Friday, May 30, 2014

TR Kosovo

5/22 – 5/26/14


Race Results:
Sun, May 25/14
Pristina, Kosovo
Kosovo Marathon
Marathon # 372 – Country # 121

 My final marathon and final country! And it wasn’t easy. Running the marathon was actually the easy part – getting to the race was difficult. The difficulty started a few days after the Boston Marathon when I tried to get out of bed and became very dizzy and fainted. Once I managed to get up the dizziness diminished but would continue in short spells and frequently? I thought it might be a side effect of a new (heart) med I had started so I immediately stopped taking that drug. When the symptoms continued for a few days I went to my GP who quickly diagnosed the problem as vertigo. He advised me to do Epley exercises frequently and that did help ease the symptoms but did not eliminate the vertigo. A few days later I tried to do a long run to stay in shape and prepare for Kosovo. Half way through the run I woke up (must have fainted?) to find myself falling and heading for a face plant on the road. Luckily I was able to get my arms in front of me and saved myself from serious injury. But it really scared me. I couldn’t stop running/training so I experimented and learned that if I ran and walked a 12-min pace or slower I could avoid triggering the vertigo and prevent another fall.

During the 5 weeks between Boston and Kosovo I had weekly phone calls with the Race Director in Pristina to finalize the details and logistics of the marathon. I had been trying since Kosovo declared independence in 2008 to organize a marathon in the new country. Remember I had completed a marathon in every country in Europe in 2005 when I ran Bosnia? Now I needed to run Kosovo to re-establish my World Record #2. I was lucky to meet a fellow member of our local Running Club who traveled frequently to Pristina on business. He put me in touch with a colleague who lived in Pristina. Maury Wray-Bridges is an American expat and runner and she volunteered to help me organize the marathon. We first made contact in Nov 2013 but nothing much happened during the Christmas period. Finally in Jan 2014 I explained that members of the Country Club planned their races 6 to 12 months in advance and we needed to set a firm date asap. It turned out that Maury and her family were returning to the USA in Jun 20414 so that pretty much set the date for May and we settled on May 25. That date prohibited some members from participating but there is no way to satisfy everybody all the time? Maury and her husband Andrew were enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity to organize the first-ever marathon to be held in Kosovo. Without their help the race could never have happened. They handled all the on-site logistics such as choosing a course, recruiting volunteers and meeting with local politicians and officials. I provided the experience and knowledge to organize a marathon, recruited runners and designed and ordered the race T-shirts, finisher medals and awards. Maury and I made a great team!


Since I was supplying the shirts, etc for the race I had to go to Kosovo regardless of how I felt. When I departed for Kosovo on Thu I was still suffering occasional bouts of dizziness from the vertigo. I wasn’t sure if I could run the marathon – I wasn’t even sure how or if I could handle the 24 hours of travel to get there? And the airlines didn’t make it easy for me! A delayed flight out of Washington caused me to miss my connection in Zurich to Pristina. It was the only flight of the day to Pristina. I made my way to the Service Desk where I met another passenger going to Pristina. Swiss Airline routed us to Vienna (8 hrs later) to catch the last flight on Austrian Airlines to Pristina. However when we arrived in Vienna I learned that the flight to Pristina was cancelled! I later learned that flight crews were in contract negotiations with Austrian Airlines and causing flight delays and cancellations to make their position stonger? All the airlines knew what was happening but did not advise passengers so that we could avoid Austrian Airlines. Meanwhile I was emailing Maury and my roommate who had already arrived in Pristina to keep them updated. I was supposed to meet with Maury that evening and drive the marathon course early on Friday. Austrian Airlines put me up for the night at an airport hotel. At that point I did not have any confidence that the flight I was booked on early Fri would leave either? And I didn’t have much confidence that my baggage with all the race equipment would arrive with me? I was wondering what had happened to my new friend/travel companion. Taryn is a young lawyer working for a law firm in DC that represents the Kosovo government in contract negotiations with other countries. When I didn’t see her at the ticket counter getting new tickets for the Fri morning flight I figured she must have given up and gone back to DC? However as I was eating dinner at the hotel Taryn walked in and joined me for dinner. She was booked on the same flight the next day. There seemed to be some comfort in the fact that we weren’t alone in our dilemma and frustration.

