Life’s biggest challenges become much easier when one can learn to expect the unexpected, be fully flexible, maintain a positive attitude, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Life is chock full of marvelous wonder and boredom, devastating sadness and overwhelming joy- as Dawes says in their insightful song, “It’s a Little Bit of Everything”. Well, this quest hasn’t necessarily gone the way I thought it would so far, but throughout, I’ve tried to roll with whatever comes my way, keep a smile on my face, and remind myself pain is a necessary component of the growth I ultimately seek. The newness and excitement have worn off now, the miles are starting to inflict their wounds, and I know my previous boundaries are soon to be expanded as I need to dig deeper and deeper to advance to the next day. I must admit, though I’ll ultimately revel in the result, the process is quite painful in the near term and progressively more intimidating as I look out at the next 5 days.
The Singapore Beach Marathon seems like a distant memory now as I sit on a plane on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The rest of this missive will be composed in the air between UAE and Cairo, Egypt. Upon arrival in Egypt, we’ll hopefully have enough time to get to the hotel, get dressed, and head to the race start for the Marathon Cairo. This is the race, aside from maybe Antarctica, that I have been most excited to experience since I first read about it (See Marathon Cairo Facebook Page and Website). I’m going to do my best now to recount the events of the day and maybe, just maybe, I can catch a nap before this flight lands and puts me back in my running shoes… an inevitable eventuality that is best stowed away in the recesses of my mind as not to cause additional stress.
After writing the last post, and getting into bed, it was around 2:30 am. I was all lubed up with Desitin (diaper rash ointment) for the chaffing from Perth, so only the mild afflictions of manageable muscle soreness and exhaustion reminded me that I was into a weeklong suffer fest. I fell asleep quickly and came up just as quickly at 4:30 when my alarm went off. A quick morning prayer and I was into the routine of dressing from the feet up. My wife has been calling me a “sock diva” for a couple years now since I became quite particular about foot care after the catastrophic blistering I got at Across The Years 72 hour footrace in 2013/2014 (straddles New Years). At that, my first ultra, I ran 60 or 70 miles the first day before developing some serious blisters on the balls of both feet. I spent way too much time over the next couple days coming in and out of the med tent having my blisters repeatedly lanced and packed just to allow some forward progress to continue. After that slog on blisters which covered the entire balls of both feet, I resolved to learn what I needed to do in order to avoid anything like that in the future. So, I bought the book “Fixing Your Feet” which is the essential comprehensive guide on the topic of foot care, treatment, and blister prevention for ultra-endurance athletics. Since then, following the recommendations in that book, I’ve remained essentially blister free… until today. I began by slathering my feet with thick Eucerin lotion then remembered that I had intended to apply precut moleskin to the balls of my feet. So, I hustled to the shower and washed all the lotion off, dried my feet and applied moleskin strips to give me an extra friction layer in preparation for what I knew was going to be a very wet day for my already beat up feet. After the moleskin, I reapplied the lotion, put on compression socks, shorts with more Desitin and lotion, shirt, fuel belt, Lifeproof armband, earphones, cooling towel, size 13.5 shoes, sunglasses, GoPro, and the cooling hat.
