Monday, August 20, 2007

The Kumbo Marathon

We of the Mezam Stars Athletic Club travelled up to Kumbo this weekend for the Kumbo "international" Marathon (I being the one who made it international, although they didn't know I was coming until I arrived. Wishful thinking on their part, I guess.)

There were three distances, the veterans and "minims" (children) ran about 7.5k, the juniors (teenagers) ran what I think was probably about 21-25k and the seniors (adults) ran a marathon (42k) or maybe a bit more. . . Here are photos of Benedicta coming in 5th for the senior women and Emmanuel coming in 7th for the senior men.

The courses were all death-defyingly hilly. I ran the veteran's race of 7.5k and did my fastest pace time ever (5:35/mi) as I flew straight down the hill that started the course. Then, I had to climb a monster hill, descend again and finally climb up to the finish. My pace varied from 5:35 to almost 12:00 per mile! Even though we have all been training on hills -- doing from 200m to 600m uphill repeats for the past couple of months -- this course killed every one of us. Personally, I still came in second for the veterans (second overall and second woman), but that was out of a field of six. Unfortunately, they only gave prizes for the top 3 finishers of each gender in each race, so I was the only one who got any payout.

Oh yeah, people here, at least in my club, are not running for the sheer enjoyment of moving their bodies. They bust their asses in training because if they win one of the big races, they actually can make some decent money (the winner of the Njalla Quan marathon last April got 2,000,000 CFA which is $4,000 -- slightly less than my annual stipend and enough for a modest family to live on for a year). And if they are really good, they might catch the eye of one of the Cameroon Athletic Federation's sponsor managers who will pay for them to travel and compete internationally, thereby having the chance to win some real money.

Not only was there disappointment at the depth of the prizes awarded in Kumbo, but the prizes themselves were really small (the marathon winners each received 30,000 CFA or $60). For such a brutal course it seemed really unfair. And I learned why everyone was so keen to know what the prizes were going to be before we even decided to go. As it turned out, they kept saying they "didn't know" -- even up to the night before the race -- and especially those athletes who travelled from Bamenda to compete felt exploited. Even though we found free places to stay, transport cost each of us 4,500 CFA.

I have learned a lot working out with these folks who are actually trying to make a living at it. I know the situation has very recently improved for runners in the US with the advent of a few sponsored teams, but I also know that it can still be quite difficult to make a living at a sport that isn't football (either the "real" kind or the American kind), basketball or baseball.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Compliments and Injury


I am not happy.

My hip has been annoying me most of the week. Sore, but not enough to stop me from working out. I did yoga (but not on Saturday) and did some IT band stretches, but I wasn't really worried about it. Sunday, I headed out for a short and fast version of my long run (relatively speaking -- the Mezam River run which is 11.5 miles -- and my coach told me I needed to work on my speed). I was doing really well for the first half, averaging about 8:10 min/mi and running with Spencer, a new guy to our club. The second half was a bit slower, down to 8:30, but still I was doing well. The hip was bothering me, but that was all.

I did keep adjusting my pelvic tilt and my general form because the hip was getting tight enough to alter my gait a bit. Then, about 8 miles into the run, I can feel my piriformis getting tight, I think it was actually cramping. By 9 miles I had to actually walk up hill, I could not lift my left leg (this is all happening on the left, the right is totally fine). I was so not happy. I had been on track to reduce my time (and make my coach happy, which I noticed made a difference to me). By the time I got to the hill just below Veterinary Junction and met Benedicta (who came down to spur me to finish fast), I stopped altogether and snapped at her when she suggested that I keep running. Sorry about that.

This morning I didn't go do our workout, but did an hour of yoga instead, but the hip is still hurting a lot. I'm hoping that a physiotherapist I just met last night will agree to give me a consult sometime later today.

I'm not good when I'm injured. It makes me irritable. I hope I can remember at least occasionally to have some compassion for myself and for those around me when I'm bitchy. . .

On a more positive note, as we were running through Ntarinkon market, Spencer said something to me, so I turned off my iPod and asked him. "They called you Siri, Siri." he said. "What does that mean?," I asked, thinking it was yet another derogatory word for white person or woman or something. "It means they are calling you a daughter of Bafut because you have run all the way out there," he told me. Oh, well then. Gee, thanks guys. That's sweet.

