lördag 28 november 2009

Hypothetically- a crazy night to come

"Purely hypothetically, if we would run for 12 hours, when and where should we do it?". About 10 emails later between me and my crazy friends we settled for, purely hypothetical of course, for the causeway next Saturday at 6 pm.

Its going to be interesting to follow the full circle from normal afternoon, start of the crazy partybuses, the full party-time, party slowing down, and finally, the nightclubs closing at 5 am. And the mandatory "drunk drivers being stopped by the police".

Quite interesting this morning, when I checked the (hypothetical) parkingspot for the car next weekend, to have water, Runes energikakor (no translation..), bananas etc etc. On early Sunday mornings, there is always a police control for getting out from the causeway. Always. Siempre. Alltid. Utan undantag. So, when running back, there is this guy being stopped by the police and getting a fine for driving drunk.

Coming from the nightclub, the police aaaaalways stopping eeeevery car, and the guy is driving drunk!!! How stupid can a man be? Really amazing, almost to the point of admiration. Ok, running for 12 hours is not exactly smart either.


tisdag 24 november 2009

A calm day-after run, slowly running home from work. I Monday starting full of energy, but swiftly turning into one of these Mondays you know.. But thats another story.

11.6 km, starting at work in the Global Bank building on Calle 50:


A few blocks away from work, there is a big school. In order to squeeze more students in, they study in two-shift, half of the students in the early mornings until lunch, the other half from lunch to around 5-6 pm. So, when I get running after work close to 6 pm, there are a lot of students walking to the busstops.

And, without exceptions, a lot of girls that thinks its funny with a tall, pale guy running around. I almost feel like a rockstar when they start whistle and cheer when I pass.

Running over to Via Israel, taking left and then right on Via Brasil, passing Multi Centro. Armani and Gucci stores in the shopping mall to the left, poor neighbourhood to the right. What a difference, what contrast.

Passing Club Union, where presidents have parties (not now perhaps, but its not like a standard after-work place).

Coming onto Cinta Costera, and setting a slow, steady pace. Legs a bit heavy after yesterday, and I let my mind wander. A bad Monday, and it feels good to run off the bad mood and let some energy in.

I am thinking of all the blisters that are sort of constant. And the struggle to find a water system that is compatible with my body, or way of running. First of all, I use a tremendous amount of water here with the climate. Secondly, I get blisters of all different shoes I have tried. No matter if its New Balance, Nike, Adidas or any other. I wonder if it is the climate, or just my feet. Or the somewhat long distances.. I hardly give my feet much rest..

Anyway, I know my blisters by now, and we are friends. The have agreed to be nice with me if I just use sporttape before I run. But I am not talking to them. Yet..

Ok, this is how much thoughts wander around when I run. Hardly something to write about, and you could really start to think there is a small small part of me that is slightly... crazy..?

söndag 22 november 2009

Gamboa Halfmarathon- a fantastic race and lack of water

6 am. The sun is coming up fast and the morning lights with it. The race starts at 6.30. Or is supposed to. The races are normally 15 minutes late. Not much perhaps, but 15 minutes later start is 15 more minutes in the hot, tropical sun.

I really enjoy the races here in Panama. A bit unorganized, but the spirit among the runners are really high, and there is a lot of talking and chatting before the race. The runners here is a fairly small community, and it feels like everone knows eachother. And I am so happy to be part of that. The runners community is one of the things I will miss most when we move back to Sweden.

I am standing in a long queue with Ida, waiting to enscribe in the race. Talking to Luis Carlos, say hi to many runners. The queue is long, and I realize that the race will not start 6.45. Hmm. Well, there is quite a lot of shade in this race anyway, so its fairly ok.

6.59 and the race is on! People runs like crazy! I start a little faster than planned. 4.22 min the first km, compared to the planned 4.30 pace. First we run 1-1.5 km back towards Panama City, then back again and continue towards Gamboa. Passing the start after around 3 km, and Carlitos is there shouting "you should be in the front, you should be in the front!". Yeah, right.

Fernando, my spanish friend that beat me in the El Valle race (by around 30 minutes) is way ahead. "Now is your chance to beat me", he said before the race. Hmm, dont know where they got the expectations from...

