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Š Copyright 2011 Roger Heale. This work is made available without charge providing that you do not make commercial use of it, but I ask that you make a donation to [ insert charity name here]. You are free to share and distribute it to others on the same basis, but you must include this notice on any copies you share or distribute. No commercial use of or financial gain from this work may be made.


MY FIRST MARATHON AT

38


MY FIRST MARATHON AT

38 BY ROGER HEALE


PRE-FACE

I

started writing this book from the moment I began training for the Marathon. Why? A number of reasons: Firstly, I knew I was going to have a special year and wanted to capture it. Secondly, I have been encouraged to write a book so this seemed a pretty good topic to base it around. But really, I wanted to have something to look back on when things got too difficult. All through this adventure, I was faced with challenges that I had to overcome. It’s amazing how things that seemed impossible at the beginning, feel normal at the end, mishaps and disasters at the time are now funny memories whilst all those doubts and fears slowly get swept aside. In reality, I never re-read much of what I wrote until I decided to put it down on paper. In doing so, I realized that I was aided far more by the people around me and their support than I appreciated at the time (including in the writing of this book). A number of people invested a great deal of effort in seeing me get across the line and I hope that as you read, their contributions will be recognizable. Just a couple of special “thank you’s” to my wife and family for putting up with me when they very probably would have preferred not to. CapitalIQ for it’s flexibility, Claudia for accepting me against her better judgement and the lovely girl who at the end of the Marathon rubbed my back and told me “it will be ok” whilst I was being sick. However, no special thanks whatsoever, to the Doctor who subsequently walked past, took one look and said “he’ll be alright, you can leave him now.”


INDEX Introduction ................................................................................................ 13 Chapter 1 - Waking Up To Reality ............................................................ 17 Chapter 2 - From Bad To Worse ................................................................ 23 Chapter 3 - 200 Days To Go! ..................................................................... 31 Chapter 4 .................................................................................................... 35 Chapter 5 .................................................................................................... 47 Chapter 6 .................................................................................................... 53 Chapter 7 .................................................................................................... 61 Chapter 8 .................................................................................................... 69 Chapter 9 .................................................................................................... 73 Chapter 10 - 100 Days To Go! ................................................................... 83 Chapter 11 ................................................................................................. 91 Chapter 12 - When Down, Look In The Mirror For Your Answer! ........... 97 Chapter 13 - Getting On Whit It ............................................................. 101 Chapter 14 ................................................................................................ 103 Chapter 15 ................................................................................................ 109 Chapter 16 ................................................................................................ 117 Chapter 17 ................................................................................................ 120 Chapter 18 ................................................................................................ 127 Chapter 19 ................................................................................................ 131 Chapter 20 - A Month To Go .................................................................. 137 Chapter 21 ................................................................................................ 145 Chapter 22 - New York ............................................................................. 149 Post Run Reflections ................................................................................. 159 Appendix - Clothing ................................................................................. 161 Trainning Log ........................................................................................... 164


Introduction

INTRODUCTION “26.3 miles? Because 26.2 would be insane” (Banner held by a supporter at the 23-mile mark)

I

have always wanted to run a Marathon. Why? Because I am a romantic and thought it would be a challenge. I am not a runner by any means but I am above averagely fit for a 38-year old. I run because it is the cheapest form of exercise and I like being outside. However, I have never run more than 21kms in my life. Even the least athletic person admits to some intrigue about a Marathon. Since learning about the reasons for it’s existence to watching the joy of those who finish I’ve wanted to do one. Why are they SO happy? Why is their complete joy matched by the extreme misery of those who have had to abandon mid-race? Maybe for me and for millions of others it’s because a Marathon represents the pinnacle of both a physical and mental challenge within today’s socially acceptable limitations. But for the sake of clarity it is important to define the phrase “to run a Marathon.” Every year thousands of people who I arrogantly think should not really be participating in such an event, sign the disclaimer and make it across the line. In doing so, not only do they defy their Doctors but they achieve something that millions of people will never undertake. Additionally, they earn even more millions for charities and are quite rightly lauded for their efforts. I on the other hand, wanted to run it at a pace that would be roughly equivalent to a 4x10km pace (the only distance I could realistically relate to), something that would require months of training. So the question as to “why not” 13


My First Marathon at 38

could be perhaps answered nicely by saying “I wasn’t ready,” which in a certain sense is true. But not ready for what? The training, the dietary restrictions, finding the time, the dedication? Sure, but really, I wasn’t ready to fail. I did not want to be one of the people who didn’t finish and was not prepared to face the fact that I was scared of failing. Prior to taking the decision, I had only ever run three 21km races and despite two of them being when I was 18-years old and in peak physical condition I finished each in 2-hours, severely dehydrated, cramping and with a chronic headache. So it was easy and comforting to think that if at 18, with all my training for rugby and swimming, I finished 21km like that, how on earth could I finish 42km? Understanding that what I was really afraid of was failing, helped me to see that my excuses were just excuses. However, it did also allow me to adjust my expectations. First of all, I had no excuse not to finish. If there are massively overweight people finishing in 6-hours then why can’t I finish? Secondly, if I want to run it at a certain pace then I needed to find a reasonable goal and try and beat it. Each individual will have their own moment that suddenly triggers the need to commit. Mine was in January 2010. We had moved to Argentina 4-years earlier and it was taking its personal toll on the family as a whole and with the work side of things quieting down I was beginning to get frustrated. One night my wife and I were in a bar discussing where our lives and marriage were going. We didn’t necessarily want to leave Argentina as our life-style was highly enviable but something had to change. I was getting itchy-feet and we were just not enjoying ourselves as before. For me to be happy I needed a challenge and if work was not going to provide it, I would look for it somewhere else. I am sure that my “I’m going to run a marathon” moment was not what she was expecting. Perhaps something along the lines of “I’m going to spend more time at home,” would probably have been more appropriate. But there it was, no more excuses. I was going to do it, do it well and encourage Gaby, my wife, to join-in.

14


Chapter 1 - Waking Up to Reality

CHAPTER 1 – WAKING UP TO REALITY

I

t’s 7.50 am on Sunday, 11th April 2010 in Santiago de Chile. Part of my self-assessed Marathon training programme is to take long weekends with Gaby undertaking half-marathons until they become the norm rather than the exception. So we are participating in the Bi-centenial Marathon of Santiago which also provides a Half-Marathon and 10km option. Living in Buenos Aires means it is only a short 2-hour flight across the Andes and we had arrived on Friday night to get as much alone time from our 3 children as possible. The weekend had so far been a mixed bag. On arriving we had followed some advice regarding places to eat only to find most of them closed or not what we wanted. The meal eventually resulted in all our frustrations boiling over into tears and arguments making Sunday seem a long way away. Then on the Saturday, we had awoken anew and mutually agreed to ignore everyone else and do our own thing. This starts with getting our kit. We take the immaculate underground and make our way to the pre-Marathon exhibition at the Mapocho station. Although just 10am, it is absolutely heaving and I can already feel the pulse begin to quicken. However, this is Chile and the stands are divided into Marathon, half-marathon and 10km and then sub-divided into booths of 1,000. So you just go to the line with your race number wherever it falls and are immediately handed your bib, chip, shirt and other miscellaneous goods by a bi-lingual girl and that’s it – literally. After just 30-mins and a quick glance at the course map (which seems to show the 21km going up and up) we have finished and are out, amazing! 17


My First Marathon at 38

We then decide to potter a bit before dumping our stuff at the hotel and finding a place to eat. Whilst travelling I am always on the lookout for “The restaurant” in each of the cities I tend to frequent regularly. It’s a pleasant pastime and gives me something to look forward to if I am there on business. Unsurprisingly, this is a part of the itinery that Gaby also particularly enjoys so we decide to try “The Blue Danube” in the Las Condes area of town. Called the Blue Danube because historically it used to serve European food, it now serves what is widely recognized as the best Chinese food in Chile. We are a bit worried as the palatial restaurant appears very empty but that’s only because we are early. The food is delicious and for some reason I have an urge to order almost every dish that has broccoli in it. The same thing happens at supper where in Nolita’s I have a craving for oysters. Even Gaby, who is not a big oyster fan, enjoys a couple so we order another plate before the pasta main course. I am not a massive pasta fan but seeing as pasta is the staple diet of the endurance athlete this is something that I am going to have to improve on. Still I need not have worried because the food was amazing. Two good meals in a row and everything seems right with the world again. I am awoken from my thoughts by 20,000 people shouting “We are Chile” at the top of their voices. It is an emotional moment. Just months since the devastating earthquakes that killed more than 300 people, displaced 1.5 million and caused billions of dollars of damage. Adidas and the organisers have outdone themselves by providing red, white and blue shirts to the 10km, 21km and 42km runners respectively and we are all corralled so as to make a massive street-flag at the start. I confess that I don’t usually get too caught up in this sort of stuff but even I find it a bit offensive when two Brazilians dressed in canary yellow try and push to the front. At 8.00am there is another rousing rendition of “We are Chile” and we’re off. Except of course we’re not. Every18


Chapter 1 - Waking Up to Reality

one takes 5-paces forwards and stops. It will be 5-mins before we are actually in motion. Before lining up in my white shirt, we had all participated in a giant warm-up session and downed as much water as possible before moving into our corrals to try and get close to the front. Now, squashed amongst the masses, I watch in envy as the more experienced runners lazily use freshly cleaned portaloos and join the corral at the back of the field. After what seems like an eternity, we are finally trotting forward. Somewhere on the other side, in a red-shirt, is Gaby. However, it is all a bit difficult. There are so many people, I really need to pee and someone has felled one of the canaries. I cross the start line at 8.05 and for the first 3km I try not to do anything stupid. I have had enough bad experiences doing enforced school cross-countries to know that if I go off too fast I am going to blow up. I have no idea what to expect, so I just keep my head down and try not to trip myself or anyone else up, until I can’t stand it anymore. Every 10 seconds someone is zipping diagonally in front of me and I am just about to say something when I see that the side of the street is full of people relieving themselves! I might have added a minute to my time but psychologically speaking I feel fantastic and start to relax. 8.30am and I contrive to make a complete dogs breakfast of the first water/ Gatorade stops that are positioned every 5km. To start with I wait with everyone else at the first table when there are 3 or 4 empty ones behind and secondly, I just can’t seem to get any of the green contents into my mouth whilst running. So looking rather similar to a wet frog I carry on feeling pretty amateurish. But actually, this live practice is designed to highlight exactly these problems and allow me to work on solutions so I know what to expect going forward and am prepared for NY. 8.56 am - the 10km mark, the second water stop and I do a lot better. This time I take both water and Gatorade and squeeze the cup rims so they fold, making a channel for the liquid to flow out. As a result, I manage to get most of it in my mouth and run on for another 200 metres before finishing the other. So far so good. In Buenos Aires I run 3-times a week around the reserve and each outing is equivalent to 10km. A week or two before this event, I upped 19


My First Marathon at 38

it to 13km and even did a 15km to prepare myself (you’ll realize how amateurish this all is later but I didn’t know any different at the time). So now at the 13km mark and with 8km to go what do I do? Should I just try and keep going or should I slow down? If I slow down will I just grind to a halt? Surely I should be able to do 21km, right? Again, I am here to learn so decide that I just need to keep going whilst I am able. I focus more and more within myself and just concentrate on keeping a rhythm going whilst exhaling like a steam train. The nice thing about Santiago is that there isn’t actually a whole lot to see during the 21km course, so you might as well be looking at the floor anyway. At the 15km mark and third water stop I am starting to struggle and the constant incline is taking its toll. It is now a mental battle and I am with all sorts of negative thoughts until I round the corner at the 16km mark and see the next 5km stretch out in front of me ….downhill!!Talk about mind games. Suddenly, I feel great. I have a good rhythm going and even stretch my legs a bit. I even start to enjoy the sensation of knowing that I will finish and finish well. Idiot! Despite feeling comfortable, for safety’s sake I decide to take a last drink at the 20km mark. What a mistake! I totally lose my rhythm and my legs turn to jelly making the last kilometre and that horribly irritating extra bit a complete nightmare. I am now being overtaken by everyone and can feel my stomach turning to custard. Nevertheless, I manage to cross the line in 1 hour 48 minutes which was where I wanted to be so I can’t complain. But the reality is that I can’t complain about anything as I immediately cramp up. Fortunately, Gaby, who having earlier finished the 10km, rushes up with a Gatorade and starts to bend my feet back, easing the pain enough for me to be able to get up and walk to the recovery area. Here I basically collapse on the ground and submit myself to all sorts of pushes and pulls whilst thinking the same thing again and again, “OMG, I am only half way!” This is drummed into me whilst relaxing in the hotel’s rooftop Jacuzzi. An hour and an half later and I can still see the blue-shirted marathoners running past. It is further highlighted by the attached course map The Red line is the 10km, the yellow the 21km and the blue line – 42km!! I can barely walk 20


Chapter 1 - Waking Up to Reality

and whilst I wasn’t really expecting much else and wouldn’t recommend this approach to anyone, it is a massive wake-up call about what to expect. On the wall in Nike Town in NY they have a slogan “If you have a body, you’re an athlete.” Nice advert but I’m going to need some serious help to complete this Marathon.

21


Chapter 2 - From Bad to Worse

CHAPTER 2 – FROM BAD TO WORSE

N

April 12th - 16th

ow back in Buenos Aires I have to wait until Friday before I can urge my body back out for a gentle 10km run. The whole week has been spent in relative discomfort as my legs slowly recover. Even getting up and down from my chair is difficult. On reflection, the weekend in Chile was a highly positive one and I am quite enthused about going to meet my personal trainer. I have never had a personal trainer before and it is something that seems to have become highly popular in BA. Often considered more a status symbol or comfort rather than someone who actually does you any good I was initially hoping to follow one of the myriad online plans. The final kilometer in Santiago convinced me that I need professional help. I only know one couple who do marathons in Argentina and they are parents at the same school as our children. The husband is semi-professional but the wife uses a trainer and has introduced her to Gaby. Gaby has given her sign of approval and now it is my turn to see if she, after making enquiries about me, will even take me on as a client. Somehow this attitude actually makes me feel more confident. I arrive at Claudia’s house late and am taken past the main house to an outhouse at the back that has been converted into an office. Decorated with photos, trophies and other memorabilia from Ironman Triathlon events, it also contains the bare minimum in medical equipment for weighing and measuring, something to which I am quickly being subjected. Claudia herself 23


My First Marathon at 38

is about my height, slim, hawkish and looks like she could break me in half. I am not really sure what I am supposed to be saying or doing as I have never had a Personal Trainer before but she quickly takes charge pinching, prodding and measuring as we discuss what my goals are for the Marathon. It is a key moment. Something that I have been thinking about for a while but have not actually voiced out loud. If I say it then that’s it – I’m committed. So with a deep breath and trying to ignore the result of Santiago I state, “I don’t care what time I do it in, as long as it has a 3 in-front of it.” This seems to have a deafening effect as Claudia stops what she’s doing, looks at me with what could be considered a smirk and on realizing that I am serious just looks away and says “We’ll see.” Before carrying on with her measuring. I don’t think I could have been put down much harder and now I am starting to get irritated. Everytime that a measurement comes in higher than expected (like all the time) it causes a sharp intake of breathe that on passing the teeth sounds like a hiss. As the conversation turns more personal and my diet starts to take centre stage I realize that not only am I defaulting into that standard polite response that contains as little information as possible but the hissing is almost continuous. After one particularly sharp intake regarding my weekly alcohol intake I feel obliged to ask, “So, in what time would do 21km?” “I’m not really training at the moment.” “But if you were?” “If you gave me 3-weeks to train, I would expect to do it in under an hour and a half !” And with that, I basically clam-up and play the submissive for the rest of the meeting. Gualeguay - April 17th/18th (and some of the 19th too) As with most Latin countries about the 30% of the Argentine population is located in the capital city and suburbs. Buenos Aires is shaped like a protractor with its back blocked by the Rio de la Plata. All trains and underground systems flow into the centre and it is divided in two by a motorway called General Paz. Everything within General Paz pertains to the Capital Federal 24


Chapter 2 - From Bad to Worse

and there are about 4 million people living within the inner-protractor. Capital Federal is its own autonomous area with its own government and tends to be anti-Peronist politically. Everything outside General Paz pertains to Greater Buenos Aires which is part of the Province of Buenos Aires. When one talks about the size of Buenos Aires one tends to include the Capital Federal together with Greater Buenos Aires reaching a total of 13 million people. The Province of Buenos Aires tends to be pro-Peronist politically. The two areas represent 60% of Argentine GDP and count for 46% of the electoral vote. Like most executives we live to the North of the city within Greater Buenos Aires. Unlike most excutives, I travel to work everyday on the train. This is more for convenience than anything else and certainly not for comfort. The nice thing about the Tigre line which I use, is that it always works. There may be delays, the aircon may not work and you always have to stand packed in like sheep. But if you are not fussy about the people you travel with, for less than US$1, you can get into the city-centre within half an hour, rain or shine. Sometimes, however, you just need to get out. Buenos Aires is a lovely city but there is a saying which when translated basically means that it “breaks your patience.” We are fortunate in that Gaby comes from a small town just 220 km to the North of BA in the Province of Entre Rios called Gualeguay. It is in the middle of some of Argentina’s most fertile agricultural land, on the edge of a river and also famous for its carnivals. Gaby’s sister married into a farming family who both own and rent land which means that we have access not only these farms but also to the beaches that align the rivers that pass through them. Unsurprisingly, as the families all get on very well together we find ourselves heading up there as often as reasonabily possible. This weekend is no exception and Saturday is spent buying all sorts of groceries, leña (wood for the barbeque) and most importantly, meat. In an effort to keep inflation under control, the government put pressure on the distribution chains to cap the prices of certain popular cuts of meat. As a result, the prices of everything else went through the roof. I am of course talking relatively and within the context of Argentina, as a whole “filet mignon” in Buenos Aires costs about $90 (US$23) which is still a bargain internationally. Nevertheless, it costs half in Gualeguay, the cows come from the field rather than the Feedlot and we are also able to get Lamb and baby-pigs that taste far 25


My First Marathon at 38

superior than anything a supermarket provides. So, as you can imagine, going to Gualeguay is rather like returning to your home town and doing not very much at all except eating well, drinking better and just catching-up. After just such an evening, Sunday dawns beautifully and by 9am it is a very pleasant 26°C. Gaby and I decide to go running along the river front. However, on arriving at the adjacent park that lies adjacent, we discover that today they are running the “Bi-centennial Maraton de Gualeguay” with T-shirts for the first 200-people that sign-up! We both agree that the T-shirt is a “must have” item and it would be fun to do the run as well. At midday we rush back to beat the crowds and such is the furore being generated around this event that after very little time we are handed numbers 008 and 009 respectively! It is now 30°C, so we get a light lunch before the race starts at 3pm. 2.45pm, 36°C with 70% humidity and clearly a storm is on the way. I am sweating just standing still and having serious questions regarding this whole idea. Still the race is just 2-laps of 5km so if it really gets too bad I can just stop after the first, especially as the few people running all look extremely fit. With a little under 5-mins to go the music starts and it is impressively serious as we are warned about the dangers of running in this heat and the need for water. Then, it’s “a big welcome to the “International Maraton de Gualeguay” with runners from as far away as Kenya and England!” Given that the Kenyan was pretty easy to spot, everyone is looking around for the Englishman until it dawns on us that they are referring to me!! We’re off and the good mood created by my celebrity status sours after about 300m or when we leave the cover of the trees. It is fucking hot! There is no shade, we are running on tarmac and after about 2km my legs are tired. I have totally and utterly underestimated the recovery time my body required and together with the heat, have taken this race way too lightly. My splits are all over the place and even though there is lots of water I take the decision to stop after the first lap. Except that, as I approach the half-way point, the crowds have gathered to welcome the winners and my number is recognized. This elicits a huge amount of cheering and “Vamos Ingles!”, “Dale, dale! Podes!” (Come on Englishman! Keep going! You can do it!). There is no escaping. I take a deep breath and keep going. I am emotionally and physically drained and with the temperature the equivalent of 45°C, seriously unhappy but have to carry on. It is as if my whole being has now turned in on itself 26


Chapter 2 - From Bad to Worse

and if I can concentrate on this central part of me, I will sub-conciously get myself across the line. Clearly, I am not the only person who is worried as somewhere in my concious comes the feeling that I am being followed. A worrying sign when running last! I am not impressed when I look behind to find it is an ambulance! So together with my escort, which I presume is now to prevent foreign casualties at the highly publised international event, I summon as much pride and energy as I can to get across the line. Even though on crossing I am smiling and thanking the hundreds of people who think it’s fun to watch a bright red Englishman kill himself, Gaby isn’t fooled and is waiting with several bags of water, bananas and oranges. I couldn’t be more grateful. After such an impressive build-up, I feel I rather let the side down. So it was no surprise that on seeing the approaching news camera, we head off in a different direction. Perhaps it was not the nicest thing to have done because it was a lot better organised than some of the bigger events I have attended and probably on a fraction of the budget. Additionally, it is the first and only time that I have been handed water in a little plastic bag rather than a cup. It’s a shame because you just bite the corner off and it is so much easier to drink when you are running. Still, in an effort to rescue something from this debacle, I manage to console myself with the fact that I was part of a winning combination, although I doubt the Kenyan saw it the same way. If I was tired before the race, I was exhaused afterwards. Fortunately, I have a bit of a rest whilst my brother-in-law (Tato) prepares a delicious asado (Argentine BBQ with huge pieces of meat) to celebrate his daughter’s birthday. Normally we would have rushed off back to BA but for some reason the traffic report was on the TV showing huge storms over the city and the inevitable multi-mile traffic jams, so we decide to delay a while longer. Eventually, we leave at 10 pm and it isn’t long before we see the approaching weather system with its continuous flashes of white light, illuminating some very angry clouds. If there is an ideal moment to hit an unidentified object in the middle of the road at 150km per hour, then this wasn’t it. The tyre went flat immediately and on stopping on the grass verge, I get to work on jacking up the car, something made additionally uncomfortable by the interest taken in my arm by some vicious little red ants whose home I had just destroyed. 27


My First Marathon at 38

A painful couple of minutes later and my children learn a few unfortunate words when I discover that some deliquent has stolen our auxillary tyre. Thanks to the glorious policies of Guillermo Moreno, the Minister for Trade and Finance, he has made it almost impossible to import any goods that can potentially be manufactured locally. As a result, a massive black market has sprouted for the tyres of 4 x 4 vehicles and clearly someone has taken a shine to ours. So covered in ant bites, being swarmed by mosquitos, 3 tired kids in the car and a storm approaching there is only one option. Tato. 40-minutes later, my brother in-law arrives with a tow truck. It is the same tow-truck that picked up Gaby after she and the kids were driven into a ditch by a lorry 9-months earlier. So after some playful banter regarding loyalty discounts, Tato and I agree to swap cars so we can carry on back to BA and he’ll get the tyre fixed and use our car for the week. This whole incident is perversely beneficial for two reasons. Firstly, whilst stuck on the roadside, the storm moves off to the west and therefore we avoid getting caught up in something that produced hailstones the size of oranges and smashed houses and cars in BA and secondly, Tato takes a major problem off our hands by offering to buy the car! Tuesday 20th April I am back with Claudia to examine the results of my physical analysis before discussing my diet and training plan. As polite as she is, she can’t help but look worriedly at my arm the ants have left looking like septic measles. I can see she is wondering if I have some strange disease that she should know about so I give her the brief lowdown before she gives me the good news. Taking age, height and weight into consideration, I am in pretty good physical shape, just completely the wrong shape for Marathon running. As I am considered big boned, the muscle size and composition (otherwise termed fat content) is proportional to someone who used to play rugby, likes a drink and not ideal for running 42km. Therefore I need to lose 2-4kg (get below 80kg) and become leaner. This doesn’t sound too bad except I have to undertake this change via running and in the gym and not by pounding up and down the swimming pool. 28


Chapter 2 - From Bad to Worse

As for my diet, it’s all change. I don’t really eat breakfast and whilst I eat fruit etc during the day, I don’t really eat lunch either but pig-out at supper. Surprisingly, I actually have to eat more food but spread across the day with all the starchy foods (potatoes, rice, pasta etc) loaded towards lunch times. Supper needs to be more about quality than quantity and should be as lean as possible, if for no other reason than to aid the digestive system. As for alcohol, the conversation is not worth repeating. Let’s just say that the ideal amount is none. Beer is a no-no and the idea of mixing beer and wine during the same evening provoked an extreme hissing response. Although I have to give credit where credit is due and being a realist, she has allowed me 1-2 glasses of wine a night with supper. I have also been given my exercise routine. The idea is to gradually build both leg strength and stamina by spreading the kilometers over the course of the week. Thus Wednesday, Friday and Sunday I am running 10k, 12k and 14k respectively (which doesn’t sound so bad) and Tuesday and Thursday I have gym and a stretching class if I can make it, plus some hill running. We are going to meet at the gym on Tuesday to go through some exercise routines but that is enough for today. To be honest, I am feeling a bit depressed. This all seems far too serious for something that is still 6-months away and Gaby’s amused look of disbelief when I arrive home just highlights the futlity I feel. In looking for some sort of inspiration whilst reaching for a beer, I think of a friend in New Zealand who decided to compete in the multi-sport coastto-coast race. He was convinced that you couldn’t be too well prepared and the better the base the better the race. Much to the annoyance of his wife, he did really well so then decided to compete the following year and would still probably be competing today if he hadn’t received a certain ultimatum. Thus, I decide it is time for some mental adjustment. From this moment onwards, everything that has gone before will be considered pre-training (which is a highly convenient way of consigning the Gualeguay experience to the dustbin). I knew what I was getting myself into when I started so I can’t pretend that I don’t like what I am hearing. I knew it was coming and if that’s what it takes then so be it! My real training will start tomorrow, Wednesday, 21st April giving me exactly 200-training days before the 7th November. 29


Chapter 3 - 200 Days to Go!

CHAPTER 3 - 200 DAYS TO GO!

