Monday, November 23, 2009

Heartbreak and mud

Well, its my own fault. I knew I should have sent a message or two to check on the progress of my Garmin 405, but it kept slipping from my mind. Katie did give it to Laetitia and Laetitia did bring it to Paris with her. But then she forgot about it and brought it back to Bukavu in her bag. Arrgghh.

So now what do I do? My choices either try to find another way to send this back to the US. Its coming on Christmas and several people are going back there for the holidays, so thats not impossible, but no one will go back soon enough for it to get fixed and sent to Peter before he comes to Congo. I heard that one person is actually going to be in the US (and it sounds like in one place) for 3 weeks, so that is a definite possibility, although Id have to rearrange things with Garmin. But that also means I wont have it back until the end of January.

Other options? Buy a new one and get it sent to Peter or maybe even to someone in Nairobi where Ill be around Christmas or to my friend in Cameroon who I will be meeting up with in Benin at the new year. But $370 plus shipping for an extra month? It sounds crazy, but I hate not having it now and that month Im going to be in some cool places that I could get recorded if I have the Garmin.

We live in a very well-connected world. Even here in Africa, youd be amazed at how well-connected we are. However, when electronic things break here, repair becomes very difficult. I already found this out when the power supply of my netbook got burnt out. I tried everything Bukavu, Kinshasa, Kigali, Nairobi, Germany, Amsterdam and finally had to buy a new one in the US and have it sent to me via DHL (we have no postal system here in the DR Congo). My last Garmin, a 205, was mine for 3 years and then I gave it to a Cameroonian friend and it is still going strong, so I certainly expected that Id have no problems with the new one.

I know I could use this as a lesson in detachment, but I dont wanna.

Im back in Bukavu now and went out for an 11 mile run today, but of course, without my Garmin I have no idea the distance. So I planned to run for 110 minutes (1 hour and 50 minutes). I think I did actually run around that, but my Timex watch said 1:37:14. However, I know this has to be wrong because it is not humanly possible to get from where I was at 66 minutes to my house in 30 minutes, so I must have pushed the stop button and not pressed it on again for about 15 minutes or so.

Its raining a lot in Bukavu now and obviously has been doing this for awhile, because everything is wet and even looks wet when it hasnt been raining for hours. It rained yesterday all afternoon, but not overnight, so I got up and went out thinking it wasnt going to be too bad. I wore my trail shoes (La Sportiva Fireblades) because Ive been wearing my Brooks Trance everyday for the last month and my other shoes are Nike Lunar Trainers which are really useless when it is the least bit slippery. The road I live on was not bad at all, not too slippery, not too wet, but when I got up to the more main road in our quarter it was almost all mud. Then, when I got to the road that goes around the Bay and meets up with the paved road, that was pretty bad. Huge puddles without even an edge to run on; dry portions that had been walked on by so many that they were slick as ice; and a nice couple of inches of watery mud everywhere. By the time I got to the pavement, I was so happy that I preferred going up the endless hill. I made it all the way to the top without stopping, which felt good and then cruised along for awhile, relieved to be able to relax a bit and not have to be careful with every step.

I stopped at 49 minutes and ate my Clif Blok and drank some water. I was not at all hungry or thirsty, but my coach told me to, so I did. Then I went up and over the little hill before Nyawera market, through a stretch of mud and started ascending the hill to Centre Ville. Its a long hill, but quite gradual, so if I just pace myself its not too hard. On the other side, it descends and descends and descends and I started to just zoom down it, made all the more fun because a young girl (in her Sunday dress and flip flops) joined me. I knew that I would have to turn around and climb up the hill, so I decided to really enjoy going down and we were really flying. We went a bit on the flat part, then I stopped and started to turn. I asked her name (Doras) and told her mine and shook her hand. That was 66 minutes and I was 20 minutes from the roundabout that is 12-15 minutes from my house, and I walked up the steep section of hill I had just come zooming down. (Thats why I know the watch was wrong.)