The race started at 6 am, I was downstairs shortly after 5 where the rest of the group was already gathered. There was a little breakfast consisting of a croissant, small pastry, a yogurt, and an apple. I also got a second yogurt from Julie who is good about giving me the food she doesn’t want. Shortly thereafter, we walked about a mile to the race start and found a few expats and locals there awaiting the race. This race, unlike yesterday, was quite well stocked with necessities like Gu, some carbonated isotonic sports drink called 100 Plus, ice, water, and the like. As we hung out in the dark awaiting 6am, the locals told me how atypically cool the weather was. Throughout the day, I continued to joke with them about how I was so glad it was “cool”. The sun wasn’t even out yet, and it was in the mid 80’s with near 100% humidity. I felt like I was in the steam room at the YMCA. Long before the race ever started I was fully wet with sweat and condensation. It was still dark when the race began and I headed out at about 11 minute/mile pace, feeling pretty good. The course again consisted of 6 out and backs, this time along a busy walking trail beside their East Coast Beach on the Pacific Ocean. The entire first lap took place before sunrise but was well lit by lights. During the 2nd lap a pretty good rain came, but it left nearly as quickly. As with other tropical rains I’ve experienced much closer to home, this one was welcome to knock down the severe humidity. I was already pretty much soaked before the rain, but afterward, there wasn’t a dry spot on me, including my feet. There were a few cool diversions along the way, including a march up this spiral staircase to a funky ocean overlook, and a lot of people doing Tai Chi. Among the groups practicing this ubiquitous exercise of mind, spirit, and body were a group of mostly older women who started out in the open then moved under a pavilion for shelter when the rains came. I happened to be passing on one of my loops when I saw them all gathered attempting to take a selfie. I ran off course to help them get a proper picture of their group that was certainly too big to capture at arm’s length. They were very appreciative and wanted to get pictures of and with me as well, so we did. As 2 miles turned to 4, 8, 13… I continued to consume a bunch of fluids, including plenty of the 100 Plus drink I’d never previously encountered. This stuff tastes almost just like Sprite but has Sodium and other electrolytes in it. It doesn’t work terribly well in a handheld bottle because it causes intermittent explosions of CO2 gas as any carbonated beverage would do when shaken like that. I also had my Gatorade Endurance mix, 24 oz worth for each half marathon, and S-Caps salt tablets to try to maximize hydration and keep electrolyte levels up with the heavy sweating. I was taking 1 S-Cap at the start and another at the turnaround on each loop, along with all the salt in the GE and 100 Plus. I was basically going with the theory that this was the most humid place I’d ever run and I couldn’t overdo the salt… wrong. By the 5th loop I was swelling pretty badly. My hands turned white when I flexed my sausage-looking fingers and my right foot was clearly too big for the shoe it was trapped in. I realized my mistake and began to attempt to flush with just water. This worked pretty well, but even with all that fluid intake I didn’t urinate until hours after the race was concluded.
Lisa and I spent the majority of the last 2 laps run-marching (she is a Marine after all) and eventually finished together. It’s hard to overexaggerate the value of companionship in the late miles of hard marathons- I think we were both glad to have each other to run and talk with. As soon as we crossed the finish line and I got my obligatory wide-eyed, big grin selfie, I took off those shoes and socks and hopped in the ocean. It felt great. The water was quite warm to be ocean water, but compared to what I had just been through, it was a glorious reprieve. The months-dormant Ironman in me took over and I swam 25 meters out then just laid back and floated on my back, fully dressed. It became apparent in the salt water that I still had plenty of chaffing but also some new boo-boos on my feet. After the long walk back to the hotel I was able to take stock and discovered a significant blister in the crease where my big toe meets the ball of my foot, just north of where the moleskin ended. There is another under the callous just south of where the moleskin had done its job. So, the moleskin saved the balls of my feet as intended, but it couldn’t fully protect me from the swollen, wet podiatric torture my poor feet had just endured. Alas, I couldn’t pack anything to lance or drain blisters with since I couldn’t check bags, so I went to work tearing apart a disposable razor that was provided in the hotel bathroom. I used the salvaged blade to cut a small chunk out of the toe crease blister, giving a bb-sized hole that will hopefully allow drainage until the affected soft tissue underneath has a chance to toughen up and heal. I left the sub-callous blister alone because it didn’t have too much fluid and I really needed a hypodermic needle to drain it properly without doing more harm than good. I also couldn’t locate my Neosporin within the time I had, so I lotioned my feet again, applied Desitin to the chaffed spots in my groin, and adorned the recovery pants, compression socks, well worn 777Quest shirt, wind pants, and Hokas. I packed up all the nasty wet stuff (except shoes) into plastic baggies, and stuffed everything back into my 2 carry-ons then went downstairs for pizza 30 minutes past late checkout time. Steve had a few pizzas there, everyone but Chau and I had already eaten, so I was in cleanup mode- a role I can fill quite well, especially just after a marathon. I ate almost an entire meat pizza, had a little water and some Vega One to round out the meal. I’m sure Brendan Brazier, the maker of Vega One vegan nutritional powder wouldn’t recommend it as a chaser for a meat pizza, but under the circumstances I’m sure he would rather I add it than not.
