Run 108 : Belarus – Minsk

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

Date : 13th May, 2017

Time :  50’ 48”

Total distance run to date : 1080 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1746319849

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

If your name was, say, Napoleon or Hitler, and you were crazy enough to attempt a land invasion of Russia from the west, then you’d very likely travel across Belarus. In fact, if you were heading for Moscow, you’d probably follow in the footsteps of the Grande Armee and the Wehrmacht and march directly through its capital, Minsk.

And, since invading Russia is a folly inevitably followed by retreat, you’ll see Minsk on both the way in and the way out. A repeat visit that was to cost the city dear during World War II as the Germans made it a centre of resistance against the Soviet counter-attack. (Please see Facts and Stats below for more detail.)

I was thinking about this because :

  1. The interviewer from Radio Belarus had asked me how much I knew about Belarus ; and
  2. We were at the entrance to Victory Park right next to the Great Patriotic War Museum. (Background of the picture above.)

WWII still matters in Belarus (as it does in the UK and many other countries I visit). Shortly before I arrived, there’d been big celebrations for Victory Day. Not to be confused with VE Day, Victory Day commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany  in the Great Patriotic War.

It’s a public holiday in Belarus (and a number of other eastern European countries including Ukraine) and by all accounts it’s something of a party with music, marching bands and possibly even a drop or two of liquid fortification. Quite a contrast to the UK where we focus on Remembrance Sunday (when we remember those who lost their lives in the World Wars and other armed conflicts).

And why the national media interview at Victory Park? Because the local British Embassy, led by Ian and the indefatigable Volha, had yet again done a great job supporting what I can only presume they refer to in inter-embassy communications as “you know, that mad man from London who’s running round the world.” I am forever grateful for all the help I receive around the world from our international diplomats.

Along with runners from various international organisations, the Embassy had also invited along the Belarusian Athletics Federation who’d very kindly shifted their usual Saturday run back by 24 hours to accommodate my schedule. They led a group warm up – picture below – and then the run which was to consist of two laps of Victory Park.

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As we set off I realised that, horror of horrors, between the interview, the photos and meeting everyone, I’d forgotten to set my Garmin. Recording the runs on my Garmin is my proof that I’ve done them so I had no choice but to wait while it logged onto a satellite. An impatient minute later I was ready to go and it took a 4’ 32” kilometre to catch up with everyone. Considerably faster than I usually like to start these runs. Mercifully it then calmed down for the next 4 km as we completed the first lap of the Park.

For the second lap, I joined the leaders and we settled into a 4’ 40” pace. Which might be OK for training runs but isn’t ideal when you’re me (i.e. not very good at running) and you’re at the start of a trip involving 7 x 10 km runs in 6 days…What the hell. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful setting and (unusually for me) running felt good

After a negative split, we eventually finished (picture below) in 50’48”, my fastest run on this trip. More photos, thank yous and goodbyes and then it was time for a shower and a stroll into Minsk.

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Minsk was largely rebuilt after WWII and there are lots of open spaces, expanses of water, big squares and wide avenues. All of which looked rather lovely in the evening sunshine. Even better, as luck would have it, my wanderings took me to the 442 bar which was showing Spurs last ever game at their old ground – White Hart Lane. For Spurs fans like me, this was an emotional moment and I hope readers will indulge me if I spend a couple of paragraphs on it.

I’ve many happy memories of the Lane  – and some not so happy ones. One of the least happy was being 3-0 up against Man United at half time – only to lose 5-3. Man United were again the opponents for the final game and this time there were no mistakes as we won 2-1 with goals from Victor Wanyama (“Oh, Victor Wanyama” to the tune of Seven Nation Army) and Harry Kane (“He’s one of our own, he’s one of our own”). The win secured 2nd place, Spurs’ best ever finish in the Premier League.

Queue much joy for me and the one other Spurs fan in the bar (we were heavily outnumbered by the local Man U contingent) – and the fans back at White Hart Lane – picture below.