On the way back, I was facing traffic, which I actually think is not such a great idea because it just makes me nervous or annoys me (when I see how close the cars and motorbikes come to me). Either way, I simply have to trust that they will not hit me and if they are coming from behind, I dont have to know how close they are. . .

The La Sportivas were rubbing on my right Achilles tendon a lot and then it started to hurt on the outside of my right ankle also. My left foot was completely fine. All I can think is that they are so built up in the heal area that it is too much for me. So I may take some scissors or a knife and cut them down or something. Ive never been one to modify my shoes this way, but Im not getting any different shoes until the end of January, so I have to use these and Im *not* interested in getting injured. I had an Achilles tendon injury when I was a teenager (tore both of them when I went for a 12 mile hike in the snow in new hiking boots the old-fashioned kind that were hard leather and very heavy). That was horrible and took me months to recover from and I was only 16.

Thinking about modifying the shoes actually came to me because I remembered meeting some guy (and I cant at all remember who this was or even where it was) who had cut the toes out of his shoes because the shoes were a bit too small. I remember being a bit shocked at the time. The shoes looked like they belonged in the trash heap. But now I think that made a lot of sense. Why waste an otherwise perfectly good pair of $100 shoes if you can modify them to work for you?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Running all over eastern Congo

Sorry I havent written for awhile. Ive been traveling for the past month and running in some very different places: Kalemie, Kabalo, Lubumbashi, Goma. I am very much looking forward to returning home to Bukavu tomorrow, even if it means running in mud.

Kalemie was great. Much warmer than Bukavu and drier, though it has daily whopping thunderstorms. Fortunately, those storms came rolling through around 4am and were gone by the time I wanted to go running at 6am. But it is quite an experience to see the thunder and lightning rolling across Lake Tanganyika and coming right at you! Kalemie is also very flat and the road that isnt paved is sandy, so running there was quite easy. I even ran barefoot on the beach one morning. That was interesting because it meant running through what are essentially peoples bathrooms. There is a womens section and a mens section and as I ran along people were washing their dishes, their clothes, their children and themselves jump in the lake and get wet, come out and soap up (Dettol soap is great for this, it really foams up and sticks to you), then jump back in and rinse off.

I was in Kalemie over a few weeks and so got to do a few long runs. On one I ran along the northerly road through village after village, past markets and schools and churches. The sandy road and lack of rock meant I didnt need to keep my eyes on the ground all the time and could look up and ahead, which was great. Another long run was straight east out of town and that road was much more red, clay dirt and small rocks. It also was straight into the bush. After a mile, there were few, if any, houses and rolling hills. Very nice and very solitary.

Kabalo is a small town on the Congo river which also has very sandy soil with no rocks at all. I ran one day in shoes and then one day in my bare feet, which worked really well, except that the ground was very hard packed, so four miles was as much as I could do.

Lubumbashi was a whole other ballgame. Flat, nearly perfectly paved roads moving out of the city like spokes. I ran a different direction everyday and only a few times did I make it to the end of the paved road. It was so different than the terrain Ive been running on for months. It was so much more like running in the US.

The bad news is that during my first week in Kalemie, my Garmin 405, the love of my life, died. No manner of resets or recharges or anything would revive it. Luckily, one of my colleagues was heading back to Bukavu and another colleague was heading to Paris. So I reluctantly turned over my baby and hope that it is by now on its way to the service center in the US where they will bring it back to life. Then it will get sent to another colleague in New York who is coming to Congo in January. That is a long, long time (end of Oct to end of Jan) without my Garmin and it is rather disorienting. I dont even have my Timex Chrono watch with me, just an analog watch. So now I can only run by time and even that is an estimate. I have no idea my real distance or pace. You may all sympathize! ;-)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ups and downs

I seem to be in a motivational trough at the moment. The week after my last post, I went up to Goma for a meeting and while I was there, I ran in my Vibram FiveFingers for the first time here. It was great 4 miles but my calves! Oy, they hurt like. . . for more than a week. Why did it they hurt so much from running on the lava soil of Goma when this didnt happen (not to this extent) when I ran on the beach in Zanzibar?

