Run 104 : Honduras – Tegucigalpa

trailwalker

Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 30th March, 2017

Time :  1h 1’ 21”  (14 minutes slower than El Salvador)

Total distance run to date : 1040 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370848

Media :

About ten years ago I did the Trailwalker challenge for Oxfam. Based on a Gurkha military training exercise, it’s a 100 km trek across the South Downs. You do it as a team of 4 and the aim is to finish in less than 30 hours. Most people walk it apart from a group from the Queen’s Own Gurkha Regiment who run it – and usually finish in a frankly ridiculous 10 hours.

You need to get on with your team mates because it’s quite challenging (unless you’re a Gurkha of course). You’d be amazed how cold and miserable it is on top of the Downs at 3 am in the morning – especially after you’ve already walked 70 km, half the team have bad blisters, and you’re all simultaneously hitting a wall.

I was lucky enough to do it with Mike, Julian F and my brother – with our families making up the support team. Vital as your team mates are, you don’t get round without a support team. Fish and chips at 50 km ; bacon butties at 90 km ; someone to help me walk the next day. Most of my best memories seem to revolve around the support team.

Mike’s sons – Matt & Chris – also joined us for much of the walk. In their plimsolls. Somehow they didn’t seem to find walking through the night quite as difficult as we did.

Tragically, Matt – one of the finest young men you could ever hope to meet – is no longer with us. He made friends and inspired people wherever he went and, even though he left us far too early, was someone about whom you could truly say that he won’t be forgotten. This blog is my own small contribution to the many tributes that have been paid to his life.

The picture above is of us at the finish line at Brighton Racecourse ; Matt’s on the right.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but Trailwalker was to have a huge impact on my life. It gave me a taste for physical challenges and, ever since, I seem to have become addicted to testing myself in one way or another. Culminating in the current madness of Run the World and its endless treadmill of training, planning, flying, running and blogging!

The latest leg of which had brought me to Tegucigalpa – the capital of Honduras. Where I was running with George Redman – picture below – the head of Oxfam’s operations in Honduras.

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George had wanted to run early morning when the traffic and air quality were more conducive to running. Unfortunately that didn’t work with my schedule so we set off shorty after 6pm aka rush hour. A time of day when, a little like walking up Highgate Hill, you could taste the fumes in the air.

After 3kms of mostly uphill ‘running’ along pavements in various states of repair, we made it to Estadio Olimpico where George usually trains. (He’s a 3 hour marathon runner – I’m not sure he even noticed we were running…).

We did about 4kms worth of laps at the stadium which gave me a chance to catch up on Oxfam’s work in Honduras. I’ve been donating to Oxfam for a long time and I’ve always seen them as an organisation that focusses on disaster relief and long term infrastructure development projects (clean water supplies etc.) Turns out that, while this is still partly the case, a lot of the work they now do involves lobbying for political change. In Honduras they’re particularly focussed on women’s rights – a major issue in far too many of the countries I visit. (Please see Facts & Stats below for more information on the situation in Honduras.)

After the stadium we had one more uphill section and then a long downhill along Boulevard Supaya. We’d slightly lost track of the distance and ended up running 12 km. Which had the benefit of giving us more time to discuss life in Honduras.

Crime and personal security are big issues. As George noted, “ I wouldn’t have been comfortable with you running on your own”. Which is understandable given that Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world ‘ahead’ of El Salvador and Venezuela. At least that was the case in 2014 per the UN’s Office of Drugs & Crime. (I read somewhere that Venezuela – probably still the scariest country I’ve run in – has subsequently taken the ‘no 1 spot’.)

I also learnt that Honduras was the original ‘banana republic’ with US fruit companies, often backed by US military intervention, wielding extraordinary power in Honduras over a long period of time. (Please see Facts & Stats see below for more detail.)

But, as George pointed out, despite all the political and security issues, the people are very friendly, the countryside is beautiful and, as the World Bank data below shows, the country (like so many others I visit) is moving forward in crucial areas.

George – huge thanks for the company on the run. Ambassador Carolyn Davidson – thank you for the introduction!

Facts & Stats

The Basics

Honduras is a republic in Central America. It has at times been referred to as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became modern-day Belize. Honduras is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

Honduras was home to several important Mesoamerican cultures, most notably the Maya, before the Spanish invaded in the sixteenth century. The Spanish introduced Roman Catholicism and the now predominant Spanish language, along with numerous customs that have blended with the indigenous culture. Honduras became independent in 1821 and has since been a republic, although it has consistently endured much social strife and political instability, and remains one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Honduras spans about 112,492 km2 and has a population exceeding 8 million. Its northern portions are part of the Western Caribbean Zone, as reflected in the area’s demographics and culture. Honduras is known for its rich natural resources, including mineralscoffeetropical fruit, and sugar cane, as well as for its growing textiles industry, which serves the international market.

