Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TR Kuwait

TRIP REPORT
Kuwait
Nov 16 – 20/16

Race Results:
Sat, Nov 19, 2016
Gulf Bank 642 Marathon
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Marathon # 380 – Country # 129
5:44:01

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: https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Kuwait/

TR Lebanon

                                                                         TRIP REPORT
                                                                             Lebanon
                                                                          Nov 10 - 16/16

Race results:
Sun, Nov 13, 2016
Blom Bank Beirut Marathon
Beirut, Lebanon
Marathon # 379 – Country # 128
5:56:54

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 @ https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Lebanon/i-DJDG48H


Friday, December 18, 2015

TR Grenada


TRIP REPORT
Grenada
12/10 – 12/15/15

 

Race Results:
Sat, Dec 12/15
Marathon de Spice
St George’s, Grenada
Marathon # 378 – Country # 127
5:53:14

 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
DNF

 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.
 

Friday, November 20, 2015

TR Guyana


TRIP REPORT
Guyana, South America
11/11 – 11/15/15

Race Results:

Sat, Nov 14/15
Guyana Trail Marathon
Santa Mission, Guyana
Marathon # 377 – Country # 126
6:58:07

 When a friend from Germany (Jurgen) informed me of a new, 1st-ever marathon, in Guyana I knew I had to register for the race to keep my claim intact that I have completed every country in South America* (* - that has an official marathon). I was not enthused about it being a trail marathon (I hate trail races) but “you have to do what you have to do” to maintain WR (World Record) status.

 I wasn’t keen on having to train through a HOT & HUMID Florida summer to stay in shape after the marathon at the end of June in Zimbabwe. As difficult as that was, it probably helped me because the race in Guyana was very HOT& HUMID!

 The 1st challenge was logistics. It is not easy to get to Guyana. I ended up driving to Miami to catch a direct flight to Georgetown, Guyana and flying back to Fort Lauderdale after the race. The upside was that the flight and trip cost much less than the average cost of $3000 I budget for an international marathon these days.

 I arrived in the “Land of Many Waters” at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, 40 Km south of Georgetown at 10pm.  I had arranged for a local runner/taxi driver to meet me at the airport. The drive to the Marriott Hotel located on the Seawall along the Atlantic Ocean took almost 1 hr. in the dark and we seemed to pass a lot of poor and industrial areas? The Marriott is close to downtown and the port on the Demerara River. The area did not look good? Marc warned me not to walk around the area at night!

 On Thu morning it was raining so I decided to walk to the shopping area downtown to shop for mandatory souvenirs. I was surprised that the downtown area looked so poor/filthy and was in such poor shape? The streets were filthy, most buildings are old and not well-maintained. There are few modern/new buildings? Much of Georgetown is 6 ft. below sea level so the original Dutch settlers built a system of dykes and canals to keep out the sea and to irrigate cotton fields. The canals are now full of stagnant water and trash and look/smell terrible! There were a lot of homeless people laying in the streets but I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe. I managed to conduct a self-guided walking tour of some of the important historical sites while searching for my souvenirs and a post office. I collected all required souvenirs by Noon and stopped at a local pizza shop. I wanted a pepperoni pizza – no pepperoni - so I ordered a ‘meat’ pizza. The meat was wiener/hot dog? Also no coke so I accepted some local drink that tasted like root beer? I had better luck with the souvenirs that are often difficult to find?

 After finding a post office to buy stamps I asked for directions to a grocery store on the way back to the hotel. The supermarket was in a shabby/poor building with few items in stock and everything seemed expensive for the state of the economy and the wages that locals earn?

 That afternoon I met up with another German friend, Dieter, and Brent and Sue from Cheyenne, WY at the Marriott. I only saw one other modern/luxury hotel in the city? Fortunately the Marriott was a major sponsor of the race and offered runners a great discount! That night we all enjoyed appetizers and free drinks in the Concierge Lounge because we didn’t want to venture outside to find a restaurant. I also arranged for a city tour on Fri morning for Brent & Sue & myself.