When I returned from Goma, I got a cold. Too many sleepless nights, too much sugar, too much beer and too much stress. Not a big surprise all in all. But something about the cold really sapped me. Even now, though I have few symptoms, I often feel like I am not getting enough oxygen and Im tired as a result. And then I just dont feel like running. So I ran a few times last week, but havent run since Thursday (today is Sunday). Im heading to Kalemie on Tuesday and will be on the road for the next month. Im hoping that will re-motivate me. We shall see.

It is interesting, though. I really feel like God is trying to teach me to be nicer  and more forgiving to myself. So, I’m trying that.

I tried, again, to look for an online coach. But every time I post to any runners forum anywhere, I either get no response at all, or someone is snarky with me. I dont really understand this. I know there are lots of online coaches. But maybe they really arent interested in helping fellow runners but just want to post some generic plan and make lots of money? Id hate to think that, but I’m surprised that no one seems at all interested in working with me. I mean, I can pay a reasonable fee. I just need a personalized approach because I run on what are essentially trails (not a lot of pavement here in the DR Congo) and I have some food allergies that mean I cant follow most of the advice in Runners World. But I’m not *that* weird. . .

If anyone has any ideas or recommendations, Im interested.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The rainy season begins!

And my lesson for the day is, don't believe what a non-runner tells you.

This morning I went out for my scheduled 12 mi run. I really wanted to run up the hill and into the neighborhoods -- Kadutu and Panzi and beyond -- rather than going to the border, then Centre Ville and then out by the port. Mostly because although the second choice is paved, it also means dealing with a lot more cars and trucks. But it started raining (finally!) this week and I was afraid that Kadutu and Panzi might be one big mud slosh. Thousands of people, motorcycles and cars and large trucks, and one of the major routes into and out of town, all on a dirt road seemed like a formula for seriously slippery mud to me.

But, on the other hand, we had driven to Kadutu market yesterday and didn't find much mud, mostly nicely hard packed and rocky dirt with the dry season dust washed away. So, I had a conversation with our guard about what he thought the road conditions would be like. He said, no there won't be any mud there now. It rained overnight when no people were walking on it and not many cars. No problem.

Oh, oh, oh how wrong he was. View the photo -- my once white-ish Brooks Trance, my foot even under the muddy sock was full of mud, and that went all up my legs.

Otherwise it was a fine run and I did, finally, do 12 miles. But next time I am definitely wearing my trail shoes. There were spots where I simply had to walk because it was so slippery it was treacherous. Other places, I tried to run delicately in muddy sections where there were some rocks underneath to provide some traction, but on more than one occasion I upset a few people as I passed because I must have splashed some mud on them. (Africans' ability to navigate through mud so that the tops of their shoes and their pants & long skirts stay clean is absolutely amazing.)

The mud was really pretty incredible. It is not the sticky red stuff we had around Bamenda. It is darker brown and slippery. Running through some of these areas today, it is hard to imagine that they will ever again be dry. The mud was easily several inches deep. Maybe they won't ever be dry again until the next dry season. Scary thought. It's not just that people walking (and running) risk falling, but there are cars and minivans and rather large trucks that slide around in the stuff and could easily hit you. It takes a lot of focused attention to run in these conditions, particularly in regular running shoes. I do hope the trail shoes help with the slipping, though I bought them when I was in the Solmon Islands and have never tried them in mud (La Sportiva Fireblades).

I have to give credit to the Brooks, though. They did good work. They have good traction, just not sticky soles.

Next week, I think I'll stick to the tarmac. . .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Barefoot on the beach

I'm in Zanzibar for a week of R&R and having a great time. I spent the first half of my time in Stone Town -- a town of narrow, narrow "streets" (too narrow for any kind of car), tall buildings and (mostly) Muslims observing Ramadan. It is also completely paved and flat, which was a distinct change from the conditions I'm used to running under in Bukavu. I ran north one day, south the next, each around 10K, and the third morning I did a fast 5k loop around town (which required adding on a bit because the perimeter of old Stone Town is only about 2 miles). So many sights and sounds! Women in everything from Western dress to bhurkas; lots of people riding bicycles; dalla dallas (open sided busses); gazillions of mosques, a couple of churches and several Hindu temples; beautiful architecture everywhere; the ocean and palm trees and boats. . .

