Monday, June 25, 2007

The Mezam Stars

Well, I went and met Som Imelda's coach and they ended up recruiting me to join their club. I have to say, as a 45 year old woman who was usually one of the last picked for the kickball team in grade school, it is quite an ego boost to have people pursue me to be on their team! And though they look pretty scruffy, appearances are very deceiving. Maum Emmanuel, the coach, has won many trophies as has his wife, Benedicta, who didn't even start running until she met him, after school. Benedicta was the 2nd woman in the Mt. Cameroon Race for Hope last year (32km of mostly mountain climbing & descending -- think Pike's Peak in Colorado if you're familiar with that) and won the Sonel Half-Marathon in Yaoundé. Needless to say, I was (hmm, still am) a bit intimidated by working out with these folks.

There are 12 people in the club -- the Mezam Stars (Mezam being the name of the Division where Bamenda is located) -- including me, although so far I have only seen 7 people that show up regularly to practice. We work out 4 days a week: Tuesdays are speedwork -- 200m hill repeats with the goal of doing 20 repeats in 30 minutes. Wednesdays are an hour of "footing" around the dirt track at the stadium. Fridays are an hour of hill repeats on the hill to Upstation (each loop is about .75 mi or around 1200m) with the goal of doing 10 in an hour. Sundays are long runs. Monday, Thursday and Saturday are rest days.

This is much more intense training than I have been doing. I started with them on Friday and my groin muscles are still tight from doing those hills. I did 8 repeats, plus I ran to the start and back home again which added a half mile warmup and cooldown. A bit over 7 miles. Sunday I ran with Benedicta and we did the "short run" which was supposed to have been about 10 miles, but according to my Garmin is was only 9.43 miles. Since I again ran to our starting point and home again, I added another 2 miles for a totall of 11.43. I plan to do a run on my own on Thursdays just so I can have some fun time and go out on trails (these guys are running almost exclusively on the road), but we'll see if I can handle that.

The nice thing about this schedule is that it opens up these mornings for me to do yoga -- it's the obvious thing to do on my "rest" days.

When I realized how much shorter the long run was than it was supposed to be, it made me wonder how Emmanuel determines the distances. I realized that I am so used to having a precision instrument and the freedom that gives me that I have forgotten what it was like "back in the old days" when I only had a Chronograph. When I leave here, I'll definitely give him my Garmin. And if I can get someone to donate a 305 (with the HRM), then I'd use that and give him my 205. That would definitely help him in creating our training plans.

They have an interesting system here. One thing is that all of the information about races (of which there are many, I am coming to find out) is passed from the Cameroon Athletic Federation through coaches of registered clubs. That seems to be the only way to find out what is scheduled. Secondly, some races have open registration, but many are only open to people with a license. (Yes, a license!) So, in addition to paying my club dues I need to pay a fee and either go to Yaoundé or send someone with photos to get me an athletic license. (One used to be able to get the license in Bamenda, but apparently the office here was not forwarding the money to Yaoundé, so now we have to travel down there to get the license.)

Everyone on the team has several pairs of shoes and they switch them. But they are raggedy as can be, at least by US standards. Emmanuel told me the first day that they don't have a sponsor. I'm hoping that somehow over the next year or so (sooner rather than later), I'll be able to get some support for us. What would be really excellent is to get someone or some business in the US or Europe to donate so that everyone on the team can have a couple of uniforms (shorts, shirts, track suits) and a couple of pairs of good shoes. And some running bras for the women and socks. (I shudder to think of what sort of bras they are running in. All I have ever seen here are cheap Chinese frilly bras. . .)

If anyone knows of any programs that might sponsor a team like us, send me a comment and let me know.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I met Som Imelda

I had a great long run today. 20K (12.4 miles) out in the country on Ndamukong road. After I got back, I realized that if I'd gone the other way on the road to Mforya, I would have gotten really close to the village. So I'm guessing it's probably about a half marathon to go there and back (quite close to where I was living a few months ago).

I received the replacement for my small camera that got stolen (sometimes the mail works REALLY well!), so I was excited to take it with me for my run. Check out my Flickr site (link on the right) for a couple of green, green panoramas. It's raining almost everyday now (usually only for an hour or two, though, not constantly), so things are growing like wildfire!

Today after I finished running, I was standing in front of my building filling my water buckets (for some odd reason, all the rain has not helped in resolving the water crisis in my building, hmmph) and this woman walks up to me and starts talking to me. "Ah so you are back," she says. (I'm confused.) "I saw you down there the other time." (I'm still confused.) "Where did you go today?" Still confused, I said I'd gone out Ndamukong road almost to Mforya. "Oh that is very good," she says. As the conversation progressed, I finally realized who she was -- the Cameroonian woman runner who I've seen a couple of times when I've been out running. She's quite distinctive for being about my age (I think, maybe she's older? She looked older in her civilian clothes), being in excellent shape and wearing actual running clothes. So now we are chatting and she's telling me about her training regimen (way more speedwork than I do!) and that she's on a team. She tells me the racing season starts in November with a half-marathon in Yaoundé and then there is a marathon in Limbe at the end of November. She also said she runs the Mt. Cameroon race. We're having a nice chat and inside I am like, "oh yea! I have hit the jackpot. This woman is hooked in to everything I've been trying to connect with since I got here! Yahoo!" In the end, she tells me her name is Som Imelda and asks if I'd like her to introduce me to her team and coach (would I ever!). So, we set up to meet at 7am next Wednesday at the municipal Stadium because they should just be finishing their workout about that time.

