Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Space Marathon-A Devil of a race

Of the 70,000 prisoners sent to Devil’s Island, 50,000 of them died. And I expected to run a fast marathon there?

To be fair, I wasn’t actually running on Devil’s Island made famous by the book Papillion. Instead I was running on Kourou the French Guiana mainland town where you can take boat trips out to the Islands.  But I was expecting to run a fast marathon and did not.

So I left off last heading to bed in my nice Airbnb digs. I woke up the next morning to a delicious breakfast made especially for me and after a relaxing morning, I said my tchaus and headed out. 

Packet pick-up wasn’t until 4:30 and that’s when I would be able to get the keys to the apartment that the race director said I could stay. As it was only 9a I had the day to explore. I went down to the ocean again and after a bit of a walk, decided to hang up my hammock and read. Luckily I did so under a carbet since it soon thereafter starting pouring out. And even being under one I was getting fairly soaked because the wind was blowing so strongly the rain was horizontal. But I had my pack cover on my bag and my waterproofs on so I was snug as a bug. My book, The Celebration, got the worst of it-losing its cover and first 50 pages by the end of the day.

I had bought more French cheese and baguette and just relaxed the day away before going to packet pick-up. I arrived and was handed #5 and I was thinking: Well I better finish top 5 but I’m hoping for top 3.

NOTE: I have never had a good race when I think I will or am cocky and this was no exception.

I met the race director who told me I had a roommate and he introduced me to Guitimo, who I had already known as I had raced with him at the Suriname marathon where I faded to a walk while he went on to win it. It looked like we’d be sharing the apartment. Which was nothing to worry about as the place was huge, had two bedrooms, a separate shower from the bathroom and a washing machine(more on that later). He and I settled in for the night, each doing our own night-before the race rituals.

I had, by now several days of dirty clothes, and since there was a washing machine-a rarity in Guyana- I took advantage. I ran my stuff through only to find when I went to get them out, that they had disappeared. Now I’m sure they’re in there somewhere but I cannot figure out how to get them out(it’s an efficiency machine and has a metal thing that washing it-it’s hard to explain if you don’t know what they look like). He and I tried for about a half hour before giving up. It reminded me of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson in Zoolander trying to get the files out of the computer.

I headed to bed a little later than I wanted but not terribly late and slept pretty well. After a small breakfast(not wanting a repeat of Trinidad Marathon), I was ready to run. The kind people who let us stay at their apartment, also picked us up and drove us to the race start. After a brief warm-up, the race began.

From the first kilometer, I felt off. My legs weren’t peppy, my stomach uncomfortable, and couldn’t pick it up when the others did. I went through the first 5k in 21:05 and the next 5k in 21:21 and knew I was in for some trouble today. Already by then, I had revised my goal for the day. Place top 3 had quickly been downgraded to stay steady and maintain this pace. My legs and breathing were relaxed and I had no issues with that but I just couldn’t make myself go faster. I went through the half in 1:32 so did, for the most part, maintain that pace, but the wheels soon fell off.

If I ever do another race in French Guiana, I will know but having had no experience I was not aware of a small but crucial difference between there and anywhere else I have raced. And that is: cyclist support.  Guiaimo and I were the only two in the top 15 without an individual cyclist carrying water, gels and Gatorade. Therefore we relied on the infrequent and inadequately staffed water stops which, as the name implies, only had water.

Which got me through 13.1 miles but wasn’t going to suffice for  the next 13.1. I started getting light-headed and had to slow even further down. Every water stop I got to, I stopped, drank a bottle, poured a bottle over my head, and carried a third with me. Within minutes I would be thirsty again. At some point during dehydration, water just doesn’t even feel relieving. By mile 18, I was doing more walking than running and I crossed the line in 3:30:05 having given up 8 spots over the last five miles. I am definitely disappointed with my performance and my cockiness leading into the race. That was probably my last opportunity to race in South America(at least this year) and I should have pushed myself harder. The trouble is sometimes, that you look for(and always can find) excuses to slow down. Trust me it never feels good afterward though.

The positive is, now that I am rehydrated I feel great, physically. Not a single ache or pain. Other than that niggling in the back of my head of frustration in my lack of preparation of the intricacies of the race that cost me(and Guiamo who had an almost equally poor performance) the ability to perform up to the level of our training.

We hurriedly headed back to our apartment where we hung out for the rest of day before our awesome hostess and her nephew, Mark, treated us to a nice Crepe dinner and a tour of the rest of Kourou.

Side Note: If you were wondering why the marathon was called Marathon de LeSpace it because, in addition to Devil’s Island, Kourou is also the site where Europe launches most of its satellite into orbit. We ran right by the launch site, and museum, during marathon.

Oh and it was not hilly at all. I cannot for an instant blame my poor performance on the hills. Maybe wind, and definitely dehydration, but not hills. Actually on another day with a bike pacer and that course could be a PR course. The whole race was well run(not literally by me)- the organization was phenomenal, every one was so friendly and a good amount of spectator support for a small marathon. If I wasn't down on myself during the race, I would have had a blast. Sometimes you can't get out of your own way.

Well that's over. And to show just how amazing this place is, the race director organized for me and a few of the other non-local racers a trip to Iles De Salut.

So tomorrow we head to the Devil’s Island but I’ll save that tale for another day.

Until next time,


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