After 5 days in Stone Town, I hopped a dalla dalla and went to Matemwe where I found powdery soft white sand beaches, palm trees swaying in the sea breeze, bungalows with grass thatched roofs, and resorts from the ultra-economical to the ultra-luxurious. The beach sand was so awesome I was clear that I had to run barefoot. Anything else seemed a desecration. When I got to my room, I took of my sandals and haven't put anything on my feet since. Now *this* is a vacation! Here's a photo of the beach I ran in, so you can eat your heart out. :-)

When I arrived, it was afternoon and low, low tide. There was about a 1/2 km shallow area before you saw the waves from the ocean. So, I was a bit surprised when I awoke the next morning and there was barely enough beach to run on! But there was just enough. I ran two miles south down the beach, turned and went back, for a total of 4 miles my first time out. South from where I am staying is predominantly a string of other resorts, so there are few boats on the beach to block the way and not very many locals hanging out. Running in bare feet was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I felt no aches and pains afterwards, except. . . aach! I got a blister on the bottom of my right big toe. It wasn't too big, so I sterilized a pin and popped it and figured it would just roughen up.

Let me tell you about this sand. . . Wow. It is white, white, white which means it is cool, even at the hottest time of the day. There is some yellowed sand around the bungalows where I am staying and that can get pretty hot, but not the white sand. In some places it is literally like powder, but on most of the beach it is pretty hard-packed. There are places where it looks firm but is quite soft, so as I ran I had to "pick my line", but it was really easy to run on. There was one section that was canted toward the ocean, but since I had to come back the same way, I figured it would even out. And it is clean -- no glass or metal or rocks to worry about. There are pieces of coral, but even when I stepped on a few of these, they just sink into the sand, so it didn't hurt.

The second day, I first went north for a bit (there are cliffs that start after about 3/4 of a mile, so I could only go that far) and then went back south, covering about 5 miles for the whole run. It, too, was a good run although there was some occasional stabs of pain from the blistered toe, but it didn't seem that bad. However, I did discover that there is one hazard I had to watch out for -- shit. As in human. All the locals apparently do their business right down on the beach (yes, the beach that they will later come out to work on and play on). Sheesh. At least in the Solomon Islands they would go into the water. And they're not even as sanitary as cats. Just like dogs, they go out, leave their business and walk away. I was beginning to see why the higher end resorts protected the beach in front of them. So for the whole first 1.5 miles or so (as far north as I could go and back), I had to keep one eye on the beach to dodge piles of poo and the other eye up to dodge boat masts (which stick out from the front of the boats about 2 feet and are thin enough that you cannot see them until you nearly run into them). It was much nicer once I passed that area.

When I got back to my room, however, the blister on my toe had doubled in size and was now red. Hmm, not good. I went snorkeling and hoped the salt water would do it some good, but it hurts. This morning I did yoga (which actually hurt the toe more than running did, but maybe just because I was more aware of it!). Tomorrow I want to run longer -- 8-10 miles if I can -- so I may put on shoes and go run through the local villages and onto the paved road.

I wanted to start to try barefoot running and it was a great, great experience. I used to run a bit on the beach when I was a teenager and never felt any ill effects from it. But in Bukavu, it seems like it would be quite difficult. The roads are mostly dirt, but there are lots and lots and lots and lots of rocks. However, when I get back, I think I may just go out and try it with my Vibram Five Fingers. I've walked around in them there with no trouble at all. Now that I know I don't have to start with 1/4 mi run, I'm up for trying it out there.