Crime & Security

Owing to insufficient law enforcement resources, crime in Honduras is rampant and criminals operate with a high degree of impunity. Consequently, Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Official statistics from the Honduran Observatory on National Violence show Honduras’ homicide rate was 60 per 100,000 in 2015 with the majority of homicide cases being unprosecuted.

Highway assaults and carjackings at roadblock or checkpoints set up by criminals with police uniforms and equipment occur frequently. Although reports of kidnappings of foreigners are not common, families of kidnapping victims often pay ransoms without reporting the crime to police out of fear of retribution, so kidnapping figures may be underreported.

Banana Republic

In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to US-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast, as a result, to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925. In 1904 the writer O. Henry coined the term “Banana republic” to describe Honduras.

Among the Honduran people, the United Fruit Company was known as El Pulpo (“The Octopus”), because its influence had come to pervade their society, controlled their country’s transport infrastructure, and sometimes violently manipulated national politics.

Gender Roles

As Honduras is known for having a patriarchy system, gender roles which put women in a subordinate position are quite prominent. Such gender roles dictate that men dominate the public sphere, while women are supposed to conform and adhere to the realm of the domestic sphere. Subsequently, women are not allowed to participate in traditional male positions in society; the male is expected to be the head of the household and the main provider. This also gives men the right to make important decisions over women such as when they may procreate, how many children women may have, when and how many daily chores shall be done, if they may receive education, and whether or not they may enter the workforce. Honduran men are expected to father many children, and there is little social stigma attached to men’s premarital and extramarital sexual relationships. Although women who do not conform to what is socially deemed as appropriate behaviour are often subjected to violence, such violence is also targeted towards men who are perceived as effeminate and do not conform to traditional notions of masculinity.

Gender Inequality Index

In 2011, Honduras ranked 105th out of 146 countries on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Gender Inequality Index (GII). This is a multidimensional index that measures and reports a country’s level of gender inequality. It is represented in a single number which helps represent where countries stand on gender issues. This number is based on the average of statistics in three categories: reproductive health, empowerment, and economic activity. These statistics can give a general idea of how a country fares on gender issues relative to all 146 countries in the study, and also against other countries from the same region. The overall comparison between the HDI and the gender inequality index would suggest that Honduras is performing better and progressing faster on gender issues than on general welfare. These changes have come as a result of social and political shifts in opinion on the role of women in society. Since the 1980s the overall value of Honduras’ HDI has averaged an increase of 1.6% annually, which is an impressive improvement that has brought them over a 30% positive increase to date.

The Hurricane

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch caused massive and widespread destruction. Honduran President Carlos Roberto Flores said that fifty years of progress in the country had been reversed. Mitch destroyed about 70% of the crops and an estimated 70–80% of the transportation infrastructure, including nearly all bridges and secondary roads. Across Honduras 33,000 houses were destroyed, and an additional 50,000 damaged. Some 5,000 people killed, and 12,000 more injured. Total losses were estimated at $3 billion USD.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for Honduras – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                    8.08 m          2015        6.24 m         2000

GDP                                                $20.42 bn     2015        $7.10 bn     2000

GNI per capita                              $2280           2015        $920            2000

% below poverty line*                62.8%           2015        63.7%          2001

Life expectancy at birth             73.33 yrs      2015        70.49 yrs     2000

Primary school enrolment**    111%             2014        107%           2000

*The World Bank notes that the methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country. (While most of the World Bank data generally follows understandable trends, this number often oscillates wildly suggesting that different methodologies are frequently used over time within a given country.)

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 103 : El Salvador – San Salvador

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 29th March, 2017

Time :  47’ 16” FASTEST EVER ‘RUN THE WORLD’ TIME!

Total distance run to date : 1030 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370805

Media : https://www.facebook.com/ukinelsalvador/

The British Embassy had come up trumps (no political comment intended) again. They’d arranged for me to run in the Estadio Nacional Jorge ‘Magico’ Gonzalez – named after the brilliant El Salvadorian footballer Jorge Gonzalez aka El Magico.

Cited by Diego Maradona as “without a doubt amongst the greatest ten players I have ever seen play, in all my life” El Magico’s on field exploits were somewhat overshadowed by his notorious partying and sleeping habits. (He allegedly missed out on the chance to play for Barcelona when, on trial with them, he decided to ignore a hotel fire alarm as he had unfinished business with a waitress he’d met that evening.)

Ambassador Bernhard Garside – picture below – wasn’t able to join the run but he’d been good enough to come down to say ‘hello’. He remarked that he’d seen Iron Maiden play at the stadium. As luck would have it, I started my career in the music industry with Iron Maiden’s management company then known as Smallwood Taylor. (I’d been brought in to assist with their new signing – The Human League in their post ‘Dare’ comeback era.)