 The city tour included many of the sites I had already visited and never went farther than a few miles from the hotel? But the guide was very knowledgeable about the city and history/culture of the country so it was enjoyable. Guyana has a total population of 750,000 and 350,000 live in the capital city of Georgetown. The official language is English but many of the Amerindian tribes speak it with a Creole dialect. We toured many historical sites such as the Red House, Prime Minister’s House, the Lighthouse (1817), St George’s Cathedral – the 2nd tallest wooden church in the world built in 1894, the Parliament Buildings (1834), Starbroek Market (1881) and the 1763 Monument that commemorates the slave rebellion. Our guide provided an excellent narrated tour of the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and National Museum. We concluded the tour with a visit to the Zoo to see a few of the local animals such as a Harp Eagle, black Cayman, jaguar and long/ugly pythons. I was hoping that would be the only time I would get see any of these animals? I won’t describe how the animals are caged – but animal lovers in the USA would close the Zoo down tomorrow if they knew about it!

 After our tour we returned to the Marriott to pick up our race packets and attend a pasta dinner where Sevak, the Race Director, explained the jungle course and rules for the race. There were about 100 runners in three races and only 27 in the marathon. We would take a 4am bus from the hotel to Timehri located on the Demerara River near the airport. Then we would be loaded into small boats to depart at 5am across the Demerara River and up Kamuni Creek for 1 hour to Santa Mission where the races would start/finish.

 It sounded exciting but when we were loaded into the small boats at 5am –in the dark – and started up 30 to 50 ft. wide Kamuni Creek, I had visions of black Caymans and pythons waiting for us in the dark!

Happily we arrived safely. Santa Mission is an eco-resort (resort means bring your own sleeping bag or hammock for $5/night) along with your own food and supplies. You are clearly in the jungle and close to an Arawak Village on the Arawak Reservation. The races would be run on jungle trails use by the Arawak tribe (Amerindians). The trails cross several creeks and swamps!

 The marathon started at 7:45am. It was already HOT & HUMID! When we entered the jungle after 500m we could no longer see the sun and it felt like I was running in a steam bath? I was surprised to find a lot of white, soft sand in the jungle. Most of the interior of Guyana is sand? The Village had spread a lot of sand at the start of the trail so it wouldn’t be muddy. Great! Now it was soft, deep sand that provided no traction. Once we entered the jungle the trail was a soft, spongy surface covered with 1 to 2 inches of leaves – covering millions of tree roots! I knew that I was going to have trouble staying upright. Sure enough – around 5Km I tripped on a root and went flying! Fortunately the trail was soft so I landed, rolled a few times and sprang to my feet. No damage except to my pride. Maddog screamed at me to focus more carefully on each foot plant and to lift my feet! We crossed the 1st creek around 8Km using logs that had been laid across the water. By the time I reached 10Km in 1:30:06 and a split of 9:30 I knew it was going to be a long/ugly day! The trail was a bitch and there were a lot more hills than had been described! My heart rate was averaging around 135 to 140bpm. That is my typical HR rate for an 11 to 12 min (per mile) pace on pavement and I was only averaging a 9 to 10min/Km pace? When I reached 16Km (10 Miles) in 2:32:35, I felt terrible and I was ready to give up and ask for a lift to the finish line. There was an ATV patrolling the course once in a while to check on runners and I figured they would give me a lift? However Maddog started screaming at me again – calling me really bad names and stating that if I gave up then I had to give up ALL future marathons in my plans – and retire to an Assisted Care Facility!

 I decided to continue on to 21Km (Half) and re-evaluate but I vowed that I would “Never run another trail race again”! I tried altering my run strategy to see if I could find a cycle that didn’t fatigue me so quickly? At that point I had been running until I became too tired to run and then I would walk about 1 min to rest. It was not working! So I took a long, deliberate walk break and then ran for 5 min and walked for 2 min. That seemed to work much better and I was able to lower my average pace down to 9 min/km.

