Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TR Bahrain

Bahrain & Dubai
2/2 – 2-6/15


Race Results:
Fri, Feb 6/15
Manama, Bahrain
Bahrain Marathon
Marathon # 374 – Country # 123

 Now where were we? Oh yes – we left Oman and were heading to Dubai for some R & R.

Jurgen and I departed on the same plane but he was meeting and staying with a friend/German expat working in Dubai and I had booked an apartment hotel in the Dubai Creek area. As we departed the airport I wisely bought a 12 pack of Fosters beer in Duty Free because beer/booze is difficult to find and expensive in Dubai. Basically you must go to a Western hotel if you want to drink alcohol. We agreed to meet at the Burj Khalifa the next morning. I managed to walk and explore the neighborhood along Dubai Creek and surmise that it would be difficult to run in the morning because of traffic. I last visited Dubai 15 years ago and this is the only section of the city that I remembered? The city has more than doubled in size and there are new districts such as the Downtown/Financial and Marina districts that didn’t even exist then? There is a new elevated Metro that is modern and fast.

 Jurgen and I met the next morning at the entrance to the Burj Khalifa inside the Dubai Mall. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world at 2717 ft. We visited the observation deck to enjoy the panoramic views and take photos of the city. Later we purchased a daily pass for a hop on/hop off bus to tour the city. This bus tour has three routes and if you stay on the bus for all three routes the tour takes 7 ½ hours! It visits every part of Dubai starting at the Dubai Mall. At first I was amazed at all the new buildings and skyscrapers – it seemed that each new building tried to surpass the next one in height/majesty and architecture. But quickly I felt that I was looking at a huge real estate and economic bubble that has to collapse when the oil money dries up? It has reached a level of opulence and decadence that could only be achieved with unlimited (oil) money! Everything has to be the BIGGEST and Best in the world. A new tower is being built in China that is taller than the Burj Khalifa so they are already planning a new tower in Dubai to surpass the one in China? The Dubai Mall is no longer the biggest so they are planning a new mall that will be so big that it will include a 7Km nature trail inside the mall! It just goes on and on? The malls are huge and filled with high-end/exclusive shops that could only be supported with oil money from neighboring oil countries such as Saudi Arabia who consider Dubai to be a ‘playground’.

 We toured by the Downtown/Financial district to Dubai Creek where we visited Dubai Fort and Museum and the Gold Souk. The Souk has been updated and modernized since my last visit and lost all its charm. We took a 1-hour Dhow cruise on Dubai Creek for another perspective of the city. Then the tour took us along Jumeirah Beach and past the Burj Al Arab (the only 7-star hotel in the world with rates starting at $1500/night) to Palm Island – a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree with expensive homes and hotels. The tour finished with a drive through the new Marina District with its towering skyscrapers trying to outdo each other? By then we were in rush hour traffic and the 10-lane Sheikh Zayed Road was a parking lot! To make the delay longer the bus had to drive through the Mall of the Emirates with its indoor ski hill before returning to Dubai mall at 8 pm! The roads were still parking lots so I took the Metro back to my hotel. I was in desperate need of a cold beer. My 12-pack was now looking like a wise decision. But I also wanted a steak/beef with a glass of wine for dinner and that could only be found at a Western hotel so I walked a few blocks before finding a Western hotel and enjoying a great dinner.

I enjoyed my short time in Dubai but I am not in any rush to go back!

 On Wed morning I returned to the airport for a short flight to Bahrain. I was surprised to find Jurgen waiting for me at Arrivals. In Bahrain. He had flown in earlier and rented a car and was waiting to pick me up. The rental car was a wise decision because it gave us much more freedom and flexibility to explore Bahrain. After checking into an apartment hotel we drove to the north end of Manama to the Seef Mall to meet up with two friends/runners from the Netherlands and pick up our race packets. The RD had reserved Bib # 123 for Maddog.

 We had one full day (Thu) to explore the country. Bahrain is small island country located near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is 34 miles long and 11 miles wide. The population is only 1.2 million with less than half being nationals and the rest foreign workers. The capital city of Manama looks like a small version of Muscat and Dubai – modern skyscrapers are soaring to the skies in many new areas of the city. However the old part of the city has not been updated or modernized and looks like a typical city in a 3rd world country. We explored the old city first and visited the Souk to buy my mandatory souvenirs – souvenir teaspoon, silver charm and postcards. I stopped at a Post office to buy stamps. There were three female workers but only one working and two male supervisors? It took more than 15 minutes to buy stamps with five employees and only three customers?