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From there we got talking about gigs we’d seen and the professionalism of bands like Maiden (bands with long careers tend to eschew the El Magico lifestyle) ; the appalling state of contemporary music (this being indicative of our musical discernment rather than our age) ; and then our Top Ten albums of all time.

Now, I often have the pleasure of meeting Ambassadors and other embassy staff on these runs and my attitude is that private conversations should remain just that – private. However, I hope our Ambassador in El Salvador won’t mind if I reveal that, based on his top ten albums, he is a man of wisdom and taste. The UK’s interests are in good hands in El Salvador.

Sadly we had to finish the endlessly fascinating discussion about albums as it was time to focus on the run. There were quite a few of us at the start – top picture – and they politely followed my lead for the first few laps

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After a while, a few of them pushed ahead. I wondered about upping my pace to follow them then remembered that a) the day before I’d struggled to complete my run in Belize and b) I had 3 more runs to go on the trip.

I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and let them surge ahead. (Which turned out to be just as well as most of them stopped a few laps later leaving 4 or 5 of us on the track.)

The odd thing was that, although I was running ‘sensibly’, my first km (usually one of my slowest as I warm up) took less than 5 minutes. A few more of those and I realised that a sub 50 minute run was a possibility – a rarity for me on these Run the World 10kms. Overall, it was incredible how much easier it was to run on a track compared to my usual runs which are mainly on roadsides and through cities. (It also helped that it was a cool evening and that one of the other runners decided to run with me.)

The lap times kept coming down and eventually I finished in 47’ 16” – my fastest Run the World 10km. And 8 minutes faster than my time the previous day in Belize.

I’d now done 103 out of 206 runs. In other words, I was HALF WAY ROUND THE WORLD. And, judging from the picture below, quite happy to have got there…

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Huge thanks to Ambassador Garside, Xavier and Alejandra for organising everything. And special mentions for the runner in the picture above (I’m sorry, I can’t recall his name) who helped pace me and for Isias from the Embassy who ran the full 10 km!

Facts & Stats

El Salvador (Spanish: República de El Salvador, literally “Republic of The Savior”), is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. El Salvador’s capital and largest city is San Salvador. As of 2015, the country had a population of approximately 6.38 million, consisting largely of Mestizos of European and Indigenous American descent.

El Salvador was for centuries inhabited by several Mesoamerican nations, especially the Cuzcatlecs, as well as the Lenca and Maya. In the early 16th century, the Spanish Empire conquered the territory, incorporating it into the Viceroyalty of New Spain ruled from Mexico City. In 1821, the country achieved independence from Spain as part of the First Mexican Empire, only to further secede as part of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1823. Upon the republic’s dissolution in 1841, El Salvador became sovereign until forming a short-lived union with Honduras and Nicaragua called the Greater Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1895 to 1898.

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups. The conflict ended with a negotiated settlement that established a multiparty constitutional republic, which remains in place to this day.

El Salvador’s economy was historically dominated by agriculture, beginning with the indigo plant, the most important crop during the colonial period and followed thereafter by coffee, which by the early 20th century accounted for 90 percent of export earnings. El Salvador has since reduced its dependence on coffee and embarked on diversifying the economy by opening up trade and financial links and expanding the manufacturing sector.[15] The colón, the official currency of El Salvador since 1892, was replaced by the U.S. dollar in 2001.

As of 2010, El Salvador ranks 12th among Latin American countries in terms of the Human Development Index and fourth in Central America (behind PanamaCosta Rica, and Belize) due in part to ongoing rapid industrialisation.] However, the country continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, inequality, and crime.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for El Salvador – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                    6.13 m          2015         5.81 m          2000

GDP                                                $25.85 bn     2015         $13.13 bn    2000

GNI per capita                              $3940           2015         $2160           2000

% below poverty line*                31.8%           2014         35.2%           2005

Life expectancy at birth             73.0 years   2015          68.7 years   2000

Primary school enrolment**     112%           2014          114%            2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

 

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Run 102 : Belize – Belize City

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 28th March, 2017

Time :  55’ 10”

Total distance run to date : 1020 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370768

Media : http://edition.channel5belize.com/archives/144111 ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFqjVsIoVWA ; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQPtZN7J0Vw

Some years ago, I volunteered for a charity called Crimestoppers. Not to be confused with Crimewatch, Crimestoppers offers a free and completely anonymous system for people to pass on information about crimes and criminals (by phone – 0800 555 111 – text or online.)

As someone once forcibly said to me, it’s not for the middle class. They can just go to the police.

It’s for people who are scared of the police. Or who are scared of retribution from the criminals in question. Or who want to stop their sons and brothers from entering a life of crime but know it would rip the family apart if anyone knew they’d gone to the police.

The information is received and assessed by trained operatives (usually ex police) and then passed on, stripped of any details that might identify the informant, to the police. It’s very simple and incredibly effective.  In 2015-16, 318 211 people contacted Crimestoppers solving or preventing 16 263 crimes including 2024 violent crimes.

