Sunday, March 29, 2009


I had been considering running a marathon ever since I was a college student - well, it didn't happen in college.... or medical school...or residency... or EIS, and I realized that at age 33, it's never going to get any easier, and I had a nice block of time in which I was not traveling for work (although my personal travel - Florida, Cameroon, Dubai) put a dent in my training. Anyway, the half marathon in Florida went well at the beginning of this month, and I had finished training for a marathon anyway, so I signed up for the Atlanta ING marathon.

Obervation 1: Marathons always start at ungodly early hours! Ed and I were up before 5 to get ready, and catch the train into town to be at the starting line in time. And here I am at the starting "corrals"- in the pitch black, but smiling!

Observation 2: Every time I run a race, it's COLD! And windy! I didn't take the earmuffs and mittens this time, but I could have used the mittens! I was thankful for every layer I had.

Observation 3: Atlanta is hilly. No, I really do mean HILLY! There are hardly any flat spots. It's just up and down and up and down for 26.2 miles. And Druid Hills (miles 17-20) is named Druid HILLS for a reason. It's just one killer hill after another. Oh, and the course elevation map, which I had obsessed over to the point of memorization, was not helpful. I can't tell you how many times I was expecting a downhill and got a uphill, or sometimes the other way around, or thought a hill would be bad and it wasn't, or got a bad hill when I wasn't expecting it.

Observation 4: Downhill is not easier after your knees have taken a pounding for 15+ miles. One knee started hurting to the extent that I was dreading the downs and looking forward to the ups. I was doing all sorts of crazy gaits trying to find something that didn't hurt as bad. At which point, I called Ed and asked him to pray for my knee. And very soon thereafter, my knee hurt less and less, and I enjoyed my downhills for the last 7 miles or so. :)

Observation 5: Caffeinated energy gels rock! Oh my gosh! Nuff said.

Observation 6: Through my training, I've realized how many things you have to do to have a good long run - you have to have the right clothes, socks, and shoes on, protect the problem spots on your feet from blisters, make sure your laces are not too tight or too loose, body glide (lube) any potential chafing spots, adequately carb load in the days before but don't gain too much weight, get in a few quick carbs, lytes, and water before the race, but not so much that you have to use the portapotties early in the race before the halfmarathoners split off, drink the right amount of gatorade/water on the course, and eat enough gels during it. That, and don't pound the heck out of your knees on the downhills in the first half. ;)

Anyway, it was good! The course takes you through many of Atlanta's signature spots - MLK's house, Piedmont Park, a lot of the Atlanta neighborhoods - Inman Park, Candler Park, Poncey Highlands, Decatur, Little Five Points, Virginia Highlands, and through 4 college campuses - Georgia State, Agnes Scott, Emory, and Georgia Tech. They all come out to cheer - in fact, there are cheering spectators along most of the course - and the neighborrhoods get together and have a band, dress up in costumes, make fun signs - all very encouraging. Most awesome for me was running by Decatur United Methodist Church, who had a worship band out on the sidewalk, playing contemporary worship music. As I was running by, they were playing Blessed Be the Name of the Lord - a song I have always loved, but became my theme song for the race. I sang it (in my head) for most of the rest of the race! Especially when I started hurting!

I really liked some of the cute t-shirts - "I know I run like a girl - try to keep up", "It seemed like a good idea 3 months ago", "Toe nails are for sissies"- especially funny to me because I've lost both big toe nails during training. ;)

Anyway, I finally hit a wall at 25 miles, and that last mile HURT!! Back to pictures now - hurting...