And for my next pair(s) of shoes, I'm quite interested in finding neutral, low profile, not very cushioned shoes. I ran in stability shoes for ages because I thought I over-pronated and I knew I didn't like heavily cushioned shoes. But after developing pain in my feet in the Solomon Islands, I went to a podiatrist who informed me, basically, that my shoes were causing the problem. I also went to a running store that had a treadmill and a video camera that did gait analysis and it was really clear that I run just fine in totally neutral shoes. In fact, the more neutral, the less I pronate. So now I have Brooks Trance, which are "slightly" stability ('cause I just bought them new two days before I went to the chiropractor) and Nike Lunar Trainers. But I wear my orthotics with both of them, particularly the Lunar
Trainers, because they give me arch support and a firmer ride. When I ran in the Lunar Trainers out of the box, they were so soft (and wide in toe box) that my foot swam around I got blisters on the insides of my big toes. The orthotics helped with that and then I switched to a pair of green Superfeet that I had and they work even better. The Superfeet have a plastic heel cup and a plastic arch, so the ride is very firm.

What I really want is a pair of neutral shoes that aren't so soft. I don't like all the cushioning. That's why I've always liked Brooks (Adrenalines, Axioms and now the Trance), but neutral shoes are heavily cushioned. Hmm, I just remembered that I have a pair of Nike Frees back in the US that I never ran in. I just wore them to walk around. Now I think they might be quite good for running. They are much less cushioned than the Lunar Trainers. Wish I had thought of that a month ago when I had a friend send me a bunch of stuff. Harrumph.

Ah well. At any rate, I'm not due for new shoes for another 6 months probably, so I'm keeping my eye out. Maybe I should try racing flats? Except I don't think they give any/much arch support. . . If anyone has any recommendations, let me know.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Weight down, Running up, Yea!

Yes, indeed, I am running pretty well these days and since Ive come to the Congo, Ive nearly lost all the weight I gained after leaving Cameroon. Sometimes the universe just makes it so abundantly clear where you are meant to be. If only I would always listen!

So, Id like to lose about 5 more pounds (about 2kg) and then Ill be perfect, but Im pretty darned chuffed (as my British friends would say) with my body even now.

Tomorrow Im scheduled to run 12 miles for the first time in a long, long time. But I think Im ready for it. Ive run 10mi each of the last two Sundays. Two weeks ago, the easy 10 most of it on our one paved road and then last week, the hard 10 out through Kadutu which included more hills, nearly all dirt road, and dodging crowds of people. So, tomorrow, Ill do the easy 12 extending the paved road route as far as possible in all directions and then next week either do a shorter run to recover or do the hard 12. The paved road is pretty limited unless I go down through the port and head north. Theres a Chinese company thats been extending the pavement that direction. I havent been out there in 6 weeks or so, so I dont know how far theyve gone, but the part of the road from the centre ville down and past the port is massively crowded with cars and so not terribly inviting.

Today is 15 August which means it rains. And it did. Not much, just a bit. But apparently its a signal. Every year it rains on 15 August and then we have 2 more weeks of the dry season and then the rainy season starts for real the beginning of September. Today a couple of my colleagues were telling me that it really rains. Very hard and all day long. Oh joy! Thank goodness I have a pair of trail shoes because my entire neighborhood is now under about 3-4 inches of dust which will pretty instantly become mud when it rains. As long as I dont kill myself slipping and falling, and I can keep the right frame of mind, it might be fun.

Ill keep you posted.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Africa can be awfully cold

This week I went out into the field to meet some of our partner organizations and observe two of my staff lead an orientation for them. This took me to the hill towns of Kaziba and Luhwindja. During the day, the weather was quite pleasant a bit cooler than Bukavu at noon, but sunny and somewhat warm. But at night, holy cow! Literally as soon as the sun started to descend, the temperature plummeted. I slept deeply buried under a wool blanket. And getting out of bed in the morning to go running soo difficult! I brought a good windshirt so the top of me was warm enough, but I wished I had brought my Capri running pants rather than just shorts. And GLOVES. The second day I went running, I wore socks on my hands so they wouldnt become totally numb. Dont be fooled, Africa can be awfully cold.

