Friday, December 18, 2015

TR Grenada

12/10 – 12/15/15


Race Results:
Sat, Dec 12/15
Marathon de Spice
St George’s, Grenada
Marathon # 378 – Country # 127

 This race has a strange story to start. In June, a member of the Country Club indicated that he had run a marathon in Grenada. I didn’t know of any marathon in Grenada? Upon further discussion I learned that the 1st marathon had been a disaster with only my friend showing up and being accompanied by a relay of a few local runners. However he did give me the name of the President of the Tri-Club in Grenada who had organized the race. I contacted Marco and asked if he would assist the Country Club (me) in organizing an ‘official’ marathon in Grenada.

 He was excited and interested in having another opportunity to organize a marathon in his country. He volunteered to organize and direct the race if I would commit to bringing at least 10 foreign runners to Grenada for the race. We set a date in Dec to provide enough advance notice to runners to add/change their race schedules and I quickly had confirmation from 10 friends/members of the Country Club and Marathon Globetrotters to participate in the race. Having Marco manage all the logistics in the country made the organization much easier.

 Traveling to Grenada was harder than the planning the race! Direct flights were scarce and expensive because the weekend we chose coincided with the end of the school term for the Medical School on the island and most of the students were flying home for the Holidays. An AA flight from/to Miami that weekend was over $1000! I was able to find cheaper flights on Caribbean Airlines out of Fort Lauderdale but they were not direct and the outgoing leg required an overnight layover at their hub in Trinidad.

I arrived at a hotel in Trinidad at midnight and had to catch a shuttle at 5am for my early morning flight to Grenada. I am getting too OLD for that crap!

Nevertheless I arrived safe and tired at 9am on Friday and thankfully the Radisson let me check in early. The Radisson Resort is one of two 5-star hotels on the island. It is located on Grand Anse Beach – a two mile stretch of white sand and the nicest beach on the island. I decided to explore St George’s, the capital and largest city on the island. My first surprise was that the island was not as upscale and affluent as expected. In fact it is very poor and the buildings and infrastructure are in poor shape. Many buildings were destroyed by hurricanes in the past 20 years and there is no money to repair or even tear them down so they sit empty and ugly! Most of the roads follow the contours of the hills along the coast and are narrow and in bad shape– and the cars drive on the left/wrong side of the road! There is no public transportation and taxis are expensive! However there is a private transportation system provided by mini-vans/buses that will take you anywhere in the city for $1 US ($2.50 EC). They cram about 14 passengers into each mini-van (no AC) so you get to know the locals really well on your $1 ride.

 There is a Cruise Terminal in the city center so I headed there to buy my mandatory souvenirs. I figured if there is a cruise terminal there will be lots of souvenir shops and I finished my shopping within a few hours! The Cruise Terminal was new and modern – the only modern and upscale building in the city center. The rest of the city center was disappointing and ugly! Most of the shops and buildings are in disrepair and many of the damaged ones are empty. St George’s is over 200 years old and the roads are so narrow that they can only accommodate one lane so most of the streets are one-way. I would not want to drive there! After a quick walking tour to explore some of the old churches and Fort George I retreated back to the luxury of the Radisson to wait for my friends. I was eager to meet my friends and colleagues from the Country Club since it would be a historic meeting! The top six (active) country marathon runners in the world (all members of the Country Club) would meet for the 1st time at this race. We all know each other but it would be the first (and probably last) time that we would meet at the same race!

 Later that afternoon Brent, Klaus and I met at the hotel so we could go together to pick up our race packets. The other members would arrive late Fri night so I picked up their packets. At packet pickup we met other runners including another CC member, Goran, from Sweden. I met the RD, Marc, for the 1st time and thanked him for organizing the race. Marc kindly offered us a ride to a good Italian restaurant to enjoy a pasta dinner.

 On Sat morning the five friends/members of the CC staying at the Radisson Resort met for an (expensive) buffet breakfast at the hotel. I volunteered to escort them downtown for souvenir shopping and a look at the marathon course. Marc had selected a 5.275Km course that started in the Morne Rouge Playing Field close to the hotel and followed the main road along the hilly coastline and finished along the Carenage near the city center. The course was a series of hills with one BAH (Bad Ass Hill) that dropped down to the Carenage along St Lois Bay and the Marina. The only flat section was the final 1Km along the Carenage. The roads were narrow and in bad shape and since there would be no traffic control we would have to share them with cars. We all decided to use the sidewalks where possible but even those were in bad shape and many sections of the sidewalks had stairs and in many places there were no sidewalks. We all agreed that safety should be the primary goal – especially since the race would start at 4pm and most of the race would be run in the dark!

