Wednesday, December 21, 2016

TR Qatar

Dec 13 - 17/16

Race Results:
Fri, Dec 16, 2016
Education City Marathon
Doha, Qatar
Marathon # 381 – Country #130

After my two previous ‘comeback’ marathons and a few weeks of additional training I was feeling confident that I could complete my unfinished goal to run 130 countries! My only concern was that this race would start at 2am on Fri and I haven’t run a marathon during the night in many years.

The marathon was part of series of races called the ‘Qatar Running Series’ organized and directed by a friend Ziyad Rahim. There is usually a variety of race distances included in each event. The shorter distances start at 6 or 7am, however, the marathoners liked to start the marathon during the dark and coolest hours of the day since temps can reach 50C during the summer months.

I chose this race and country because of a 2nd goal I had – to run my 24th letter of the alphabet – ‘Q’.

After 27 hrs of flights and airports I arrived in Doha on Wed night and proceeded to my hotel in the old town near the Corniche. I was hungry so I explored the area near the hotel and was able to find a small local fast-food restaurant that offered a ½ BBQ chicken for 2QR (about $7 US). It seemed that no matter where I walked or looked there was new construction happening everywhere?

Since the race was in the wee hours of Fri morning I wasn’t sure how tired I might be after the race so I decided I should do a tour of Doha on Thu. I was surprised to learn that there was a hop on/hop off bus and I took the tour and stayed on the bus for a 2 ½ hr loop of most of the interesting/tourist sites around Doha.

I started the tour at the Souq Waqif (the standing market) – the oldest Souq in Doha with a camel Souq/Arabian horse Souq/ Bird Souq/Falcon Souq and of course lots of food and arts and crafts. It was also the place to go in Old Town at night because there were lots of fine restaurants. No bars! Alcohol is only available at luxury Western Hotels.

The tour then took us along the Corniche – a 7Km route along the Persian Gulf with great views of downtown Doha on the opposite side of a bay. We stopped at the Museum of Islamic Art, a majestic building designed by I M Pei. We drove through and around the city center and West Bay with interesting/spectacular architecture, luxury malls and Western Hotels. It looks like a small version of Dubai with each new building trying to outdo the older ones. There are building cranes everywhere.
Next was a stop at Katara, a cultural village, being built as both a cultural center and tourist attraction.
Then we continued on to the Pearl – an artificial island with luxury shops/restaurants and freehold condos that can be purchased by foreign nationals. It is similar to ‘Palm Island’ in Dubai. On the way back to the city center we passed the Lagoona or Zig Zag Towers.

I stayed on the bus as it headed past a new National Museum being built and returned to Souq Waqif to hunt for my mandatory souvenirs. I was lucky. I found everything with 1 hour. That doesn’t happen often?
Qatar in many ways is imitating Dubai in that they are using their current vast oil revenues to build new infrastructure and businesses that will support an economy without oil? Doha is smaller and the population of Qatar is small so they are able to plan and build a better road system and they are also building a subway and light rail system to connect the rest of the country. There are only 2 million inhabitants in Qatar and 80% live in Doha. Only 40% of the population are Qatari. The rest are migrant workers and they cannot obtain citizenship. Qatar strictly controls their population and they ‘assume’ that eventually most of the foreign workers will not be needed and will be sent home?

