Thursday, December 08, 2011

Post Race - 1-2 December 2011

I think about the places I've been the last few weeks. Crossed the Atlantic 3 times, the Pacific once. I've circumnavigated the globe. USA-Canada-South Africa-Switzerland-Ireland-USA-Brazil-Germany-Japan-Australia-New Zealand-USA-Mexico-Chile-Antarctica. A couple hundred hours of travel. Almost 50 hours of running.

In 2006 I first hatched the idea to complete this world record. In 2007, in 35 days I smashed previous record of 99 days, but Richard Takata denied me the record by doing it in just under 30. He held that record until today. In late 2007, I was on schedule for 25 days, but we were delayed by eight days coming to Antarctica. My friend Bob Camp put it in perspective: "I don't feel sorry for you. You got to travel around the world twice in a year, and now you have an excuse to do it again!" Love ya, Bob! Finally, on 1 December 2011, more than five years after the goal was first conceived, the mission is accomplished. Another few days and I'll be home, back among my friends and my loved ones. Home is what makes the journey complete.

As the night went on, everyone drifted off to their various tents.  I was still pretty pumped, so going to bed wasn't anything that happened very early.  The guys who were getting ready to run the next morning though, were trying to get really rested up!  100K to run!

Of course, Brent was involved in this one.  He's one of those guys who travels the world finding extreme things to do.  What I like about him is that he makes me look tame.  Richard, meanwhile, intends to run 100 miles in honor of the 100th anniversary of Amundsen and Scott reaching the South Pole in 1911. Clement Thevenet, the Belgian who just finished winning the marathon, is heading out again.  And Marc de Keyser, the weather man here at Union Glacier will be joining in as well.  Marc runs this event every year.

As the day progressed, some of the marathoners from the day before would go out for a 25K loop (NOT ME!) for a little extra support.  I stayed up until about 2:00 a.m. to make sure that Brent got finished and had something to eat.  About 5 hours later Andrew came in.  Now Richard was the only one out there, and in just over 24 hours he finished running 100 miles!

It was a great adventure, with a 100% success rate.  Everyone did what they set out to do.  And then we got the word.  The flight was on the way from Punta Arenas, and we'd be heading back to Punta Arenas on schedule as well.

At about 9:00 p.m. we were loaded on a big sled and hauled out to the runway.  By 5:00 a.m. we were back to the Diego d'Almagro Hotel in Punta Arenas.  After about three hours of sleep, I got on the phone and moved my flights from Monday back to Sunday, shared a taxi with my tentmate Ray to the airport and was on my way HOME!  One more night sleeping on airplanes.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Antarctic Ice Marathon Report

We're scheduled to run at 11:00 this morning. At 10:30, we'll be loaded up and taken out to the starting line, approximately 5 miles from base camp. The course is a loop, with a six mile leg on the far side to checkpoint 1, five miles back to camp for checkpoint 2, then back out to where we'll start at checkpoint 3.

It's about minus 14 Celsius, about 7 Farenheit, with a clear sky and lots of sunshine. The clear air here with 24 hours of sunlight means that any exposed skin needs to be protected with sunblock. We're making sure we have all our gear together, making all the last minute adjustments. Bins with personal items and food have been taken to checkpoints 1 and 3 in case we need anything out there.

I didn't send anything out to the checkpoints. I just put some extra gloves, hat, neck gaitor, and a couple snacks in my waist pack. My plan was to start with my windbreaker but to take it off as soon as I started to sweat. Sweat is a killer in cold climates, and I figured that with between 7 and 8 hours out there I don't need to be soaking wet all the time.

11:17 a.m. and the starting whistle went off. This is real! 26 miles to the record book. Before long most of the runners were ahead of me--I knew I'd be running by myself most of the day. Even with the ideal conditions, we were still running on groomed snow trails with footing that was tough in spots. I didn't know how far the back section of the course was, but I did know it was a straight shot to the first checkpoint. Mile 1 was about 15 minutes. That would be my fastest of the day.

The scenery is pretty much unchanged for the whole course of the race, just a track with litte red flags every 200-300 feet. The lack of landmarks made the miles feel really long. Even the mountains in the distance never seem to get any closer. The other thing that happens in the clear air is that distances are very hard to judge. When approching checkpoint 1 at the 6 mile mark, you could see it from a mile away. Any time you're running toward something, it seems to take forever to get there.

The checkpoint was well stocked, and I stopped for about 3 or 4 minutes to drink several glasses of liquid, and eat a few snacks. I caught up with Sebastian from Argentina as he was leaving the aid station, and Anand from India came in right behind me as I was getting to leave. We were the last three through the first checkpoint. Time to start segment 2. I estimated it would be five miles back to camp and the next station. It's a right turn, then almost 3 miles to another right turn, then a long gradual left bend back to camp.
The miles leveled out at a little over 17 minutes, with about 5 extra minutes at the checkpoints. A few yards before checkpoint 2 back at camp, I caught up with Rebecca and Linh as we came into camp. Eleven miles down. Sebastian was still at the aid station, and went off for a pit stop. Now there were three people behind me as I left the camp for segment 3. Only 25K to go.

Segment 3 was heading back out to the start, a little over 4 miles. I could look off into the distance and see runners far ahead of me, but I had no chance of ever catching them, the distance being probably a mile or so. Still, it was reassuring to see them out there. As I finally reached the 15 mile mark, I followed the curve around to the right to where we started

Eleven miles to go. I'm in familiar territory too, as I start the back stretch the second time. Even though I'm moving steadily, the lack of landmarks make the miles seem longer. Slowly, the 16 mile mark. I feel great but really looking forward to being done. 17 miles and I'm down to single digits. As I approached the final checkpoint just past 21 miles, I started thinking, I'm 179 miles into 184 miles of running. Only 5 to go. I'm trying to do the math, converting to Greenwich Mean Time so I can get the net amount of time it has taken me to finish the continents. At somewhere around 25 days, 18 hours. Stay vertical for a little while longer, and the record is mine. Before 24 I make the right turn and I'm heading for home. The sun had made the snow a little softer the second time around, and I was working to be sure I was finding the best footing all the time. As I approached mile 25, they drove the big tractor with the sled behind it right onto the course ahead of me to regroom the trail.

That would have been fine, but when first groomed, it takes a few hours to firm up, so all they did for me was make the last mile more difficult. I was kicking up snow so my shoes were getting covered as I hit the 25 mile mark. I could see the camp far in the distance, slowly getting closer as I struggled to find good footing. 20 minutes to go.

People started to come into view, and soon I could see the finish line. 26 miles, everything is in focus and I'm in PARTY MODE! At 7:10 p.m. I crossed the finish line with a finish time of 7 hours 53 minutes and 38 seconds. That's 22:10 GMT. My old friend, race director Richard Donovan was there to put my medal around my neck. One of my best friends, Brent Weigner was there with a small bottle of Johnnie Walker for me. New friends from this trip were there to share the moment as well.

From my start, at 6:00 Johannesburg time (04:00 GMT) on 6 November, it was exactly 25 days, 18 hours, 10 minutes. A new world record.

We celebrated with some of the best lamb stew for dinner, along with the beer and wine. A few brought out special bottles for celebration as well, and we toasted our success. Everyone who started today finished! Still, it was incomplete. I went to the communications tent to buy a satellite phone call. The one person who I needed to share this with is the one who made it possible for me--the lovely Francine. Sharing the victory with the one who means the most to me is what really made the record complete.

It's a couple days before we'll head for home, assuming that the plane gets here without delays.  It's great to know that shortly I'll be home, running, eating, drinking with my friends, hanging out in my usual places.  

Getting Ready

Most of the group got their first look at Antarctica as we dismounted the plane at the Union Glacier "airport." The runway is a windy place, the winds continually scrubbing the snow off the ice and making this possible. We were escorted to a small building that served as a waiting area for vehicles to shuttle us the approximately 8 kilometers to camp. At the camp, the first thing we got was a short briefing about the restrooms. Everything here is separated between liquid and solids, so you do your business at separate spots. Nothing is left here at the end of the season--barrels of urine and gray-water and bags of waste are all shipped back to Punta Arenas to be disposed of.

In fact, everything here is to be kept as pristine as possible, so there are special disposal/recycling methods for everything.

We waited for our luggage and our sleeping bags to be brought from the plane until nearly 5:30, so two hours before breakfast we were finally able to get some sleep.

Our accommodations are double-walled clamshell type tents, equiped with beds, a table, towel, washcloth, soap and washbasin. Because it's daylight 24 hours a day, the sun keeps the inside of the tent fairly warm--sometimes even uncomfortably so. At 10:30 I decided it was time to get up and walk around a bit.

The cooks here are amazing. Every meal is well balanced, with options that work for carnivores or vegetarians. No one has ever gone hungry here at camp.