 I hadn’t realized how hilly the roads were until we rode the bus down to the city center. I decided I would walk the uphills and run all the downhills and flat sections! And I would have to do that eight times!

We agreed to meet early at the start line to take a historic photo of the top six CC members with a combined total of 611 countries! It was hot at 4pm. The race started on time with 19 runners – 12 foreign runners and 7 local runners! I set a goal of running each 5Km lap in 40 minutes. But my main priority was safety! I was careful to stay on the sidewalks wherever possible and when I encountered steps – I walked up and down the steps. Where there was no sidewalk I watched carefully for cars and if necessary stopped and waited for an opening in the heavy traffic. I ran the start of each uphill and then walked the rest. I managed to run all the downhills and all the flat sections. I was happy to reach the turn-around at the end of the 1st 5Km lap in 39:05 in spite of the heat and direct sun. And the good news was that my heart was functioning normally. It had increased to my typical marathon rate of 140 bpm right after the start and had stayed in that range for the entire lap!

 The return lap back to the start/finish line was mostly uphill so I was happy when I finished that 2nd lap in 1:19:51 and a split of 40:45. The 3rd lap presented the best conditions – it was now twilight with enough light to see but no direct sun to burn our backs! I finished that lap (about 16Km) in 2:00:17 and a split of 40:26. But now it was dark as we turned back uphill for the 4th lap. I had worn a headlamp in anticipation of needing light to navigate the dangerous conditions of the sidewalks. That turned out to be a wise decision that prevented a lot of falls. To warn cars of our presence the RD had provided runners with small finger lights and glow sticks. Happily nobody was injured during the race! (As a side note, many of us were very concerned about the cars! The day before I arrived in Grenada a female jogger and her dog had been hit and killed by a car! The body of the woman was not found for a few days. The driver took the body and tried to hide it! And that accident happened during the day!)

 A nice thing about the short, 5Km lap was that we got to meet all our friends many times during the race and even in the dark we could look out for each other and cheer other runners on!

After the sun set it did not seem as hot with the lack of a direct sun but I still slowed. I finished the 4th lap and 21K in 2:43:33 and a split of 43:16. I figured I would slow even more in the 2nd Half but I was hopeful that I could break 6 hrs? I finished the next 2 laps (out-and –back) and reached 32K in 4:12:13 and an average split of 44:00. I figured I could slow my pace down to 50:00 and still break 6 hrs. Thus I slowed my pace down on the 7th lap and walked more of the uphills. I wanted to make sure I still had energy for the final uphill lap! I reached the final turn-around in 5:01:31 and a split of 49:18. I had almost 1 hr to run the final lap. That final uphill lap was the toughest one. My legs were tired and I walked all of the uphills so I could run the rest of the course and I crossed the finish line in 5:53:14.

 Maddog was happy and I was pleased that I finished under 6 hrs without any problems. Marathon #378 and Country # 127 – a new World Record! And more importantly I had re-established some confidence that I might be able to complete the next two marathon adventures that I have already booked and pre-paid?

 There weren’t many runners/spectators left at the finish line and I needed a hot shower so I walked back to the hotel. My roommate Edson had finished in 5:34 so he had already showered and gone to bed since he had a 5am shuttle to the airport to return home. After a shower I had an urge for a beer and greasy food so I walked to a bar close to the hotel. I was a wee bit concerned when I entered and discovered that I was the only ‘white’ guy in the bar. Although I got a lot of strange looks nobody bothered me! But I ate my fries, drank my beer and left quickly!

 On Sun I had to move from the Radisson Resort (too expensive w/o a roommate) to the True Blue Bay Resort – a small boutique resort located on True Blue Bay close to St George’s University. It was more laid-back and remote and not nearly as luxurious. None of the common areas had AC and the service was not as good. But it was much cheaper and included breakfast.

 I only had one day (Mon) left on the island and I wanted to see more than a 5Km lap so I booked a full-day Island tour. A couple from Cleveland joined me for the day as we enjoyed a guided tour around the island. We drove through the city center and then north along the Caribbean Sea. We passed by the Underwater Sculpture Park and through Happy Hill, Brizan, and a few small villages before turning inland to visit Concord Falls. They seem to be proud of those Falls although they are not very spectacular? We then continued north along the coast through Grand Roy, and stopped in Gouyave to visit a nutmeg factory. They still process nutmeg by hand and the workers are paid piecemeal – a good worker can make $40 EC per day. Our next stop was at the Jouvay Chocolate Factory where they still make chocolate at the same plantation established in 1774. I bought a 6-lb chocolate bar (100% organic) for $10 US that should last a few weeks?

