Monday, December 22, 2008

Dirt in shoes and wild cockatoos

Friday was mostly dry, so I awoke Saturday morning filled with hope that Id be able to run past the first river. I think we had a light shower when I first woke up, but it stopped pretty quickly. Although overcast, I didnt take any chances and filled a small water bottle with electrolyte water (Camelback Elixir quite nice, actually). The mud was worse than I was hoping it would be, forcing me to stop and wipe a few times, but I met a woman carrying potatoes to market and asked them if the path was still flooded on the other side of the river. no theres nothing” she said. Well. . .

Ran through the river and was feeling good on the other side. There was one really bad patch where I went up a bank and did okay for a few steps until I sunk into the mud up to MID-CALF. Lovely. I saw a few more people coming toward me and knew this was a very good sign, since all the villages are on the other side of the area that had been flooded out last week. So I was feeling good and confident. I heard a lot of noise overhead and looked up to see 6 or so white birds. I couldnt identify them they had a pretty wide wingspan which reminded me of egrets, but no long thin legs and their heads were quite thick. Hmm. As I approached the flood zone, I saw that yes, indeed, the water had abated considerably. But not totally. So not exactly the nothing the woman I met said. Everyone was just walking through it, including some small children, so I decided to just go for it. It was okay. It was a few meters on either side of the bridge and only went up to my thighs at one point. But. . . the yucky thing was that all sort of grit got into my shoes.

I made it out four miles, which included running through two more rivers, then turned around. Going through the rivers cleaned the biggest gunk out, but I could still feel all the pebbles or whatever underfoot. I didnt want to stop and clean my feet yet because I still had to go back through the swampy area. As Im running along, I notice something. This part of the path is bordered by wild groves of coconut palms. Interestingly, all the trees on the ocean side of the path are bare, but all the trees on the inland side are completely covered in vines and other plants. I wonder why that is.

As Im gazing up at the trees and pondering this, I see one of those white birds again. This time I try to concentrate and see if I can figure out what it is. While its flying, nothing comes to mind. But then it lands up in one of those coconut trees and lifts its head up and I realize, whoa, its a cockatoo! A wild cockatoo. Wow. Ive seen one or two in the village that people keep as pets. Now I see where they get them from. This whole area has many of them just flying around. Big, white cockatoos with very impressive pompadours (or whatever the correct name is for their feathers that come up from the top of their heads). Cool.

Slosh, slosh, slosh. I pass quite a few people mostly one or two adults with one or two children walking toward Buala. When I get back to the first river I stop and do the cleaning ritual. Get the shoes as clean as possible while still on my feet. Then remove the shoes and socks and wash the grit and gunk off my feet and out of the socks. Remove the orthotics and wash them and the inside of the shoes. Then put it all back together again. Much better!

As Im climbing the hill after the river (killer hill), it occurs to me that I only rarely ever see anyone else on this hill. But Ive seen people on the beach coming from those far out villages. Hmmm, so I wonder if there is some way *around* the hill that leads down to the beach. I bet there probably is. Thats something to go hunting for some day.

Got my 8 miles in. Drank my electrolytes. Felt okay. 26 plus miles for the week. Wouldve been more but I didnt feel like running Friday so I didnt and earlier in the week I wasnt able to do the 6 miles I had on the schedule.

Im thinking, re-thinking, wondering. I feel fine in my day to day life, but not so inspired in the running. Some days I feel beat at about 4 miles. Stale. Im not sure whats going on and Im wondering if I should take a break? Or just run however I feel like for awhile? For mostly spiritual reasons, Im considering doing a 7-10 day fast sometime soon. When I do that, I wont be able to maintain my current running schedule. Maybe I need a coach? Im feeling discouraged just by how difficult running feels here.

Something to pray about.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wondering if I should rethink this

When you are a runner living in a new place, one of the major adjustments you often need to make is to the weather. You need to learn the weather patterns and what they mean, what the implications for you and your running are. Like, what are the implications of 3 straight days of rain? How will beautiful sunshine and no clouds impact my running? After youve lived through an entire cycle or year, then you generally have an idea what to expect and can adjust your training plan to accommodate the weather, to the extent that you want or need to be accommodating (there is, after all, always the tough it out, never say die approach :-)).

I am right in the midst of this phase. Not only because Ive just moved to a new place on the planet that I have no familiarity with, but also because it is the changing of the seasons now. So far what I can tell is that we are moving from the time when it rains every couple of days for a few hours, generally at a convenient time (middle of the night, end of the day), to the time when I can rain virtually the whole day and night long for several days in a row.

Of course, I know I dont melt in the rain and, given the heat and the humidity, a nice rainshower during a run can be a blessing. But the rain all day and night for several days has implications which I discovered last Saturday morning when, with great enthusiasm, I headed out for my long run (which isnt even that long at only 8 miles, but I’m building back up). The best part of the long runs is that the first two miles are hilly, including one killer hill (400m up, 100m slightly up, 400m sharply up) and have some awful mucky mud stretches, but after I run through the river, it is flat, flat, flat with only a few awful mucky mud spots. Or thats how it was the last few times I’ve run out that far.