Oh, there's Ed! That must mean the finish line is really close!! Yay, so good to see Ed!!!The finish line is about 100 yds after the final turn, and has a merciful slight downhill leading to it. Ed says that when I saw the finish line, I gave a yelp and started sprinting. :) The horse smells the barn! Mmmmm!
I was so ecstatic I didn't even hear them announce my name when I crossed the finish line!Very happy, with my blanket and finisher's medal! And looking forward to the warm dry clothes in the bag Ed has been toting around all morning. Yay!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A week in Dubai - sightseeing in old and new Dubai

We also had plenty of time on our own to get to know Dubai, as cabs are relatively cheap, plentiful, and most in very good condition, and Ed got good at directing cabs back to Stuart and Marcia's.
One day, we arranged for a desert safari - a unique and very fun adventure. The company picks you up from wherever you are staying and drives you out to the desert. Though there is any opportunity to go crashing all over the dunes in ATVs, Ed and I felt that we had spent too much money on education to put it all at risk, though it looks fun!

But that doesn't mean we didn't go crashing around on dunes. For half an hour, you and the other occupants of your 4x4 go speeding up the sides of dunes, whipping around, and sliding sideways back down. It's an absolute hoot! (Or scream, depending on the gender ratio in the vehicle) Don't have still shots - movie was the media of choice, but here's another 4x4 and its tracks.
When we went back on the highway, we came across this caravan of camels (no people), headed home for the night.
And they took us to a camel farm for camel feeding time. Camels are funny looking at best, but the babies are so gangly! Adorable in their own way. Ed complains that I picked the ugliest camel for this picture, but somehow the perspective was just what I wanted. :)The last part was a "Bedouin camp", where other fun awaited - camel rides - notice the Arab head cover Ed bought. :)A picture at sunset over the desertHenna hand designs - mine lasted about a weekAnd shisha, also known as a hookah, or "what the Caterpillar was smoking in Alice in Wonderland"- only this was just flavored tobacco :)The evening ended with a scrumptious buffet dinner and belly dance show, which turned out to be audience participation. She had gotten everyone up on stage to dance by the end - Ed's picture of me turned out better than mine of him. Unfortunately you can't see the belly dancer in this one.
Dubai started out as a tiny settlement of pearl divers and Bedouin traders at a bend in Dubai Creek, and in the part of town surrounding the "creek" (now dredged much deeper and wider, so that it is quite an aquatic thoroughfare) the older parts of town still flourish - the Bur Dubai and Deira neighborhoods. Along the banks are markets, or souqs, crammed with an amazing variety of goods, little neighborhoods with winding streets, wonderful restaurants overlooking the creek (my friend from highschool, Sarah, and her husband live in Dubai, and took us to dinner one night at a Lebanese place on the creek - yum!! ) and "parked"along the edges, rows of dhows, the traditional trading ship that used to carry goods all along the coast from India to the Arab Peninsula and down the east coast of Africa. Now the dhows carry everything from rice to washing machines. Behind the dhows, you can see some of the older buildings, with a mosque overlooking them in the background.
Little dhow ferries taxi people back and forth across the creek - they cost 1 durham (37 cents), and are pretty quick, ferrying everyone from day laborers to tourists.
They're also a small version of Old Ironsides, aggressively playing bumper boats with the pier and other boats as they come into dock - they're made of wood, but have an iron frame around the edge - this picture just doesn't do justice to the violence of docking. :)
Dubai has long been known as a good place to buy gold, and at the gold souq has one shop after another just stuffed with it - I've never seen so much gold in my life! Of course, what I really wanted was a gold toe ring to replace the cheap one I currently wear - but no luck, though it was fun to go in the shops and ask. Here an onlooker does some window shopping. Notice how far away he's standing, as though he's almost afraid of it? :)
There are some older houses still standing, and some that have been renovated, that have a very cool (literally) architectural feature - wind towers. Dubai was gorgeous when we were there, with day time temperatures peaking in the high 70s and low 80s, but for 6 months of the year, it ranges in the high 90s to well over 100 degrees F. Wind towers are ingeniously designed so that they are angled to catch the prevaling winds and funnel them down to the room below, making them substantially cooler. Here's an example of one.

