Monday, March 9, 2009

This time I wonder what it feels like...

Living in Dubai has brought me within breathing distance of true athletic greatness several times of late. Others' greatness, to be sure, but I can live with that.

I run with (OK, behind, until he's long gone) a super nice guy named Adrian Hayes during the Predictor. It was one day last fall that the announcement was made at the run, much to our delight, that he'd been inducted into the Guiness Book of World Records for the "fastest 3 poles": the North Pole, the South Pole, and Mt. Everest. Adrian had already garnered my admiration by training by pulling a large tire tied around his waist, as he runs thorough the sand. Small children often pile onto the tire for a ride.

Next, in January was the Dubai Marathon. I'd made peace with being injured and not ready to do the full meal deal there of 26.2 miles (42.2 kms) and ran the 10K with Cathy instead. Had I run the marathon I would have not only missed out on her company and meeing the guy wearing a marathon-issued sweat headband and "riding" a camel costume:

but also I would have missed this:

Haile Gebrselassie, the marathon world record holder, one of the greatest distance runners in history, crossing the finish line in the pouring rain and whipping wind in the 8th fastest time ever, as the Ethiopean posse (pah-sAY, say it with me now) crammed in the stands and who'd been working themselves up into a frenzy for quite awhile, went completely crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs, waving the green, yellow and red of their flag and Haile banners. (Like we weren't going beserk too. We got to be right there to see it.)

He is, by the way, a little guy. I don't know how he does it. He missed beating his own record, for which he would have been given an additional million dollars, and you could have forgiven him for being slightly miffed about that, but no, he has the biggest, best smile, which we got to see a lot of. You couldn't help but love this guy, because you could see he loves to run.

The jubilation over the marathon lasted days; Graham got a PB (personal best time) and was over the moon, Cathy and I immediately began planning for our next races, happiness abounded.

The next brush with greatness was very quietly carried out; few people even heard about it, which is indicative, I think, of the man who did it. Richard Donovan, the 42 year old Irish ultramarathoner, who was first to run a marathon distance at the North Pole, won the inaugural South Pole marathon, won the the Inca Trail Marathon, the Everest Challenge Marathon, the Antarctic 100 km and the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race...OK, you get the idea. The guy is amazing.

Apparently deciding that he needed another challenge, Richard set out for yet another world record by running 7 marathons, on 7 continents, in 6 days. Me, I would consider it insane to try flying the 26,719 air miles that he endured, let alone run marathons at each stop, including Antarctica. More power to him.

Runner's World sponsored, and the runs were to be for GOAL, a humanitarian organisation that does good work, particularly in Darfur. Richard didn't want a media circus, however, and the running community was quietly asked if there were any runners in Dubai who'd like to join him around Safa Park for his third of the 7 marathons. Would we? Holy cow!

So, it was on a bright sunny morning that Thomas in his stroller and I ran, in a very small group, a few of the 42.2 kms with this legend. And Thomas climbed on and off of his what must have been very tired thighs, several times.

Richard was sleep-deprived and looking weary at this stage, having already completed marathons in Antarctica and Cape Town but he kept at it. There were just a few of us there, no press or hoopla, just a guy doing what he does well. Thomas got to hold the finish tape for him to run thorough on his final lap in Dubai, he thanked us, then headed for the hotel for 2 hours of sleep before boarding the next plane to go run in a blizzard in the middle of the night in London.

I was tickled to find photos of Thomas and I on the 7 continents website, (SO worth a click. Thanks to them for the stroller photo above.)

Richard even wrote me an email later, thanking us for the support. He did indeed complete his world record 7 marathons, in Sydney Australia, in 5 days, 10 hours, and 8 minutes. Like I said, amazing. I'd like to put a plug in here for can read more by clicking the "Charity" tab on the above website.

With all this greatness swirling around me, and then the Wadi Bih Race, (which Adrian's team won, by the way!) I began to feel, perhaps, just a little bit mediocre. I mean, yes, I run, I have a fun time and am grateful, but is there something more...?

I know that even if I threw myself whole hog into running it will be a fluke if I ever win something. I'll never be the fastest or the best, and I don't mind being ordinary, prefer it, in fact, but what would it be like, how would it feel, to do something great? Sure, I'm happy enough, but what would it be like...?

The week after Wadi Bih was the RAK Half Marathon. RAK stands for Ras Al-Khaima. Honestly, with Wadi Bih using all my mental and physical energy, I'd barely even given the RAK a thought beyond paying the entry fee and booking a hotel room for our family.