Back to the mission. Given that we didn't even get to bed until almost breakfast time, we won't be running the marathon today, but it's on for tomorrow, 1 December. Right now I'm feeling kinda like a kid the night before Christmas. Thursday, 1 December 2011, I'm taking about 4 days off the world record!

Dinner at 7:00, then a marathon briefing by Richard. A relaxing evening at Union Glacier camp

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In my two previous visits to the interior of the frozen continent, I found that the main thing to learn is PATIENCE. Things rarely happen on schedule in the most inhospitable place on earth. So we waited at the hotel from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. for the first call as to whether we were going today. At 9:45 Richard delivered the news. The next update would be at 1:30. I walked into the center of town to pick up some sunscreen and got back for the next briefing. Again, no go. Next one is 4:30. I headed out to get some lunch with Ray from Wisconsin, Chris (Krzyzstof) from Poland, Taco from the Netherlands, Ladislav from Czechoslavakia, and Michael from Germany. A couple beers and a burger at Lomit's were just what we needed.

It's Tuesday, 29 November, and the original schedule is to fly to the Antarctic today, and run on Wednesday. Every update slows down the mission just a little bit more. We're in "wait and see" mode right now.

The 4:30 briefing came at closer to 5:00. The next call would be at 7:30, but Richard was speculating that we'd probably end up going early in the morning. Brent and I headed into the hotel restaurant to grab a bit of cerveza, soon to be joined by Ladislav. We let people know where we were so they could come in and let us know any news.

6:55--Good news! We're heading out. Be in the lobby at 7:30. We packed up, checked out, and loaded up the bus for the airport. In the history of this event, this is the first time that it has ever left on the day it was scheduled.

Flashback - 2007. My attempt to set the world record in around 25 days was right on schedule. Sunday before Thanksgiving in Beirut. Thanksgiving day in Atlanta, the next Sunday in Florence, Italy. Saturday in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, the next Saturday in Wanganui, New Zealand, and crossing the date line to run in Vina del Mar, Chile on Sunday. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning to Punta Arenas to leave on Monday to Antarctica. An unusual period of snow was delaying everything. For eight days, we waited to fly to the ice. My mission to run seven continents was successful, but the world record was still belonged to Richard Takata.

Given the lateness of the hour, chances of running the marathon on Wednesday were still pretty slim, but at least we'd be in position. We went through airport security as a formality, but they drove the bus around back and loaded us on and drove us to the plane.

This is not your basic commercial flight. In fact, it's a Russian Ilyushin 76 cargo plane, and we're part of the cargo. The inside of the airplane has no paneling to hide the wires, pipes, and insulation. There are instrument panels out in the open, a little restroom that's fairly rudimentary up front. They reached down and pulled up the ladder and hung it inside the door.

The whine of the engines Russian Iluyshin airplane grew louder and they finally closed the door. We were off. Flight time to Union Glacier--about 4 1/2 hours.

I was sitting beside Linh, her face lit up, totally geeked at the prospect of visiting Antarctica. Being in an airplane like the one we were in added to the sense of adventure--hoping that everything was airworthy, going to a place totally unknown to nearly everyone on the planet. It was a mixture of joy, excitement, and fear of the unknown. At about 2:20 a.m. we felt the wheels touch down onto the blue ice runway. We coasted for a long time--normal brakes are useless on ice. Finally we settled and the door opened.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Now We Wait

I waited around a lot last night for the logistics company to do the gear check, but we never did hook up.  At about 10:45 I headed back downstairs and helped Brent and a few others finish off the wine they were drinking. Nice to sleep horizontally last night for the first time in about 3 days.

I've been in Chile for about 24 hours and haven't had a beer yet.  Go figure.

The first call was supposed to be between 6:30 and 9:30 this morning.  At about 9:15 Richard Donovan (the Race Director) came down to let us know that we'll have another update at 12:30.  I finally got my gear checked and delivered to ANI for transport to Antarctica, now we're waiting until 12:30 local time for an update. Still optimistic about going today.  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Marathon #6. Space Coast, Cocoa, Florida

I arrived in Florida at 5:20.  I arrived at the race site at 6:40.  The lovely Francine saw me as I approached the starting line, asking people along the way to direct me.  One of the timing guys was there with Francine, and we started somewhere around 6:45.

We were a little panicky, given that neither of us knew the course.  We headed out, yelling at spectators who were still hanging out a half hour after the start, and got directed around the appropriate corners.  Before a half-mile is over we started north along what turned out to be a long out-and-back section.  One mile done.  Not bad.  After yesterday (which was Friday back home) the distance was going by in a hurry.  We figured that there would be some walkers at the back, and sooner or later we'd see them.  After about 4 1/2 miles, we finally saw someone ahead of us.  The leaders started coming back at us as well.  Francine was with me the whole way, even though it was probably painfully slow for her.  Still, she was there for me the whole way.  It took us all the way to the turnaround at near 7 miles to figure out how the course worked.  We caught a guy about then who told us that the course went back to where we started and then on a long out and back the other way.

In spite of being on my feet for 9 1/2 hours the day before, then sleeping on airplanes for two nights (crossing the dateline gave me an extra long Saturday), the day was going well.  After fighting so hard for every kilometer in New Zealand, the flat, paved roads of Florida were a snap.  We continued to pass people right up to the end, finishing in a little over 5 1/2 hours.

As we enjoyed post-race refreshments including sausage, eggs and pancakes, the announcer started telling my story.  I made my way up there to see him, and then right behind me came Katherine Switzer to congratulate me and give me a hug.  Wow!  One of my running heroes!

Let me just put in a plug here--Space Coast Marathon--Great medal.  Great beach towel.  Nice shirt.  Nice organization.  Do it!

One thing I commented to Francine on along the way.  I hadn't heard during the last few marathons, "Hey, aren't you Don Kern?" Being a race director and a generally "outside the normal orbit" person I get that a lot.  Well, after getting cleaned up and hurrying to the airport for my next flight, I walked up to the AeroMexico counter and the woman there said, "Hello Mr. Kern."  Wow.  Ok, it wasn't because I'm famous.  It's because I was the ONLY person not yet checked in on the flight.  Famous by process of elimination.

Orlando - Mexico City - Santiago - Punta Arenas.  I'm at the south end of Chile, and it looks like everything is a go to fly to Antarctica tomorrow.  This is exciting. The mission is almost complete.  Had dinner with my old friend Brent Weigner and a couple of new friends from the trip.

I'm about dead--time to fall asleep.  Hugs and kisses to everyone back home.  Especially the lovely Francine.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Overnight on the Way to Florida

Surprisingly, even after all that, the 11 hour flight to LAX I only managed to feel like sleeping for a couple hours.  Mostly I was watching the on-demand TV in my seat.  Caught maybe a half-hour on the flight to Phoenix, and then the flight from Phoenix to Orlando got us onto the plane on time.  The first class upgrade wasn't too expensive, so I paid for it so maybe I could sleep a little better.  That was my best sleep overnight, with maybe 2 1/2 hours.  Unfortunately, they left us on the runway for longer than they should have.  We approached Florida and it was coming up on 5:00 a.m.  We didn't get off the airplane until nearly 5:30.  It's a 40 minute drive to Cocoa, so I'd be starting late.

I went straight to the rental counter, got a car, then back to baggage claim and my bag was there already.  Early morning traffic was easy, and the drive went pretty fast.  The race was at 6:15.  I wouldn't be there.

But I had my not-so-secret weapon!  The race started.  The lovely Francine went straight to the timers and told them what the deal was.  There's a seven hour cutoff, so even starting late I knew we'd make it.  As they picked up the timing mats to move them to the finish line, they figured they'd have enough time, so they left the last one in place.  At about 6:40 I finally got there, put on my timing chip, and we crossed the mat.  About a half-hour late, but IT'S ON!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The LONG, LONG Trail

I don't have the time right now to do justice to this, but the Speight's West Coaster Marathon is the toughest trail run I've ever seen.  Keep in mind that I've run Pikes Peak a couple times, the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, the Six Foot Track in Australia, the North Pole Marathon.  They're all pretty tame compared to this.

I met Rachel and Mark in line while picking up my race number and we talked about my "mission."  I didn't know at the time how instrumental Rachel would be in my race!

The race started, straight into extreme winds toward the beach.  WOW!  Before we ever got started, I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.  Finally after running south for a while we turned off the beach and started climbing.  I was in last place.  I was trying to keep someone in site at least, but even that was tough.  As we started the hills, I was able to catch up a little bit with the last couple.  After a couple kilometers, Rachel told Mark to go ahead.  "The crazy man's right behind me, I'll just go with him."  We worked our way around the first 12K loop, which was a good run, but seemed longer and ended with the last kilometer or so going right down the middle of a stream.  Took us about 2:15 total for that segment, and got us to the first aid station.  Turns out that was the easiest of the 4 segments.

