"La meta es llegar." That is the actual theme for the Arequipa Marathon: "The goal is to finish." Isn't that always the goal of a race? But since the Arequipa Marathon has a finish rate of about 10%, it is especially true. This is my third time I've run the Arequipa Marathon, but the first time I've finished.
The first year, I planned on using it as a training run, so didn't plan on running more than half. Last year, I went in quite undertrained and made it just over 29K of the 42K distance before leg cramps convinced me I had better things to do with my day. This year I was well-trained. I had to be. I was begging donations for SIM's children's camp if I finished and $690.40 had already been sent in! I'd run all of the course several times (though not all at once!) and knew all the hills and turns and how hard it was. Amy and the kids were going to 'crew' me during the race, giving me Gatorade or honey packets along the way, a necessity, since the race only provided water at each 5K location. From a physiology point of view, one needs more than just water after losing so much fluid in sweat and respiration, which I estimated at around 7.0 liters during the race. Since nary a cloud was in the sky, I knew today was going to be a scorcher.
We arrived at the race (8170 feet above sea level) at around 7:30, 30 minutes before the start. I had petitioned that the race start at 6 or 7 am, and rumors started circulating that my plea had been accepted, but later I found out that they were just rumors. "We've always started at 8 am, they told me." Paul was running the 4.5 K race for kids and lined up in his corral behind the marathoners, while Morgan (an Aussie missionary who just planned on running 10-20K as a training run) and I lined up for the marathon (below with neighbor/ friend Manuel). There were rumors that a Kenyan had signed up to try to win the $3600 first prize, but again just rumors. A friend carrying a clipboard with all of the registered runners confirmed there were no Kenyans on the list of 240 entrants.
I started my GPS watch around 7:50, early enough to be sure to find the satellites, but late enough so that it wouldn't automatically shut off to save battery power before the race began. I looked around. Morgan and I were the only white guys. There was one woman. Most looked 20-35 years old. I didn't see anyone else with a fuel belt (I loaded mine with a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade and honey packets) I ripped out the holes that I had previously cut into my required race shirt to improve ventilation. Good thing I started my GPS with plenty of time, as the race started 3 minutes early! We were off. Finally, what I'd been training for for the last two months was playing out.
During my training runs I calculated that a heart rate between 120 and 127 would be a good work level to maintain. I found that on the initial downhill portion during training it was hard to keep my HR above 120, but within a km my HR jumped up to the 135-range and I felt comfortable, so I decided it was best to not let gadgets trump how I felt. Glad I did. My first km went by in about 4:30, which was on pace what I ran during training runs. Lots of people passed me early on, but surprisingly, many were already walking after 2 to 3 km. What are they doing? Why are they here? The free shirt? At the 4K point, Gonzalo, a friend from the swimming pool passed me. I wanted to keep up with him, but I told myself, "Run your own race. You'll catch him later." Lots of people passed me in the first 11.6K, the point where my first crew team was waiting for me. I arrived about 5 minutes earlier than predicted. Ben and Sarah were there and switched out my empty Gatorade bottle and gave me a couple of packets of honey. I would see them again in 10 more km at our next refueling point. I decided to see if I could pass 10 people before I saw them again. Initially, things went the opposite direction, 3 people passed me! But they all were looking a bit spent for this early in the race and soon I had passed 2 of them back. Oswaldo, the third, disappeared ahead of me. By 17K there were people walking. They hadn't gotten past the downhill yet! At about 18K, we reached the bottom of the course, at 6983 feet above sea level. As soon as we turned and started heading uphill I was continually passing people. I felt like I was persistence hunting the other runners, slowly but surely overcoming them as they gave in to dehydration and exhaustion. At 21K, when I saw Sarah and Ben again, I had passed 24 people, and none but Oswaldo had passed me and stayed ahead. Ben and Sarah slathered another layer of sunscreen on me and refueled me as I continued forward. I was about 8 minutes ahead of schedule. 3K later I passed Oswaldo, who gave me a bit of a 'how is this possible?' look. Sorry youngster! At 25K I caught up with Gonzalo who was walking. I offered him some water, but he said he had some "up ahead". It turned out his wife and kids were waiting with Amy, Paul and Mia with drinks. (Paul had finished his race, which turned out to be only 2 or so Km. He had paced himself for 4.5, so was very disappointed to see the finish line appearing when he still had so much energy.)
But Gonzalo had had enough and I never saw him again after we refueled. I had now passed 51 people. Almost no one remained on the course, victims of dehydration. By 30K I was basically alone. I walked the steep hills. I think I was faster walking than running. There was one more runner near me who would leapfrog past me and then I would slowly catch up and pass him. After 31K he gave up. At 32K Ben and Sarah got me a popsicle, which never tasted better, but I had 10K to go and felt like I couldn't run any more. During km 33, I started getting some cramps in my quads and ran a 10-minute km. If I can't get running again I'll not finish in under 5 hours! I walked a bit more and then made a deal with myself to run until I got to Amy, Paul and Mia at 35K. I couldn't see any other runners on the course. The cramps went away (it got slightly less steep) and when I turned the corner I could see a pair of runners ahead. I found I was able to run without stopping and caught up with them, but they took off and moved ahead. I walked a bit more, but my legs weren't cramping, so I asked myself, possibly audibly, "Why are you walking? You don't have cramps. Of course, you're tired, but get to work!" By 39K I reached the highest point of the race, 8538 feet.
It wasn't downhill yet, but at least it wasn't uphill any more. I approached an intersection and I looked around. I thought I was supposed to turn here, but there was no one with an arrow sign. A woman on the corner said, "That way!" I knew that if she was wrong I could still find my way back to the course, so I turned and saw another runner a couple of blocks ahead. After a few more blocks I started the downhill. At the 40K point I hoped to get some water, but there wasn't anyone manning the water station any more! Just plastic bags littered everywhere! I still had some Gatorade in one of my bottles, but the thought of drinking it made me nauseous. I started to flow down the hill and soon caught the runner in front of me (the 58th one I caught), but the two I nearly caught 30 minutes before stayed out of reach. I finally reached the stadium and I finished in front of the bleachers during the awards ceremony. They had taken down the inflatable finish line, so I didn't know where to stop. When I finally stopped, my watch said 4 hours, 47 minutes 7 seconds. (The winner incredibly finished in 2 hours 30 minutes!) I found some water and got a post-race massage, which I didn't enjoy at all. It wasn't really a massage, but rather more of a stretching session by some masochist named Hugo. I asked someone in the tent, "Where can I find out what place I finished?" "I think you were about 23rd." I have a tough time believing him (I'd guess around 40-50th), but if only 10% finish, I guess that's about right. Shortly after I arrived, they finished the awards ceremony and starting tearing down all the equipment. I guess that those that finished in 5 hours were out of luck?
I asked one more question: "Where do I get my finisher's medal?" "We don't have medals this year." Usually, I don't care if I get a medal, but since fewer people have finished this race than have finished the Western States 100-mile endurance run, I kind of wanted some proof besides my Garmin maps.
Afterwards, I was so dehydrated I felt nauseated and couldn't drive home. Amy forced a Gatorade in my hand and made me drink it. After an hour or two I started feeling okay, but I still couldn't eat anything until about 4 pm.
Thanks to my crew. They were flawless in their execution. I truly couldn't have done it without them. I know that by looking at the 58 other runners I passed, most of whom didn't make it. I love you all very much.