November 25, 2017 – The Bagan Temple Marathon

Well, that sucked.

No, let me rephrase. The race was good but *I* sucked.

And as is my custom at races featuring kilometer markings, I cursed the metric system at the 26K mark.  Why, oh why couldn’t this have been 26 miles?!

It was a hot, humid day, as advertised. But even knowing that, and even having a strategy for that, I just really blew it. My tailbone seemed mostly ok until the latter half and even then it was more akin to my ass putting me on notice that *maybe* this 42k distance was a bit too soon. But it wasn’t a problem, more like a warning.

What WAS a problem was a lingering stomach cramp from what I assume was my inconsistent diet during my travels. And even MORE problematic was a deep, painful cramping in both my calves. I’ve never quite had this happen during a race. On a few occasions after a race my legs feel like Charlie horses are going out of style and want to go out with a bang. Maybe it was a slower pace in the back 21k, or maybe the calves were overcompensating for the tailbone warning flare. Whatever the case, I had to walk quite a bit in the closing quarter distance.

And yet as runners passed me and I saw my finishing ranking fall lower and lower down the scale, I tried to run when I could. I found with short bursts of shorter strides I could tolerate the cramps… and this worked for a bit until somewhere around the 35 km marker. Both calves cramped and with the shorter stride I tripped on the trail, plummeting forward as if I were sliding into home plate. But I missed it by THAT much; I was short by about 3 miles.

I scraped my knee and elbow, blood mixing with the sand. I pushed myself up and while local villagers rushed to offer aid I thanked them but kept moving. It’s an adventure marathon. And I was going to finish. That’s how I roll; it’s how I trip and roll.

Along the way Lars drove by in a race truck and told me I was looking good. I appreciated the lie but told him I had fallen. He asked if I needed medical attention and just as I did with the villagers I waved off assistance. I did ask him if he had water. He said he had plenty if I needed some. I told him I was fine but he needed to stay hydrated. I either was delirious or typically concerned about my fellow runners and support staff. Either way, I could walk in the closing 5K. It wasn’t going to be fast and I could kiss my sub 4 finish adieu, but I would finish.

I had already decided I was going to stop and take photos when the opportunities presented themselves along the course. So here are some shots pre-fall and post-fall.  If I’m being honest, a lot of shots are blurry from the humidity and water poured over my head to try and cool off dribbling onto my camera.  Hopefully the pay-to-download official race photos will be better but I still think there are at least a FEW good ones amongst the shots I’m uploading en masse (I really should cull them to the quintessential shots but, shrug).

The Pre-Race: Getting to the starting line.  We caught a shuttle bus at 5 AM for the 6:15 start.  These are a number of folks from Group E, the real “VIP” group of Albatros.  (But I overheard the other team leaders telling THEIR groups the same thing).


This is my Albatros tour leader, Thomas.  Yet another example of why I do love running with these folks.

The Minister of Hotels and Tourism welcomed us once again.  It was a bit less political this time with nary a mention of purported “fake news.”

It’s the final countdown…

The Opening 21K or so of the Race Itself – Ya know, I never saw any balloons lifting off.  I asked after the race if others saw them and NOBODY did.  All the more curious as the course and my pace had me running past my hotel right around the time I saw the massive hot air balloons rising the day before.  But I did run past a number of temples… and then ran through a number of villages on packed sand/dirt/and occasionally muddy trails.

The Middle Game of the Marathon – I vaguely recall from a high school musical production of ABBA and Tim Rice’s “Chess” that between the opening and endgame, there’s the middle game.  It’s where you develop your strategy to hopefully checkmate your opponent and win the game.  I found my middle game of the marathon the parts where the wheels starting coming off.  So I tried to take time to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

This kid was super excited to cheer me on… but really, really, REALLY didn’t want to have his photo taken.  His stage parents however…

The Endgame – Wherein I’m Dirtied, Blooded, and Hobbling to the Finish… But I DO Finish.

Results – I apparently placed 13th overall and 11th amongst the men.  According to their chip timing it was a 4:12:33 finish.


I’ve put on a mostly brave face in this post and in the photos above but I have a confession to make: I was a mess today.

There were long stretches through the dusty, sandy and/or muddy trails when I fell into a dark funk.  That little voice in the back of my head, the antithesis of the Little Engine That Could, kept mumbling, “I know you can’t… I know you can’t… I know you can’t.”  When I tried to shake it off, the voice took a difference tact.  “Who do you think you are to be out here with these real runners?  You’re a fat, slow, injured fool.  You have no business doing this.”  I could not break through a mental collapse… and when the physical collapse followed, well, I was nearly done for.

I tried to psych myself up, to urge me to in Friday Night Light parlance, get ‘er done.  I tried to tell myself to dig deep, to run with my heart and to know in my head that I’ve done marathons before… that in fact I’ve done hot, humid marathons before.  I just needed to get ‘er done.  I needed to stop screwing around and–

Yet the whispering voice only grew louder and more insistent.  I tried to rally, to enjoy the admittedly great villagers who would run along side or proffer waving hands only to recoil when I tried to high five them (albeit some loved to high five).  I’m a notoriously poor high-fiver, off the mark and always seemingly using the wrong pressure — rarely do I hit a Goldilocks-ian “just right” high five.  So my failures to foster amity with the locals through the power of five only added fuel to the dark whispers.

The cramps were debilitating but even worse demoralizing.  I just… floundered.  And I couldn’t seem to do anything to get myself back on track.  Even now as I type this a few hours after the race ended, my calves are still locking up and the charlie horses are bucking wildly.  And the voice whispers on: “Who do you think you are?  Just WHO do you think you are?”

Hopefully after a few beers and an early night under the covers, I’ll be more amenable to celebrating.  Because there’s every reason to celebrate the good people running whatever distance today.  Folks overcame nerves, illness, injury, and found their own finish line.  Everyone in Group E finished; I am sad to say I heard six or seven people not in our group didn’t make it before the seven-hour cutoff and that is truly heartbreaking.  But when I visited the First Aid station, at least when I finished, there weren’t any serious injuries or medical needs, just the usual-usual at any kind of endurance event.

To the athletes of Group E, and to everyone who ran today (whether you made the cut off or not) — you’re amazing.

Tomorrow, we shall celebrate with a river cruise and an awards dinner on the Irrawaddy.

But tonight?  Well, tonight is another story indeed.

This is a napkin dispenser sponsored by Myanmar Beer.  Their slogan cracks me up.