I

Wednesday 21st April

t’s the first day of my new training plan and things are not going well. My new breakfast routine is met by howls of laughter from our maid and my Office Manager/PA has labelled me and my new routine as “pathetic.” Despite this lack of support I have faithfully followed the plan up until 11am when, for work related issues, I am required elsewhere and therefore miss lunch. Nevertheless, I manage to run later that afternoon and although I only do 9km, I feel great. My splits are all slightly lower and I marvel at the power of the sandwich alhough to be honest, it is probably more to do with the lesser than expected distance rather than two pieces of bread. And with this feeling of wellbeing I am strong enough to face a dinner with the corporate auditors who are in town. Incredibly, everyone is in fine spirits and the table is a good humored one. I have tried my best by ordering a piece of pork from the menu because 200 gr was written beside it with the ubiquitous pumpkin puree. My decision to run has already been discussed within the inner-work circles locally and upon being made public, instantly engages the person next to me. He lives in New York and always goes to a friend’s apartment that overlooks 1st Avenue to watch. It is first real life comment that begins to justify New York’s status as the best Marathon in world. Imagine every year going out to watch people running! He then proceeds to ruin the moment by marveling at the physique of the front runners whilst casting a beady eye over my own. To compound matters the conversation then turns to accounting coupled with unfunny but corporately acceptable jokes and I slowly but purposely drain a bottle of wine before collapsing in a taxi on the way home. 31


My First Marathon at 38

Thursday 22nd April - 199 days to go! I manage to follow my dietry regime a bit better today but it is my day off so I don’t eat a sandwhich and don’t do any exercise either. Gaby has decided to join me in my efforts and we celebrate our solidarity with fish and more pumpkin puree before heading off to the Parent’s Play. Every year the parents of children in Kindergarten are invited to participate in a light hearted production that is performed in front of the school. The premise is not very complicated with the parents divided into 3 groups, each of which have to dance to two songs that act as the basis of an uncomplicated script full of wholesome themes. Usually, the play turns out alright on the night but the getting there can prove to be very frustrating and this year looks to be no exception. As usual, the group to which we pertain spends too long arriving and then drinking together to do any useful practice. So we redo the first two minutes of the opening song and ignore everything else. Friday 23rd April La Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur or “the reserve” consists of 353 hectares of managed wildlife reserve just 1km from the business district, the other side of the new Puerto Madero neighbourhood and bordering the Rio de la Plata. A complete circuit is about 8km and then you can add other mini-circuits e.g. the triangle in the middle for an additional 3.3km. I love the place. It is my own oasis of calm within the city but also comes with mixed feelings. I am eternally grateful that the government has not succumbed to developers. However, I am not too enamored by the fact it is a Reserve rather than a Park. When you think of the enjoyment that the well maintained parks of NY and London offer, it seems sad that one cannot walk around freely because it might damage the natural habit. 32


Chapter 3 - 200 Days to Go!

Today I have to run 12km and try to stick to the diet plan, so it is cereal for breakfast, fruit and a sandwhich at 11am and then run time. Nothing incredible happens. Actually, I feel really quite tired, my splits are nothing special and by the evening I am starving. On the way home, it is too much and I am unable to resist one of the stalls on the station and tuck into a hotdog covered in chips and mustard. It actually turns into a blessing in disguise as we are one of 3-couples invited to play poker and there isn´t much food. Unfortunately, one of the wives doesn’t play so the husband, who usually blows his money in the first couple of hands, starts to occupy himself with her wellbeing. This is particularly annoying for three reasons. Firstly, she seems quite happy looking at what the other two wives are doing. Secondly, whilst distracted he slows down play and then promptly asks everyone else to speed up when it is not his turn and thirdly, he is winning. For us two remaining males it is a long frustrating night. Rubbish after rubbish and the little time we get something we are thrashed by Gaby. I have been in this situation before hence the reason very little cards are now played at home. I am not sure what it is about sports and cards and luck in general but there are certain people against whom you just cannot lose and there are others you cannot beat. When Gaby is on a run, she is unbeatable and when the opportunity arises we both go all in and lose horribly. This leaves her facing off against the remaining male and the result is a foregone conclusion to all except him. He refuses the opportunity to go home with his winnings and insists on playing until there is only one person standing. In hindsight I could have been a bit more sympathetic but having suffered all night from crap cards and torrents of abuse, I find it particularly satisfying when having gone all in with a straight he is obliterated by Gaby’s four of a kind. Saturday, 24th April At 8am I am in the gym with Claudia who is guiding me through an exercise routine before finishing with a gentle jog that leaves me outside my house. It is a gorgeous day. Autumnal in origin, with the leaves deciding whether to turn or not and nothing indicating what was to come. At 9.30am I take my eldest to rugby practise and Gaby takes the moment to go for a run. For 33


My First Marathon at 38

some reason, the area that is used for jogging is empty, not that she would have heard the approaching motorbike with her headphones on anyway. So it is with surprise that the motorbike passes within inches, stops and the rider pulls out a gun. “Don’t look at my face!” He orders and pointing the gun repeats the phrase as Gaby, stunned can’t move. And then the realisation sets in and the tears begin to fall as she hands over the ipod, watch, her jacket and finally the gold band on her wedding finger.

34


Chapter 4

CHAPTER 4

I

Saturday 1st May,

t is a beautiful day, cold, crisp with not a cloud in site and I am watching my son play rugby. He plays for CASI, one of Argentina´s biggest rugby clubs and conveniently located 10 blocks from where we live. It happens to be in one of the city´s top neighbourhoods and the children who play want for nothing. He is playing against Virreyes (www.vrc.org.ar). A team built via charitable donations that takes kids from the slums and uses rugby to teach them life skills and teamwork. The kids then become addicted to Virreyes as it is the only aspect of their unhappy lives that provides stability where they can form bonds with both adults and other children alike. Virreyes then uses this bond to ensure that the kids go to school i.e. if the children don´t go to school or don´t get the grades – no rugby. Finally, it looks to place the children into the workforce or persuade Universities to offer scholarships to those that get the grades and then supports them financially as they progress through higher education. Last year, as part of CapitalIQ’s “Global Volunteer Day” we sponsored Virreyes, so I am particularly interested in seeing how the kids perform. I am embarrassed and proud at the same time. Embarrassed because these children who have nothing are playing their rugby as if it is the only thing in the world that they have (which it probably is) but beyond that, their behaviour is exemplary and I can´t help but compare them with my own children that on receiving something just seem to want more. I am very proud that we sponsored Virreyes and make a determined effort to congratulate their coach on his charges. 35


My First Marathon at 38

The rugby was being played at Hurling Club just a stone´s throw away from the illustrious Hurlingham Club where we head to after the game. Built in 1888, it is a classic example of the opulence that was Argentina before the 1940s. The club is set in 73 hectares and is comprised of a golf course, polo and cricket fields, stables and tennis courts with a gorgeous pavilion and hospitality area. It really is an oasis of luxury in an area that used to be THE place to live but is now rundown and being overtaken by slums. I am here to take part in the annual England vs ANZAC Ashes cricket game. A day of high octane, low caliber cricket that brings out the worst in everyone. This includes the wives, who seem to congregate at this particular time of the year and vociferously support their husband´s opposing team. It is as if they believe that supporting the opposition will somehow rid them of all the frustration of having to suffer a whole season of Saturday´s without their husbands and then Sunday´s hearing about his deeds on the cricket field. Last year, I was fairly key in bringing a losing cause back to life and turning a dying match into a thrilling last ball draw allowing England to retain the ashes. This year however, my only real contribution is a cooler of 12 bottles of Fullers “London Pride” that I picked up in Chuy (a tax free zone where one side of the street is Uruguay and the other Brazil). This proves to be highly popular as the game is a fairly one-sided affair with the Anzacs never really getting going. I am forced to stop drinking and go and bat but by then the game is a foregone conclusion and my only enjoyment is watching the big Scotsman (who doesn´t want to be named in case his Father finds out he was playing for England) hit the winning runs in particularly simplistic fashion. We all rejoin in the trendy Las Canitas neighbourhood for a parrilla where, sitting opposite the Clarkes we talk about running and my recent visit to the nutritionist. I don´t find much support for my new diet, especially from Julian, who having been out of action all year through injury, turned up today and got 4-wickets plus the best slow-motion catch ever. He, of course, is glowing in his athletic prowess and enormous plate of steak and chips totally unaware that he won´t be able to walk tomorrow. Nevertheless, they trained and ran the “Cruce de los Andes” – a 3-day, 100km event in some of Argentina´s most beautiful terrain and something that Gaby and I would like to do one day. 36


Chapter 4

The conversation understandably turns to Gaby’s experience the other day and it doesn’t get much better. On going to the police to report the incidence, instead of taking a statement and promising to look into it, they actually admitted to knowing who it was who committed the robbery. But it was far too late to do anything about it now because the goods would have been sold. Regardless, Gaby was sure that she could identify the person and if they knew who it was, they would at least be able to try and secure a prosecution. To which the answer was, “You don’t really want to report this incident do you?” “Yes, of course.” “Because if you do that, we will have to take your address and then they will know where you live, know that you have made the accusation and will probably have an idea of your wealth.” And there it is – now you know why the “official” crime statistics are so much lower than reality. It is also not so surprising that not only do these people not go to prison but their impunity is an incentive to others. Over the last 18-months almost everyone we knew was either subject to or knew someone who had suffered an assault or robbery. I had fought against moving into one of the numerous enclosed neighbourhoods because of the “Trueman Show” lifestyle it creates. But that changed when on coming home, I was almost at the door when one of two kids being chased by private security threw a sawn-off shot gun under a car and ran past. The trouble is, where is the solution? The government talks about integrating the poorest sections into society only for yet another corruption case to highlight the hundreds of millions if not billions that are just stolen. There is no conviction, no recovery of the money and therefore no penalty. In the meantime, these people carry on living in squalor. Literally mud floors, window frames made from plastic chair legs and having to open the rubbish to look for food. What is their option but to steal? It is a circle that is unbreakable and fuelled by a Provincial Government policy of “arriving late” so there is no stand-off. Tuesday, 4th May I am with Claudia in her office and we are just talking preliminaries before 37


My First Marathon at 38

the big moment, when I take off my clothes and get on the scales. The news is not good. I have not lost a single pound, let alone cracking into the 4kgs that have been identified as my “handicap.” Claudia is really nice about it and pretends that it`s not important at this stage, as she can see that secretly, I was hoping for something a little more encouraging. In an effort to cheer me up she then spends 20-mins marveling at how all the fat loss from my body in general seems to have redistributed itself on my stomach and maybe it`s just a matter of time before that goes too. I try to assure her and me both that if it`s really important to lose the weight I`ll get into the swimming pool and lose it all in a month. “Why don`t you just stop drinking instead!” Wednesday, 5th May I have a new training plan that not only ups my weekly kilometers but also includes some speed work. My body has also started on it`s own weight-loss programme but first after a miserly two pieces of toast for breakfast we are buying a car. This is not a minor issue in Argentina where the second hand value of certain cars can be higher than the list price in other countries. Additionally, it all depends on how you justify it to yourself. In our case, we have a Toyota Land Cruiser that has done us very well. We bought it for US$37,000 when it was 8-years old and had 150,000 km. Since then we have added another 100,000 km, driven it off a bridge and survived our own version of DUEL with a blind truck-driver. Unfortunately, all these things have started to take their toll and whilst we thought we were lovingly performing the service and maintenance required, the official from Toyota gave us a US$10,000 repair quote that clearly painted a different picture. Still, as mentioned, Tato is happy to take the car off us for US$20,000 and do much of the work himself. The first thing we did was to go into a garage that has a second-hand Land Cruiser which appeared to be in good condition. Incredibly, despite being just one-year younger than our car and having 100,000 km more, they want US$45,000!! Further enquiries convinced us that this route was blocked for the moment so we have gone for a new Honda Pilot, which we can get with 50% financing at a mere 23% annually. I am lucky in that I am paid in US 38


Chapter 4

dollars, so over the 5-years I am expecting this fixed rate in Pesos to be worth a lot less over the course of its life as the Peso devalues. The car costs US$67,000 (excluding the costs for getting it on the road). Honda are giving us US$2,000 off, I have to put up US$32,500 (i.e. the cost of repairing the Land Cruiser and the sale value) and the balance is being financed. In 4-years time, we can probably sell it for US$45,000 (at least), so depending how quickly the peso devalues against the dollar, I reckon I will end up spending just an extra US$20,000 on a brand-new car. The reality is totally different, after the financing company has included insurance, administration costs, commission and anything else they can wrap in that “everyone has to have� package, the financing will pay for the car on its own! I decide to console myself with the happiness that`s on Gaby`s face and get through the process as quickly as possible. I am late into the office and as a result meetings flow one into the other and when I go for my run it is 4pm and I haven`t eaten all day. Nevertheless, I feel as if I have balloon of inflated slurry in my stomach. I think it is because today is speed work and just thinking of it makes me nervous. Claudia was very specific in her instructions and I try to maintain the times of my 3 x 1000m splits constant. I complete them in 4.08, 4.05 and 4.01 and suppose she will be happy but I am sad not have broken 4 minutes and still feel like throwing up. I also find the remaining 6km of my run particularly tough and suppose the lack of food and the previous day’s 16km are taking their toll. Still nothing that a Curry and Beer night cannot fix. Thursday, 6th May, I wake up feeling slightly hungover and my stomach is not happy at all. I wanted to do some circuits in the evening but I arrived late to the gym, so managed to do 2 of the 3 required sets before entering a stretching class. At 9.30pm we turn up to the Parent`s play. We`ll obviously get our act together at some point, but for the minute I am content just to sit with some beer and watch all the first timers enthusiastically go through 10 different routines without taking any decisions as to which one they should be using. 39


My First Marathon at 38

Friday, 7th May That`s it. My stomach has given up fighting and I officially have the shits. The effect is immediate, so it doesn`t really matter what I eat, it just goes straight through. I am supposed to be running 16km today so for safety`s sake I go to the bathroom before leaving. It makes no difference, I am back in after 2km and again after 3km. Incredibly, the public bathroom in the reserve even has paper and I give thanks and celebrate my route planning. I can`t believe there is anything left inside me and look to get back (6km) to the office without stopping. I can’t and there is no bathroom this time! Not only that but the constant motion brings on an attack of hemorrhoids. A lack of Vaseline and some chaffing and I am in severe discomfort when I get back to the office. That evening we have a Barbeque at the Belgrano Athletic Club to mark the official close of the cricket season. It is usually a fun occasion but surprisingly there are only a few people from the club present. It is delicious but I am back in the bathroom again. At 11pm I can barely keep myself upright and we leave. Apparently, I won a prize but wasn`t around to receive it nor see our beloved captain covering himself in glory by spilling a bottle of wine over someone`s girlfriend. Saturday, 8th May Lie in!! I wish. My eldest has rugby and the coach leaves at 8.45am and I am going with him. It`s a beautiful day but I am feeling rough. So is my son by the looks of things. Either that or he has just watched a video of how to look like you`re putting in loads of effort without actually doing anything at all. Still, after finding myself a few cups of tea I am looking at things differently and things perk up when Gaby and the rest of the clan arrive. Normally, so far out of town, we would stay and do something in the neighbourhood but everyone has birthday parties in the afternoon and I am going to take advantage of this to go to the gym next door. I agree to pick up PaulaF’s children on the way. She is not a happy person and her Marathon preparations have taken a severe knock. Her knee has a problem that means that when it swells, all the liquid pools behind the joint so she can`t even 40


Chapter 4

bend her leg. It will probably have to be operated on and she is furious. She is in great shape and this means a month off and many other things that I am not really listening to until she finishes up with a “you know what it`s like.” Actually I don`t but I nod sagely and feel sorry for her. She was one of the main inspirations for getting me into New York being the first of many to say “If you are going to only do one Marathon, do New York. It’s the best!” So I leave her and can’t help but think “what if I do all this training and then get injured.” That must surely be everyone`s biggest fear and presumably what Claudia is for – to protect me from myself. Friday, 21st May I think I have hit a low point in my current job and it is the closest I really got to resigning. Starting today and continuing until the evening of Tuesday, 25th Argentina is celebrating its Bi-centenary. At school, my youngest is performing in a very curtailed version of the last 200-years and I have completely forgotten. At breakfast, I am reminded (no options offered) of my attendance. Fortunately, on consulting the Blackberry I confirm that my monthly office-heads meeting is at 10am and I should be able to make it. We have front row seats and I am enjoying myself until at 9am when I am interrupted by a buzzing that informs me that my presence is requested. Last year, the government unilaterally and suddenly invoked a daylight saving plan designed to help reduce electricity consumption in the summer. Regardless of whether it had any effect or not, it was welcomed by many as the days were suddenly an hour longer and we were able to enjoy the outdoors after work. The only drawback for me and every other IT dependent was the lack of synchronization with the rest of the world. As no-one had been informed of these changes previously, all synchronization of local calenders with those domiciled internationally, collapsed. This meant that my local PC showed a meeting at 10am but my Blackberry which runs of the servers in the US, shows it at 9am. This year, however, the government caved into pressure from the tourist industry which suffered as people took advantage of the extra daylight to stay home rather than go out and decided not to change the time. Unfortunately, 41


My First Marathon at 38

most software engineers had already incorporated a change into the system so now the reverse was happening, my PC shows certain meetings at 9am but they show at 10am in my Blackberry. I am now totally unable to concentrate as I find myself trapped in that Catch-22 scenario of not being able to juggle my priorities. Is watching my youngest enjoying himself on stage more important than attending a monthly office-head meeting? The person sitting next to me doesn´t have to think to answer that question and despite the corporate rhetoric about family time, we all know what is expected from an office-head. I can´t pretend that I am particularly enjoying my work at the moment and I also know that due to cultural differences, I am not that enthused with how my children are developing. So it is a particularly frustrating day where two rare moments actually clash and I can’t enjoy one without feeling guilty about the other. Perhaps that is just me being a little too retentive as my apologies are accepted without question and I subsequently get to the end of the day with a feeling of immense gratitude to my employers. Today I ran at least 16 km, which consisted of 2-laps of the reserve. I took it fairly easy and was happy that my calf, which has started to bother me, felt pretty good until the end when it started to tighten up. After changing it was time for a coffee and lo and behold right there next to Starbucks – a kebab shop. Yes, please – lunch, a chicken kebab with spicy sauce and salad followed by a Cappuccino with cream. What could be better? Now I am in a good mood and happy to celebrate the arrival of Gaby´s new car. It is extremely nice but not even its extreme spaciousness can aid Gaby maneuver graciously in her 1810 style, bell-bottomed dress. We and three other couples have been invited to a period dinner and arrive in our “carriage” at the same time as everyone else and together, look spectacular. The attention of our hosts is unparalleled and the enjoyment of the occasion completely surpasses the wariness of being served a plate of locro, a traditional plate on the 25 de Mayo holiday to celebrate the revolution. Saturday, 22nd May I wake up early, tired but content and even more so after the locro makes a 42


Chapter 4

rapid but uneventful exit from my system. There is zero chance of doing any exercise today so breakfast is Bacon sandwiches again or in my case, with fried bread and mushrooms. We then go our separate ways with Gaby and the kids in the new car and me in the old. We each have some chores to do before meeting en route and driving in tandem up to Gualeguay for the long weekend. My Mother-in-Law has finally chosen this day to fulfill her threat of making a locro for me (and the rest of the town looking at the size of it) but Tato is having none of it and has put it in the deep freeze. Despite the hurt looks and threats of what awaits me tomorrow the Matriarchs have no problem in eating another mouth-watering asado. Sunday, 23rd May It is not a very nice Autumnal day. It is cold. Rain is in the air and it is perfect for running so I am surprised by my reluctance to do anything. It is probably because the mattress on my bed is about 1cm thick and I have been up since 3 a.m. nursing bruised ribs from the wooden slats. Gaby on the other hand, had the thicker mattress and is out pounding the pavements. It´s lunch and I can´t help feeling I am playing the role of Kurt Russell in “The Thing” as I open the freezer and view something that looks like it has been buried in the ice for thousands of years and is probably not in the best of moods. I struggle to believe that thawing this Locro out is the best thing to do. Apparantly it starts to ferment the moment you finish preparing it, which would explain why it looks so angry and it has definitely grown. If fate is supposed to draw us inextricably towards our destiny then it was my duty to save my family with the ultimate sacrifice. In the meantime I rush to the butcher and purchase some lamb and promptly set about making a stew as an alternative. Something not lost on the Mother-in-law as only her, myself and an unfortunate relative that arrived unannounced are eating her locro. It`s not actually the taste or even the consistency of the thing that is the problem, it`s what it does to you inside. Basically, its any bit of the pig that can`t be sold, mixed with dried corn and beans that have been soaked overnight (rather like lentils). Then you mix it all together and let it undergo some sort of chemical reaction (or so it seems) to turn it into this traditional 43


My First Marathon at 38

dish that then sits in the pit of your stomach for hours. Lunch is over and I am basking in the adoration of everyone (especially my mother-in-law) for not just having a second plate but actually eating a third. Tato has decided that that proves the locro was a great success and that there is no need to keep it any longer, so promptly throws it in the bin before anyone can complain. The rest of the day passes pleasantly enough playing card games and burako. It`s only when we start preparing the parrilla for supper that I start to feel a little uncomfortable. We have decided to slow roast half a suckling-pig but I can`t imagine eating anything, let alone another full meal. Two hours later and I am lying in my bed with severe stomach cramps feeling very un-hero like and wondering when, not if, I am going to be sick. Monday, 24th May The cold, wet weather persists and although it feels as if my kidneys have been smashed with a hammer I am going to run anyway. So with a-ha in the headphones to keep my pace down, I head off to the costanera (the scene of the marathon) and promptly start the first of my 3-laps, which I calculate to be about 17km when combined with the distance required to get there and back. I am actually enjoying myself quite a lot as the weather (just starting to drizzle) and the autumnal leaves remind me of the UK and my pace is relaxed. However, it is time to crank it up a notch so the calming tones of Morten Harket are replaced by Kiss just as Gaby suddenly screeches up beside me on a bicycle. She has kindly come to keep me company and I am really thinking about stealing her bike as the moment I started to speed up my calf starts to cramp and stiffen. So I slow down a bit but I am now running almost on one leg. Suffice to say the next 5km are agony and on arriving home Gaby is sent to look for some anti-inflammatories. I meanwhile, set about stretching and amuse myself with a text from some friends who have gone to the far North West of the country for the longweekend. The highlight of their trip was to lead some wild Llamas over the hills from one farm to another. Unfortunately, they have just received a mail 44


Chapter 4

saying the Llamas have been requested by Buenos Aires to parade through the city, representing the province of Jujuy and will not be back until later. It seems they are not so wild after all. Amazingly, the pain starts to ebb and I don´t feel too bad after an hour, just a little ginger but it is a full week until I do any sort of exercise again.

45


Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5

I

Sunday 30th, May

t is 7.15am, it is freezing cold, dark and I am standing on the corner of Libertador waiting to be picked up by some friends. We are off to run the Club de Corredores 21km together. It feels as if I have done nothing but eat and drink all week – which is about right. But it has been a very different week. Taking advantage of Argentina´s Bicentennial celebrations, the extended national holiday and a week off school for the kids, we decided to all go to Colonia, Uruguay. So on Tuesday we took the fast boat over and 45-minutes later were disembarking in the sleepy but picturesque town usually used by foreigners to get an extra 3-month´s extension on their tourist visas. It really is very beautiful with the old fort enclosing cobbled streets and stone houses with purple bloomed bourgonvilias overhanging the entrance ways. However, the children are more interested in the old railway tracks, engine sheds and turntables before heading down to the beach and turning up stones. We slowly make our way towards lunch when we hear the sounds of a military band. This is highly exciting because they are carrying guns. What is more interesting is the playing of the Argentine national anthem as Uruguay celebrates its neighbour´s anniversary. Considering the disaster in bi-lateral relations that Argentina is causing with its protest over the cellulose plant opposite the tourist town of Gualeguaychu, this seems to be a very generous gesture. Rumour has it that the cellulose plant was going to be in Argentina but when the provincial governor asked for a US$20 million bribe, the 47


My First Marathon at 38

Nordic company moved to Uruguay. In retaliation, the governor massed a bunch of locals to sit at one end of the bridge that joins the two countries and effectively blocked a major trade route. Rather than try and diminish the problem, the national government got involved and tried to make an election campaign out of the issue, defending the country´s right to protest against a construction that was built without dual consent and therefore breaking the “Treaty of the Rio de la Plata.” Infuriated by Uruguay´s diplomatic response, the equivalent of sticking two fingers up, they then got too carried away and went for the environmental angle. But this only led to ridicule in the newspapers when the respective environmental record of the country was compared with that of the company. As a result the only people to have transited the bridge in the last four years was a very grumpy New Zealand rugby team, who on hearing that the bridge was closed, got out of the bus, performed the haka and were allowed through. I head back to Argentina after lunch whilst Gaby and the kids stay at a hotel and will stay there until Friday, enjoying their school holiday. Sadly, on arriving, I get caught up in a parade of antique cars so it takes ages to get home. I would have quite happily gone to the gym or swimming pool but everything is closed and I really don´t fancy running. We arrive at the half-Marathon within 15-minutes of the start time and warm-up by running to the tent used to hand out the numbers. Then there is the queue for the portaloos before sprinting to the start-line only to hear that it has been delayed by 15-mins. Despite the fact that there seems to be an official run within the Palermo district every other Sunday (as evidenced later by the inconsistent and numerous road markings all along the trail) it hasn´t stopped over 3,000 people from turning up, which is quite impressive considering the weather conditions. I try and stretch a little bit but am feeling stiff in all the wrong places thanks to this year’s Global Volunteer Day (GVD). GVD is designed to encourage staff to give something back to the local community. This year is our second attempt and I am proud to say that so many people in our office applied that we had to split the project across two days. More importantly, we found a couple of projects that really encompassed the spirit of the occasion. Firstly, we translated a charity website into 20 different languages so it could gain traction abroad and secondly, we helped the charity 48


Chapter 5

“La Morada de Juan Bautista.” La Morada de Juan Bautista basically comprises a group of mothers whose children all suffer from “light learning disabilities” e.g. Down´s Syndrome. As a result, they are not considered sufficiently handicapped to come under the government´s disability programme nor are they able to cope in the normal school system, so effectively they just fall through the cracks. The board has managed to secure a property that can be used as a school and the plan is to set up a centre of learning and try to encourage the children to become good at something and then place them within the workforce (or not as the case may be). The house has been received “as is” and is clearly uninhabitable. We have volunteered to put it into as good as condition as possible and corporate is giving us US$1,500 to help. This might not sound like much, especially when divided between 100 people and the materials we require, but where there is a will there is a way. We have encouraged people to resolve these types of issues and it is not long before we have all sorts of materials being donated or acquired at bargain prices, together with receipts!! Yours truly cannot be considered to be leading by example as I receive materials with no receipts at all, surprisingly, from companies who hope to win the office expansion projects we are about to undertake. On Thursday, myself and half the office descend on the house and are immediately split into two groups. One starts a programme of slash and burn on the jungle outside whilst the other prepares the internal walls for painting. It doesn´t take too long for us to realize that swinging an axe in a confined area is a recipe for disaster and when someone pulls out a chainsaw it is time for action. The outside team is now sub-divided further and given the job of painting the outside walls and stripping the old paint off the window frames. Soon we are like ants crawling all over the house and it begins to look like all those makeover programmes that are so popular on TV at the moment. On Friday, the other half are hard at work mostly finishing much of the work started the day before. I, on the other hand, am crawling along with 50 donated paving stones and bathroom tiles, praying that our new car doesn´t fall in half. On arrival, I am amazed at the transformation that the house has undertaken. There is clearly a lot of work left to do but in terms of our objec49


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tives, we have surpassed ourselves. I feel immensely proud of everyone and let them know at the party afterwards. However, the message is really rammed home when the Mothers, who we invited, want to say a few words of thanks but manage only about a sentence before bursting into tears. It´s not often you get the ability to really make a difference to someone´s life, so it was a very special day. But now, lugging paving stones and building a sandpit, has left me sore and stiff across the shoulders and with the drizzle in the air I don´t want to take my windcheater off. A little jogging on the spot, some light stretching and we´re off. I´m supposed to be taking this easily but once the first km is out of the way I find that I am doing sub 5-min kilometres quite happily. I am both pleased and worried at the same time – this is great but how long can I keep it up? It seems that I can keep it up for over 13km and then my calf starts to let me know that it is time to slow down. Amazingly, I am slowing down but still doing 5-min splits and this helps to reduce the build-up of lactic acid in my legs to the extent that when I get to the 18km mark I am able to push on until the end. 1.43.53, I am ecstatic. I have taken over 5-minutes off my 21km in Santiago just 6-weeks ago. My legs also feel a lot better on finishing as well and it ends a good week for me. 31st May My efforts during the 21km meant I suffered from some severe cramps in my calf during the night and am a bit ginger in the morning but basically alright. For no particular reason except it seemed like a good idea (and it was free) we are going for a full medical check-up. There are blood and urine samples to be given, treadmills to be run and ultrasounds to be analysed. I don´t appear to have any obvious issues at first sight except my ability to exhale would indicate that I have some sort of lung-blockage. We are asked to come back in a week to go through the results in more detail. 1st – 2nd June Basking in the glory of my 21km, I cancel my meeting with Claudia and 50


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we go and see Madame Butterfly instead. I like opera and enjoy the music without actually really knowing what is being said exactly but happy to follow the general context. It is a dream to be able to see a production like this in the Colon Opera House, famed for its acoustics and recently re-opened. However, without having a season ticket, that remains a distant goal. Madame Butterfly is perhaps the most famous of all the operas but this time it is accompanied by live subtitles which open my eyes to the callousness of it. The fact that something so beautiful can be constructed with something so ugly has me leaving the theatre in a “reflective” mood to put it lightly. My reflective mood carries over into the following day when the company has a conference call to discuss the direction that Argentina is going to take in the next couple of years for budgetary planning reasons. It is not a conversation that goes well but on finishing I vow to try and explain to our President that allowing the syndicates to increase salaries 25% each year in US dollar terms is not conducive to our local growth plans. And if that is not enough, my architect gets a spontaneously combustible thought to reflect on when I visit an apartment I am remodeling only to find the windows have been put in back to front. 3rd June I am with Claudia again in the evening and being subjected to another body analysis. I had hoped to have something tangible to show for my improvements in terms of weight loss but nothing. Apparantly my fat-to-muscle composition is trending in the right direction but you have to really be looking to interpret the graphs that way. Nevertheless, Claudia seems to be warming to me and my efforts since it is obvious that I am doing my training and not wasting her time. I want to do a 27km run with a friend up at the Iguazu falls, in Missiones. The trail has been marketed as a picturesque excursion through the jungle and alongside the famous waterfalls where “The Mission” was filmed. However, Claudia is not having any of it. For her, adventure racing and road running do not mix and so with that idea put to bed we concentrate on this month´s training programme whilst taking into account my travel plans. 51


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I have to confess that on leaving I feel a bit low. I know that I have not really been following my diet but the training has been going well and I have just finished a much improved 21km. You would think I would be able to have something to show from it. But instead the only thing I have to look forward to is the Parent’s play, something that does nothing to lift my mood. It is the first of our professional clown coaching sessions. Four of us have been selected for this honour (which it really is when you look at what everyone else is doing) and we are straight into a warm-up improvisation session. I find it incredibly difficult to undertake due to my mood (and acting ability). But after an hour, I have thawed somewhat. We are having a laugh together and although I am currently the most “wooden” of the four, I actually have renewed enthusiasm and am happy to embrace the lack of a plan as an opportunity to improvise. Needless to say, we can’t relax as there are just 4-weeks to go and we are losing one to individual travel plans.

