Tag Archives: Belize

End of the World Marathon a perfect ending to the race year

20 Dec
A couple boys fish off the beach at Placencia, Belize, during the End of the World Marathon on Dec. 8, 2013. I paused long enough at mile 24 or so to take this photo.

A couple boys fish off the beach at Placencia, Belize, during the End of the World Marathon on Dec. 8, 2013. I paused long enough at mile 24 or so to take this photo.

Perhaps “Powered by Pina Coladas” is not the best approach for a marathon.

Or then again, maybe it is. It depends on the marathon. And your goals.

In my case, the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize, was a cap to my racing year. I’d completed an ultramarathon in the spring. I’d made my attempt at what for me was a fast marathon in the fall.

The run in Belize on Dec. 8, 2013, was a chance to combine a warm weather adventure with one of my favorite pastimes. It didn’t disappoint on either account.

I’ll write up my thoughts about Placencia in general in a future post. In this post, I want to share a little about the End of the World Marathon.

This spring, I marked my 50th birthday with a special challenge, running my first ultramarathon. As my wife, Barb, approached the same milestone, she decided she’d like to run another marathon (because she’s only half as crazy as me). And she wanted to combine that physical challenge with an exotic locale. Enter Placencia, Belize.

Barb proudly displays her trophy for winning her age group in the End of the World Marathon. Way to go, Barb!

Barb proudly displays her trophy for winning her age group in the End of the World Marathon. Way to go, Barb!

Barb’s approach to the EOW marathon was different than mine. It was her big challenge. She wanted to not just meet the challenge but beat the challenge. And, boy, did she, winning her age division for the women’s marathon.

Me, not so much. I bumbled and stumbled my way to my slowest marathon yet.

But the fault for the sub-par race time rested with me, not with the race itself.

This was just the second running of the End of the World Marathon, but it was well organized and well supported. Organizer Chip Lovett splits his time between the States and Belize, but he answered a number of pre-race questions by email and offered us lots of great advice on the area. At the packet pickup the day before the race, Chip and his volunteers were friendly and cordial. And at the post-race celebration, Chip and several sponsors handed out beers and trophies, all to a reggae beat supplied by the entertaining local DJ.

The race traces nearly the entire length of the Placencia Peninsula, which is about 16 miles long and located in far southern Belize. At some points, the peninsula is just yards wide, with the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Placencia Lagoon to the west.

 

The medal's colors fit perfectly with the Caribbean vibe.

The medal’s colors fit perfectly with the Caribbean vibe.

The marathon started at the south end of the peninsula at Placencia village. It ran an out-and-back course along the peninsula to reach the necessary 26.2 miles. For the half marathon, participants were picked up by bus all the way along the route and taken to the north end. From there, they ran back to Placencia. It was fun to meet the half-marathoners as we marathoners made our way to the north.

The race is run on the blacktop road that is the main artery for the peninsula. Traffic control on the road is accomplished by speed humps, which also serve as the high elevation points on the peninsula. If you equate “flat” with “fast,” this is the race for you.

And if you’re sick of running in the cold and the snow, Belize in December is the place to be.

The race started at 5:30 a.m. — a little more than a half hour before sunrise — and it was 70 degrees or so already. By the time I finished, the temperature had risen to 85 degrees. The temperature topped out at 90 degrees on race day. Fortunately, the morning was overcast and there were passing showers; if the sun comes out, even the morning can get quite warm.

Marathoners Mark and Barb Smidt, from left, take a photo with their own personal support crew, Kristi and Ken Stein, before the start of the race. Thanks, Ken and Kristi, for all your help along the way!

Marathoners Mark and Barb Smidt, from left, take a photo with their own personal support crew, Kristi and Ken Stein, before the start of the race. Thanks, Ken and Kristi, for all your help along the way!

As an Iowan, I’m used to the humidity that helps us grow bumper crops of corn. But I’m not used to high humidity and high temps in the winter. During our visit to Placencia, the humidity ranged from 70-95 percent — when it wasn’t outright raining.

This year, there were 35 finishers in the marathon and 134 finishers in the half-marathon. That’s roughly double the numbers from the inaugural race. After running a few mega races over the years, it was fun to do a small run.

Despite the small number of participants, the locals came out in large numbers — relatively speaking — to support the runners. They enthusiastically cheered at several aid stations. One woman cheered on every passing runner from the balcony of her Placencia villa.

There were a number of aid stations at timely locations. Water was actually passed out in small plastic bags — about 8-10 ounces in size. Gatorade and even coconut water was handed out in some places. Bananas and orange slices were plentiful, and Gu was distributed in a few spots.