Then we decided to drive to Saudi Arabia. Both countries collaborated to build a causeway and bridge between the two countries – mainly so the Saudis could drive to Bahrain which they consider as a playground since “Allah can’t see what happens in Bahrain”! There are many casinos/bars/entertainment rooms in Bahrain but they are not evident? All are located in Western hotels and are not advertised but you just need to go to any Western hotel to be ‘entertained’!

 We had a coffee/coke at a MacDonald’s located on the Saudi border – the closest I will ever get to Saudi Arabia since their Embassy refused to even acknowledge my enquiry about a visa a few years ago? After ‘relieving’ myself across the border into Saudi Arabia I felt vindicated and we proceeded to find the start/finish area for the marathon at the Sofitel Hotel located on the west coast. It is a beautiful luxury resort located on the Persian Gulf about five miles from the Formula 1 race track. We drove the course – a 10.5 Km loop along a highway in the desert that we would have to run four times. Then we visited the Formula 1 track and stadium – a lot of money invested for a few races each year? Later we ventured into the interior of the country where all the oil wells are located. Talk about UGLY! I have seen oil wells before – but never with the miles of pipes laid across the surface of the desert to collect and pump the oil to storage tanks. Our last stop was the ‘Tree of Life’ – 400 year-old Prosopis Cineraria tree near Jebal Dukham. On the way back to Manama we got lost since there are few road/directional signs in Bahrain (or Oman and Dubai?). We had to stop at a military base to ask for directions. Thankfully they didn’t shoot us!

 After a long day we ate an early pasta dinner since we would have to leave around 5 am to get to the start line. Jurgen was under some pressure because he had to finish the marathon under four hours to get back to the hotel for a quick shower and return the car before noon since the rental agency closed at noon on Fri. They agreed to drive him to the airport for a 2 pm flight. That meant our two friends and I would have to find a taxi back to our hotels after the race.

 Fri was ‘M’ day. The race started at 6 am. When I left the hotel at 5am I was dressed only in a singlet and shorts. It was ‘cold’  - high 40s F so I had to go back to the room for a throw-away T-shirt. The race started on time – it was still cold and windy so I kept the T-shirt on. The race started out bad right from the start for me! First my heart monitor was acting strangely. Somehow a button had been pushed that turned on an ‘Alert’ tone signaling my HR was below the range I had set. I never activate that tone and it was annoying. It should have gone away after the first mile but it didn’t and it messed with my mind because my HR was lower than it should be? I didn’t want to stop and try to reset the monitor while running in the dark so I tried to ignore it! When I passed mile 4 in 47:52 the damn monitor was still beeping and I felt terrible. I knew it was going to be a long, painful race! Finally the monitor stopped beeping which indicated that my HR was above 120 bpm but it continued to act strangely – or my HR continued to act strangely – throughout the entire race? There was nothing I could do about it – I wasn’t going to quit – so I just tried to ignore it. If I died – I died!

 I stayed with two old farts in my AG (one from Italy and one from Sweden) for the first 10K but then I had to let them go because I was struggling. I had already decided to walk through every water station located every 4 Km but even that didn’t seem to help. And I felt I was under pressure because there was a 5 ½ hour time limit on the race! I passed 15 Km in 1:45:32 and started to worry about the time limit? However I passed the Half back at the Sofitel in 2:29:27 and felt a bit more confident that I could beat 5:30. I finally discarded my throw-away shirt and began the 2nd loop. But now I was staring to run between water stations – I tried to run 2Km and walk 1 min. By the time I reached 32Km in 3:52:21 I was struggling to run1 Km and walk 1 min! I had no choice but to suck it up and keep the old legs shuffling even it meant more walking. Only when I reached 40Km in 4:59:31 was I confident that I would break 5:30.

 I crossed the finish line in 5:18:35 to complete marathon #374 and Country #123!

All I could think about was “This is no longer easy and no longer fun”! Maybe it is time to quit? But then the RD called me over to the podium at the awards ceremony to present me with a special award – a “Certificate of Appreciation” for achieving a new World Record of 123 countries. Maybe I can run two more countries???

