Dec 13 - 17/16
Fri, Dec 16, 2016
Education City Marathon
Marathon # 381 – Country #130
After my two previous ‘comeback’ marathons and a few weeks of additional training I was feeling confident that I could complete my unfinished goal to run 130 countries! My only concern was that this race would start at 2am on Fri and I haven’t run a marathon during the night in many years.
The marathon was part of series of races called the ‘Qatar Running Series’ organized and directed by a friend Ziyad Rahim. There is usually a variety of race distances included in each event. The shorter distances start at 6 or 7am, however, the marathoners liked to start the marathon during the dark and coolest hours of the day since temps can reach 50C during the summer months.
I chose this race and country because of a 2nd goal I had – to run my 24th letter of the alphabet – ‘Q’.
After 27 hrs of flights and airports I arrived in Doha on Wed night and proceeded to my hotel in the old town near the Corniche. I was hungry so I explored the area near the hotel and was able to find a small local fast-food restaurant that offered a ½ BBQ chicken for 2QR (about $7 US). It seemed that no matter where I walked or looked there was new construction happening everywhere?
Since the race was in the wee hours of Fri morning I wasn’t sure how tired I might be after the race so I decided I should do a tour of Doha on Thu. I was surprised to learn that there was a hop on/hop off bus and I took the tour and stayed on the bus for a 2 ½ hr loop of most of the interesting/tourist sites around Doha.
I started the tour at the Souq Waqif (the standing market) – the oldest Souq in Doha with a camel Souq/Arabian horse Souq/ Bird Souq/Falcon Souq and of course lots of food and arts and crafts. It was also the place to go in Old Town at night because there were lots of fine restaurants. No bars! Alcohol is only available at luxury Western Hotels.
The tour then took us along the Corniche – a 7Km route along the Persian Gulf with great views of downtown Doha on the opposite side of a bay. We stopped at the Museum of Islamic Art, a majestic building designed by I M Pei. We drove through and around the city center and West Bay with interesting/spectacular architecture, luxury malls and Western Hotels. It looks like a small version of Dubai with each new building trying to outdo the older ones. There are building cranes everywhere.
Next was a stop at Katara, a cultural village, being built as both a cultural center and tourist attraction.
Then we continued on to the Pearl – an artificial island with luxury shops/restaurants and freehold condos that can be purchased by foreign nationals. It is similar to ‘Palm Island’ in Dubai. On the way back to the city center we passed the Lagoona or Zig Zag Towers.
I stayed on the bus as it headed past a new National Museum being built and returned to Souq Waqif to hunt for my mandatory souvenirs. I was lucky. I found everything with 1 hour. That doesn’t happen often?
Qatar in many ways is imitating Dubai in that they are using their current vast oil revenues to build new infrastructure and businesses that will support an economy without oil? Doha is smaller and the population of Qatar is small so they are able to plan and build a better road system and they are also building a subway and light rail system to connect the rest of the country. There are only 2 million inhabitants in Qatar and 80% live in Doha. Only 40% of the population are Qatari. The rest are migrant workers and they cannot obtain citizenship. Qatar strictly controls their population and they ‘assume’ that eventually most of the foreign workers will not be needed and will be sent home?
I am doubtful about this strategy the same way I am doubtful about Dubai?
The tour is over and I have a rough idea of the layout of the city. Now it is time to think about the race. Should I stay up all night and run the race – or should I eat an early dinner and try to catch 5 or 6 hrs of sleep before Ziyad picks me up at the hotel? I opt for some sleep and am waiting in the lobby at 1am.
We drive out to Education City, a new area of Doha being built as an education center with renowned colleges from around the world setting up remote campuses. Everything is new and the architecture and landscaping is spectacular! I was concerned about running in the dark. Silly concern! The entire complex is powered by solar and wind power and it lit up like a Christmas tree.
The races start/finish in a sports venue that has an 800-meter cushioned track on a lower level that passes under waterfalls and a 1-Km upper level that looks down on the lower level. Ziyad explains that marathon course is a 7Km loop that starts with a loop around both the lower and upper levels of this sports venue before it goes out into the campus. He drives me along that 1.7 Km loop to show me a few turns and the final turn-around at 3.5KM. We then return to the sports venue and repeat the same two loops in the venue to finish the 7Km loop. We only have to do this SIX times!
I had planned to run in a race singlet but it was chilly and I had to wear a throw-away T-shirt over the singlet to start the race. There were 13 runners registered for the marathon but only 10 started/finished. Six runners started at 2am and the rest started an hour later. It didn’t matter. Even the runners who started later lapped me, and I finished in last place. The winner lapped me three times and finished the marathon before I finished my 1st half! I had hoped to finish the marathon under 6 hrs but when I crossed the Half in 2:59:28 I knew that wasn’t going to happen! But at least I had people to cheer for throughout the entire race as we passed each other many times.
Because there were no volunteers along the course until 5pm I decided to carry a water bottle to make sure I would always have water. That was OK but the water belt seemed to stress my lower back and hips and by the 3rd loop my hips were very tight and sore. I had to stop for 2 or 3 minutes on every loop to stretch to reduce the stiffness and soreness.
At 6am the Half marathon started and there were volunteers at all the water stops and I had more runners lapping me all the time. But at least I wasn’t alone!
At the end of the 5th loop it had finally warmed up enough that I took off the throw-away shirt and also removed that burdensome water belt. The final loop was my most comfortable loop and I crossed the finish line in 6:12:35.
Not a great time or performance! But I had completed marathon # 381 and Country # 130 and completed my unfinished goal to run 130 countries!
I also completed my 24th letter of the alphabet “Q’. Any goal to complete the alphabet will remain unfinished. No country starts with the letter ‘X’ and ‘Y’= Yemen is not likely to happen in my lifetime! The only person in the world to complete 25 letters is my good friend and mentor, Wally Herman, who ran ‘Y’= Yugoslavia.
I did make it across the finish line in time to enjoy the award ceremonies and receive a special award for completed country #130 – a new World Record!
After the awards, one of the runners, an expat teacher from Canada kindly offered me a lift back to my hotel. I was able to ask her about her thoughts and experience of living in Qatar. Most expats like the high salary with no tax, free accommodations and a free transportation home once each year.
I actually made it back to the hotel in time to enjoy their great breakfast buffet and then enjoy a long hot soak in the tub. I decided to sleep for a few hours. When I woke up later, things started to go downhill rapidly! I felt terrible? My head was stuffy, my stomach was queasy and I was starting to cough?
I figured I should walk over to a Western Hotel near the Corniche and enjoy a beer. When I stepped outside the weather was colder and more miserable than during the race. But I ordered a $10 beer at Happy Hour – and it tasted terrible! No sense spending another $10 on something that tastes so terrible.
I wanted to eat a nice dinner – steak/seafood but that meant taking a taxi or walking to the Souq Waqif and I wasn’t feeling well enough for that. So I went to bed early without dinner and immediately started to suffer from high fever/hot & cold sweats/hallucinations and constant coughing. This continued all night and I was sick camper as I boarded my 1st flight to London the next morning.
I won’t bore you with how tough and miserable that trip home was but I finally arrived home at midnight on Sun and immediately collapsed into bed. Once again the fever, etc continued. I was unable to get out of bed until Wed!
I think the cold/flu bug has broken but I had a lot of time to consider whether I want to risk another long international trip and illness?
I am going to take my time thinking about that.
So, will there be any more marathons/countries? I would have answered ‘probably’ one week ago but now I am not so sure.
Photos of Doha and Qatar are available in an album titled 'Qatar' on Maddog's photo website https://maddog.smugmug.com/Marathons/Qatar/