Crimestoppers was set up in the UK by (Lord) Michael Ashcroft who has a number of business interest in Belize. Claire, who used to sit on the London Crimestoppers Board with me, got in touch with him about my run in Belize and he was kind enough to put us in touch with his organisation in Belize who, in turn, got in touch with Channel 5. They liked the story and invited me to do a 25 minutes interview on breakfast TV.

I think it’s fair to say that the atmosphere at Channel 5 was more relaxed than you often find when doing media interviews in the UK. I was interviewed by two very well prepped and utterly charming interviewers (picture above). We covered a lot of ground and they asked me a number of questions which, despite all the Run the World interviews I’ve done around the world, were new to me. Including whether its cathartic for me to be doing something positive in my mother’s memory. Which I hadn’t thought about previously but which I guess is true. Anyway, if you’re interested, the interview can be seen here.

Perhaps the most difficult question they asked me was how I’d enjoyed my run in Belize the previous day. Hmmm…how to answer that? I was very happy to be in Belize but, frankly, the run had bordered on the hellish.

I was running with Julian from the British High Commission. The Commission is situated in the capital Belmopan – 80km inland from Belize City (where I was based). Luckily Julian had a meeting in Belize City that morning and I was able to meet him after his meeting. The only downside being that it would mean running at 1pm.

As I walked to meet him, I began to realise just how hot it was. I started to feel a touch apprehensive remembering other ‘warm’ runs from the past. South Sudan where the world had gone orange as heat stroke set in. Namibia where I’d been so discombobulated that I tripped over nothing and then got lost. Egypt where it had been over 100 F as I ran round the pyramids. Papua New Guinea where it had just been bloody awful.

At first the run wasn’t too bad. Julian is ex-military and he regaled me with tales from his tours everywhere from Bosnia to Iraq to Afghanistan. Now I know not everyone thinks British troops should be in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. But ordinary soldiers aren’t involved in those decisions and I admire the soldiers for what they do and the dangers they face while the rest of us sit safely at home. (Julian’s typically military view was that they were just doing the job they signed up to do.)

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But the heat kept pounding us – exacerbated by the fact that, not only was sun beating down on our heads but it was also bouncing back off the asphalt of the road surface.(Picture above.) Eventually we got inadvertently separated as we both battled to keep going. Without Julian’s conversation the last few kms were fairly grim. I’m not sure how Julian – who’s not constantly training to run 10km like I am – made it. That’s the military training for you I guess.

Having said that, the ending made up for a lot. We finished at the British Army Training and Support Unit Belize – BATSUB – which supports British and allied troops doing their jungle raining in Belize. The officers and soldiers – picture below – clapped us in and treated us to a post run orange squash and a biscuit. Nothing like a warm reception to make you forget about the run!

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Thank you Julian, everyone at BATSUB, Lord Ashcroft, Claire for all the support and help. And thank you Channel 5 for the chance to tell my story to the people of Belize.

Facts & Stats

Belize, formerly British Honduras, is an independent country on the eastern coast of Central America. Belize is bordered on the north by Mexico, on the south and west by Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea. Its mainland is about 290 km (180 mi) long and 110 km (68 mi) wide.

Belize has an area of 22,800 square kilometres (8,800 sq mi) and a population of 368,310 (2015). It has the lowest population density in Central America.The country’s population growth rate of 1.87% per year (2015) is the second highest in the region and one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere.

Belize’s abundance of terrestrial and marine species and its diversity of ecosystems gives it a key place in the globally significant Mesoamerican Biological Corridor.

Belize has a diverse society, composed of many cultures and languages that reflect its rich history. English is the official language of Belize, with Belizean Kriol being the unofficial language. Over half the population is multilingual, with Spanish being the second most common spoken language.

Belize is considered a Central American and Caribbean nation with strong ties to both the Latin American and Caribbean regions.[9] It is a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and the Central American Integration System (SICA), the only country to hold full membership in all three regional organisations. Belize is a Commonwealth realm, with Queen Elizabeth II as its monarch and head of state.

Belize is known for its September Celebrations, its extensive coral reefs, and punta music.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for Belize – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                     359 k            2015        247 k            2000

GDP                                               $1.75 billion  2015       832 million  2000

GNI per capita                             $4490             2015       $3150            2000

% below poverty line*               No data                         No data

Life expectancy at birth            70.2 years     2015       68.4 years     2000

Primary school enrolment**   113%              2015       116%             2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 101 : Guatemala – Guatemala City

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Many years ago, in the pre-children era, Liz and I did a coach tour through Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. The Guatemalan leg took in Tikal and Antigua – both highly recommended – before ending at Guatemala City airport. There were a few hours until our flight so, being a ‘must see round the next corner’ kind of person, I talked Liz into heading into the city to visit (I think) a museum. After a whistle-stop tour, we went back outside onto the street to find a taxi.