 Maybe I became too confident and took my focus off the trail - but OOPS – down I went again! Another roll and back up w/o any injury except to my pride. And Maddog screaming at me again about how stupid I was! My quad had tightened on that fall and I figured that if I went down again a muscle was probably going to cramp and lock up and I would be in serious trouble!

I reached the Half in 3:22:33. That was only the Half? I would be lucky to finish under the 7-hr time limit?

 Around 27 Km I passed a young couple. The male had cramped severely and was trying to walk/limp the cramp off. We stayed close until I reached 32Km in 5:13:20 and a split of 9:24/km. I was feeling better with my new run cycle and was keeping my average pace below 10min/km so I felt confident that with only 10Km to go I would finish under 7 hours.

 However as I was looking for the 33Km marker I caught up to the young female runner who was stymied by a huge tree blocking the trail? Had we missed a turn? We were both fatigued and not thinking too clearly and we didn’t want to venture off through the jungle to see if we could find the trail so we erred on the side of safety and ran back to an aid station at 32Km to ask if we were lost? A volunteer ran back with us to the tree and he ventured off through the jungle to come back and advise us that the trail was on the other side of the fallen tree! Sure enough we detoured around the tree and the 33Km mark was only a few hundred feet beyond the tree. DAMN! We had just ran an extra 2Km! I was pissed off and demoralized! The confusion and extra 2Km had cost us 31 min and now there was no way I could finish under 7 hrs!

 I decided I would continue to race to the 40Km mark and use that time as my marathon time no matter what the RD said! At 37Km the trail turned on to a narrow, single track trail through dense jungle and I became a wee bit concerned because I hadn’t seen a runner, race volunteer or ATV since our disaster at 33Km? The female runner had left me in the dust and I in turn had left her boyfriend behind – in fact I figured that he had probably quit and asked for a lift to the finish line? There were two more runners behind him but I figured they had quit too and that meant I was the last runner on the trail – with no volunteers or support around?

 I reached 40Km in 6:58:07 and a split of 9:00/km. I was upset because I would have to run the final/extra 2Km since there was no support to be seen! I decided to jog the final 2Km easy. However, while I was concentrating on my pain and dilemma I forgot to concentrate on the trail and – OOOPS – my right foot caught a tree root and I started flying! I managed to prevent a fall but the sudden acceleration to stay upright caused my right abductor to cramp and lock up! I dropped immediately to the trail and started writhing around in pain while trying to find a position – any position- to alleviate the pain! I tried to grab my ankle to stretch the abductor and that only caused my calf to cramp also. After few minutes of screaming and crying I was able to massage the muscle and get it to release enough to stand up and use a tree to stretch both muscles until they relaxed. Any thoughts of jogging/running the extra 2Km were gone. I walked/limped gingerly for the next 1Km before the pain subsided enough to allow me to jog across the finish line in 7:27:56.

 I went straight to the RD to complain about the fallen tree and the fact that there were no ribbons or signs telling runners to detour around the tree. He agreed to post my 40Km time of 6:58:07 as my official marathon time.

 I was tired – totally wiped out – and now I still faced a 1-hr boat ride and a 1-hr bus ride back to the hotel and a hot shower! It was not fun! Even after a hot shower I was still too fatigued to contemplate going into town for a nice steak so I just ate an expensive buffet dinner and beer at the Marriott before crashing for a long sleep.

 But I had finished Marathon # 377 and Country #126 - a new World Record!

 The last two marathons were very hard on my old bod & psyche. I keep telling myself that they were tough courses and I will do better when I run a marathon on nice, smooth pavement. I hope so because I don’t believe I have any more ‘difficult’ marathons left in me? I will definitely keep my vow to “NEVER run another trail race”!