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CHAPTER 6

I

4th June – Easter Island

just make it to an early morning conference having missed the first train. Fortunately, my PA has got in early and printed off the documents I asked for and then surpassed herself by bringing me a cup of tea as the conference began, making me the envy of the world. Maybe it was just one of those days but after that, I managed to put to bed 5-essential projects that had been on the go both for myself and CIQ and was able to leave the office drained but on a high. Not surprisingly then, that I slept all the way in the taxi to the airport. Met Gaby, got on the plane and slept all the way to Chile where we were welcomed by a power cut. Nevertheless, Nolita´s was still open and serving food by candlelight which made it just perfect. Early next morning we are back at the airport for our 8am flight to Easter Island, a place that has always held a strange fascination for me. It is a surprisingly long way away by plane (5 hours) but we are going backwards in time so still arrive before midday and are met with a garland of flowers before being taken to our hotel. It is nothing fancy but comfortable with a roof, as the first thing that strikes me is that the climate is semi-tropical and constantly threatening rain. After dumping our stuff we head down to the “port” and see our first Moai statue. It is quite an exciting moment as it is one of those places where a lot has been documented about what went on but no-one really knows. We walk around the town and do our touristy bit, looking for something representative and end up buying a pair of ceremonial wooden oars because 53


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they´ll look good hanging on the wall of the new apartment (and they do). It´s only when they are wrapping them up in newspaper that I wonder at the stupidity of it. I now have to travel to Bora Bora, back to Easter Island, then to Santiago and then to Buenos Aires carrying ………. a set of wooden oars! Yup, I think I can say that I am the only person I know who would do that. Still it was either that or a large stone egg which seemed to change colour under lighting. However the fact that it was made in Santiago rather put me off but not as much as the ubiquitous wooden Moai statues that come out of a box labeled “made in China!” There is not very much to see or do within the town itself which is small and built around two main streets comprised of hostels, bars and souvenir shops. Although, it does feel a kind of special place and in modern day terms you can clearly see where Polynesia meets Latin America. I´m not really sure how to put it but you just feel like you are in a weird place where something happened and everyone knows about it but you. This feeling of exclusion is highlighted by the citizenship rules. You have to come from Rapa Nui descendents to be officially of Easter Island, otherwise, even if you are born there, you are Chilean. This may not be a bad thing. On watching a documentary about the island they interviewed a number of people and one particular man highlighted the resourcefulness of the islanders and their ability to survive anything. He argued that if you took a person from Rapa Nui and put him with anybody else in the middle of nowhere, it would be the Rapa Nuian that would survive. Eagerly waiting the justification of this rather assertive claim, I was a little taken back by the matter of fact way that this person’s survival would be guaranteed thanks to his eating of the others! Dinner is preceded with the official welcome presentation to the marathon and signing-in. It is not a long walk and soon we have our official t-shirts and are invited for a “pastathon” in an effort to carbo-load. We tuck in but it is pretty basic and exactly the sort of thing I would avoid if possible. We are sitting opposite a Brazilian couple who, like us, are here for the 21km and to see Easter Island as it seems are 95% of the other contestants. Shortly, we are joined by Tristan Miller, an Australian, who is running 52 marathons in 52-weeks. This is his 24th , which is about right for the time of year and will be competing in Argentina in a few weeks time and also in New York. Apparantly, he was asked to leave his job and with the money decided to 54


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“find himself ” by running around the world raising money. According to his website www.runlikecrazy.com he has raised over $15,000 which is awesome. Another interesting character is in Easter Island to complete his 7-continents marathon whilst the star of the show is a 78-year old. Additionally, beyond the 42km, the 21km and the 10km there is a triathlon and the Rapa Nui cup that is being fought over by two triathletes. On day 1, they had a triathlon, Day 2, a mountain bike competition and on Day 3 they have to run the 42km. The winner of two out of the three events is then crowned “King of Rapa Nui.” Unfortunately, the leader after Day 1, then fell off the bike (whilst leading) during Day 2. As a result they have to run the Marathon. 6th June – Race Day! All 180 of us line up in front of the very proud Moai statue at Hanga Roa and set off for the run. The initial part is quite uphill as we move through the town and then it settles down as we pass the airport. Fortunately, Gaby and I decided to drive the route in our hired car beforehand and know what to expect. As runs go, it´s not the best. It´s literally a there and back across the island with a few wibbly-wobbly bits to add the extra kilometers required. The way out is uphill all the way apart from the last 2km which is straight down to the beach at Anekena. There the 42kmrunners, if not thinking about the fact that they now have to go straight up for 2km, get to see a really nice array of Moai’s in probably the best part of the island. Fortunately, those of us running 21km don’t have to battle such extremes. I personally don´t have too much of an issue with the constant inclines and come to the 10km turning point in third place and very quickly find myself in second. There are actually more than 3-people doing the 21km and Gaby is ecstatic when I pass her. I feel great and am flying down the hill but as the terrain starts to level off by the airport the wheels drop off. The previous week is taking it’s toll and I am knackered. The last 2-3km are very tough and with each new corner not revealing the fin55


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ish line the mental battle gets worse. It is so important not to stop and just simple things like whispering “keep going, keep going” are all it takes. Finally, I can see it and make a determined effort to maintain my second place and do so in a new Personal Best 1.43.00!! A little girl in traditional dress is waiting with a medal. Her and I both are wondering if I´ll be able to receive it without being sick. She is clearly an experienced prize giver as she keeps as far away as possible just in case but all is well, until I am accosted by a news camera. I try to keep my stomach in check whilst being as optimistic as possible regarding the course and the organization (which really was excellent). I am cramping up a bit, so sit and stretch for a while and wait for Gaby to finish. This is her first official 21km and I know that the last 5km is going to be very hard but after what seems like an eternity I can see her coming from afar and start a small group to cheer her in. She´s wiped out but finishes in 2.34.51 and I´m so proud. After showering and changing we head off for the National Park at Ranu Raraku, which is in fact the inside of a dormant volcano from which nearly all the Moai statues were carved. As a place it is emptily eerie. All the statues were carved out of the rock face and there are still some that are stranded as works in progress. Once finished, they were sort of pushed down the hill to await transportation. It would appear that carving the statues was a far quicker process than carting them across the island and over time a sort of stockpile of completed Moais and rock chippings accumulated. In the ensuing decades after being abandoned, further accumulation of debris and sediment left these monoliths stuck in the ground, tilted at odd angles as if they were giants, wading through chest high mud with their hands by their sides. Such is the mystery surrounding the island and the clarity of expression on the faces of these deities; you can wishfully believe that if they could speak, they could teach you something of immeasurable importance. Nobody is really sure how the statues were moved. The now extinct native trees may have been used either to roll the statues into place or as Y-shaped cradles to drag them. Alternately, before sheep grazing stripped the country of a reed-type grass, it was thought that flax was woven into ropes and together with wooden poles the statues were almost “walked” to their positions. Unfortunately, if they fell, they were left in situ as there was no means to right 56


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them. Considering that the average statue weighs 14-tons and the heaviest 82-tons, you can imagine how many “F-words” were spoken when that happened. Interestingly, the Moais originally faced inwards, as if protecting the inhabitants from the evils that could come from the sea. Presumably, psychology was also part of tribal warfare 600-years ago as a lot of “statue toppling” occurred. Ironically, the most impressive set of statues at Ahu Tongariki survived the wars only to be leveled by a massive Tsunami. A research team from Japan restored them in the 1990s and the 15-moai stand tall and magnificent in their splendor. You really do have to just sit and wonder at it all and thank God that this amazingly unique place is in the middle of nowhere and not full of back packers tripping out. 7th – 11th June Imagine, a bungalow supported by stilts, perched above a transparent blue sea nestling on pure white sands. Not a sound apart from the gently lapping waves and the cries of overhead birds and in the distance, misty clouds swirling around the remnants of a volcano whose sides are covered in a sprawling, lush, green vegetation that can only be created in the tropics. Surely this is what paradise must be in the imagination of most people. So why am I so bored!! All I can do whilst sitting on my balcony is look at the peak of Mt Otekamu and want to scale it and not just because “it´s there” but because I´m here and am looking for anything to do that doesn´t involve just sitting and doing nothing. I mean, I get it. We are at Le Meridian´s 5-star resort in Bora Bora, a Mecca for honeymooners and you are supposed to do nothing but I am feeling so not romantic and my problems at work are not stress related, on the contrary, so is there anything I can do? The answer appears to be, no! 57


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Yesterday we decided to go sailing but we were not allowed to sail, someone else had to do the sailing for us! And talk about being bored. With all the best will in the world, the guy took us out for quick lap of the lagoon but he was just going through motions until I decided to jump off ! That woke him up (although this is a relative comment for a Polynesian) and his face just lit up with the biggest grin I had seen in ages. After that it was great, Gaby got in and we went looking for rays etc whilst the boat did figures of eight to pick us up and move on to a new place. But clearly this was not on and I had to diffuse a discussion between the boat boy and Beach Manager after I had swum back. So now I am on the computer and entertaining myself by chatting with people who I really shouldn´t be and Gaby is, understandably, not happy at all. When the following day dawns grey and rainy and doesn´t look like it is going to stop, we decide to go into town. The route is rather depressing as it is just one empty hotel after another. Our rather amusing and cynical taxi driver confirms our worst fears. There is nothing to do here but buy pearls. So that is what we end up doing. Gaby is not complaining and is soon immersed in a technical conversation about the size and lustre of the Tahitian Black Pearl. Whilst I am happy for her, watching somebody else shop is not something that excites me greatly, so I go for a walk and amuse myself watching the milliard of crabs (with pretty sizeable pincers) that live in the ground along the roadside. Not only that but the burrows stretch way into the gardens of the adjoining houses. It must be extremely tiresome for the local inhabitants to have to co-habit with these animals, not knowing where one of the little critters is hiding next. But I suppose like most things, you get used to it and just get on with it. Our final day and we do a tour. We are picked up at 8.30 am by a couple of large friendly islanders and then go backwards and forwards collecting other tourists before finally picking up the final crew member, a skinny guy wearing a fluorescent pink thong. Our hosts are in fine voice and whilst one drives the boat the other plays the drums whilst the skinny guy accompanies on an Ukulele. It all sounds a bit like jazzed up Moari singing and I can´t understand a word but seeing these three brothers (or so they claimed) just enjoying themselves is contagious. 58


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Pretty soon, we were round the other side of the island and being immersed in a coral reef. Pure Nemo country. Every shape, colour and size right in front of your eyes and if you hold a piece of bait you might even feel a bit claustrophobic as the fish swarm around. It is stunning and easy to see where the ideas for the flora and fauna come from in such films as Avatar. However, this was just the hors d´oevres. Soon we are speeding off to a shallow area of sea full of dustbin lid sized blotches. We have come to feed the sting-rays. Now I have no idea what Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin was doing when he died, but from what I saw, he must have been the unluckiest person that day. Our Polynesian friends are pulling these gentle giants by their tails, lifting them out of the water by their wings and even sharing saliva. Meanwhile, all the time 2m long reef sharks are zipping by looking for any stray bits of food that might be floating around. If the sight of the odd shark was an interesting experience getting off the boat at our next stop was electric. There were dozens and dozens of the things swimming lazily round the boat.. It was wonderful to see their sleek outlines effortlessly gliding past and you just can´t help but wonder if your toes are too tempting a target for these creatures. But that is forgotten when a 4m shape drifts into view below. A lemon shark. I would love to say it is a vicious killer but it probably doesn´t even have teeth. Nevertheless, as you hold your breath and drop down the 5-8m to the bottom, it starts to look pretty big and sharklike. So the 5-seconds or so that I hold on to its dorsal fin and enjoy being pulled along by this pre-historic, mindless killing machine is totally exhilarating. Who knows, perhaps if we had done the tour on the first day and not the last, my impression of Bora Bora would have been totally different. As it was, despite the fact that I was smiling from ear to ear, I was pretty glad to be leaving and heading back to Argentina. Just as a footnote, I don´t want put you off Bora Bora. It is one of the world´s most beautiful places on earth and I am glad we stayed at the Le Meridian for no other reason than to support their conservation of the Green Sea Turtle. This species is on the verge of extinction because they are still hunted for food by the islanders. The police are trying to educate the islanders but every now and again a dead female (or live juvenile) will be found with eggs inside. These eggs and young turtles are brought to the hotel and either incubated or kept in the artificial lagoon within the facility until they are 3-years old. At 59


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that age they are set free with the hope and expectation that they will return to lay eggs on the island. The Green Sea Turtle is actually a reptile that returned to the sea about 150 million years ago and is so ancient that they actually were around before the dinosaurs. Thus they breathe air and are able to stay underwater for long periods of time because the blood has higher concentrations of Carbon Dioxide than normal allowing the storage of greater quantities of Oxygen. An adult can sleep underwater for up to 2-hours before needing to breathe again but a juvenile has to sleep floating on the surface. Additionally, juveniles are carnivores and eat jellyfish but as they mature they become herbivores and it is the pigments in the algae that make their flesh turn a green tinge, hence their name.

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CHAPTER 7

W

e have arrived back into Argentina on 10th June, a day before the Soccer World Cup starts in South Africa. If there is one thing that will stop this country dead in its tracks it is football and this year´s team with Messi, Tevez and others carries with it the very high expectations of the nation. It´s a Country Manager´s nightmare and especially if that Country Manager happens to be English. I don´t really care too much for football, especially English football and especially England. It has nothing really to do with the football or the footballers themselves, more the newspapers and their need to build a pretty average team or individuals up, for the sole purpose of being able to tear them down again. But playing with a country´s national sport during the world cup just creates such fervor that any rational type of conversation, difficult at the best of times, is now impossible. In 1998 just as it became clear that England were going to meet Argentina in the Quarter Finals, I was visiting London and had the pleasure of discussing football with a taxi driver. The conversation went something along the lines of; “So where you from guv?” “I´m living in Argentina.” “That must be nice, I hear the women are beautiful.” “They are.” “You must be looking forward to the game then.” “mmm, not really?” “Why not? We´re going to beat them. I can´t believe you´re not excited by that.” 61


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“I can´t believe that you seriously think England are going to win.” “Of course we are, we´re going to thrash them. We can´t lose.” “England are an overrated team of underskilled players who ARE going to lose and thanks to all the hype in the press, I´m going to suffer the consequences of the game when I return to Argentina.” “We´re going to fucking kill them just like we did in the Falklands. I can´t believe you aren´t going to support ´em. You´re not fuckin´ English you´re not.” Quite! Well there´s not much to say to that except I am English and England lost! So here we go again. Another world cup and another year of explaining that actually I have no problems with Maradonna´s “Hand of God” goal and any other team would have done the same thing (and have – including England). The only thing that upsets me is that the same player who scored the worst goal of the tournament, in the same game then scored the best goal ever in a World Cup. When asked about the two, he had no compunctions in saying that the “Hand of God” goal gave him the greatest satisfaction. I guess this is understandable given the context of Argentina at the time but sad, nevertheless. This year, I confess to knowing practically no-one on the English team but have not been immune to the success the team has had in qualifying under their new Italian coach Fabio Capello. Usually, England make a complete mess during their qualifying and end up relying on the results of others. This year, however, England have not only qualified as fast as possible but have done so with a style and execution previously unheard of. As you can imagine, the English press is already hailing this campaign as “The Year.” Argentina, on the other hand, barely made it to Africa. The qualifying stages went so badly that 2 coaches resigned and the Argentine Football Association (AFA), fearful of being crucified by the public, appointed the only person who could lose and not be turned upon; Diego Maradonna. He in turn, with 5-minutes to go before elimination, had the courage to put his faith in 36year old Boca Junior striker Martin Palermo, holder of the dubious honour of being the only person to miss 3-penalties in an international game. He was rewarded when under the rain and in injury-time, Palermo hammered home the winner. The celebrations were unrestrained with Maradonna letting rip at everyone who had doubted him in the simplest of terms. 62


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On Saturday 12th June, I meet Claudia at 9.15am for a run. I haven´t really done too much since my back to back 21kms so I am quite looking forward to getting out. We trot gently to where Claudia wants us to do a 1km circuit 3-times. The circuit consists of 450m of flat, followed by about 100m of steep incline and then 450m of gentle decline. The idea is to do the circuit in 4 mins 20 secs, something that I just barely achieve first time round. The second circuit is completed in 4.30 and the third one in 4.28 and I am feeling seriously ill. Each circuit has felt like the final 3 km of Easter Island. I am knackered, white and about to vomit and Claudia is looking very anxious. I feel really, really unwell. So we gently jog back to the gym, say our goodbyes and I arrive home in time to see Argentina score an early goal against Nigeria and then play just well enough against a potentially difficult rival to win the game. After lunch, I am going with some mates to watch England against the USA. We have all agreed to pay some ridiculous amount of money for beer and in return the landlord has hired a projector and big screen for the game. And what a start! Within 4-minutes England, as sharp as knives, have sliced open the defence and slotted home the opening goal. “Here we go, here we go, here we go” starts to be rendered around the bar and I have to agree that it was impressive. But this is the World Cup and it is England. After the opening burst, England settle into a pattern of nothingness that allows the USA back in the game and then suddenly, out of nowhere a moment of complete ineptness and it is 1-1. I would love to say something like “unbelievable” but actually it isn´t. Here we go……….again! 14-20th June What a crap week. I am feeling really down. I have got the world´s worst sore throat which means I am not sleeping well. When I run I feel flat and tired and am suffering from too many late nights. I have the results from my physical and arrive late. As a result the Doctor wastes no time. Such is my state of mind I am hoping for some sort of pathetic comfort along the lines of; “You know I admire what you are doing, with this lung capacity reading being a classic sign of some congenital birth defect, it´s really incredible what you are doing.” But instead, he just rushes through, holds up the graphical analysis and says, 63


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“You obviously have an issue blowing but don´t worry, that´s irrelevant. However, I am a bit concerned about your cholesterol levels.” I then explain that they have always been high and that I have high bad and high good cholesterol so it´s not a worry. “Not anymore you don´t. Now you have very high bad, so start taking the tablets and come back in a month.” I am not impressed. The tablets go straight in the bin. Bugger! No congenital disease that I can use as an excuse. On the contrary, I have inherited one that requires more exercise. I go for a run. It is Thursday and we have all convened for the Parent`s Play. With the actual date just 2-weeks away there is a bit of urgency to come up with some sketches. Fortunately our desire to create something out of this disaster means that we quickly pull a few things together with the help our “clown instructor.” Despite finishing after midnight we walk out feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Friday and I am forced to finally recognize that my supposedly healthy diet is anything but. I am literally surviving on Starbucks coffee and Redbull. The lack of sleep, bad cold and family stress is taking its toll. I am mentally down and physically not in the best condition and just to highlight the point, my arse has decided it has had enough and I suddenly have very painful hemorrhoids. Can it get any worse? Oh yes it can, the children`s school reports arrive and that is the last straw. My eldest is in free-fall and we decide that it is time for us to leave Argentina. However, the day is not done with me yet. There is one final ignominy to face first. England, having replaced their goalkeeper with David “Calamity” James, manage to draw against Algeria! Algeria for God`s sake! No wonder my arse hurts. 19th – 25th June The whole week has been a struggle. Argentina clinically dispatched Korea 4:1. Maradona repaid his gratitude to Palermo by putting him on with 15mins to go. Can you believe that he scored a goal! England, on the other hand, probably won`t even make it through the first round let alone get to meet Argentina in the Quarter Finals. Whilst I am happy to nod and sympathise with the people in the office but my mind is elsewhere. There is a fire64


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fight building between ourselves, corporate and our payroll provider which is occupying most of my attention. It is one of those fights that you know is futile because Corporate chose the payroll provider so it is unacceptable to admit that there might be errors. And to be honest, it is one of those issues that just highlights the reasons why it is time to leave. The Argentine salary system is incredibly complicated. Most people now belong to a Union and the Unions negotiate collective salary agreements on behalf of their affiliates in return for not causing chaos. The sad fact is that local management has been so bad for so long, that much of today´s problems are deserved. Historically, Senior Management did not integrate at all with the person on the floor who was treated extremely badly. Now, these people are represented by an incredibly well organized and professional Union (in most cases) that come armed with presentations regarding local inflation, the company´s profit projections and their demands. In the face of such organization and the lack of desire for a fight, most companies just cave in to the demands until things get so ridiculous that the company collapses. Very few stand-up and fight and unfortunately, if they do and it goes to court, the Judge will tend to defacto rule in favour of the Union to avoid political pressure. A classic example is a friend who runs a construction company. He negotiated the building of some low cost housing for the local Mayor, who in turn evicted a squatter from a house that he had been using to sell hotdogs and other fried food. The man asked if he could work within the site and provide food to the workers. Feeling sorry for the evicted person who, if lucky, probably earned Ar$500 a month, my friend agreed and for six weeks, he sold food. Then out of the blue he was taken to court by this person for not being a registered worker (as he should have been if working within the site) and then accused of tax-evasion due to hiring labour in the black. But this is not the point of the story because, as my friend readily admitted, he had been naïve, realized he had made an honest mistake was prepared to grit his teeth, settle and get on with it. After all, how much can this honestly cost; A$20,000, A$25,000, A$40,000? The judge handed down a A$160,000 fine! But on top of that, when confronted to explain the insanely high amount the Judge just turned around and said; “That´s the price of doing business in Argentina:” 65


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In our case we were forced to take a global payroll provider who clearly underestimated (a) the work involved with processing Argentine salaries and (b) the growth our company was going to undertake. At the end of the day, the problem is more one of under-resourcing and we all listen on the phone whilst the most affected person just lets rip. I´m impressed because if I had said that, I´d have been fired (something that´s extremely tempting) but I have been asked to speak only if spoken to. Clearly, everyone is aware of the issue and wants it to go away, so the conversation is over pretty quickly with everyone promising to help each other (we´re all on the same team) and if more help is required it will be hired. I am exhausted. Even though it was a long weekend, I just cannot function and feel really ill. I am not sleeping and my arse is killing me. I had brought some creams from the UK with me for exactly this purpose and they are not working. I have continued to keep to my training schedule but am not being helped by my meetings that all seem to fall around lunch time so instead of actually eating more I am now eating less when I need it the most. As a result, most days are now drug induced mixtures of paracetamol, coffee and redbull. Is it any surprise that I am ill? Amazingly, England managing a 1-0 victory over Slovenia which was a pretty draining event in itself and on Friday it all catches up with me. We go to the Opera and despite the wooden seats, I sleep through all of it. Sat 27th It is a big day. I go for a long run (about 15km) in the morning that takes me as far a Carrefour where I meet Gaby and she exchanges the kids for my ipod and runs home whilst I continue the shopping. At 10.30am the first visitors arrive and the beers are opened as we settle in to watch the much anticipated Quarter Final clash between England and Germany. An occasion full of historic significance. However, today is different. I am feeling quietly confident. So far the World Cup has gone exactly the same way as all beforehand with England lucky to 66


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have gotten through to the Quarter Final. If things go to plan, we are about to provide the best display of football by an English team since the previous World Cup Quarter Final, which will set us up for a Semi-Final clash against Argentina. And what better opponent to do it against but a young, inexperienced German side. The house is decked out in Red and white, the anthem, whilst not sung is a moment of intense silence and suddenly we are off and tension is palpable. And get this, England are looking sharp. Crisp passing, fluid movement off and on the ball and could even be considered to be looking confident. But after having all the possession, after 20-minutes a simple goal-kick is left to drift by the English defense, picked up by Klose who manages to outmuscle two of England´s biggest and most experienced defenders to deafly thread it past “Calamity” James and it is 1-0. It could have been worse 5-mins later but Klose inexplicably (after a great move) fired it straight at Calamity´s face resulting in a reflex save and perhaps the only time he used his hands. Still, lesson learned and on 32-minutes they score another through his legs. But this is England and England does what it does best and that is “to fight onto the end” especially against the old foe and so it was with a great deal of pride that they surged forward and with more desire than skill (although it was a great header) clawed one back on the 37th-minute. And then tragedy. Just 60-seconds later Lampard blasts a ball from the outside the area which hits the crossbar, deflects downwards, crosses the line and is not called. It´s a disgrace, especially with today´s technology. The boys go into the break 2-1 down and despite coming out with great intent, peppering the goal and hitting the timber yet again, the constant pushing forward leaves plenty of space behind which is taken advantage of twice to leave Germany 4-1 winners. Noone is complaining about the result because frankly, England were outclassed but 2-2 at half-time would have created a whole different game. It probably wouldn´t have resulted in a different outcome but at least it wouldn´t result in such sickening sensation. Still the English press will have their excuse and everyone can leave, ignoring the fact that yet again, it was a mediocre World Cup campaign by one of the highest paid teams. In the afternoon Argentina thrash Mexico 3-1!

