Running Palau Marathon
Sat, Apr 8, 2017
Marathon # 383
Country # 132
Some of my readers may wonder why there seems to be a trip report missing?
My announced plans called for a marathon in the Seychelles at the end of Feb.
Never happened for Maddog!
A few days after the previous marathon in St Lucia in early Feb, I noticed that I was struggling just to run a few miles? At first I thought I was just tired from the tough marathon in the tropical heat. However, after a few more days I realized that it was more than that. I couldn’t run more than a few minutes before becoming totally fatigued and short-of-breath. I had a good idea what the problem was but preferred to go into denial and keep thinking that “I was tired”. Finally, I had to come out of denial, and call my cardiologist, and tell him that I believed my heart was in A-fib again. He asked me to come into the office that day and an EKG quickly conformed that I was right – unfortunately!
I was supposed to depart that weekend for Africa but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Instead I had to go to the hospital for another cardio version! The cardiologist jump started my heart back into rhythm and advised me NOT to go to the Seychelles and NOT to run the marathon. For one of the few times in my life, I decided to follow his advice and reluctantly cancelled the trip.
A few days after the procedure, I felt much better and was able to run again without suffering fatigue, etc. Since the next marathon wasn’t scheduled until early April, I figured I should be OK to run that race? To increase my chances and reduce stress on the heart, I even stopped drinking alcohol and resolved to stay ‘on the wagon’ until I completed my next marathon. That race was important to me, and I didn’t want to miss it!
My health and conditioning improved quickly, and I was confident I would be able to run the marathon in Palau. I never ran a training run longer than 12 miles because I didn’t want to stress my heart. I figured this would eventually impact my performance in the marathon but I would deal with that on race day.
So I kept my plans and departed for Palau on Wed, Apr 5/17. I selected the fastest route from Tampa but it required 4 flights- TPA/IAH/HNL/GUM/ROR. Unbeknownst to me UA uses old/crappy planes on this route and the service is terrible! No meals on 7 & 8 hr flights, and entertainment is available only on personal devices – or UA will rent you a tablet for $15 on each flight? What a rip off! Avoid UA and these flights if you run Palau!
However, I did arrive safely and on time 25 hrs after leaving Tampa. When I departed the airport in Palau at 9pm, it felt like I was walking into a steam bath! Oh joy! This race was going to be so much fun!
Since Palau is 13hrs ahead of EST/Sarasota time, my body clock was totally messed up, and I was wide awake when I tried to sleep at 11pm. I got up and went for a walk in the steam bath, and discovered that Koror was a ghost town at midnight? Koror is very small – one short main street – with a population of 11,000 people. Palau only has a total population of 20,000 people, and there is nothing to see or do other than diving and snorkeling.
After a few hours of sleep and rest I finally got up at 7am and ate an early breakfast. The sun was up and it was HOT! Oh goody – I should be on the final 10K of the marathon about this time. Since shops don’t open until 10am, I had to go back to bed and wait to do the shopping for my mandatory souvenirs. I was actually surprised that I was able to find everything. Now I was bored and there was nothing to do – and it was too HOT to go outside!
My friends and fellow Country Club members had arrived in the wee hours of the morning so they slept most of the day, and we got together later that day. We went for an early dinner, and then I went to bed and slept for 5 hrs since we had to meet at packet pick-up at 12:30am on Sat. The Race Director arranged for a car to pick us up and drive us to the pick-up point located at the 20-mile point of the marathon and start line of the 10K race.
There were 10 runners in the marathon and 5 of those were CC members! There were no local runners in the marathon. After picking up our race bibs, marathoners were driven 20 miles north into the country on Babeldaob Island. It was isolated with few houses and lights. The course was hilly with several BAHs (Bad Ass Hills) and it was dark. Thankfully I had brought a headlamp. Without one it would have been difficult and dangerous to run.
After taking a group photo of the CC members, the marathon started on time at 2am. Instead of water stations there were 4 support vehicles that cruised the course, and provided water and support. There was no traffic other than the support vehicles so that part of the course was safe. One minor complaint was that were no distance markers, and none of the volunteers had any idea of distances along the course. The only markers were the Shell gas station (packet pick-up at 20 miles), and the finish line!
Although it was HOT – about 80F at the start – the humidity was lower than expected so we didn’t feel too hot or overheated at the start. But we felt the hills right from the start. There were several hills. My pre-race strategy was to use a cycle of run 7 min/walk 2 min. However, the hills rendered that strategy useless! So I changed my strategy to run 2 min/walk 2min on the uphills, and run 10min/walk/2min on the downhills.
I became frustrated when I couldn’t determine what my pace was and how far it was to the Shell station (20M). When I reached what I figured was the Half I asked a few volunteers, ”how far to the gas station”. One answered “about 10miles” and another answered “about 5 miles”. Great! And that point, that I later learned was the start of mile 13, was the start of the baddest BAH on the course! That BAH climbed relentlessly for over 1 mile. I thought it would never end? Thankfully, we were rewarded with a long gradual decline on the other side where I ran my fastest mile of the race.
The sun rose at 6am, and I turned off my headlamp. I still had no idea how far it was to the gas station but I was hoping to reach it by 6:30am? At 6:30am I still couldn’t see the station, and one volunteer told me it was still about 3 miles away. I hope not because I am starting to tire, and if the 20M mark is still 3 more miles, the final 10K is going to be UGLY!
I finally reached the station (20M) in 4:50 (6:50am). And my legs were done!