The second section on the Hillary Trail was a ton of climbing.  We kept on for what seemed forever, and about two thirds of the way runners started coming back at us.  The half and the 30K were pretty much out and back on this piece.  On narrow trails, we had to squeeze past people regularly, which slowed us down even more.  Finally we reached the second aid station.  This was going to be a long day!

Segment 3 started out down a road, then on to a nicely groomed trail, then down about 30 sets of steps.  We were meeting runners coming back up the steps, so we knew it would be tough coming back.  What we didn't know was what was coming!  Rachel had gone ahead by that time, running faster on the smooth trails.

At the bottom of the steps, we reached a bridge.  We didn't cross it, but instead turned right and headed down to the stream.  The trail then followed upstream.  Before too long, the ribbons on the trees went to the other side, crossing on some fairly solid rocks.  I caught back up to Rachel, and together we picked our way through.  Every few hundred meters, the trail would switch sides, making us wade back and forth across the stream, sometimes just wading upstream for a while to find the next ribbon.  We lost the trail several times and had to back track.  That was mostly due to the fact we were watching our footing and not looking up.  In fact, at one point the bill of my cap blocked my view of a branch as I was looking down, and SMACK!  My glasses got bent and I got a nice little bruise right below my right eye.

We left the stream eventually and headed back up some steps.  Then to an intermediate drink station.  We thought we were going to make it back to aid station #2 by the 2:00 cutoff, but it turns out it was still a long way off.  Down a bunch more steps to the bridge, then cross and start back up the steps we had come down earlier.  By the time we reached the station, one of the staff said, "I hate to tell you this, but you're going to have to get a ride back.  I explained that I had no choice but to finish, and had to go.  Rachel sold them on the idea as well, and off we went.  Paul (the race staff guy) said he'd be along behind us to take down all the marking ribbons.

We felt like we were making better time going back, but it was still tough going.  Lots of severe downhill sections along with a lot more climbing.  A little over half way back it became mostly down hill.  Paul joined us after about 3 kilometers, and was great at letting us know where we were and how much farther it was.  About 3K before the end, I was still moving fairly well, but Rachel stopped for a drink and was slow in getting started again.  Paul stayed back with her and I went on ahead.  A final push and I was back down to flat ground, for the last kilometer back to base.  Tired, but still feeling good, I crossed one final tidal pool and got back to Bethel Beach, and somewhere around 9.5 hours, finished continent #5.

Anyway, after taking over 9 hours to finish the marathon, (only my running companion Rachel finished behind me) I got a quick shower in the outdoor "rinse off the beach sand" shower at the race site and bolted for the airport for my 7:30 flight.  Unfortunately, by the time I got inside it was 7:10.  I missed my flight!  So, now with 5 of the 7 done, I went to the Air New Zealand counter to figure out something.  My flight was booked through Continental, and they were able to get me to LAX on the later ANZ flight, but couldn't get me to Orlando until Sunday.  That doesn't work.  My world record attempt was going down the drain.

I checked in, but only had them check my bag to LAX.  Then I sat down and bought some Internet time and went to work.  One option:  A flight on US Air which gets me to Orlando at 4:51 a.m.  That's as good as it gets.  It's 40 minutes to the race from the airport, and figure a half-hour just to get to my rental car.  Should put me at the race right about 6:15 for the start.  Or maybe 6:20.  The record attempt is back on!

Hopefully all the flights are on time!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Arriving in New Zealand

The flight from Japan was delayed by about half an hour, and with a relatively short connection in Gold Coast, Australia, I was a little concerned--both about me and my suitcase--making it. No problem though. Travel time was about 3 hours to the airport in Osaka, then about 8 hours overnight to Gold Coast, then a little over three hours to Auckland. Landing in Australia, and I'm suddenly among English speaking people--with cool accents!

New Zealand is probably my favorite country to visit. Kiwis have a great attitude, and it's pretty much the adrenaline capital of the world. If you want to bungy jump, sky dive, go whitewater rafting, jet boating, or just hiking the tracks and camping, it's a great place to be. I had one of the best Christmases ever in Queenstown back in 1999 on the Millennium Marathon trip. Wish I had a few more days to spend here, but duty calls!

Didn't sleep much on the way from Japan, but feel pretty good. I drove out to check out the race site first thing, then back closer to town to find a place to stay and get a good pre-race steak dinner. I didn't last long after that, but now I'm wide awake and it's about three hours before race time and I'm dressed, packed up and ready to roll.

We're 18 hours ahead of Michigan here. So at about 1:30 pm back home on Friday afternoon, we'll start the marathon here at 7:30 Saturday morning. It's my third marathon of the week, third continent. Still feeling real good. My mission today is to get through the 42.2K worth of trails, probably in about 7 hours, get cleaned up and get back to the airport. Total time in New Zealand will be about 31 hours.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fukuchiyama Race Report

Marathon number 4, and I was feeling a lot of anxiety.  The time limit is six hours, and after running just two days before in Curitiba in around 5:48, I was wondering how my legs would be.  No time to waste, anyway.

My first task was to get to the race site and pay for my entry at the Trouble Desk.  The shuttles were running right on schedule from the train station (across from my hotel) and after I passed the numbered packet pickup tables I found something that looked like it could be the right place.  Problem is that very few in this area speak English, so it took us a while to agree that it was the Trouble Desk, and then to figure out what I was trying to do there.  Finally they found my number and called Isono and told me to wait a minute.  I was finally able to meet the man who had helped me so much for the past few days.  He took me over to the bag pickup, and then showed me where the gym and the facilities were and then was back off to work.

Getting the business out of the way early, I now had nearly three hours before the race start.  It wasn't very busy yet, so I walked around and then found a row of chairs in a hallway near the gym and snoozed a little bit.  I had a protein bar for breakfast, but I was a little concerned that I hadn't eaten more or had enough to drink, since the start was so late in the day.

Communication was difficult, however there was a big enough crowd to follow to figure out where my corral was.  We started the race at 10:30, and by the time I crossed the start line the clock was around 5 minutes.  The start was downhill for the first 2K, which had me wondering how the end was going to feel.  I saw the 1K mark and my pace felt pretty good, but didn't see another one for a while.  We started with a loop around the downtown area, and crossed the 5K mat.  The first aid station was at around 6.5K, and I took a minute to drink quite a bit to catch up.  From then on, aid stations were at every 2.5K.  As we worked our way out of town, we turned left somewhere close to 12K for a long out-and-back.  The 40K was just after the corner, so as I went along I figured that the turn would be between 24K and 25K.  

As we worked our way out, it felt to me as if we were running down hill most of the time.  Believing that, I was trying to stay steady, anticipating a long last 17K worth of up hill after the turnaround.  There were a couple up hill sections, but it felt predominantly like we were working our way down the valley.  The course follows a river valley nestled in the mountains, with great views off in the distance.  In spite of the mountains though, the elevation isn't very high above sea level.

It's a well supported course too, around 15K we got bananas, and progressing on we had other little treats--some kind of a candy--crunchy, sweet, a little spicy and really good.  I reached the half-way in under 2:30.  Right on schedule.  Now on to the turn around.  Approaching the turn, we got more bananas and little squares of chocolate.  That was the appetizer.  I made the turn at 3 hours on the clock, and right after passing the 25K mats there was a party.  Drums beating, and a row of tables with hot chocolate, hot tea, and little triangles of rice.  My split on that kilometer suffered a bit.  :-)  

The thing that surprised me the most was that it still felt like we were running down hill.  In fact, there were a few hills on the way back, but they looked a lot worse on the way out.  The hill I was anticipating at 30K was really not as sever as I had figured.  I was still running easy and feeling good.  Somewhere in the next couple of kilometers was another party.  The locals were out with tables full of goodies, and I spotted two bottles of wine with empty cups hanging on top of them.  What the heck--I was ahead of schedule.  I stopped for a glass of wine, which my hosts took great joy in watching me drink.  I may have been the only one to do that, given their surprised reaction.  More people were passing out candy and little treats along the way, but I tried to concentrate and keep steady.  Soon the up hill sections would kick in, but they weren't bad, and I was feeling great.  It surprised me how many people were walking by that time--almost inconvenient trying to get around.  A couple of times the wind picked up into our faces for only a little while until we rounded another bend, then would die down again.

Starting at 37K, there were countdown markers as well, so we'd see 37K, then 195 meters later 5K to go.  More markers made the time feel like it was going by faster, and soon we were at 40K, then making the turn for home.  There was a lot of up hill in this last section, but because I was passing a lot of people it didn't seem noticeable.  One K to go and I decided to pass as many people as possible before the finish.  I got to 22.  Turned the final corner and crossed the finish line, feeling great and finishing in net time of just over 5:21.  

