Running Bahrain Marathon
Fri, Feb 6, 2015
Marathon # 374
Country # 123
After running the Muscat Marathon and touring Oman, Jurgen and I headed to Dubai for some R & R. We departed on the same plane but he was meeting and staying with a friend/German expat working in Dubai, and I had booked an apartment hotel in the Dubai Creek area. As we departed the airport, I wisely bought a 12 pack of Fosters beer in Duty Free because beer/booze is difficult to find, and expensive in Dubai. Basically, you must go to a Western hotel if you want to drink alcohol. We agreed to meet at the Burj Khalifa the next morning. I managed to walk and explore the neighborhood along Dubai Creek, and surmised that it would be difficult to run in the morning because of traffic. I last visited Dubai 15 years ago, and this is the only section of the city that I remembered? The city has more than doubled in size, and there are new districts such as the Downtown/Financial and Marina districts that didn’t even exist then? There is a new elevated Metro that is modern and fast.
Jurgen and I met the next morning at the entrance to the Burj Khalifa, inside the Dubai Mall. The Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world at 2717 ft. We visited the observation deck to enjoy the panoramic views and take photos of the city. Later we purchased a daily pass for a hop on/hop off bus to tour the city. This bus tour has three routes and if you stay on the bus for all three routes the tour takes 7 ½ hours! It visits every part of Dubai starting at the Dubai Mall. At first I was amazed at all the new buildings and skyscrapers – it seemed that each new building tried to surpass the one next to it, in height/majesty and architecture. But quickly I felt that I was looking at a huge real estate and economic bubble that has to collapse when the oil money dries up? It has reached a level of opulence and decadence that could only be achieved with unlimited (oil) money! Everything has to be the BIGGEST and best in the world. A new tower is being built in China that is taller than the Burj Khalifa, so they are already planning a new tower in Dubai to surpass the one in China? The Dubai Mall is no longer the biggest, so they are planning a new mall that will be so big that it will include a 7Km nature trail inside the mall! It just goes on and on? The malls are huge and filled with high-end/exclusive shops that could only be supported with oil money from neighboring oil countries such as Saudi Arabia who consider Dubai to be a ‘playground’.
We toured past the Downtown/Financial district to Dubai Creek where we visited Dubai Fort and Museum, and the Gold Souk. The Souk has been updated and modernized since my last visit and lost all its charm. We took a 1-hour Dhow cruise on Dubai Creek for another perspective of the city. Then the tour took us along Jumeirah Beach and past the Burj Al Arab (the only 7-star hotel in the world with rates starting at $1500/night) to Palm Island – a man-made island in the shape of a palm tree, with expensive homes and hotels. The tour finished with a drive through the new Marina District with its towering skyscrapers trying to outdo each other? By then we were in rush hour traffic and the 10-lane Sheikh Zayed Road was a parking lot! To make the delay longer, the bus had to drive through the Mall of the Emirates with its indoor ski hill, before returning to Dubai Mall at 8 pm! The roads were still parking lots so I took the Metro back to my hotel. I was in desperate need of a cold beer. My 12-pack was now looking like a wise decision. But I also wanted a steak with a glass of wine for dinner, and that could only be found at a Western hotel so I walked a few blocks before finding a Western hotel, and enjoying a great dinner.
I enjoyed my short visit to Dubai but I am not in any rush to go back!
On Wed morning I returned to the airport for a short flight to Bahrain. I was surprised to find Jurgen waiting for me at Arrivals in Bahrain. He had flown in earlier and rented a car, and was waiting to pick me up. The rental car was a wise decision because it gave us much more freedom and flexibility to explore Bahrain. After checking into an apartment hotel, we drove to the north end of Manama, to the Seef Mall to meet up with two friends/runners from the Netherlands, and pick up our race packets. The RD had reserved Bib # 123 for Maddog.
We had one full day (Thu) to explore the country. Bahrain is small island country located near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. It is 34 miles long and 11 miles wide. The population is only 1.2 million with less than half being nationals, and the rest are foreign workers. The capital city of Manama looks like a small version of Muscat and Dubai – modern skyscrapers soaring to the skies in many new areas of the city. However, the old part of the city has not been updated or modernized and looks like a typical city in a 3rd world country. We explored the old city first and visited the Souk to buy my mandatory souvenirs – souvenir teaspoon, silver charm and postcards. I stopped at a Post office to buy stamps. There were three female workers, but only one working, and two male supervisors? It took more than 15 minutes to buy stamps with five employees and only three customers?
Then we decided to drive to Saudi Arabia. The two countries collaborated to build a causeway and bridge between them – mainly so the Saudis could drive to Bahrain, which they consider as a playground, since “Allah can’t see what happens in Bahrain”! There are many casinos/bars/entertainment rooms in Bahrain but they are not visible? All are located in Western hotels, and are not advertised, but you just need to go to any Western hotel to be ‘entertained’!