 Unfortunately all my future planned marathon adventures are in tropical climates – but at least they are on pavement!

 Stay tuned!

 

 

Monday, July 13, 2015

TR Zimbabwe Part 2


TRIP REPORT
Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa
06/24 -07/08/15
Part 2

 

Race Results:

 Sun, Jun 28/15
Victoria Falls Marathon
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Marathon # 376 – Country # 125
5:47:43

Now where were we? Oh yes – we were just leaving Victoria Falls on Air Namibia and heading to Windhoek, Namibia. Our flight arrived about 1 hour late and then we lost another hour in the airport going through immigration, etc. and waiting for a rental car. I was concerned about the police tactics in Zimbabwe so I asked the Avis rep if we would encounter such problems in Namibia and he (falsely) stated ‘No’! Then I encountered a bigger problem. The ATMs in the airport would not accept my ATM card? I figured it was simply a problem with those machines so I exchanged $120 US at a currency exchange with the expectation of getting more money as needed from ATMs in the city. Our guide book indicated that only Namibian $$ and South African Rand were accepted as currency.

 Thus it was almost 4pm when we left the airport and I was forced to take a quick refresher course on driving a right-hand drive car with a stick shift on the wrong side of the road! The first 100Km through Windhoek and then south toward South Africa on a two-lane paved hwy went OK – except for one police road block on the outskirts of the city. However the police just looked at the rental car sticker and waived us on. At Rehoboth I stopped to purchase water and a few cokes before we turned off the paved road on to dirt roads. All we had to navigate with was a tourist map of Namibia provided by Avis that indicated another 200Km of dirt road through the Namib Desert. The map was correct! Oh Boy! Was it ever correct! As we turned on to a dirt road the sun set and we still had 200 Km to drive on dirt roads – basically just desert sand and dirt that had been graded – in total darkness. There were no homes, lights, service or cars for the next 200Km! There were few road signs or directions. A few times I would go screaming over a hill to find a 90 degree turn? After fishtailing in the sand for a few hundred meters and listening to Nicole’s screams I would get the car back under control and continue on. I figured that if we went off the road or broke down we would be stuck in the car all night until traffic came by in the morning? There was no place to stop and overnight even if we wanted to! We missed a few turns and had to go back and find the right road but eventually – after 3 hours of hellish driving – we arrived in Solitaire. Solitaire had a gas station (closed) and a motel and restaurant. I stopped at the motel to ask for directions to our lodge. Thankfully it was only another 27Km farther down the Hellish dirt road.

 We found the gates/entrance to the Namib Desert Lodge but there was a wee problem. The gates were closed and locked! I figured we had 3 options: 1) drive back to the motel in Solitaire to ask them to phone our lodge 2) walk around the gates and walk about 3Km to the lodge to ask them to open the gates and  3) break the lock and open the gates! I decided on option #3. Luckily as I started to force the gate and lock I discovered that the lock was not really locked and I was able to force the gate open and drive the final 3Km to the lodge. When we arrived at the front entrance, the desk staff were outside to greet us. They were shocked to see a guest arrive at 8:45 pm! Nobody is crazy enough to drive the desert roads in the dark! They informed us that the resort closed down at 9pm so they escorted us directly to the restaurant so that we could eat dinner and enjoy a few much-needed drinks to relax and unwind. The bar stayed open so we could enjoy a few more drinks after dinner – I needed a lot of unwinding!

