What happened in Las Palmas is beyond my comprehension…. I finished the Dubai Marathon in very strong form, though within a couple of hours after finishing, I was a bit of a train wreck. The idea of getting on a flight that night, flying to the Canary Islands via London and running again Sunday… well, let’s just say I considered pulling the pin on that one.
I mentioned previously that I have had adductor strain some months ago. I went through a pretty lengthy course of rehab and with the help of the venerable Pat Allen and also the constant attention and guidance of my physio and great friend Kevin (Kevlar) Lieberthal, I managed to come good just weeks before leaving to run around the world. Kevlar even tested me on his new setup, a form analysis system that began to highlight why I was having some problems. He gave me a lot of time and patience (even when I wasn’t listening to him) helping me get back on track for what will be a year in dreamland. I urge everyone to check out Kev’s setup sometime and see what your body is doing while you run – inefficiencies can damage you in ways that were previously unknown to me. You’ll find him at - Dynamic Performance. It should also be mentioned that Kev donated a session to our raffle and he and his beautiful running machine wife, Lauren, donated $100 to the cause in the early days. And, while I was training with this power couple for the Comrades 90km ultra, I came up with the insane idea to take on this adventure. They have been integral from the start and I love them both.
So, when I ran like blazes to get a decent time in Dubai, I also mentioned that my adductor strain reared it’s ugly head again. The last time it happened, I was limping for weeks and pretty angry about it all. This time, it wasn’t quite so bad and I figured some time in the sea, Skins on while flying, plus an effort to keep it raised to get the blood out and 18 hours cramped on a plane might help…. Or not… I really didn’t have much choice, we were at the airport by 11:30pm after the race on Friday. Flight to Qatar was an hour, with a 2 hour stopover, then a 7 hour flight to London. Of course, what should have taken an hour to get to my sister, Alexis’, business in Shepherds Bush, took about 3 hours. She has a holistic therapy centre, with all sorts of different practitioners there. So by the time we got to The Happiness Centre, I was pretty testy and tired. Luckily, my little sister was there to give me a hug and make me feel better. On top of this, she had organised some time with one of the Osteopaths that work in the centre. His name is Tim Howard and I only spent 20 minutes with him, but I learned a lot and he worked on my calves and my adductor to free up the muscles. He told me that the strain is coming from a mismatch in the amount of blood (carrying oxygen) that is being pumped from my heart, to that required by my muscles that are working harder than they’re accustomed to. He said that as my heart gets stronger, it should better cope with the demand, but that will take time to increase and may never reach the level I’d like it to. Tim kept it simple and said that the key is to find a balance between the amount of oxygen needed by my legs and the amount my system is delivering. If things are beginning to get strained, I’ll know it’s time to slow down. He assured me that, although my calf muscles and adductor were tight, he’d felt worse and they were about where you’d expect them to be after a fair amount of punishment. In fact, he thought I was pretty much ok and good to go for another marathon…
Well, that was a huge relief. As most marathoners know, the game is won or lost in your head. Your body is a machine and it will do exactly what it’s told to do until something breaks. I was getting worried a breakdown was on the cards, but after spending some time with Tim, my confidence returned. If you enter a race worrying about finishing, chances are you won’t finish, or at least it will be an ordeal to get there. If you believe you can do it at the start line, then it’s just a matter of how long it will take you.
I was ready to back myself again. Just one more flight to go. While I was getting worked on, Daz was looking up the train time to Stansted. Disaster! No trains running due to rail work! Boooooooo. We’d have to get a connecting bus instead, which means more time needed than we’d accounted for. Daz and I are used to dashing for trains and planes, but this was getting ridiculous. On top of that, my lovely South African friend Bridget, had come to catch up for a coffee. I hadn’t seen Bridge since I met her in Cape Town a year before, when she was about to move to London. It was so cool to catch up with her even briefly and she accompanied us on the Tube all the way to Liverpool Station. I was stressing that we were going to miss the bus and in turn the plane, so couldn’t have been much fun to hang out with. Thanks for putting up with me Bridget, you’re a gem!