There are a lot of hills in the race, and pretty soon the field is very spread out. I recognize a few runners ahead, that were ahead of me in earlier races. Means that I have a decent pace.

After around 9 km, I can sense the canal, and the bridge over Rio Chagres, the river that feeds the canal with water. I still keep the pace of about 4.30 min/km, and now its downhill towards the bridge. The downhill is nice, but it also means that we have a terrible uphill on the way back..

So far, the water is enough for me. Around every 5 km. What I am not aware of, is that there is not enough water for the runners further back. Passing 10 km after a little more than 45 minutes, and just after the bridge I meet Fernando. "You are in sixth place, Fernando" I shout. Fernando looks concentrated. Wow, sixth place, Fernando is really going strong.

After the bridge there is little more than 1 km left to the turning point, and I can count my position by counting how many runners I meet. Around 30th place. A strong breeze keeps the pace down, and is a bit irritating. Since there are so many hills on this race, I want to take every opportunity to "catch up" all lost time in the hills, which means going faster when downhill but also on the flats. Not possible in Gamboa village, to much wind. And to much fatigue..

Going back, meeting a number of runners I know. Agapito is not far behind, and when I pass the bridge I meet Margaret. I shout a hi, she looks strong. After the bridge awaits an uphill lasting almost 2 km, around 50 meter in height difference. Terrible! Also knowing that there are 7 km more to run makes it psychologically tough.

The heat of the day is coming up fast, as fast as the water stations is running out of water. Afterwards I hear of many runners that got the last water at the turning point in Gamboa, after 12 km. Being forced to run without water for the last 9 km! In tropical heat with the sun coming up!

Ida and Carmen is meeting with the car, supporting with water to drink and cool off! Fantastic, and I was really glad that we had forgotten to take out the 5-liter bottle of water from the weekend before. In the end, many runners got support from Ida, Carmen and a little kid helping out.
Runners struck by the heat, with no water to drink.
Runners drowling.
Runners staggering.
I firmly believe that we would have had several passed out runners if it was not for Ida, Carmen, the kid and several others supporting with additional water along the race.
Also, the psychological support was fantastic- thanks!

I pass one or two runners, one walking looking really tired. I get passed by one runner I recognize, looking really strong. I have serious difficulty keeping the pace now, and the hills are unrelenting. I speed up the last 2 km in order to make it below 1h 40 min. Meeting Fernando: "Come on, only a few meters, around the bend!".
The last uphill, I can see the goal and I sprint like a crazy! 1h 40. And 2 seconds.. Very tired, slightly dissapointed with the 2 seconds, but pretty pleased overall.

I am really thirsty, and start looking for the water.. Ehh. "Donde esta el agua..?". Ok. No water. Brilliant. Confused runners. Thirsty runners. Dizzy runners. No water.

A creative guy is selling water and is probably making a small fortune. But its worth it of course, and I am glad that someone have done some thinking.

"A doctor, a doctor". Someone have collapsed. Not strange given the circumstances. For most runners, they were out of water for the last 9 km in the race, as well as after the race. The last runners came in after around 3 hours. That means running without water for maybe 1 1/2 hour, with no water at the finish.

Dont get me wrong now. I love Panama, the runners community is fantastic and the energy I get from other runners before, during and after the races are simply overwhelming. I will miss it so much in Sweden! Normally, the races (as most of what is going on in the region) is not 100 % organized. But everyone knows that. Well, most anyway. Which means that most runners know that the race will start late and that you might not show up in the results afterwards. And that many runners bring their own water bottles (myself included).


The organization today was simply not acceptable. Not because some inconvenience, but because peoples health were put at risk. I can live with a splitting headache the whole Sunday thanks to the lack of water, that is just inconvenience. But when people start collapsing, and there were a lot of dizzy runners during and after the race, then it is not good.

Most races are ok, and e.g. the El Valle race a few weeks ago was very very well organized. But today was, in my opinion, a minor disaster.