 After a nice Grenadian lunch (spicy chicken & fish) with rice & beans and washed down with a few Caribe (beer) overlooking Sauteurs Bay we proceeded south and into the interior mountains to Lake Antoine, a small volcanic lake on the Atlantic Coast. We then stopped at the River Antoine Estate where they have been making rum since 1785. They still use the same process and machinery to crush the sugar cane, boil the sugar and distill the liquor that has been used for the past 200 years! Thus they have a limited production and the rum is only available in Grenada – or at Maddog’s bar since I brought home a bottle of 138 proof rum!

Upon our return to St George’s I asked our guide to drive us through St George’s University since it was near the True Blue Bay Resort. It is a nice university – located on the Caribbean Sea & True Blue Bay with modern, upscale buildings. It is the nicest complex on the whole island!

 That evening the hotel hosted a free cocktail hour for guests that I and my new friends from Cleveland enjoyed. I didn’t think the rum punch had much punch/kick - until the next morning when I had to catch a 7am shuttle to the airport!

 My overall opinion of Grenada is – disappointment! It is not as nice/upscale/affluent as expected. The buildings and infrastructure are in desperate need of repairs. The country is in desperate need of money to do the repairs! Hotels and food are expensive – seem to be out of whack for the conditions and the economy? I would not recommend Grenada as a vacation destination!

 However it was OK to run a marathon and add another country to my World Records!

 And now I am happy to have a month to rest & recover for my next adventure. I ran a few short runs since my return and my legs seemed very tired & heavy? I just can’t seem to recover as quickly as I could 20 years ago?

 Stay tuned for the next adventure & report!

Monday, December 07, 2015

TR Western Caribbean Challenge

Trip Report
Western Caribbean Challenge
11/29 – 12/6/15


Race results:
Mahogany Bay Marathon
Roatan, Honduras

 The above race results tell the story. ‘DNF’ – Did Not Finish! That should be the end of the story but I need to tell readers and other runners about the experience of the first-ever ‘Marathon Cruise’ - the Western Caribbean Challenge.

 This marathon adventure/event seemed so interesting and exciting! An opportunity to run 5 marathons in 5 countries in 6 days while enjoying the pleasures of a cruise ship to guide you to the different countries. It was to be a new and unique experience offered by a friend and member of the Country Club. Ziyad or ‘Z’, as everyone calls him, created and offered this event through his Adventure Tour Company called ‘Z Adventures’.

 The event would start in Miami where runners would meet and run a marathon in South Beach on Sun morning before boarding the Carnival Splendor for a 1-week cruise to the western Caribbean. I had already run marathons in 4 of the 5 countries so I only planned to run the marathon in Honduras.  I tried to skip the cruise and fly directly to Honduras for the single marathon but it was difficult to get flights and I would have had to overnight at an airport in both directions. That itinerary would cost more than the cruise so I opted to take the cruise. However I skipped the marathon in South Beach where runners ran a 5.275K loop along Miami Beach, and joined them on the ship on Sun afternoon. The event had only been announced 4 months earlier so there were only 9 runners/participants for this first event. I was a bit dismayed and concerned to learn that only 4 runners were running the marathons since the Country Club requires a minimum of 5 finishers to qualify a marathon as a ‘marathon’. However for the race I planned to run there would be another CC member joining us in Honduras so it would ‘pass the test’.

 Four runners were running Half marathons in each port/country and one spouse was walking 5K in each port. Two of the marathoners were running part of the distance on the ship (either on a track on a deck of the ship or on a tread mill in the gym) and then completing the marathon on land. Although this concept is not acceptable to the CC or any other Running Club, the RD and the runners were content to call their effort a ‘marathon’?  I made it very clear that such a ‘marathon’ would not qualify or count as a marathon for any member of the Country Club nor for entry into the Country club!

 The first day of the cruise was ‘a day at sea’ as the ship made way for Cozumel, Mexico.
I quickly confirmed my dislike for large cruise ships! The Splendor is Huge! It holds 3000+ passengers, has 2 large restaurants, one large theater and several smaller theatres for all the entertainment on board. There was lots of kids.  The entire ship was crowded, busy and noisy! I spent more time than usual in my room because it was the only place on the ship where I could enjoy ‘quiet’ time! I hate huge cruise ships!