 We slept late the next day and finally after a late breakfast decided it was time to visit Namib Desert Park. We drove another 35Km into Sesriem where there was another gas station, the Park entrance, a restaurant and a motel – the closest motel to the Park. To our surprise, there is a paved road from the Park entrance that runs 60Km to a parking lot where all 2WD cars have to be parked. Red sand dunes and mountains run along both sides of the entire paved road. There are a few viewpoints such as Dune 45 (at KM 45) where many visitors stop and some climb the dunes. Surprisingly there was a lot of wildlife- oryx, zebra & ostrich – along the road? We parked our car and hired a 4WD shuttle to take us the final 5Km into Sossusvlei. This 5Km path is across the red sand and requires a ‘real’ 4WD vehicle with bull-low to navigate! We saw a lot of ‘fake’ 4WD (only AWD) trucks stuck in the sand. We visited Deadvlei (Dead Lake) on our way to the base of ‘Big Daddy’ – the highest sand dune in the Park at 350m/1050ft. We didn’t try to climb the dune because it is a 3-hour trip. This section of the Park is the most rugged and the scenery is awesome!

 We returned to the Park entrance and enjoyed a cold beer at the restaurant before making a quick trip to Sesriem Canyon in the Naukluft Mountains. And then we returned to our resort to enjoy some of the amenities –especially the bar and the Internet in the lobby. The Namib Desert Lodge is quite luxurious and the food and service is excellent!

 On our last day we decided not to make the long drive back into the Park. There was no point unless we were going to hike or climb some of the dunes? Instead we stayed at the resort and enjoyed a 4Km hike around the fossilized red sand dune behind the resort. It was quite interesting and would have been enjoyable except for the desert flies! We quickly learned the ‘African wave’ to keep them away from our face. That evening we enjoyed a 4WD tour through the 3,000 acres owned by the resort that took us through the desert and up into the mountains overlooking the fossilized sand dune. The sand dune was quite spectacular in the light of the sunset!

 Fortunately we were able to charge everything to our room and pay with a credit card to preserve our limited cash. But I had to use most of that cash to fill the gas tank in Solitaire before we departed early Sat morning for Swakopmund – a 360Km drive! And yes - 360Km through the desert on dirt roads- although we had to climb through two mountain passes. But the dirt roads are much easier and less hectic to drive in the day time!

 We arrived in Swakopmund around 1 pm to discover that the town closed down and rolled up the sidewalks at Noon on Sat and didn’t open again until Mon! After checking into our hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean we walked downtown to try the ATMs. We needed cash! No luck! Four different banks rejected my ATM card (I learned after returning home that our bank had blocked the ATM card after the initial failures at the airport – I am still extremely pissed off at our bank since I notified them in advance of our trip so that such problems would not happen). But what to do? All the shops & businesses, including the currency exchanges, were closed! Our ‘luxury’ (?) hotel refused to exchange currency in spite of my pleas. We needed cash to get back to the airport! Finally a porter guided me to a few ‘unofficial’ exchanges and the 3rd one agreed to exchange $120 US for 33% commission! I had no choice!

I agreed to be screwed -and smile- or we wouldn’t have any money for gas!

 Now that we had cash and a credit card that worked we could enjoy the rest of our stay. We explored the city that was established by Germans and looks like a small German town. The majority of the white population (and tourists) are Germans and German is a common language in Namibia. We even found a few souvenir shops ignoring the ‘closed down’ trend and were able to buy our mandatory souvenirs. Our hotel warned us that it was necessary to make a reservation for dinner since all restaurants in town are booked for Sat & Sun dinners. The Hotel restaurant was closed for the weekend? We wanted to eat at the best seafood restaurant in town – it was already booked! However we later walked over to the Tug restaurant and sat at the bar during happy hour and they agreed to serve us dinner at the bar? We enjoyed a great seafood dinner with drinks and a bottle of wine for less than $50 US!

 On Sun it was foggy and cold in the morning so we drove north along the coast for about 50Km. It was boring – only desert and ocean so we turned around and drove south to Walvis Bay where we saw a colony of flamingos. We asked our hotel to book dinner at a restaurant that specialized in Namibian game. Smart/lucky because the restaurant was completely booked and they turned away dozens of people while we were enjoying Springbok fillet. I was amazed at their business strategy? The restaurants are only open from 6pm to 9pm and only take one reservation per table for the entire evening? Tables sit empty until the party shows up and stay empty after a party leaves? I guess they never heard of flipping a table two or three times per meal? Prices in Africa are really good for restaurant meals & booze- a wild game dinner for two with a good bottle of SA wine costs $50 including tip!