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I owe all things Spurs to Danny Kelly, editor, writer & broadcaster, lifelong Spurs fan and all round great bloke, who bought me a season ticket to White Hart Lane when I moved to North London – and thereby converted me. Which was just as well as I might otherwise have drifted towards Arsenal (Spurs’ bitter North London rival) who’s ground is actually closer to our home. But then I would have been damned forever as an interloper from Woolwich rather than being one of the proud owners of North London. (As you may have guessed, this is a sanitised version of the relevant terrace chant.)

As I left the bar, the streets were full of people including a group of traditional dancers who were, no doubt, celebrating Spurs’ victory. As Napoleon and Hitler could testify, it can get cold in this part of the world in winter but, in the summer, Minsk is a truly charming place to visit.

Enormous thanks to Ian, Volha, everyone at the Embassy and the Athletics Federation for a great run. Volha was good enough to collect the names of some of the runners from the Federation which I’ve included below – thank you to all of them for the company on the run!

Nikolay Ryzhenkiy

Anton Klimov

Alexey Sayevich

Victor Kobrikus

Dmitry Golomzik

Elena Malkevich

Ivan Lemonov

Dmitriy Kozhich

Tatsiana Pechan

Andrey Andreev

Gosha Verkhovtsev

Andrey Pokrepo

Pasha Moysiuk-Dranko

Valery Piskunovich

Christina Kulich

Vladimir

Alena Veremeichik

And thank you, Danny, for Spurs. COYS!

 

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Belarus  is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital and most populous city is Minsk. Over 40% of its 207,600 square kilometres (80,200 sq mi) is forested. Its strongest economic sectors are service industries and manufacturing. Until the 20th century, different states at various times controlled the lands of modern-day Belarus, including the Principality of Polotsk (11th to 14th centuries), the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, and the Russian Empire.

In the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution, Belarus declared independence as the Belarusian People’s Republic, which was conquered by Soviet Russia. The Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia became a founding constituent republic of the Soviet Union in 1922 and was renamed as the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Byelorussian SSR). Belarus lost almost half of its territory to Poland after the Polish–Soviet War of 1919–1921. Much of the borders of Belarus took their modern shape in 1939, when some lands of the Second Polish Republic were reintegrated into it after the Soviet invasion of Poland, and were finalized after World War II. During WWII, military operations devastated Belarus, which lost about a third of its population and more than half of its economic resources. The republic was redeveloped in the post-war years. In 1945 the Byelorussian SSR became a founding member of the United Nations, along with the Soviet Union and the Ukrainian SSR.

The parliament of the republic declared the sovereignty of Belarus on 27 July 1990, and during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus declared independence on 25 August 1991. Alexander Lukashenko has served as the country’s president since 1994.  Lukashenko continued a number of Soviet-era policies, such as state ownership of large sections of the economy. Elections under Lukashenko’s rule have been widely criticized as unfair by the international community; and according to many organisations, political opposition has been violently suppressed.

In 2000 Belarus and Russia signed a treaty for greater cooperation, with some hints of forming a Union State. Over 70% of Belarus’s population of 9.49 million resides in urban areas. More than 80% of the population is ethnic Belarusian, with sizable minorities of RussiansPoles and Ukrainians. Since a referendum in 1995, the country has had two official languages: Belarusian and Russian. The Constitution of Belarus does not declare any official religion, although the primary religion in the country is Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The second most widespread religion, Roman Catholicism, has a much smaller following; nevertheless, Belarus celebrates both Orthodox and Catholic versions of Christmas and Easter as national holidays. Belarus is the only European country to retain capital punishment in both law and practice.