I am doubtful about this strategy the same way I am doubtful about Dubai?
The tour is over and I have a rough idea of the layout of the city. Now it is time to think about the race. Should I stay up all night and run the race – or should I eat an early dinner and try to catch 5 or 6 hrs of sleep before Ziyad picks me up at the hotel? I opt for some sleep and am waiting in the lobby at 1am.
We drive out to Education City, a new area of Doha being built as an education center with renowned colleges from around the world setting up remote campuses. Everything is new and the architecture and landscaping is spectacular! I was concerned about running in the dark. Silly concern! The entire complex is powered by solar and wind power and it lit up like a Christmas tree.
The races start/finish in a sports venue that has an 800-meter cushioned track on a lower level that passes under waterfalls and a 1-Km upper level that looks down on the lower level. Ziyad explains that marathon course is a 7Km loop that starts with a loop around both the lower and upper levels of this sports venue before it goes out into the campus. He drives me along that 1.7 Km loop to show me a few turns and the final turn-around at 3.5KM. We then return to the sports venue and repeat the same two loops in the venue to finish the 7Km loop. We only have to do this SIX times!
I had planned to run in a race singlet but it was chilly and I had to wear a throw-away T-shirt over the singlet to start the race. There were 13 runners registered for the marathon but only 10 started/finished. Six runners started at 2am and the rest started an hour later. It didn’t matter. Even the runners who started later lapped me, and I finished in last place. The winner lapped me three times and finished the marathon before I finished my 1st half! I had hoped to finish the marathon under 6 hrs but when I crossed the Half in 2:59:28 I knew that wasn’t going to happen! But at least I had people to cheer for throughout the entire race as we passed each other many times.
Because there were no volunteers along the course until 5pm I decided to carry a water bottle to make sure I would always have water. That was OK but the water belt seemed to stress my lower back and hips and by the 3rd loop my hips were very tight and sore. I had to stop for 2 or 3 minutes on every loop to stretch to reduce the stiffness and soreness.
At 6am the Half marathon started and there were volunteers at all the water stops and I had more runners lapping me all the time. But at least I wasn’t alone!

At the end of the 5th loop it had finally warmed up enough that I took off the throw-away shirt and also removed that burdensome water belt. The final loop was my most comfortable loop and I crossed the finish line in 6:12:35.

Not a great time or performance! But I had completed marathon # 381 and Country # 130 and completed my unfinished goal to run 130 countries!

I also completed my 24th letter of the alphabet “Q’. Any goal to complete the alphabet will remain unfinished. No country starts with the letter ‘X’ and ‘Y’= Yemen is not likely to happen in my lifetime! The only person in the world to complete 25 letters is my good friend and mentor, Wally Herman, who ran ‘Y’= Yugoslavia.

I did make it across the finish line in time to enjoy the award ceremonies and receive a special award for completed country #130 – a new World Record!

After the awards, one of the runners, an expat teacher from Canada kindly offered me a lift back to my hotel. I was able to ask her about her thoughts and experience of living in Qatar. Most expats like the high salary with no tax, free accommodations and a free transportation home once each year.

I actually made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy their great breakfast buffet and then enjoy a long hot soak in the tub. I decided to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up later, things started to go downhill rapidly! I felt terrible? My head was stuffy, my stomach was queasy and I was starting to cough?

I figured I should walk over to a Western Hotel near the Corniche and enjoy a beer. When I stepped outside the weather was colder and more miserable than during the race. But I ordered a $10 beer at Happy Hour – and it tasted terrible! No sense spending another $10 on something that tastes so terrible.
I wanted to eat a nice dinner – steak/seafood but that meant taking a taxi or walking to the Souq Waqif and I wasn’t feeling well enough for that. So I went to bed early without dinner and immediately started to suffer from high fever/hot & cold sweats/hallucinations and constant coughing. This continued all night and I was sick camper as I boarded my 1st flight to London the next morning.

I won’t bore you with how tough and miserable that trip home was but I finally arrived home at midnight on Sun and immediately collapsed into bed. Once again the fever, etc continued. I was unable to get out of bed until Wed!

I think the cold/flu bug has broken but I had a lot of time to consider whether I want to risk another long international trip and illness?

I am going to take my time thinking about that.

So, will there be any more marathons/countries? I would have answered ‘probably’ one week ago but now I am not so sure.

Stay tuned!

Photos of Doha and Qatar are available in an album titled 'Qatar' on Maddog's photo website

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TR Kuwait

Nov 16 – 20/16

Race Results:
Sat, Nov 19, 2016
Gulf Bank 642 Marathon
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Marathon # 380 – Country # 129

After running my first marathon in almost one year, I was feeling a wee bit more confident about running this race. It was a good thing since they had lowered the time limit to 6 hours from the 6:30 posted on the website.

I was a bit surprised that it took over 6 hours to fly from Beirut to Kuwait City (with a 1-hr layover in Bahrain)? However, I arrived in Kuwait City (KC) in time to catch a taxi to a hotel downtown and then walk around for a while to find dinner. I had booked a cheap(er) hotel downtown since my friend/roommate Edson wouldn’t arrive until Thu and western hotels are expensive in KC.