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Chapter 8

CHAPTER 8

I

Monday 28th

have finally got the courage to visit a proctologist who happily informs me that the reason my creams are not working is because they are for internal hemorrhoids and this is external.

“It would be like trying to put your ear inside your head! You can´t. We will have to remove it!” Fortunately he doesn´t look at all like Quentin Tarantino apart from being young, trendy and of Italian descent. This means he feels obliged to practice his English. Such a bad idea given the subject and highlighted by his first joke about being a “crap doctor.” Nevertheless he is clearly passionate about his subject so we spend a good 20-mins discussing mine and everybody else´s backsides. Finally, with a smile he concludes the discussion by informing me that “after tomorrow, my arse will be just like new” and puts his thumb and first finger together in the classic “OK” sign which I wonder if is used as some secret colonic code. Regardless, I think that it is a little detail that won´t be making it into gay community in the near future. My options are limited and anyway, such is the discomfort that with relief in sight, I am not going to back down now. Additionally, I am running in the Rio de Janiero Half Marathon on 17th July, so I have to do this now for the recovery time. There is nothing left but to discuss the procedure which seems pretty simple, “You need to be here by 8am and accompanied by someone. No breakfast, no tea, nothing. You just get up, brush your teeth and come here, ok?” 69


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“Fuck! How deep are you going to go?” “Ha Ha! Don´t worry” he says with eyes glinting, “You´ll be under General Anesthetic and won´t feel a thing!” So reassuring. It is late when I leave so instead of going back to the office, I decide to carry on walking down Santa Fe to the Botanical Gardens, stopping on the way to buy myself some running trousers that have a fleece lining on the inside, are super comfortable and will be the only thing I wear during the next few days. 29th June – 2nd July I am at the Doctors by 8am, tired but with shiny teeth. By 9am and in my operating gown, I am rather disturbingly being strapped into a sort of crucifix like contraption and told to relax by a ridiculously tanned anesthetist complete with gold medallion. I can´t believe that my life is actually going to be ended by a couple of posers who during lunch are probably out at the reserve sunbathing in their budgie smugglers. Still, I don´t have much time to dwell on it as 20 seconds later I am out and wake up happily pain-free at 9.30am. As you can probably appreciate the rest of the day and next couple are spent taking taxis and walking gingerly around the office trying to reassure everyone who asks that I am alright, without actually saying why I required the surgery. Gaby on the other hand, seems to have no problem in telling anyone who is interested why I excused myself from an emergency Dress Rehearsal and I arrive to School at 9 am for the first play to be greeted by chorus of people enquiring about my backside. Not only that, but it seems to have created a common theme of discussion with other “sufferers” and everyone is determined to discuss their current or prior afflictions. 10 am and the first of three Parent plays starts. The hall is full of kindergarten children from both St Andrews and the surrounding neighbourhood. It is a great success. The children don´t care about the quality and probably don´t really understand the story (something I can sympathise with) but just love seeing their parents up on the stage. All of us participants get the warm and fuzzies from seeing the delight reflected in their eyes and suddenly all the weeks of crap and late nights are worth it. 70


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The end of the play would normally see me spend a bit of time with my youngest but I have to whip off into town to sign the purchase of an apartment. It is actually relief to purchase this property because it means that I can finally rid myself of the wads of US dollars that I have been carrying around. I still don´t know why but all purchases are cash transactions, so you sit like some sort of gambler or Mafiosi with great piles of dollars in front of you until the time comes to pass them over. It is important to get this into perspective. We are not talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars but for someone who has come from a country where you can buy a drink by just swiping your card, it is extremely unnerving having to carry so much cash around. In the afternoon there is a lull in performances which gives me the opportunity to go the gym and do some circuits before preparing for the evening´s festivities. The evening play is traditionally for the parents and is open to anyone who wants to come and watch. It is also accompanied by a serious amount of drinking pre-, during- and after the performance. However, there doesn´t seem to be such a large number of people with the desire to imbibe this year and on finishing we all go on to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate. “The Clowns” group together and bathe in our Thespian glory but really, I think this year, people are just happy it´s over. This rather somber mood spills into Friday, where I have to be in early for an “Induction Day” to welcome all our new employees. An hour later I am in a 3-way conference call and announce that I am quitting CapitalIQ and want to leave Argentina. The decision does not actually create the sense of relief I thought it would, which makes me doubt that I am doing the right thing. Still there is no rush as I am not planning on going immediately. In the evening, we go to a party that is being organized to collect money for the same institution that we helped during our Global Volunteer Day. A number of friends are there and unsurprisingly I am the butt of most jokes but it is all wearing a little thin now and I do something that I´ve wanted to do for a long time and that´s get totally shit-faced.

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CHAPTER 9

L

17th July – Rio De Janiero

ife doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Earlier in the month Argentina got thrashed 4-0 by Germany, which actually provided some sort of credibility to England´s efforts. Home life has been tense with our eldest now blatantly lying about his work (or lack of it) and is in serious danger of being asked to leave school. The relationship between Gaby and I is strained whilst Claudia vented her full fury at me for not enlightening her regarding my rectal problems and the associated lack of training. I am finding the whole thing just a bit too stifling and all I really want is to be left on my own for a bit. Luckily, my wish has been granted as the family has left to France to spend their summer holidays with my parents. Despite my week of “freedom” I actually find I have no time to go out or do anything other than work as on the Monday, the Union announces their “salary increases”. It is a totally unfathomable document open to a very wide range of interpretations with the potential increase ranging from 0-35% depending on how you look at it. The next few days are spent with labour lawyers and finance people trying to put together and present a package that is acceptable to the local workforce and external management. It is tiring, delicate and made all the more harder by the press focusing on the high-end increase and not the small print. Thus on the day of the announcement the expectations in the office are high and it is a long explanation to slowly pinch the balloon. It´s a no win scenario and even after receiving a 23% increase, effectively in US dollars, there is general dissatisfaction. Still it is short lasting and most people realize they’ve had a fair deal and get on with it. 73


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I have two more appointments during the week. Firstly with my Doctor who tells me that everything is perfectly normal and hands me some cortisone for Rio and secondly, with Claudia to have a final weighing session before I go on holiday. Everything looks a little more encouraging. A slight drop in weight and all a bit tighter, so we are pleased. On Friday 16th, we have our mid-year office party which allows people to get personal in an informal atmosphere and thus air any frustrations if they desire. Pleasantly, whilst expecting some complaints regarding the salary increases, I got none. I am not quite sure why I didn´t stay and enjoy myself more at the party because by the time I got into bed it was midnight and the alarm went off three hours later. Surely just staying up would have been better but I just wasn´t in the mood. My taxi arrives half an hour later and through the cold empty streets we quickly make it to the airport. It is an effort to stay awake waiting but once on the plane I am immediately asleep and wake to us descending through torrential rain into Rio. I have fond memories of Rio but the last time I visited it was 20-years ago. To be honest, it doesn´t seem to have changed much. All the prime properties that line the hillsides overlooking the sea are still favellas and even in winter and raining, it is a mild 20 degrees. I arrive the room is not ready, so I dump my bags and head off (when I eventually find the entrance) on the underground to the convention centre to pick up my race gear. Without even opening my mouth, I am directed to stand in a line upon entering and marvel at the natural happiness of these people. Despite the fact that the line seems to go on forever, they are happy, smiling and relaxed. But this is Brazil. A very different philosophy to that of Argentina and highly welcome. It is actually a great pleasure to queue and just immerse oneself in all this positive energy, something that ups a level when, invited to converse. Suddenly they realize they have an Englishman, living in Argentina who has come to run in THEIR marathon. I am now the focal point of the queue and they couldn´t be happier. I am reliably told that this is the best event in Brazil as it combines the Full Marathon with the Half Marathon and 10km, which is cool. The queue is now turning Disneyesque. Having snaked around three of the four walls we are suddenly having our documents checked by a couple of 74


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members of staff and then sent to start a new queue within the metal ubends that signal the end is nigh. Except for me, it is almost blood pressure time. On finally arriving at the end, I am told, not really to my surprise, that I am a foreigner and that this line is for locals only. I have to go and queue somewhere else. Ideally, where the up-until-now hidden little sign in the back corner that reads “foreign inscription” is hanging. Apart from the enjoyment that Brazilians get from queuing, the other hallmark of Rio is how the signage is either useless or non-existent. The Metro system is new, clean and very efficient but you could be standing next to the entrance and not know it was there. Fortunately, my brain explosion is tempered by the fact that there are no foreigners actually in the queue and I am immediately attended by a very nice 55-year old, who clearly was once a stunner. But a little too much plastic surgery and the good life have left her looking jaded. Something highlighted by the arrival of her bubbly and energetic equivalent but 35-years younger. This little beauty is clearly enjoying her moment in the sun (and why not) and the conversation between the two women for my attention doesn´t need much understanding. Especially when it ends with giggles from one and a look of such unbridled hatred from the other that I decide to give my elder helper my full attention if only to spare the younger´s life. Sweetly, I am informed of what I need to fill in, am handed a T-shirt and I´ve finished. I spend a lot of time admiring the people around me in their designer uniforms and realize there are as many similarities as differences between Argentines and Brazilians. The “look” is all important and there is no shortage of clients for the brandnames and gimmicks being marketed. But one has to wonder at some of the items on sale. The array of new product is as overwhelming as the mix of psychedelic colours is eye-watering. To be seen is important and the bigger you are, the bigger the effect! But it is impossible to hold it against them because they are so happy and impart such good cheer that all your prejudices disappear in a smile. And I can assure you, there is nothing more enjoyable at km 17 than seeing an enormous wobbling jelly wrapped up in a bright, luminescent lycra suit, shouting encouragement as she battles her way round the course. I`ve finished what I`ve come to do so it`s time to head back to the hotel via 75


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lunch. Obviously, it is pasta time so Spaghetti Carbonara is what I order which the chef decides is best cooked with egg and ends up looking like some sort of mashed omelette. Not the best and I am ready for an hour or two`s kip but on arrival at the hotel, my room is still not available. So I sit and wait a bit and am happy enough with what I eventually get. My expectations are low and I am alone so the dark, airless room is quite adequate for one night. Even the simple, concrete bathroom, which reminds me of the changing rooms of a village rugby club is somehow comforting. I feel like a back-packer again. Which is just as well, as the window opens onto a rock face, on top of which is nestling the neighbour`s septic tank. The only thing stopping it from hurtling through my window appears to be a dead tree from which a beautiful purple orchid is flowering. I am strangely content and take the opportunity to skype with the family using the FREE WIFI that the hotel offers! The early start requires me to get myself sorted now and that includes a trip to the shops to load up on water, Gatorade and crisps, followed by a quick visit to the “Organic Produce Market� opposite. I can imagine my Mum shopping here everyday and I am surprised it doesn`t do much business. Granted it was closing but the array of fruit and vege was ample and the prices ridiculous. Effectively, I didn`t have enough small change (and I am talking coins and notes below R$5) to be able to pay for my purchases, so they ended up giving me a lot of stuff for free, which just added to my guilty sensation. I confess that feeling didn`t last too long and if I had tasted the tangerines and bananas beforehand, I would have tried to get more. With my kit laid out on my bed and my food and drink requirements taken care of, I then decide to indulge myself with a Starbuck`s mug. I guess I started collecting them about 3-years ago as souvenirs from the cities that I visited. Soon the collection started to grow and friends started to regale me mugs for birthdays etc so the collection has started to take on a life of its own. Strangely there seem to be only two Starbucks in Rio, one in Ipanema and one somewhere else (honestly, who cares). If you`ve been to Rio, you`ll know you don`t need too much of an excuse to go to Ipanema. So, I bring up the location on the map in my Blackberry and the red-teardrop tells me it is close to the beach at the end of the subway line. All too easy. Except when I arrive and zoom into the map, the teardrop suddenly moves a kilometer 76


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further away. No worries. Walking along the sea front is what I want to do anyway and the light drizzle is more homely than irritating. On arrival at the supposed destination, another close-in again moves the teardrop a kilometer further away. The third time this happens (and it is not as if I am zooming in from space), I actually begin to wonder if (a) this place exists and (b) if I am going to tire myself out getting there. However, eventually I arrive at a large mall and find the store nestled amongst the shops. So mug in hand, I then turn my walk into a productive experience by back tracking and dining in one of the fine Italian restaurants I passed on the way. Just the Minestrone soup plus the Angel Hair pasta with prawns in tomato sauce together with a nice glass of wine make the walk worth it alone. By 11pm, I am back at the hotel and fast asleep. 18th July, 21km Rio de Janiero

My alarm goes off at 5am. I slept soundly until 3am and then it was a struggle to get back to sleep (as usual) so it is not a welcome sound. I am really fighting it this morning so head down to the restaurant where all the elitelooking athletes are already munching away, bubbling with energy, perfectly tailored and clean shaven. This does have me begging the question if one day, I will also take this seriously but in the meantime, I scrounge some hot water and head back upstairs. I feel bloated, tired and exactly not in the mood for 21km. Nevertheless, slowly but surely my morning routine starts to prepare me mentally for what I came here to do and I return down stairs to find the 77


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courtesy buses have already gone. A rough mental calculation based on the cost from the airport has me taking R$20 from my wallet and hailing a taxi. 40 minutes later and clearly a long way from the start we are at the side of the road next to a favella. The options for me are limited and whilst the favella itself doesn`t bother me too much, it has just started to rain and I am only wearing a singlet. So in my best Portuguese and nothing to lose I say sorry and then explain that I have no more money on me and I am leaving Rio today after the run. If he agrees to take me to the start of the marathon and then comes to the hotel at 10.30 a.m., not only will I pay him the difference but also go with him to the airport. And if not, I`ll leave the money at reception for him to pick-up later. I just can’t actually imagine trying such a thing in any other country in the world but hey, this is Brazil. Not only that but I have timed my pitch until he finished singing the hymn on his favourite gospel radio channel. Unimpressed but full of Christian goodwill, my new friend Carlos agrees and we resume our journey. The start is on the promenade of Pepe Beach and is basically the half-way point for the marathon. Although I am quite comfortable going through my warm-up routine, which actively avoids using the Portaloos, my fairly minimal attire attracts attention. It is not a very nice day and everyone is wrapped up in sweaters and long pants whilst I am in a singlet and shorts. Again, it is only a short-time before I am the centre of attention and it’s really nice that such a simple things as participating in their marathon generates such pleasure. Still, it’s a short minute of fame as three, rather worse for wear, 20-year olds in black mini-skirts, stumble pass on their way home from the nightclub and I am instantly forgotten. Instead, I am wondering if I should say something to the very attractive girl next to me. She has fastened the safety pin of her running number right over where her nipple would be (or should be if said breasts were real). All I can see is the blood stained shirt of a male runner in Santiago who had done the same thing. I personally cannot think of anything more painful and as a result, I now always wear my number as low as possible on my T-shirt and am always pretty liberal with the Vaseline. The doubt and analysis has resulted in me delaying my decision long enough to attract the attention of the young man next to her to make me realize that even if I could get my message through it wouldn’t be welcome. Still, I hope 78


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she got through ok. At 6.50am the women are given a rousing cheer and sent on their way and then at 7am………..nothing happens! Finally then, there is a moment when the enjoyment of waiting wanes even in Brazil. As the minutes tick past and the rain gets progressively heavier, the whistling begins in earnest. I take the opportunity to disappear back to the beach for a last pee before the 8,000 of us finally set off. Straight away we are all corralled into one lane of traffic, sent round a bend then up a hill! The hill ends in a tunnel which seems to cause immense amusement to the locals who enjoy listening to their voices echoing around. On exiting we are climbing again but still pressed together making life fairly slow going. My first 2km are completed in a labourious 11-mins and there is nothing I can or particularly want to do it about it. Especially as I have now entered the second tunnel to find it dressed out like a night club. The local electric company has set up huge luminescent balls of different colours and a DJ is pumping out dance music. The locals are having a laugh, it is raining outside – the temptation to stop right now is very high. What it must be like for the Marathon runners for whom this would be the 23km God only knows. Up and up we go, following the coastline whilst the waves pound the rocks below. It’s still fairly slow going and for a few people, it is irresistible to ignore the Marshal’s warning and run on the other side of the road. That is, until a bus careers round the corner at a million miles an hour almost cleans them out. There is lots of water on offer with a station every 3kms. I drink at the first and then ignore the next. But it is has stopped raining and the heat is making the atmosphere very humid which is causing me to sweat buckets. I recognize that I am losing more water than I am imbibing and make it a rule to drink at all future stations. The run itself has now moved down onto Ipanema, made famous by Sten Getz but it is too early for the beach crowds. Nevertheless there is a fairly decent number of people lining the streets urging us on as we pass on to Rio’s most famous beach. Copacabana is 4km of pure white sand, home of the hottest sites of the summer wearing nothing but dental floss and 79


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there is almost always a party atmosphere. Being winter, the beach is vacant but the Powerade girls are not going to be outdone and are resplendent in what can only be described as indecent lycra outfits. Amazingly the smiles only get bigger as I violently swerve from the other side of the road to grab a bottle. Occasionally, you get something and it just hits the spot and this drink goes down so well. I am at the 16km mark and struggling a bit, so instead of looking “to bring it home” I decide to get to the 18km mark and then see how I feel. Fortunately, it is such a visually stimulating course that there’s a lot to look at. The beach is separated by the famous Portuguese Wave pavement, at the edge of which sculptors have built the most amazing sandscapes. I don’t really know what else to call them as a sandcastle conjures up the image of a lopsided blob that has come from an upside down bucket. These things are incredibly detailed, covering all sorts of themes from Disney characters to Aladdin’s Palace. Then, out of nowhere, I am offered an energy gel. I have never had one before (and strongly don’t recommend trying one during the run) but today I definitely feel the need. I rip off the top and squeeze. A large quantity of warm, lime-flavoured goo enters my mouth and instantly evokes a gagging reflex. It is the most disgusting sensation, I am really struggling not to vomit whilst runners behind me are scattering on all sides to avoid the inevitable. Luckily there is a water stop that allows me to wash it down without further incident and I carry on with a far greater feeling of admiration for all those swallowers out there. With only 3km to go, we round an inner bay that opens up to give a panoramic view of Sugar Loaf and it’s infamous cable cars. It really is beautifully iconic and I can say that visually, none of the runs I have done either before or since have come close to matching Rio for its natural scenery. Additionally, there are a growing number of people lining the streets to see us home. No 80


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acceleration for me – just get to the end and I consider my time of 1.48.45 relatively acceptable considering the temperature and humidity. Additionally, I am pleased with the effect my knee high socks are having on my calves, which seem to have suffered no ill effects. Unfortunately there is no time to wait, so I hand in my chip, receive my medal, tell the ubiquitous cameraman what an amazing course it is whilst eating a banana and take a taxi back to the hotel. Obviously, I have to ask the driver to wait whilst I whip upstairs to get some money to pay but he doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. So relaxed is this country, unbelievable. I stretch, shower and change in order to check-out by 10.30am and on doing so I see Carlos waiting for me. On exiting the hotel his face lights up and I receive a big hug. I am his new best friend. And that’s the secret of Brazil. They hope for the best from people and if it doesn’t happen, they’re not going to lose any sleep over it. But if their faith in humanity is justified, then it is cause for celebration. In my case that means singing gospel music in Portuguese, whilst being shown the Samba schools and the converted dock-area where I can go to be gunned down by machine-gun wielding, drug-pushers. All the things the tourist wants to see. Actually, local government is gaining a great deal of support from the population as they systemically cleanse the favelas from these people in anticipation of the Football World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016). My Portuguese is almost fluent as we arrive at the airport, where I am given another huge hug and am informed that in 38-years as a taxi driver, he has never had a problem and instinctively knew I was a great guy. I hope I tell him something similar before paying him all I owe plus a large tip. His happiness is infectious and Brazil is like that. I have had a great time and whilst reflecting on this, get lost in the airport because British Airways for some reason is in the Domestic not the International Terminal and the signs are non-existent.

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Chapter 10 - 100 Days to Go!

CHAPTER 10 – 100 DAYS TO GO!

M

onday morning and after a decent flight on dependable British Airways, dependable Nigel (are there any BA pilots not called Nigel?) informs a rather stunned set of passengers that

“The very, very big plane has travelled very, very fast and now it is time to land. So can we all be very good and sit in our seats with our seatbelts nice and tight!” Feeling about 10-years old I look out the window as dependable Nigel gets us on the ground safe and sound, which at the end of the day is all that really matters. Two hours after wandering around the ubiquitous shops of Terminal 5, I am on my way to Paris where BA surpasses itself by having my luggage arrive simultaneously. Gaby is waiting and we make our way by train to Place Denfert-Rochereau where the Hotel Midi awaits opposite. The area is located within Montparnasse and extremely convenient to almost all the sites that we want to see as well as the underground. The hotel itself is a paradise compared with what I have just slept in and unbelievably, cheaper. We waste no time (well maybe a little) before heading to Le Louvre. I have never actually been in le Louvre before and to be honest, the most enjoyable part was the brief amount of music I heard being played by a busker on his Cello at the entrance. Quite extraordinarily good and I would have happily have stayed to listen. I am no art scholar so basically I either like or don’t like what I see. As much of Le Louvre is covered head to toe with religiously inspired paintings, all of which highlight the punishment that awaits you for sinning rather than the joys of 83


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being good, I can safely say that I don’t like it. Of course, with over 35,000 works of art on permanent display, culminating with the Mona Lisa, there is plenty of variety to see. It just seemed a little perverse for me to be in the Le Louvre and find myself enjoying the paintings of Constable above all others. Apart from perhaps DelaCroix’s “Liberty leading the people” which I could appreciate within the historical context (and maybe a bit more research previsit may have made the visit that more enjoyable!) In an effort to find “the Restaurant” in Paris we are going to eat at Laperouse, on the banks of the Seine opposite la Ile de Cite. It’s no secret find having served tourists and romantic couples since 1766. It is expensive and clearly has a history with the mirrors still scratched from “lovers” testing the diamonds on their recently gifted rings. These two ingredients seem to have lumbered the restaurant with some rather bitchy reviews but I would definitely go back. We were treated extremely well and had a simply delicious meal in beautifully restored surroundings. It was no more expensive than any other of our “special” places to eat considering the location and a shame that it was partially empty. The following day we continue our cultural experience by going to the Musee D’Orsay which used to be an old railway station and now houses the finest display of Impressionist paintings in the world. The museum advertises itself as displaying art from between 1848 and 1914 so this also includes Realism, Romanticism and Post-Impressionism. Whilst not really a fan of Swiss painter Arnold Bocklin, he is credited with saying: “If a painter cannot paint what occurs to him and how he feels about things, he may as well give up art!” And I totally get that, so when combined with my natural degenerate behavior and love of nature, it is not surprising that my favourite artists are Toulouse-Lautrec and Monet, two people with totally contrasting styles but willing to put on canvas what they really see. I could quite happily have spent the whole day just trying to understand the macro and micro-aspects of this period of art but alas, we have a train to catch. So down South we go to be re-united with the kids and my parents. The next week consists of mainly completing my training programme whilst trying not to pig out on both food and alcohol. The runs themselves are fairly pleasant as I take country lanes between forested areas or farm tracks 84


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amongst the crops. The only unpleasant moment comes when passing a derelict looking house I am suddenly surrounded by a pack of large, aggressive dogs. Fortunately, Mum, who had dropped me off a few minutes earlier had also noticed the creatures and was waiting close by in case it became problematic. Even the 28°C temperature is quite acceptable when carrying sufficient liquids. There are 100-days to go! 4th August Back in BA and running round the reserve. The last few days of the holiday and long flight mean that I haven’t done much exercise. I am feeling pretty good until overtaken by Mr Superfit with that kind of lean physique that would make Claudia drool. Fortunately, he disappears down a different route which allows me to continue with my daydreaming, only to be passed again 5-minutes later. But he doesn’t escape me this time. I press the accelerator and the gap is closing. I am remembering the 4x800m relay with my “physically challenged” housemates at college. We must have coughed up more tabaco and alcohol than the average off-licence as we slowly but surely closed the gap on our more talented colleagues and here I am doing the same. It is quite exhilarating, rather like a Tiger sneaking up on some unsuspecting prey. I am just getting ready to pounce when I realise I am chasing a full-grown man round the Reserve - a well-known hunting ground for homosexuals! And with that the concentration, rhythm and breathing goes completely and I come to a grinding halt, whilst Mr Superfit continues, blissfully unaware of his lucky escape. There is quite a lot of office work to catch-up on including some Management issues that almost spiraled out of control whilst I was away. I consider myself very lucky with my Management Team but it is not functioning as it should and yet everyone is convinced it is all fine. Additionally, it is semiannual bonus time so the work is quite intense and I am late leaving the office most days. Combined with the jet-lag, I can only focus on one thing at a time and right at this moment exercise is not the priority. As a result, I miss a lot of the usual opportunities and on those moments I do manage to get out, I find I have done something stupid like leave my trainers behind. On Sunday, with the cold weather, I finally yield for the first time to the full-length lycra 85