I acknowledge the enormous time and effort people spend on preparing these races, time that is not rewarded in money but hopefully in other ways. But next time, give me a call and I bring water. Other runners can bring water. You have the Yahoo-group that is very active- use that! But please please, dont put peoples health, or even life, at stake again!

There, now I have said that, and it feels better. I was really really angry when I came to the finishline, and saw there was no water. If I would have known who to throw a banana on, I would probably have done it..

But, I will remember the good things. The fantastic environment, with the howler monkeys and birds, the beautiful nature, the tough race. With runners that were sooooo tired, but still had some energy to say "hi", "good luck", "go for it" etc. Yes, I will miss this for sure. But the good memories, those I will keep!

Below is the "nice" height profile of the race. Taken by GPS, so it might not be 100 % accurate, but close enough.

måndag 9 november 2009

Direction of Panama

Couldnt stay away for long from running, this picture is from a nice morning run on Cinta Costera, the sun about to go up.

A little more than 20 years ago, Guillermo Endara won the presidential election by 3 to 1 against the "puppy" candidate of Noriega, Carlos Duque. Noriega didnt really like the result, so he nullified the election and let his so called "Dignity Batallions" beat Endera and his friend Ford pretty bad.

During this period, Balbina Herrera was one of the leading figures related to the Dignity Batallions. And Manuel Solis Palma was acting president. Ugly dudes.

In the presidential elections earlier this year, Martinelli won an overwhelming victory against Balbina.

Democracy - Ugly Dudes: 1-0

Later this year, Endara passed away, and a public holiday was anounced to mourn for the popular ex-presiden. Good decision.
A few days ago, Manuel Solis Palma passed away. Martinelli was quick to anounce that there would be NO public holiday due to this, no mourning. Good decision number two!

Democracy - Ugly Dudes: 2-0

I have a very limited knowledge about the panamania history, and I have never witnessed the ugly face of dictatorship. But, with the outside view, this feels like Panama is heading in the right direction, towards an even better democracy with less corruption and less ties with the old powerplay dudes from the Noriega-period.

In the last administration, Solis Palma served as education minister. I am just curious to how he wanted the history of Panama to be tought to the kids, to the future of Panama. "No, Noriega was a nice guy and I really was the elected president, and we just talked in friendly ways with the opposition". Or..?

Martinelli: go for it! Continue to clean up the building-mess with unauthorized constructions and everything else. Talk about change management!

I really like this country and its people. I really really hope that I am right to believe that you are going in the right direction!

måndag 2 november 2009

El Valle Trail Marathon- a tough and very well organized challenge

Not the best way to prepare for the race perhaps- business trip to Jamaica, coming back on Friday night. Pretty amazing that they sell grinders for marijuana on the taxfree in Montego Bay... (no, I didnt buy one..)

To El Palmar on Saturday, so John could rule the waves with his new board. After a day at the beach, we decided to split up. Since the start of the race was 6 am in El Valle, I decided to stay in El Valle for the night, whereas Ida, John and Noomi stayed in Bay View at El Palmar, so John could surf Sunday morning. Afte dinner, I took off for El Valle, about 45 minutes drive. Up to the main road there was a car in front of me going 20 km/h, and not very straight.. Probably stone drunk, and with the bad combination of:

-Pepole just go their salaries
-Holidays next week
-Saturday night

I was not very surprised. Up to the main road, Panamerican Highway, and the car went for a left turn. "Please dont crash". He actually made it across, and firmly put the car between the two lanes. In the other direction, there were three cars coming. Side by side. On a two-lane road. Almost artistic drunk-driving. I realized, that you should not drive a car in Panama, Saturday night after salary. Unless you want a true adrenaline filled adventure..

Up to El Valle, safe and sound, and to the wonderful B&B Park Eden. Got my startnumber from Margaret, who stayed at the "official" race hotel Anton Valley. To bed early. Park Eden is on the edge of the town, which was good. I woke up a few times by partying panamenians who tend to like reggeaton on very high volume, in their cars passing by. If I would have stayed in the center of the town, sleep would have been a hopeless task..

Up at 4.20, and then off to the start area at 5.15. It was great to meet many of my running friends at the start, chatting, talking.