Running around Kaziba was nice, though. Oh, well, except the other thing was the dust. The first day I went up to the village of Lukuba and there wasnt as much dust. In some places, the road was very hard packed and smooth which was really nice. But the second run, I went the other direction and went through dust that was easily 6 inches deep in places. I shudder to think what the rainy season must be like there.

Its beautiful up in the mountains. Kaziba is actually in a valley, surrounded by hills and even in the dry season, things are quite green. The altitude is pretty high, though, as the tops of the hills were treeless not from cutting but because they were taller than the tree line (thats what we call it in the US the altitude above which trees cant grow). And I was quite the amusement for everyone. I intentionally wore my IRC cap rather than my generic grey one (which I would never do in Bukavu) because I knew I would be the talk of the town and I thought Id just let everyone know why I was there. The older women walking to their fields in the morning were the most astonished, I think, to see a woman running, and a white one at that.

Saturday I went for my long run. 8 miles which is long for me at the moment, but it still feels odd to call that long. Next week, Im going to up it to 10 miles, which really seems like the entry point for long to me. The great news about Saturday is that a) I ran the whole way, including up, up and up the hills and b) I did NOT get lost. Victory! Ah the simple joys of life. My route was safe and boring straight up and into the neighborhood called Kadutu and out the road we had gone on to Kaziba. The road is pretty busy in one section theres a big roundabout that seems to primarily function as a truckstop, and just beyond that is a fork in the road known locally as Essence. This is the fork where last week I turned right and got lost, because turning right avoids the thickest part of the crowd. But this time I barreled on, happy that something rather loud was playing on my headphones to at least modify the many, many comments I got from onlookers. I really had to be nimble on my feet to avoid running into people, but it was fun to be able to move at twice the speed (or faster) of any vehicles. Oh, why is it called Essence? Because there are about 50 guys there selling illegal petrol/gasoline (essence in French) in plastic bottles. Reminded me of Maroua.

The whole first 3 miles of this run is mostly uphill, with some flat parts for relief, which I didnt really register until I was coming back and got to just fly downhill. That was great and very relaxing! And I really noticed the difference in running on pavement. About 1/3 of this route is on pavement. It is so nice to not have to keep my focus on the ground the whole time and my pace was faster. Maybe next week Ill do the local traditional border to Governors office route which would be tarmac the whole way once I get out of my neighborhood.

This week I did all the runs on my schedule (though Friday was a bit short cause I was late and had to get to work) and it feels really good to put in a good solid week and not feel exhausted. Ive lost some weight since I got to the Congo and want to lose another 10lbs (5kg). I can already feel the difference, though. Things are definitely looking up!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wherein Tracy gets lost yet again

Okay, so every week since Ive been in Bukavu, Ive gotten lost on my Saturday morning long run. This week was no exception and it was  a doozy. I really, honestly meant to do out and back, the same route, but somewhere I turned wrong and way overshot my return. So, I was out there, climbing and descending hills for a good 45 minutes longer than I expected. Bukavu is just a series of hills, some of them incredibly steep at least the walking paths that everyone uses are very steep. I was really feeling it in my knees, though Im happy to report that my knees feel fine today. So maybe this is really good training.

So, the plan was to run 8mi and to go up behind Nyawera market toward or to the neighborhood known as Kadutu. I did fine going out, though I did walk up 1.5 of the 3 sequential hills. It was nice that the shops werent really open because Kadutu is a very crowded area, but it wasnt yet when I was running through there. (This is all relative, mind you. There were still plenty of people yelling out mzungu, mzungu, children running after me, etc. But I went back there later in the afternoon to visit the Kadutu market the largest in Bukavu and then it was wall to wall people. Literally there would have been no way to run.) I ran up and up and up, then down and up and down and up and many times came to roundabouts or intersections with 3-5 roads. I thought I kept going straight, but when I saw my route mapped out in SportTracks later, it was clear that I turned right at some point. My watch had given me the low battery warning before I left, but it still had 20%, so I was hoping it would last. At 4 mi I turned around (and the watch was still working).

