May 11, 2008

1 Weekend, 2 Debates, 21 Kilometers

Like many others who enjoy traveling, Jillian and I have a list of places we'd like to visit and things we want to do. It's really more of an ever-evolving informal list in our heads that we discuss and revise when we're killing time or making dinner. I'm sure many of our entries would be found on other travelers' lists--St. Petersburg, the Taj Mahal, a climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, that new train from Beijing to Tibet. These are popular destinations for a reason and by going you join the ranks of the thousands (maybe millions) who came before and passed on the word to their friends and families.

But today we went in the other direction: we did one of those who's-ever-heard-of-that types of thing. We ran the Skopje Half-Marathon. And it was fantastic.

But let me back up a day.

As the title of the race suggests, it was held in Macedonia's capital city and I came into town a day earlier for a second round of debates with the high school team. Jillian was already there, courtesy of Peace Corps business, and she brought along a nice cadre of volunteers to watch the proceedings, which were held at an Embassy-sponsored locale called American Corner.

This time around the topics were the death penalty and the validity of the putting a price on human life. The second topic provided the day's best line. When asked if he were to be driving on the freeway at high speed and suddenly up ahead Mother Theresa was standing in one lane and Adolph Hitler in the other, who would he hit, one of my students, Darko, replied, "It'd hit the brakes."

Although my students found this debate quite a bit more frustrating than the previous session, I was again impressed with their dedication, hard-work, and enthusiasm. They just looked like they were enjoying themselves in the heat of the argument. The team arguing in favor of the death penalty--a position they don't personally support--did a particularly nice job rallying behind their position passionately. Isn't that what debate's all about?

Then we all went to McDonald's. And Jillian and I each got a Big Mac. And they were delicious.

On that healthful note, back to the race. The day's event card featured a full and half marathon as well as a 5k. Based on the results from last year, there were considerably more runners (and better ones) this year as the race undoubtedly continues to grow. A contingent of around twenty volunteers ran in either the 5k or half marathon (strangely, the full marathon was announced only about a month ago...not exactly a lot of prep time), so we all had plenty of encouragement.

The weather started out perfect before turning a bit too hot, but there were plenty of water stations. Oddly, these stations were also handing out lemon slices and sugar cubes, as if race organizers watched the Boston Marathon on TV but couldn't quite make out what the runners were being handed at the aid stations.

We both did very well. In fact, I managed my best-ever half marathon time, sneaking in just under 90 minutes for the first time. The course was completely flat, but I really owe my time to another volunteer who I was chasing the entire race. I never did catch him, but he pushed me to my limit. Jillian also ran hard and wound up just a minute or so off her PR (personal record). She finished in the top ten among women runners.

Towards the race's conclusion, as the sun was coming out and it was getting a bit uncomfortable, I was passed on the wide city boulevard by a small Yugo pulling a rickety old trailer. In the trailer was a home-made rakia distiller (Rakia being the national drink. Quite potent.). As I grimaced my way to the finish, I had to admit to myself that I honestly couldn't think of anything more unappealing at that moment than rakia. I ran through all sorts of horrific scenes, but, nope, a shot of rakia still sounded worse.

The next thing I knew the finish line was in sight. Jillian finished shortly thereafter and now we will forever be able to say we ran the Skopje Half Marathon. Oh sure, there's New York, there's Seattle, there's San Diego, but who among us has raced up People's Revolution Boulevard?

1 comment:

Nicole said...

I have been reading your blog since Val passed it along and am constantly impressed by you both!! Congrats on the marathon and the work you are doing!!! Good thoughts and continued prayers for you both!!