Monday, June 8, 2009

The 15k in Quito, Over 9,000 Feet

We wanted to take it easy on Saturday night, the night before the big race, so we decided to go bowling with a bunch of other friends. When we got there though, we discovered that draft beer was only $1.60 and they came with little sandwiches. This was too much to ignore, and all of the guys started buying rounds. By the end of the night we'd had 5 rounds, as well as a couple of extra sandwiches here and there. We said our goodbyes and went home to rest up.

I was staying with my friend Amy, a volunteer in Quito who lives about 8 blocks from the finish line, which was in the national soccer stadium. Our friend Ricardo was also staying there, and when we got home around 11:30 we started making pasta and tuna fish sauce to carbo load. I'm not a runner, so I can't say I really understand it, but since my friends are big time runners, I just followed their lead.

We woke up around 6:30 am and started preparing. I ate a banana, put Vasoline where I needed it, put sun block on my face, and donned the complimentary t-shirt we all got. I even had a $1 hat to help against the sun. It was cold outside, but we knew we'd soon be hot enough. We started taking a bus towards the starting line, but the bus stopped service after just a few blocks. We jumped in a taxi with another runner and went to the start. Along the ride, which took over 10 minutes, I could see just how far away we were going. To parts of Quito I'd never even seen, we were really getting out there.

The taxi dropped us off as close as he could and we ran the last kilometer to where everyone else was congregating. Runners from all over were stretching, jogging, and jumping around. There was excitement in the air and it gave me a rush just to be a part of it. Taking last minute pees in the bushes (Amy in a restaurant), we went to the starting line. We were afraid we wouldn't find our other friends, but since there were only a handful of blonds there, we were reunited. Five other friends found us and we joked around and got loose as 8:30 passed and the race got under way.

I was told that over 10,000 people ran in this race, and I believe it. We couldn't even start running until about 8:40 because of the delay from the starting line. With the first decline I could saw a sea of brightly colored, bobbing heads stretching beyond the horizon. Ricardo and Amy took off immediately, trying to get the best time possible, while the rest of us went at a slower pace. The first couple of kilometers were spent mostly dodging people and trying to find a rhythm. They seemed longer than they should have, but suddenly the 3rd kilometer came out of no where. With thousands of people lined up against the streets, it was encouraging and thrilling.

My friends Kristine and Debby caught up to me, and for the next few kilometers we ran side by side. I've never run in a race in the United States, or outside of Ecuador for that matter, but I have to wonder about the organization of this race. From time to time people who were on the sides would run through the route and dodge people to get to the other side. It was like playing human Frogger. This got extremely frustrating when it threw off my stride. There were also people standing in the middle of the road selling drinks and food as we tried to run by. When you need to pass someone on the side but then nearly run into a woman selling something, you can get aggravated. And finally, when we arrived at the first 3 water stations we found that the workers only had sorry looks, having already run out of water. It's as if they only brought 3 water bottles and expected us all to share. I was dehydrated for much of the race.

I got separated from Debby and Kristine after we finally got to a water station with water, because sadly enough the water wasn't already in cups. You had to get a cup, then get it filled, and since I didn't want to slow down, I just took off. Along the route people were handing out little baggies of water or orange soda, which was a surprise to me when I took a gulp as I ran. We passed by parts of the city I'd never seen and parts that I really wished I had gotten to know. These were areas that tourists would never go, but gave a different impression of the city.

Going up hill through the historic center of the city, we went by the presidential palace and tons of cheering supporters. By the 7th kilometer blisters were forming on my feet and I could feel tension in my legs, but I pushed on. At the 1oth kilometer we were finally on flat ground and in a straight away. I'd been consistently passing people (while being passed as well) and suddenly had a burst of energy. I ran harder for a couple of kilometers before feeling tired and slowed down. Those last 5 kilometers were pretty tough, and every time I passed a marker I had to say to myself, "Just 4 more kilometers, just 3 more, just 2 more, suck it up."

I got a third wind at the 13th kilometer but it fizzled out as I saw the stadium up ahead. I kept running but a woman almost took me out as we entered the gate inside. From there on I was just on auto pilot, not even paying attention. Running inside the stadium, there were thousands of people in the stands cheering and as I crossed the finish line, my legs finally stopping pumping and my body rested, seemingly saying to me, "Dude, what the hell was that for?"

I walked around the perimeter trying to figure out how I'd find my friends. We said we'd meet in the north end, but I had no idea which way north was and the mass crowd was moving in one direction. I grabbed a gift bag with a drink and apple, and headed towards the other end. Luckily I saw my friends and met up with them. The whole race I never felt that out of breath, but as I stopped I coughed a little and almost puked. But I kept it together.

One by one the rest of our group showed up, and as we marveled at how many other people we beat, we sat and took some pictures. Outside the stadium we said goodbye one last time. Back at Amy's, we had a celebratory beer, showered, and got some lunch before I had to catch my flight back to Cuenca. Just as we were about to take off there was a problem with the plane and we had to come back and switch planes. Normally, this might have concerned me, but I was so tired and out of it that I didn't even care. I just wanted to get home. Now I can rest up, after my legs and the rest of my body feel like I just got worked over by Tyson in his hay day. And I think 15k is as far as I'm willing to push it. Although, I did just hear that there's a 21k in Boston two days after I get back. Maybe I could show off my high altitude training...Nah.

Above: Photos after the race

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