Post race was, like everything else in this whole country, very well organized.  Finisher shirt, then through lines of computer terminals where a finisher certificate was printed for us.  I made my way toward the gym to  get my jacket and pants before going out for hot chocolate and bowls of hot soup.  The soup had meat, some noodles, and veggies, and some warm, salty broth.  The chocolate had something like a marshmallow square.  Both were served with chopsticks.  It really hit the spot.  Cups of green tea too.  

I rode the shuttle back to the station and enjoyed a conversation with a guy who spoke English.  We talked about work, kids, lots of thing--it was a real treat after being in so few places lately that I could actually have a conversation.  He pointed out some restaurants as we approached the end so I knew which direction to go eat.

I went to dinner at a place called (get this) Japanese Restaurant. My main motivation for going there (other than hunger) was that they had menus with pictures. Given that I read not one character of Japanese, that was pretty important.

If anyone's thinking about running a marathon in Japan though, THIS IS THE ONE!! Fukuchiyama.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Arrived in Japan!

Arriving in Japan The story keeps getting better. My new friend & guardian from the race staff, Mr. Nobohito Isono didn't just recommend a hotel. He made me a reservation. Finally, I'm ready to run in Fukuchiyama! I found out about the hotel while at Inchon Airport in Seoul. Now I'm on the train for my final three hours of travel between the Osaka airport and Fukuchiyama. I didn't sleep a lot the last 35 hours I've been traveling, and it's 11 hours ahead of where I was on Sunday. Fourteen ahead of Grand Rapids time. My body isn't sure what time it is, but I'm feeling well fed and fairly recovered from Sunday. Feeling tired and off schedule.

 My theory is that the best way to recover from jet lag is to get up and run a marathon in the morning. It's easy to get yourself feeling on schedule. The GI tract takes a couple days to catch up though. It bothers me, more mentally than physically, I think, because race morning elimination just isn't the same. That's about what I'm going to say about that. Oh yeah--so far, so good on this trip, but be sure to take paper to the race site, just in case.

 The train ride to Fukuchiyama is about three hours. From the time I left my hotel in Curitiba to the time I arrived at my hotel in Fukuchiyama is approximately 41 hours. Lots of travel, yes--this is the longest leg of my trip so far. But look at the bright side--my last five meals and two nights lodging were provided by airlines. I am, however, looking forward to an actual bed tonight.

After arriving at the station, once again I find myself in a place without any English.  While looking up my hotel on a "You Are Here" sign in the station, I was able to find it using the phone number.  A guy came along just to ask what I was doing, and walked me down the street to the hotel.  Well, turns out they were full, so I was at the hotel on the other side of the station.  Which he took me to!  I had no more than checked in when Isono called me just to make sure everything was good.  I hope I get a chance to buy him a beer tomorrow.  He certainly has one coming!  Customer service people could learn a lot from the Japanese.  What a great place this is.

The hot shower felt SO good.  After 40 hours of travel, I really needed that.  Had some dinner and a couple beers at the hotel restaurant, and now I'm about to the end of my useful life.

Tomorrow is marathon #4.  I'm excited.  It's 14 hours ahead of Michigan time here.  I'm going to bed.  You all enjoy your work day.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Every adventure comes with a little fear.  Not knowing what will happen, if you're up to the task, will everything happen on time?

I've had my share of that this time.  After running a strong marathon just over a week ago, I was having enough knee pain all week that I didn't run a step between marathons.  It wasn't until Saturday that my knee felt good enough to know that I would be OK.  I wore a neoprene sleeve over it for extra support on Sunday.  Now, a day later after being on a plane all night, both knees are feeling great.

My biggest fright came on Saturday, after I had sent a message to my contact in Japan asking for some information.  The entry form I sent in the first part of August never hit his email, so he didn't even know I was coming.  I was supposed to report to the trouble desk to pay when I got there, and just figured I was all set.

He told me to send it in again immediately, but right after that he mentioned that the entry period had ended.  I sent it to him again through two different email services just in case, but since it was already the weekend there, he didn't respond.  I tried calling, but of course the office was closed.

So, with my mission in question, it was weighing on my mind all weekend.  Distracting me as I ran in Curitiba.  Keeping me awake on the plane for a while.  Finally, at the Frankfort airport I got email from him, letting me know that we're good!  So, by the time most of you get up on Wednesday, I'll have finished the marathon in Fukuchiyama.

The last time I felt this relieved was October 31, 2004.  That was when the starting gun went off and the first Grand Rapids Marathon.

I'm sure there will be a couple more moments before I get done with it, but for now, everything is on schedule. 

Curitiba Marathon Report

While I was in Switzerland, I messed around for a long time figuring out hotel locations and the race course and trying to get a place close enough to the start that I could walk.  Well, the place I ended up with was only about 2K away, so I guess that's not bad.

The morning was cool but not cold as I headed out to the race.  I had to get there early to pick up my timing chip, as the chips weren't distributed until that morning.  It was nice to be early and be relaxed.  I even found a few people who could speak a little English to talk to before the race.  One guy I met had run Space Coast a couple years ago.  That's where I'll be this coming Sunday.

This race had a six hour time limit, so I'd be able to relax a little more.  Good thing too, with about 2900 feet of elevation and LOTS of hills, I'd need it.  Pacing myself for the whole adventure--thinking RECOVERY from the start to the finish is key to making the whole adventure work.

Kilometers go by a lot faster than miles, so even on a slow day, I was hitting the bench marks a lot quicker.  As I got to the first aid station, around 3K, they handed me a plastic cup full of water, sealed on top with foil.  I tried to peal the foil off.  That doesn't work.  Finally I jammed my finger through it, splashing water all over the place.  It got better as I learned the technique of just puncturing it enough to drink.  It was also good because I could carry an extra cup along and drink whenever I wanted.  Gatorade in small portions was served at about every-other aid station.

Curitiba is known as a garden city, and like many other things in Brazil, the gardens are kept very nicely trimmed.  Buildings and houses are built touching each other, so all along the streets it's hard to find a place to discretely make a pit stop.

I fell into a steady, while not to speedy, pace, and was feeling pretty good all day.  At about 18K or so, I had fallen in with the same people I would go back and forth with for the rest of the day.  Guiseppe, a friendly guy with a camouflage hat passed me right around there.  And a girl in an orange shirt with a bicycle escort.  I ran with a couple young guys for a while too, but for the most part I was by myself.  As I got through the first half at about 2:43, I knew I was slowing down a bit, but so were the people ahead of me.  The second half was a "pick my next victim" time.  It seemed like I could see somebody in front of me all the time who was moving just a little slower.  I used them to keep myself on pace, picking them off, one by one. The girl in the orange, however, stayed just about the same distance ahead of me all the time.

The course got quieter, as we approached 30K, and I saw Guiseppe ahead of me as we headed out on a little out-and-back portion of the course.  Finally at around 32K I caught up with him.  We ran pretty close together to the next aid station, and after we went through, I found that elusive spot for a pit-stop.  I never could catch him again after that.  He was picking it up a little bit.  I watched him catch a few more people in front of us, and soon I would pass them too.  Still, at 39K, I hadn't caught the girl in orange.  40K - almost 25 miles.  I was feeling the finish line now, with the BS levels in my blood elevating slightly.  Marathon #3 finish line was in site.  At about 40.5K I finally caught her and her escort, who somehow had ditched the bicycle and was now running with here.  "I've been chasing you for a long time" I said as I passed her.  Both she and her friend laughed, maybe because they understood me (few people do in this country) or maybe just because I look funny or something.  Anyway, we turned the corner and made the final push for the finish line.

It's one of those aggravating finish lines, because you could see it from the 41K mark.  That's still 1195 meters to go.  As I approached the finish, more and more people wearing orange shirts were coming out and yelling for their friend who was just behind me.  It was her first marathon, and her running club was there to share the celebration.  I picked it up to finish in front of her, rather than being run over by her entourage.  Finished in about 5:48, marathon #3 of 7.  I turned around to congratulate my new friend on her first marathon, then went to get my medal and some food.

I sat with Guiseppe and we had a conversation that didn't leave either of us much smarter, since he speaks Portuguese and Italian and I don't.  Still, we were comrades at that point, eating some watermelon and celebrating our finish.

A few hours rest, packing, and getting to the airport.  It's feeling pretty intense right now.  Japan on Wednesday!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Whole World is the Same

Well, maybe that's an over-simplification, but after being in a lot of different countries, it occurred to me this afternoon while walking around Curitiba (Brazil).  Let me share a couple observations:

Stores - Everyone wants the same stuff.  Food, clothing, entertainment, bread and milk, soap, toothpaste, etc.
Restaurants - McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Subway, .....  We can eat virtually the same fast-food everywhere in the world.
Religion - Catholic churches.  Jewish temples.  Islamic mosques.  They're everywhere.
People - Hold hands, play with their kids, find work to do.  There are rich people, poor people, homeless people in all countries, rich or poor.  Women dress to look nice.  Men look at them.
Cars - Lots of the same brands in every country.  Audi, BMW, Ford, VW....
Entertainment - Watching sports on TV.  TV.  Music.