 As my friends and I were searching for a taxi several of the local runners kindly offered us rides back to our hotels. A group of lovely young ladies asked Maddog to pose with them for a photo and then offered to drive him back to the hotel. As always the local runners were gracious and friendly.

 After a quick shower I headed to the airport and a flight back to Dubai. I believe I am now an expert on the Dubai airport. I had four hours to go through Immigration/Customs (again), change terminals via taxi and go back through Immigration and security in the main International Terminal. I made it with lots of time to spare but I did note that I seemed to be coming down with a sore throat? Unfortunately that sore throat became a sever sinus cold by the time I arrived home 28 hours later.

 It has taken two weeks for the cold to go away and my running/training has sucked for those two weeks. I am blaming it on the cold but after the ugly/pathetic race performances in the Middle East I am discouraged about the lack of improvement in my heart/health. I have some important medical tests in the next few weeks to determine if there has been any improvement since the heart procedures and pacemaker. I am not optimistic because I believe I know the answer but I will wait for the results!  At this point I must say I truly regret the decision to have the pacemaker implanted. My running has actually deteriorated since the procedure! I was running faster before the pacemaker? I may be faced with another decision – whether or not to remove the damn thing! I know it is not a simple procedure to remove it and the cardiologists will keep telling me that it is necessary/important to extend my life  - but I keep reminding them that I am not interested in extending my life if it does not also extend my ”quality of Life”! Who knows what will happen?

 Stay tuned!




TR Oman

1/27 - 2/2/15


Race Results:
Fri, Jan 30/15
Muscat, Oman
Muscat Marathon
Marathon # 373 – Country # 122

 It has been so long since I last wrote a trip report that I may have forgotten how? One week after my last marathon and report in May 2014 I went into a hospital to have a pacemaker implanted. My cardiologists had convinced me that this treatment was the only chance I had to strengthen my weak heart muscle if I ever hoped to run marathons again. Eight months later and with lots of hindsight I now regret my decision to accept their advice. My heart & health has not improved after 8 months of pain and frustration!

 So how did I get to this point and conclusion?

 After the pacemaker was implanted it was a long slow struggle to try to get back into shape. The docs said that I should only walk for the 1st week after surgery but then I could run as far as I wanted. Right! I waited 3 days to start walking but when I tried to run 1 week later I couldn’t run 100 ft w/o becoming totally fatigued. I was not able to do any cross training such as biking/swimming/weights because my left shoulder was sore and I had to be careful not to extend the left arm for risk of dislodging the leads to the pacemaker. Back to square 0 – run 100 ft and then walk. Build up to run 200 ft and walk. After 2 weeks I was finally able to run about ¼ mile before becoming exhausted.

 I continued this slow and frustrating process and we decided to spend July/August in Seattle to spend time with Chris, Ari & our new granddaughter Lauren. A few days each week I would take Lauren for a walk/run along Puget Sound. I enjoyed these ‘walks’ and wasn’t too concerned about the progress (or lack of) that I was making. Near the end of July I was starting to feel better and make some progress - I managed to run 1 whole mile before becoming fatigued and then - a big setback. While doing a simple stretch before a morning run I dislodged the LV lead and it started to fire/stimulate my diaphragm. We had to rush to ER to have the lead turned off. I decided to wait until we returned to FL to have the lead repaired. The lead was repaired in Oct which required basically the same surgery all over again – and thus the same healing and recovery process! However this time I quit feeling sorry for myself and pushed much harder and after 1 month I was able to run 5 miles before becoming fatigued. I was aggressive in building up the long runs to 13 miles and by the end of Nov I started thinking about running a marathon again? I could not run fast but at least I could run slow & long? I started looking for a marathon in Jan 2015 because I felt that I needed a few more months of training. I finally decided on a marathon in the Middle East and then quickly noted that there were two marathons 1 week apart in the Middle East. Why not try both?

 I continued to train and build my long run up to 20 miles. But I was agonizingly slow and just couldn’t seem to improve my speed? Just before leaving for the 1st race I visited the cardiologist to complain about my HR seeming to be limited to a max of 130bpm? No matter how hard I tried to push I couldn’t get my HR above 130 bpm. An adjustment/tune up of the pacemaker corrected that problem (I was upset that this had not been mentioned earlier by the cardiologist?) I was curious to see if this ‘adjustment’ would enable me to run a bit faster?