This is where I had a very pleasant surprise. Instead of just hammering to the airport, we stowed our luggage with the hotel concierge and boarded a charter van to go do a little site seeing in Singapore! That’s right, we got to go be tourists. I saw the iconic buildings of the Singapore skyline, got a photo op at the world’s largest fountain, and even had a Singapore Sling at its birthplace, The Raffles Hotel. This was a quick whirlwind- only about 90 minutes total, but meant I got to experience more of Singapore than just the 6 loops along East Coast Beach. Afterward, we returned to the hotel, retrieved our luggage, and boarded another van to the airport. There, we attempted to skirt the scrutiny of our bags that got mine checked through from Perth to Singapore by emptying out much of the contents onto the floor with a couple Questers taking shifts watching the pile of contents as the others went to check-in for the flight. This turned out to be for naught because they never weighed or scrutinized the bags in any way. In this process, I discovered that my wet shoes and clothes had shared their bounty of moisture with everything else in my hard carry-on, but what can you do except just shove it all in there and head for the gate? Since I was on Business Class for this flight, I got a ticket into the special SATS lounge where I was able to eat and drink like a king as the unfortunate plebes were forced to buy overpriced, lesser quality airport food… I’d never been in one of those lounges before, having always been among the unfortunate plebes, and always kinda wondered what happened in them. It’s like a country club without the golf. They have showers, wifi, comfy lounge chairs, unlimited food of great international variety, and a swanky exclusive atmosphere that is terribly indulgent… but was quite welcome in this case, so indulge I did! A half hour later, full of chicken sausage ‘pig-in-a-blanket’ thingies, mashed potatoes and beef gravy, some Chinese puffs, and Singapore’s finest Tiger ale, those of us with the lounge privilege (me, Steve Hibbs, Jagjit, Lisa, and Julie) went to meet the others at our gate. Talk about diversity! I saw what looked to be Afghani goat herders, full hajib Muslim women, flowing white gown Jordanians, and so many more people that will likely never step foot into anything like Kentucky. We boarded the plane and I, for now the 2nd time in my life, found myself in a Business Class travel pod- this time, on a Boeing 787 Dream Liner. I didn’t get to see it for long though because as soon as we were in the air, I told the flight attendant I needed nothing and not to wake me then I was done for about 5 hours of much needed sleep.
We landed in Abu Dhabi, feet still sore but better rested, procured a little food then boarded a bus that took us to the plane headed for Cairo. I’m not sure what happened, but Jagjit and I made the first bus and got onboard the airplane with about 50 others but all the other busses were delayed by over ½ hour while we chilled in our nice seats. I had a delightful lemon-mint drink that was sorta like a Mojito without ice or alcohol. After the rest got there, we took off on a 4 hour flight which I have now mostly consumed by writing this blog and having a bit more food. We are 1 hour from landing in Cairo and only a few hours from the next race, so, I’ll leave you with this: Whatever you have gotten yourself into, or whatever is happening in your life, the frank fact is that it is neither all good nor all bad, no matter how it looks in a single snapshot. This life is a smorgasbord of experiences, some you will surely enjoy more than others and some which will seem unbearable as they are happening. However, all the pieces fit together and require each other. There is no ultimate joy without profound sadness and there is no consummate pleasure without extraordinary pain. Accept what comes, whether it’s blisters or Business Class. We are all a lot like children who don’t want the vegetables and always want to head straight for the dessert bar- it doesn’t work that way and would ultimately spoil and kill us if it did. Have a little bit of everything so you can grow up strong and healthy.