 On Fri morning I walked over to the terminal a few hours early to confirm that the flight was really going? It was. While waiting at the gate I met two members from the Country Club who were on the same flight. I started to cheer up. The flight departed on time and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my baggage also arrived in Pristina. Maury and Andrew were waiting at the airport along with Fatlum Grajevci, the Director of the Kosovo Sports Federation, so that we could drive directly to the marathon course to check it out. There had been a lot of rain the past few weeks in Kosovo and three miles of the course were on dirt roads. When Maury and I had discussed the course she had told me about the dirt roads and I envisioned dirt roads in the US -  i.e. country roads with dirt and gravel. However these dirt roads were farm roads – roads that farmers used to farm the fields. We tried to drive part of the road and became stuck in mud! Once we pushed the car out of the mud we all agreed that the course had to be changed to paved roads only. We drove to a small gas station on the edge of the village of Gracanica that had room to park cars and set up a start/finish area. We negotiated with the owner to use his station for the start/finish area. The price - a pair of running shoes!

 We drove west on the planned paved course 2.3 miles to a junction in the small village of Laplje Selo. Then we turned south and climbed a long winding hill (79m ascent) to the edge of another village (Livade). We marked a turn-around at 4.4 miles. Runners would have to run this loop a total of six times. We would locate one water station at the start/finish, one at the turn at 2.3 miles and a third at the turn-around. The course was set. Maury and Fatlum recommended that I caution the runners not to wear any flags of symbols of Albania. The two villages were ethnic Serbs and not happy that Kosovo had declared independence from Serbia!

I asked Andrew to drop me off at the hotel so I could check in and try to squeeze my mandatory souvenir shopping into the few hours I had before registration and packet pick up. The flight delays and cancellations had cost me a whole day that I planned to use to explore Pristina and shop. Luckily Pristina is a small city and I was able to find everything I needed quickly – except for a souvenir teaspoon. I wasn’t surprised to find that they don’t exist in Kosovo?

 I held registration and packet pick up in the lobby of our hotel. There were 18 runners registered but three did not run. Two CC members from the US experienced a flight cancellation (in the US) and one local (expat) runner was injured. Roza offered to be a volunteer and became one of our most exuberant and cheerful volunteers! We lost three runners but they were replaced by three local runners: two Finnish expats including the Charge Affairs from the Finnish Embassy and we had one true Kosovar register for the marathon. Eleven CC members registered for the marathon: 3 from the US, 3 from Germany, 2 from Finland, 2 from Italy and 1 from the Netherlands. This is the largest group of CC members to ever run a race so we designated the marathon as the first CC Reunion.

 After registration we were joined by Maury and Andrew and many race volunteers including the Deputy Chief of Mission from the US Embassy for a pasta dinner at the hotel.

 My roommate Edson and I had to wake early because Maury, Andrew and Fatlum picked us up at 6am so that we could drive the course again and paint distance and direction markers on the road. I painted a 2 and 4 mile mark on the road to allow runners to check their pace and we also pointed turn arrows at the junction in Laplje Selo and Livade. Maury had recruited more than 20 race volunteers and because of the change in the course we had more than needed so she was able to assign shifts so that nobody had to stay on the course for 6 hrs (but many did).

 We were expecting light showers but the weather Gods smiled on us. It was sunny and HOT – great for volunteers but not so great for runners. A professional photographer volunteered to take photos of the race and later posted them to her website Once she took a photo of the runners at the start line we were ready to start the race on time at 7am. And for the first time in 3 days I was finally able to relax and unwind while I ran the race. There was nothing I could do while running and I had all the confidence in the world in Maury. She was ‘Miss Efficiency’ and had everything under control!

 We had a volunteer riding a bike to guide the lead runners through the first two laps out-and-back. He stayed with the runners for the entire race. I was surprised to find the Kosovo police controlling traffic at the turn at 2.3 miles in Laplje Selo. Maury had written the mayors of the three villages as a courtesy to inform them of the race and they had provided police at the turn and also at the turn-around and I even saw them patrolling the course. By the time the runners reached the hill at 3 miles we had spread out along the course. As I started up the hill I remembered my comment the day before “this hill doesn’t look too tough – but ask me again tomorrow when I am running and not driving”! The hill climbed 79m/260ft over 1 mile. Half way up the hill I figured I would be walking the hill on the next 2 laps – so why not start now? I reached the turn-around at 4.4 miles in 46:00 and looked forward to running back down the hill. The return loop back to the start line took 50:39 due to a pit stop in a farm field. I didn’t have time before the race to perform my usual pre-race functions.  One nice aspect of the course layout was that runners got to greet and cheer each other several times during the race with the 3 out-and –back loops. I stopped many times to take photos of my fellow runners.

