasota. I wanted to see how fast I could run? Since I was struggling to run an 11-min pace in my daily runs I figured a 9-min pace was a good/realistic goal. I gave it everything I had – and I mean EVERYTHING – and all I could manage was a 9-min pace for the first 3 miles and then I slowed to a 9:30 pace to struggle to the finish line. That test and result hit me like a sledge hammer. I was screwed! My ‘running’ life was over! I immediately went into a ‘funk’ – not quite depression – but close! My emotions and attitude were on a roller coaster ride! But the worst part was that I mentally gave up. I no longer had the desire to race/run or the mental toughness to overcome/ignore the pain that is encountered in training and racing. And as all runners know, marathons are 30% physical and 70% mental! Three weeks later I ran a marathon in Fort Myers. It was a disaster from the start for the above reasons. And to make matters worse I started to suffer leg cramps and tightness in both hips at 8 miles. The emotional roller coaster continued and ranged from denial/ignoring everything and run till I dropped/died or quit right now! But wait – just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse – they did! For the past few months I had been feeling tired and sleepy all the time. Both the cardiologist and GI doc claimed that the cardiomyopathy and UC couldn’t cause those symptoms so I went to my GP. After many blood tests proved negative I was referred to a sleep doc for consultation and sleep labs. Once again I wasn’t ready for the results: Narcolepsy – an incurable sleep disorder- and the 3rd nail in Maddog’s running coffin! It can be managed with meds (narcotics) but so far Medicare refuses to authorize or pay for the prescription because the drug is too expensive. I’ll be damned if I will pay for the drug since I am paying for a Medicare Prescription Plan. (Consider this a forewarning about Obama Care and government control of your health!)

Now I am up to date with my health issues/woes and facing an international marathon that I had already booked and paid for. What should I do? After many heated discussions with Maddog we compromised on a plan. I want to complete three more personal goals that I won’t announce because Maddog would then consider them etched in stone and I would be forced to do them no matter what. This plan/goal requires that I run four more marathons over the next five months. I am not sure that I can do that so we have wisely agreed to run each marathon ‘one-at-a-time’ and re-evaluate after each race. So now I am ready to leave for Belize and run the next marathon.

 Race Report:

The most positive thing to come out of all the above (bad) news and roller coaster rides was that I had finally accepted the truth and decided to run within my limitations. I set a race strategy to run 3 miles and walk 3 minutes. During the rest/walk break I would also stretch my quads and hip flexors to prevent the tightness/soreness problems I have been suffering for the past month in training runs. I expected that the only fun part of the trip would be re-uniting with four of my fellow Country Club members.

 I flew from Miami to Belize City where I connected with a small 8-passenger airplane for the final leg to Placencia. It has been a long time since I flew on such a small airplane. We never flew above 2,000 ft. as we followed the coastline and made a short stop to drop off passengers in Dangriga. Finally I arrived in Placencia and joined my roommate Edson from NYC. We soon bumped into another CC member Brent who joined us for dinner. We stayed at the host hotel (Robert Grove Resort) which is expensive and remote (only 4 miles from the village but a $10 taxi ride). On Sat we took a taxi into Placencia to explore the village. I was surprised that the village is so small (1500 people) with only one paved road? It is very basic and laid-back – not modern and upscale as I expected. It took only a few hours to explore the entire village and enjoy a pizza for lunch. Later we picked up our race packets at the hotel and joined the final two CC members (Yen and Peter) for a pasta dinner at the hotel.

 Sun was M-day! The race started at 5:30 am to benefit from at least one hour of darkness and cooler temps. The race started in the center of the village, ran 13 miles north on the only paved road and returned to the finish line in the center of the village. On Sat we had noted how hot it was at 10 am so we were hoping for cloudy skies and maybe rain on race day? The weather Gods were kind to us. The skies were overcast at the start with temps in the low 70s F. Peter and Yen slept in and just made it to the start line as the gun went off so we weren’t able to get a group photo at the start of the race. Brent started fast and the other four CC members ran the first few miles together. At 3 miles I stuck to my race strategy and stopped to stretch and walk for 3 min. When I passed 4 miles in 44:56 it started to rain which cooled the temps and my bod and I started to leave my three friends behind. We enjoyed light rain showers for much of the first half. I reached 12 miles in 2:01:05 and stopped and walked. So far I felt OK – actually good- and had no problems with cramps or tightness. I passed the Half in 2:26:17 but I knew the 2nd Half would not be that fast because the sun was starting to break through the clouds. I was concerned that the sun would bake the wet road and we would be running in a steam bath. We were lucky! The skies remained overcast for much of the 2nd half also and I don’t think the temps rose above 80 F? We passed some gated communities at Maya Beach and the Placencia Hotel which were modern and upscale which is what I expected to find in Placencia Village. When I reached mile 20 in 3:35:30 I started to tire and my legs started to get tight so I changed my race strategy to run 2 miles and walk 3 min. When I passed mile 23 in 4:15:50 and a split of 13:26 I had an notion to run the final 5K but that silly idea didn’t last long as I started to struggle. After another walk at Mile 24 I was able to cruise to the finish line in 5:11:27.

 I was happy with my time and performance based on the struggles I had experienced in my training runs for the past month. I had completed Marathon # 367 and Country # 118 without suffering any problems and I was one marathon closer to my first goal. Brent had already finished in 1st AG (60+) and we waited for our friends to finish. Peter and Yen had to jump into a cab immediately to return to the hotel, shower and catch a 2 pm flight home. I remember when I used to do silly things like that before I retired? Edson and I returned with them so we could shower, relax and enjoy some food and beer.

 Brent and Edson left Mon morning and I moved into the village where a hotel was cheaper and I could walk to all the bars and restaurants. I had booked a 6-day trip hoping to visit some Mayan ruins after the race. Unfortunately there were few tourists in Placencia at this time and I wasn’t able to find or join a tour to any ruins. The only tours available were snorkeling tours and I didn’t feel like snorkeling. Instead I explored the village and met many locals and transplanted Northerners at the local bars where the beer is good and cheap. There seemed to be a lot of Northerners who came to Placencia on vacation and never left? Each night I would enjoy a great seafood dinner and a nightcap at one of the bars with my new friends.

Since I couldn’t book a ruins tour I used the time to start writing my trip report and managed to complete 90% of it in Belize. On my last night I treated Maddog to a fine lobster dinner to spend my remaining $BZ. A lobster appetizer + lobster (Creole style) + drinks cost $80 BZ = $40 US. The flight home was uneventful except the small 12-passenger plane flew directly over the marathon course and I was able to take some great aerial photos of the course.

 I am back home now and feeling more encouraged and optimistic about my running. Since I was able to complete the Belize marathon without any problems I have booked the trip for my next international marathon in early Jan. That race will allow me to accomplish my 1st personal goal. I also plan to reduce my training program from 50 miles per week to 30 miles per week to see what effect and benefit that produces?

 Where is that race? What is the goal?

 Stay tuned!



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