 We left early Mon to make sure we arrived at the airport in Windhoek in plenty of time for our flight to JoBurg. The entire route had paved roads! We stopped in Windhoek to fill the gas tank – the station would only accept cash! We got stopped twice by police road blocks but both times they waved us on.

The service at Avis and the airline was terrible but eventually we made it through immigration to the departure lounge. We spent our few remaining Namibian $$ on beers and soon departed for JoBurg!

 A friend, Gillian, who lives in JoBurg met us in the arrivals lounge in JoBurg. Once again my ATM card was rejected and I was forced to exchange our last remaining US $ for SA Rand so we would have pocket money in JoBurg. Gillian invited us to join her and her daughter Chana and a few (running) friends at an ‘African’ restaurant to enjoy some wild game. It was a fun evening and the food –and company- was great!

 On Tue morning – our final day in Africa – Gillian asked a friend who is a tour guide to guide us around some of the important tourist and cultural sites of JoBurg. We stopped in Soweto to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum and Mandela’s House/Museum. Then we stopped for a snack and tour at the Voortrekker Monument. Our final stop in our short and quick tour was the Union Buildings and the new statue of Mandela. Gillian was such a gracious host! We truly enjoyed the short visit we had with her and her family and friends!

 Now we are back home and the painful memory of the marathon is starting to fade and I am starting to look at another race and a new country. The problem is that if I run another race – country #126 – then I will want to round out the total to 130 countries? What should I do? What will I do?

 Stay tuned!

 

 

TR Zimbabwe Part 1


TRIP REPORT
Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa
06/24 -07/08/15
Part 1

 

Race Results:

Sun, Jun 28/15
Victoria Falls Marathon
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Marathon # 376 – Country # 125
5:47:43

 I wanted to run this race for a number of reasons:
      1)      Seeing Victoria Falls was on my bucket list
      2)      Completing an 8th country in Africa was an important goal since it is the continent with my lowest number of races/countries
      3)      Completing country #125 was an even more important goal

 After the past few marathons earlier this year I was not sure how many more marathons were left in the ‘old’ bod? I wanted to at least round out my total countries and World Record to 125! Since I figured it might be my last trip to Africa I decided to do it properly. Nicole and I would visit Victoria Falls, run the marathon and then enjoy a few weeks in Africa. We wanted to do another safari and also visit the Namib Desert. By the time I prepaid the flights and all the excursions it was already the 2nd most expensive marathon trip we ever made! We would finish in grand style if this was my last race?

 We departed on a Wed to allow a few days in Zimbabwe to recover from jetlag and to have a few days to explore Zimbabwe & Zambia. However Delta and Mother Nature wrecked those plans! Our first flight to Atlanta was diverted to TN because of thunderstorms in Atlanta and we missed our flight to Johannesburg (JNB), South Africa. And Delta didn’t care that we had to spend an extra day in Atlanta, pay for a hotel at the Atlanta airport, lose the prepaid hotel in JNB, lose the prepaid flights the next day from JNB to Victoria Falls, and buy new air tickets at triple the cost for one day later! In total, that storm cost me more than $800 and Delta didn’t care – because the delay was caused by weather!

I was hoping that our trip insurance would cover those costs but I have been informed that our claims are limited to a max of $150/day for trip delays – hence we might recover $300! Oh well! Shit happens!