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leggings (with a pair of shorts on top). I have to confess the sensation was surprisingly pleasant and my muscles felt better at the end of the run than previously. They also protected my legs against the barbed wire I had to climb now that the route up the Costanera (Riverside) has been fenced off against people protesting about a new road going through the park. 10th August There is a school meeting at 11am so there is no point going into the office and instead I am out doing hills. This is relative as Buenos Aires is as flat as a pancake and the nearest mountains are 1,000 kms to the West. Still there is a segment of raised road that provides a number of 150m paths of varying inclination. I am doing 5 sprints on each of the 5 roads I pass and find the work both challenging and fulfilling at the same time. When I get to the gym I meet Claudia and am congratulated on my apparent weight-loss. A word of praise! It’s like manna from heaven and I am encouraged to redouble my efforts. I celebrate by buying myself a kiwi-crush and drink the whole bottle. It’s rather good and on arriving home I encourage Gaby to try it. “Why? That’s what they gave me in New Zealand to relieve constipation!” Super! Something to look forward to then. The next day, despite having a visitor in from New York, I get out to the Reserve and run 12km. In the middle I have to run 2km at 4min 30 pace and am a bit disappointed when I finish bellowing like a steam engine, to find out that I am there or thereabouts. The next 2km has to be run at 4.10 min pace and after 500m I am feeling awful. After a 1km I have to stop in order not to chunder. I start again and finish off sprinting but the damage has been done. I don’t know what it is but the increase in speed just kills me. It’s like the brain says to the body “right, I’ve got you here now you can do the rest,” and shuts down. Result, body reacts and I vomit. On relating this problem with a colleague that has run a few marathons all I got in response was “Yeah, I’m a puker too.” Something else to look forward to then. Friday 13th August and it is a long weekend. It is also my eldest son’s Birthday and I am taking advantage of a business trip to NY to take Gaby and him along. I have been at work early trying to get as much done as possible 86


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before meeting both of them at the airport. Everything progresses nice and smoothly before I am taken aside and searched before entering the plane, not that they care. They are going on miles and as luck would have it there are no economy miles seats, so have already turned left onto the plane before I am greeted and head right. On arrival at Miami, I am not only questioned extensively by the immigration officer but also by the customs official. This causes Gaby a great deal of amusement but I don’t find it that funny. I have never had that much interest taken in me before and the only thing I can put it down to is a severer than usual haircut. Still, on exiting the terminal into the stifling heat and humidity it was worth it. A little bit of shopping in The Dolphin Mall and then on to New York. With less than 100 days to go before the Marathon I am expected to do more than 50kms per week plus gym, stretching and perhaps some swimming. So as soon as we book in, I slap on the trainers and do a lap of Central Park. I love Central Park. For me it is the best thing about New York and I always stay at a hotel close by so I can run round it. It is the most famous park in the world but I think it is just the most beautiful. The number and variety of trees that populate the running areas, seem to absorb all the energy of the multitudes of people running, cycling, walking, pottering and courting that you still get to feel it is all for you. Perhaps no moment encapsulates this more than the visual effect of turning the bend at the end of the reservoir and looking back over the water towards the South. As there cannot be anyone in front of you whilst looking over the water it provides an escapism few other parks in big cities can offer. It also contains a statue of a crouching panther called “Still Hunt� along the running trail at about 76th street (East side) which holds a strange fascination 87


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for me. Maybe because of its position above the runners it reminds me of our old cat (about the same size and colour of a panther) that used to nestle on the banisters at home and occasionally let rip with a claw at passersby. It nearly took out my eye as a child so for good luck, I find myself blowing a kiss every time I pass this statue. Saturday 15th I am up early but it is still hot and humid. 16km today, so two laps of Central Park and I impress myself by completing them in 34.31 mins and 34.37 mins respectively. We are then off to the Natural History museum. The manner in which the information is presented is a lesson in enticement. We could have stayed in there all day but for a call from my Office Manager regarding another internal dispute that puts me in a bad mood. Also we have other things to do including taking the eldest to Toys ‘r Us to celebrate his birthday. After which he is treated to the biggest burger any of us have ever seen. Gaby and I succumb to Nachos and beer and suddenly we are all very tired. It is also our 12th-year wedding anniversary and we literally have to drag ourselves off the bed to go and find a celebratory glass of champagne and dinner. But we have left it too late. NYC is closed and we shuffle into a bar, order two beers and watch American Football on one telly and Baseball on another. Very romantic. Our bill comes to $12 and I only have $11 in my pocket. That means we have to pay a minimum of $15 in order to use the credit card. Another shrug of the shoulders and we order some spicy buffalo wings and a whisky. The whisky is beautifully smooth and totally ruined by the buffalo wings which are literally just bathed in raw chili. The garnish disappears in seconds and we slowly battle through with another beer before heading home. How stupid can one be over just US$3! Tuesday 17th August¸ I run round Central Park early in the morning and go beyond my usual reservoir route down beyond 100th street and find a swimming pool complex. Even more interesting are a multitude of off road tracks amongst the trees that lead me to a waterfall and then to the Great Hill before rejoining the usual circuit. Despite it being 7.30am, it is stinking hot and I didn’t bring any water so I am not trying to do anything fancy. Just get 88


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round and back into the shower. Gaby and I have talked a lot about my decision to resign and we are going to try and give it a go for a bit longer. As such, I want to start putting in place some management training. The best thing about CapitalIQ is that if the Executive Management generally agree with what you want to do, they leave you to get on with it. Almost as if by provenance, I find myself in Borders that afternoon buying “5 Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. It is exactly what I am looking for and even arriving back in Argentina minus luggage cannot ruin my mood. However, that may be due to the incredible kindness American Airlines showed to my son the night before. Their flight was delayed and then cancelled due to technical reasons. So distraught was he that his birthday presents would not be accompanying him home, AA actually sent someone to confirm that his bag had been located and put onto the right plane. Nevertheless, I enter my Manager’s meeting and totally fail to make my case. It is extremely frustrating but I realize that I am not prepared enough to pursue the argument and perhaps not capable enough, so we move onto other topics whilst I move on to Plan B. Thursday is a beautiful Spring day and the temperature goes beyond 20°C. It is a classic BA moment where your stance on fashion determines your clothes. It is not officially Spring yet, ergo it is still Winter. So, despite the rising temperatures, the ladies are still decked out in their thick sweaters, fur coats and ubiquitous sunglasses trying to eke out the last of their season’s purchases. Meanwhile, as I run down the promenade to the reserve the small group of dedicated 65-year old sun-worshippers and their thongs are back. In the reserve, I have an exercise to complete. After 3km of warming up I have to run 2km at 4.30 min pace and then 1km at 4.10 min pace, followed by a relaxing kilometer before repeating it all again. I actually want to do this but it hurts. It really hurts. In the final kilometer I really want to stop but I pick up various markers and try and reach those. If I can make it to the bench, then I can make to the bin. If I can make it to the bin I can make it to the finish. And I do make it to the finish and amazingly I complete the rest of the run slightly faster than usual. In the afternoon I am invited to Rio again for the half-marathon and later I have an interview with a potential management advisor. I like him very much and he is the cousin of one of my card buddies, so I am feeling quite confident about my Plan B. 89


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CHAPTER 11

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oday is the day. I am going to be living the life of the jet-set. Literally I have been invited to return to Rio on a private jet. No more hanging around airports, no more crap food (if any) and ‌. no bags. The jet is perfectly designed for us 4 passengers plus two pilots. At 9am we head off first for Iguazu, the last airport this side of Brazil. Unfortunately, we are detained for an hour and a half as a pre-loaded flight plan has been lost, so the pilots have to fill and submit the whole thing again for international approval. It is a bit frustrating being so close to one of the world’s natural wonders and not being able to see it again. However, that is made up for by the pilot who makes the effort to fly as close as possible to the giant waterfalls as we leave. It gives a totally different perspective to the place. From the air it looks as if God has pushed his giant thumb into putty and the falls are the result of the depression. In fact, the name is apparently taken from a Guarani legend where a beautiful woman fled in a canoe with her human lover to escape marrying a God. The God, in revenge, smashed the canoe and in doing so, created the waterfalls over which the lovers fell. An hour and a half later and we arrive, not in Rio but in Belo Horizonte. The people I am travelling with have a business meeting. However, with over 2.5 million inhabitants it is not feasible that at rush hour the meeting, which is on the other side of town, will be over within an hour. And so it proves. Whilst having something to drink in the airport restaurant, we get the call that they’ll be back in 3-hours so we get something to eat too. By 8pm we leave for Rio and at 9pm we are met by a bubbly female on the tarmac whose 91


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job it is to escort us through immigration. Rather weirdly, we have to carry what bags we have and put them on the luggage belt before entering the airport building and picking them up again. At 10pm we are at our hotel where a very relieved Personal Trainer encourages us to get changed quickly. We are going carting. These are petrol powered little dragsters that move around impressively quickly about 2-inches off the floor. After a couple of practice laps we are off and within the first turn I have taken out the frustration of our days travels by sticking GustavoM in the wall. I feel guilty – well not too much. By the end I have recovered my good humor and so has Gus whose brother professionally delays me enough for him to repay the compliment on the penultimate lap. Supper is at Rodizio next door. Perhaps it is not the ideal food two days before running 21km but no-one cares as the waiters keep bringing swords skewered with different meats until you can eat no more. There is no way that I am going to be able to sleep after this meal and on the way back I think I recognize an area I walked in whilst here a month ago. To several raised eyebrows, I bid everyone good night and get out of the taxi. However, I can’t find the bar I am looking for and end up on Copacabana. Even at 1am, the kioscos are open and on finding the attendant asleep, I help myself to a beer and leave the money on the side. There are a couple of chairs overlooking the beach and I sit watching the fish jumping. I really couldn’t be happier. On finishing my beer I am surprised by the attendant offering me another. It then turns out he wasn’t really asleep but watching me all along but didn’t want to move! Love this place. Despite the late bedtime, I am up at 7.30 and down at breakfast by 8am. We are supposedly part of a group and as a result, join in a post breakfast 8-km “warm-up.” It has only been a month since I was last here and yet at 9.30am it is already 23°C and humid. I think tomorrow is going to be pretty difficult but my attention is taken up by Elisa. This 76-year old has only been running for 2-years and has the most inspirational attitude and ability. I can’t believe she is running tomorrow but on confirming that she is indeed doing the 21km and not the 10km I wonder how many she has done before, “None, darling!! Not on tarmac anyway. I usually do adventure racing!” Amazing! Our run is followed by a group stretching session where we are informed of the weather conditions for tomorrow. “Hot and Humid!” smiles the Personal Trainer “and that means a 92


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lot of Vaseline. We are going to be putting it here, here, here and ……” The list of places seems never ending I can’t help but think of the Burt Reynolds’ character in the film Striptease. To cool down I go for a long swim in the sea and come out feeling very relaxed. Just as well because on getting we are accosted by beach vendors selling wooden fridge magnets. One of the group shows particular interest and to celebrate the sale we are now offered “Droga.” It’s really sweet watching a bunch of influential businessmen pretend not to know what’s being talked about. Copacabana turns shady in the afternoon as the sun sets behind the mountains, hence the reason everyone then moves over to Impanema. From that moment, the street vendors start to set up their stalls and it turns into a giant night market. Half the market is taken up by the selling of all sorts of unimaginable trinkets whilst the other is used by local artists to sell their products to tourists. At least that’s the idea. In the same way that half of the art sold in Hong Kong’s Stanley Market seems to adorn the banks of the Seine, the other half has made it to Rio. Some of it is real and you can tell when you are dealing with the artist because haggling becomes a personal insult. I’m rubbish at haggling. My brother can spend an hour deducting a cent from the price of a shell but I find the whole thing too embarrassing. Also, with art, the price doesn’t bother me too much. If I really like something and can afford it, I’ll buy it because I know I am going to enjoy it long after I’ve forgotten what I paid for it. However, today I’m haggling with fury because a) I like the paintings, b) I’m dealing with the artist and c) I don’t have any money. I really feel that if I can buy some of these paintings, I’ll be able to take a little of the “alegria” or joyfulness back with me to Argentina. In the end I go for the low blow and show the contents of my wallet which is surprisingly similar to the last amount I’m prepared to offer. As expected, I get that disappointed “that’s low” look from the other side who has no option but to capitulate or lose the sale completely. However, once concluded we are all friends and smiling, my Portuguese is fluent and I promise to look after his paintings. Hugs and kisses later I am released to carry on and straight into the arms of the local drug dealer who offers me a cocktail menu of potential entertainment. Not wishing to offend I just get out and show the now empty wallet to which he responds; “No problem! I take credit card!” Funny, it must be the haircut. The US customs boys had me pegged before I did! 93


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Sunday 22 August – 21km Rio – “ You were like an Englishman in a bar, always with a drink in your hand!” The alarm goes off at 6am and I am knackered. Last night a “pasta night” had been organized. Except that, despite booking, there was no room when we arrived, 3 of the 6 dishes were unavailable and it took at least an hour for us to get our food. As a result, I wasn’t in the best of moods on returning to the hotel and didn’t sleep at all well. I think that I can throw most things at my body but lack of sleep (and I don’t sleep much anyway) and exercise just don’t go together. As usual, breakfast is full of freshly shaved, bright eyed enthusiasts plus me! Still, I chomp through some fruit and yoghurt before completing my morning’s ablutions. At 8am, we are at the start line. It is hot with not a cloud in the sky. Valeria, one of Claudia’s pupils is there and so we talk a bit about her experience last year in NY. I am reliably informed that the best trick for the portaloos is to take the subway to Staten Island Ferry and use the clean loos in the terminal. I have now developed a real phobia of the things. I mean how difficult are they to use correctly? So without hesitation, I join my 3 companions down on the beach for a little warming up. A last pee in the sea and we start sneaking along the railings trying to get ourselves into a good starting position. All of us want to see how we are positioned relatively for NY and trying to put in a good time. Once we’re off, we manage to jump the railings and cross the line a minute after the hooter sounds. The course follows pretty much the same route as the previous month except starting a couple of kilometers further up. Thus, the first 3-4km are the same uphill, narrow, cliff road that leads down onto Ipanema. I am having a great time before suddenly after just 5km my body is rebelling. It is as if I have already run 18km and I can’t move. The only thing my brain seems able to process over and over again is “No way!” I just can’t understand what is happening. Yes, I went off quite quickly but nothing stupid and I am absolutely soaked in sweat. Click! The humidity is up at 80% already and I, plus various others I can see, have probably already lost more than a litre of unrecoverable fluids. At the water station I take two glasses and drink both slowly before moving to the side of the road where some interspersed trees offer a solace of shade. My 10km pace is not awful but there is little to celebrate. My breathing is erratic, I am burning up and although my legs are not complaining, I know I cannot ask for more. There is no choice 94


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and I now have to switch to survival mode as Gualeguay comes back to haunt me. The race is now literally about getting from one water stop to the next. The first glass goes on the head, the second is drunk relatively quickly and the third is carried and sipped for as long as possible. Nevertheless, I feel I am going backwards, something confirmed by my splits, and the desire to stop is overwhelming. I really need to get some sort of rhythm back. Even my arms are now aching from the water I am carrying. At the 14 km mark I make a decision. I’ll just dump the water and try and get through the final third come what may. However, on arriving at the 15km mark I have a much better idea. I grab two more glasses of water and carry on. Luckily I then enter a tunnel which provides some respite from the sun. Sadly there are no lights or music this time but on exiting there is a mist that blocks out the sun and a cool breeze. So for 2km, I can carry on in relative comfort. After that the sun is merciless and the temperature has risen to 31°C in the shade. Worse, we are now passing the line where a month ago I finished. The course still has a 3-kilometer U-bend to go before finishing opposite. I have the most overbearing longing to cross the central reservation. There is no simple way of putting it. I feel spent and the final few kilometers are awful. I know I’m not the only person feeling this way as Gus passes me on the way back and if he wasn’t feeling just as bad would have puffed his chest out to make himself look as fresh as possible. But he didn’t have the energy. As it was we just gave each other that mutual nod of encouragement and respect for making it to the end. Amazingly, I finished with an overall time of 1.46.00. All things considered I think the time was pretty good but it was not an experience I particularly enjoyed and not a patch on the month before. I didn’t take into account the conditions and had it not been for my experience in Gualeguay I could have suffered really badly. As it was, on the positive side, I realized it was going wrong and took the steps required to get me to the end. By continuously imbibing, I protected my muscles and did not suffer from the heat-stroke that has a large number of people (including one of our own) going in and out of the medical tent. A perk of going with a group meant I was able to retreat to a tent where we had a personal ‘stretcher’ and masseur waiting to put the smile back on our faces. As for Elisa, bless her, she popped in all perky after completing the course in 2 hours 15 minutes. 95


Chapter 12 - When down, look in the mirror for your answer!

CHAPTER 12 – WHEN DOWN, LOOK IN THE MIRROR FOR YOUR ANSWER!

O

n getting back to BA, I thought a lot about Rio. At the end of the day I did not really enjoy the run as much as I expected and realized that I was not enjoying myself full stop. Putting it bluntly, what’s the point of all of this? I am 75-days away from the Marathon and instead of feeling good about myself, I am distinctly unhappy and full of doubts. 21km is still only half-way and last week I couldn’t have gone any further even if I had wanted. Also, what’s the deal with the gels? During the 21km I managed to eat a couple more and felt awful to which the response was; “Imagine how bad it would have been without them!” Catch 22, you eat it and feel bad, if you don’t you might feel worse. Not only that but despite the fact my legs are feeling relatively healthy the whole area where they meet the pelvic bone is sore and inflamed. I really need to sort myself out quickly. The nice thing about Marathon running is that there is only you, you and you. Thus, the temptation to ignore yourself whilst looking at the problem is removed (who knows that may well be the secret as to why so many people find it such a liberating and fulfilling experience). So why was Rio such an anticlimax and why I am feeling suddenly so disenchanted with everything regarding this marathon? Sure, the conditions didn’t help and it was never going to be as good second go around but now, even going out to train is difficult. Fortunately, I was reading the excellent book “What I talk about when I talk about running” by Haruki Marukami at the time. It wasn’t very obvious at 97


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first but whilst reading the book, he talks about the joys of running. I am about to do an incredible disservice to a book I think many people should read. However, at the time I needed some enlightenment and found it, leaving all the other good stuff behind. I had already done the hard work by looking at myself. Then it was just a case of asking the right questions. Q: Why am I doing all this running? A: Training for my one and only Marathon that I want to do under 4-hours in front of 2.3 million spectators, family and friends.

Q: Who made you run the Marathon? A: No-one

Q: What would you be doing if you weren’t running the Marathon? A: I’d still be running because it is enjoyable getting out of the office at midday, regardless of the weather. Q: This is your one and perhaps only Marathon. What will you do if you do it in over 4-hours? And there it was. What would I do? Seriously, what would I do if I finished in over 4-hours? Be upset, angry or disillusioned? Would I finish and have enjoyed it? What if it rains from start to finish?* It’s fine to have goals but I had become fixated on splits and times and not the ultimate goal of finishing and ENJOYING the experience. In Rio 1, I had let myself get carried away with the atmosphere and really enjoyed the run. In Rio 2, I had got caught up with wanting to do a great time. I had looked at my watch at every kilometer and had gotten depressed with my splits. Did I really need something else to tell me that it was a difficult race? I already knew that. I am not Haile Gebrselassie** and never will be so I need to stop clock watching and start enjoying myself ! * I asked Gus once what he would do if he woke up and it was pissing with rain, “Watch YOU on TV!” was his reply. I didn’t believe him but it was a great philosophy and highlighted that this was not the all-encompassing mission that it had started to become in my life. ** For the record, I beat him in the only race we ran together – not that that’s important now!

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As with all “real� soul-searching I felt a whole lot better for going through this mental exercise and have regained my focus. My desire to train has returned and I find myself holding back when in fact I have the urge to go hard. I relate my mental liberation and new found training philosophy to Claudia who basically tells me to stop being a poof and to get on with it.

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CHAPTER 13 – GETTING ON WITH IT

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t seems that my efforts in Rio rewarded me with a dreadful cold. I hardly sleep due to a sore throat and headache and can’t believe the amount of produce coming out of my nose. To make matters worse, today we have our Manager’s offsite in Colonia with the moderator I hired as my Plan B. Most off-sites that I have attended generate a lot of commitment to communicate better going forward and subsequently result in nothing. I am determined for this offsite not to be instantly consigned to the dustbin and this means I have to be bright and alert. It will be tough as I know there is a huge amount of angst being generated thanks to this idea with people who have “more important things to do.” Fortunately, the moderator guides us through some sticky moments and it is typical that at 4pm just as things are openingup that the first group has to leave to take the first boat back. Even though they are back within half-an-hour having missed it, there is not much else that can be achieved except share a few beers. However, at least the seeds have been sown and we can start realizing that although as a Management team we are functioning well, we are not working as well as (a) we think or more importantly (b) could be. The last week of August is a mix of ups and down depending on my lack of sleep. Waking up for water due to my sore throat has now become normal and when finally I get a good night’s sleep my Office Manager tells me she’s leaving. I decide to take solace and think about the next steps over a long run only to find the reserve closed due to the recent rains. I am not prepared mentally to find an alternate route so just return irritated and start putting 101


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things in place to look for a replacement. The rains of the past week have now turned in to continuous thunderstorms announcing both the arrival of September and the Santa Rosa. This is the moment in the calendar when warm, tropical air from the North fights for supremacy over the cold Southerlies. Eventually, the Northern air mass will win and we will effectively be in Spring but in the meantime it means rain and lots of it! Initially, for a Brit, this is quite an enjoyable climate but after the third day of non-stop precipitation it starts to get a bit irritating. The whole atmosphere is oppressive. Nothing dries and even the sheets are humid. Coincidently, we have a Manager’s Offsite arranged by McGraw-Hill for all of its affiliates in Argentina. These are usually pretty interesting and today there are two additional benefits. Firstly, the case studies involve dysfunctional teams and thus, in a certain manner, subliminally help drive home the message I wanted to make in our own offsite and secondly, now my cold is going, I am starving and a free buffet lunch is an invitation to stuff myself. The day over and despite the rain I am running home. I feel great. After buying about 6 different jackets, I have finally found one that I like and is suitable for the conditions. I take the train to Lisandro de la Torre and then start the 15km or so return home. With the soothing tones of Morten Harket and A-ha accompanying me on the ipod, not caring about the time and a light drizzle, I realize I am enjoying myself again.

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Chapter 14

CHAPTER 14

It has been a week of continuous rain. The Southerly winds are pushing up against the Rio de la Plata causing it to stall and rise. This in turn prevents the surface water from draining and some areas of the city are now flooding. Apart from the pitiful public bitching and finger pointing between past and present Mayors’ as to whose fault this is, it is clearly not going to get better soon. It is a good moment to test out the clothes I might wear should it be raining on the 7th November. In expectation of the reserve being closed I have mentally mapped out an alternate route. As predicted the gate is chained. I move on past dodging puddles and spray from the articulated lorries and head under the motorway. I am taking the “scenic route” along the old wharfs of San Telmo heading towards the dock area of La Boca. Ignoring the sign that clearly states “Forbidden entry to all cars” I run up along the promenade opposite the floating casinos and away from the traffic. It is a part of Buenos Aires that I wouldn’t normally get to see and it is interesting for both it’s current and past history. Today, judging by the number of tugboats and dredgers it would appear to be flourishing. Something highlighted by vast bright yellow, floating cranes that are moored to the promenade looking intimidating with names like Magnus and Poseiden and can lift up to 500-tonnes. It is all rather picturesque and beautifully backdropped by the new and old bridges that symbolize La Boca under which an old man ferries a sampan decorated in blue and yellow from one side to the other. 103


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Historically, San Telmo used to be the centre of Buenos Aires where the rich lived. However, an outbreak of yellow fever in the 1870’s left the large houses deserted. They were later inhabited by dock workers that loaded many of the European freighters during the 1940s. The end of World War II saw Argentina slide into economic collapse and again, the area was left derelict. Today it is starting to regain popularity thanks to foreign inhabitants, bohemian locals and tourists. The idea of regenerating the area like London’s docklands is a non-starter. Argentines like new and there are just not enough people to fully redevelop the area. Nevertheless, it has found itself a niche in antiquities and it is not uncommon on the weekends to find the streets full with tourists and vendors alike. As I get to La Boca’s twin bridges I briefly move back down onto the street before running along a renovated pavement towards “El Caminito.” This street is famous for its gaily painted buildings and it is not unusual to find various couples practicing Tango for the tourists. La Boca is the spiritual home of Tango and of course, la bombonera, the legendary stadium of Boca Juniors. Thus effigies of Gardel, Evita and Maradonna adorn shop windows and balconies whilst the tourists walk around aimlessly looking at exactly the same souvenir again and again. Luckily, with the weather being as it is, the streets are fairly deserted and I am quickly running up the train tracks towards the football stadium. Being inside the Bombonera is special, being outside it is not pleasant. The colloquial term is literally translated as “chocolate box” as that is politely what it is supposed to look like if viewed from the air. Boca has always been a team “of the people” and has a fanatical supporter’s base. Its biggest rival, River Plate, was also founded close to La Boca in 1901 until it decided to move to the Northern suburbs in 1923. Since that moment it has been a hate-hate relationship making the “superclassico” matches between the two, one of those must-do sporting events. What makes the Bombonera special (apart from the fans) is that one of the four stands is a flat wall overlooking the pitch. As a result all the sound created from the other three rebounds and is amplified. It is said that opposing teams are literally shouted into submission. I run along the “street of fame” where the imprints of past player’s feet are moulded into the concrete. There are a couple (of names) I recognize from 104


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the glory days of 2000/01 when Boca won the local competition, the Copa de Libertadores and then the Copa Intercontinental against Real Madrid in Japan. It is also the only place that seems to be free of the ubiquitous dog shit. I jump, dodge and skip my way towards Parque Lezama before dropping back down to Puerto Madero and completing the circuit. I reckon I have run between 13-14km and seen half the tourist sites in Buenos Aires! September 4th – 9th It is a very proud parental moment as the children walk out of a verse competition with a Silver and Gold medal plus a cup. I imagined that it would be easier considering that the tournament, held by the St Andrew’s society of the River Plate is in English. Nevertheless, the standard is very high and I am impressed by their prowess in front of so many people. The moment is celebrated with a drive through McDonalds as we head up to Gualeguay. I’ll make no secret that one of my primary reasons for going to Gualeguay is to eat an asado cooked by Tato. We arrive at 6pm and it is with joy that I see him starting to get the fire together. When people ask me what I like most about Argentina this about sums it up. Sitting outside, next to a real fire that drops embers through a grate to be gathered up and spread evenly across the cooking surface. About 8-inches above is a grill on which a huge area of meat (and occasionally a lone vegetable) sits slowly cooking whilst we sit around drinking wonderful wine, playing cards and just catching-up. It is something so fundamentally simple and yet so enjoyable. As expected now that Santa Rosa has come and gone, the days are gorgeous. Spring is springing, the bees are buzzing and I am sure all the little animals are enjoying themselves. The birds are certainly letting rip in the reserve as I continue my mid-day exercises and all seems right with the world. Running home now starts from the office itself and are equivalent to at least 18km. Interestingly, I never seem to have a mental problem with this and always look forward to it as part of my training routine. It gives me the added feeling of doing something productive (ie. getting home). Perhaps it is because there is always something going on. No more so than in the woods of Palermo. Rather like the bathroom of a Thai hotel, this is definitely not a place where you 105


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want to be found “mysteriously dead.” I pass by at 7pm and business is booming. The “girls” are out in full and the car-lights that follow the roads inside the park are a continuous slow-moving stream. To those not acquainted with the area, you will probably imagine those soliciting with mini-skirts, boots and some revealing top. But this is Argentina so I guess 1-out-of-3 isn’t bad and that’s only so they don’t get their feet cut on glass (or worse). And they are impressive! Ooof ! From the back they look like super models, looooong legs, no celulite and gorgeous hair, dangling over their shapely backs. Fronton, the top-half has much to be admired for those who enjoy physics and all in all it is not the most unpleasant experience to face whilst running. That is, until you are given the Full Monty. OMG! These guys/girls are eye-wateringly gifted. That’s got to hurt! But judging by the number of cars already parked under trees this is clearly not just a tourist attraction. A little further on you can apparantly buy the drugs you want from hot-dog vendors and then go and let loose with your “babe” in one of the hourly-rate hotels that line the end of the park. And yet, believe it or not, it is one of the nicest parks to be in during the day (and safest at night) with lakes, running tracks and bridges linking it to other parks that provide almost a continuous 7km stretch of green from 9 de Julio to the Monumental, the home of River Plate. It is also where most international football games and major rock-concerts are played. Or were, until three consecutive nights of AC/DC finally resulted in local residents getting concerts banned. Come Thursday, I am quite tanned. A few days of running at midday with my non-Latino looks has me getting burnt. I am not worried. It is only going to get hotter from now on, so any thing that extends the burn time a little longer is welcomed. It is with mixed emotions that Claudia has decided to join me today. After feeling really good with my long run home, I have felt strangely drained of energy and today feels no different. It is not helped with that insipid feeling of dread which always accompanies speed work and the general move out of the comfort zone which she’ll bring. I know she is going to be late because of the traffic so I do a 3.3km lap and return just as she is arriving. After a brief “hello” we are doing another lap but this time at 4.30 pace. It is frustrating and embarrassing at the same time. It’s like a scene out of Kung Fu Panda. I am “Po” feeling like a complete loser, sweating like a pig and bellowing like a horse and she is “Tigress” barely breathing, looking massively intimidating with that disappointing look that seems to say “Your 106


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training is not progressing as planned.” All of this is confirmed when I finally remove my hands from my knees and look up into the compassionate eyes of a massive black-guy, standing by the gate smirking at me. However, now that we’ve done the difficult part of the exercise I actually feel sorry that she has to go. One of the things about people like Claudia is their ability to ignore irrelevant trivialities however unpleasant. So despite being a sweaty mess I still get the goodbye protocol kiss. Or would have done if I didn’t care about how I looked, so she blows me one instead, which is immediately returned with interest by two youths passing by. It is one of those heart-stopping moments when the world suddenly goes silent and the sky black. Her eyes are slits, the jugular is throbbing and the fists are closing. I quickly break the mood with a quip before turning to the two lucky survivors and say, “Consider yourselves lucky she didn’t just break you in two!” They think about a comeback which undoubtedly has some referral to their sexual prowess when my friend at the gate draws himself up to his full height and adds: “Yup! That’s the bit I was looking forward to.” During the night a laptop gets stolen from the office.

