Running the Guyana Marathon
Guyana Trail Marathon
Santa Mission, Guyana
Sat, Nov 14, 2015
Marathon # 377
Country # 126
When a friend from Germany (Jurgen) informed me of a new, 1st-ever marathon, in Guyana I knew I had to register for the race to keep my claim intact that I have completed every country in South America* (* – that has an official marathon). I was not enthused about it being a trail marathon (I hate trail races) but “you have to do what you have to do” to maintain WR (World Record) status.
I wasn’t keen on having to train through a HOT & HUMID Florida summer to stay in shape after the marathon at the end of June in Zimbabwe. As difficult as that was, it probably helped me because the race in Guyana was very HOT& HUMID!
The 1st challenge was logistics. It is not easy to get to Guyana. I ended up driving to Miami to catch a direct flight to Georgetown, Guyana and flying back to Fort Lauderdale after the race. The upside was that the flight and trip cost much less than the average cost of $3000 I budget for an international marathon these days.
I arrived in the “Land of Many Waters” at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, 40 Km south of Georgetown at 10pm. I had arranged for a local runner/taxi driver to meet me at the airport. The drive to the Marriott Hotel located on the Seawall along the Atlantic Ocean took almost 1 hr. in the dark and we seemed to pass a lot of poor and industrial areas? The Marriott is close to downtown, and the port on the Demerara River. The area did not look good? Marc warned me not to walk around the area at night!
On Thu morning it was raining so I decided to walk to the shopping area downtown to shop for mandatory souvenirs. I was surprised that the downtown area looked so poor/filthy, and was in such poor shape? The streets were filthy, most buildings are old and not well-maintained. There are few modern/new buildings? Much of Georgetown is 6 ft. below sea level so the original Dutch settlers built a system of dykes and canals to keep out the sea and to irrigate cotton fields. The canals are now full of stagnant water and trash, and look/smell terrible! There were a lot of homeless people laying in the streets but I didn’t feel threatened or unsafe. I managed to conduct a self-guided walking tour of some of the important historical sites while searching for my souvenirs and a post office. I collected all required souvenirs by noon and stopped at a local pizza shop. I wanted a pepperoni pizza – no pepperoni – so I ordered a ‘meat’ pizza. The meat was wiener/hot dog? Also no coke so I accepted some local drink that tasted like root beer? I had better luck with the souvenirs that are often difficult to find?
After finding a post office to buy stamps I asked for directions to a grocery store on the way back to the hotel. The supermarket was in a shabby/poor building with few items in stock and everything seemed expensive for the state of the economy, and the wages that locals earn?
That afternoon I met up with another German friend, Dieter, and Brent & Sue from Cheyenne, WY at the Marriott. I only saw one other modern/luxury hotel in the city? Fortunately, the Marriott was a major sponsor of the race and offered runners a great discount! That night we all enjoyed appetizers and free drinks in the Concierge Lounge because we didn’t want to venture outside to find a restaurant. I also arranged for a city tour on Fri morning for Brent & Sue & myself.
The city tour included many of the sites I had already visited and never went farther than a few miles from the hotel? But the guide was very knowledgeable about the city and history/culture of the country so it was enjoyable. Guyana has a total population of 750,000 and 350,000 live in the capital city of Georgetown. The official language is English but many of the Amerindian tribes speak it with a Creole dialect. We toured many historical sites such as the Red House, Prime Minister’s House, the Lighthouse (1817), St George’s Cathedral – the 2nd tallest wooden church in the world built in 1894, the Parliament Buildings (1834), Starbroek Market (1881) and the 1763 Monument that commemorates the slave rebellion. Our guide provided an excellent narrated tour of the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology and National Museum. We concluded the tour with a visit to the Zoo to see a few of the local animals such as a Harp Eagle, black Cayman, jaguar and long/ugly pythons. I was hoping that would be the only time I would get see any of these animals? I won’t describe how the animals are caged – but animal lovers in the USA would close the Zoo down tomorrow if they knew about it!
After our tour we returned to the Marriott to pick up our race packets, and attend a pasta dinner where Sevak, the Race Director, explained the jungle course and rules for the race. There were about 100 runners in three races and only 27 in the marathon. We would take a 4am bus from the hotel to Timehri located on the Demerara River near the airport. Then we would be loaded into small boats to depart at 5am across the Demerara River, and up Kamuni Creek for 1 hour to Santa Mission where the races would start/finish.
It sounded exciting but when we were loaded into the small boats at 5am –in the dark – and started up 30 to 50 ft. wide Kamuni Creek, I had visions of black Caymans and pythons waiting for us in the dark!
Happily we arrived safely. Santa Mission is an eco-resort (resort means bring your own sleeping bag or hammock for $5/night) along with your own food and supplies. You are clearly in the jungle, and close to an Arawak Village on the Arawak Reservation. The races would be run on jungle trails use by the Arawak tribe (Amerindians). The trails cross several creeks and swamps!
The marathon started at 7:45am. It was already HOT & HUMID! When we entered the jungle after 500m we could no longer see the sun and it felt like I was running in a steam bath? I was surprised to find a lot of white, soft sand in the jungle. Most of the interior of Guyana is sand? The Village had spread a lot of sand at the start of the trail so it wouldn’t be muddy. Great! Now it was soft, deep sand that provided no traction.