 With lots of anxiety and last-minute scrambling we re-arranged our travel logistics and arrived in Victoria Falls on Sat afternoon. We realized that any plans/hopes of visiting Zambia had gone out the window with the weather & flight delay. After checking into our hotel we met up with friends (Edson & Dieter) from the Country Club and strolled around VF looking for souvenirs. VF was much smaller than imagined so it did not take long to explore and enjoy a few (Zambezi) beers. I had read that the economy was in shambles in Zimbabwe and that hyperinflation had destroyed their currency and the $US was the de-facto currency. Street hawkers were selling packages of Zimbabwe currency worth $500 BILLION for $10 US- and that price was negotiable! Sadly the street vendors and hawkers had not adjusted to reality and were demanding ridiculous prices for crafts. One shop demanded $75 for a souvenir teaspoon? Granted it was sterling silver but when I pointed out that it contained less than $10 worth of silver he wouldn’t lower his price! It was worth maybe $30 tops! I walked away!

 That evening Edson joined Nicole & me to walk into town for pasta dinner. The first restaurant had run out of pasta but we did find another to get our carbo fix.

 Sun was ‘M’-day! The race started at 6:45am. Five members of the Country Club met at the race start for a photo. Unfortunately, Dieter had broken his toe in the bathroom the night before the race, and could not participate. Several $$thousands down the drain! But he was at the start line to cheer us on. The weather was cool – so cool that most runners wore a throw-away top.

 The first few Km of the course ran across a bridge between Zimbabwe & Zambia and provided spectacular views of Victoria Falls at sunrise! Many of us stopped for a few Kodak moments before continuing across the border into Zambia. The course continued for about 500m into Zambia before we had to turn around and return across the bridge.

 Around 5Km the course turned into Hwange National Park for two loops in the Park and around VF. Around 8Km, two friends, Peter, Yen & I encountered a family of baboons. I cautioned them to walk on the far side of the road so as NOT to threaten their territory! At the same time we heard gunshots? A Park Ranger had fired his rifle a few Km ahead of us to scare away a bull elephant that was threatening other runners. Yes- we were running in a Game Park and trespassing on game territory. But no runners were harmed!

 When I passed 8Km in 1:00:18 and a split of 7:37 min/Km I was on pace but my legs were already tired? There were plenty of water stations –about every 3Km – so I started walking through them to rest my legs. By the time I passed 16Km in 2:00:15 and a split of 7:23 I knew it was going to be a long day! My legs were tired & sore! I wanted to walk the rest of the race? I figured it had to be the hills – the course was a never-ending series of rolling hills! I never even considered the altitude (3,000 ft)? I just figured that my only option to finish – and I HAD to finish – was to run and walk. And I would walk the whole damn race if necessary!

 I passed the Half in 2:42 but my splits had slowed to 8:00/km. It was going to be a long day! And it was getting very warm now that the sun was up. The 2nd half was not fun! I think I walked as much as I ran?

With the 2 loops I got to see Edson and a few other runners I knew a few times on the course which helped to keep me motivated. Only when I passed 32Km in 4:11:27 and a split of 8:28 did I have confidence that I would finish. I could walk the final 10Km if I needed to! At 40Km (5:26:21), my splits had slowed to 10:17/Km as I reached the main street of VF and had to climb a long gradual hill to the stadium. I crossed the finish line in 5:47:43 just as they were starting the awards ceremony. The Sports Manager, aka, Nicole was waiting for me. I posed for a mandatory finish line photo, collected a ‘small’ T-shirt (they had run out of L & M shirts?), and went straight back to the hotel for a long, hot soak in the tub. I can’t remember the last time my legs were so sore at the end of a race?

 Later, when I learned the elevation, I realized that the combination of altitude & hills had just been too much for my old bod and weak heart! I had once again pushed the old bod beyond its limits. But the good news was that I had mentally decided during the race NOT to run any more races if it was going to be that difficult & painful. However, now understanding the reasons, I believe that I can run more races if I choose my races and courses more wisely! And more good news was that I had finished marathon #376 and country #125 – the new World Record!

