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 @