A vehicle screeched to a halt next to us. “Get in the car!” “Uh, why?” “It’s not safe for you to be on the street. Get in the car!” “Really, are you sure?” “Yes, get in the car!”

By this stage we were obviously trying to work out where the real danger lay – on the street or in a complete stranger’s car? After a few more incisive questions (along the lines of the ones above…) we made a judgement call and jumped into the car. And, sure enough, we were driven to the airport in complete safety.

I guess this story is indicative of the instability and violence prevalent in Guatemala in the 1990s (pls see Facts & Stats below). It’s certainly indicative of the fact that there are extremely friendly people in Guatemala who’ll go out of their way to help naïve/idiotic tourists.

I couldn’t help thinking back on the incident as I was picked up by car again – although this time from my hotel by the wonderful people from the British Embassy. They whisked me off to our meeting point at the Monument to the Winning Spirit just outside Guatemala’s National Stadium, named after Doroteo Guamuch Flores who, in 1952, became the only Guatemalan to have ever won the Boston Marathon.

There we were joined by a party from the Guatemalan Olympic Committee which included Gerardo Aguirre (President of GOC), Lorena Toriello de Garcia-Gallont (GOC Executive Board Member), Neville Stiles (GOC Director of International Affairs), Oliver Scheer (German Sports Advisor to the Guatemalan Sports Confederation and GOC) and Stefan Hubner (a professor at Oxford and  friend of Oliver’s). As the British Embassy contingent included British Ambassador to Honduras, based in Guatemala, Carolyn Davidson and Deputy Head of Mission Andrew Tate, we were a distinguished group (picture above).

With that many VIPs, security needed to be up to scratch and a couple of police motorcycle outriders duly arrived to take care of us. Which was great because they took care of any possible safety issues including setting up temporary road blocks whenever there were streets to be crossed.

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In fact, the whole run was great. A cool evening, a sensible pace, a mostly flat route and excellent company.

We discussed things Olympics. Guatemala won its first ever Olympic medal at London 2012 – when Erick Barrondo won a silver medal in the men’s 20km walk. This raised expectations in Guatemala but, unfortunately, there weren’t any more medals at Rio. A reminder of just how hard it is to win a single Olympic medal.

As an aside, as some readers may know, the challenge I set myself prior to Run the World, was to do every different Olympic and Paralympic event in the lead up to the 2012 Games. I can promise you that even trying to do some of these events – let alone medalling in them – is supremely difficult.

On which subject, if you enjoy people making a fool of themselves, then you may like these videos of me attempting a forward rollhigh diving and gymnastics with Louis Smith – multiple Olympic medallist and winner of Strictly Come Dancing in 2012. (That last video has had over 26 000 views – I’m sure Louis is grateful to me for the exposure and increased profile…).

We discussed things sport. Running, of course, but also skiing with Stefan (we had a good chat about the Streif – possibly the most iconic downhill in the world.) Needless to say, with that kind of conversation, and the police motorcyclists taking care of the other things I often have to worry about on these runs, I hardly noticed the 10km.

Basically we ran south down Avenida Reforma, the main road cutting through the centre of Guatemala City, which turns into Avenida Las Americas. After 6 or 7km, near the monument to Pope John Paul II, we turned back on ourselves and then branched off to the British Ambassador’s residence, where Union Jack decorated nibbles, photos and drinks awaited us.

rtw guatemala 9Thank you Ambassador Davidson, Neville and Sigrid for organising everything. Thank you everyone else for coming along and supporting Run the World. Enormously appreciated. You are all invited to join me for my 206th & final run in Tokyo in 2020!

The Facts & Stats

Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, Honduras to the east and El Slavador to the southeast. With an estimated population of around 15.8 million, it is the most populated state in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy ; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

The territory of modern Guatemala once formed the core of the Maya civilization, which extended across Mesoamerica. Most of the country was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century, becoming part of the viceroyalty  of New Spain. Guatemala attained independence in 1821 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America, which dissolved in 1841.

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubico  was overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist  rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. In 1986 Guatemala saw the start of democratically elected civilian governments. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability. As of 2014, Guatemala ranked 31st of 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries in terms of the Human Development Index.

Guatemala’s abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems includes a large number of endemic species and contributes to Mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot. The country is also known for its rich and distinct culture, which is characterized by a fusion of Spanish and Indigenous influences.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Guatemala – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                      16.3 m             2015         11.7 m           2000

GDP                                                  $63.8 billion   2015         19.3 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                $3590              2015         $1660            2000

% below poverty line*                  59%                 2014        56%               2008

Life expectancy at birth                72.0 years      2015        67.7 years    2000

Primary school enrolment**       103%               2014        102%             2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 100 : Mexico – Mexico City

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 26th March, 2017

Time :  52’ 49”

Total distance run to date : 1000 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1682370704

Media : https://www.facebook.com/ukinmexico/

I don’t know how you feel about Mother’s Day. A thoroughly deserved and much needed occasion for children to show their appreciation of everything their mothers do for them? An artificial construct designed to sell more cards, flowers and chocolates? Or perhaps even, depending on your faith & culture, a celebration of the Virgin Mary and the Mother Church? A combination of the above?