I realized that this was a very well organized race. In this first year, they had managed something that took the international marathon in Panama City 33 years to do - have toilets at the start of the race. And to have them there before the race started..

"How do we find the way?". "We have put up stripes, 1 meter long, yellow, wherever there is a risk for confusion about the way..". That put me into my sceptic-mood. Yeah, right. But actually, the trails and roads were very well marked, there was little risk for confusion about the way. Even so, one or two missed the way and had to back-track. Something you dont really want on a 42 km race. The marking was good, but when you are tired, the sun is cooking and you have to concentrate on the uneven ground. Well, guess it is easy to run the wrong way.

6.15 and the race is afoot. 75 people, which was the limit for the race. Some running the full marathon, some the half marathon. Start, and some people are running like crazy! Wow, I dont know what they are thinking of. I start with a steady 5.00 min/km the first km through the village. I have absolutely no idea how to plan the race. How can I plan an uphill of 13 km?

After 2 km, the first test comes. A very steep slope with 200 meters height difference in 1 km. More or less impossible to run, everyone walking.

The next 10 km is very nice, fantastic views and downhill. Sometimes too much downhill on the 4x4 road, and a lot of loose stones. But in most places, easy to run. Already after 3-4 km, the runners are spread out, and I can see maybe one or two runners.

The first 10 km goes in around 58 minutes, which is pretty fast considering the slope at the beginning. I know there are around 10-15 runners ahead of me, but I dont know how many of those that are running the full marathon. Both races follow the same trail, but the marathon take an extra sidetrack after 15 km, going right and downhill for a little more than 10 km. Then backtrack uphill the same 10 km...

The views are beautiful, and the Pacific Ocean can be seen in the horizon. The gravel road is finding its way along the hills, and the run is really nice here. I exchange a few words with a fellow runner before I see him race ahead.

Every 5 km, there is a waterstation (water and gatorade) where I also fill up my two bottles. On some of those remote places- well, it must have been really tricky to get the water there. I am so impressed with the logistics around this race, and the volunteers!

Passing the school of Palo Alto after 12 km and a little more uphill now. At 15 km, the so called Cool Zone is set up. An aidstation with water, bananas, gel and more. And so many happy faces. I got soooo much energy here, from all these volunteers. Thanks a million, you were the true sunshine this day!!!

At the Cool Zone, the marathonistas took a right, downhill towards Interamerican Highway. I could see one guy in front of me, and after 1 km he slowed pace to let me catch him for a few km of small talk. Well, not so much talking at this point, merely a few words here and there. Someone might call it grumpy.. In any case, we were still smiling :-). "How many runners before us?". "Only one I think, Fernando Revuelta". Wow! "Lets kick his ass" I said with a smile. Well, in running, no one kicks his ass. He is as good as it gets, and a very nice guy. I was glad that he was in the front, he have really worked for it!

My somewhat longer legs gave me an advantage here, and I put a few hundred meters between me and my new friend.

Down towards the turning point, and checking my GPS. Counting down, and curious to see when I would meet Fernando on his way up. How much in front of me would he be? Is there a slight chance to catch him..?

Legs are starting to feel a bit heavy, and getting down to almost sea level, with the sun coming up, the temperature and humidity rise. I realize that I have to go back up the same way I am coming down. That will be a tough uphill...

Even though my toenails are well "cut", they hurt with every step downhill now. After almost 10 km downhill, and a constant pressure with feet that are probably one size larger now compared to at the start, the feet start to protest.

I meet Fernando, who looks fresh. Where does he get his energy from??? We exchange greetings and smiles, but I am too tired to get my mobile with camera up, and at the return point I realize that he is more than 15 minutes ahead. Probably too much, but anything can happen on the 13 km uphill after the turning point at 26 km.. Yeah, right...

After the turning point I of course also meet the "hunting pack" behind me. 350 meters behind is my new friend, and after 800 meters number 4. Quickly after that comes 3-4 runners, and I realize that it will be tough keeping my position. Going after Fernando will be a bit too much.

After a few km I meet Luis-Carlos, who looks fresh. Carlitos is just behind, and we stop for a minute to take photos.