I quickly realized that nothing is cheap in Kuwait. The downtown area I was staying in, was full of restaurants – but no bars since alcohol is forbidden in Kuwait! And the area was crowded with Indians/Pakistanis who are the workers in the country! The Souqs were still open and I was able to find the Gold Souq and start looking for a charm for Nicole’s bracelet. I seemed to be on a good roll?

After a $15 hamburger at an outdoor cafĂ© I retreated to bed. The next morning I returned to the Souqs to buy a charm but that was the only souvenir I was able to find? I tried to follow directions from the desk clerk to a post office and after getting lost many times and asking for more directions I finally found it only to discover that it didn’t open until 1 pm?

So I packed and moved to the Marriott Hotel which was located closer to the start/finish line but not really convenient to downtown. My friends and fellow members of the Country Club arrived later.
On Sat morning, we shared a taxi to the Souqs and explored all the shops trying to find the rest of my mandatory souvenirs. I quickly determined that a souvenir teaspoon didn’t exist in KC? So I bought a package of stainless steel teaspoons (real ones use to serve tea) figuring I could have one engraved with ‘Kuwait”. Hey – sometimes it is necessary to be resourceful! Kuwait is definitely NOT a tourist destination! There are very few souvenir shops and souvenirs.

Later Edson, Brent & I walked over to the Souq Sharq (a luxury mall similar to any mall in the USA) to pick up our race packets and last-minute information. Luckily I noticed post cards in a tobacco/magazine shop. They were the only post cards I found in the entire country (except at the airport on my departure). Of course, I couldn’t mail them from Kuwait since the post office was now closed, and didn’t open again before I left.

Edson & I walked along the beach on the Persian Gulf to enjoy some of the upscale restaurants located on the beach and a view of the Kuwait Towers - a group of three slender towers that symbolizes Kuwait’s economic resurgence and also World cultural as well as touristic landmark. The Towers serve as a water reservoir for KC. At night they light up with colorful images of the Kuwait flag and other images.
Kuwait is very modern and affluent. It was such a contrast to Beirut!

Sat was M-day.  The start/finish line was at the Souq Sharq.  There were several races of different lengths and unfortunately they all started at the same time and place. Thus I was forced to sneak up close to the front (still behind baby strollers, etc) so that I wouldn’t be delayed too long at the start. The weather was going to be sunny and warmer than expected so I was concerned about how much the heat would slow me down?

The first section of the race had runners from all races but by the time we passed by the Grand Mosque and through the Souqs downtown we only shared the roads with half-marathoners. We returned to the Souq Mall around 14Km. I reached that point in 1:45:39 and a split of 7:38. The run/walk strategy I used in Beirut had worked well so I stuck with it – walk 2 min and then run to the next KM marker. It was already HOT when I started the first of 4 loops along the Gulf, out past the Kuwait Towers and back. Each loop was 7Km so we had to complete 4 loops. The KM markers were not accurate and that messed up my interval times.

I passed the Half in 2:42:10 and a split of 6:21 (a short KM marker). By the time I passed 30Km in 3:55:34 and a split of 8:24/Km it was HOT! I kept meeting friends at various points along the loop and we were able to cheer each other on.

When I finally reached the 42Km marker I was frustrated because I knew it was grossly inaccurate! It took me 8:34 to run the final 200 meters? Clearly the last 200m was closer to 1Km?

But I crossed the finish line in 5:44:01! Marathon # 380 and Country # 129! Only one more country to go to complete my original goal of 130 countries!

Edson & I walked back to the hotel for a hot shower and then we joined our other friends Brent & Sue for a quick snack – but no beer - before going to bed! We had to leave for the airport at midnight and needed to catch at least 5 or 6 hours of sleep before starting the long 29-hr journey home. Edson had to be at work on Mon and I had to get home to spend time with Jason, Ami and my two Princesses Priya and Mira who were visiting for Thanksgiving.

I managed to catch lots of sleep on the flights so I actually felt OK when I arrived home at midnight on Sun.