We got on the bus, thinking it was the late one, but it departed immediately, saving us 10 minutes…. Guess how much time we had in hand when we got to the baggage drop counter. “You just made it!”, said the jovial Ryanair clerk. “We shut the counter in 10 minutes.” I thanked him and shook my head slowly as we walked toward the gates. Daz and I were not always going to be so lucky.
The Ryanair flight was what you would expect… Cheap. Cramped. Bumpy. But, it was what we paid for and as the plane lifted off and cleared the dreary grey clouds over England, the sun shone down and the blanket of cloud beneath rolled this way and that creating complex but beautiful patterns across the earth. I stared outside and smiled like I had many times while lifting off, with the Jimi Hendrix chorus playing through my mind “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky!” dniir nirr niiiiirr, dner ner ner, dner, ner ner… (Haha, you try writing air guitar riffs!). We coasted along and I tried to write as many of my thoughts from the Dubai Marathon down as possible. The only way this blog gets done, is to make the most of any spare time I have when I’m not asleep. I did look out the window at one stage though and saw us passing the edge of Europe – below I could see the coast of Portugal and the point of Gibraltar. I’d always wanted to go to Gibraltar and wondered if they had a marathon.
The landing was a bumpy ride. We even had to go around again with some sort of landing gear issue.. Great… But once we landed, I was surprised to find a very nice, modern airport. We looked for a cab and were approached by an English fella named Sam, who wanted to share a ride into town. Easy, you can direct us.. We chatted in the ride and he told us how his wife was half Canary, that he’d given up a life in journalism and they were taking over his father-in-law’s delicatessen in Las Palmas. He also said he had no idea there was a marathon here the following day. That worried me a little, because if the locals don’t know about it, then it mustn’t be a big event. There were a couple of signs up though, so who knew.
Once we parted ways, the cabbie took us to our couch for the night. We’d hooked up a place to stay on the increasingly popular site, CouchSurfing.org. The idea is that if you have a spare bed or couch, you allow people to come stay, then when you’re ready to travel, someone else will open their home to you. Kind of a “pay it forward” scheme. It’s a little utopian, but seems to work very well.We were staying with a lovely Spanish girl named Rebeca. As this was our first CS experience, we weren’t sure what kind of couch to expect, but it turned out great! Rebeca has a lovely apartment near the sea and after we’d shown up and had a quick shower, she took us to a restaurant to meet another CouchSurfing friend, Fiorentina, from Cyprus. It turns out that, as Rebeca is not from the Canarias, many of her friends here are connected to her Couchsurfing community. Having dinner with Fiorentina and Rebeca made me realise how much the community spirit of the program allowed them to come to foreign areas and have a network of people already setup for them.
Eating in Spain is a little difficult. The food is magnificent, but often quite rich and generally made up of tastings of different foods, tapas style. So when I asked if they had pasta, I got a polite “no”. Any rice? “Aah, no..” Ok, so what I need is carbs and vegetables, lots of it. “Mmmmmm…we’ll get you something”. What came out was kind of potato salad with vegetables and tuna. Perfect. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I was tired and dizzy. I scoffed the plate in moments. We had some good conversation and I sampled some of the other plates that came out. Really great food. But soon after, I was hitting a very big wall and my conversation was pretty vague. I decided to head back and get some zzzz’s, as it was already 11pm and I had to be up and out the door by about 7am to get my bib. So I left Daz with the girls and headed home.