Minsk and WWII

Before the Second World War, Minsk had a population of 300,000 people. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, as part of Operation Barbarossa, Minsk immediately came under attack. The city was bombed on the first day of the invasion and came under Wehrmacht control four days later. However, some factories, museums and tens of thousands of civilians had been evacuated to the east. The Germans designated Minsk the administrative centre of Reichskomissariat Ostland. Communists and sympathisers were killed or imprisoned, both locally and after being transported to Germany. Homes were requisitioned to house invading German forces. Thousands starved as food was seized by the German Army and paid work was scarce. Some anti-Soviet residents of Minsk, who hoped that Belarus could regain independence, did support the Germans, especially at the beginning of the occupation, but by 1942, Minsk had become a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the invasion, in what is known as the German-Soviet War. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974.

Minsk was, however, the site of one of the largest Nazi-run ghettos in the Second World War, temporarily housing over 100,000 Jews .

Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944, during Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944. Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk’s population was reduced to a mere 50,000. After the Second World War, Minsk was rebuilt, but not reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation. Since the 1960s Minsk’s population has also grown apace, reaching 1 million in 1972 and 1.5 million in 1986. Construction of Minsk Metro began on 16 June 1977, and the system was opened to the public on 30 June 1984, becoming the ninth metro system in the Soviet Union. The rapid population growth was primarily driven by mass migration of young, unskilled workers from rural areas of Belarus, as well as by migration of skilled workers from other parts of the Soviet Union[citation needed].[14] To house the expanding population, Minsk spread beyond its historical boundaries. Its surrounding villages were absorbed and rebuilt as mikroraions, districts of high-density apartment housing.

Victory Day

Victory Day is a holiday that commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War. It was first inaugurated in the 16[1]republics of the Soviet Union, following the signing of the German Instrument of Surrender late in the evening on 8 May 1945 (after midnight, thus on 9 May Moscow Time). The Soviet government announced the victory early on 9 May after the signing ceremony in Berlin.[2] Though the official inauguration occurred in 1945 the holiday became a non-labour day only in 1965 and only in certain Soviet republics.

 

World Bank Data 

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Belarus – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population                                   45.2 m         2015        49.2 m        2000

GDP                                               $54.6 bn      2015        $12.7 bn    2000

GNI per capita                            $6470           2015        $1380         2000

% below poverty line*              5.1%             2015        41.9%         2002

Life expectancy at birth            73.6 yrs       2015        68.9 yrs      2000

Primary school enrolment**   101%            2014        113%          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

 

Greatest Sporting Nation

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Belarus performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 39th

Per Capita Cup – 26th   

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.

 

 

 

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Run 107 : Ukraine – Kiev

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

Date : 13th May, 2017

Time :  54’ 18”

Total distance run to date : 1070 km

Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1746319771

Media :

I was originally going to publish this blog last Tuesday. However, its mostly a light hearted look at the Eurovision Song Contest – which I attended in Kiev – and it didn’t seem appropriate after the events at the Manchester Arena the night before.

Heartbreakingly, not only Manchester has suffered recently. On Friday, at least 28 Egyptian Copts were killed in a terrorist attack. In the past week there have also been attacks resulting in fatalities in Indonesia, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. One website records 509 attacks and 3358 fatalities in 2017 alone. The vast majority of these receive little or no coverage in Western media.

 In a lifetime of following international affairs, I have rarely seen terrorism achieve anything other than appalling loss, a deepening of hatred and an escalation of the circle of violence.

 Running round the world doesn’t make you an expert on anything – but it does give you a global perspective. Should you choose to read my ‘microscopically trivial in comparison’ blog, please spare a thought not only for my fellow country men and women who died in Manchester but also for all the victims of terrorism in the last week / month / year / decade.

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The Eurovision Song Contest. The annual Eurotrashaganza that’s been around since 1956 and which, I’d guess, pretty much every adult in Europe has seen at least once. A privilege they share with the good folk of those not-obviously-European countries – such as Morocco and Australia – that are occasionally invited to participate.

If you’ve watched it in the UK then it will have been accompanied by the Terry Wogan / Graham Norton siniggerfest that is the BBC’s coverage. If you’ve watched it abroad then you may have taken it more seriously. Either way, you’ll no doubt have a stack of memories.

