Friday, 13 June 2014

Reporting direct from the streets of Brazil (retrospectively that is!)

* Brazilian coco verde water . . . just the job!

LISTEN up Steven Gerrard and the chaps!

After the World Cup opener with Italy this weekend your best way to re-hydrate is to slurp some Brazilian coco verde water, straight from the shell. You’ll be able to find it on most street corners out there.
Listen to your Clapped-Out Runner, for I am one who knows. It revived me instantly after a run in sticky Recife one time, quite possibly the hottest and most uncomfy five-miler I've ever completed. That day I sweated buckets, cobs and whatever else the English language allows pores to expel.

Although Rihanna, Courtney Cox and Madonna have all sung the praises of coco verde water in recent years, your Clapped-Out Runner was one of the first to proclaim its fine re-hydration and electrolyte-replacement qualities. This happened way back in 1991, a year in which I had the opportunity to do a bit of running in various parts of Brazil, golden running days when PBs were still a possibility and not merely a distant memory. Back when I hadn’t quite entered the arena of the (nearly) clapped-out.

Whether you are a runner, a footballer, or just a tourist, Brazil is certainly not a destination for the faint-hearted. As bossa nova star Tom Jobim famously said, “My country is not for beginners.”
Brazil never fails to produce the unexpected, and my five-mile run along Recife sea-front was a good example. For there in the road, meticulously and clearly displayed, were metric marker points, purely for the benefit of runners. It meant I knew that my exhausted carcass had completed exactly 8,450 metres when I came to a halt, and that one mile of that was done in 5:51. As Garmins hadn‘t been invented back then, it was satisfying to have such precise figures to put in the Old Grey Training Log.

But, true to form, Brazil will give with one hand and take with the other. For instance, just a few yards from that runner-friendly road was a cinema whose entrance proved simply impossible to locate. And there were restaurants and nightlife clustered nearby, but we couldn’t find a safe way to get there. There was even a late-night record store, but it was full of Euro-pop and nothing by Brazilian jazz legend Flora Purim. One consolation that night in Recife was the Bom Preco supermarket, shelves heaving with splendidly huge bags of peanuts for around 50p!
As well as brilliantly marked out sea-front roads, what every cash-strapped runner visiting Brazil can benefit from is a rich American tourist. Keeping fit in choking humidity builds a big thirst and in Rio de Janiero ours was slaked one night by the deep pockets of Heathcote, a pharmaceutical consultant from North Carolina.

In search of a bar with air-conditioning and live music we found ourselves slipping into the elevator up to the Skylab Bar atop the 5-star Hotel Othon Palace beside Copacabana beach. Behind the sliding doors was slumped Heathcote. He was very well lubricated, couldn’t remember which sights he’d seen so far in Rio, didn’t know a word of Portuguese, and would soon be off to Buenos Aires anyway. We forgave him these sins because he’d recently lost his wife and was travelling alone.
He thought two Brits taking a career break to travel was “a terrific thing” and paid for all our expensive drinks before tottering back into the elevator. As the Skylab proved to be an almost deserted piano bar straight out of Lost in Translation, we soon followed him.

Going for a run in Brazil’s smaller towns is not so easy as on the sea-front promenades of the tourist traps. Roads are pot-holed, animals are on the loose, and you gain unwanted attention. In Porto Seguro one evening I could only find one decent stretch of tarmac and ended up going up and down this five times. I kept passing a single abandoned New Balance running shoe in the middle of the road – and by the fifth shuttle had become convinced it was all that was left of a previous running tourist who foolishly came this way.
For post-run refuelling that night, we found a no-frills establishment called ‘The Hall of Hunger’. A large nourishing portion of proper Brazilian fare was around £1.50. “What made you come here?” enquired the owner rather disconcertingly, adding that very few English folk passed through Porto Seguro. He had thought we were Argentines.

Then followed intense questioning about my Luton Town shirt. He took considerable convincing my team were then a top-flight club in England (yes, this was a while ago), for he couldn’t recall seeing them on Brazilian TV’s Os Golos Fantasticos, which showed the best goals from around the globe every week. But, for all his fierce patriotism, he conceded that England’s Gazza had been the best player in the most recent World Cup.
For that remark I let him off those faux pas about Argentina and Luton!

* Rob Hadgraft's books on running and football can be browsed and purchased via the following links:
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