Wednesday, November 30, 2016

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 @


Unknown said...

Wow! Awesome report and welcome back to The Running! After reading the whole Lebanon story, I'm convinced...not to go to Lebanon, but I am definitely recording my pace in min/Km from now on.


Unknown said...

Congratulations! I am glad that you are back to doing what you love! Great pictures! You make Lebanon look so appealing!

Unknown said...

Congratulations John. I was asking myself, what happened to you, since I did not receive a racereport for quite a long time. Now I know. Good luck for your next race.