Who could, for example, forget Abba winning in 1974 with ‘Waterloo’? Complete with a conductor dressed as Napoleon and a remarkably static pair of dancing queens in Anni-Frid and Agnetha? (Thereby launching the career of the world’s ‘greatest ever pop group’ (1).)

And then, of course, there was um, er….nothing really. At least not for me because, like any self-regarding ‘muso’ (aka music snob), I’ve mostly done my best to avoid to it.

I did once, more recently, see part of the voting process. At first, I couldn’t understand it. All the new eastern European countries, whom you might think would have reason to act otherwise, seemed to be voting for Russia. And then I realised it’s all about your diaspora. There are a lot of ethnic Russians in a lot of eastern European countries and therefore a good chance that the public vote in those countries might favour Russia. (Russia holds the record for the most top 5 finishes in the 21st century).

It was going to be interesting to see how the Russian song fared in 2017 because the event was being hosted in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. And I don’t think I run the risk of offending either side if I say that there has been a lot of tension between Ukraine and Russia in recent years. (Pls see Facts & Stats for more detail.)

Except that there wasn’t a Russian entry. Because the Ukraine refused to let Yulia Samoylova take part on the grounds that she had illegally entered the Crimea in 2014 to perform there. The European Broadcasting Union tried to engineer a compromise whereby Samoylova would perform remotely but eventually everyone had to accept that there wouldn’t be a Russian entry in 2017.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m going on about the Eurovision Song Contest. Because, completely by coincidence, I found myself in Kiev on the day of the 2017 contest.  As you’ll have gathered, I wouldn’t normally watch it on TV but It felt like fate had spoken so I shelled out a lot of money and bought a ticket to the final.

 Which, luckily, didn’t start until 22.00 so I had plenty of time to get my run done first. I met Iain (from the British Embassy) at the Expo Centre. Formerly known as the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy of Ukrainian SSR, and located on the outskirts of the Holosiivskyi national nature park, the Expo was built to demonstrate Ukrainian achievements (and superiority) in the spheres of industry and science.

We did a quick loop round the centre at the beginning and end of the run but mostly ran in the Park where we were occasionally joined by Phil – picture below. It drizzled a lot and by the end we were pretty wet and cold. Despite this, it was an enjoyable run. It’s amazing what good company and lurid orange drinks can do for you.

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Enough of the running, I hear you cry. What was the Eurovision Song Contest like?

I arrived about 20 minutes late, after dinner with Iain and his delightful family, but still saw about 20 songs. Which, to be fair, was plenty.

On the plus side, music is always better live than on TV and the fans – including a surprising number of Brits – were brilliant with their national flag inspired costumes and their uncanny ability to sing along to songs that most of us have never heard before.

I even quite liked some of the songs. The Italian song because it featured a dancing gorilla. The Romanian song because it contained yodelling. (I think we can all agree that there isn’t enough yodelling in contemporary music).

Others were a touch disappointing. The Ukrainian entry was a rock song when it should, of course, have been ‘Crimea River’ (2). And the less said about the British entry – which couldn’t be seen by half the audience due to the bizarre clam shell stage set – the better.

Anyway, if you’d like to get better sense of what it was like live, I’ve put a load of videos on Instagram.

Eventually, pummelled by 2 hours of high volume Euro pop, and conscious of my flight the next morning, I left before the voting started and returned to my hotel. (The Ukrainia – background of the picture below – overlooks the main square and its claims to fame include being the site from which snipers shot demonstrators during the 2014 revolution.)

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However, I understand that Portugal won, Bulgaria (represented by a Russian – Bulgarian singer) came second and Moldova third. The UK came a surprisingly high 15th.

As an aside, that third place earned ‘Sunstroke’, the Moldavan group in question, national medals. Further evidence that some countries take it more seriously than the UK.

And that’s enough about the Eurovision Song Contest for one blog. Iain – thank you for all the help and support and hope to see you in July 2020 for the UK leg of Run the World!

