I decided to use the 2013 Telcal 21k as a warm-up for the Mexico international marathon taking place the week after. This was an opportunity to get used to high altitude road running over a longer distance before the big event in the capital. Puebla is also quite useful for shopping, and I needed to stock up on gels and buy a couple of pairs of socks. Conveniently enough, the number pick-up and start of the race were quite close to Puebla’s largest shopping centre, Angelopolis, at the Cultral Centre of the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla.
Puebla, or to give it its full title, Puebla de los Angeles, is Mexico’s fourth largest city and the capital of Puebla state. Located just southeast of Mexico DF it sits at an altitude of 2,147 metres among the mountains and volcanoes of the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt. It’s undoubtedly one of Mexico’s most attractive cities, rich with colonial era architecture and fantastic views of the mountains. The closest and most scenic of Puebla’s active volcanoes, Popocatépetl, is currently emitting an impressive cloud of white ash. The weather is sunny and hot with occasional showers at this time of year.
The Telcel race would involve around 3,000 runners running three different distances 5k, 10k and 21k. I would be running in the 21k with around 500 other athletes. A lot of runners don’t like it when they mix the distances up like this in a single event, and this course really mixed it up. The runners for the 21k set of first but the courses overlapped each other so that we would periodically branch off and rejoin the 5 and 10k runners along the course. The problem with mixed distance races like this is that runners can get lost and take a wrong turn or get caught behind slower runners from another race. Fortunately this didn’t appear to be too much of a problem, although I did have to shout for directions at the turns and found myself snaking in and out of traffic on more than one occasion. I also found it difficult to match my pace to other 21k runners when we merged with the 5k or 10k runners since about 80 or 90% of the field were wearing identical bright red race shirts and caps.
Overall, the course was easy, for the most part it was flat or with a gradual incline over solid tarmac. The weather was also fine for running, it started off cool in the morning, setting off at 8pm, and gradually became warmer during the day. All of my problems during the race would emanate from the poor condition of my stomach. Sorry for having to have to describe this. I felt uneasy before we started but I put this down to the altitude and having eaten too late. However, as the race continued the pressure in my stomach built up and my pace gradually dropped. I was happy enough to hold my position but didn’t want to push too hard for fear of being caught short. Around the 5k point I started to seriously look out for a bathroom opportunity but things were complicated by the fact that we kept running past and merging into the other larger group of runners. We went past a couple of big department stores but these were a long way off from the road and would mean leaving the course and losing a lot of time. There were also bushes but these always seemed a bit on the thin side. A Starbucks, damn, closed. So, I held on until I came across building site. Hallelujah. It even had a port-a-loo right at the entrance. So I negotiated my entrance with the security guard and took my throne. It didn’t seem to take that long but when I checked the Garmin it turns out I’d been in there for over a minute! I should have taken something to read, and by the state of the place after I’d left I don’t think I’d be welcomed back at that particular building site any time soon. I left with a spring in my step and rejoined the race feeling about two pounds lighter.
It took me about another 2 and a half k to reach the runners I’d left at the building site, and by the time I found them the pressure was already starting to build again. There was nothing I could do but grit my teeth, hold on and run as well as I could. There would be no records broken, no PB’s or prizes, but I was determined to finish strongly with my dignity intact. It was hard to relax but I was running well and even managing to make up a few more places. I kept going until the 18k where I took my final bathroom break between two thick hedges in the median of the road. At this point it became clear that I had more than just runners tummy. This was a full-on stomach bug. Eye of the needle stuff. My throat was also drier than normal which is a bad sign. I pushed on, letting the adrenalin do its work. This took me past one of the guys I was with before the break and a strong lady runner, everyone had words of encouragement and there was a real sense of solidarity at this point in the race. Eventually we passed the last gradual up-hill, which seemed to take forever, and rejoined the 5 and 10k runners for the home strait. I put on my customary sprint finish to pass one last runner. The race was under distance at 20.28k and I finished 55th of 567 in 1:28:19. Not bad all things considered.
With some medicine I managed to get over the tummy bug in six or so hours before the long journey home to Huajuapan in the rain. It’s easy to pick up a bug in most parts of Latin America, especially for Europeans. I normally try to avoid eating out anywhere I haven’t been before and smoother my food in lime. Avoiding tap water is also a must. After a couple of years here now, I can normally shake a bug off in less than a day. I probably would have pulled out of the race if I hadn’t ran before with a bad gut and, besides, it always seemed the fastest way to get home was to just finish the race. It wasn’t my fastest or most enjoyable run but the aim was to practice and acclimatise for the Mexico city marathon so I would have to say mission accomplished on this count.
Next week the big one, el Maraton de México DF!