No sooner had I walked in the door and put my head near the pillow, I was awake again! My alarm was crowing at me, with the sound of a rooster… Booooo, I had literally just touched the bed, still fully clothed and now I was awake, trying to remember where I was. I climbed down the stairs, assessing my body on the way down. I was tired, but there was no real pain in my legs. Daz was awake and he told me that a friend of Rebeca’s would pick us up in 15mins if we could be ready to go. It would save us trying to get across town to find the line, so I scrambled about to get my things and we were out the door. Omar was standing at the door in the street. He was ready to roll and we bundled into his car and got moving. Lucky we had taken him up on his offer, because it got us there quickly and we would have got confused doing it any other way. He was a jovial guy too and Daz had met him last night, so it was nice to have a friendly face at that time of the morning. He was volunteering for the race too, so knew exactly where to take us.
Once we had picked up my number and timing chip, I went to sit down and pull myself together. I had only been awake for half an hour and after so much moving around, I really hadn’t taken much time to mentally prepare for this race. Daz wanted to go for a wander, so I found a little café near the start line. I saw an old man order some food with coffee and to save the hassle of trying to figure out what the words were for toast, I just asked for the same. It was a slice of tortilla, essentially a huge potato omelette. It came with bread and cafe leche (coffee and milk). It was a breakfast for champions and I felt tons better for eating it.
I put my number on and people filtered into the café to have breakfast and meet there friends before the run. One fella with a marathon bib even lit up a cigar next to me! By now Daz was back and I looked at him incredulously!?!? “Ha! Loco”, said Daz, who was loving using his Spanish again.
By the time we emerged from the café, the previously quiet street was packed with runners. The half marathon and full marathon would start at the same time. There was a real buzz at this start line and loads of people were slapping there friends on the back and others were starting chants with their buddies. It was cool and I felt like I could forget all the races I’d already done and just focus on the excitement of this one. My legs were ok, the weather was probably 18 degrees and overcast, there were no expectations on me to get a specified time, just a hope that I would get through uninjured. I should just try to enjoy the experience and maybe chat to some runners on the way.
At 9am the gun went off with a roar from the runners and spectators alike. Here we go for round 5! I started near the front, so I moved out with some pretty committed looking runners and stepped in behind a few guys. They were all wearing local club shirts and triathlon jerseys. Pretty active city. We sat under 5 minute kms almost immediately. I felt ok, so I just stayed with them. We made a few turns and were on the port pretty quickly. It was a little gusty, but nothing serious. It’s actually a really pretty port and there were a lot of windsurfers already out making the most of the conditions. We ran past a large group of dancers, all wearing wild lime green Carnival outfits, putting on a show for our entertainment – haha, awesome, I loved it. Apparently the Canary Islands Carnival started the following week and is second only to Brazil! Booo,we were a week early….
I fell in step with an older fellow in a bright orange singlet named Marcos. He was a lovely chap and we had a good conversation. He said this was his 10th marathon and he’d been in New York in November. I thought about it for a sec and told him this was my 10th also! Wow, it had just dawned on me that today would have me completing as many registered marathons in 3 weeks than I had run in my 5 year running career… We chatted for a while and soon he said, “Vamos, my friend, you should go faster”. He sensed that I was holding back for him. In truth, I was a little. I felt myself wanting to go a little faster, so I bid him all the best and moved on. I tried to fall in with a couple of other runners, but seemed to either be going too quick or too slow.
Las Palmas sits on a sandy ridge that connects the main land mass and “little island” just off its coast. It has been built up and the city has the protected port on one side of the ridge and a beach area on the other side that faces North. The course heads from one side of town, past the port, out through the shipping and industrial area, then back toward the town, cutting across to the beach side. You run along the promenade of the beach as far as it goes, make a U at the end, turn back through the city and run all the way back till you’re near the old town, then another turn around takes you to the start. Essentially it criss-crosses the city in a 21km loop and repeats. It’s a great spectator track because you can be near the start and walk one street over and see more your runner 3 or 4 times.