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CHAPTER 15

T

10th September

he one and only topic of conversation during the day is working out where the laptop has gone. In an office of over 150 people, this might not sound like a major issue and in monetary terms it is irrelevant. However, in it’s 4-year existence we have built a family atmosphere within the firm and deliberately avoid using security locks etc to tether things to the workplace. There are a number of practical reasons for this stance but really it is due to trust. Do you put security looks on your things at home so your partner or children cannot take them? As a result, the mood within the office is one of indignation. We have been undergoing some redecoration and I have been receiving the odd rumour of items going missing from people’s desks (e.g. food) plus supplies like loo-roll etc but nothing concrete. The problem is that we only have a few security cameras pointing in certain strategic directions and all the redecoration work and most of the building of the new floor happens at night. Also, we have security at the entrance of the building which should make stealing these things a little difficult. Unfortunately, without camera footage it is very difficult to verify if someone really is calling their friends to stand below the closed building door (made of steel) and catch supplies being thrown out of the second-story window. So it is with great pleasure that I can announce to everyone’s general relief that the cameras were pointing the right way and the culprit is indeed one of the people contracted to redecorate the office. It is my day off exercise, not that I would have had time so with a happy feeling of pride in my staff and a bit of extra energy, I take the train to a friend’s 109


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house. They are the nicest people, both of German descent, and I find it particularly cathartic to get another European mindset to run through some cultural issues I might be having. Gaby has already arrived and I am in particular need to get another opinion on today and especially my subsequent meeting with the person contracted to undertake the decoration. “It started well enough with us all gathering in a conference room. We showed him the security log book detailing who signed in and at what time. We then followed it up by showing various snippets of video detailing the workman helping himself to numerous cups of coffee, peering out the window and perusing desk areas all miles away from where he was supposed to be working. Then came the crunch moment; “He just stole a laptop!” says the contractor. “ Yes, he did,” I replied “and he works for you!” “What did you say his name is?” “He signed in as JF” “I know JF and that’s not JF.” And with that, he made a move to stand up and leave. “Hang-on a minute. It’s irrelevant who that person is. He came and did the work that was asked of him by you. Whilst doing the work he stole a laptop.” “I don’t know who he is. I don’t have to listen to any more of these accusations.” “Excuse me?” “ You’re accusing me of stealing. It’s slanderous.” “I am not accusing YOU of stealing. We contracted you to undertake some decoration work. You have hired some people to do this work and I am showing you a video of one of those people stealing a laptop. As far as I am concerned, you are responsible.” “But that’s not JF. I don’t know who it is. I am not responsible for that.” “It’s irrelevant. He works for a company that you subcontracted.” This is where I started to get a little frustrated because from that moment onwards the conversation started to go round in circles. I sat and waited and waited until it became obvious that what I was waiting for was not going to arrive. To put things into perspective, the decoration and carpeting of the existing 2-floors was costing more than US$100,000 and there was the promise of two more floors on the way. Surely an apology, the deduction of the cost of a new laptop and the offer of better security whilst the work was being completed was not a lot to ask to maintain the 110


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commercial relationship. I got nothing. Just a constant refrain of “It’s not my fault, I’m not responsible.” It was clearly time to close the conversation before I jumped the desk and landed my fist squarely in his irritating face. “Ok, quite frankly, I don’t think we are going to get anywhere. Just to sum up so there is no doubt as to what our position is; We have hired you to do a job. You have hired someone else to do the job on your behalf. They have stolen one our laptops. Whilst we are not accusing you personally of stealing it, we do hold you responsible.” “I don’t know who JF is. How can you prove this person was actually doing the work? The camera doesn’t show that.” “ You mean apart from the fact that when he arrived there were no motifs on the glass, he was identified working there by a member of staff before she left, noone else came into the office and when he left the work was complete? But you know what, it doesn’t matter. It is obvious that we are not on the same page, so we’re going to talk this through amongst ourselves to determine how we want to move forward and in the meantime, all your payments will be frozen, the materials will be left in place and work will cease. Clear?” At that point, I think the penny dropped a bit but I wasn’t interested. He had had his opportunity and his attitude even if suddenly repentant meant I didn’t want him or anyone associated with him in the office again.” After lots of “I can’t believe it!” from the females I ask, “Did I do wrong?” To which Andres, who has seen just about everything in his line of work replies “No, but he is never going to accept responsibility. In this country it is always someone else’s fault.” “Surely he must realize that he is going to lose the possibility to work with us in the future?” “He probably believes he’s lost it anyway. He’s not used to working with a foreign company. There is no way he is going to take the responsibility. You should talk to Doondy about suing him.” (Which I did by the way - I have never seen anyone’s eyes light up at the potential fun he could have). But you know in the end, it’s just a laptop and you have already probably spent more money in finding out who did it than it’s worth, so why spend any more?” In the end, that’s exactly the decision we took, especially knowing that it wasn’t anyone from our office. I confess it stung a bit, especially with such a worm but about an hour after coming to this decision with my boss, I was over it. 111


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Now I had vented my frustration it was time for business. There is an Argentine card game called “Truco” which I can honestly say is the best card game I have ever played (better than poker even) as it requires skill, luck, balls and grit. Between the four of us it has been Husband’s against Wives and tonight is no exception. Neither is the result. The husbands get creamed. Sunday 12th September – Adidas 21km Feeling sorry for completely annihilating us at cards, Andrea has offered to look after the kids whilst Gaby and I run the Adidas 21km. So we dump them at 7.15am and head into town. We are going to arrive late and sure enough 5-minutes before the start we are still looking for a place to park. This is Gaby’s second 21km and understandably she’s nervous and being late is not helping matters. I on the other hand am not in any rush, so I grab all her stuff as she uses the distance from the car to the start line to warm-up. When I arrive the race has already been underway for 10-minutes and the warmup area is empty. I hand in our clothes and go through my warm-up routine and then without queuing, use a freshly cleaned portaloo. I know that I am not going to do this in NY but I would honestly recommend thinking about starting late if it is not something that is going to bother you. I saunter on my own to the start line, where I am actually given a rousing cheer by the spectators (they don’t have anything else to do for an hour), listen to the electronic beep of my tag crossing the start line and set-off. There are 10,000 people running today and not one of them is in my face, so there is none of that jostling and zigzagging that goes on during the first couple of kilometers. It’s all very nice and relaxed as I settle into a good solid rhythm and enjoy the sights and sounds around me. A short while later I am catching the tail-enders but again, the 15-minute head start means there’s plenty of space to pass and it is not long before I come across Gaby. She’s looking good and going about her business so a quick kiss and I carry on until I come across “Spiderwoman”. I think every country has their personality in these events and Emilse Lorena Ciezar, a.k.a. “la mujer araña” is Argentina’s. I love this woman and everything she represents. Clearly not a classical runner her joie de vivre is infectious as she hurls tirades of encouragement to all and sundry (http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=zsTvIhWvqKk). It’s just another example of why any excuse 112


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you have is worthless. Since I started participating in running events within Buenos Aires she has been ever present and has now racked up over 2,500 kms. Long may it continue! I am amazed by the numbers of Uruguayan and Brazilian visitors. Clearly I am not the only running tourist around and it is nice to see that they are being welcomed and treated just as well as I was treated abroad. Having said that though, there is definitely a solidarity amongst the running fraternity. There are two instances that stand out in my mind. The first and foremost was a moment in the second Rio half-marathon. We were in the tents by the time a Brazilian with a single metal prosthetic limb crossed the line, supported on either side by two others. Taking the heat aside, he had obviously done himself an injury as there were blood stains where the metal limb joined the stump and he was in agony. It’s important to stress that he was not leaning on the other two just using them to balance as he limped/jogged/hopped to the line. We were definitely not the only tent applauding his efforts to finish and all three were looked after with water and food on arrival by competitors that had literally rushed past at the end to get supplies and bring them back. The second instance occurred in my 30km race (to come). On finishing I was in agony and standing by the drinks trying to get the cramp out of my legs when one of the wheelchair competitors came past. It was clear that he wanted something to drink so a number of us jogged (limped) by his side with cups. Owing to the type of protection he was wearing on his hands, he was in fact unable to hold the cup. However, instead of giving up, all the runners held the water to his mouth allowing him to drink whilst taking the mugs from my hands and telling me to sit down. Now I am not saying that this sort of thing does not happen every day, everywhere. It does. All I am saying is that from what I have witnessed this is standard behavior amongst people who run these events. If you care to analyse it, I am sure the conclusion would run along empathy lines but whatever the reason, it is additional feel good factor that makes all the solitary training worthwhile and adds another layer of perspective to end-goal. Back on the course and following the talk with myself, I have made a promise not to look at my watch whilst running. Amazingly I don’t find it too difficult. I can actually just press the button and carry-on every time I pass a 113


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distance marker. I am rewarded by being able to enjoy the entertainment the City is showcasing today. As we move up Figueroa Alcorta we pass Michael Jackson dancing to “Thriller” at the 4km mark followed by a Jazz Quartet 2km later. This brings us to a right turn onto Avenida 9 de Julio, the world’s widest street,* where upon arriving at the Obelisk we are sent down Roque Saenz Peña towards the Casa Rosada (The Pink House). This is the building where the President works and contains the balcony from which Eva Peron famously addressed the cheering masses. And indeed there is much cheering to be heard as almost everyone succumbs to the beguiling movements of two scantily clad beauties singing ABBA songs. At this point the course doubles back on itself and I am soon running back down 9 de Julio. It is not long before I pass Gaby and clearly she is going to smash her previous time if she can just keep going. At the 13km mark there is a Samba band which I thought was a nice touch for the visitors and then onto the Illia bridge that crosses the Retiro train tracks and flows above the ever more concentrated Villa 31. This has to be the most depressing area of real estate in Argentina. Not because it’s poor. On the contrary, there are Villas that make this one look like a paradise. But for everything it represents. Its sole purpose is to allow the President to make the City Mayor look bad when required. It is no secret that the City is (and always will be) anti-Peronist and it is no secret that the current Mayor, Mauricio Macri, will one day run for President. Thus the two are always at loggerheads and when required, the people in the Villa create difficulties in the City (cut roads, burn tyres, steal etc) on behalf of the National Government which then publically exhorts the Mayor to do something about it. In return, they receive building materials and supplies (including satellite TV by the looks of things) and slowly but surely construct a small city within the city. Except it isn’t technically within the city because the land actually pertains to the National railway. Thus, it is National land not Federal land. As a result, Macri is unable to Police, improve, incorporate or do anything with the Villa much to the national government’s delight. So, where is the desire from the National Government to * Please forgive the technical intrusion here but on doing some research I can confirm that Avenida 9 de Julio is in fact the widest street in the world. This does not however, mean it is the widest road in the world. A “street” is defined as a thoroughfare with either pavements and/or buildings alongside it. A “road” is defined as an open, generally public way of passage for vehicles, humans or animals (i.e. a road with houses alongside it, is a street, a 20-lane motorway is technically a road).

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improve the life, education and general wellbeing of these people under their so called plan to incorporate all Argentines into society? The Villa has now expanded all the way down the sides of the motorway, almost as far as the toll booths. By the chatter, I am clearly not the only one that finds running through the open gate (and not having to pay) a bit of a weird experience. There are about 4kms to go as we dive under a tunnel back towards the parks of Palermo. I am feeling really good so decide to try and finish well and slowly lift the pace. However, there is no sprinting – I learnt that the hard way when I blew a calf (a classic result according to the Doctor). The experience cost me a month of immobility which I can ill afford now. Instead it’s that feeling of every muscle pulsating as you surge powerfully forward. Unfortunately, it’s all just sensation. But the fact you can do it all is mentally very satisfying. I cross the line in 1.42.30 – a personal best and more importantly my legs feel great. Although I wonder what my time would have been if I had gone a bit harder there is an obvious lesson here. I was relaxed, enjoyed myself and cruised to a Personal Best. Gaby makes it in 2.08 smashing her previous mark by 22 minutes and I can see the little glint in her eye that suggests that not only is she getting the running bug but also that 2-hours is a target. This will be my last official half-marathon race before the Marathon. It is a moment to reflect because when I started my training exactly 5-months ago 21km seemed an awful long way. Today I am almost running them in training whilst using live-races for practice and Personal Bests. It makes me realize how far I have come AND that I am ready and willing to go on. I have never run more than 21km in my life. Next month, I have to do a 30km run – bring it on!

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CHAPTER 16

T

14-20th September – Virgin Territory

wo days after my stellar efforts I am in trouble with Gaby. It rained during the night and has turned the reserve into a quagmire. Despite trying to avoid most of the puddles, I return after-lunch caked in mud and sopping wet. Although I only ran 8km I dehydrated heavily with the humidity. I have arranged to go out for some after-work drinks with Fernando and convince Gaby to join us with the promise of a romantic night in our city apartment close-by. Thus drinks turn to dinner and dinner to dinner with more drinks before the inevitable happens. I just collapse, asleep at the table. Gaby’s romantic night is ruined. In an effort to wake-up, I walk home whilst she takes the car and finds somewhere to park. However, this just means that I am fast asleep in bed by the time she arrives. Whatever wrath I might have escaped from the mouth of my wife during the night, my body decides to repay in the morning. Needless to say, I got very little sympathy and go for the drug induced breakfast washed down with a Starbucks coffee. This is a surprisingly effective solution resulting in a highly productive day that allows me to leave early without guilt, and get to school. My youngest is performing in a concert and whilst it is obvious we have no budding thespian star, the site of seeing his cherub-like face with beachblonde hair and blue eyes dressed as Bob Marley (boot polish and dreadlocks included) was worth the effort. Friday, I slept well had a great breakfast and have been munching all through the morning. I have to do 16km with 3 x 2km in 4.20 mins/km in the middle (stomach is already queasy at the thought). I actually end up doing 2.2km in 117


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8.41, 8.32 and 8.43 mins respectively, so well within the time stipulated and soooo easy! Surely that is lesson enough to get serious with the diet and with 50-days to go maybe the message is getting through. We have a Birthday in the evening and I drink practically nothing and eat Pasta. Saturday 18th, September. I have to confess that I am a little worried about my body. It does feel as if it is about to literally fall to pieces. My knees, hips and stomach hurts (although that might be a hangover from being sick). Basically, everything hurts. I mention this to Claudia when I see her in the gym and I am given a few new exercises to do but essentially it is business as usual. On returning home, we stuff everything into the car and head down to the beach resort of Carilo. As is traditional, we stop off at Mundo Marino on the way to enjoy an afternoon of marine entertainment only to find that the killer whale was suffering from “time of the month� problems and would not be performing today. Although perfectly understandable, it is difficult to explain to the kids why nobody wanted to get in the pool with her. Going South in Spring might seem a bit of a strange choice but it is the kid’s half-term and the beach is fun in all conditions except perhaps, gale force winds. Despite being wrapped up to the nines, the most popular activity is to build a walled trench in which to shelter. It is obvious that if this mindset is left to settle the holiday will deteriorate so I decide to turn my talents to drawing. There is some white shingle that, after drawing an outline, can be inlaid to provide a contrast to the sand. After various attempts and people wondering what I am trying to achieve, eventually I have something that can generously be described as a crab. Thus, with the imagination fired, we are drawing a flower and a great white shark before a life-sized version of a T-rex is called upon. This takes up so much effort that on finishing we decide it is time for lunch. Whilst the family has a siesta I slip out and go for 118


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a gentle run along the beach and the woods. I confess that within the first 500 meters I almost turn back 3-times before getting on with it. I can’t help it, my body feels so tired and running on sand doesn’t help. However, on returning, I reward myself with a massage only to be told, “You should look after yourself better, you’re starting to fall to pieces!” 20th September. I am supposed to run 21km today and surprise myself by actually looking forward to it. However, that is more to do with the place I am in and the weather. I head off down to the beach in the direction of Villa Gessell and keep going. An hour later and the only thing that has changed is the weather. The sea has turned angry, spitting foam up onto the beach whilst big, fat drops of cold rain are falling from leaden grey skies. I love it. These are the sort of conditions and I am in the sort of mood that makes me want to keep going forever but sense prevails, so I turn back. A few kilometers later and I am running almost horizontally, buffeted by sleet and spray whilst seriously questioning my sanity. I am still enjoying myself and cannot imagine why. There is not even a competitive element involved ie. I don’t even think about me versus the elements. I am just running and enjoying the fact that I am getting the opportunity to run in these conditions, something that in the UK would have me hibernating with a book or in front of the TV. Perverse, you can actually miss really shitty weather! Well, not everyone, and I soon come across Gaby’s returning footprints. She obviously had zero desire to face the sleet and made a fairly quick U-turn. I move off the beach and into the woods for the final 5km and end up completing the run in exactly 2-hours. I calculate that I must have run between 23km-24km!! A momentous occasion as I have never gone beyond 21km before. I celebrate with another massage and contemplate the misfortune of getting a blister on the only area of my body not to have Vaseline – the outside of my big toe.

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CHAPTER 17

I

21st September – 9th October

t’s a 3-hour drive back to BA and I am back in the office by midday and a packed afternoon. I manage to fit in a quick gym session before heading off to the Opera. This time it is Handel’s Serse. I am not familiar with the work and the relationships are particularly complicated to get one’s head around without the help of a family tree. Still, I thought the music was great and am particularly impressed with the trees. The weather is now impeccable and although I seem to have developed my own version of runner’s fatigue – i.e. I can’t be arsed, once out and running it is a pleasure. That is until I have to do the exercises. This time it is 2 x 3km @ 4.20min pace. It is another bile inducing moment and tantalizingly easy to get into a negative mindset. Apparently, these changes of pace are the things that really help you to run faster overall and strengthen the muscles. Nevertheless, I cannot say that I feel better either mentally or physically on completion. Something that only worsens on saying “Good bye” to my Office Manager whose last day it is today. After that I really have to get out and walk around a bit. On reflection, I think I have done many good things over the years and successfully coached a lot of people to improve themselves and grow within the organization. This however, can only be regarded as a total failure and as my direct report, that failure lies fairly and squarely on my shoulders. As uncomfortable as that makes me feel, I hope I can learn from it going forward. Not really wanting to go back to the office, I head to my apartment and sleep for a while. On 121


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waking, I am much better prepared to enjoy the festivities of our 4th-year anniversary party. Everyone has made a superlative effort to rise to the occasion and I in turn make the effort to put today behind me and ensure the evening is a success. Even though I got back relatively early, my 2am bedtime still makes it a struggle to get up. However, it is well worth the effort as it is a cloudless, 20°C and my eldest plays really well at his rugby. We celebrate with a parilla at home which effectively puts paid to any ideas of exercise for the day and is followed by a siesta. In the evening we are off to see “39-Steps”, a play which we saw in London. It contains a number of famous local actors (which even I recognize) and is as enjoyable in Spanish as it was in English, if not more so due to some little ad-libs for the local audience. With a Sushi supper, it is yet another 2am bed time. Sunday 26th September and it is gorgeous. However, having been woken at 7am by my children I am struggling to find anything amusing at the moment. We are instead rushing up to Gualeguay for the day to remove as much as possible from a house we have sold before it gets remodeled. There wasn’t much of a plan, we were just going to go up and down but on arriving there is a “Doma” taking place. The “Doma” takes place twice a year and whole of the community comes to watch. As a result fires have been alight since 5am and enormous grills, like cattle grids, are supporting a mountain of slow roasting meat. It’s actually a bit of a shame that the wind is blowing in the wrong direction because all the smoke generated is drifting across the playing field and covering the folk-dancers. It’s not something that bothers me per se, as folk dancing is not really my thing. However, the smell is becoming intolerable. Clearly everyone else is feeling the same way, as I am sent off to purchase a stack of choripans (hot dogs). I even accompany it with a beer and am pleasantly surprised when an ice-cold litre bottle is poured into a litre cup at full speed with no spillage and more importantly, no head. I am particularly impressed with the band. It consists of 3-acoustic guitars, an accordion, a drummer, 2 singers and a dead armadillo. The music itself I don’t really care for but the whit generated by the singers is contagious. Whilst obviously there is a cache of must do songs, the duo take it in turns to make up stanzas about anything and everything that is happening at the event. 122


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Unfortunately, much of it is double-entendre and in Entre Rianan slang so the finer points are lost on me. Judging by the laughter being generated, the general gist is probably good enough and it was fun to see the female singer giving as good as she got. The band played non-stop all afternoon and also provided the running commentary (and opinion) of the rodeo. This is not the sort of thing you see on the TV from the US. These horses are mad and epitomized through famous works by Molina Campos. The objective is seemingly pretty much the same as the US; get on horse and stay on horse until the siren sounds and you are rescued. But for some reason this seems so much more authentic. Over the course of the event about 100 horses will be “ridden” with each rider taking 3 – 4 turns. Thus the turnaround time has to be fast so people don’t get bored. This is resolved by having 3 telegraph poles staked into the ground to which 3 horses are firmly tied. The riders get on and strap themselves in and as soon as one is ready a flag is raised. The timer drops his flag and the horse is released. Within the space of about 10-seconds the horse has arched it’s back and jumped, gazelle-like, 6-feet in the air, gone straight-up on it’s hind legs and finally tried to buck the rider over its head. How he has managed to and continues to hold on I have no idea but after 30-seconds the siren sounds and two horsemen sandwich the rider and haul him off to rousing applause. We are all totally into it and Tato starts to tell the kids how he’s going to have a go in a little while. This lie only results in questioning looks from my children regarding my manhood. And whilst I have no idea where the gauchos keep their manhood during this event, I also acquiesce to participate. What awful timing! The next horse jumps vertically, giving us the classic pose of standing on its hind legs with the rider horizontal to the ground and then jumps a second time but this time landing with a sickening crunch on top of the rider. Unsurprisingly, it is only the horse that gets up whilst the rider lies prone on the floor, Tato and I are forced into damage control against wailing children and admonishing wives. Eventually, and presumably after he has regained consciousness, the rider actually gets up and walks off. Talk about tough. It is clear that the Doma is going to go on for some time and even this spectacle starts to wear a little thin for the kids. So we head off to the river and pull out numerous catfish of a considerable size with literally a piece of bam123


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boo, a hook and some fishing line. Nothing like a day of high explosive action and everyone is very satisfied. Tato prepares a parrilla at home and I take the opportunity to do 2-laps of the park before returning. Back in Buenos Aires and at 3 a.m. I am screaming in agony due to the pain in my head. It has nothing to do with my head itself but muscle spasms in my neck. It has happened before and it’ll happen again and all I can do is take muscle relaxants and aspirin. But I awake tired. Fortunately, I have an incredibly easy and enjoyable ride into work which includes a seat on the train. Such is my mood that I am even looking forward to my 25km run home. But nothing happens. 25km is actually beyond home and there is no way I can go any further than absolutely necessary. I am struggling to put one foot in front of the other, can’t concentrate, am stopping and starting and it hurts. I don’t want to be here and make no effort to speed up in order to the cross the traffic lights before they change. Running is such a mental battle. The discussion is pretty simple, “It’s a bad day. You’ve got to get through it. There is nowhere to go. But when you get to the end you can still congratulate yourself on a job well done.” Why a job well done? Obviously not for the physical side of the exercise because that can be consigned to the dustbin. More importantly you beat the mental side. I don’t know if I will feel like stopping during my marathon but I can readily imagine the moment. The more times you face and beat that mental battle the less likely you are to succumb to it. For me that is super important because if I stop, I know that I am not going to start again. After completing the marathon, Claudia and I carried on training and I was surprised by the revelation of her own mental battles. During the 21km part of her triathlon races, she used to hate the section between the 11km and 15km marks. For her it was a nothing area of the race, just over half-way with another half to go. All the time she had to battle with herself to keep going and keep her rhythm up (to beat not just the clock but others). Interestingly, on talking to the other competitors she found they also had to face the same battles. Whilst it makes sense and is understandable, I did not expect it from someone so outwardly tough as Claudia. So the point I am trying to make here is that we ALL have off days and when we suffer, the mental battle starts. It is up to you if you welcome it because it is something that you can quite happily do without. However, it is important that if and when it comes 124


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you are prepared. Like all things, the only way to prepare for it and beat it, is with practice. Whilst, I manage to make it home (in a monster 2-hours) the run marks the beginning of me trying to look after myself. I am in bed early (not that today’s decision would have affected that outcome) but I have also decided to limit my alcohol intake to practically zero. 28th September The weather has changed. It is miserable with grey skies, perennial drizzle and about 16°C – fantastic. Unfortunately the day is complicated so I am unable to run but am able to get to the gym in the evening, something that does my back and subsequent headache no good at all. Anytime Gaby starts a conversation with “Don’t laugh….” I know some idea that has no coherent logic behind it is about to be presented. Especially when finished with “….. everyone says it’s really good.” Note the “really good” not “it works.” She has a cure for my back and neck. So with as straight a face as possible I roll up a towel, put it under my left-armpit and squeeze it hard for 2-mins with my left-arm. I repeat the exercise on the right hand side and then the whole thing again twice. Nothing happens! I have another dreadful night’s sleep but this has nothing to do with my headache. Instead the youngest is having nightmares and on coming to our bed falls asleep and presumeably dreams of being a donkey judging by the random kicks I receive. Later, I conclude that this must have been the moment when I got headlice. In the meanwhile, I console myself that I can fall asleep on the masseur’s table. That’s right! Gaby has found me masseur. Carilo did such wonders for my calves that I thought it would be a good idea to continue with the therapy, especially if my back is also bad. Right idea, wrong assumption. This is no holiday massage. This is a deep muscle sports massage and whilst it is doing me the world of good I am in agony. It is seriously unfunny and I am feeling a little sick by the end. Incredibly, I do recognize that my back feels much better and perhaps I was a little dismissive of the towel therapy. It would be great if I could find a similar trick for my legs as I am finding it a little difficult to walk to the station. However, by midday I am 125


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feeling better and manage two laps of the reserve. Amazingly there is always someone that seems determined to take the smile off my face and today it is Claudia, who has a real go at me for doing any exercise after such a “heavy” massage. Apparantly, these things are just as stimulating for the muscles as a big workout and they need to relax and recover afterwards. I rather feebily explain that Wednesday is the only day that the masseuse is able to visit. “In that case, from now on, Wednesday is your rest day.”