After passing the Shell station, I had to cross the Japan/Palau Friendship Bridge, and causeway connecting Babeldaob Island to Koror Island. I hit the ’Wall’ at the top of the bridge. My legs were completely dead due to the lack of long training runs. I hoped to shorten the run cycle to ‘run 2 min/walk2 min’, but on the causeway my back tightened and locked up. I was in severe pain! Around 22 miles the pain became so severe that I could not run! l laid on the side of the road, and asked a volunteer to help me stretch my back to see if I could get it to relax and loosen up. However, that stretch caused my left adductor to cramp and lock up. I was screwed! Now I couldn’t even walk without pain. I would have to walk/crawl the final 4 miles because dropping out was not an option!
By mile 23, the back pain was so severe that I could barely walk. Luckily a support vehicle was following me and I asked for an ice pack. The volunteers made an ice pack from a latex medical glove filled with ice cubes, and strapped it to my back. The back cramp still wouldn’t release but the ice did decrease the pain enough so that I could walk again. By now I was walking down the Main Street of Koror with lots of traffic, and no traffic control. It was HOT – mid 80s, the humidity was high, and there was no shade from the sun! And I still had 3 miles of absolute misery and agony to go!
The improvised ice packs helped to keep me struggling/crawling along. Mile 25 was an absolute bitch! One mile up a steep BAH (Bad Ass Hill). At the top of the BAH I had nothing left, and I asked the volunteers to lie to me and tell me the finish line was close. So they did lie to me! They told me I had “less than 1 mile to the finish line”. It was the longest, most painful ‘less than 1 mile’ I ever struggled through. But finally, I could see the Palau Pacific Resort. I stopped and thanked my support team. Without their support and ice packs I would never have made it through the final 5K! I struggled across the finish line in 7:01 – a new PW (Personal Worst). And I didn’t care!
I finished Country # 132 – a new WR and Country # 9 in Oceania – another WR. I shared the old WR of 8 countries with my good friend and mentor Wally Herman for many years.
I waited with other CC members for the last CC member to finish. Sadly, Klaus was suffering from a groin injury from his previous marathon and it flared up, and he had to drop out. That really sucked – to spend so much money to travel all the way to Palau and get a DNF!
The race organization had a nice award ceremony and breakfast after the race. Many runners enjoyed the private beach at the Pacific Resort. I preferred to return to my hotel for a hot shower, and then go next door for a massage. $25 for a 1-hr massage, and the masseuse was able to get my back to release and relax. The pain was finally gone!
That evening the Track and Field Federation in Palau invited the CC members to dinner, and treated us to a nice dinner and drinks (I finally had a beer after 1 month on the wagon). We had some good discussions and learned a lot about Palau. Regis Akitaya, the President of the Track Federation, and also a Senator in the government, indicated that he would take us on a tour on Sun.
On Sun morning a driver picked Klaus and I up, and we met with Regis for a nice lunch and a few beers. We discussed the race, and how to improve and make it larger. Regis also gave us some interesting facts about the economy and politics of Palau. Then he had a driver drive us around the big island of Babeldaob.
We retraced the first 20 miles of the course so we could see the BAHs in daylight. The BAH at mile 13 looked as bad as it felt the day before. We continued on the road to the Capital Building. What a sight and what a boondoggle! The government built a new Capital Building in the boonies and moved the capital from Koror. It is probably the nicest building in the country – looks a bit like the US capital. The plan/hope was that a new town would develop around the new Capital, but 10 years later the Capital still sits all by itself! The only community near the Capital is a small native village (200 people) that has been located on the coast nearby for more than 100 years!
We continued on around the big island for about another 25 miles past the airport, and completed the loop back at the Shell station and Friendship Bridge. It was an interesting tour. We saw the capital and visited a few of the old local villages. But the only civilization and development on Babeldaob are the Capital, the airport and a few native villages with a total population of a few thousand people? The town of Koror wants the Track Federation to move the marathon out of Koror (only the final 10K is actually in Koror). They could hold the entire race on the big island where there is less/no traffic except near the airport?
After a nice dinner Klaus and I slept for a few hours since our flights departed after midnight. We were ready to leave.
The locals and the officials of the Track Federation were friendly and hospitable. We were treated graciously – but we were ready to leave!
After two PWs in a row, I believe it is time to take a long rest/sabbatical from running and marathons. I do not want to train through the hot Florida summer. I will evaluate my plans for running and marathon goals later this year!
Photos of the marathon and Palau can be viewed in an album titled ‘Palau’ on Maddog’s photo website.
During the previous 2 marathons I realized that my running life was coming to an end. In the final 10K of the Palau Marathon, as I struggled to cross the finish line I understood – and accepted – that I would NEVER run another marathon! My Heart Failure (enlarged heart with a low Ejection Fraction) was too severe, and not improving! In the following 18 months I had a 2nd ablation and 3 cardio versions. Now I am forced to accept an easy walk of 3 miles each day for exercise!
During this ‘post-running life’ I needed something to keep me busy so I decided to write and edit all of my race/trip reports that were not included in my book ‘Global Runner’. This is the Final report!
I enjoyed my trip down memory lane including the obvious signs of my deteriorating health during the past few years (that I denied at the time). Many people wonder or believe that marathons caused my Heart Failure. I don’t agree with that opinion although I do acknowledge that marathons worsened the condition. But when asked if I regretted running all those marathons, I answer “I wouldn’t change a thing” except for retiring permanently a few years earlier!
I am glad I wrote/edited these reports and posted them to my blog to share them with my family/friends and especially my grand kids!
Thanks for coming along for the ride and sharing my memories!