As I ran through town, I noted the big mix of buildings that had to be at least a century old, divided by a large amount of architecture from the 50s and 60s. The buildings were tall too and apparently a lot of them were built by the British to cater for the huge tourist industry that had evolved from Britain. It meant that I was running through tight little city streets, then out into the open of the beach, then back through the streets, protecting us from the elements. Apparently a lot of people lived in these towers too, because they all came down into the street to cheer us on. It was lovely to have so many supporters, all shouting “Venga, venga!” and “Vamos amigo!”. Plenty of kids lined the streets too. I love when kids cheer in the street, because you can tell they’re just caught up in the excitement of cheering. They generally have no clue why everyone is running past and why they look so shattered. I imagine it would be extremely difficult to comprehend.
I ran next to a fella who looked very fit. He said his name was Edoardo. He was training for an Iron Man in Lanzarote in 4 months. I asked him what time he aimed for and when he said 3:30, I said, “Wow buddy, you’re way ahead, on track for a 3:20!” He agreed this was too quick. He asked where I was from and I told him, explaining that I was here trying to run one of many for the year – 52 in fact. “You’re that guy!!”, he exclaimed, “I read about you on the internet!” Haha, ok, cool. I was chuffed that he knew about it, because we hadn’t had any press here. “You’re going fast man, you must have strong legs!” Yeah, I feel good today, so I’m just going with it. I felt I was still going fast, so I wished him well and kept moving.
Actually, I was going a lot faster than I anticipated. I was at the 16km mark and feeling pretty strong. My adductor was not bothering me and my heart rate was good. I was on 4:45 per km pace. I figured I’d just sit on this speed till I hit halfway and then see how felt. There were plenty of drinks stops and I alternated between Powerade and water at each stop, grabbing a bottle, drinking as much as I could then dumping the container. I had accidentally left my Gatorade powder in Dubai, so only had water in my belt bottle. If I was to keep this pace and not cramp, I’d need to keep up the electrolytes. I figured I may as well dump the belt bottle when I ran through halfway and saw Daz. I had told him I’d be finishing after 12:30pm, as this easily be a 3:30+ run.
As I looked at my watch, I was racing toward a 1:40 half. This was crazy as that pace took me toward personal best territory. That had never been in the plan… But I looked at my Garmin again and did the calcs over and over. I was on track and if I stuck to 4:45s then I’d be able to blow up in the final kms and post a 3:30 finish. As I came into the chute, I looked for Daz, wanting to tell him that I was running well and that he’d have to look for me somewhere after 12:20pm. I even had my water bottle out to dump with him…. But no Daz… Loads of cheering in the stands, but I couldn’t see him. The half marathoners were flowing over the finish line, so that would have been a distraction. The marathoners stuck to the left and ran through for the second loop. I kept going, putting my bottle back in my holster, thinking, “Ahh well, it’s just me and the marathon now.” Turns out Daz showed up a minute later and waited for me for the next half hour. I’d underestimated me and he couldn’t have done anything different. Too bad.
The track was noticeably empty. The majority of runners were doing the half marathon, so once I was past the 21 km, it was just the marathoners battling it out. I chatted to another fella, Daniel, and he said it was his first marathon. I’d heard that a few times now and assumed it was because it was the inaugural event, the organisers stepping up from the half of previous years. He was doing pretty well though. Definitely slowing down, but would probably finish under 3:30. I trucked on past, waiting for something to go wrong. As I passed groups of supporters, I pumped my fist when they cheered. I was really enjoying myself, surprised that I was running without anything going wrong.