This time, ha! I crossed the river and was bitching to myself because someone had driven the tractor through there and really messed up the road after the river for a bit. Then I’m zooming along feeling pretty good when I look up and holy cow! the road was now a river, no make that a swamp. The whole thing! I stopped and surveyed the situation. The left side seemed somewhat higher ground than the right, so I attempted to go around the swamp that way, but waist-high plants made that impossible. So I thought, what the heck, lets just go through it. I ran in, trying to stay on the higher ground, so I could actually run. This worked for about 200m, then I was up to my calves in water, then my thighs. I turned the corner, saw the bridge and realized that the river must have overflowed its banks. It seemed just as wet on the other side of the bridge, but I insisted on getting to the bridge to see if there was some way through. When I got there and took a look at the water on the other side, blech. Not only was there more water on this side, but around the bridge, where Id first have to enter it, it was mucky and dirty.

What to do? I decided to turn back. When I got out of the swamp, I wondered if the tide was low enough that I could run on the beach, but I couldnt see any paths that led through the jungle to the beach. Now, in addition to being wet, my shoes were filled with little stones which was quite uncomfortable. I got back to the river and decided I had to stop and clean out my shoes, and as it turned out, my socks. In my head I was busily calculating if there was a way to still get in my 8 miles without going round and round the same track and I figured if I went to the end of Jejevo and then the path they call Jejevo back way, Id be pretty close. With a plan and stone free socks and shoes, I was feeling much better, although the sun was coming up bright and shiny (and hot!).

I walked up the second part of Killer Hill and the really steep part after Kubalota, but I was feeling okay. Went on the Buala village path, since that avoids the hill on the main road near my house, and was starting to feel drained. I stopped at the Provincial Guest House and got some water from their tank thank you! After Jejevo and Jejevo back way, I walked up the hill by the rope shop, but then managed to get all the way home and hit my 8 miles.

What a bummer, though. I wonder if that swamp is now permanent or if it drains away quickly? I hate the idea of being cut off from the one flat long distance available to me.

Weather. Like it or love it, it has implications.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Adjusting to village running

Well, I got back to Buala on Tuesday. No food in the house, so I lived on PB&J and tuna for a couple of days. Perhaps not surprisingly, I discovered that this is not really a sufficient diet for a runner. So I went out Wednesday morning and I was supposed to run 6 miles. Ha! I barely made it 4 miles. I had no energy at all. Running in the mud and up and down the hills, I felt dead, dead, dead. Oh, for the flat paved  main road of Honiara!

The rest of the week went better and I was looking forward to my 8 mile run on Saturday morning. Unfortunately, Friday night I started watching Season 1 of Ugly Betty, which I had found in one of the shops in Chinatown in Honiara. It completely possessed me. The next thing I knew, it was (oh my God) 1:46am! And I think I watched another episode! Oy vey. In the morning, too tired to think, I just bagged it. I knew there was no way I was going to make 8 miles on 3 hours sleep. I think at the time I thought Id skip church the next morning and run then.

But of course, the power of Ugly Betty was much stronger than me, and so Saturday night, I didnt get to sleep until nearly midnight. . . And I was debating with myself all day about the church thing. I had gone running instead of church last Sunday and I had not actually been back to Jejevo church since the week I came over to Isabel to check out houses. That was at least a month ago. There are a lot of reasons why going to church was important, not the least of which is that I would like to get permission to serve here. So, awake (enough) at 6 to go to church but not feeling up for the run, I bagged it again.

Monday morning I had good food in me (bought a big pack of lentils in Honiara and made myself a lentil stew and some boiled sweet potatoes), almost enough sleep (Sunday night I was able to break away from Betty at about 10pm), and knew it was now or never. Telling myself that running *something* was most important, and I could stop at 4 or 6 miles if I chose, I headed out. The first two miles are difficult. The second half mile is a muddy uphill then down, the next half mile is mud, then the killer hill (also muddy) then down. But then I crossed the river and it was flat, firm ground (except for the deep ruts where someone had driven a truck that shouldnt have been out there ruined the road, grrr). At three miles I was feeling really good and could see that it was all flat from here on out, so I decided to go for the full 8 miles. At 3.75 there was another river to cross and then at 3.9 another! Wet, wet feet, but I gotta say the cool water was quite refreshing (crossing a river means I actually have to run through it, the ones with bridges are too numerous to mention). On the way back, I stopped and splashed water on my face and neck. Fortunately, it would seem that either I have exceptional socks or Im just not very prone to blisters because despite running at least 4 of the miles in soaking wet shoes, there were no ill effects. This is a good thing as this road is the only path I know of that is longer than a mile or so, and it does require running through rivers.