 The exciting/fun part of the adventure was that I would be joining nine other friends/members of the Country Club in Muscat to run the 1st marathon. It was like the ‘good old days’. It had been a long time since I had planned logistics for a race but I quickly determined that the cheapest way to travel to both races/countries was to book a cheap flight to Dubai and use Dubai as a base to fly back and forth to Oman & Bahrain. Soon it was time to depart! I did not have much confidence!

 I flew 2 legs from FL to Dubai and arrived late Wed night. I overnighted in Dubai rather than continue on to Oman and arrive at 2 am. I was able to get a good night’s sleep/rest and continue on the next day. I was sharing a room at the host hotel (the Intercontinental) with my good friend Edson from NYC. I met up with many of my friends from the Country Club (CC) and we enjoyed a pasta dinner at the hotel after picking up our race packets. The RD had kindly reserved Bib # 122 for Maddog!

 Friday was ‘M’ day – Fri is the start of the Muslim weekend and there is less traffic. The race started at 6 am at the back of the Intercontinental Hotel. The temps were in the mid-60s. The course was a Half –marathon loop through an exclusive neighborhood with many embassies and nice homes, then along a causeway on the Sea of Oman and finally through Al Qurm National Park that offered some shade. Sadly I started to struggle right out of the chute. Thankfully Edson stayed with me and dragged me through 10K in 1:12:43 – a 7min/km or 12min/mile pace. However at 16K I had to let Edson go as I struggled to reach the Half in 2:33:37. That was actually better than expected and it sort of gave me a boost and I felt good for the next 10K but then I started to struggle again as I approached 32K in 4:02:17. I had been walking through all the water stations but now it became a strategy of run 1 k and walk 1 min. When I reached 37 K in 4:45:54, it became a matter of making it to the finish line. I started to run 3 min and walk 1 min until I crossed the finish line in 5:32:26. It wasn’t pretty & it wasn’t fun but I finished Marathon #373 & Country #122. I had already realized by the 1st 10K that any hope/dream of running lots more marathons/countries wasn’t going to happen. I was hoping to run a marathon in Kenya in March but knew that there was no way my body/heart is capable of running a marathon with lots of hills at 7,000 ft elevation. That race was already scratched from my itinerary!

 I managed to stumble across the finish line during the awards ceremony and in time to be presented with a special award for achieving a new World Record of 122 countries!

 After a quick shower and snack I joined a few friends to enjoy a ‘hop on/hop off’ bus tour of Muscat. Muscat is quite modern and upscale – not at all what I imagined. We visited most of the tourist sites in Muscat – the National Opera, the Grand Mosque, Old souk, Marina, Parliament Bldgs, etc. (Photos on photo blog). Muscat is bordered on the North & East by the Sea of Oman and the Jabal Miraywah Mtns on the other sides. The topography reminded me on Reno, NV. Mostly the view is rugged/barren mtns. The only green is where irrigation exists.

 On Sat another friend, Jurgen and I decided to rent a car and do a self-drive tour through the country side of Oman. We completed a 2-day, 500-mile loop from Muscat through the Al Jabal Al Akhdak Mtns that soar more than 10,000 ft above sea level. I was really surprised to find so many mtns. The topography is much like NV and NM – rugged & barren mtns with desert at the base of the mtns. We visited a lot of old forts on a route from Muscat through Bidbid, Izki & Nizwa to stay overnight in Jabreen. There is a network of forts and castles - some built over 1,000 years ago to protect the few rivers and oasis that exist in the mtns and desert. Many of the forts have been restored. On Sun we visited the Jabreen Castle and continued around the mtns (we were warned not to attempt to cross over the 10,000 ft mtns w/o a 4-wheel drive) to Irbi & Ar Rustaq. We visited a natural hot spring (Ayn Al Kasfah) in Ar Rustaq. The spring was fenced off but there were small bath houses (segregated of course) to bathe your feet in the hot springs? We did drive through some desert and past camels but the huge sand deserts are south of Muscat.

 We enjoyed the trip and scenery and were surprised that the locals were so friendly and helpful. After we left the city English was not common but we were always able to find someone to help us when we got lost.

 Oman was a very pleasant surprise and not at all what I expected.

 However now it was time to head back to Dubai for a few days of sightseeing and rest. The story will continue in the next report.