I'm thinking that you could live most anywhere and figure out how to make it.  May have to learn a new language or something, but even the languages are expressing the same thoughts all over the world.

OK, Antarctica isn't going to have a McDonalds.  Or a brewery.  But most everywhere else will.

Brazil - Packet Pickup Day 19 November

OK, I'm back at it.  After spending a couple of enjoyable days at home, catching up and drinking beers with people who speak English, I'm back on the road.

Thursday afternoon I left for Brazil, and about 24 hours later arrived at my hotel in Curitiba.  Part of the fun of traveling is the unknown.  Arriving at the airport in Curitiba, I had no idea how I was going to get to my hotel, so I walked out of the airport and looked for a shuttle into town.  Sure enough, right outside the door.  I pointed to my hotel address in my notebook and the bus attendant told me which stop I would get off at.  Cost was 8 reals, about $5.00.  After about a half hour on the bus through LOTS of traffic, some new friends from the bus told me where my street was as I got off---it was only about 3 blocks to walk up to the hotel.

A walk around town to get oriented, and then I headed down to a little bar not far from the hotel for something to eat.  I managed to pick out enough words I could translate from Portuguese so that I could get filled up.  Had a bottle of Xingu, one of the Brazilian beers.

The guy at the desk gave me a tourist map and a little instruction about where we were, and told me the location of the packet pickup is about a 1/2 hour ride via taxi.  Well, I decided to walk instead.  So, after about 50 minutes, I managed to find the mall where it was located.  I'm guessing I walked somewhere just short of 5K.

Once again, I find myself in a country where almost nobody speaks English.  They're all pretty friendly though, so they'll always run and find someone to help.  That was the case at the running store too, as I stood in line for my race packet.  I had sent in my information, but needed to pay for my entry when I got there.  Finally someone was able to help me and we're ready to run!

The mall is just like every mall in the US.  Same stores (different names, but the same stuff).  Coffee shops, McDonalds, Burger King.  Next door to the mall is a Sam's Club.

On the way out, I walked around to the taxi stand, but no taxi to be found.  A local couple was there, he had a bag of race gear too.  With no taxi, I decided to just start walking back.  Soon the couple got a taxi, and pulled up beside me.  Through a rather disjointed conversation we figured out we were going in roughly the same direction, and they offered me a ride.

Headed back into town, it was pretty obvious why the guy at the desk thought it was a half-hour taxi ride.  Lots of traffic, and lots of traffic lights!  My new friends got out and left me and the driver finally got me back to my hotel.  I'm still thinking I could have walked here a little faster, or at least in relatively the same amount of time.

Oh well.  Off to explore, eat, check out the Start/Finish area.  More later.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Race Report - Maratona Ticino

Race Report - Maratona Ticino

Marathon #2 - Europe.

The southernmost region of Switzerland, Ticino, was the site of the second marathon on my adventure.  This one made me a little nervous, because while I believed I was in shape for a sub-5 hour marathon, this one actually had a 5-hour time limit.  The cool fall weather and the flat course gave me ideal conditions to work with.

The field was fairly small, 186 men and around 40 women would finish the full marathon.  The marathon start was at the Central Sports center in Tenero, and head generally south and east for the first loop, around a bit loop on bike paths.  I had lots of company, but didn't really find anyone to run with.  I was running pretty well, well ahead of my pace in Soweto last week, and approaching the 5K aid station felt I was right on pace.  Flat, cool, ideal conditions made the running easy.  Aid stations only every 5K had me stopping to make sure I was getting replenished enough along the way.  10K and we were back past the stadium and headed toward Locarno along the lake.  Soon the course took an up-hill turn for about a kilometer, running on the roads a little over 100 yards from the lake.  About 3 or 4 kilometers west then downhill into Locarno.  We took a about a 2K loop around town and then to the shores of Lago (Lake) Maggiore.  The course hugged the shore on the way back to Tenero.  Still running steady, and I got through the first half at about 2:17 on my watch.

The second half would start when I crossed the finish line and began the course all over again.  Suddenly, I was by myself, working my way through the pedestrian traffic and hoping I could remember the turns early in the course.  No course marshalls were there, or at least none who took any notice of me as I worked my way through some pretty heavy pedestrian traffic.  After leaving the Sports Center, I made a right turn, but it didn't seem like the right way.  I turned around and managed to get someone to understand me well enough to point me back to the course.  Still, I wasn't sure.  I got part way across a bridge which I didn't really notice when I was with the mass of people at the start, and stopped there for a minute.  Two women came up behind me, not in the race, but knew where it went and pointed me in the right direction.

Soon I saw a sign that told me I was on course, but the slight detour and resulting confusion cost me about 4 minutes during that first kilometer.  I had no time to lose and hopefully had the legs to stay on pace the rest of the time.  Between 1 and 2 kilometers, a kid started following me on a bicycle, staying just behind me where I could hear him.  I was getting a little irritated until I turned around and saw a race sign on the front of the bike.  He would be my escort for the rest of the day.  At least I wouldn't make any more bad turns.

The second loop I was all by myself.  I never caught anyone, never saw anyone behind me.  I was able to look across the field and see some runners 3 or 4 kilometers in front of me, but that was it.  After that, it was just me with my bicycle escort.  He spoke not a word of English, so the conversation was nonexistent.  About 2/3 of the way through the second loop, I was able to determine by his brief conversations with court marshalls that I was the last person in the race.  Still, I was easily on pace for sub-5 hours. Finally, the downhill into Locarno, only 8K to go.  I was doing math at every kilometer, knowing that if I kept going I was still on.  The final loop around Locarno and back to the lake side--about 5K to go.  Stay steady and keep going.  The kid was a little inexperienced with escorting and would sometimes end up crowding me or almost cutting me off, but at least he was keeping me on course.

I had walked along the lake a couple times during my visit, so I was in familiar territory--signs at 38, 39, 40, 41K as we approached the final stretch.  Finally I could see the tops of the Sport Center buildings and the lights of the sports fields.  Turning left into the Center, then right past the field-house, then the final turn toward the finish line.  42K, I looked at my watch--I'd finish, first American, and DFL (dead freakin' last) in the race.  Still, my best time this year, and exactly what I set out to accomplish.

Going into the gym for the awards, it turns out that Stephan, one of the guys I had dinner with the night before, won the race!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

12 November - Race Numbers

Another nice day--relaxing during the morning and catching up on some reading. This afternoon it was time to pick up my race bib. I decided to skip the walk down the hill today to save my legs for tomorrow, so I took the bus down to Locarno, walked around for a bit, then got the next bus over toward Tenero. I hopped off a couple stops early just so I could walk around the lake to the Sport Center. Watching crews set up for a marathon is exciting to me--I love to see how other races do things. Whoever is organizing this one has a great team working. On one of the sports fields right near the marathon course they were playing American football--they were even yelling in English "PASS" "TIME OUT"... Seemed familiar, yet strangely out of place. I managed to meet the Race Director, Pier Paoni, and through an interpreter had a short conversation. I stayed around the race site for a little while, but the expo was pretty small--only a small "running store" vendor and a shoe company. Then I heard someone close to me saying, "So I'll pick you up at about 7:15 then." Hey, wait a minute! I understood that! A group from the American School in Lugano were there. They're all running the half tomorrow. We had a nice conversation before heading off in different directions. On the bus back, I overheard someone getting on if the bus went to Brione. He also mentioned the Hotel Della Valle. Another marathon runner staying at my hotel. He and his friend came up here with me. Another English-speaking couple were checking in as we came through the lobby. So we have a nice group of runners staying here now. And some people who speak English too! We're all getting together for dinner in an hour or so. I'm going to pin my race number on my shirt now and get things around for tomorrow. Feeling good. Looking forward to a good run.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday morning, 11-11-11

Nice day yesterday, but still without much conversation.   I got back here and worked for a bit, then went out for a run--15 minutes straight up hill, then 15 minutes back down, which, of course, left me about a half mile from where I started.  The walk back was my cool down.  I'm looking forward to getting home for a couple days and talking to my homeys.  I'm thinking a beer at the Hideout is in order at least once.

I managed to find my way around the bus system and located the Tenero Sports Center.  Wow, what a cool place!
From where I sit here at the Hotel Dellavalle, I can look down over the whole marathon course.  We'll do a loop around the plain area at Tenero, then follow the edge of Lago Maggiore west to Locarno, loop around the plain area there and then back to Tenero to start all over again.  The double loop course has very little elevation change, and is at roughly the same elevation as Grand Rapids, so I should be right in my element.