There's an excellent museum of Dubai history, in a complex of many small museums, including the coin museum, which displays over 2000 years of coinage from the Arab world. Here Ed and I on the balcony of the coin museum, looking over the Bur Dubai neighborhood.
Al Fahidi fort, on the museum complex, was built in 1787, and is thought to be the oldest structure still standing in Dubai.
Of course, when most people think of Dubai, they think of this....CONSTRUCTION!
At one point in the last few years, 25% of all the cranes in the world were in Dubai. In some places, every sky scraper you look at is under construction. Dubai has been famous for erecting a huge city in essentially the past 10 years. Other than the skyscrapers (more to come), Dubai is famous for its malls - Mall of the Emirates, Dubai Mall, Safi Mall - and that's just a fraction of them. And they're huge!! Dubai Mall has over 1200 shops, and the food court is a small town, with almost any American fast food joint you can think of, plus a lot more. And Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai, the well known indoor ski slope - and while it's not Vail, it's larger than some East Coast ski slopes. :) sorry about the glare on the glass, but you get the idea - chair lift and allOh, and Dubai Mall also hosts a large aquarium and full size hockey rink - it looked like a Canadian team had been invited to play.Malls actually serve a unique function in Emirati life - they are the place to see and be seen. In what is still a somewhat conservative Muslim culture, it gives a culturally acceptable social out. There are plenty of Emirati women running around the malls in burkha (along with plenty of foreigners without), and though I never saw, I am told that the high fashion and bling under the burkhas are quite fabulous. If what's in the shop windows is any indicator, someone is buying some very fancy stuff!!

You've already been introduced to the Burj al Arab - the sail shaped hotel that is the world's tallest and only 7 star hotel. The world is familiar with it chiefly because Agassiz and Federer played a match on the helipad. The Burj by day......and by night, when it is splendidly lit up. Most of Dubai is beautifully lit up at night, and looks almost magical.Hotels also play an important role in social life in Dubai -- establishments can only sell alcohol if they're part of a hotel, so all THE restarants and bars are in or attached to hotels. Though this wasn't a major part of our trip, we decided we wanted to try to see the Palm Jumeirah from above, so we went to Bar 44, on (you guessed it) the 44th floor of the Grosvenor. It was too hazy to see a lot, but fun. As Marcia says, "I couldn't afford the wine, so I got a mixed drink." After the sticker shock of the wine menu, we decided it was a special enough occasion for one mixed drink and one beer. :)

And I have to include the Burj Dubai, not yet completed, but upon its completion to be the tallest building in the world. No other building around - and these buildings would be considered reasonably lofty sky scrapers anywhere else - even comes close!
So, a lot of the skyscrapers in Dubai are not yet finished, and given the economic climate, construction on some has halted. In a city famous for building 24/7, in 12 hour shifts around the clock, seeing an unmoving crane is almost eerie.And, as here, there is a lot of office space for rental..... signs of the timesStill, I think Dubai has the infrastructure to survive, and I hope it does well - it's a very unique place. The main drag through town is Sheikh Zayed Road - almost everything is along it - and it connects Dubai to Abu Dhabi. We spent a lot of time here!And driving in Dubai frequently looks like walls of skyscrapers. One little section would be a respectable downtown in almost any American city, but these stretch on for miles!! I think every other city I see will look dinky in comparison.And to close, our brief foray onto the Palm Jumeirah, the man-made palm-shaped island. This isn't my picture (duh), but it helps you place the following three pictures.On the trunk, both sides of the street are lined with rows and rows of high rise condos.Each frond is its own gated community, named A-Q, with uber luxury waterfront homes - here's a peak at one.And the ring surrounding the Palm is supposed to be occupied by hotels, though currently there are only a few. Here is the mighty Atlantis, with its signature key hole. Dubai is such an interesting, unique place - we'll just have to go back sometime and see how it has changed!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A week in Dubai - enjoying time with dear friends

Ed and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Dubai for a week, from March 6-14. My dear college roommate Marcia, and her husband Stuart live there and had asked us to be godparents to their youngest son, Simeon, now 8 months old. They also have a son named William and a daughter named Sophia Esperanza, or Esper. :) I had wanted to track Marcia down and visit with her, and now I had the added motivation to meet my godson. Ed had been wanting to see Dubai for several years anyway, so it didn't take much convincing! The trip started out wonderfully, as we got surprise upgrades on our flight! Delta flies directly from Atlanta to Dubai, so it was awesome!! We were very spoiled in first class! Here we are over southern Iraq, where the Tigris and Euphrates reach the Persian Gulf. Our visit was a wonderful mix of spending time with Marcia and the family, doing some sightseeing with her, and doing some on our own. I've broken up the blog entries into time with Marcia and time on our own - this is the time with the Murray family section. :)