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CHAPTER 18

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he strangest thing happened to me this morning. To paint the background a little, Retiro is a chaos of people getting on and off trains during the rush hour. All of these people then disperse into the underground, cross the road or form lots of intermingling queues for buses. I don’t know the numbers but over a million people must pass through Retiro between 8.30am and 9.30am. Today was no different and when I got to the queue for the 56 bus it was already 30 people long. To speed the exit of the bus, tickets are pre-sold on the platform so people can get straight on and take a seat. So when the bus arrived it was no surprise that people did exactly that. Just as I was about to get on a second bus arrived. So the first bus closed its doors and left. As I was getting on, a third bus suddenly arrived and so instead of waiting until full, the conductor just waived my bus on leaving everyone else to board the bus behind. What was so incredible was not only the fact that I had got on the bus, but the bus was empty and it continued to be empty. No-one got on for the whole trip, it was totally surreal. Imagine being in NY or London rush-hour with no-one getting on your bus. It was tempting to keep going and see how far this ride would last but in the end I took it, as usual, as far as Starbucks. But I couldn’t help but look at it leaving to see if it would magically disappear or something. Unfortunately, that’s all the magic this day has in store for me. As it is 16km with an exercise of 3km, 2km and 1km at 4.30min/km, 4,20 min/km and 4.10 min/km respectively. Of course it was a struggle but I managed to do 127


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the slightly longer distances in 14.16 mins, 8.20 mins and 5.02 mins. I was actually pretty pleased with myself because I went way too fast on the 2km section and basically blew-up for the 1km. The worst part was that after having done the exercise there was still 8km to do. Fortunately, I had done some planning and come up with my new “Pure Cheese” play-list. Although my brother would suggest that every song written by Kiss should be included, I was going worse than that. The English language part is represented by Cher – Save Up All Your Tears and Michael Bolton – Steel Bars but for real cheese you need to go Latin. Look no further than Cristian Castro – Azul, Fey – Azucar Amargo, Chayanne – Provocome etc. It’s the acoustic equivalent of seeing a 100-kilo Brazilian in a psychedelic leotard – you have to smile. Unfortunately my good mood deteriorates during the afternoon. I am called by security downstairs to find a moto-courier. In his hands is an objected wrapped in a black bin-liner. I open it to discover a Dell Laptop, not too dissimilar to the one that was stolen. Surely, it is not being returned anonymously? On calling the courier company somebody it seems, paid cash to have this laptop returned to us. Except, this is not the laptop that was stolen. It even has an audit tag on it similar to our own. Clearly someone has stolen another laptop and sent it to us in the hope that we won’t press charges. I want nothing to do with it and send it away. Following a night out morosely drinking tomato juice whilst watching Gaby tuck into a Caiparinhia, I reflected on how the travails of running seem trivial next to abstinence. Still, I can’t ignore the fact that I am quite happy to be in the gym at 8am where Claudia joins me to do some circuits and a run. I wasn’t actually expecting the run which makes me late to get home and thus have to face the consequences of taking our youngest to his Sport’s Day late. There is parental participation and it is a nervous moment when Gaby and I are tied together for the 3-legged race. This is probably exactly the sort of thing that will result in some freak injury after all these month’s of training. I can’t stand that sort of mindset so it is swept aside in a flash and we romp down track to screams of delight. Yet again that evening we are back in Gualeguay but this time for a 40th Birthday. Habits in the interior are still more traditional than BA and on arriving the men automatically bunch together on one side whilst the women 128


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mingle on the other. I get in enough trouble as it is for talking to women in BA so I am hardly going to be the only man on the “wrong” side of the room even if the mix of professions is more interesting. As it is, I have to suffer the endless talk about rain dispersion, crop yields and the price of glyphosate. It is one mental battle I cannot win and I succumb to 2-glasses of wine which is about 18 less than I want. Finally, even the slatted bed is more attractive and at midnight I excuse myself due to training reasons. Ha Ha! – the looks!!!. Not only is it an ingenious way out on my behalf but no-body else can use it. Sunday 3rd October – I really do have to run 20km so I take the car to the park and run 4 laps listening to Mana. All the time I am just trying to concentrate on a good rhythm for next week. Claudia and I discussed this at length. For some reason I want to do 33km and start at the 8km mark and run to the finish. She is not impressed. For her this breaks an unwritten code amongst athletes which basically states “If you haven’t run the distance you don’t deserve to tread there.” I can understand and empathise with that philosophy so will be starting with everyone and finishing at the 30km marker. Although for some reason I really want to do 33km, just so I know I can do it and would have less than “an easy” 10km to go if I am struggling on the day. More mind games but it seems important to get the psychological advantage. But Claudia is adamant. “You don’t need to,” she adheres me to understand “you’ve got the distance in your legs. Doing more than 30kms now is just detrimental.” On finishing I fish with the kids whilst Gaby runs and then we are hell for leather back down to BA to watch Bon Jovi. We are taking the 2-oldest for their first concert and the tickets say 5pm. After the AC/DC debacle and not being able to find any information to the contrary, despite seeming an odd start time we get there only to find it is starting at 9pm. Poor kids. We sit there patiently playing games and watch the stadium fill up and the support band. Out of boredom I look up the set list and take note. Then between acts, in front of the eldest I pretend to call Jon Bon Jovi and after a brief chat asks if he can play “You give love a Bad Name” to which he says “Sure! Fourth song.” All of which is relayed out loud to incredulous ears. I’ve seen Bon Jovi live 3-times before in different parts of the world but never 129


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have I seen them play as well as they did that evening. There is a nice moment at the end of the third song when both children turn to me with a combination of expectation and doubt in their expressions only for Tico to pound the tom-tom four times before a chorus of “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame, you give love……” turns their faces incredulous and they, like the 60,000 other people present, scream out “……..A BAD NAME!” and go nuts. They played for 3-hours non-stop and I cannot think of any song I would have liked them to have sung. They played everything. The only negative was the kids walked away feeling a little sick from all the second hand weed smoke they’d inhaled! Long may it last.

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CHAPTER 19

I

10/10/10 – 30km!

t is 5am and I am full of nervous energy. I haven’t done much in the way of exercise since Wednesday when I ran 16km that included 4 x 1000m, all below the stipulated 4-minutes. I am still hankering to do more than 30km but 34km is considered too much and 32km leaves me outside a villa so that is a closed subject. Needless to say much of the week was spent talking to various participants with regards to their strategy and more importantly trying to coordinate rides in and out. Even Claudia called me at 9pm last night just to ensure that I had eaten my pasta, strategize and send me to bed early. Needless to say, I have been very good this week. Even on Friday when Sebas invites us to play Truco, the four of us cannot finish 2-bottles of wine. GusM

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is also abstaining although I get the feeling that this is not such a hardship for him as it is for me and it’s a shame because DeigoAD and I always lose so when we finally reverse the trend, there is not a huge amount of celebration. In the end I am going with PaulaF and her husband who are also doing 30km as their warm-up for the NY Marathon. JorgeF takes his running very seriously. To look at you wouldn’t suspect much, as he is not one of those people who looks as if he has starved himself for the last 10-years. He’s the other type, with those seriously impressive thighs and tight calves which tend to belong to triathletes, a caste to which he in fact belongs. We have arrived 30mins early so I join Jorge with his warm-up and feel a bit like a fifth wheel as we jog up and down, him in silence and me asking questions all the time. I can feel myself getting all wound up and am probably doing the same to Jorge so I make my excuses and leave to find a bathroom. The queue and mental focus on trying to get in and out of the portaloo as quickly as possible takes my mind off the race and gets rid of trying to over strategize. What happens if I go too fast? What time do I want to be going through the 10km mark? To prevent me going too fast at the beginning should I leave with the pack that will naturally slow me down etc.? In the end, I do the same as last time and start 5-mins late. It is fantastic, almost the exact replica of the previous 21km. There is no-one in front so I can just casually cruise along at a comfortable pace until the 5km mark or so, when it starts to get a bit congested. Spiderwoman is back (of course) as is Michael Jackson and I can see I am averaging about a 5min/km pace which is perfect. The route deviates slightly from the 21km and instead of turning up 9 de Julio, we are running past Plaza San Martin. This is one of those areas of contradiction within the city. On one side is “La Torre de los Ingleses” (English Tower), built by British residents in 1910 and inaugurated in 1916 to commemorate the centenary of the May Revolution. As the Brits and locals were all best mates at the time, it was colloquially baptized la Torre de los Ingleses and is still known as that by all and sundry. However, opposite and on the either side of Alem is the monument to the victims of the Falklands War (La Guerra de las Malvinas). A simple horseshoe shaped, blackmarbled wall with the names of the fallen written in gold letter, guarded constantly by two ceremonially dressed soldiers and flanked on either side by two pillars of flame. To be quite honest, it is a very un-Argentine memorial, made 132


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all the more poignant for its simplicity. As it is inconceivable that this shrine should be overlooked by the English Tower, it has now officially reverted to its original name, La Torre Monumental. I am often asked when abroad if I get any grief for being English as a result of the Falklands. The answer is “no”. It is not a subject that often comes up and if it does I usually handle it fairly diplomatically. I would say that 99% of Argentines have no gripes with either the English and some actually would have preferred that Argentina had officially been a colony. In highly simplistic terms many people within Argentina view the loss as a good thing as it got rid of the Military Dictatorship. Even considering what goes on within the country today it is impossible to appreciate what it must have been like living under a Dictatorship in which 10,000 people disappeared. In 1982, the regime was on the verge of being overthrown so it took the only opportunity available and invaded the Falklands. The response was overwhelming. An outpouring of national fervor so beyond expectations that withdrawing after the event was impossible. Afterall, who in their right mind would send soldiers so far in an effort to liberate a copy of poxy islands? Somebody else who was also politically unpopular at the time, that’s who and the result is history. I only had two incidences of note and both made me wonder how I would have reacted if the roles were reversed. One was when I was back-packing with a friend after college. Aged 18, in Tierra del Fuego (next stop Falklands) just 8-years after the war, we were seated in a café when a huge mustached man from the table next to us leaned over and said in that spaghetti western English, “Where you from?” Big decision time. Do we lie and default to Australia and New Zealand or just see what happens. The worry must have been on our faces because when we finally confessed to being English his face creased, the moustache sneered and a highly interested “Innngllliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssssssssshhhhhh,” echoed around a suddenly silent café before he burst into a fit of hysterics and continued “Welcome to Argentina!” One of those colonic moments! The other occurred 10-years later on a trip to Mendoza. We were invited to stay in the Officer’s mess of the Engineer’s Regiment. The next day we attended mass with the senior staff of the base and our entry elicited a collec133


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tive intake of breath. But within seconds the Lt-Colonel was up, arm around my shoulder and guiding me to a seat next to him. Afterwards we went to his Office which was decorated with pictures of British marines and paratroopers. We discussed at length the war and for him it had been an eye-opening experience into professionalism. “Both sides,” he said “had more or less the same equipment and more or less the same training. But when I was taken prisoner I noticed two things. First, I stopped being the enemy. I was just another person and had the same rights, access to doctors, food etc as everyone else. Secondly, everyone queued for their food because even the person at the back knew that when he arrived there would still be plenty.” Back to the 30km and I am winding in and out of some side streets. We actually pass extremely close to the office which is mildly amusing, before finally joining Avenida 9 de Julio and back down to Plaza de Mayo where my two beauties are again crooning love songs. This time we don’t double back but carry on down past San Telmo and into La Boca. I still appear to be on or slightly under the 5min/km pace and feel great and perhaps it is just psychology but kms 14-18 just fly by as I pass Boca’s twin bridges and run back along the promenade. It is all familiar territory and feels homely and comforting as I wheel under the motorway and pass the 20km mark. Here my eyes are peeled for Gaby. She and a friend are going to run 21km but are relaying with another couple doing 21km to accompany a fifth person who is doing her first 42km (thus it is acceptable for them to cross the finish line). Suddenly I see her and she joins me for a couple of hundred metres which is a nice boost. Then suddenly, I am not feeling comfortable at all. It’s as if one of my shoes is flat and all the impact is going straight into my knee. It’s irritating because apart from this inconvenience I am feeling pretty good and enter the last 6km of uncharted territory otherwise, happy. With two kilometres to go, I am tiring. Logic would suggest that I should slow down a bit but I look at my watch and realize that if I can keep the pace going I’ll finish in 2 hours 30 mins. So I dig deep and push myself to keep going and surge past the drinks stand to cross the line in 2’29’59 and immediately cramp up. I am offered some water and fruit by some of the others who are also stopping at the 30km mark and after stretching, join in the effort to distribute sustenance to those carrying-on including the aforementioned 134


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wheelchair athlete. Out of nowhere Claudia appears and helps me stretch whilst we wait for some of her other pupils and then I am heading home with Paula and Jorge. They both look as fresh as daisies whilst I am almost asleep. On arriving home I make myself a bath and just soak for ages. Now that the running is over my body is taking the opportunity to remind me of other areas that need fixing. A visit to my “crap” Doctor during the last week just confirmed that I need to be operated on again and I was kind of resigned to that until he also asked if he could stick a 50cm-tube up there to take a look. It’s not the sort of request I would naturally acquiesce too but right this minute (and considering I’ll be unconscious) I don’t see much option. After some soup and 2 weird homeopathic recuperation pills that Gaby has somehow produced from nowhere I sleep for an hour and a half before heading out to the Hash. There we meet Gonzalo, still with his 42km t-shirt on having run the marathon and an extra 10km with the hash. I on the other hand have no intention of running and am standing waist deep in a freezing swimming pool. It’s a fun evening and I even have some beer and wine to accompany the parrilla – I think I’ve earned it.

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CHAPTER 20 – A MONTH TO GO

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he 11th October is a holiday and I go and swim for a bit in an effort to get some feeling back into my legs. However, half the world has the same idea and it all gets a bit frustrating. Still, better than nothing and I get the parrilla up and running for some Argentine friends who are visiting from New Zealand. It is all very relaxed with as little getting up and down from me as possible. However, on the Tuesday I do make the effort to undertake a circuit of the reserve and find it a surprisingly pleasant experience. What is not pleasant is the massage the following day. My calves and hips are killing me. I know that much of this is due to lack of stretching and have made a conscious effort to do more. But it is a case of too little, too late. Nevertheless, and despite the pain, this woman is amazing. And it is with high expectations that I go and see Claudia. Unbeknownst to myself it was her birthday and apart from finding it difficult to believe that she is older than I thought, I also feel bad for not having brought her something. Still, it is quite an amusing mental exercise trying to imagine what that something could be; bike lube, a high-fibre energy bar, another item of running gear. Actually a bunch of flowers would probably have been perfect and I would have landed myself in a whole bunch of shit so in the end probably just as well. Human behavior is the easiest to understand and the hardest to change and Claudia is managing today’s session so I can make my own “buy-in” decision. My fat/weight ratio has resulted in a record drop in my “handicap” and I am 137


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pleased. It is everything I deserve after being a bit more careful regarding my diet. Claudia thinks differently and we recap my food intake during the week, “Monday – Breakfast – 2 pieces of toast Lunch - Asado Supper – Chicken Laksa Tuesday – Breakfast – Cereal Lunch – Fruit” “Did you have a sandwhich before your run?” “No.” “And after?” “Hot Dog, mustard and chips, plus coffee.” “Supper?” “Roast beef, potatos, vege etc – BUT smaller than usual portions” “Wine?” “One and a half glasses” “Today?” “Eggs for breakfast, fruit during the morning and a sandwhich at midday, nothing else.” It’s hard to accept sometimes but there it is in black and white. Yes, my diet, portion sizes and alcohol intake have all improved ……… a bit. So why am I surprised when I get off the scales and realize that in the last 6-months I have lost a total of just 800 grams in weight. Nowhere near the 3-4 kgs expected. Every unnecessary gram of weight multiplied by 42km represents tons of effort. It’s time to get serious. The next few days sees the house full of wicker baskets as we finally prepare to move into an enclosed neighbourhood. It is also unfortunately the day that we have arranged to reciprocate the fancy dress dinner, but this time it is Asian. I can’t stand being in the house and people can’t stand me being there. If I had my way, I would use it as an excuse to throw half our stuff away. As I know that is just going to cause even more emotional turmoil I go to work and then leave early to do the shopping. On getting back it is chaos and with Gaby’s blessing I head off to run. I am in a pretty dire state. I have not eaten 138


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anything beyond a banana and am feeling tired and flat. To cap it all, thanks to a wire buried in the ground I am soon flat on my face with blood trickling down my hands and shoulders. Perversely, it seems to galvanise me and I have one of the “Chariots of Fire” moments which requires me to get up off the floor and carry on heroically. After all that’s what I’d do in NY. As I am doing most of the cooking this evening, I spend most of the remaining afternoon in the kitchen preparing the ingredients. Fortunately, we are well supplied with Redbull so by the time our guests arrive I am pretty alert, well prepared but sadly underdressed. What a shame. I thought I had tons of crappy oriental clothes from my days in Hong Kong but it seems that I threw them all out during a house move! 17th October The evening was a great success. Of course we talked about my marathon efforts but of more interest was my experience on Thursday. Being a cold day and drizzling constantly I went to the reserve to find it closed. As result I ran some of the marathon course backwards and did my exercise (3 x [1km @ 4mins plus 1km slowly]) using the stenciled markers as guides. On finishing I made my way back to Puerto Madero and saw the strangest site. Thousands and thousands of catfish at the surface all drifting in the same direction, their mouths opening and closing with a sort of exhausted gasping motion. It must have been spawning season or something, as all the herons were just sitting there, stuffed and in no hurry to eat any more. It was mesmerizing. Apparently, at a certain time in Spring, the water warms sufficiently to stimulate the reproductive cycle. So I guess that the last few days of sun have provided the trigger required for this mass orgy. But, does that now mean that the current cold weather results in the cycle taking a step backwards only to repeat itself when the weather warms up again? If so, the life of the humble catfish could actually be a lot more interesting that previously imagined. I am sure you can appreciate that a conversation of such profoundness resulted in quite a run on the wine cellar. And yet despite actually abstaining (mostly) it is the chili causing me problems this morning. It is not surprising 139


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then, that my 20km run is not one of those “how good it is to run” moments but rather, let’s just get it over with. On returning, I repeat the experience and walk straight into the icy-waters of our swimming pool and find it really quite beneficial for my legs. Now that I am tapering (reducing my exercise) it is time to do something beneficial for somewhere else as well and hope there is no doubt in the Doctor’s mind when I see him on Tuesday that he’ll have to operate. 19th October My Doctor does indeed confirm that I will be operated on tomorrow and gives me a list of things I need to do beforehand. At lunch I take advantage of a gorgeous day to do one lap of the reserve as it will be my last for a few days and get through my afternoon meetings with relative ease. Gaby’s day on the other hand is not going well. Apart from the mountain of wicker baskets that are slowly being unpacked, a message I left with the school regarding who was picking up our youngest did not get through. So instead of going to play with some friends he has been left all alone. Although not a big deal, the idea was that he would be out of the way whilst the unpacking occurred. It is NOT as if we can just whip across and pick him up either because the car is being serviced. Not only that but Honda have rung to announce their super-duper security system lasted just 10-seconds and someone has stolen our auxiliary tyre – AGAIN! Somehow this is all my fault and although I cook supper and get the kids to bed, the conversation is fairly one-sided so I decide to retire early and try and finish “Playing the Enemy” by John Carlin (Invictus). Still at some point I have to take an Emenol in preparation for tomorrow. On reaching for the box I can feel someone’s interest perk up. Supposedly these can be self-administered and an accompanying pamphlet details all sorts of potential positions better suited to Yoga. The one I decide to attempt looks like a person riding a motorbike upside down but no sooner have I decided on this then an acidic voice whispers in my ear, “Here, let me help you with this.” My protests are in vain and I am soon face down on the bed with Gaby astride on top. “Are you supposed to take ALL of this?” I just manage to form the words “easy there” when 140


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WHOOSH! The contents are squeezed inside. The involuntary bucking movement this invokes is no match for someone who has ridden horses all her life. “Steady, there’s still some left,” and just before the process is repeated a little voice whispers menacingly in my ear, “And the next time we move house, you take some days off work to help, OK?” In my acquiescent state it takes just 5 minutes for emenol to work it’s effect and I return from the bathroom and see Gaby with bottle #2 in her hand. “Why do you have another one?” “I have to do it tomorrow morning as well.” “Oh good!” she grins. By 9.30am I am back on the crucifix and awake at 10.15 feeling the worse for wear. Sometimes anaesthetic and me do not agree and this appears to be one of those times. I am feeling dizzy and sick. Although on reflection, if someone sticks a 50cm rod up your arse, even if you are out cold how are you supposed to wake up feeling? After taking a little longer to recover I make it to the office but it is too much. At midday I am driven home and spend the afternoon in bed. Apparantly, the results of my endoscopy are all fine but I might experience a little flatulence as a result. A little! Christ, it’s not as if it doesn’t hurt either. Even hurts to pee!! The next day loaded with painkillers I am back in the office early as we have to go over some ground work with my boss for a live videoconference regarding a group re-organisation. We get pretty close to where I think we need to be with respect to the Argentine audience when the inevitable happens. I need the bathroom. Can there be any worse preparation for a live conference than sitting for half an hour with the feeling of pushing out cut glass. I emerge white and dripping in sweat. Nevertheless, within 5-mins we are live and I am giving more of a rousing speech that insists that we CAN go through yet another change before my boss provides the details. It is all I can do to stay upright and as soon as it is finished I head home again. Come Friday and I am feeling a bit better behind but round the front I am like Tom Hanks in the Green Mile. I am starting to get a bit worried as whatever is going on down below cannot feasibly be related to my operation 141


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if my memory serves me correctly. I don’t really have too much time to think about it as it is another early start before an assessment centre designed to help us choose a Team Leader. Usually, these are quite fun and relaxed events where the objective is to make the candidates feel as comfortable as possible so they can then perform to their abilities. After which, those of us watching will debate the merits of each and select two finalists. Occasionally, it just doesn’t work and today was one of those days. I am not impressed and let it be known. My staff are not impressed with me and let me know. Sunday 24th - It has been 4-days with no exercise so regardless I decide to head out along the Costanera to the Carrefour in Vicente Lopez. Things are now getting ridiculous. Every step I take creates the urge to pee but on stopping to do so, nothing happens. I can’t go much faster than trotting pace and on arriving find Gaby frantic. All three kids took it upon themselves to hide in the supermarket and then make a run for it – something strongly not-recommended in Argentina. Fortunately, the security guards are on the lookout for more sinister activities and have stopped them all at the entrance. I manage to intervene before we have at least one child less and we head back home to arrive at the same time as Tato and family from Gualeguay. The ladies of the house all busy themselves emptying the last of the moving baskets whilst Tato and I return to our old house to dismantle the trampoline and remove anything we have left behind. Argentines take EVERYTHING and whilst I think I am being cheap by removing the unused loo-roll and holders (new house has neither) I draw the line when Tato starts to remove the light switches from the walls. That night, an attempt at some nocturnal activity not only has me crying out in agony but also wondering what the hell is happening due to the addition of blood. I realize that I am running a fever and should probably be consulting a doctor sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Gaby, on going to the bathroom, collides with a wicker basket or more correctly is impaled by a nail sticking out of a basket. The sight of more blood is too much for me and I almost pass out whilst she heads to the hospital for stitches. On return, she has some anti-biotics for me as it sounds as if I have all the classic symptoms of a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Regardless of the anti-biotics, I awake constantly during the next few nights drenched in sweat. 142


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26th October I have no idea if this is a good idea or not but loaded with drugs I go for a run at midday. Physically speaking I am just trying to get round the reserve but mentally I need some freedom. We have an unnecessary disciplinary action on our hands but it is the natural end of something I have been monitoring for a while and it is important to get the right outcome. I have a phobia towards anyone who mentions the words “lack of respect” when speaking about themselves. If that person happens to be in a position of authority then you know you’ve got issues. What generally occurs is you have an excellent process person who tends to work well with other process people or easy personalities. The moment someone with a strong personality enters the mix it starts to generate doubt and insecurities that are dealt with using the rule-book rather than common sense. This is perceived as weakness and it is a downhill spiral from there. The situation is unnecessary because it should never have been allowed to happen. However, more direct action puts us in danger of falling foul of the country’s employment rules. You cannot fire someone for being a bad manager. Being bad at your job is not sufficient grounds for being fired, period. And even with full compensation you are likely to receive a further comeback. So it is necessary in these cases to get the buy-in from the person being asked to leave. My senior-Manager has been working the other flank as it is obvious that this Team Leader is unhappy but now it is time to reach a conclusion. One of the things that I take the most pride in is the philosophy of equality we have within the office and that it is shared by almost everyone. We have over 30-different nationalities working side-by-side, split across a wide demographic spectrum. When things go well it is one of the most gratifying jobs in the world as barriers are broken and the diversity is enormous. Occasionally though, people sometimes feel the need to justify themselves and have to be reminded that (a) it is not necessary and (b) it is not acceptable behavior within an office environment. So I am pretty pleased with the choice of individual that has been caught up in the crossfire as we have been having a few issues regarding appropriate behavior. Regardless of our philosophy there is still only so much leeway that can be offered before either the individual decides he wants to be professional or the company makes the 143


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decision for him (and I confess it is tempting with the mood I’m in to make that decision). So the situation is that this individual has made a comment that can be looked at as either stupid or highly offensive if you want to look for racial undertones. Either way, it is not the sort of thing we particularly like and together with the growing number of similar incidences decide to send a message and ask him to go home for a few days and think about his career. The conversation with the Team Leader is a bit different and centres around her unhappiness and apparent need to see the worst possible interpretation of the comment made. Slowly but surely, she admits the difficulties in managing such characters and her general unhappiness about the job not being exactly what she thought it would be on accepting. My Senior Manager is convinced (and probably right) that she would have resigned but I don’t want to take the chance so we have prepared a package and she is asked to leave, something not too difficult to accept when one’s mind is already heading down that road. I have quite a lot of things to finish before I leave. Tomorrow there is a Census so everyone who is the sole occupant of a house has to wait until the Censor calls before coming into work. In an effort to make it a productive day rather than a day off, we are going to hold our Business Contingency Plan at the same time, allowing us to test internet connectivity whilst the whole country is working from home. I spend a bit of time ensuring that everyone is as prepared as possible following this disruption and just as well because the test becomes real!