The day I arrived, it was raining most of the day, but since then it's been nothing but nice weather.  Sunshine, mountains, palm trees.  What a beautiful place this is.

The time difference here is 6 hours.  It's mid-morning here.  Most of you back home are still snoozing.  Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

9 November 2011 - Exploring Locarno

OK, I'm pretty well rested after hanging out in bed for WAY too much time, so today was a nice day to get a few miles (kilometers) on the legs.  I'm staying at the Hotel Dellavalle in Brione, which is WAY up the hill from Locarno.  There's a great view right outside my window down onto Lago (Lake) Maggiore.  The owner here tells me that the bus stops only about 300 meters down the street from here, but I decided to try and find my way down to the lake on foot.  Nice move!

The streets here are a series of switch-backs to allow cars to get up and down.  Houses and buildings are all built very close together, lots of stonework and tile roofs, both old and new.  Only a few meters from the hotel I found a stairway leading downhill and decided to try it.  As I continued downward, I discovered a whole new "road" system for pedestrians.  A network of stone stairways work all the way down the mountain to the lake.  So, I explored my way through the stone buildings, vineyards, old churches and interesting buildings all the way down.  After about 40 minutes or so, I was at the lake, actually walking along the path which is part of the marathon route this coming Sunday.

I turned right toward Locarno and enjoyed the balmy fall morning walking along the lake on the Via Alla Riva.  Small boats were moored and covered, scattered along the shore a few feet out in the water.  It was a very relaxing time.

Few people speak much English here.  No reason to.  Nobody understands it anyway.  Still, fortunately, a guy can get a beer pretty handily.  I ventured into a couple shops, and the shop owners were very friendly, but we had a hard time carrying on any meaningful conversation.  I stopped and picked up one of the marathon brochures at the Information Center so I had something that I could pull out of my pocket and point to so people would know what I was in town for.

Figuring that I'd be here almost a week, I may as well get a bus pass so I can get up and down a little faster.  The lady at the bus station was the first person all day who spoke English, so I was able to get the pass and find out when the next bus was leaving.  It would be about a half hour, so I decided to venture up the hill for a while on my own.  I could always find a bus stop along the way.

And that was another nice move.  Past more old buildings, through grotto-like passageways as I worked my way up the mountain.  It only took about 55 minutes to get all the way back up to the hotel.  As I passed the church, I found what looked like a nice little group of restaurant & bar type places.  After working for a bit I headed back there for dinner.

It's a friendly place, Brione.  A small village of about 600 people looking down on Locarno.  I sat at the bar for a beer but after placing my food order, the lady escorted me to a table and had me sit with a very nice older couple, Margaret and Livio Gaudens.  Margaret didn't give herself much credit for knowing English--she learned most of what she knows from TV--but we all had a great conversation and got to know each other.  They are originally from farther north in Switzerland, where the language is German, and they were actually on their way home from Italian lessons.  It was delightful to have someone I could talk to.  Since we're living in the same neighborhood for the week, I hope to see them again.

No running today, but I figure I put at least 10 miles on my legs, with some pretty substantial hill climbing.  Tomorrow I'll get out and run a few miles just to loosen up.  For now, time to kick back and read for a while.

And, now a word from our sponsors....

Let me just give a shout out to a couple sponsors who are helping in part with this adventure:

Gazelle Sports -- THE place to get running gear, they're the place to go for lots of quality stuff -- Saucony, Brooks, Hokas (interesting running shoes, I might add), Patagonia, and many other great brands.

Michigan Runner and The Running Network -- Art set me up with a camera and a bunch of video tapes, and while I'm pretty much a rookie at being a videographer, I'm sure he's skillful enough to edit my stuff into something useful.  You can follow the videos on Michigan Runner TV

And most importantly, while you're doing your year-end tax planning:

I'm pretty lucky to have legs that allow me to do what I do.  Not everyone is.  That's why I work with Alternatives in Motion, a local charity in Grand Rapids that provides wheelchairs to those who can't get them through normal health insurance avenues.  Every year, we help over 100 people with power wheel chairs and other means of mobility.  If you have use wheel chairs, power or manual, or would like to consider making a donation, please check us out at  All donations go directly to our mission--no middle-men!

Arrived in Switzerland - 9 November 2011

The Grand Rapids Press published a nice article about me on Sunday.  Somebody tear out a copy and save it for me, will you?  :-)

Monday was goofing off around J'burg on the way to the airport.  I got to the airport quite early, but at least then I didn't have to be concerned about getting there on time.

On the overnight flight to Zurich I didn't sleep much, but managed a bit of a nap at the airport and then on the short flight to Lugano.  Lugano is in the Ticino region of Switzerland, very close to Italy.  It's a very small airport, in fact, it was the first time I've been on a prop plane in quite a while.  I walked out of the terminal following a sign that said "to Trains" and found the shuttle.  Good thing I didn't try and walk to the train--it was about a 10 minute ride.  

Sometimes when I'm feeling a little unsure of things, I think of when Paul, Brent, and I landed in South Korea in 2007.  Paul said, "I say we just throw ourselves into the public transportation system and see what happens."  So, here I was, in a country where I don't speak the language, "throwing myself" into the public transportation system.  Actually, it went pretty well.

All the signs are in  Italian here, so I finally gave up and walked inside to buy a train ticket to Locarno, where I'm staying.  After only one change of trains, I arrived.  

It was a typical fall day, overcast and rainy, so I pulled out my rain jacket and set out to find some tourist info and some food.  The tourist info was at the casino, about 400 meters from the bus station, so now I'm armed with a local map.  I also found a hotel with piatto del giorno (plate of the day) that looked pretty good, and stopped in for a lunch and a beer.  Roast beef, carrots, and polenta.  OK, two beers.

Locarno is located on Lago Magiore, just a short distance from the Italian border.  The main shopping district is along the lakeshore, and fairly flat.  The Hotel Dellavalle Brione, where I'm staying, is WAY up the hill.  I took a taxi up here and checked in.  Found out there's actually a bus that runs every half-hour, so I'll use the cheaper option from now on.  

I spent the rest of the day pretty much resting and reading, and catching up on a little of the sleep-deprived flight experience.  Heading down for breakfast at 8:00.

A couple items:  The Swiss Franc is worth about $1.12.  Stuff is EXPENSIVE here.  
The bus service is Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi, which is referred to as Fart.  Apparently they didn't consult any English speaking people before coming up with that.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Soweto Marathon, 6 November 2011. The clock starts!

Beautiful, cool but not cold morning here in South Africa for the Soweto Marathon. The morning started well, nice and relaxed until I got to the race site--and discovered I had left my race number in my room!  After a rather stressful few minutes, I talked to a race official who told me they would have to write it down when I finished.  Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea that my friend Jan would be working with the timers at the finish, so I probably wouldn't have any problem.

Something I didn't realize until after the race is that the altitude here is around 5000 feet.  That might explain why I felt like I was breathing a little harder all day.  I figure I'm in shape for about a 4:50 marathon.  I'd be dissapointed with what actually happened if I were subject that sort of thing:-)  Actually, it was a nice day on a course with LOTS of hills.  We started out from just outside Nasrec Stadium, and headed for downtown Soweto.

Soweto is a study in contrasts--many "tin shacks" can be seen in some areas, interspered with brick houses.  The average house of the working person in the area is only around 300 - 500 square feet.  Many of them have little tin shacks in the back yard where relatives might be living.  There are lots of small, roadside stands--some enclosed, some not--selling varieties of fruits, vegetables, drinks.  "Shade tree mechanics" are actually businesses here, where the sign will advertise mechanic services right out in the open.

Big businesses that we're familiar with are everywhere too--telephone companies, factories.  Toyota sponsored the course marshalls who were using their flags.

We continued roughly counter-clockwise around the city, going through the downtown area and past the houses of Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.  Once in a while we could see runners FAR off in the distance when we were at the top of a big climb.  Aid stations were well stocked with Pepsi, Energade, and water.  The Energade and water here come in small plastic bags.  You bite the end of the bag and squirt it into your mouth to drink--makes drinking on the run pretty easy.  Frequently I'd hear "POP" noises as people or cars ran over bags that were full or partially full.

The hills were relentless, and after hitting the 38K mark, only 4K to go, we turned left and saw the most daunting hill of the day.  It was continuous climbing all the way to the 39K mark.  It was also the first time I decided to walk all day--my slowest K of the day.  3K to go and it was fairly flat the rest of the way in, as we entered known territory, retracing the steps of the first 3K.  Finally, we turned toward the stadium, and as I approached 42K, my good friend Scot McIvor (who is MUCH faster than me) was on his way to his car and handed me the beer he was less than halfway done with and ran along with me for a few steps.  It was great to see a familiar face late in the game.  I turned into the stadium area for the last couple hundred meters, circling the outside of the field then down onto the field to the FINISH LINE, crossing at 5:36:50.

