Thursday, June 18, 2009

I'm gonna run to you...

When we got back from Jordan I plunged headlong into two challenges for me. One, the last Mina Seyahi 10K race. You may remember this as my nemesis, the race that is held three times during the running season here in Dubai. I had run it two times before, and both times had broken to a walk. I wanted to see if I could do it, but this time running the entire distance. The weather was getting hotter, and I knew it would be a serious matter of mind over matter. Last chance this season.

The second challenge for me was an interesting one, and one I would not have chosen for myself. The Dubai Road Runners Social Evening was coming up, and I had been asked by the woman in charge if I'd like to help out, back before we left for Jordan. Graham had asked her to do it, since she'd been made redundant at her work and with a full-time maid to take care of her children, well, he thought she'd have the time. Sure, I said, happy to give back to the sport and in some small way to Graham and DRR, to whom I'm so grateful for on many levels. But, I said, no matter what, I'm not running it. I've never been to one of these before. I'm an organisational disaster and it's not for me.

Basically, tell you what you need and I'll do it.

Fateful last words.

Well, a good month had gone by since I was asked to help out, and nothing had happened. She had done nothing. So I emailed the woman in charge: when are we getting together to do this?

No answer.

Then, by Facebook, no less, she tells me she's quitting, that she's too stressed out by this, that and the other thing, sorry. So suddenly I'm stepping up and organising this social evening, which is supposed to be a little more than two weeks out. And I've never been to one before.


I began making phone calls. I'd originally thought I'd try to get prizes for the social, figuring that was the most onerous task and I started with that: making cold calls. I had no idea what I was doing. I even wrote out a telemarketer sort of script with talking points. Graham passed on all the information he had about where the social had been held last year, the menu and such.

OK, we needed a place. The Dubai Offshore Sailing Club from last year. Graham and I sent almost identical emails to the manager, asking for a date. First he gave us the close one, which was good with the weather getting hotter and more humid every moment, considering the outdoor venue, but bad for getting things done. Then the manager realised he'd double booked with another party and put us out a couple more weeks. Hotter, but more time to get it together, assuming I could figure out what was expected, of course.

Darn. I was kind of thinking that no one would blame me if I didn't get it all together in such a short amount of time. There went that excuse.

Head banging against the nearest flat surface commenced.

I made call after call to local businesses, trying to get through to the Marketing Manager, someone in Promotions, does your company sponsor local events? Would you like to donate a prize and promote your company? Support local athletics? Do you speak English? English please? Hello? Er, hello?

My toughest part of this, besides getting though in the first place, was trying to make the calls when I thought Thomas would be quiet enough. Truly difficult , and didn't always work out well. The little guy figured out by the later stages that if I was on the phone he could probably scam a lollipop out of me in exchange for keeping his peace.

I wrote a two-part apparently tricky little running quiz for the evening, and through a combination of sincerity and persistence convinced various fine companies to turn over some fabulous prizes if I do say so myself. Not stopping there, I engaged in stalking, conning, and guilting a few fellow DRR runners into helping me out on the night in various roles. Graham put me in my place nicely by doubling my prize efforts of weeks in one day simply by making a couple of phone calls. It helps to have connections. I was impressed by his resourcefulness and by the generosity of the local companies. I even, somehow, managed to secure a Seaplane sky tour of Dubai for our grand prize.

Prizes were coming out of the woodwork. Someone donated a coveted Garmin GPS watch for runners, another donated a beautiful diamond ring. Rounds of golf, cruises, Go-Karting, dinners, desert excursions, mall gift certificates, water park and SCUBA passes, and more. Prizes for kids, prizes for adults. All in all we had nearly twelve thousand dirhams in prizes by the night.

I tried not to ask Graham for too much help, but by the time all was said and done I'd sent him more than 90 emails. He was extraordinarily patient with me. Mike ignored the fact that there was no food in the refrigerator and the house resembled a war zone, and bore the entire situation well. Bethy...was Bethy here? Geez, I don't think I noticed.

The menu in place, keeping track of who was coming was made relatively easy thanks to Graham setting up the website to gather RSVPs, and I had tickets made (once it was pointed out to me such things were needed and Mike tracked down a printing place that could do them for us....there aren't Kinkos out here, you know).