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CHAPTER 21

I

27th October

finally get a much better night’s sleep and make my way into the office to monitor our BCP when the news breaks that Nestor Kirchner, the exPresident, husband to the current President and virtual shoe-in as President in the 2011 elections, has died. To cap it all it seems he died of a heart attack brought on by a fight with Hugo Moyano, the leader of Argentina’s biggest Union and reference for all the others. There is an eerie silence in the city and it is quite a strange sensation. The only time I can think of this happening before was when the family was walking around the markets of Tigre and it started to snow. It hardly ever actually snows IN Buenos Aires and everyone just stopped what they were doing and looked in wonder. Well this time the silence is not through wonder but trepidation. The government has instantly called for a national day of mourning and Moyano is immediately on the news hailing Kirchner as “the greatest Peronist since Peron.” The day passes without event (and the BCP passes it’s test with flying colours) but there is only one question that everyone wants to know the answer to – “What now?” Potentially things could get very nasty but the likelihood is that things will carry on as normal because, after all and despite what people like to think, this is quite a normal country. Additionally, the country will rally around their recently widowed President and who is going to stand in the way of that? The next couple of days does indeed have the country returning to normality (after all the Kirchner’s have been in power for 7-years now, so the infra145


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structure is firmly in place and she is the current President). Additionally, by appearing in black and holding a stiff upper lip, her ratings have doubled overnight from an unpopular 20-points to an election winning 40-points, should she decide to go for a second term. In the certainty that nothing nasty is going to happen in my absence we are going with the Hash on it’s annual weekend to Carilo. I admit to a certain amount of fear as running off piste there is always that possibility of tripping up on a root or being impaled by the branch of a broken tree so close to the date. As usual, I refuse to bow to these restrictions and head off happily into the forest. Nevertheless, I can feel myself lifting my feet slightly higher off the ground and incredibly I am out front. This has a lot to do with me knowing the trails (as we have been here each year for about 10-years) but clearly I am fit. This may seem a rather obvious thing to say given my training and being just 2-weeks from the Marathon but it is all perceptions and it’s a welcome reminder of how far I have come over the last 6-months. As usual, on exiting the woods, there is a monster sand dune that needs to be scaled before being met at the top with a beer. I fly up it and chat to the “hare” (the person who set the trail) whilst waiting for everyone else to catch up. On resumption, we head on down to the beach and I decide to veer off and head in the opposite direction back to Villa Gessell. Thus replicating the same run as a month ago, the temperature is dropping and I am now running towards furious, lightening emitting, black clouds rather than away and to the safety of home. After 2 or 3km I turn back and am now literally being chased by the encroaching storm. The sea is being whipped into such a furry that I am now not sure if it is raining or just spray. Then, and as if to highlight the fact that I should have gone home when I had the chance, a magic hand seems to reach from behind and grab me. Such is the force of the wind in my face that I am now bent double. With the storming having me where it wants me it unleashes its full fury. I have no option but carry on running with my head (and ear) pressed against my shoulder to prevent first rain and then hail from battering the side of my face. It is freezing. I am soaking wet, there is a howling gale and my whole body is stinging from the hail. I LOVE IT but better than that with a week to go, I’M READY! 146


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************************************ With a couple of days to go before we head up to New York, Gaby passes me something her Personal Trainer has written for her students who are also participating in the NY Marathon. “The concept of “tapering” (the resting period before a competition) is simple: You’ve done the work, now you have to arrive refreshed at the event. As a result ALL the training programs for Marathons or long distance races are variations of the same four phases: I) The creation of a weekly base of kilometers II) The gradual increase of weekly kilometers run III) The continual increase of weekly kilometers run plus the intro duction of speed work IV) The reduction of weekly kilometers run whilst maintaining the speed work. YOU HAVE NOW DONE STAGES 1 to 3 AND ARE NOW IN THE FOURTH But as with everything in life, when something is so simple we always look to complicate it. It occurs to some of us to maintain the high weekly kilometers or to include a last 32km race, 2-weeks beforehand just “to be sure!” The consequences are almost always are the same. After months of preparation, instead of feeling refreshed you arrive at the event with tired legs and perform below your expectations. The principal reason for a long-distance runner to commit these mistakes is last minute nerves, itchy feet or even depression. These feelings frequently torture us because after LONG months of ever increasing training, suddenly we are doing less and we think “How can it be that I am training less so close to the competition date? Surely I should be doing more or maybe I haven’t done enough!” As a result, a sort of desperation overwhelms us and we crazily invent work resulting in undesired consequences. The most valuable recourse that a runner has in these circumstances is a support group that can guide you during these last few weeks and together with 147


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your coach be empathetic towards your feelings of desperation, doubt and help you stick to your training schedule. Some strategies to help you mentally during this moment include: I) Remember the weeks you’ve spent training and everything you have achieved. Focus on the positive and forget about the fact that you might have missed some runs or your final long-run was slower than you imagined. II) Count all the positive things you are looking forward to at the event e.g. the weather, the public, the route, the travel, the event itself. III) Write down the motivating factors that have gotten you to this point e.g. family, personal goal, charity etc ……….on the day of the event write it on the back of your number. If you are going through a tough moment during the race you can quickly turn it over and be inspired. IV) Visualize yourself crossing the line! Remember, they are going to be taking photos………..are you going to pose with your arms aloft? Show those muscles? Makes signs with your fingers for peace or love? Wave a flag? VERY IMPORTANT – cross the line, enjoy the moment, think of what you have achieved and THEN stop your watch. Finally and above all else, take a minute to enjoy all this. To run the distance that you trained for so long is a beautiful experience, painful, fun, demanding and many other things. It’s a moment that the majority never live to experience and some just once…………so savour every minute, good and bad, remember each instant, shout out to those supporting you, greet the volunteers, lift-up the people running next to you, stop for two seconds and hug family or friends that are in the crowd for you. ENJOY IT!!!! And never forget to give thanks for your ability to be able to undertake this which, whilst difficult, was chosen by you.

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CHAPTER 22 - NEW YORK

M

1st - 6th November

onday, 1st November. The last week and I am going through a check list of people who have been attending my body over the last 6-months. First my Proctologist gives me the all clear but wants to see me on my return. Then the urologist confirms that I had just an ordinary urinary infection and adjusts the antibiotics. Finally, in the evening I meet Claudia in the gym. Being a Monday it is heaving so we give up pretty quickly and sit in the Starbucks talking about the week to come. She hands me my dietary regime for the next 6-days and is constantly asking me “How I am?” The last month’s diet and decreased alcohol intake topped off with a feverinducing UTI has resulted in me losing over 3-kilos. I am now a very fighting fit 77kg. We talk about the race, tactics, what happens if………etc etc and suddenly I realize it is 8pm and if I don’t bring this to a halt, we will carry on forever and Gaby will wonder where I am. So we stand-up and I realize that this is a very emotional moment for Claudia. With what looks like a glint in her eye, I get a big hug and a kiss and am told to “relax” and “ENJOY!” before being driven to the station. Upon which Gaby calls to ask where I am. 4th November –We arrive into New York at 6am on Thursday morning. On this plane alone is Veronica, one of Claudia’s pupils and Ivo. Ivo helps me exchange and move around large piles of Pesos into small piles of US dollars when buying or selling an apartment. I have a lot of time for Ivo. On one of these journeys we were extracting the wads of bills and realized I had left a banana in the bag. As the notes flew through the counting machine and bits of banana started to decorate the walls, Ivo just sat in amazed wonder before 149


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saying “Happens all the time!” So it is with some sadness that this gentle giant who has lost about 8kg has blown his knee. It will require surgery but owing to all the preparations with family, supporters etc, he is going to do the Marathon anyway, albeit on one leg. Veronica would be the antithesis of this and is someone that you could easily dismiss as being an Argentine Barbie. Petite with long blonde hair, voluptuous lips and back-straining frontage I wonder how many people take her and her marathon bid seriously. At least half the people lining up at immigration are dressed in long running pants and are clearly here for the Marathon and it would be exciting if it wasn’t so cold and rainy. Perversely it is what I term “wet rain” with those huge fat drops that seem to contain a mini-puddle and go straight through your clothes, soaking you instantly. Despite this and in the knowledge that the hotel would not have a room available at this time we decide to stuff ourselves with a massive American breakfast and then pick up my kit. There are about 6-blocks from the subway to the Jacob Javits convention centre and despite an umbrella, the streets are flooded and we are soaked on arrival. It is awe inspiring and completely full of helpers and marathon runners. However, it is a conveyor belt type of operation and you are quickly guided into the right queue for kit, shirt, tag etc. To be honest it is just like any other well organized event but the scale is breathtaking. Basically we are escorted as quickly as possible out of the official collection area and into the sponsor’s area where we can spend as much time as we like. The merchandise area is impressive. The last 6-months has been basically dedicated to this goal and they know it. Even though I do not like most of the designs the urge to buy is quite irresistible. After an hour and a half of soaking up the atmosphere we decide to go our separate ways, me to the office and Gaby shopping. It’s not the most productive of days but I find out that a few of the people with whom I work closely are going to be out supporting. At about 6pm I head out with a couple of them and a friend who lives in NYC. As we arrive before Gaby, I quickly order a Caiparinha only for it to arrive with her. I make some crap excuse that I had ordered it for her and hand it over whilst being directed to the only pasta dish on the menu. Fortunately it is really very nice. Friday 5th November and there is a 5-mile friendship run organized by the New York Road Runners (NYRR), the group for which I am running the 150


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Marathon. We have both entered, as seemingly have half the people running the Marathon, with the desire to take it easy and get the flight out of the system. However, even this is an emotional moment as we stand in silence listening to a stirring edition of The Star Spangled Banner before setting off around Central Park. We are lucky to have picked an hour when the rain has stopped but even so it is very beautiful with the leaves displaying their full autumnal spectrum of colours. Of the 5-mile circuit the final 3-miles are actually those of the Marathon itself and it is quite stimulating to imagine the stands full of people as you cross the line. There is quite a lot of entertainment for the participants but the onset of rain has us heading back to the hotel before essentially spending the day shopping. In the evening we have tickets to see Matthew Bourne’s alternate version of Swan Lake. The ballet was excellent with the added twist that the corps de ballet is male. It’s easy to see why it has won 3-Tony awards and it acted as an excellent stress reliever. Saturday 6th November. The streets are crowded with people wearing different sports gear and there is a palpable tension in the city. It is exciting to be a part of it and all sorts of texts have been flying around the place to make sure everyone else has arrived safe and sound. To be honest, I am fed up of shopping. It is the international rugby window and all I want to do is sit in front of the TV with a beer. It is the unfortunate reality that now I am not drinking, the only place showing the rugby is a pub with a $30 cover charge (plus free drink). Nevertheless, such is my state of mind that this seems more than acceptable as does yet another plate of pasta. As if to accompany my mood England, who are playing against the number one rated side, New Zealand, are actually playing surprisingly well (in patches). Even so, New Zealand never appear to be in danger of losing but neither seem particularly interested in blowing out the scoreline. Definitely a pleasant and different way to pass the afternoon and I don’t mind being taken to Macy’s and even less so when the person that ends up having all the money spent on them, is me. Considering that tomorrow is the big day, I am remarkably sanguine about the whole thing. That may be because I am facing my sixth plate of pasta in a row together with a mineral water. The only difference is that this is Penne with a pesto sauce – no meat! From a dietary point of view, I will not be upset when this is over and I am getting no support from Gaby who is pigging out on a steak and chips. 151


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Sunday, 7th November 2010

“A goal is a dream with a deadline” – Napoleon Hill

It is 4am. Everything is quiet and I am slowly getting dressed. Checking everything one last time, making sure the number will not interfere with my hands, the safety pins won`t rub and the electronic tag is placed correctly. I am serenely calm. Maybe it is the knowledge that there is nothing more I can do or just the happy sensation that this will be the last time I have to cover myself in Vaseline. At 5am, I grab my bag which contains my breakfast and spare clothes, get a “good luck” kiss and head out onto the street. It is cold, dark and the autumn leaves are being flicked around the legs of all the other athletes emerging from their hotels. Today is the 40th anniversary of the New York City Marathon, one of the “Big Five” marathons that also include London, Berlin, Boston and Chicago and widely considered the best. It wasn`t always like this, in 1970 152


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when it started, 127 people paid $1 to run several times around Central Park. However, 6-years later, Fred Lebow decided to change the format and redesigned the course to include all five New York City boroughs. Not everyone was happy with this change. But, now, instead of being an elitist event he involved the whole of New York and New York responded. Olympic champions turned up to run with the associated TV crews and thousands of spectators lined the streets. Today, 45,000 people are going to participate in front of 2.3 million spectators and I am one of them! It is not easy to move 45,000 people to the start line. Fortunately the NYRR have arranged buses from Central Park and at 5.30am we and thousands of other buses make the slow drive to Stanton Island. It takes two hours during which time I get into light conversation with my effective twin - another 38-year old, undertaking his first marathon. We are more or less aiming for the same time and are both in the “green” village, so hang-out together whilst we wait. This includes looking at the “professional” marathoners who have come with mats and sleeping bags, hats, scarves, gloves etc and are fast asleep on the floor. Our naivety is on show as it is actually pretty cold and we have already put most of our kit into bags to be taken to the finish. The start is divided into 3-villages and each village has 3-start times (waves). This allows for smooth and continuous starts for every athlete. We are both leaving in the first wave so head to the start area at 8.40 am when our corral opens. That is the last we see of each other. I have number 20 which means I am looking for a time of around 3.45 and he has the number 18 which means he is aim153


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ing for a faster time and therefore has to enter the corral further ahead. We are in the corral for about 15-mins so there is plenty of time to say goodbye to the portaloo – although leaving first meant these were clean! Finally I strip off all my non-essential clothing (all of which is collected and then donated to homeless shelters) before being herded to the starting area whilst the corral fills up behind with those leaving in the second wave. At 9.40am the elite runners are introduced, the national anthem is sung, the cannon fires and we`re off ! Such is the density of people that it takes three minutes before I cross the start line, look up Stanton Bridge and head underneath. It is impossible to explain the number of people that are around me and even more incredible is that I am running in space. Everyone has respected their corral placement and we are all running at our natural speeds with the fastest in front. This may sound obvious because that is what’s supposed to happen but it is my first time of it actually working. I find it is creating an early dilemma in self-control. Should I really be going this quick at the start? How fast should I be doing the first miles? How long for a mile rather than a kilometer? Fortunately, there are a couple of orange-clad, balloon carrying pace-setters. I reason that if I keep the person doing 3 hours 30 mins in view and ahead of the person doing 3 hours 40 mins I should be alright. Having made this decision, I then tuck in behind a group to shield me from the wind across the bridge. On exiting we are immediately hailed by a spectator promising to buy every finisher a beer! Remember Relax and Enjoy! 154


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We take a left turn and suddenly enter a residential area. and from now on in the streets are lined with spectators shouting encouragement, holding out towels, bananas and hands for high-5`s. I am cruising. I am feeling great and go through the 10km mark in 49-minutes, exactly what I wanted. I have arranged to meet a colleague and Gaby at the 12km mark, so move to the side of the street in anticipation. This just elicits cheers and high-5`s from the crowd. That, in turn makes me smile and results in even more high-5`s and shouts of “Great Job!”. In the midst of all this, I sight a banner with “Roger” written on it and pause long enough to get a kiss from Gaby that sends the crowd nuts. At the half-way point, we are crossing a bridge. There are a lot of bridges, something that makes this course particularly tough and I am through in 1 hour 45 mins, about the same time as if I was 155


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just running a 21km. At the moment, I am going well. There is water, Gatorade and Gel to drink and eat and I am being careful to make sure that I am well hydrated. However, I am starting to mentally close out the surroundings as I move into the latter half of the event. It is considered one of the most exhilarating moments in marathon running, the Queensboro bridge. Coming off that bridge takes the Marathon into a whole new dimension. You turn down a corner to double back under the bridge and up 1st-Avenue and the place is packed. The noise is deafening and the moment electrifying. Just as well because once under the bridge it is 3.5-miles of straight road and all I can see is traffic lights and thousands of people in front of me. I settle behind a couple and fixate on trying to keep my rhythm going before realizing that a) I am now in uncharted territory and b) I am feeling a little sick. It is the final quarter of the run and I just can`t take another electrolyte gel or drink. I just want water. At the 21 mile mark I am really struggling mentally and physically. I have definitely not hit the wall, I am just tired like somebody who has run 21-miles would be and am struggling a bit to motivate myself to run the rest. Suddenly, out of nowhere I am joined by a runner wearing a bright orange, all-in-one lycra suit. Amazingly, he looks as fresh as a daisy and makes us all feel better by geeing up the crowd. Just by carrying me through to the 22-mile mark I know I have made it. The crowds are back and are crushing the road meaning that you can only run 2 or 3 abreast. How can you stop with people so close to you, cheering you on? And they really are wanting you to get through. At the 23-mile mark and there is a sign saying 156


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“23-miles? Because 26.2 miles would be crazy, right?” which sums up exactly how I feel but lightens the mood. Mile-24 is straight up-hill and it is a hard slog. I wouldn’t be surprised if this stretch of road has claimed thousands of victims over the years. Now I really am dying and in a world of hurt but suddenly we are in Central Park. It is like getting second wind. Not only am I running on the course I did just two days ago but am right next to the panther. I blow it a kiss and head downhill sucking in as much air as possible, shaking my arms in an effort to free up all the tension in my shoulders and doing whatever I can to ignore the pain in my hips. As surprising as it sounds I find it quite difficult to go downhill as my legs feel like jelly and prone to collapse at any time. But before I know it, I am bursting out of Central Park on to West59th Street and am almost blown backwards by the noise. There is a horrible moment when I feel my right leg tighten and almost cry in frustration at the thought of getting chronic cramp with less than a mile to go. However, I slow down a fraction and concentrate on exhaling. There is no way I can stop in front of all these people who can clearly see the pain I am in and are all screaming “Keep going!!! Just KEEP GOING!!!!”. Then believe it or not, there is only 500-metres to go, then 200-metres and finally I can see the finish line. I am not really sure I am still running. It feels I am going so slowly but I am passing the stands and I`ve done it!!! 3 hours, 36 mins and 1 second. Way better than what I was expecting and manage to get through the world`s media before throwing-up!!!

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POST RUN REFLECTIONS:

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uch was the pain I was in on crossing the line I vowed never to run another Marathon. The next day, having heard about the free entry in the lottery I put my name in. It took me about 3-months to actually want to go out and run again in a regular way and by that time I had withdrawn my application. Gaby, on the other hand, was so enthused by the whole atmosphere that she is now running the 2011 NYC Marathon. Everyone I know who was running New York finished. Paula F finished in a Personal Best of 3:43:59 - Outstanding Jorge F finished in a disappointing (his words not mine) 3:24:55. Veronica completed the race in the awesome time of 4:52:32 and this made Claudia the darling of the gym having got all her charges through in better than expected times. Gus M finished in 3:51:10 Marcelo M in 4:07:00 Tristan 3:22:28 And even Ivo hobbled round on one leg to finish in 5 hours. I have not met anyone who did not enjoy the experience and the occasion. We went to Melbourne to watch the first day of the Boxing Day test match. A classic cricket game between England and Australia and another of the 159


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“must-do� sporting events one has to do before dying. Whilst there, we joined Tristan for his 52nd and final Marathon (we did 10km) which seemed a nice way to close out the year. He looked as fresh as a daisy! Incredible.

THANK YOU NEW YORK!!

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Appendix - Clothing

APPENDIX - CLOTHING

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t is without a doubt incredibly tempting to try, buy and rejig the wardrobe at every turn. The amount of advertising dollars persuading you to do exactly that makes it almost irresistible. Better comfort better performance, look good feel good etc etc. It is totally understandable. Just remember that every issue you have with your wardrobe is going to be multiplied by the 40,000 steps you will take during the marathon. You can’t expect to put Vaseline everywhere. If I am to give some advice, do your buying and trying as early as possible but once you make a decision (and there is no bona fide reason to change) stick with it. The last thing you need whilst running is to be worried about your clothing. Basic Clothing Shoes: The most important thing is a pair of shoes or in my case, two pairs. I used off the shelf US$120 shoes from a major brand. Thus, even in an emergency, I knew what I was getting and more importantly that I would be able to get them. Additionally, I could take advantage of any sales to stock-up. However, I always bought two pairs of shoes, rotating between them during the 3-months before buying two new pairs. The last set of shoes I bought 1-month before the Marathon, chose the pair I would use on the day and ran about 100km in them to ensure there were no problems. I never used any insoles or additional cushioning despite the temptation because the insole can move if not a tight fit and cause rubbing and blistering. 161


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Against that, I did not change the shoes because I had had them for a certain amount of time. If I felt they were flat, they went in the bin even before the 3-months were up. It might sound excessive but in real terms, the cost of the 6-pairs of shoes was irrelevant next to the total cost of this escapade and I did not suffer any knee damage. **An interesting theory; for every ounce reduction in shoe weight, you cut 2 seconds off your mile time. Thus going from a 10oz shoe to an 8oz shoe should take almost 1.45 minutes off your marathon time without actually doing anything. I am not saying that you should base the selection of your shoe on this data but it is perhaps something you want to think about before you go filling them with excess gadgets** Socks: Of my direct wardrobe (shoes, socks, shorts and shirt) it was actually my socks that caused me the most amount of problems. Not only did I start with a sock drawer full of non-matching, threadbare terry-towelings but also didn’t know where to start. I tried standard running socks, turbo sox, socks with power cushions and socks with coloured pads before settling on a brand I liked. In the end, I actually ran my longer races in a pair of DVT socks which could quite easily have been a pair of rugby socks. These served the same compression purpose for my calves that a pair of “skins” have today. Shorts: Like the shoes, I was already with a style of shorts that I liked. These are the two-in-one style that have the inner tubes. Again, they just seem to supply a bit of support for the thighs and more importantly, having tubes lessened the rubbing between the thighs (although Vaseline is ALWAYS necessary) and there is no chance of the lining climbing up the unknown. Shirt: I personally will always try and wear the organizer’s shirt just out of respect unless the weather conditions on the day are not suitable. However, be aware, not all sizes are the same between brands and countries. Whatever you do, don’t feel obliged to wear anything you don’t feel comfortable in otherwise you’ll be screaming in the shower afterwards. On the actual day, I didn’t risk it. I went with a tried and trusted shirt. If you do the same, get your name printed on it properly. You might feel embarrassed by this self-advertising but believe me, when at mile-22 and some162


Appendix - Clothing

one unknown from the crowd shouts your name, it will really lift your spirits. Vaseline: Get over it, get used to it and get it ON! I have listed this as the fifth item of clothing deliberately. One day you’ll forget to put it on. It’ll be the last day you forget. You might have individual needs but between your legs, on your nipples and below your armpits should be prerequisites and part of your routine. If you are running in a very hot and humid climate I strongly recommend you do the outside of both big and little toes (regardless of how comfortable your shoes are) and on your stomach under the knot of your shorts Ancillary Clothing Sweatpants: I bought three pairs, light, medium and thick and wear them all the time depending on how cold it is. Make sure they have zips up the lower leg. It might sound trivial but when it’s cold and wet and you’re stiff and tired, it’s so much easier (and cleaner) to get your legs in and out. Running Tops: This was one of the hardest things to get right. There are so many options and very few actually do what you want. Hardly any keep you dry (unless about 3 feet thick or US$300) as most are now designed to dry quickly after it’s stopped raining. Finally, not only did I find a top that could keep me more or less dry but also had detachable sleeves, ideal for warmer weather. There is no shortage of choice for tops to keep you warm. Ipod: Interestingly, although I enjoyed running with my ipod (I found the slower music helped calm me down and prevent me from going out too fast) when conditions were difficult (i.e. hot and humid) or I was doing speed work (both things that cause me stress) the ipod did not help at all. On the contrary, I found it detrimental to my breathing and have no idea why (perhaps because the tubes from your ears, nose, eyes and throat are all interconnected to a certain extent). 163


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TRAINING LOG

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elow is my training log. I worked in conjunction with Claudia to build my routine and would like to stress that I am not recommending this to anyone. I am a firm believer that each person is different and will have different needs. If you were paying attention you will realize that I did not follow this routine to the letter. It is practically impossible. However, I would guess that I managed to do 90%. You have to be flexible. Speaking of being flexible there is nothing more important than stretching. I cannot over emphasize this point which is perverse because I do far less than I should. Stretching will prevent injuries. Don’t be scared to use a good masseuse. My massages carried my body through the final months and the pain was justly deserved. Finally, it is sad but true. You are what you eat (and drink). You can’t expect to eat a vindaloo accompanied by 10 pints of beer and do well the next day (unless 18). You are probably thinking “That’s obvious” and it is. But you know, human behavior is the easiest thing to analyse but the hardest thing to change. Enjoy, Good Luck and I hope one day you’ll give it a go.

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Trainning Log

APRIL

MAY

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JUNE

JULY

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Trainning Log

AUGUST

SEPTEMBER

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OCTOBER

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MY FIRST MARATHON AT

38 BY ROGER HEALE


Roger Heale - My First Marathon at 38