 After the first two loops the race came down to a duel between a German CC member, Jurgen Sinthofen, and the local Kosovar runner, Martin Noci. I reached the turn-around on the 2nd uphill loop in 2:27:44 and a split of 50:15. After the race when I downloaded the data from my watch I was surprised/perplexed to discover that I ran each uphill loop faster than the downhill loop? How is that possible? The short loops seem to go fast with all the great support and cheering from our volunteers at the water stops and cheering for all of our comrades along the course. When I reached the start line at the end of the 4th loop in 3:21:05 and a split of 52:39 it was already HOT and I knew the final out-and-back loop was going to be ugly. I was only approaching the 2-mile mark when the lead runners passed me on their way to the finish line. Jurgen had a 200m lead on Martin and I knew he was going to win. I completed the final uphill loop in 4:19:22 and a split of 48:15. That was my 2nd fastest split on the uphill loop but I paid dearly for it on the final downhill loop. By the time I reached the junction in Laplje Selo my legs were shot. I had not been able to do any long training runs in the past month because of the vertigo and it cost me. I decided to walk/run the final 2 miles to cross the finish line in 5:20:35.

I had requested that runners stay in the finish area until all runners finished and everyone cooperated until the last 3 runners behind me crossed the finish line. I presented the Overall Male Winner award to Jurgen. Since we had no female runners in the marathon I presented the female trophy to Mea Kriek who ran the Half marathon in 2:11:23. The first-ever marathon in Kosovo was over and it was a huge success! Fatlum was so impressed with the race that he stated that the Kosovo Sports Federation would continue the race next year. Let’s hope so?

 After a quick shower Edson and I did a walking tour of Pristina to take in a few of the sights and get some photos of the city. I hadn’t had any time until now to explore the city. We managed to visit some of the few tourist sites such as the Municipal Library and the Newborn Monument. Our tour was short since I had invited the Executive Committee of the Country Club to join me at dinner with Maury and Andrew to thank them for their help. It was the first time since I arrived in Pristina that we truly had time to relax and enjoy a nice quiet dinner. Maury had picked a local restaurant that served a typical ‘family’ dinner. The food just kept coming and coming- washed down with local beer!

 Since I had an early flight (7am) I had to go to bed early for a 4am wake-up call. When I checked in I was informed that my connection from Vienna to DC was delayed 2 hrs. During that delay in Vienna I learned about the contract dispute. I will never fly Austrian Airlines again. The delay was longer than 2 hrs and I had to sprint more than ¼ mile at the Washington airport to make my connection. I can’t believe I made it through immigration/customs and security in less than 1 hr? At this point I don’t care to ever get on another plane from any airline. I am tired of being crammed into planes and treated like cattle.

Thus I am glad that this was my final marathon and final country. It is nice to retire on a high note. Marathon #372 and country #121. I established one new WR (121 countries) and re-established my WR #2 of completing a marathon in every country in Europe. It will take many years for any runner to tie this WR!

 Now that I am home and ‘retired’ I am looking forward to taking it easy for a while. No marathon or running goals! No more training. I plan to do some easy jogging as exercise and must find some other activities to keep me busy. In the next week I begin my long treatment program to fix and strengthen my heart. That may affect my activities for the next month or so?

 And look at the upside for you readers! No more reading Maddog’s boring race reports. Thanks for coming along for the ride for the past 33 years. They have been fun and there have been many memorable adventures!




Unknown said...

What a life span of running. I am sad, that I could not make it to Kosovo, but happy, that I could help you in Bosnia.

Enjoy your after race life, do not step down running too drastic, recover well.

All the best, Wolfgang from Duesseldorf.

Unknown said...

Even though that it was sad that I couldn't run, however, it was absolutely amazing experience to be a volunteer for such a huge event which was first time ever held in the Republic of Kosovo!

Live long, John Wallace!

With Big Respect,
Roza M.