The First 5K of the Mexico City Marathon

From the blog title, I'm sure you can tell that the Mexico City Marathon didn't go well for me. In short, I was feeling unwell, and almost didn't start the race, but I gave it a shot, and decided I needed to drop out. It was not a fun decision to make, but it was a sound decision and I stand by it. And now I'll go into the details.

One of the buildings in the Plaza de la Constitution (aka Zócalo)
On Friday afternoon Scot and I arrived in Mexico City (Ciudad de México), also abbreviated as CDMX or D.F. ("day eyfey" which is short for Distrito Federal - kind of like Washington, District of Columbia going by D.C.). It was the first visit to CDMX for both of us. We took a taxi to our hotel in the historic district, freshened up a bit, then took the Metro to the race expo at a race track. The city has a very extensive public transportation system, with the Metro as its showpiece. Trains go everywhere, are frequent, and are cheaper than any subway system I've ever used. They're also very crowded.

We got to the expo only about 30 minutes before it closed, so we quickly got our bibs and shirts. It was the end of the second day of the three-day expo and the only shirt sizes for women were small and medium. I took a men's medium. The offering of official race merchandise was slim, and we didn't buy anything. Nor did we have much time to visit vendor booths. But the interesting thing about this race was that official participant shirts, made by Adidas, were embedded with a timing chip. We had to stop at one desk to have our shirt chip paired with our registration. Runners were encouraged to wear the chip shirts during the race to be tracked. This was not required though; the chip in our bib would work just as well. Why the duplicate technology? I don't know. But it's an interesting concept. Unfortunately it wasn't great in practice. The marathon app that was supposed to do the tracking posted split times hours after they occurred.

After the expo Scot and I walked around the area near the federal buildings and Alameda Central Park, where the race would start. It was a nice night, but had been a long day. We were tired, and the restaurant we were looking for had closed by the time we got there. This was only three nights ago and I don't even remember what we did for dinner.

Saturday was a free day. We had our race gear and the marathon wasn't until Sunday. But we didn't get to sleep in. The hotel alarm clock went off at 8:30 AM. I needed some extra sleep, so I skipped breakfast and went back to bed. Scot went out on some errands and a little sight-seeing. I was so fatigued. Sleep didn't help. On top of that I had a mild headache (not unusual for me) and some mild vertigo. I just felt "off". Staying in was nice, and in fact, I decided it was the best thing for me to rest up for the marathon and hope I would feel better the next morning The day was frustrating for Scot. He wasn't able to take care of things he was trying to do, and some of his desired tourist sites were near-misses; he didn't realize how close he was until he saw them on the map afterward. Add to that to a failed attempt to sign up for Mexico City's bike share service, which included fraud alerts on both his and my credit cards, and never ended up with a bike. Then he got stuck in a rainstorm returning from the Nike Store. Dinner was room service and a low-key evening.

Room service Caprese salad, Mexican-style with cilantro pesto and peppers in the salad

Race day was the next day. I was better prepared than I have been for most marathons:
  • I had actually trained for this one, doing speed work and hill work, and training at a faster pace on regular runs. 
  • I hydrated very well (we drank SO much water in Mexico City, which sits at 7,200 ft/ 2,200m altitude). 
  • I took altitude sickness medicine. 
  • I ate the right foods the couple days before the race, and added beets into my diet in the form of Beet-It bars (so tasty) and juice shots (beet juice is supposed to help get more oxygen into the blood, or use it more efficiently, or something like that).
  • I got to bed early.
  • I had laid out all my race gear, gels, breakfast, etc.
  • I had a plan to finish in 5:45 and wore a pace band showing the mile splits. My Garmin was charged and set for 3:1 run/walk intervals.
I was prepared! But when I woke up on Sunday I was still feeling the fatigue, the vertigo and now a little touch of nausea when I bent down to tie my shoes. Oh no. Starting out like that when I was just walking around the hotel room was not a good sign. I seriously considered not starting, because I was very sure that I wouldn't be able to finish. I saw myself dizzy and sitting on the side of the course, or worse yet, in medical. I knew that this was going to be a tough race anyway: not only was it high altitude, making it hard to get enough oxygen for people not acclimated, but the course had a slight uphill grade too. And it was going to get warm that day. So I kept thinking it to death, but still didn't know if I was going to go. I put on my race gear and I still didn't know. And then I thought: I came all this way. Even if I don't finish, I'm going to start. I'm going to participate in this race, at least for a little while, and see what it's all about.