I worked my way through the chute, without my number, and sure enough, there was Jan.  I yelled at him and told him I forgot my number, and by the time I got to the person recording the finishes, he was there, giving her my bib number.  All that stress before the race turns out was pretty unnessary.

OK, I need pictures, and wanted to do a little video, so I headed back and got my number and then went back to the race site.  It was great to be done, feeling good, and getting a little rest.  Everyone I knew, old friends and new, were headed out right away, so I came back, got cleaned up, and got a great steak and salad at Spur Steak Ranches.  A large fillet, two beers, and a salad is less than $20 there.  Not bad!

Marathon #1 of seven is in the books.  Next week in Switzerland.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Time to Dream

It's critical time for everybody--the time you get away from every day life and figure out where you want life to go.  Than's one of the things I like most about travel--it's a lot of down time with none of my day-to-day stuff to deal with.  It's a time to look at the next year or so and figure out what you want to accomplish.  Sitting at dinner this afternoon, I had a chance to just write in my notebook some of the thoughts for the next year--places to go, things to accomplish.  I love this stuff!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

In less than six hours now, the clock will start and the record will be in progress.  No telling what will happen between now and then, but I'm feeling pretty good right now.  We've had great weather here in Soweto, and it's looking like a great day for a run tomorrow.

Yesterday was a lazy day--it felt good, after constant motion for the last 3 months.  After a short run, I headed out to find the race venue and ended up driving around the Soweto area for quite a while before getting there.  After picking up my number and shirt, I stopped back by the registration table and found my old friends,
Jan and Irene vanEeden.  In 2007, I stayed with them in Port Elizabeth when I ran there.  They're here to do the timing for this race.

Last night was also a good time to catch up on some reading while a big thunderstorm blew over.  Then I walked down to the corner for some supper and picked up a six-pack of Castle Milk Stout, and hung out in the lobby working on my computer and enjoying a couple of beers.  There is a group of runners from Port Elizabeth staying here at the hotel, and when they came in Lenneth and Vernon both stopped and had a beer with me.

Today was a great tour of Johannesburg and Soweto via mini-bus with three other guys.  Very educational.  The country of South Africa has undergone MANY changes just in my lifetime--from the eviction of all the blacks from J'berg into the SOuth WEst TOwnship (SOWETO), to the end of Apartheid, now the people of South Africa are enjoying more freedom and education than ever before.  People here seem to want to advance themselves even more, treasuring education and hard work.

The area is also rich in gold reserves and diamonds.  In fact, the big bluff behind Nasrec Center is actually the processed tailings from the gold mines that has been piled up over the decades.  From a distance it looks like a mountain.

Relaxing tonight, getting up about 4:00 a.m. to head down to the race.  Gun time is at 6:00 a.m.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Arrived in South Africa

So far, so good.  Arrived in South Africa at Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, rented a car and drove into town.  People drive on the left here, and when I opened the drivers side door, I found that there was no steering wheel--it's on the other side too.  So, people can tell when I want to turn because the windshield wipers turn on.  Freakin' Americans anyway.  :-)  
Found a nice hotel and a decent meal.  Wine comes in bottles with dinner, so I figured the best thing to do was to give the last part of it to a young couple at the next table so I'd be able to walk back up to my room.  

It's springtime in South Africa.  I'm heading out for a short run this morning to knock a little of the jet-lag out of my system.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Details on the Record Attempt.

Here's the record:

Mr Donald Kern,

Thank you for your application to attempt the record for ‘MARATHON ON EACH CONTINENT - MEN'.

Your proposal is very similar to an existing record that we already monitor. The category that Guinness World Records currently recognises is: Fastest time to complete a marathon on each continent (male).

The current record (current as at the date of this letter) is:
The shortest overall time to complete a marathon on each of the seven continents is 29 days 16 hours 17 minutes by Richard Takata (Canada) from 4 February - 6 March 2007. 

There are those who have run a marathon distance on all seven continents in fewer days, notably my good friend Richard Donovan, who did it in less than six!  The record I'm going for is to run in organized marathons on each of the continents.  Incidentally, Richard Donovan is the organizer of the Antarctic Ice Marathon, which will be my seventh marathon of this attempt.

Here's a sample of what Guinness needs:

1. All marathons must be officially organised and well publicised, in other words
must not be organised specifically for the purpose of this attempt.
2. Guinness World Records should be informed of the planned marathons prior to
the attempt.
3. The official race results from each marathon and one independent witness
statement from each race, stating that the participant completed each race,
must be provided. A hyperlink to the official marathon website’s race results will
be accepted as evidence of the official race results. If the official website does
not publish the race results then a letter from the race organisers stating the
participant’s official time is required.
4. The dates, times and location of each marathon must be included in the
documentation submitted for verification.
5. The time begins from the start of the first marathon and the clock does not stop
until the completion of the final one.
6. For the purposes of this record, the continents on which a marathon must be
completed are: North America (the border is at the Panama Canal); South
America; Europe (includes mainland Britain, i.e. England, Scotland and Wales);
Africa; Asia; Australasia and Antarctica.

Seven Continents, Seven Marathons, Twenty-Four Days

Back in 2007, I made two attempts at setting the world record for running marathons on all seven continents.  The previous record had been 99 days, and I thought 35 days would be almost unbeatable.  Scheduling all those marathons around the Antarctica Marathon was a challenge, and in the end, I blew away the record....only to find that Richard Takata (who I ran 4 marathons with during that time) had finished in just under 30 days while I had two marathons to go yet.  So, no world record.

After about 5 minutes of being aggravated, it occurred to me that maybe I could schedule something later that year around the Antarctic Ice Marathon.  That schedule was even easier--and could be done in 25 days.  Unfortunately, after completing six marathons, we were stuck in Punta Arenas, Chile, for eight additional days, so my second attempt of the year was in 33 days.  No world record.  Oh--the world record for running all seven continents twice?  307 days.  That was me in 2007.  You can read about both attempts at

So, now, after having that stuck in my brain for 4 years, I'm off to try it again.  Here's the plan:

6 November 2011  Soweto, South Africa (Africa)
13 November 2011  Ticino, Switzerland  (Europe)
20 November 2011  Curitiba, Brazil  (South America)
23 November 2011  Fukuchiyama, Japan (Asia)
26 November 2011  Auckland, New Zealand (Oceania)
27 November 2011  Space Coast Marathon, Cocoa, FL, USA  (North America)
30 November 2011  Antarctic Ice Marathon near Union Glacier (Antarctica)

If successful, and everything happens on time, the new world record will be set at approximately 24 days, 12 hours.

I'm writing this from Dulles Airport, where I'm waiting to check in for the flight to South Africa. I'll try and keep up to date with my entries along the way.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Moments That Change Our Lives!

I always get a little nostalgic when the River Bank Run comes around.  Granted, it's only 25K.  Many of us refer to that distance as a "warmup."  But it was only 16 years ago, in 1995, that I experienced that distance for the first time.  Joe Hulsebus, from down the street, had been the guy who told me about the race and got my brain going in that direction. Now, here I was, never having even run 10 miles before. (Not my best training strategy!)  But somewhere out there at the end of Indian Mounds Road, around six miles into the run, I overheard some guys talking about marathon training. (#1) Something in my brain something went "Whoa!"

So, in spite of finishing VERY SLOWLY, I came away from the experience with the belief that training for a marathon that fall was NOT UNREASONABLE!

I made a plan.  After all, I could barely walk, I might as well sit around and think, eh?  I picked Columbus on November 12 as my target.  Originally, I wanted to run Chicago, but had other things going on.

Things were going well as I lengthened my long run a little every couple weeks.  Then Runner's World came and I found out about the Boston Marathon lottery for the 100th in 1996.  (#2)  I sent in my application, hoping to get lucky.

Another month, another Runner's World.  An upside-down article talking about "The Last Marathon" which was held in Antarctica in 1995.  The next one would be in 1997.  (#3)  I called Marathon Tours.  "Where do I send my money?"

My schedule freed up, and now Chicago could work for me. Plus, I had a free place to stay with my short college buddy, Mike Schwartz.  (#4)

Hey.  I guess I was a marathon runner.  Signed up for four marathons before I ran my first one.

The big moment was here in Grand Rapids though, out on Indian Mounds Road, as I was working to finish my first River Bank Run.

There's lots more to the story--but there'll be another newsletter soon.  Or you can go to and read a bunch of my other stories, if you wish.  You never know where this running stuff will take you! (The numbers are what I refer to as "marathon minutes" -- the times that have a way of changing your life in a very short time!)