This is the guy behind the race, and I can not even imagine how much work he must have put into it. Carlitos: be proud! You have made a fantastic event!!

Anyway, now the uphills start. This is the true test of this race. 13 km uphill! 600 meters in height difference! And it is getting really hot. Water every 5 km to fill up my two 650 ml bottles is no longer enough, and I stop for a minute half way up the slope at the water to fill up my two bottles and pour water on my head. It feels wonderful. For about 15 seconds...

Sometimes the clouds shadows the sun, and give some relief of that pressure. It is still pretty hot though, for someone that would probably do ice skating this time of year..

I struggle upwards, my left leg starting to cramp. And cramp badly. Left thigh is shaking, and I sort of stagger up for the steepest slopes. Head is boiling and I look every 30 seconds on my GPS and wonder why everything goes so slowly. Swearing in swedish, english, spanish. I am glad noone was there to hear it..

I meet runners every now and then, and I feel so sorry for them. But Iris and Liz are all smiles! Amazing. I must have looked terrible, and they just run along all smiling. Funny looks!

2 km left to the Cool Zone at 37 km, looking back. A runner several hundred meters behind me. Running. Me walking. Not good. I really want that second place, or at least a position among the three. Damn. Every uphill is just walking, but I try to move somewhat faster on the flatter parts.

1 km left to the Cool Zone, and no more water. Mouth is dry, but the cramping is not getting worse. Legs really hurts, and all the sharp stones feels like they go right through my shoes.

There! The wonderful white tent at the Cool Zone, and I am there! Civilization! Cold water! Friendly faces!

"What do you need?" I just spread my arms: "Todos...". Water, gel, banana. "You are second! Go for it!".

2 km more uphill, then downhill the last 4 km towards El Valle. "If I can keep the guy behind my up to when the downhill starts, I will make it", I think.

Struggling uphill, looking backward. Around 400 meters ahead of the third guy. But there I can see the top! Over the top, and trying to run a little faster now, to put some distance and also to be able to dissapear behind the bend before the third guy see me. If he can see me, he will get more strength. If not, hopefully he thinks that I am far ahead....

One more water-point, and I fill up my bottles for the last time. Down a steep, narrow trail towards El Valle. And then: the trail splits in two. With no marker!!! Noooooo. I dont want to get lost when only 3 km from goal, and second place in my bag! Left? Right? The tracks are equally big, I go for the left. Nervous? "Are there any fresh steps here?". "Should I go up again?". Continute downhill feeling terrible, and then I see the other track joining this track. Wow. It didnt matter which way up there, both tracks came together again!

Down in El Valle now, 2 km left, looking behind me. No one there. For several hundred meters. I continue running, even though I could probably walk. Far far far, meeting people.

Turning right, in between the trees and there: the goal! Arms in the air, so happy, so tired. Can hardly stand after finish line. Get help by friends to get water and something to eat. 2nd place!!! 4 hours and 51 minutes.

After a few official photos, back to the hotel for a shower, a quick lunch and then driving down to El Palmar to pick up the surf bums (rest of the family). Tired, but with a big smile on my face.

I even got to see my name in the paper today, the day after! http://mensual.prensa.com/mensual/contenido/2009/11/02/hoy/deportes/1982302.asp

Checking the watch afterwards, the first 10 km I did in 58 minutes, 1 hour 57 minutes after 20 km. Good start. At the turning point at 26 km, I was 2 hour 32 minutes. Then the uphill... Those 13 km of uphill took 1 hour and 45 minutes. Thats around 7.5 km/h, a little faster than walking. But not much. But thats how tough it was. Some kilometers, I did just over 5 km/h in average.

This was by far the best organized competition I have seen in Panama since I moved here a little less than two years ago. And this is the first time this race takes place!

Thank you, Carlitos, for this fantastic race!
Thank you to all volunteers that must have put a lot of hours and work into this, and keeping your smiles on your faces at each water point!
And thank you to the Cool Zone volunteers! You made my day! Again!!! You always show up as saving angels! Last time, it was the Panama City Marathon, now this!