Facts & Stats

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

Ukraine is a sovereign state in Eastern Europebordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Belarus to the northwest, Poland and Slovakia to the west, HungaryRomania, and Moldova to the southwest, and the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to the south and southeast, respectively. Ukraine is currently in territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014[10] but which Ukraine, and most of the international community, recognise as Ukrainian. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.

The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key centre of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus’ forming the basis of Ukrainian identity. Following its fragmentation in the 13th century, the territory was contested, ruled and divided by a variety of powers, including Lithuania, Poland, the Ottoman EmpireAustria-Hungary, and Russia. A Cossack republic emerged and prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, but its territory was eventually split between Poland and the Russian Empire, and later merged fully into Russia.

During the 20th century three periods of independence occurred. The first of these periods occurred briefly near the end of World War I and the second occurred, also briefly, during World War II. However, both of these first two earlier periods would eventually see Ukraine’s territories consolidated back into a Soviet republic within the USSR. The third period of independence began in 1991, when Ukraine gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the aftermath of its dissolution at the end of the Cold War. Ukraine has fiercely maintained its independence as a sovereign state ever since.

Following its independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state. Nonetheless it formed a limited military partnership with the Russian Federation and other CIS countries and a partnership with NATO in 1994. In the 2000s, the government began leaning towards NATO, and a deeper cooperation with the alliance was set by the NATO-Ukraine Action Plan signed in 2002. It was later agreed that the question of joining NATO should be answered by a national referendum at some point in the future. Former President Viktor Yanukovych considered the current level of co-operation between Ukraine and NATO sufficient, and was against Ukraine joining NATO. In 2013, protests against the government of President Yanukovych broke out in downtown Kiev after the government had decided to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia. After this began a several-months-long wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Euromaidan, which later escalated into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of President Yanukovych and his cabinet and the establishment of a new government. These events formed the background for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, and the War in Donbass in April 2014. On 1 January 2016, Ukraine applied the economic part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.

Ukraine has long been a global breadbasket because of its extensive, fertile farmlands and is one of the world’s largest grain exporters. Ukraine is a unitary republic under a semi-presidential system with separate powerslegislativeexecutive and judicial branches. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Taking into account reserves and paramilitary personnel, Ukraine maintains the second-largest military in Europe after that of Russia. The country is home to 42.5 million people (excluding Crimea), 77.8 percent of whom are Ukrainians “by ethnicity”, followed by a sizeable minority of Russians (17.3 percent) as well as Romanians/MoldovansBelarusiansCrimean TatarsBulgarians and HungariansUkrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodoxy, which has strongly influenced Ukrainian architectureliterature and music.

Here’s the latest World Bank data for Ukraine – with the year 2000 as a comparison.

Population***                             45.2 m          2015        49.2 m        2000

GDP****                                        $90.6 bn      2015        $31.3 bn     2000

GNI per capita                             $2640           2015        $700            2000

% below poverty line*               6.4%             2015        83.3%          2002

Life expectancy at birth            71.2 yrs        2015        67.9 yrs      2000

Primary school enrolment**    104%            2014        115%          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

***Decrease partly due to demographics and partly due to the Crimea and Donbas regions being excluded from the 2015 figure

****While GDP has increased between 2000 and 2015, it has fallen sharply in recent year due to the conflict and a poorly performing economy. GDP is projected to grow from 2016 on.

Finally, here’s the data from Greatest Sporting Nation on how Ukraine performed in the global sporting arena in 2016:

Global Cup – 36th

Per Capita Cup – 47th   

The Global Cup aggregates results from over 1000 events across 80 sports to produce the definitive ranking of international sporting success. The Per Capita Cup uses the same data to produce a per capita ranking.

Notes

  1. EA Morris
  2. J Marszalek
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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.

20170330_190105

 

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

rtw el sal 7

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.)

rtw belize 14

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!

rtw belize 17

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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