Your answer may depend on where you live. In the UK, Mother’s Day almost certainly evolved from the 16th-century Christian practice of visiting your mother church (where you were likely to see your mother) annually on Laetare Sunday. Although it has subsequently taken on many of the characteristics of Mother’s Day in the US and elsewhere, Mother’s Day in the UK has retained its original timing and is held on the 4th Sunday of Lent.

In 2017, that fell on Sunday 26th of March – the date of my 100th run. Which seemed fitting given that it was my mother’s death from cancer in late 2013 that really marked the start of my Run the World challenge – and motivated me to raise money for Cancer Research.

And, although I still wasn’t even half way through the 206 countries of the world, the 100th run felt like a milestone. It represented a 1000 km of often gruelling running (plus I don’t know how many kilometres more in training). Surely that deserved a memorable run?

Mexico City didn’t disappoint. The conditions were about as perfect as it gets for running. Brilliant sunshine but still cool due to Mexico City’s altitude (2250m). And the Centro Historico of Mexico City – which is essentially 15 square kilometres of UNESCO world heritage site – is a great place to run. Especially when Paseo de la Reforma, one of its main thoroughfares, is closed to traffic. As it is every Sunday morning.

What a great idea – and something I’m now going to campaign for in central London. On which subject, I’d appreciate it if someone could pass this note on to the Mayor :

‘Dear Sadiq,

Please can you close Horseguards, the Mall, and Constitution Hill every Sunday morning. In return, I promise to create a set of walking, running and cycling routes that will be used and loved by thousands of Londoners and tourists alike.

All the best,

Dan (the running man)’

There were certainly thousands of runners, walkers and cyclists out that morning in Mexico City. Including 3 brave souls from the British Embassy who’d been good enough to give up their Sunday mornings to accompany a mad Brit : Olivier – Deputy Head of Mission (who’s recorded the 3rd fastest London Marathon time of anyone with Crohn’s disease) ; Carolina – Digital Media Manager ; and Humberto – Pro Consul. (Picture above.)

We met at the Angel de la Independencia monument (El Angel) and set off northeast along Paseo de la Reforma before turning right down Juarez, past the Palacio de Bellas Artes and into Zócalo – the Plaza de la Constitución. (Picture below).

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Measuring some 240 meters in each direction, it’s the world’s 3rd largest square (after Tiananmen and Red Square) and home to some of Mexico’s most visited tourist attractions including the National Palace – with its Diego Rivera murals – the Templo Mayor – with its Aztec relics – and the Metropolitan Cathedral where anyone can get married for free on Valentine’s Day. It’s also where they filmed the helicopter scene in the bond movie ‘Spectre’.

How do I know all this? Because Olivier was the perfect guide and kept up a running (pun intended) commentary as we went round Mexico City. We even managed to talk him into shooting a video of the Zócalo  – complete with commentary.

From there we retraced our steps, going as far west as the Bosque de Chatulpec, before turning back and finishing back at El Angel – running up the steps Rocky style. A historic moment which Humberto was good enough to video. Judging from my celebration, I was reasonably pleased to have finished the first 100 runs…

A fantastic run. Olivier, Carolina and Humberto – thank you enormously for all the support! (And Olivier, good luck with the book on running in every state in Mexico!)

The Facts & Stats

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a federal republic in the southern half of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost two million square kilometres (over 760,000 sq mi), Mexico is the sixth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent nation in the world. With an estimated population of over 120 million, it is the eleventh most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world while being the second most populous country in Latin America. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states and a federal district that is also its capital and most populous city.

Pre-Columbian Mexico was home to many advanced Mesoamerican civilizations, such as the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Maya and Aztec before first contact with Europeans. In 1521, the Spanish Empire conquered and colonized and administered as the viceroyalty of New Spain. Three centuries later, this territory became Mexico following recognition in 1821 after the colony’s Mexican War of Independence. The tumultuous post-independence period was characterized by economic instability and many political changes. The Mexican–American War (1846–48) led to the territorial cession of the extensive northern borderlands, one-third of its territory, to the United States. The Pastry War, the Franco-Mexican War, a civil war, two empires and a domestic dictatorship occurred through the 19th century. The dictatorship was overthrown in the Mexican Revolution of 1910, which culminated with the promulgation of the 1917 Constitution and the emergence of the country’s current political system.