Unfortunately, I caught a cold on the flight home (or I accuse Jason of giving it to me), and that has reduced the amount of training I have been able to do. But I need to ramp up my miles again to prepare for my next adventure in Mid –Dec.

Stay tuned!

Photos of the marathon and Kuwait City are available in an album titled Kuwait on Maddog’s photo website:

TR Lebanon

                                                                         TRIP REPORT
                                                                          Nov 10 - 16/16

Race results:
Sun, Nov 13, 2016
Blom Bank Beirut Marathon
Beirut, Lebanon
Marathon # 379 – Country # 128

Where to start? It has been so long since I last wrote a race/trip report. I never planned to write another one?

However, in Sept I helped organize a marathon in San Marino for the Country Club, and it was important that I attend the race to host an annual meeting for the Club. I volunteered to help at the race, and as I watched my friends compete and enjoy themselves, I realized how much I missed the competition/participation and camaraderie with my friends. Since I was also unhappy/unsatisfied with not completing my original goal of completing 130 countries, I decided to ‘unretire’ and complete my goal.

I found three marathons in the Middle East in Nov/Dec but that didn’t give me much time to train and get into shape! I had not run since my last marathon in Dec 2015! It was tough training in the Florida heat after we returned from Europe. I trained wisely to use a strategy of run/walk. I built my long run up to 14 miles by early Nov and with only six weeks of training I had to be ready?

I found marathons in Lebanon and Kuwait only one week apart so that I could run two races on the same trip. I planned to spend more time in Lebanon since it looked more interesting to visit.

I am no longer used to long international trips so the 27-hr journey to Beirut was hard on my old bod. I arrived on Fri so that I could relax and recover from jet lag. I also discovered that I am out of shape/practice for organizing logistics of a race/trip. I booked a hotel about 10Km from downtown where most visitors stay. There is no transportation system in Beirut and traffic is horrendous so I had to take a taxi everywhere. And there were few restaurants – and no bars – in the area where I stayed! Unfortunately, I had prepaid and the hotel refused to let me switch the reservation to another hotel (in their chain) that was located downtown.

On Sat I hired a taxi to take me downtown to explore, and shop for souvenirs. The driver informed me that it would cost about $60 to take me to the various locations I needed to visit that day – shops/packet pick up/start line, etc. He offered to be my personal driver/guide for the day for $100, and that turned out to be a good decision. He gave me a brief tour of Beirut as we drove along the waterfront, the Corniche and stopped at Pigeon Rocks before visiting shops in Hamra. There can’t be many tourists in Beirut because there are few souvenir shops, and less souvenirs. Without my guide I probably would not have been able to find all I wanted?

I met friends from the Country Club at packet pickup (at a Mall in the East end of the city). I was able to drop them off at their hotels on the way back to mine.
Sun was M-Day! The race started at 7:30am but I had to depart by taxi from my hotel at 6am since the roads closed near the marathon at 6:30am. I met more friends from the Country Club at the start line for a group photo, and then the race started. It was warm but not too humid. The roads were completely closed to traffic so there were no problems with cars. During the first Half there were lots of bands and music along the course, but I was running so slow that many of the bands had quit by the time I reached their location in the 2nd Half? I planned to walk 2 min and run 6 to 8 min. Since the course was marked in Km it worked out well. I would walk for the first 2 min, and then run to the next Km mark.
I was averaging about 7:30 to 8:00 min/Km so the interval was good. There are a few hills in Beirut so I just walked up the hills and ran down. I passed 10Km in 1:19:19 and a split of 7:52, and I felt comfortable. I passed the Half in 2:46:52 and a split of 7:48. I was doing much better than expected! However, my longest training run had been 14 miles so I figured the 2nd Half would be much tougher and slower.

I managed to maintain an 8 min/Km pace until 30Km but then my lack of training caught up with me, and I started to struggle to hold a 9 min/Km pace. I had to increase the length of my walk interval and when I became real tired, I would add an extra walk period in each Km.

I was surprised and pleased to cross the finish line in 5:56! My goal had been 6:30.
And the nice thing about running so slow is that my legs were not sore at the end.
I jumped in to a taxi and returned to the hotel for a nice long soak in a hot tub followed by a few beers. The only place I could buy beer was in my hotel bar.