Perhaps one of the world's worst and least flattering selfies, but what do you expect when you are taking a picture of yourself while drinking a Bloody Mary at mile 16 of a marathon?

Perhaps one of the world’s worst and least flattering selfies, but what do you expect when you are taking a picture of yourself while drinking a Bloody Mary at mile 16 of a marathon?

 

The aid station volunteers at the Maya Beach Hotel and Bistro got the prize for most enthusiastic. They brought to life a circus theme, dressing as penguins, lions, the ring master and the like. And they CHEERED. Coming at mile 16 or so, their enthusiasm was really welcome.

And their unique hydration offering got the best of me.

“How about a Bloody Mary?” one costumed volunteer asked.

It took a couple steps for me to realize the offer, but when it sunk in, I did a double-take. “Why not?” I said. “I’m not going to set a PR anyway, and I’m running in Belize! Sure, I’ll take one.”

“Hey, that’s cool,” the volunteer said. “You’re the first runner to take one.”

I’m sure it didn’t help my finishing time. But it certainly added to the experience.

19 Dec

Touch on any photo above to launch the full-sized slideshow.

These photos were taken during a vacation to Placencia, Belize, in mid-December 2013. If you’ve never been to Belize, you should put it on your bucket list. If you have been, I’d love to hear about your favorite places and activities. We’re counting the days until we can go back.

Thanks for looking!

Smarter training and racing result in satisfying marathon

12 Nov
I'm coming down the homestretch of the famous blue oval at Drake Stadium. Runners in the Des Moines Marathon can even watch themselves on the big screen at the track.

I’m coming down the homestretch of the famous blue oval at Drake Stadium. Runners in the Des Moines Marathon can even watch themselves on the big screen at the track.

Marathon No. 11 is in the books.

And I walked — or hobbled– away from it with two overriding lessons:

  1. Running a smart race can pay big dividends, and
  2. Don’t count your PRs until they are hatched achieved.

The Des Moines Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 20, provided some much-needed redemption from last year’s fiasco and also teased me about what might be possible.

It was a beautiful day for a race: 42 degrees at the start and blue skies. I had a solid year’s worth of racing and training under my belt. Everything was set up for a good run — if I just didn’t screw it up.

 

I had a grimace on my face as I crossed the finish line of the Des Moines Marathon in October 2013. I could have run the last two or three miles stronger, but I was happy that I was able to push as hard as I did.

I had a grimace on my face as I crossed the finish line of the Des Moines Marathon in October 2013. I could have run the last two or three miles stronger, but I was happy that I was able to push as hard as I did.

This year has been a good one for racing and training. I’ve hit my mileage goals, completed a 50-miler and remained relatively injury-free. I’ve done this by being smart with my approach. I’ve built a good base of training miles, and when the usual nagging injuries have flared, I’ve backed off for several days or a week or two.

This year, I tried to set a very realistic goal for Des Moines: finish better than last year.

I made a couple of crucial errors last year. First, I ran too many long runs too close to the race itself, not allowing adequate time for a taper. And during the race itself, I plowed through the early rolling hills at a too-aggressive pace. I paid for those two mistakes by running out of gas in the last 8 miles.

This year, I was determined not to repeat those mistakes.

In this 16-week training cycle, I did 5 runs of 16 to 22 miles, but none were closer than 4 weeks to the marathon date — although I did do one slower, 2-hour trail run the week before the race.

And as the gun sounded for the marathon, I was determined to run the first miles at slower-than-goal pace. The Des Moines Marathon features several rolling hills between miles 3.5 to 8, flattening out in the final 8 miles.

Since my primary goal was simply not to tank this year, I was very comfortable running at a controlled pace. I enjoyed the marathon sights, talked with a runner who ran the Eugene, Oregon, marathon earlier this year, and reveled in the lap around the historic blue oval at Drake Stadium.

As I reached miles 16, 17, 18, I realized I wasn’t going to blow up. So I started thinking about my secondary goals: setting a PR or setting a course PR.

I set my marathon PR in New Orleans — a nearly pancake flat course. For me, setting a PR in Des Moines would be a big accomplishment.

But my fastest splits were coming late in the race. I ran my fastest split at mile 12, but my next fastest splits came at miles 22, 20 and 16. I was still trying to hold back, but at mile 18-20, I thought I could maintain the pace for another 6-8 miles. I almost jumped for joy. I’m going to do it, I thought.

But I got a bit ahead of myself. I let myself go about 2 miles too soon. By mile 23, I realized my error.

My next goal was to set a course PR. This was my third running of the Des Moines Marathon — in addition to the two half marathons I’ve run there. In my opinion, the hills in the early miles don’t make it a great course to shoot for a personal PR.

