This is Part II of my daily blog post recounting the World Marathon Challenge. Marathon #4 was in Dubai, but before you read about the details of our race in Dubai, please make sure you’ve read Part I of today’s blog and the feature on Bret Parker, one of the amazing participants of this year’s Challenge. His story is remarkable and inspirational, so I’d encourage your reading that before reading Part II, which is the more race-focused part of today’s two-part post.
We experienced the most grand of entrances when we arrived at the Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates. In fact, once we landed we were immediately taken to the JetEx VIP terminal. One word describes this private terminal: opulence.
So instead of me trying to describe it, I’m a firm believer that pictures are worth a thousand words. Check out the photo gallery below that should give you a visual of what we experienced flying in and out of Dubai for marathon #4.
We arrived late into Dubai and even later into the Westin hotel downtown. We were given 30 minutes to get upstairs, change and meet back in the lobby. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. My stomach was twisting and turning and I couldn’t take care of business before we hopped on the bus to the starting line. My situation was made worse when we drove around for an extra 45 minutes trying to find the starting line! When you start to circle the same shops and restaurants along the Dubai boardwalk numerous times in two full-size tour buses circle, you begin to wonder if anyone knows where they are going. It’s after 10pm on a Friday night, so you’re starting to do the mental math of, “so if we start at 10:30pm and we run a 4:15 marathon, we should be done by 2:45am, back to the hotel by 3:15am, maybe asleep by 4:00am and then up at 6:00am…” Ouch.
After maneuvering two tour buses through the narrow streets along the boardwalk we finally arrived at the starting line at Kite Beach. The course would take us on a relatively straight stretch along the beach running on either a Trex boardwalk or a slick, slightly spongy, pavement that paralleled each other. We ran from Kite Beach toward Jumeirah Beach, and back. Most of us started on the pavement, but quickly moved to the Trex boardwalk as the pavement got slick as the evening mist off the Persian Gulf rolled in.
A few additional facts about the course and conditions:
Course: 2.62-mile “out and back” along the Persian Gulf on pavement or Trex depending on your preference (10 times)
Conditions: Clear night. 65 degrees, no significant wind.
Aid stations: One aid station at the start/finish line and one aid station at the turnaround. Both aid stations had coke and chips, which ended up being critical for me this race.
As for the “scenery” late on a Friday night on the Dubai boardwalk, it was quite different than anything else we had seen running in Antarctica, Cape Town or Perth. In terms of dress, we saw several men wearing Kanduras (ankle-length, loose-fitting, white robes) and women wearing Burqas (long, loose body-length covering) and Gishwas (veils that cover most of their face). We also saw several casually-dressed men and women in the adjacent parking lots with rows and rows of muscle cars and touring motorcycles that were both revved up repeatedly and ofen spun out in the parking lot.
Yes, it looked like the local 7-eleven on a Friday night in the mid-80s filled with every high schooler that had a muscle car, hot rod or anything with 4 wheels they thought was fast and furious. It was quite a scene.
If you were under the notion that there isn’t any, or much, drinking in Dubai, you would be wrong. There was plenty of drinking. The only thing missing were paper bags to cover their tall boys or 40s. Again, it was a scene.
WARNING: Don’t read the next 2 paragraphs if you’re not interested in some of the invariable grossness that happens in ultras and multi-day stage races. That said, it’s pretty funny. If you’re not interested, skip the next two paragraphs and read my final thoughts on Dubai.
When we weren’t taking in the scenes, we were focused on the reality that we were running our 4th marathon in 4 days on 4 different continents and my stomach was beginning to protest. At one point, I bolted off the course and into one of the public restrooms. It was just like any public restroom you would find along any beach. I rushed into the stall, slammed the door and my bowels exploded and exploded again. It was bad. Really bad. I finished my business and… no toilet paper. None. I opened up the stall door to see if there were any paper towels. None. I looked around to see if there was anything I could use. Nothing. I pulled up my pants and walked out the door to see if I can find anything else and noticed a rag the janitor had left on his cleaning cart. That was it. Only a rag. I felt terrible for doing it, but what else was I going to do? So I grabbed his rag, wiped myself, through it in the trash and sprinted out of the restroom and up the course to catch up to Andrew. I felt mildly ashamed, but I did what I had to do.