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Roanoke, Virginia Marathon

It started to just be a marathon in Virginia--check off my third time
in that state, and get a marathon in for April.  I didn't realize what
the day would bring!

I was traveling with Dave Thierjung (one of our GR Marathon Lifetime
Entrants #105) on a weekend road trip.  On the way down, we heard
about all the tornadoes that were happening and the weather map
started looking pretty ominous.  On Saturday morning, we looked out
the window--RAIN.  Nice and steady.  It was going to be a wet day!
The Blue Ridge Marathon is billed as America's Toughest Road Marathon,
while that may just be their opinion, I'm sure they can make a great
argument for it!  The easy first mile was followed by the first hill.
We followed the course basically uphill for quite a while, then turned
onto a 4 mile scenic drive which got even steeper!  Of course, the
downhill was pretty stiff too, and I knew that my quads were going to
be sorry the next day!
It was a 26-mile-long wet t-shirt contest.  (I think I was winning?)
As we started up the next hill I worked my way up it with Nancy
Wentink, who, it turns out is one of our greatest fans!  We had some
fun running up hill and through a park with some beautiful views.  She
went on ahead of me as we headed back down the hill.
Did I mention it was still raining?  Around 18 or 19 we started up
hill again.  Through a beautiful neighborhood and up hill a long way,
I caught up with Brian.  He was doing his 3rd marathon, and it turns
out that he had family only a mile or so away.  We topped the hill and
went down for a bit and there they were.  He sent his brother-in-law
into the house for a couple beers, which helped us make it up the next
hill.  Finally, the turnaround and back down STEEP for a mile or so.
The weather was getting a little worse. Thunder and lightning! Just
before 23 miles, a cop came around the corner with his lights on.  He
pulled up and rolled down the window.  "They're calling it.  There's a
truck around the corner you can get a ride back."  "Thanks."  Like
that's gonna happen.  I went around the corner where another runner
was talking to a guy who had a pickup truck.  "You want a ride?"
"Nope."  The other runner there saw that I was going on, and followed
me down the street.  The rain had turned into a downpour.  Only 3 to
go, what the heck.  Brave volunteers were still at the next aid
station, and they were encouraging us to keep going before we got
pulled off the course.  At a couple turns, I could look back and see
my good friend Mary Ritz, plugging right along behind me.

Almost to mile 25, we crossed a bridge on one side, looped down around
under it and back up on the other side.  Rivers were running down the
side of the bridge where the course used to go, so we were up on the
sidewalk.  As I looped under the bridge, a group of runners and
volunteers were waiting for a bus to come get them.  "Maybe you
noticed the weather was bad."  Hmmm... I always enjoy sarcasm late in
a race.  "Yup.  Which way does the course go?" I asked.  One of them
pointed and I went on.  Back across the bridge and a couple turns and
another cop pulled up.  "I can give you a ride or I can give you
directions."  I like this guy.  "I'll take the directions."  Past mile
25.  Down an well-crowned industrial street, with only about 10 feet
of street showing in the middle, a mini-bus approached.  I tried to
motion for them to go over a little bit so I could get through.  They
stopped and opened the door.  "You have to get on the bus sir, you
can't continue." a well-meaning volunteer told me.  "Watch me!" I said
and went off down the street.  Now the streets are barely visible.
Moving over a couple more streets, there was nothing but standing
water as I waded over to the street where the finish line was.  I was
having a blast!  Finally to the Finish Line and I heard the timer
beep!  Hey--you didn't turn the clock off.  Thanks!  Ronny, the race
director was there, so I met him and told him how much I enjoyed it.
Dave had been finished for a while and looked pretty waterlogged.
Mary finished right behind me.  The rain continued for about 15 more
minutes, and the sky suddenly cleared and the sun was out!

For years I've used marathons as a road to adventure.  Guess got what
I paid for last weekend!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

What I did this weekend!

Mike Dixon weathers rain, hills to win the Blue Ridge Marathon

Mike Dixon overtakes defending champ Tim Sykes in the last three miles to win the marathon in 2:41.27.

As seen through the rainy window of a pedestrian overpass, a lone runner makes his way down Norfolk Avenue during the Blue Ridge Marathon.
Though he led the Blue Ridge Marathon for most of the race Saturday, Tim Sykes never felt comfortable.
And not because of the hard hills or brutal weather that forced race organizers to eventually call the race with about 100 runners still on the course.
For 23 miles, Sykes had a shadow.
"I noticed that he was always about 30 seconds behind me," Sykes, the defending champion, said of Mike Dixon. "He was stalking me."
Dixon, a 28-year-old from Fanwood, N.J., pounced with about three miles to go in the 26.2-mile race, using the speed he honed as a college track runner and the endurance he's building as a budding marathoner to win relatively comfortably.
"Today it was all about place," said Dixon, whose time of 2:41:27 was about 14 minutes slower than his previous marathon best.
Sykes, who lives in Lexington, ran a 2:42:17. Despite the course being more difficult this year, the time was just 39 seconds slower than his winning time last year.
Blacksburg's George Probst, runner-up last year, was third in 2:54:22.
Nicki Terry of Arlington won the women's race, outdueling Emily McGregor of Tucson, Ariz.
Terry, a 26-year-old who ran for the University of Utah, finished in 3:19:49, more than 10 minutes faster than last year's winning time.
McGregor, also 26 and a former collegiate runner at the University of Arizona, ran 3:25:44.
Rachel Clattenburg of Washington, D.C., was third in 3:38:05.
Terry, who was ninth overall, was beaming after crossing the line.
"It was gorgeous," she said. "I run a lot of courses and this was probably the most beautiful."
The racers didn't seem to mind the weather conditions, at least while running. The rain kept them comfortably cool.
"I wasn't cold at all," McGregor said.
But after the race she huddled under a large propane heater, her lips a shade of blue that matched the ribbon on her finisher's medal.
The weather became a more serious factor about five-and-a-half hours after the 7:30 a.m. starting gun, when lightning was spotted in the area.
Although approximately 100 runners were still on the course, race director Ronnie Angell made the decision to end the race at that point.
"When you have lightning strikes, you have to shut it down," Angell said.
Those who had passed the final aid station were allowed to finish.
When runners farther back reached aid stations they were told the race had been shut down and they were offered rides back to the finish area.
Some accepted the offer, but others plodded on even as streets were flooding as the rain turned from a steady downpour into a deluge.
"I didn't come all this way to let a little rain stop me," Mary Ritz of Wyoming said as she walked briskly toward the finish-line area near the Taubman Museum of Art.
Ritz, 56, has run marathons in 35 states and every continent, and needed to check Virginia off her list.
"I'm stubborn," she said.
Though the race was officially over, the course reopened to traffic and the timing clock removed, many runners elected to finish.
Don Kern of Grand Rapids, Mich., was completing his 213th marathon. He's run at least one marathon 98 months straight.
"People were telling us to quit," said Kern, race director for the Grand Rapids Marathon. "I don't quit."
Kern was one of the last of the 199 official finishers, finishing in 5:45:58.
The race had more than 300 entrants, though there were some no-shows.
All runners, even those who didn't get an official time, got medals.
Angell stayed in the finish area, greeting them just as he did those who had officially finished hours earlier.
Sykes said the altered course made a difference.
"I was more fit coming in to this year's race," he said. "I was confident so I pushed it a little harder."
Unlike last year, when he felt pretty good most of the race, Sykes said his hamstrings started to tighten up during the descent down Prospect Road from the Mill Mountain Star.
"Then we hit Peakwood," Sykes, a physical education professor at VMI, said.
Dixon said he was surprised that Sykes wasn't able to hang on.
"He was so strong going up the hills," said Dixon, who has been ramping up his training and marathon racing in an effort to qualify for the Olympic marathon trial race next winter. "I knew he had won last year, and he looked great."
A hilly marathon was nothing new to McGregor.
Last fall she won Arizona's Mount Lemmon Marathon, and accepted an invitation to run in Roanoke to compare the events.
Immediately after Saturday's race she wasn't ready to give a nod to either event.
"I definitely had to stop more on this one," said McGregor, who took a few short stretching breaks. "I felt like if I didn't my hamstrings were going to lock up."
She said Terry pulled away on the downhills.
"She was just so smooth," she said. "We'd get down one and I'd look at her and think, 'Dude, how did you get all the way up there?' "
Ed Dickenson, 47, of Roanoke was the top male master, finishing fourth overall in 2:57:19.
The top women's master was Beni Thompson, 40, of Roanoke. She finished in 4:02:08.
In the half marathon, which had 368 finishers, Sarah Glenn of Roanoke was the top woman. Her time of 1:32:55 was good for sixth overall.
Andrew Kirk of Spotsylvania won the men's race in 1:24:25.