I've just returned from the Canary Islands and my "Missions Marathon" trip with Athletes in Action. It was a pleasure to escape the cold winter of Indiana in exchange for the varied temperatures of the Canaries. While the morning temps were in the 50s the afternoons easily went to the high 70s depending on where we were located...the Canaries are known for their "micro-climates" and the variation in temperatures and precipitation is vast. While in the islands, our small Athletes in Action team joined up with the Tenerife Running Club and ferried from Tenerife to Gran Canaria for the running of the Gran Canarias Marathon.
Mi Amigo Lawrence
All together we had about 50 persons travelling together (including family members) and while most were running the half marathon or 10K we did have 6 of us running the full marathon. We had a chartered bus take us from the ferry landing to the Hotel Atlanta in downtown Las Palmas. Those who could, checked into their rooms and then we made our way to the Bella Lucia Restaraunt on the main promenade for some serious carbo loading. This was mainly pasta, potatoes and salad (with lots of olives, yum) as well as bread with the local spicy Mojo spread.
Mi Amigo Medina
Mi Amigo Pedro
After that we made our way to the main convention center at the end of the promenade for the runners expo and packet pickup. Matt had signed me up as "Barefoot Dan" so I was once again able to proudly wear my adopted barefoot nickname during the race. We made our way back up the beachfront area and rested at the hotel until dinnertime. Matt and I opted for the "early dinner" which in hind sight may have been a mistake for me. With lunch still only partially digested, here I was shoveling in another round of rice and potatos and this turned out to be the start of my gastro intestinal difficulties (enough said!) over the next 24 hours or so. I did sleep fairly well the night before the race and we rose to a nice breakfast spread set up especially for our team at the hotel. Oh boy, more food! The start time was a leisurely 9am so we made our way to the starting area and did the last minute bag drop.
My buddy Matt
Marathon women's record holder Paula Radcliffe was the voice at the starting line although I never laid eyes on her. The race was very congested in the beginning and I had trouble erasing the 1.5 minute congestion deficit in the early miles. Due to my early gastric difficulty I had an immediate thirst the first 5 miles of the race (not a good sign) and the waterstation seemed forever in getting there. I took as much as I could at the first station (2 bottles) but I think the damage was already done. My goal plan had been to run a new BPR (Barefoot PR) in 3:45 and I did hold that pace though the first 10 miles or so.
But as I had feared, when the wheels fell off this race, they fell off BADLY. As I began to slow up in the second half of the race I began realizing how truly horrible the road surfaces were as well. Most of the course was well worn (and unswept) asphalt with many rock and pieces of debris everywhere. And yes, I had noticed this in the first half, but it was only once the half marathoners left us alone (and the orange cones were pushed to the shoulder) that I truly found myself running out of options and running on what I considered to be just a gravel road through the city! Even though I was slowing, I couldn't force myself to eat any of the 4 gels I was carrying until way too late (1st gel at mile 21!) One saving grace and a source of inspiration for me was the cross emblem on the back of my Athletes in Action team uniform. The cross contains the words of Philippians 3: 12-14 which kept reminding me to "PRESS ON TOWARD THE GOAL" and to keep moving forward.
Cross on Athletes in Action Uniform
And while in my head I never "thought" I was walking, I know any decent race walker could have easily passed me between miles 19-23 as I slowed all the way down to an 18 min/mile pace! I must have looked pretty pathetic. But, at the same time, I must have inspired a few others as well, since several people passed me and touched my back or shoulder on the way by, and whispered a "God Bless You" or similar encouragement. I graciously gave back a "Vaya Con Dios" or a "God Bless You" as they passed, and tried to use their speed and energy to pick my pace back up again. Finally, the last couple miles arrived with the much smoother pavement of the brick promenade and a nice marble accent stripe--great for barefooting! It was beginning to rain, but I continued my favorite breath prayer, Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I fed off the energy of the crowd and picked the pace back up to a semi-respectable 10 minutes per mile...a far cry from my earlier pace of 8:35 but it felt like I was absolutely flying down the bricks as I approached the finish.