Totally changed my opinion of Ntarinkon market!

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Marathon Long Run


Yesterday I covered the club's long run track. Emmanuel said it was 43km (almost 27mi), but my Garmin measured it as 25.7mi, although there was a bit of estimating there because I had hit Stop and not Start again for some period of time. So, it could have been a whole 42km (26.2mi).

I ran the first 18 miles with no walking and my pace was. . . fast. Particularly for that distance. Then I ran out of steam and started to seize up -- get stiff and sore. So a lot of miles 20-26 were walked. In the end, my time was 4.5 hours.

This was the first time in almost 22 years that I have run that far. The last time was when I ran the Chicago Marathon in 1985, when I was 23 years old. And I think my time was about the same. So, I must say I was duly impressed with myself. The most impressive thing is that after following my coach's advice, I got up this morning and did our weekly speed/strength workout. My 125m sprints were a bit slower than last week, but I finished the whole workout.

My right thigh is tight and a bit sore and my left hip is a bit sore. I can tell that I definitely have something going on with my psoas muscle, because I can feel it all the way from up in my back down to the front of my groin. Tomorrow's yoga session will focus on my hips, I think.

My coach's advice? First, take a warm bath (well, a bucket bath, but with warm water) and put salt in it. Then take a 45 minute nap, then eat something. So, I did just that and then laid around all afternoon (watching a DVD with episodes of "Blow Out" a truly American reality show) resting.

So all in all it is working. I am definitely getting faster. My average pace for this run was 10:30/mi, but the last 3-4 miles included a lot of walking. Up to mile 20 my pace averaged about 9:15/mi. My pace for the Mezam River mid-week 11.5 miler was 8:50/mi. Now I'm getting interested in what will happen the next time I run a race.

I might just be learning that following directions, being willing to take coaching from someone else, can produce results. I have always been so independent my whole life and the last few years have been increasingly so. It is an interesting experience to just follow and try my best to do what I am told. I like not having to interact with my mind at 5am. I just get up, get dressed and go. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Long runs, intrigue and steps

Sorry it  has been so long since I have updated my blog.

Two Sundays ago, I had a great long run (26km again). It was made particularly sweet by the fact that is was election day and there was a nationwide ban on commercial activity, which included a ban on taxis. For some reason, the motorcycle taxi guys were still able to roam around, so people weren't completely stranded, but since nothing was open, very few people were moving about much anyway. Easily 99% of the normal traffic was not there.

Last Sunday I did a shorter run, around 11.5 miles, because this week being the start of August our program changed and now includes speedwork and, this coming Sunday, covering the long track which is 43km (that's somewhat more than a marathon, just so you know).

This week -- Monday was a workout at Big Mankon (the name of the hill that the Catholic Cathedral sits on). We started with a bunch of intervals that were about 200m on a slight uphill (about 10% grade). I didn't count and don't have my watch to check the laps, but we did it for about 30 minutes and I think we did about 20 or so sprints with a recovery return. Then, we went over to the steps of the school and -- eegads -- did a series of stair exercises -- first just running up the stairs then down 10 times, then jumping up on two legs and walking down 10 times, then jumping up on one leg and walking down (only 5 times) and finally, jumping up "frog-like" and walking down 5 times.

I thought I was going to die. And Emmanuel and Benedicta just kept saying, "now you will hurt, but afterwards you will be able to run and feel no pain." Needless to say, this is occuring for me a bit like cod liver oil. . .

Wednesdays are "footing" which means a medium-length run (11.5 miles) and Friday we go back to the hill to Upstation and do 200m hill repeats (which I'm betting will really be 400m if prior estimates are any indication). So this is how the month of August will go. In September I think this will continue and we will add in afternoon track workouts at the stadium on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I'll take some photos of the stadium sometime soon so you can see what passes for a "track" here. It's a far cry from what we consider a track back in the US, even from what we considered a track back when I was in high school 30 years ago.

There has been a bit of intrigue in the Mezam Stars the last couple of weeks. Rumours that Som Imelda was a spy for her previous club & coach and was only in Mezam Stars to steal other runners. And she didn't come to practice for a couple of weeks. I saw her a couple of times in the neighborhood and she said she was sick and then went out to her village for a week. Today she finally came for practice again for the first time in three weeks, so we shall see how it all unfolds.