Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Daughter To Thank

My daughter went to live to New Zealand in February this year as a result of a thrown dart. As she well said: Mom is her lovely, supportive self, [who] just wants me to leave already so she can come visit.  And truly, my visit plans started right away, with flight ticket fares research, places to visit and New Zealand running calendar in hand… because my visit needed to include, ahem, a race.

Daughter and I waited for her to be settled to determine which city in NZ would be the “base camp”. By June, she had gotten a job (to start in August) in Dunedin with the Rugby World Cup. Between those months she would work for the same company in the capital, Wellington.

Checking Ale’s and Rugby World Cup schedules, and NZ running calendar, we decided that I would visit her in Dunedin. Dunedin was hosting several world cup games, it had the Moro Marathon scheduled on 9/11 and it's relatively close to glaciers, beaches and beautiful towns with gorgeous lakes. My trip dates: 8/26 to 9/14.

The countdown for the trip was exciting. First, I was going to be with my beautiful daughter. Second, I have never been in the South Hemisphere, let alone, so far South, at the bottom of the world..

After 24 hours of flights and layovers, and crossing the international date line, I arrived to NZ on August 28. We rented a car, El Cheapo, and hit the road. We had scheduled for the first week to drive around 1,000 miles (1,600Km). The details of the trip will be a different post and the story will be told with pictures; easier that way. The marathon was a bonus of our vacation. Our plans of going “places” were not going to be altered because I needed to taper, rest, or whatever. That marathon happened to be scheduled 3 days before leaving NZ, and I wanted to do it only for the experience of running in another country, in another continent, and almost in another planet. I was not going to expect a PR, fame or glory.

Two days after my arrival we went to Franz Josef Glacier and did a full day strenuous hike, which is one of the best things I’ve done in my life. My knees felt it and though I was not too concerned I kinda (just kinda) whined everyday. Ale, my knees hurt. Ale, my knees hurt. She just had to roll her eyes and be patient with Dear Mom.

The whole vacation was more than fantastic. We went to ski towns, to various lakes, to the Tasman Sea (cold!!!) and did short hikes. Back in Dunedin we walked it ALL. We visited the Otago Museum; the Museum of Art; all Victorian and Edwardian architecture buildings; the Farmers Market; a cozy quasi-private concert with Matt Langley, a local Musician with a spectacular voice and enormous talent. We went to the movies, to the England-Argentina game hosted by Dunedin, and to the bars to watch the games hosted by other NZ cities.

On Friday 9/9 we went to pick up my packet at the Otago Polytechnic: a long line for half-marathoners, and a very short, almost non-existent line for marathoners. As I received my packet I was told that the local press wanted to interview me. I was puzzled. The journalist was not available and they scheduled the interview on Sat. The press interest was about the significance of Americans running a race on 9/11. I was certainly touched as I did not expect that. The interview was very spontaneous, and we talked for long about the infamous day and what meant to me from that day till present. Then we talked about running.

On Sunday we needed to go to where packet pick up was to take a shuttle to go to the start, available only for runners. Ale and I woke up around 5 am, and walked about a mile. As the England-Argentina game was the night before, we found drunken people still walking around with their country flags tied around their necks. Porta potties vandalized by, of course, those drunkards, made the dark walk interesting and funny.

The marathon course is point to point, starting on Harington Point (Albatross Colony) and ending in Port Chalmers, sort of an italic U course. I asked one of the organizers about the windy conditions (the week before we were at Harington Point and the winds were in the 80 mph range).  He told me that going SW is not bad, there is some elevation that protects from NE winds, "but the problem would be when we turn West and then North not only because the cross and headwinds, but because we are tired". I dismissed the comment, as I was planning to run by effort and I was definitely going to be stronger at that turn. I just thought!!!!

There were 3 shuttles that would leave every 5 minutes between 6:15 to 6:30 am. I got into the second shuttle. Ale hugged me tight and wished me the best, though whatever I do, is good for her. She always tells me she is very proud of what I do and have accomplished. 

The drive was about half hour and I talked with a guy (go figure) the whole ride. His take was that at his age he only cares about finishing. Though he is a 3:30 kind of marathoner he doesn’t put pressure on time anymore. I agreed with him, but sub-consciously (or consciously?) I have already set a PR in my head - 4:35 - just because I think I could do it. Bad deal. The shuttle took us to the Albatross Colony for a nice bathroom stop of about 15 minutes. As the shuttles were staggered, there were no problems with the bathroom lines. Then, the shuttle took us about 2 Km down to the start line where there were about 4 porta-potties and the van for gear check. Temperature was 50F, feeling 45 with the wind chill factor. I had chance to pee AGAIN, of course, and though I had thrown away clothes, these were not necessary. The van was simply aligned with the start line, so we could keep ourselves warm till the very last minute, and before putting the gear bag in the van.