Since I had two more full days in Lebanon, I had booked full-day tours for Mon and Tue outside Beirut. I wanted to explore the country. My first tour on Mon was to Southern Lebanon to visit Tyre, Sidon and Maghdouche.  There are two mountain ranges in Lebanon. The Lebanon Mountains run north-south along the Mediterranean Sea and the Eastern Mountains run north-south along the Syrian border. We drove along the coastal valley to Tyre to tour a UNESCO World heritage site that includes ancient ruins of a Phoenician and Roman cemetery.

A Palestinian refugee camp has been built on prime waterfront property next to (and on part of) the cemetery ruins and both Muslim and Christian cemeteries have been built on top of the old cemeteries?
The guide explained that some refugees have been there since 1948 and they and all their dependents are stateless! They are not allowed to become Lebanese citizens. They can work and drive but can’t own land, can’t vote and don’t pay taxes. Tyre and many of the Palestinian refugee camps are located about 10 miles from the Israeli border where a UN peacekeeper force of 6,000 is stationed to keep peace. There are more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Then we visited another site that contained ruins of a Roman city with a theatre, bath and a hippodrome. On the way back to Sidon we visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mantara in Maghdouche. We visited the cave where Virgin Mary would wait for Jesus while he preached in Sidon. Then we drove down the mountains to visit a 13th Century Crusader Castle in Sidon.
We enjoyed a delicious Lebanese lunch (Lebanese bread with many types of dip and hummus, followed by chicken and rice and finally dessert with several kinds of fresh fruit – all washed down with cold Lebanese beer) at a nice restaurant overlooking the Crusader Castle. After our bellies were full, we wandered through the ancient Souqs of Sidon and visited Khan al-Fanj before returning to Beirut. We passed through many police/military checkpoints. I asked many taxi drivers and guides what they were checking for and probably the most truthful answer I got was “They aren’t really checking for anything – just maintaining a presence”!

On Tue the same tour company took us north and east over the Lebanon Mountains, and into the Beqaa Valley. Our first stop was the ruins of the Amayyad city of Anjar built in the 8th century. It is located at the base of the Eastern Mountains and Syria is on the other side! Then we drove north to Baalbeck. On the outskirts of the city we stopped in Hajjar al-Hibbla to see an old Roman Quarry where stone was quarried for the nearby Roman temple.

Baalbeck is one of the most ancient cities of the world which was first built as a center of pagan worship. The Phoenicians later transformed it into a temple in honor of the god Baal. After the conquest by Alexander the Great, the Greeks named the town Heliopolis. And the Romans later built the biggest Roman temple in the world on the same site. There are three Roman temples, Jupiter, Bacchus and Venus. The temples are slowly being restored.

On the way back to our tour van, Hezbollah tried to sell us ‘Hezbollah’ T-shirts (symbol is an AK 47). I was tempted but didn’t think it was a good idea to wear one on the plane?
There are more than 200,000 Syrian refugees settled in tent camps in the Beqaa Valley and many cross over into Syria to join the fight/war. But there was no threat/concern/fear among the Lebanese people in the area.

After our guided tour of the temples we drove back into the Lebanon Mountains to Ksara for another delicious Lebanese lunch followed by a visit to the Ksara vineyard and winery established by priests in 1857. The wine was quite good!

We were treated to a spectacular sunset over Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea as we crossed over the Lebanon Mountains on the return to Beirut. After several more ‘check points’ we returned to Beirut for my last night in Lebanon.

I treated myself to a nice seafood dinner at a nearby restaurant washed down with some Ksara wine, and finally on Wed morning, it was time to move on to my next adventure.

Before I left for Beirut many family and friends expressed concern/fear about going to such a dangerous place! I didn’t see or experience any concern or fear during my visit. Lebanon is a vibrant mixture of people/languages/culture/religion and they all seem to get along well. The only thing I saw/experienced were the many ‘check points’, and all they did was slow down and worsen the horrendous traffic in Beirut. You do NOT want to drive in Lebanon! That was the most fearful thing I experienced!

Photos of Lebanon are available in an album titled ‘Lebanon’ on Maddog’s photo website @