 On Tue the Splendor docked in Cozumel at 8am. I decided to run one loop of the (out-and-back) 5.275K course as a tune up for my race on Thu. I joined two Half-marathon runners on a course that started at the dock and ran north through town along the Sea. The course was not marked and there was no mark to indicate the turn-around point? The lead runner used a GPS to determine the turn-around point?

We had to run on the sidewalk and avoid walkers/shoppers/tourists/etc. It was a good thing that nobody was taking the race seriously! There were no volunteers/water/support on the course – but we knew that when we signed up! Each runner had to carry their own water and supplies for the entire race that they were running. By the time I reached the turn-around it was HOT! I did a lot of walking on the return loop and was very happy that I didn’t have to run 4 more loops. If this trial was an indication of what the remaining races would be like it was going to be very tough! The races had to conform to the ship schedule which meant that all of them started in mid-morning – after the sun was up – and continued through the hottest part of the day. The sun and heat was brutal! And to make it tougher we had to jump up and down on sidewalks, avoid traffic, pedestrians, shoppers and tourists! And finish the race before the ship left!

 I returned to the ship for a shower and breakfast before going on shore again to enjoy a few beers and surf the Net while waiting for the other runners to complete their races. Everyone realized that it was going to be very difficult to run 3 more races in the next 3 days in this Heat & Humidity! I was glad that I was only running one marathon.

 The next day the Splendor anchored off Belize and we were tendered into Belize City. I had decided to rest and save myself from the brutal heat and serve as official race photographer at the start line. The rest of the group – “the group of crazies” – as I affectionately called them, started at the Lighthouse in Belize City. We were supposed to be joined by another CC member, Klaus, who was flying directly into Belize to join us to run the marathon distance. Klaus had volunteered to mark out a 5.275K course but his flight had been delayed so the runners just had to take off and use their GPS to determine the turn-around point? After taking a start photo I retreated to an air-conditioned bar to drink beer and surf the Net while waiting for my comrades to finish their races. They are all looked like wet and beaten puppies when they finished and joined me for a beer.

 On Thu the Splendor anchored off Roatan, Honduras and we tendered into the port. This was the one and only race I planned to run. There was good and bad news. The good news was that Z had arranged with a friend who lived in Roatan and managed a golf course at the Princess Bay Resort to mark out a 2.1K course along the golf course and also provide water at the start and end of the loop. One out-and-back loop was 4.2K so the marathon runners had to run 10 loops. The bad news was that the Splendor was only in port for 8 hours and it took 30 minutes for the tender and another 30 minutes to bus us to the start line at the Princess Bay Resort so we only had 6 hours to complete our races! More good news was that Klaus met us at the port and now there was 3 CC members plus the 2 other marathoners running their ‘strange’ race so in effect we would have 5 starters /finishers in the marathon.

 We arrived at the Resort and started the race about 8:45am which meant we had about 6:15 to complete our races. Any longer and we would miss the ship! No problem for the Half marathon but it was going to be close for the marathoners due to the heat and humidity. It was already hot but the weather Gods were kind to us and the skies were overcast and cloudy for the first 3 hours which kept the sun from broiling us. There was a BAH (Bad Ass Hill) at the start/finish and I figured it was going to hurt running that BAH ten times! But the rest of the course was flat and on dirt service roads around a golf course. The road was muddy in many sections and covered in water at one section but we were able to detour around it on a fairway so overall the course was easy and good. The golf manager had indeed arranged for water at each end of the loop which meant we didn’t have to carry water.

One nice benefit of a short loop course is that you get to see and greet your fellow runners often during a race. I figured I needed to run each loop under 36 minutes to finish in 6 hours. I figured that was possible although it would be difficult in the heat and humidity. My friend and CC member, Brent from WY, was running smooth and easy but Klaus and I struggled right from the start. Klaus had completed the marathon in Belize the day before (he had to run the course solo after he arrived late) and was fatigued from that race. The day started out badly for me as I experienced an (unexpected) heart issue? My heart went into Afib at the start of the race and dropped to a dangerously low HR of 32 bpm and stayed there for most of the race. It is difficult to run a smooth and easy pace with such a low HR since the legs become fatigued and heavy very quickly and it is more difficult to keep my old bod cool in the brutal heat. I was determined to push/struggle though the problem until I reached the Half. When I did reach the Half in 3:08:16 I knew I could not finish in time to catch the ship. However Maddog played mind games with me and convinced me to struggle through 2 more loops and when I reached 30K in 4:38:25 I was certain I could not finish in time to catch the ship so I wisely gave up and dropped out of the race.