The RAK is the world's richest half marathon (yes, yes, we get it I can hear you saying) and world records were expected to be broken again that day.

The day of the race I met up with a good group from Mike's work who's decided to run the half as well. Mike said that it was all my fault, that most of them were recreational joggers for whom this was tantamount to a suicide mission, and look what I'd started. I was a little bit dumbfounded by this. Er, they were inspired to run by me? Nah, couldn't be.

Arab bagpipers played, to our delight, and the race began in the early morning. I ran completely alone in the crowd, and was only a few kilometers into the thing when I realised I was having a ball. I was greeting and thanking each race volunteer as we passed, grinning at nothing in particular like an idiot, the legs were smooth, arms moving in perfect rhythm, la vie en rose.

The kilometers fell away, I chatted briefly with a few other runners, then put on my snazzy little Christmas gift from Mike, the teeny tiny Walkman with my favorite running mix, and enjoyed the tunes as I waved and called out to the spectators along the route.

I yelled out to the elite runners as they flew past during the out-and-back portion of the course, then to my running friends as they came along, having a great time. My pace was dead-on consistant, legs were good, this was great.

As we came to the final part of the race, first I saw Graham a ways out from the congregation of spectators at the finish line "Well done Natalie! Very good time, keep going!"

Then as we got closer another friend "Go Natalie!! Go Natalie!!" then another friend, and another, a chorus of "Natalie! Natalie! NATALIE!!!!" coming from both sides.

The tall runner in a reddish-orangy shirt next to me, both of us now in a dead sprint laughed out loud and gasped "Natalie! You're a celebrity! A superstar!"

I laughed too. "I guess I am!"

We pushed even harder, racing each other until the finish banner flashed overhead and the timing chips on our shoes caused the requisite beeps from the mat as we flew over, marking our times.

We shook each other's hands, still laughing. "I'm Natalie!" I said to my fellow runner, "What's your name?"

"Mike." he grinned, British accent (Mikes are good guys.) "Well run. I've never run with a celebrity before."

A crowd of friends cheering my name at the end of a good solid 13.1 miles, more to finish behind me, a PB at 1:54:46, within the top 100 women runners. What could be better than that?

Maybe that's what it feels like...

(Special thanks to the wonderful race photographers at RAK for the photos)


Cathy O. said...


Natalie said...

Cathy, with little more than an emoticon smile. reprimanded me for using a photo of the Mirdif Milers 10 Mile race and not saying what it was. She is absolutely correct. The 10 mile in Mushrif Park was held the week after the RAK half (which was the week after Wadi Bih) and was a hot, hilly run, after which we dined on the fabulously provided doughnuts and Pocari. the former, tasty though they were, were not the best choice for immediately after a hot run nosh, but c'est la vie. They were AWFULLY even had a smily face iced atop. Anyway, thanks Cathy for the editorial commentary. I enjoyed running with you and the MMs thoroughly.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Librarian said...

This one brought tears to my eyes. I don't know if you'll ever "win" a medal or a trophy, but I must say you are one amazing woman! I'm thrilled to say I know you.

And you've educated me about the world. I saw that fancy hotel where you had tea on TV one day and I said "My friend Natalie had tea there!" And I'm always giving examples from your blog or showing my family the pictures.

And speaking of family, you are a wonderful Mom too! A real gold medal winner. (It's easy for Moms to underestimate their role in life)

Sariya said...

Impressive! I don't know if I even want to go on a "brisk walk" with you now! But then again, since you're a celebrity and all, I guess I should :-)
I thought about you the day of the Dubai Marathon! We were staying at the Tamani Hotel back then, just across the street from the finish line. I even have a picture of the Ethiopian window from our hotel room! albeit riddled with rain and from 23 floors up! It was a really loud morning indeed!

Natalie said...

There's a postscript to this story. I was going through my emails and was amazed to read the following from the RAK race organizer:

Thank you to everyone who filled in the online survey - we'll be publishing the statistics for your information in due course on the website.

Congratulations to Natalie VanCleave who completed the survey and was selected at random. Natalie wins a Saucony backpack and a signed copy (signed by the Director) of the Spirit of the Marathon DVD which will be delivered courtesy of the RAK Half Marathon 2009 Official Logistics Partner, TNT.

Holy cow! I went to see that documentary back in the states, dragged my friend Joanna to the one-day only showing up in Everett and was enthralled by it.

The other winner in the survey draw got a month's worth of an electrolyte replacement drink. Cool, but not as cool as what I got!

Could this be a sign?