We woke up at 7 to prepare for our race, which didn’t start until 11. I knew I was in for a “day” when I squatted down to pack a few things and I had a hard time standing back up. But onward. We had our breakfast on the patio then started our drive at about 8 am. I’m glad we started early because just before we made it to town some police officers stopped us. They spoke no English, but they gestured to us that the road was closed and we needed to just drive up there to Amamar and back down to Regua. Oh, okay. We’ll just do that. Up up up a windy mountain road, and down down down the other side. It added about 45 minutes to our 45 minute journey. Not only were we nervous about the steep, guardrail-less single lane roads to Anamar, now we were watching the clock and wondering where this road was going to take us and would we make it to the start of the race.
Finally the road spit us out to a place where we could see people parking so we found a spot and started walking. We were confused because everyone was wearing pretty red race shirts. When we checked in we were told we couldn’t have one until the finish. Why did they get them and we didn’t? And no one had bibs on. Were we supposed to wear the bibs?
The start area was chaotic. I kept hearing people screaming, then pointing. Were we supposed to go over there? The race packet said that we would take a train to the start but people were getting on buses. A woman rushed up to me asking me a question. All I could do was shrug and say “I’m sorry.” A race organizer saw our bib numbers so he pulled us into a queue to get on the right bus. John needed safety pins, so he pointed to a man’s midriff and held up his hands and frowned. The kind runner spared one pin. I still can’t tell if this race start was more chaotic then starts in the US or if we were just confused due to the language.
We waited and waited for a bus. When one came, it was a bit of a free-for-all. When I say “The Portuguese people really touched me,” I mean they literally touched me. All over. John and I had to stand and hold on tight as the bus wound its way up steep and narrow roads. The boys behind me were laughing with a vigor that seemed more appropriate for a bar. But was I just being sensitive because I couldn’t tell what they were saying?
On the entire bus I think there were 5 women. That was my second (third? fourth?) indication that this race would be a little different. In the many half marathons I have run there are usually more women than men, and there are also people of all shapes and sizes. Here there were hardly any women, and lots of fit men. Okay. Race. What do you have for me next?
What the race had for me next was, it was really freaking hot. And yeah I know I’m from Phoenix. But we start our races at 6am. John said he thinks the race started at 11 so everyone could go to church. I don’t know. But I was sweating, and that’s saying something because I don’t sweat.
And the racers were fast. I was holding 9:30’s, and I was slipping farther and farther behind. Since the first part of the race was out and back, the leader passed running towards me then when I turned around I could see the people behind me. And the last runner was not that far from me. That meant I would need to keep up my pace or risk being the last one over the finish line.
My half marathon PR is 1:55. Since I haven’t been training as much since my parents died, my most recent half marathon was 2:09, on a flat course with a 300 ft gain and a 400 ft loss. I had planned to run a 2:10 here, which is perfectly respectable back home. But I started to get worried that I might really come in last.
Let’s just say you know your half marathon isn’t going well when you are having “marathon thoughts.” And boy was I having them. I got through about 3 miles by attaching myself to a runner with a nice pace, and refusing to let him out of my sight. I got through another 3 miles by promising myself I would spend the rest of the afternoon in a poolside lounger.
By mile 8 my legs were cramping so badly I thought about asking for a ride back to the finish area to meet John. I clearly was not recovered from our 18 mile trail run the weekend before. My hamstrings and calves have never hurt that bad. And I’ve done 65+ races, hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, climbed the Alps and the Andes and Mt. St. Helen’s. Simply put, I was in a world of pain. Here’s how I made it through the last hour. It might startle you. I put my head down and ran.
Finally at the finish line I saw John waving. He told me I had to exchange my chip for a shirt. I really wanted that shirt, and I had gotten through maybe 2 miles of the race just by thinking that if I quit I wouldn’t get it. John led me to the shirt tent and I handed over my chip. The gal said “small” and I tried to refuse, but couldn’t find a way to communicate it. Dear reader, you know I am not a size small. But she insisted I try it on and this is how she did it. She slipped the shirt over my head–right over my cap and my glasses and she yanked it and got her fingers down to my ample bosom before she stated, “It is too small.”
I was not certain how she planned to get it off me. I just knew for sure I wouldn’t be able to do it since I was 1. about to pass out from exhaustion, and 2. because after 5 weeks of physical therapy for a rotator cuff impingement, I am still in too much pain to take off most clothing, even items that fit properly. So I just stood there with the shirt stuck around my chest. No problem. She said, “May I?” and I nodded and she pulled it back over my bosom, and over my cap and my glasses. Then she reached back, grabbed a medium, and handed it to me with a sprightly “Congratulations!”
I turned around and there was John to save me from my misery. Since there was no food or drink at the finish, I let him know that to prevent me from passing out he would need to find me some sugar and some salt, stat. We finally found a snack bar. A quick and heavenly 7up and some Lay’s potato chips did the trick. Note John’s sunburn (the beer was his!).
Now, this is not to say that I had a bad time at the race or that I would discourage you from doing it. In fact, I hope you all sign up for the 7th Annual Douro Valley Half Marathon. Now that you know what I know, you’ll make better decisions than I did. And I hope for your sake that it rains. I ended up with a 2:11, despite the course’s 1150 ft gain and 1200 ft drop.
After about a 2 mile uphill walk back to the car we were ready to get out of Dodge. I had really been looking forward to eating dinner later that night at the Restaurant DOC, but since it was located 20 minutes down a windy road from our hotel we decided to stop there for lunch after the race so we didn’t have to venture back out. We changed our clothes in the car and cleaned up with some wet wipes. We stopped at the beautiful restaurant and ate and it was a delightful meal. I had my favorite dish of the trip–octopus carpaccio with pomegranate seeds and olive oil candy.
From there, as promised, we went back to the casa where we had a nap, a swim, a Jacuzzi, played Scrabble, patted the puppies, and had a lovely dinner on the terrace with Molly, who works very hard at teaching people to relax. I sure hope that now I have learned my lesson from her.