 It was time to celebrate. Our marathon package included a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River so we did not have much time to accomplish other tasks. Nicole still had not seen Victoria Falls. While she walked over to and across the bridge to view the Falls I scampered (well- limped is a better term) into town to negotiate the purchase of the mandatory souvenirs. We both accomplished our tasks and were ready for the shuttle at 3:30 pm.

The cruise was pleasant and a nice rest. We were treated to as much booze as wanted and plenty of hot snacks such as crocodile skewers while we watched animal life along the Zambezi River – crocodiles, elephants, hippos and giraffes. Then we enjoyed a magnificent sunset over the river before disembarking for a buffet dinner and dance/party on the river bank.

 On Mon we were to be transported to a safari camp in Hwange Park. After breakfast, we walked over to the Victoria Falls Hotel (over 100 years old) for spectacular views of the bridge and the Falls.

Then it was a long drive to the SE entrance of the Park about 100 miles from VF. It was made longer by the fact that our shuttle and driver were stopped about every 10 miles by police to check the vehicle & papers. This vigilant police work is just a cover for bribes and corruption for drivers to continue the journey. I found it very annoying but the locals have learned to accept and live with it?

 Our camp – the Miombo Safari Camp – was located close to the Park entrance. But it was not as described in the brochure! Our private thatched cabin was nice and had a beautiful four-post bed complete with mosquito netting – BUT – the toilet and shower were outside the cabin? It was very inconvenient and damn COLD to take care of duties after the sun set & temps dropped into the mid-30s!

I won’t go into more detail but we didn’t use the shower during our 2-day stay!

There were 13 guests – a group of Germans, a couple from South Africa and us. All had arrived that day shortly after Noon so they served us a light snack and then we departed for our first safari drive. It was a 20-min drive to the Park entrance where we had to buy a pass each day to enter the Park ($20/person).

The SA couple & we had our own safari guide & vehicle – a 4WD truck with open-air seating. No protection from animals? We saw a lot of animals on that afternoon safari – elephants, springbok, hippos and a den of lions feeding on an elephant carcass. The lions were either too busy gorging themselves or too fat & happy to be concerned about us! The safari usually ended at a water hole & platform where many animals came to drink at the end of the day.

 We returned back to camp in the dark and sadly/painfully realized that we had under-dressed for the temps that dropped quickly after sunset. It was a COLD drive! Dinner was not too exciting – a basic, set meal washed down with free booze. It was a cold walk to our cabin in the dark. And even colder when I had to make frequent potty breaks during the night! Since the morning safari left the camp at 6am we didn’t bother to take a shower in our rugged/outdoor shower in the dark with temps hovering around the low 30s. This time we dressed more appropriately with 3 layers – and still almost froze to death on the drive to the Park in the back of the truck. If our guide hadn’t provided blankets to wrap ourselves in I doubt we would have survived? We saw more animals – we requested zebras & giraffes – and our guide came though. However I am not sure the views and animals were worth suffering with that friggin COLD!

 The afternoon safari was much better. Warmer and the final stop at the water hole provided more wild animals in their natural environment than I had ever seen in one place before! There were hundreds & hundreds of animals of different varieties sharing the water hole. Quite spectacular! After another cold drive back to camp in the dark we enjoyed a BBQ dinner followed with entertainment by a group of Zulu warriors performing traditional songs & dances.

 The next morning we had to leave early to go back to the airport in VF. Once again it was too COLD to take a shower. After 2 hours of running the same police gauntlet we arrived safely at the airport. After checking in and going through customs/security, etc we visited a small bar/restaurant in the departure lounge for a snack. We ordered a plate of ‘chips’ and a couple of Zambezi beers. Oh what luck & joy! The chips were hand-cut and fried while we waited. It was the best meal we enjoyed in Zimbabwe!

Then we were off to Namibia for the next stage of our journey. And I will leave that story for Part2 of this report.

 Stay tuned!