Yipee! I am so excited. And this is so incredibly African. Everything here happens through relationshps. All information is passed from person to person. It was impossible for me to find information on the Internet or through the newspapers or even through the Ministry of Youth and Sport. But I nod to a fellow woman runner on the road, she likes my style, and she reaches out to me. I love this about Africa. And now I am so psyched. Geez, maybe I'll actually workout with them once a week and start doing some speedwork!

"Happy, happy, joy, joy," as Ren and Stimpy would say. Life is good, ladies and gentlemen. Oh so good.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Upstation and beyond -- a road run

This morning's long run was up to Upstation and beyond. I got all the way to Santa sub-division (like the next county) past a village called Akum. It was all on the road, which is unusual for me (most runs, particularly long runs are primarily on dirt roads or trails), but it was a nice run. I didn't get out until 7am. I was about to head out at around 6:30a, but noticed that my iPod nano had almost no juice left and that would simply *not* do! So I went back in to charge it up.

The effect of leaving so "late" (by Cameroonian standards) is that there weren't too many people still out running and most were coming down the hill. But it was nice to be out with other people nonetheless. And I learned something. The way you greet other runners here, to cheer them on, is to clap. That's different for me and took a bit more coordination than I was expecting. Later in the run I noticed that young men who want to cheer me on make a gesture that in my culture is considered vulgar -- it involved a closed fist moving up and down. After about the fifth guy did it, I got that this is just one of those cultural differences and I could just remind myself that they did not mean by it what it meant to me!

After the Customs station at the top of the hill, I didn't see any other runners (although on my way back I saw 3 serious cyclist -- on road bikes, with bug like sunglasses, advertising filled spandex bike outfits and, extremely unusually, bike helmets!). Biking up that mountain seems way more daunting to me than running it. Good for them! I ran past several trading centers and I don't think many people run out past Upstation because people definitely looked at me like I was an alien species. But maybe that's just the "white man" thing. It was a nice run, 12 miles and really beautiful. It is green and luscious up there and, after Upstation, totally rural. And it was cold. I didn't realize that I had a breeze at my back on the way out until I turned around. It was just a breeze, but the air was really quite chilly, even in the sun. That was a surprise. There were only two more major hills after getting to the top of Upstation, which was nice. It wasn't much more hilly than the road from Bafoussam to Foumban (but that one goes down from Bafoussam, so the big uphill is at the end, not as nice).

Maybe someday I'll actually go off the pavement and explore some of the side roads up there. When I get a replacement for my little camera, I'll do another run and take photos so you all can see how stunningly beautiful it is. It really makes running a sweet, sweet experience to have so much eye candy.

Saturday, June 02, 2007


The last week or two have found me doing some exploring on my runs. The same old routes that I've gotten used to are a bit stale and so I've wandered a bit further off the beaten path. I love to explore, but I hate to be lost, so I'm often in this tension between going off to see where some path goes and taking the "safe route" that I know.

One drawback of exploring is that I can overshoot or undershoot my intended distance for the day. Last week I was in Yaoundé and ran from the Faculté de Thèologie in Etoa Meki to Mt. Fèbè. When I got to the top, I met two other ex-pats, Phillippe and Lindsay, who invited me to run with them. They were going down the other side of the Mount with which I was unfamiliar, so I was happy to have them show me the way. It was a great run down -- fast and loose. They turned off to climb up another hill while I headed back home via the Palais de Congres. The whole run was great and I got to see a new section of Yaoundé, but the run ended about a half mile short of what I had wanted to run.

This past week, I was exploring back here in Bamenda. When I look out my window, I see this large school on the hill across the valley. Now I've learned that the school is GBHS (Gov't Bilingual High School). Someone told me that "down, down" behind GBHS is a playing field with a track. I've been considering doing some speed work and a track would be very handy, so I thought I'd go try to find this place. Now I have gone around that area three times looking for this playing field, but I have not succeeded in finding it. But again, I've discovered whole new routes to run. It helps having a mission, even if I do not succeed!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Phedippidations Worldwide Half Marathon

Well, I could wait to possibly, maybe find an organized marathon or half-marathon OR I could be a D-I-Yer in the Phedippidations Worldwide Half Marathon. Being the impatient type and wanting a plan, I have just registered for the PWWHM. And I'm the first entrant in Africa! (42nd overall so far). Come on and join us! You can either run an organized event or do your own thing. The dates are 13-14 October, so you have plenty of time to train. There is a forum where you can chat with others and get support and advice; there are training plans available, and if you or perhaps your significant other are new to running, there is also a 5K option. I'm stoked.

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