Trying to smile in the start corral

So Scot and I started out on our walk to the starting area. The corrals were big. There were some 35,000 starters. There wasn't a start area map or corral listing in the program, so when we learned we were in corral Verde, we assumed we'd be toward the back with the other not-super-fast runners. We walked to the back corrals and never found Verde. Good news is that we did find port-o-potties with short lines. (Aside: we were forewarned that there might not be toilet paper in the potties, so we brought small packs of Kleenex.) Finally, we asked a volunteer where to find corral Verde and we were directed much closer to the start. Verde was the third corral of six after the wheelchairs and elites. We have no idea how we ended up there. Neither of us fudged our expected finish time...or at least not by THAT much. Now, safely in our corral we took in the sights of the park, the nearby monuments and the other runners. Probably 80% of runners wore their official chip-embedded race shirts. Never had we seen so many people wear the race shirt during the race. And it's not something we usually do either, but Scot wore his shirt, and I wore mine under my Marathon Globetrotters singlet. The curiosity about the chip got to us. 

Corral Verde making our way to the start between those two lighted "I" pillars up ahead

After the Mexican national anthem, we slowly started inching forward to tunes by M.C. Hammer and the like. And then we crossed the start. Or, I did...Scot hadn't gotten a satellite signal on his GPS yet, so he waited while I went. The first mile was crowded and exciting like it is in most races. The runners were a sea of blue running the streets of the Mexican capital in their matching chip shirts. I still wasn't feeling well, but I decided to give it my best. I stuck with my run/walk intervals until about 2 miles when things unraveled. I had trouble breathing right from the start but pushed on. I felt winded and just couldn't get enough oxygen. I also went out too fast, beating my goal pace by nearly a minute for the first two miles. And I was done in. Feeling sick as I was, and knowing the course was going to get tougher (uphill) very soon, I decided that I should not try to finish. I didn't want to end up in a medical tent or a hospital. Scot finally got his GPS going and caught up with me. I told him my plan. I felt like he was disappointed in me. He never quits a race. And whether he makes wise decisions every time is for him to say. But I knew what my body could and could not do that day, having lived through a day and a half in Mexico city feeling unwell. So Scot stuck with me until just about the 5K mark. There would be a timing mat there, so at least I'd log one split time. And just after the 5K we ran past our hotel. This was the logical place for me to stop. It wasn't about beating the clock. It was about beating the medical crew. So, I was done. I told Scot I would get cleaned up and meet him at the finish.

Sea of Blue runners in their race shirts

I'm standing outside our hotel watching everyone go by

So, I ran the Mexico City Marathon 5K, an unofficial event with no medal, but at least I tried. Here are some of my observations of the race from the short bit that I ran...or walked:
  • The race is very well organized in many ways, but not so much in others. 
  • The participant t-shirt was good, and so was the finisher shirt that Scot received.
  • They had a good theme going for a six year period. Each year's medal would be one of the letters of M-E-X-I-C-O. Our year was "I", which made up most of the medal, was on the shirts, and all the other branding items.
  • The course was interesting, highlighting many historic sites and finishing at the Olympic Stadium from 1968 when Mexico City hosted the summer games.
  • There was plenty of water in the 5K that I ran (one or two water stations).
  • Volunteers and spectators were numerous and cheerful. I heard shouts of "Vamos!" and "Sí se puede!" (yes you can).
  • Clean up was efficient. After I stopped, I stayed out and spectated until the last runner came through the 5K mark. Afterward, there were police motorcycles, miscellaneous race vehicles, sweeper busses, and ambulances. I thought that would be it, but directly behind the ambulances were street sweepers.
  • The finish area was huge, as I saw when I went to meet Scot. Lots of food vendors, spectators, port-o-potties, etc. However, points off for non-existent or poor signage.
I finally found my way to the stadium. It took one Metro ride, walking the wrong way, finding taxi shuttles that were alternating rides to and from the finish area for three people per cab at 2 pesos per person, and then more walking and figuring out how to get into the stadium to see the finish line. I timed things right because I wasn't in my seat in the stadium for 10 minutes before I saw Scot walking through the finishers' chute on the track. And even with music blaring, the acoustics were good enough for him to hear me calling him. Wow, it had been a hot one. Scot was sunburned and not feeling well, but he did it. We rested a bit near the stadium and then made our way back to the historic district where we had an ice cream cone, took photos of the old government buildings such as the Palacio Nacional, perused an open-air market looking for vanilla (didn't find any, but I got some later), and finally landing at India Town, the restaurant we had tried to visit on Friday. It had very good vegetarian Indian food. Then it was back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the next morning's 5:30 AM flight.

Estadio Olímpico
Finish line between the two lighted "I" pillars with runners coming toward us in the stands
The park adjacent to the stadium where we sat after the marathon

Reflecting on this for a day, I'm OK with the outcome. I got to enjoy some experiences in a new city, I got to participate in, if not finish, the Mexico City Marathon. I made the right choice for me, though it's not without regrets. What if I had done something differently to train or to prepare for the altitude? What if I had tried harder to push through the fatigue and the vertigo? And then I push that self-doubt away and start planning for my busy fall racing season.

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