We began our 26.2 journey running on the right side of the road, facing traffic (in NZ the driving is on the left, steering wheel on the right). 

I set my heart in low rate, and settled at the back of the pack. This was a small marathon with 200 registrants, and a 5-hour limit, so I’d assume from the beginning I’d be in that back position. There was only one guy behind me (Camel Pack Guy) and 7 runners clustered about 30 seconds ahead of me. I called them “The Seven”. The leader of team seven was a gal or guy All-in-Black (he or she was further away and I couldn’t identified gender). Second in that pack was Red Guy, and then, third was “The 5” all together.

At Km 2 I was hot already, tossed the arm warmers and took the gloves off. Camel Pack guy, the guy behind me, passed me and I became the last of the Mohicans. The weird sensation I had was every time I heard a car behind me I thought it was coming close to me, not realizing that those cars were driving on the left. I felt throughout all the race I was running on the wrong side of the road. However I felt safe as the official race car was behind me. My pace was 10 min/mile. I knew that I’d catch up with The Seven.

I had water at the 5K mark (water provided every 5K) and kept going without losing sight of the group. I kept them within close distance for the first 10K when I was planning to increase the heart rate.  At the 10K mark I was ready to pick up the pace. I passed 6 of The Seven, with the exception of the All-in-Black. That runner just took off. Soon after, Red Guy asked me where from America I was (I had an American flag), and after telling “Washington State” he said goodbye and with a sort of springs on his feet, he left running smoking fast. There was a small turn around the harbor and I saw how both, All-in-Black and Red Guy, simply disappeared.

From the other five, there was a gal, Blue Gal, that started to separate from the rest of the group. She was on my toes, and passed me. She had a whole crew cheering her on. Her husband, boyfriend, fiancée, or whatever was following her on a bike, and giving her dried fruits or something. Her crew was driving ahead, stopping and cheering. I knew how close she was when I saw this entire thing happening. She passed me in some spots, and I passed her in others, me keeping the lead most of the times. When we got to a hill, I believe before Portobello, I knew that she was mine. I passed her easily as she slowed down.

At Km 20 I discerned the stadium where my daughter works and the game was the night before. I felt the satisfaction of getting closer. At the half distance I was in 2:20 and I felt that I would be able to have negative splits. I was feeling really good, until...  we turned west. The NE wind that hasn’t been anywhere but behind hills, hit the harbor to provide nothing but crosswinds of 40mph. It was very hard to run. For my surprise, Blue Gal passed me as if the wind was not with her. She galloped and she chewed me completely. She flew away, and I never saw her again. I wondered how she could battle the wind with such strength: hats off to Blue Gal. At the 25K water station I was feeling dizzy. I combated the wind with all I had and was not feeling good now. And to add, four of the five were right behind me. How did this happen, I have no idea. After water, we hit the road and I tried to stick with them, but I was struggling with the wind. I was not able to follow their pace. Now, The Seven minus one were ahead of me. About the 30K mark we joined the Half Marathon walkers. We headed North towards Port Chalmers having now headwinds. Surprise: I caught up with Red Guy. What in the heck is he doing here? Shockingly, I also came across All-in-Black, who had left the whole bunch in the dust 25K ago. Yes, I know the story. You fly and die later. By the way, All-in-Black was a girl.

I started to feel really dehydrated, and overheated. I had more clothes that I wanted to have, but decided not to remove a layer. Red Guy offered me water and stuck with me. At 35K I was simply dying. The wind was consuming me and I had nothing left. The volunteers at the water station were surprised seeing me pouring cups and cups of water over my head. One guy offered me to pour a whole pitcher, and I said: please baptize me!. He did and I felt so refreshed.

Red Guy was very nice and talkative. He said: We are not going to win, so I think we can go easy. But easy had become very hard for me. I tried to picture only 7K left, that is nothing, 4.3 miles. And there was a hill, and wind, and traffic, and I wanted to get done. Finally, I saw the crowd and my beautiful daughter before the finish line. I crossed it without my famous final sprint. I was dead finishing at 5:02. I hugged my daughter, and told her: this was hard!!! Red Guy crossed the finish lines some seconds behind me, and I had the opportunity of thanking him for helping me finish the last 12K. (8 miles). His name, Paul Cobby.

9/11 - For all of YOU
Dead Me
We took the race shuttle back to Dunedin, and from the University drop-off we walked one mile back home. After taking a shower, daughter and I took a 2 ½ hour nap. Boy, it felt good. Then, rugby games to watch, homeland USA team to cheer on, beers to drink, roasted pork to devour,  and for all this, and the most fantastic vacation, A Daughter To Thank. 

Moro Marathon didn't give medals, but my sweet daughter did this for me!!!

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