 I was disappointed/demoralized! My last 3 marathons had been tough/ugly and definitely NOT fun! I believed my old bod was telling me emphatically “IT IS OVER”! Maybe it is time to retire?
The only part of this race that I enjoyed was the cool swim and cold beer at the Clubhouse after I dropped out.

Meanwhile Brent and Klaus were still struggling to finish out on the course. Brent barely made it across the finish line as we were loading the bus to go back to the ship. Klaus had to stop and he planned to run his final 4K from the port back to his hotel to complete his 42K. It was definitely a hard race for the marathoners with the artificial time limit imposed by the departure of the ship!

 The next day the Splendor arrived in the Cayman Islands for the final port and race. Brent had planned to run the marathon but wisely recognized that his old bod did not have another marathon in it so soon in that brutal heat and humidity and decided to run a shorter distance. He and the other runners lined up in Georgetown where they were joined by a few new runners from Marathon Maniacs who were in the Cayman Islands to run a larger/formal marathon on Sun. I served as race photographer and then retreated to a nice restaurant/bar overlooking the harbor to enjoy a cool Caybrew and surf the Net.

 As the Splendor headed back to Miami we gathered together for a final celebration and group photo and then Brent and I had a long discussion with Z about the first-ever Marathon Cruise. It is a great idea and we hope it can become successful but there are many improvements that need to be made.
One important fact we did determine is that although it looks great and easy on paper to have an adventure that offers 5 or 6 marathons/countries in 1 week it is not practical for the Caribbean or a tropical climate. Because of the ship schedule it is necessary to start the races in mid-morning and run through the hottest temps of the day with an artificial time limit hanging over your head. If you don’t finish in time – you miss the ship! In addition to that problem, runners must run on sidewalks or roads with no traffic control and avoid obstacles/people/etc. Under these conditions it is very difficult to run multiple marathons in consecutive days. I believe it would be possible for a young athlete/runner in good shape (who typically runs under 4 hrs) to run multiple marathons in consecutive days under this format. However, for a runner who typically runs a marathon in 5 to 6 hrs it is not practical or realistic to plan on running all the marathons offered!

 For runners competing at shorter distances the problems are the same but the time required on the course and in the sun and heat is less so it is possible. This was proven by the 4 runners who completed a half marathon at each port. I tip my hat to them!

 Z may contemplate changing the format of the Cruise Challenge to only offer Half-marathon races and shorter distances but I hope he keeps the marathon distance and advises marathoners to lower their expectations about the number of races they plan to run? The next cruise – the Southern Caribbean Challenge – will be better test since 22 of the 28 race participants plan to run marathons?

 On the final ‘at sea day’ I retreated from the crowds and noise on the ship to my room to write my trip report. At this time I am in a quandary. Not only do I recognize/believe that my running career is over, but more importantly, I am no longer in denial and I am willing to accept that truth/fact because I no longer have the ‘passion’ and the races are no longer fun! However I have booked and paid for 3 more marathon adventures in the next 2 months and it unlikely I can get any refunds if I cancel. The next adventure is in 10 days in another Hot/tropical climate so that will serve as another test for my theory?

If I can struggle through the next marathon adventures then I will probably participate in the ‘Southern Caribbean Challenge’. I had planned/hoped to run 2 marathons/countries on that cruise but I now realize that is not practical even if I get my heart issue resolved. So I need to think about that plan. In the worst case I could do the cruise as a monitor for the Country Club and provide support for Z so that the event runs smoother. But I am not excited about another cruise on a huge cruise ship!
Who knows?

Stay tuned!

Footnote (Dec 22/15): I finally visited my cardiologist to figure out what is going on and why I have been feeling so poorly? After checking my pacemaker and the data stored on it, he determined that my heart has been in ’heart block’ more than 30% of the time.  Most of the episodes have been brief and the heart was able to get back into synch. However during the Honduras episode it stayed in ‘block’ for a very long time! He turned the pacemaker back on and calibrated it to prevent ‘heart block’.

I was hopeful that this procedure would end my problems, however, when I tried to run an easy 10Km the next day I felt even worse and couldn’t even run 1 mile w/0 walking and feeling light-headed?

Third-degree heart block – With this condition, also called complete heart block, none of the electrical impulses from the atria reach the ventricles. When the ventricles (lower chambers) do not receive electrical impulses from the atria (upper chambers), they may generate some impulses on their own, called junctional or ventricular escape beats. Ventricular escape beats, the heart’s naturally occurring backups, are usually very slow. Patients frequently feel poorly in complete heart block, with lightheadedness and fatigue.