I couldn’t quite figure out why I felt so good. I was getting tired, but I was definitely running better than I had in months. I wasn’t having any major stress in my calves or my adductor. An idea began to roll through my mind. I read a book not too long ago called “Born To Run” by an American named Chris McDougall. He writes a lot about these crazy Mexican runners, the Tarahumara Indians, who run like the wind and have done for a couple of thousand years. He tries to figure out why they are so good and one of the reasons that comes up is that they run with a type of innocence that is akin to playing. They do it for fun, not focussed too heavily on winning and certainly not concerned about what the pay day will be like if they go pro. I was beginning to wonder if maybe that infectious feeling of running for fun is what had taken hold of me here. I was playing a game, ticking off the kilometers, seeing if I could stick to my pace. I whooped as I passed some more spectators and they cheered me back. I patted another guy on the back as I passed him and he smiled weakly back, but managed a “Vamos”, too. I wasn’t waning, in fact I was tracking at 4:30 per km. I was looking more likely to finish in something like 3:15 – 3:20. I wish I had a phone to call Daz. I hoped to see him at another cross-over but to no avail. I just wanted to let him know I was running hot! I wanted to celebrate it, because it doesn’t happen very often. I didn’t have far to go though. He’d either be there or not. The spectators could see that I was working hard and they gave me more support. I was still passing other competitors and I just looked ahead and kept trying to run them down. These were serious runners too, punching out very respectable times, so this was pretty exciting to pass them.
I saw Omar as I headed toward the last turnaround. As I ran back, I yelled to him, “Please call Rebeca, tell Daz I’m coming in early.” I rounded the last corner and my watch said I was close to 3:18. I stepped on the gas and pulled out my camera for the final 200m. I ran into the chute and heard the announcer saying my name. Then I saw Daz, Rebeca and Fiorentina on the other side of the finish line cheering. I crossed as the announcer was repeating the website “Runlikecrazy.com!” People were clapping and hollering to me, some looking at me with wide eyes. I had just beaten my own best time by 5 whole minutes, with 3:18.09. I was pretty excited and put my arms up in the air as though I had won the race, haha! What a great feeling to run so well and not be a complete wreck at the end.
I had a quick interview with a TV journalist and the cameraman asked if we had any downloadable videos. He said he was from Eurosport and he could maybe help get the videos run on their network.. Ha! Awesome! Now I just need the damn things edited….
I went to find the massage area and was pleased to find a huge tent set up with ice baths and massage tables. I sat in the ice bath for a while and shared some stories with a few other runners. Three of them had just completed their first marathon and all had finished under 3:30, a huge effort for race number one. They all looked like they couldn’t move and one guy was lowered into the pool, shaking uncontrollably. But they were all content, satisfied…happy.. I was tired, but ok. I got out after 5 minutes and found my masseur. His name was Daniel and as he worked on me I told him why I was so excited. He couldn’t believe my story and asked me some questions to make sure he’d heard it right. He even sent me an email later to ask more questions. He was a lovely young guy and did a good job. In his email he said he was surprised my legs weren’t tight, like everyone else he’d treated. I replied that I didn’t know why that was.
And I don’t. I don’t know how my body recovered from Friday. I did the right things, I guess, within the parameters set by travel and time. I iced, got professional treatment, wore Skins on the planes. I’m sure these things all helped, but it’s hard to know which helped the most. I think the Skins helped a lot, because they reduced the risk of lactic acid buildup while flying. I have a little fear of Deep Vein Thrombosis too, so hopefully they’re keeping the blood circulating properly while I’m in the air. I was lucky enough to have the Skins people send me a set to help me through these challenges, so thanks to Jaimie and his team for their support.
Rebeca took us to lunch later that day with a number of her friends. Juan, his wife Tati and son Bruno, Omar, Carlos and Fiorentina. It was a feast and I ate as much as possible. They’re lovely people and I had a fantastic time. I’d had such an amazing day and this was the perfect way to celebrate. Rebeca had organised another TV crew to come interview us, so after lunch we spoke with them and they took lots of really arty shots of me looking out to sea. It must have looked pretty cool, because the next day a lovely older woman came up to me in the street and chanted “Maraton, maraton, maraton! Well done!” Apparently she’d seen me on TV and she was excited for our journey…. well, that’s all Daz and I could figure from her Spanish, haha.
Thanks for having us Las Palmas, it was a magical experience! Thanks especially to Rebeca for hosting us so spectacularly and being patient with me while I recovered.
We’re in Madrid now, Marrakech tomorrow. The race is on Sunday, but don’t expect anything special. Time to conserve a little energy.
You’re all champions!