As I entered the soft yellow carpet of the home stretch I extended my fingers skyward and gave the credit to the One who got me here and now had gotten me safely to the end of the race. I was absolutely staggering away from the finish line and heard many positive comments afterward, the most poinient being a young lady who came up and asking in broken English about Athletes in Action and then told me that she too had "Run for Jesus" today in her first ever 10K race. In this self described "Post-Christian" area of the world, it was nice to hear a real profession of faith. I shuffled to the bagage area and got into some dry clothes and asked my neighbor to snap the obligatory "feet up" barefoot pose showing little or no damage.
Even though I knew I would be late for the 2:30 PM team lunch, I took time for the free massage and thoroughly enjoyed my massage by Jose as a couple of people came up and asked me about barefoot running. Afterward, I "sandle"d up and limped back to the restaraunt where I felt like I must be the absolute last to arrive. Basilio (aka "the coach") led everyone in a standing ovation and announced my accomplishment as the corredor descalzo (barefoot runner) and then asked for a speech which I (red-faced) immediately declined! Then as several other runners entered, I realized that everyone was applauded (embarrased!) with a standing ovation from the crowd, as everyone put down their forks and beers to applaud their slower compadres. We had a nice long slow lunch, even though I still didn't feel like eating much. After a couple hours we made our way back to the hotel to pick up the rest of our baggage and board the bus for the ferry ride back to Tenerife.
Guanche Warrior...barefoot of course!
I was a little more brave as we walked back to the hotel in a smaller group and loudly declared "Yo Soy Guanche!" to laughs and cheers from several club members walking with me...(the Guanches were the original indigenous barefoot warriors decended from the Berber's which inhabited these islands before the Spanish arrived hundreds of years ago to take over the islands...(and some still of the Guanche descendents still want the Spanish to leave!) We continued trading marathon war stories all the way back to the boat dock in Tenerife. Luckily no one got sick on the boat ride back as the seas were much choppier than they had been on the way over. We said our goodbyes at the ferry terminal although I knew I would be seeing several of them again over the next few days.
The next day was a beach day which was good therapy for the sore feet and ankles. On Tuesday we did a group workout which I used as a recovery run. Afterward, Matt and I took a trip up to Mt. Teide which is the volcanic center of the island. I took the cable car to the top of the crater which offers about a 1 kilometer hike in two different directions. We had clear weather and I was able to see four other islands from the top.
Beach soak for feet - day after marathon
The day after we worked out once again with Basilio and a group of youth race walkers he is coaching to some of the fastest times on the islands. I made it through about 4.5 miles before the facilities manager came and asked me to put on my shoes! Matt explained that the facility insurance did not cover barefooters and I told him no problem, as I've heard the same thing running on tracks back in Indiana. I simply went outside and finished my five miler on the surface streets. This way I got in 5 different surfaces in one workout: rubberized track, astro-turf, natural grass, concrete and asphault!
We finished off the day watching a football (soccer!) match between Barcelona and a local Spain team and eating yet another local favorite, arrepa's, for dinner. An arrepa is a small sandwich in which the "bun" is acually a warm deep fried shell of white corn hominy. I opted for pulled pork and cheese, crabmeat and shrimp as my 3 fillers. I topped it off with a mango and pina (pineapple) smoothie. Delicioso!
New Friends Izzy and Andy from the U.K.
While in the Canary Islands I stayed in a traditional hostel (La Laguna B&B) which allowed me to meet several interesting and unique individuals. One was a university student, Marco, from somewhere around Venice, Italy. He had just arrived in La Laguna to study his last year in the islands. He was a pharmacy technology student and told me he was specializing in a particular Panamanian frog which secreated some special toxin felt to have certain healing properties in humans. Don't hear that every day!
I also met a couple named Andy and Izzy from the U.K. (Brompton, I believe). Izzy was interested in barefooting and had been running in minimalist shoes for quite some time. We talked at length about sports, the shoe industry, barefooting and even the tourist sights around southern England, Cornwall and Lands End which I had visited a few years ago. Izzy, employs her love of running well, as a member the UK national Ultimate Frisbee team, which was staying in the Canary Islands for a few days of training before returning to England. In March her team will be travelling to Dubai for the international championship series for the sport of Ultimate Frisbee. You don't hear that every day either!
Once back in the U.S. it was back to the cold weather of Indiana, although I did get in a six miler on Friday and then a ten miler today both at 28 degrees to finish out the month. Looking forward to Spring!