Mexico has the fifteenth largest nominal GDP and the eleventh largest by purchasing power parity. The Mexican economy is strongly linked to those of its North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partners, especially the United States. Mexico was the first Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), joining in 1994. It is classified as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank] and a newly industrialized country by several analysts. By 2050, Mexico could become the world’s fifth or seventh largest economy. Due to its rich culture and history, Mexico ranks first in the Americas and seventh in the world by number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mexico is a megadiverse country, ranking fourth in the world by biodiversity. In 2015 it was the 9th most visited country in the world, with 32.1 million international arrivals.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Mexico – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                        127 m              2015         102.8 m          2000

GDP                                                    $1.14 trillion  2015          683.6 billion  2000

GNI per capita                                 $9710              2015          $5750             2000

% below poverty line*                   53.2%              2014          49%                 2008

Life expectancy at birth                 76.9 years      2015          74.3 years      2000

Primary school enrolment**        103%               2014          106%               2000

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students

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Run 99 : Andorra – Andorra La Vella

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Please give generously to Cancer Research : https://www.justgiving.com/Dan-Thompson11/

Date : 15th March, 2017

Time :  58’ 07”

Total distance run to date : 990 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1629888411

Every so often someone turns to me and says, “ I don’t mean to be rude, but what exactly do you do?”

If you’re reading this blog then you know that I’m currently attempting to complete a 10 km run in every country in the world before the 2020 Olympics. Between all the planning, the training, the travelling, the running and the blogging, it takes up far more time that you might imagine.

However, it doesn’t take up all of my time. And one of the other things* I do is chair a company called Gold Challenge. I volunteer my time – its effectively a not-for-profit – and I’m passionate about it.

Gold Challenge launched in late 2010 and ran two Olympic and Paralympic inspired charity challenges in the run up to London 2012. We partnered with the British Olympic Association/Team GB, Paralympics GB and Sport England and we were part of the official London 2012 mass participation legacy programme.  We also worked closely with LOCOG and hosted a pre-Games test event – for 20 000 people – in the Olympic Stadium. (Picture below taken by Help for Heroes at the Olympic Stadium event.)

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Over 100 000 people took part in the challenges and we realised that, having made plenty of mistakes along the way, we’d learnt something about challenges and how to motivate people to be more active. Something that shouldn’t just be thrown away once the Games were over.

So we now offer workplace and community based challenges and we’ve worked with a range of clients from major multinationals to local boroughs. Over 160 000 people have taken part in our challenges to date and, if I say so myself, they’re bloody good. And great value for money. So get in touch if you want your workforce or your community to be more active – while simultaneously building team and community spirit!

Enough of the plug for Gold Challenge and back to the story. One of our team has recently been spending time in Barcelona and coming back to the UK for meetings. We decided that it would only be fair if we held a meeting in Barcelona – so we flew there for a strategy and planning session. (We’re not the only people to have had the idea. I recently heard about a company, based in London and Edinburgh, who did the same thing because it was cheaper than putting half the staff on the train to either London or Edinburgh. If you’re flexible about when you fly, and not too fussy about your accommodation, Barcelona is a surprisingly cost effective place to meet.)

Being Gold Challenge, we decided we should do a 10 km run in Barcelona while we were there. I’d already done my Spanish 10km but this felt like good insurance in case Catalonia ever becomes independent. It was one of the most brilliant and scenic city runs I’ve ever done – taking in many of Barcelona’s key sights. Put together by Jon and Jane, it would also make a great walking route. (The picture at the top of the blog is of Eugene, Sophie and me on Montjiuc near the Olympic stadium.)

As I was going to be in Barcelona, I thought I should grab the opportunity to do my Andorran run. (Andorra is c 200 km north west of Barcelona.) I had a look for connecting flights and couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find any. Turns out there’s no airport in Andorra. Never mind, I thought, I’ll get a train. Err no, there are no rail lines in Andorra. Eventually, Jon arranged a cheap car hire and we drove up there together. A mixture of the world’s slowest car hire check-in, Barcelona’s one way system and a couple of wrong turns meant that it took us a bit of time to get out of Barcelona. But, once we’d got going, it was beautiful drive to Andorra through some stunning countryside.

Andorra itself is effectively a series of steep valleys. There’s not really a lot of open space or flat ground on which to run. Jon therefore came up with the plan of driving into Andorra, dropping me off somewhere up one of the valleys (picture below), and then letting me run 10 km back down the road to meet him at a prearranged meeting point. A plan which, on the whole, worked remarkably well. I even found a mountainside path which meant I didn’t have to run along the road.

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Run over, it was time to put the foot down and try to get back to Barcelona in time for a shower, a cold beer, tapas and the return leg of Man City v Monaco. It was all going pretty well until we got back to the hire company’s car park in Barcelona and realised we needed to fill up with petrol. Even with Google’s help, it took us half an hour to find an open petrol station. And then we couldn’t get into the car park because of emergency works outside the car park. And then the check-in guy discovered a tiny scratch on the car which he decided was our fault.