Once we entered the jungle, the trail was a soft, spongy surface covered with 1 to 2 inches of leaves – covering millions of tree roots! I knew that I was going to have trouble staying upright. Sure enough – around 5Km I tripped on a root and went flying! Fortunately, the trail was soft so I landed, rolled a few times and sprang to my feet. No damage except to my pride. Maddog screamed at me to focus more carefully on each foot plan,t and to lift my feet! We crossed the 1st creek around 8Km using logs that had been laid across the water. By the time I reached 10Km in 1:30:06 and a split of 9:30 I knew it was going to be a long/ugly day! The trail was a bitch and there were a lot more hills than had been described! My heart rate was averaging around 135 to 140bpm. That is my typical HR rate for an 11 to 12 min (per mile) pace on pavement and I was only averaging a 9 to 10min/Km pace? When I reached 16Km (10 Miles) in 2:32:35, I felt terrible and I was ready to give up and ask for a lift to the finish line. There was an ATV patrolling the course once in a while to check on runners and I figured they would give me a lift? However, Maddog started screaming at me again – calling me really bad names and stating that if I gave up then, I had to give up ALL future marathons in my plans – and retire to an Assisted Care Facility!
I decided to continue on to 21Km (Half) and re-evaluate but I vowed that I would “Never run another trail race again”! I tried altering my run strategy to see if I could find a cycle that didn’t fatigue me so quickly? At that point I had been running until I became too tired to run, and then I would walk about 1 min to rest. It was not working! So I took a long, deliberate walk break, and then ran for 5 min and walked for 2 min. That seemed to work much better, and I was able to lower my average pace down to 9 min/km.
Maybe I became too confident and took my focus off the trail – but OOPS – down I went again! Another roll and back up w/o any injury except to my pride. And Maddog screaming at me again about how stupid I was! My quad had tightened on that fall, and I figured that if I went down again a muscle was probably going to cramp and lock up, and I would be in serious trouble!
I reached the Half in 3:22:33. That was only the Half? I would be lucky to finish under the 7-hr time limit?
Around 27 Km I passed a young couple. The male had cramped severely and was trying to walk/limp the cramp off. We stayed close until I reached 32Km in 5:13:20 and a split of 9:24/km. I was feeling better with my new run cycle and was keeping my average pace below 10min/km so I felt confident that with only 10Km to go I would finish under 7 hours.
However, as I was looking for the 33Km marker I caught up to the young female runner who was stymied by a huge tree blocking the trail? Had we missed a turn? We were both fatigued and not thinking too clearly, and we didn’t want to venture off through the jungle to see if we could find the trail so we erred on the side of safety, and ran back to an aid station at 32Km to ask if we were lost? A volunteer ran back with us to the tree, and he ventured off through the jungle to come back and advise us that the trail was on the other side of the fallen tree! Sure enough we detoured around the tree and the 33Km mark was only a few hundred feet beyond the tree. DAMN! We had just ran an extra 2Km! I was pissed off and demoralized! The confusion and extra 2Km had cost us 31 min, and now there was no way I could finish under 7 hrs!
I decided I would continue to race to the 40Km mark and use that time as my marathon time no matter what the RD said! At 37Km the trail turned on to a narrow, single track trail through dense jungle, and I became a wee bit concerned because I hadn’t seen a runner, race volunteer or ATV since our disaster at 33Km? The female runner had left me in the dust and I in turn had left her boyfriend behind – in fact I figured that he had probably quit and asked for a lift to the finish line? There were two more runners behind him but I figured they had quit too, and that meant I was the last runner on the trail – with no volunteers or support around?
I reached 40Km in 6:58:07 and a split of 9:00/km. I was upset because I would have to run the final/extra 2Km since there was no support to be seen! I decided to jog the final 2Km easy. However, while I was concentrating on my pain and dilemma I forgot to concentrate on the trail and – OOOPS – my right foot caught a tree root, and I started flying! I managed to prevent a fall but the sudden acceleration to stay upright caused my right abductor to cramp and lock up! I dropped immediately to the trail and started writhing around in pain while trying to find a position – any position- to alleviate the pain! I tried to grab my ankle to stretch the abductor and that only caused my calf to cramp also. After few minutes of screaming and crying I was able to massage the muscle and get it to release enough to stand up, and use a tree to stretch both muscles until they relaxed. Any thoughts of jogging/running the extra 2Km were gone. I walked/limped gingerly for the next 1Km before the pain subsided enough to allow me to jog across the finish line in 7:27:56.
I went straight to the RD to complain about the fallen tree, and the fact that there were no ribbons or signs telling runners to detour around the tree. He agreed to post my 40Km time of 6:58:07 as my official marathon time.
I was tired – totally wiped out – and now I still faced a 1-hr boat ride and a 1-hr bus ride back to the hotel and a hot shower! It was not fun! Even after a hot shower I was still too fatigued to contemplate going into town for a nice steak so I just ate an expensive buffet dinner and beer at the Marriott before crashing for a long sleep.
But I had finished Marathon # 377 and Country #126 – a new World Record!
The last two marathons were very hard on my old bod & psyche. I keep telling myself that they were tough courses and I will do better when I run a marathon on nice, smooth pavement. I hope so because I don’t believe I have any more ‘difficult’ marathons left in me? I will definitely keep my vow to “NEVER run another trail race”!
Unfortunately, all my future planned marathon adventures are in tropical climates – but at least they are on pavement!
More photos of Guyana can be viewed in an album titled Guyana on Maddog’s photo website.