I caught up to Andrew, told him my story, we both laughed, it hurt and we kept on going. My stomach kept twisting and turning in knots. It was painful, but we kept running. Andrew wasn’t operating at peak performance either. But we continued to gut it out. A few miles later, my stomach erupted again and I had to bolt into the same (and only) public restroom for the second time. This time I picked another stall. Nope. No toilet paper. I looked around, again, no paper towels. Nothing! Absolutely nothing in the only public restroom on the course! My stomach couldn’t take it anymore, so I closed the stall door and once again my bowels erupted and exploded. It was awful. Now what was I going to do? I knew there was nothing to wipe with, so I looked down at the hose that came out of the wall in the stall (remembered the sign outside that sad “No taking baths”) and decided I had no other choice than to hose my backside down while squatting over the toilet. Yep. Add that to the lists of firsts and hopefully lasts.
Meanwhile, Andrew had continued down the course and after what seemed like 15 minutes (but was really closer to 5), I came sprinting out of the restroom, down the boardwalk, feeling more ashamed, but more like a million bucks. I was back in business! I caught up with Andrew, told him what I had done, we howled, it hurt and we continued to gut it out. This was a rough race for both of us to say the least, but we maintained a relatively strong pace (in between bathroom breaks) and ended up with a 4:24, but there was a cost. Andrew’s right quad and knee had begun to hurt the last few miles. He sought out the good doc, Gary, for some ice and I requested a strong antidiarrheal to get everything under control. We finished marathon #4, but we were beginning to show a few cracks. Fortunately, we got 2 hours of sleep in a comfortable Westin bed and then we had an 11-hour flight to Lisbon. Maybe we could catch up on some sleep before Lisbon! Stay tuned.
For those of you that are runners, I wanted to digress a bit about running gear for ultras and multi-stage races. So if you’re not a runner, or have zero interest, please check back tomorrow for my update on marathon #5 in Lisbon. For those of you that are interested, here’s a few thoughts on the importance of selecting the right gear for these types of races.
I don’t endorse or have sponsorships for any of the gear I use or nutrition I take, though my friends at The Ginger People have always been very kind in sending me bags of Gin Gins candies since I lived on them during the Javelina Jundred 100-mile race 2 years ago. That said, I wanted to provide some perspective on how important it is to have reliable gear when you’re running long trail races or multi-day stage races like the World Marathon Challenge. There really is nothing worse than having a problem with your shoes, socks or shorts when you’re trying to focus on getting these races done. It is a grind and the last thing you want are blisters on your feet, or worse, because your shoes have failed or your socks weren’t right or you didn’t use the right anti-chafe salve on your feet. You also don’t want to chafe your thighs and nether regions when you’re going to be running for 7 straight days. Candidly, any of these things can make you miserable or in some cases completely derail your entire event. So two comments:
- The right gear means everything. When you’re going to invest the time to train for a marathon or ultra or multi-day stage race, make sure you really put in the time to dial in the gear that is right for you. It takes effort. It costs a little bit of money. But having the right gear is almost as important as the time you put in to train. There’s no reason to be miserable when you’re competing and there’s definitely no reason to leave yourself open to the chance of not finishing because you didn’t thoroughly test your gear. There’s no need to be a hero or a cheap-skate. There are plenty of great deals out there and plenty of experience and advice to lead you in the right direction for choosing what works for you.
- NorthFace, Altra, Swiftwick and Squirrel’s Nut Butter. I could just thank my friend, and epic ultrarunner, Rob Krar for introducing me to three of these products (NorthFace, Altra and SNB), but it’s never about just taking someone’s recommendation. Candidly, I had to try and train my way into getting to a place where I NEVER have to think about what shoes, socks, shorts and anti-chafe sauve I’m going to use EVERY SINGLE time I go out to run. And now that Rob has his own North Face shoe (Flight RKT), I guess I’ll have to at least buy a pair of those to try them out, too. But my point isn’t to promote these particular brands, it is to remind everyone that it takes time, energy and a little investment to dial in the right equipment that is best for YOU. So don’t take my advice on wearing what I wear, just take the time to figure out what is going to be the “zero factor” (e.g., didn’t even think about it) for your next race or adventure, because that’s what I think you’re looking for when it comes to gear.
Let’s just say I was incredibly thankful that I wasn’t having to think about my gear during the World Marathon Challenge (other than my handheld mishap in Antarctica and you can bet that will never happen again). When we finally started marathon #4 in Dubai, my gear was still a “zero factor,” which was fortunate considering the GI distress I was starting to develop. I couldn’t imagine trying to fight through GI or other physical issues AND deal with shoe, sock or other gear issues.