Saturday, December 6, 2008

Beirut Champions

The morning was slightly chilly, but a clear sky stretched well beyond the Corniche out into the Mediterranean. It was a perfect running day.

We got up early - 5AM to be at the start line by 6.10. The race started at 7AM. I was nervous. So was Paola. Ever since she declared that she would run the marathon two days before, her heartbeat was a bit irregular. I know the feeling, I just did my first marathon a month ago in New York. I was nervous too.

But in Beirut I couldn't sleep again, tossing and turning in bed all night. I kept having to go to the bathroom. The three liters of water before bed kept me on 30m toilet run cycles. I usually don't drink much water so the overdose was probably a shock to my bladder.

Paola kept insisting that she'd run the full race. I thought OK, run half and you'll do great. The gun went off at exactly 7.00. It surprised me, the punctuality. There were only a couple hundred of us at the marathon start line, and only half looked in shape to finish a marathon. The others I thought would fit better in Sumo wrestling. We got off to a slow start. I was running with Paola the first 5KM. I wanted to be with her at the start of her first race. Besides, we were running as the ISS Team and under the "Beirut 4 Sam" slogan. We were a team.

The course was OK. I got all into it when we were running through the neighborhoods of Beirut. At some point we crossed a Hezbollah stronghold - a notable difference in ambiance from the skimpy and sexy Hamra and Downtown areas. There were also some terrible parts along the way. I hated running along the highway and in the industrial area. The air was bad and it made it hard to breath, but I suppose that was a price worth paying for a flatter course. The course also repeated itself in some parts, so we had a chance to see the professional runners from up close. Unbelievable. I think I was still on KM 23 when the first professional runner passed me. He was on KM 39!, only 3KM away from the finish line. The speed at which he was running was astonishing. His legs were moving fast, his strides were long. I must have looked like a turtle next to him. It is hard not to admire them, their stamina, their focus, perseverance, and mental control of the physical pain.

It is also hard not to admire Paola's accomplishment. I made it to the finish line in good time. 3h47min. It was slower than what I ran in New York, but I started off slower, and I felt a lot better throughout the race. I felt exceptionally good in the middle - from KM 10 to 38. My speed was good, up from how I started, and I was passing people. I hit a wall at KM 39, but it didn't last very long. I was off pace in the end for one KM, but recovered at KM 40 and finished well. My stomach was also OK in Beirut, and thank God for it.

When I got to the finish line I started looking for Paola. I went to the bag drop off/pick-up area and our stuff was still there. She was still running. I couldn't believe it. She's crazy I thought, for running the full marathon. Paola's been running a lot over the last 6 months, and in November she was putting in 10 mile runs without a problem. But I didn't think she had a marathon in her legs. I sat myself at the finish line and waited for her, camera in hand. She finally appeared in the distance, 4h.40min of pain, but what a glorious finish.

Check it out, there she is in the picture above, the real Beirut Champion!

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