Katrina and Graham, showing the class of people they are, quietly and discretely filled in the spots I was missing, and a week ahead of time I was feeling relatively OK about the whole thing.

Hadn't a thing to wear, but oh well. Perhaps I could turn up in my running kit.

Cathy, my running buddy, told me no, and in no uncertain terms, too.

While all of this was happening, the day of the last of the three Mina 10K series races arrived.

Chomping at the bit, we all lined up at the start line. I was going to run with Nigel again but lost him in the crowd thanks to the all-important pre-race potty trip. The race started, and thinking perhaps I'd catch up with him, I turned up the burn at the beginning, but settled in after a couple of kilometers when I didn't see him, feeling that it was more important to reach my goal of not walking. (As it turned out, he was behind me. Oops.)

The race was as tough physically and more importantly, mentally, as I remembered: a beautiful course along and out onto the Gulf on a pier in a loop, but a loop that was run three times. The over and over bit was the hard part, and the sun.

I was spending all my energy being stubborn and keeping the cadence going. One of the top runners went down from heat exhaustion, convulsing, and ended up in intensive care at the hospital for a full 24 hours. They ran out of ambulances. I was running alongside people who should have been way ahead of me which was worrisome on several levels. We were all hurting, even with the water and electrolytes provided. I knew I could do it if I just kept going. So that's what I did.
As you can garner for yourself from the photos, not a pretty sight.

While my finishing time was slower than the previous ones on the same course (with the dreaded walking!) I was very, very proud nevertheless that I'd reached my goal and run the whole way. Cathy and Nigel and I enjoyed our usual post-race photos...once we realised we'd all survived.

There's no friend like a running friend.

The night of the Social arrived and I think it went well. We had a record turn-out and ended up with a waiting list and having to turn some people away! I heard the food was good, (both Graham and I were too keyed up to eat much, let alone taste). Graham had somehow managed to get a limbo bar for the kids, which was a total hoot with another UK friend Alison with her big laugh and loud primary school teacher's voice calling out the action. There's nothing funnier than an Englishwoman shrilling "That is definitely a cheat!" or "Look at that flexibility! Think flexible m'ducks!"

Graham had also put together an amazing slide show of the year, even loading it onto memory sticks so each family could have a copy to take home. Cathy had put together the evening's soundtrack, hours of running-themed music, and even more valuable, listened to my half-incoherent babble during the previous weeks very, very patiently. Nigel, the consummate English gentleman, read off the quiz for me, (he's the only person I know who can say "Haile Gebrselassie" without stumbling after a pint or two) took tickets, gave lots of encouragement, a gin-and-tonic, and all of them showed up early to help set up.

Two other angels, Carol and Rebecca also showed up early, in addition to gathering the funds for a thank-you gift for Katrina and Graham from the runners, not to mention being generally flat-out wonderful. I'd managed, somehow, to get a hotel in Fujairah that I knew Graham and Katrina liked to donate a stay including breakfast in bed for them, so the funds were given flat out to be used any way they wished. I was pretty darned pleased about that.

Thomas contributed by escaping, bellying up to the bar and flirting with the lady bartender during the party. I'm not sure if we should have been proud of him or not.

Carol and Rebecca had gotten a huge and beautiful arrangement of roses for me...and then so had Graham and Katrina! Topping the evening, to my total shock, I won second place for the two-lappers for what Nigel disparagingly calls the "Fat Git Who Shows Up" award. He calls it this because he's gotten it two years in a row. I may have a special plaque made for my trophy, alongside the Dubai Road Runners 2009 bit. Graham said, as he was reading it out, "I'm not sure I can pronounce this one....Natalie VanCleave!" First running trophy. Happiness moment.

The evening went on. I had appreciated all the support and the appreciation, and definitely felt relieved. Gave out the zillion prizes and smiled without effort. By the end of the night Thomas had gotten chocolate all over my dress, the humidity had risen, everything was hot and soaking wet, and I had a big neckline sweat ring, but I didn't really care. Somehow, we'd pulled it off.

At the DRR Social: Carol, Nigel, me, Graham, and Rebecca.
Why yes, I would be the representative American.
There's nothing like surviving not just one but two things you're seriously unsure about your ability to get done. Made this girl tired, grateful, and happy.
Life is good.

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