This picture is symbolic of our purposes in visiting Dubai - Ed holding the adorable and very expressive Simeon, with the Burj al Arab in the background. The Burj al Arab is the tallest hotel in the world, shaped like a sail, and is also the world's only 7 star hotel. Agassiz and Federer played a match on its helipad.We went to a breakfast at the Center for Cultural Understanding, a traditional Emirati breakfast served in traditional style, and while eating you're allowed to ask your hostess any question you want about Dubai, the Emirates, Islam, etc. Ed and I greatly enjoyed our breakfast, particularly the fried dough in sugar syrup!! Oh, and the fresh dates were absolutely divine! The Center for Cultural Understanding also serves as grounds for a mosque that foreigners are allowed to enter and take pictures in. The architecture and designs are spectacularly beautiful. We thought Dubai did such a great job of fostering an environment where East andd West can meet in a comfortable way. Foreigners of all stripes outnumber Emiratis 10 to 1, so on one hand it's necessary to encourage a tolerant atmosphere (since they brought them here to build their city). It was great to be in such a diverse place, and to converse with Iranians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Moroccans, Jordanians, as well as Indians, Africans, Chinese, etc., as you visit various places, take taxis, eat out, shop, etc.

We also went to the beach with Marcia and the kids at Jumeirah Beach, which is a beautiful beach, though lined with skyscrapers - very Dubai! Here's Simeon playing with the sand and water in his little chair - I love the bright colors!Ed helping with Esper's construction projectMarcia with Simeon and Esper in front of the wavesAnd William, Esper, and one of their friends wanted to be buried in the sand, so Marcia and I buried them - we thought they looked rather like a three-headed turtle!Eating at a Lebanese fast food place by the beach - isn't Simeon the cutest little boy?Ed playing Uno with Stuart, William, and Esper in the living room one nightEd got in a lot of play time around the house and in the yard with William and Esper - they are both so smart, communicative and creative, and tons of fun!

Church is on Friday, to coincide with Muslim Friday prayers, and we went to church at the United Christian Church of Dubai, on a parcel of land with many churches, donated by the Sheik for churches, in recognition of the work an early mission hospital did in decreasing infant mortality in the Emirates. I really enjoyed it - it felt like a little slice of heaven, with Brits, Indians, Australians, K0reans, South Africans, people from all over sub-Saharan Africa, Philippinos, Americans, New Zealanders, etc..... in some ways, such diversity is an artifact of all the people Dubai draws, but it was beautiful to see in a church!

And fun to eat donuts in the common area afterward! :

On Friday nights, at the top of the Wafi Mall (which is sort of a tribute to Egypt, with a big lighted pyramid on top), there is an event called Peanut Butter Jam. On the terrace, under the stars, a succesion of live local bands play, it's free, and given its sponsor, you listen to fun music, under the desert sky, while lounging on M&M beanbags! It's a blast!Ed and I at Peanut Butter Jam, on our M&M bean bags :)
William and Brielynn, and young woman from Marcia's hometown who just graduated from college and came out for the year to live with them and help with the kids - she's a lot of fun! Marcia with Esper and Simeon
All of us lounging on the bean bags at Peanut Butter JamOn our last day, we all went to Safa Park, Dubai's version of Central Park. They have a wonderful swing/zipline. Here's Ed giving William and Esper a push along the zipline.And now William and Esper pushing me along the ziplineAnd Stuart giving Marcia and Simeon a swing
And now Ed gets a push from William!

All over the park were hoopoes, a bird I knew from Cameroon to be one that migrated north - and so much fun to see them again!Enjoying a relaxing afternoon in the shade of the trees of Safa Park