We had a coffee at a MacDonald’s located on the Saudi border – the closest I will ever get to Saudi Arabia since their Embassy refused to even acknowledge my enquiry about a visa a few years ago? After ‘relieving’ myself across the border into Saudi Arabia, I felt vindicated, and we proceeded to find the start/finish area for the marathon at the Sofitel Hotel located on the west coast. It is a beautiful luxury resort located on the Persian Gulf about five miles from the Formula 1 race track. We drove the course – a 10.5 Km loop along a highway in the desert that we would have to run four times. Then we visited the Formula 1 track and stadium – a lot of money invested for a few races each year? Later we ventured into the interior of the country where all the oil wells are located. Talk about UGLY! I have seen oil wells before – but never with the miles of pipes laid across the surface of the desert to collect and pump the oil to storage tanks. Our last stop was the ‘Tree of Life’ – a 400 year-old Prosopis Cineraria tree near Jebal Dukham. On the way back to Manama we got lost since there are few road/directional signs in Bahrain (or Oman and Dubai?). We had to stop at a military base to ask for directions. Thankfully they didn’t shoot us!
After a long day we ate an early pasta dinner since we would have to leave around 5 am to get to the start line. Jurgen was under pressure because he had to finish the marathon under four hours to get back to the hotel for a quick shower, and return the car before noon, since the rental agency closed at noon on Fri. They agreed to drive him to the airport for a 2 pm flight. That meant our two friends and I would have to find a taxi back to our hotels after the race.
Fri was ‘M’ day. The race started at 6 am. When I left the hotel at 5am I was dressed only in a singlet and shorts. It was ‘cold’ – high 40s F so I had to go back to the room for a throw-away T-shirt. The race started on time – it was still cold and windy so I kept the T-shirt on. The race started out badly and with problems. First my heart monitor was acting strangely. Somehow a button had been pushed that turned on an ‘Alert’ tone signaling my HR was below the range I had set. I never activate that tone and it was annoying. It should have gone away after the first mile but it didn’t, and it messed with my mind, because my HR was lower than it should be? I didn’t want to stop and try to reset the monitor while running in the dark, so I tried to ignore it! When I passed mile 4 in 47:52 the damn monitor was still beeping, and I felt terrible. I knew it was going to be a long, painful race! Finally the monitor stopped beeping which indicated that my HR was above 120 bpm but it continued to act strangely – or my HR continued to act strangely – throughout the entire race? There was nothing I could do about it – I wasn’t going to quit – so I just tried to ignore it. If I died – I died!
I stayed with two old farts in my AG (one from Italy and one from Sweden) for the first 10K, but then I had to let them go because I was struggling. I had already decided to walk through every water station located every 4 Km, but even that didn’t seem to help. I felt I was under pressure because there was a 5 ½ hour time limit on the race! I passed 15 Km in 1:45:32 and started to worry about the time limit? However, I reached the Half back at the Sofitel in 2:29:27, and felt a bit more confident that I could beat 5:30. I finally discarded my throw-away shirt and began the 2nd loop. But now I having to walk between water stations – I tried to run 2Km and walk 1 min. By the time I reached 32Km in 3:52:21 I was struggling to run 1 Km and walk 1 min! I had no choice but to suck it up and keep the old legs shuffling even it meant more walking. Only when I reached 40Km in 4:59:31, was I confident that I would break 5:30.
I crossed the finish line in 5:18:35 to complete marathon #374 and Country #123!
All I could think about was “This is no longer easy and no longer fun”! Maybe it is time to quit? But then the RD called me over to the podium at the awards ceremony to present me with a special award – a “Certificate of Appreciation” for achieving a new World Record of 123 countries. Maybe I can run two more countries and retire with 125???
As my friends and I were searching for a taxi, several of the local runners kindly offered us rides back to our hotels. A group of lovely young ladies asked Maddog to pose with them for a photo and then offered to drive him back to the hotel. As always the local runners were gracious and friendly.
After a quick shower I headed to the airport, and a flight back to Dubai. I believe I am now an expert on the Dubai airport. I had four hours to go through Immigration/Customs (again), change terminals via taxi and go back through Immigration and security in the main International Terminal. I made it with lots of time to spare, but I did note that I seemed to be coming down with a sore throat? Unfortunately, that sore throat became a sever sinus cold by the time I arrived home 28 hours later.
It took two weeks for the cold to go away and my running/training sucked for those two weeks. I am blaming it on the cold but after the ugly/pathetic race performances in the Middle East I am discouraged about the lack of improvement in my heart/health. I have some important medical tests in the next few weeks to determine if there has been any improvement since the heart procedures and pacemaker. I am not optimistic because I believe I know the answer, but I will wait for the results! At this point I must say I truly regret the decision to have the pacemaker implanted. My running has actually deteriorated since the procedure! I was running faster before the pacemaker? I may be faced with another decision – whether or not to remove the damn thing! I know it is not a simple procedure to remove it, and the cardiologists keep telling me that it is necessary/important to extend my life – but I keep reminding them that I am not interested in extending my life if it does not also extend my ”quality of Life”! Who knows what will happen?
Photos of the Bahrain Marathon, Bahrain and Dubai are available in my photo album titled Bahrain & Dubai.