This week, the catch up plan is to run 4-6-6-4-8-3 rather than the scheduled 4-6-4-6-3-8. Mostly this is because I know I cannot do the long run on Sunday and it is at least possible to get 3 miles in either before or after church. Its quite inconvenient that church here starts at 7am. . .

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

What it's like to run in Buala

My alarm goes off at 5:15am, but I usually dont get out of bed until 5:30a. It is so dark here when the sun is down there are not really any outside lights except on a few houses and no one leaves them on all night. Even though I know, intellectually, that the sun comes up very quickly, I still have not really adjusted to that. I go to the toilet and, sure enough, a little before 6 it is light outside. I thought it was raining but I look outside and it doesnt seem to be. Its a bit hard to tell because the river that runs by my house is so loud that it generally drowns out the sound of rain falling and there are so many trees around that its difficult to discern whether rain is falling or it is just trees dripping from rain overnight.

I get dressed and decide to wear a hat just in case it is raining cause the thing that bothers me is when rain falls on my face. I sweat so much that rain on my body wont make any difference. I walk downstairs and am happy to find my trail shoes are dry. I step outside so my Garmin 405 can catch the satellites while I lace up my shoes. Turn on the iPod nano, push the start button on my watch and Im off on todays 4-miler.

I run down the path from my house, appreciating the sticky soles on the trail shoes (La Sportiva Sonic TRs I bought in Boulder this past July) because the wet rocks are quite slippery. I turn right onto the main road (a wide dirt/rock road, what youd call a fire road in California) toward Jejevo. The shop where I bought my canned tuna is already open for business, I notice, but not many people are out yet. I hear people stirring in the staff houses as I pass by. (Housing is a huge issue in the Solomon Islands due to the way land rights work, so businesses, including the government, must provide housing if they want to employ someone from a different area. These staff houses are owned by the Provincial Government, where I work, for their staff.) I jump over a large puddle as I get to the clearing where the main road and the village path meet. As I crest the short hill, I see an umbrella approaching from the other side David, one of the honourable members of the Provincial Assembly, returning from an early morning trip to the shop. I almost dont recognize him in his t-shirt and shorts because Im used to seeing him dressed much more business-like.

As I descend the hill, I pass the generator which drowns out any other sound, including my iPod. Since the supply of fuel for it seems to be so erratic, I am surprised that they ran it all night when everyone was sleeping. But, of course, Im surprised its running at all because before I went to Honiara, we were lucky if it ran 4 hours a day. I am a bit worried about what will happen over the holidays since I wont be able to rely on the office generator if the town generator is not operating and Im quite attached to electricity!

I cross the bridge by the Mothers Union guesthouse and slosh through the field by Jejevo primary school, quiet now because school is out for the holidays, and past the Anglican church where a small contingent is participating in morning prayer. Shortly after this, I reach the creek which I usually cross, but last nights rain has swollen it and I decide not to run through since my turnaround point is only another couple hundred metres along.

On my way back, I pass another couple of people up and out early. When I get to the clearing, I turn down to go past the market and through the village. No one is in the market yet, but I hope some women show up later because I have no vegetables in the house.

The village is pretty quiet this morning, though I see a few children wandering between their outdoor showers and their houses. The path is quite waterlogged and many spots take a bit of jumping to keep from getting soaked. I notice that Barclay has framed the second floor of the house hes building. At the other end of the village I have to abandon the path and jump down to run on the beach for a few metres because a pond has formed. Back on the path, I pass the fuel depot and get to the part of the path where the mud starts. It takes a lot of concentration to constantly scan the road to see where I might be able to go that will cause the least amount of mud buildup. I do pretty well and am happy when I pass the really bad patch and start climbing the hill. On the way up, I greet Richard and three other men walking to work. I feel pretty good and make it to the top of the hill without even thinking about stopping. Coming down the other side is another exercise in concentration because now the mud is the red stuff that sticks to my shoes like glue. I decide to stay to the middle where there is some grass growing and this seems to be a wise move. I pass a woman who is shocked and amazed to see a runner, and a woman at that! I smile and say good morning, she laughs. Down at the bottom of the hill I approach Kubalota village, but the last couple hundred metres are under water and so I turn around there, checking my watch to see that Im sure to make 4 miles by the time I get home. After passing the laughing woman again, I hit the steepest part of the hill and walk a few yards. At the top, I remember the recent rockslide and look to see what theyve done. A couple of weeks ago in a hard rain, an enormous rock slid down and was blocking ¾ of the road. The rocks was the size of a small room! When I get to that part, there is the rocksomehow they managed to push it back into the side of the hill enough to clear the path. I wonder how they did that; the heaviest piece of equipment on the island is a tractor.

At the edge of the village, I bypass the pond and stay on the main road. With all this water, I really appreciate the work people have done to put rocks in the road so that there is some drainage. I ascend one more long sloping incline and come down to the bridge near my house. I glance at my watch as I turn onto our path and it says 4.1 miles so I stop and use the walk to cool down. Washing my shoes off I am pleased with my relative success in avoiding getting too caked with mud.