But I could still set a course PR.

After the race, I pause to get congratulations from daughter Laura. Laura and my wife, Barb, shadowed me throughout the race, supplying me with my endurance drink, a home-made mix of maltodextrin.

After the race, I pause to get congratulations from daughter Laura. Laura and my wife, Barb, shadowed me throughout the race, supplying me with my endurance drink, a home-made mix of maltodextrin.

Aerobically, I was fine. It was my muscles that were rebelling. I took a few walk breaks in the last 3 miles, but I knew the average pace I needed to maintain for a course PR. If I could keep the average pace on my watch below the target, I’d be satisfied.

In the last mile, my IT band, left hamstring and quads were screaming. Several official race photos show the grimace on my face.

But I hated to lose my final goal. And with the finish line in sight, I made one final push — and salvaged my last goal. I finished 6 seconds faster than my fastest Des Moines Marathon. I hadn’t exactly shattered my course best, but, hey, a PR is a PR.

For several reasons, I was pleased with my efforts:

  • I put together a better training schedule — and then stuck to it.
  • I maintained my training through a sultry summer that had me questioning my efforts.
  • I ran a smarter race — and didn’t get caught up in the early euphoria.
  • And I had to gut out the last couple of miles in order to meet one of my key goals for the race.

Checking off four big boxes brings a smile of satisfaction to my face.

Now, one more race to go in 2013: the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize. But this race is more about soaking up the atmosphere and having a good time than it is about setting PRs.

In the end, I’ll judge Placencia by the number of boat drinks consumed — on the course or off, I don’t really care.

1,000 miles run in 2013

16 Sep

Monthly mileage 2013Sunday’s long run pushed me over the 1,000-mile mark for 2013, which means this has been a good year for a couple of reasons.

First, it means I’ve been able log miles on a consistent basis, something I wondered about four years ago when a strange ache at the ischial tuberosity curtailed my efforts for nearly two years.

I still suffer the aches and pains of age and training, but I have learned to listen to my body. I can hear the whispers of the normal pain from training. But when the aches begin to scream, I am now smart enough to take some time off.

Several times this year, I have cut mileage when the aches increased their protests. But there’s only been one week where I recorded zero miles (two weeks after the ultra), and there have been only a handful of weeks when I have run fewer than 10 miles.

Second, I was able to tackle a new challenge — an ultramarathon — and that new challenge added a whole new level of fun to my training and racing efforts. I ran my ultra in early April, which is why my highest mileage months were in January and March. (A couple of trips in February and some aches led to fewer miles that month.)

My average run exceeded more than 10 miles in January and March. In the past year or two, I have pretty much confined my runs to Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday-Sunday. The roughly every-other-day schedule gives my body more time to rest, but it also forces some sort of cap on weekly mileage.

The ultra, the Potawatomi Trail 50, presented a major challenge. I’ve now completed 9 marathons, and I know I can tackle that distance. But I wasn’t sure about covering 50 miles on a trail in one session. That unknown distance increased my focus. The trails presented a whole new set of challenges themselves. And I enjoyed the physical effort and the mental challenge that the trail ultra posed.

I still have two marathons planned for the remainder of 2013.

In late October, I’ll run the Des Moines Marathon, which will be the fifth time for that race (third time for the marathon, twice in the half marathon). Last year, I stumbled to an awful finish in Des Moines. After a strong start this year, I had hoped to set a new PR there and gain a bit of redemption. But some unplanned rest at times throughout the summer means my training isn’t where it should be. So this year, I’ll keep telling myself “Run a smart race,” and my goal will be to beat last year’s disaster.

In December, I’ll run the End of the World Marathon in Placencia, Belize. It will be my first international marathon and my first trip to Belize. The goal there: Have fun and finish. A race in a tropical locale, accompanied by my wife and good friends — I can’t see any way I won’t reach my goals for this race.

And finally, my relative good health this year means I should meet my annual mileage goal and set me up for a new challenge in 2014.

Coming into 2013, my mileage goal was to exceed what I ran in 2012. In 2012, I was finally able to run a couple marathons — after a two-year hiatus — and I wanted to stay healthy enough to build on that in 2013. So far, so good.

And that has me thinking about 2014.

The Illinois ultramarathon was a ton of fun, but I’d like to take that a step further in 2014. I love Wyoming, and we’ve spent some time in the Bighorn Mountains in the north-central part of the state. And that makes the Bighorn Mountain 50 mile run attractive. Registration doesn’t open until January, so I’ve got plenty of time to plan and prepare.

I’m sure there will be additional challenges pop up between now and the end of the year, but with three-fourths of 2013 behind me, it’s been a good year.

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