Jon (picture below) kept his patience admirably and we got out of the car hire company relatively unscathed – a mere hour after we’d originally passed by the car park. Never mind, we still saw the second half of the game in an Irish bar. And found a great local restaurant down some obscure side street in the Barrio Gotico. That’s Barcelona for you.

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Thank you Jon and Jane for all the fantastic help with both runs – I wouldn’t have made it to Andorra without you. And thank you Sophie and Eugene for the company in Barcelona!

*I also work with 2 charities : Technology Trust – which helps charities and not-for-profits with technology solutions that cut costs and increase fundraising – and the wonderful Panathlon – which provides sporting opportunities and training for over 10 000 disabled children every year. Finally, I’m a business angel which means I invest in early stage private companies. Recent investments have included StepJockey which creates healthy, active buildings through a mixture of unique interactive signs and star climbing challenges. As you may have spotted, there’s an encouraging people to be more active / healthy living theme to a lot of what I do…

The Facts & Stats

Andorra is a sovereign landlocked microstate in Southwestern Europe, located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains and bordered by Spain and France. Created under a charter in 988, the present principality was formed in 1278. It is known as a principality as it is a monarchy headed by two Co-Princes – the Roman Catholic Bishop of Urgell in Spain, and the President of France.

Andorra is the sixth-smallest nation in Europe, having an area of 468 km2 (181 sq mi) and a population of approximately 85,000. Its capital Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe, at an elevation of 1,023 metres (3,356 ft) above sea level. The official language is Catalan, although Spanish, Portuguese, and French are also commonly spoken.

It is not a member of the European Union, but the euro is the official currency. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1993. In 2013, the people of Andorra had the highest life expectancy in the world at 81 years, according to The Lancet.

Due to its location in the eastern Pyrenees mountain range, Andorra consists predominantly of rugged mountains, the highest being the Coma Pedrosa at 2,942 metres (9,652 ft), and the average elevation of Andorra is 1,996 metres (6,549 ft). These are dissected by three narrow valleys in a Y shape that combine into one as the main stream, the Gran Valira river, leaves the country for Spain (at Andorra’s lowest point of 840 m or 2,756 ft).

Tourism, the mainstay of Andorra’s tiny, well-to-do economy, accounts for roughly 80% of GDP. An estimated 10.2 million tourists visit annually, attracted by Andorra’s duty-free status and by its summer and winter resorts.

One of the main sources of income in Andorra is tourism from ski resorts which total over 175 km (109 mi) of ski ground. The sport brings in over 7 million visitors and an estimated 340 million euros per year, sustaining 2000 direct and 10000 indirect jobs at present.

The banking sector, with its tax haven status, also contributes substantially to the economy (the financial and insurance sector accounts for approximately 19% of GDP).

Agricultural production is limited—only 2% of the land is arable—and most food has to be imported. Some tobacco is grown locally. The principal livestock activity is domestic sheep raising. Manufacturing output consists mainly of cigarettes, cigars, and furniture. Andorra’s natural resources include hydroelectric power, mineral water, timber, iron ore, and lead.

Andorra has traditionally had one of the world’s lowest unemployment rates. In 2009 it stood at 2.9%.

Two-thirds of residents lack Andorran nationality and do not have the right to vote in communal elections. Moreover, they are not allowed to be elected as president or to own more than 33% of the capital stock of a privately held company.

Finally, here’s the latest World Bank data for the Andorra – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                        70 473             2015                 65 399             2000

GDP                                                    $3.25 billion   2013                 $1.40 billion   2000

GNI per capita                                 $43 270           2014                 $19 930           2000

% below poverty line*                   NA                                              NA

Life expectancy at birth                 NA                                              NA

Primary school enrolment**        NA                                              NA

*Methodology can vary between countries and over time within a given country.

**Percentage can exceed 100% due to the inclusion of over and under aged students.

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Thank You Readers!

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My blog has now had over 20 000 views so it seemed like an appropriate moment to say thank you to everyone who’s ever read it – all 7863 of you!

I’m particularly grateful to the blog’s regular readers and the picture above of another runner – the Flash – is my way of saying thank you. I took it at a preview of the new Art of the Brick exhibition in London which, if you like superheroes and Lego – and who doesn’t – is a great show.

If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with the blog recently then my recent sojourn in the Pacific has, I think, had more views than any other Run the World trip. Fascinating countries, plenty of suffering for yours truly, coruscating (…) writing, the picture of my post op scar – no doubt they all played a part.

The trip took in Guam, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines and included plenty of exhaustion, more than a touch of fear and some heart rending moments. I’ll never forget the trip and I hope the blogs give you some sense of the countries in question.

I hope the blogs also, in some way, promote Run the World’s twin aims : encouraging everyone to be more active and to donate to Cancer Research.

In any event, whether you read the blogs for fun – or out of a sense of duty or friendship – thanks again for the support. It’s much appreciated!

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