After climbing the first hill on the way back, I got a bit confused and took the road to the right which I thought was a road I had seen from the *other* road when I was coming down and I thought they met at an intersection not very far away. But when I got to the next intersection, nothing looked at all familiar. Because I thought I had run straight out, I thought I could just feel my way back.  After awhile, thinking several times that I knew where I was and then realizing that I had no clue, I came to a woods and had the choice to either keep moving forward and level or taking a deep descent. Totally baffled, I finally asked some guys (since, frustratingly, men generally speak at least some French and women rarely seem to and I do not speak Swahili. . .) and they said they would accompany me. I said I wanted to run, but that turned out to be folly as we were descending so steeply that it would have been unsafe. At some point I ended up ahead of them and almost went the wrong way (since I kept wanting to follow what looked more or less like roads whereas everyone walks on these sort of back alley paths that wind between the houses), but they called me back. Somewhere around there I lost track of them, but that was the last part of the descent.

Shortly thereafter, I was again confronted with a choice this nice wide road that veered left which seemed to be away from where I should go vs. a footpath that went to the right, but where? Again, I asked a man (and then was joined by a couple of others). I had the great advantage of knowing that all I needed to do was get back to Nyawera market, which is a landmark known by all. This time, when I asked which way to Nyawera, they asked me if I wanted to go by car or foot. I looked at them oddly and said, hmm, by foot, thank you. Would you be okay taking the footpath? they asked. Is that shorter? I replied. Yes, Then thats the way I want to go. Rather amazed, they told me to take the footpath and that would lead down then up to someplace, the name of which I didnt really catch, from where I could descend to Nyawera. Going down was really quite easy and I got to run again for awhile, but when I crossed over a main road and started to ascend, I was back on a steep, narrow, rocky (and dusty) footpath. At one point I passed an older woman climbing up with a bundle of something. Awesomely strong the women are here.

I get to the top and there is a main road. I only have a vague idea where I am, so I dont know if I should go right or left. There werent any people standing around except for 3 policeman in their bright yellow shirts and hard hats (they are quite cool looking, the traffic police uniforms). Taking the decision that they are supposed to serve the public and therefore would be sympathetic to me, I went and asked them which way to Nyawera. They said go left and turn right at the intersection that was about 50 yards away. I did that and voila! I recognized that I was at the top of the first hill above Nyawera. It was so nice to feel asphalt under my feet again that I decided to stay on the main road and not take the flatter dirt road.

Returned home almost 2 hours after I left and I have no idea how far I really ran because the watch conked out at 4.47 mi which was about 10 feet after I took my first wrong turn. . . I tried to map out where I think I went (theres a big gap in the middle where I have no idea how I got from where I knew I was to where I ended up) and it looks like I probably covered 8.75-9 mi, though a heck of a lot of that was scrambling up and down hillsides, not running.

Another Bukavu adventure!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Well, in fact it rained last night (which I was clueless about until one of my roommates told me, must have slept well), which greatly lessened the dust this morning, but still, it has been DUSTY. When I get into the shower every morning, I have to rinse myself thoroughly even before soaping up.

I have a few established routes the tour of our peninsula is 5k; if I add on the road that goes around the bay, that makes it about 4.5mi. Then I have ventured to the other side of the main road into neighborhoods where they are quite surprised to see a mzungu running on the morning. Yesterday I wanted to do my longer-ish run which I wasn’t able to do Saturday since we headed to the field at 6am, so I decided to explore a bit. Roger told me that the road to the right at the intersection at the end of my road led past the Governors mansion, so I took that and the Governors mansion was definitely worth seeing. Quite nice grounds. Then, I went up hill and came out by Nyawera market. I thought Id go by the market back toward my part of town, but somewhere I stayed right when I should have veered left. It wasnt until I returned home and could look at my route in SportTracks, on a satellite map, that I saw where I went wrong. In the meantime, I was running along, mounted a hill (where I realized I wasnt where I thought I should be, but was still curious about where I was), and ended up deep inside a neighborhood packed with people (since it was only a holiday for IRC and it was around 8:30am by this time). I reached the end of the road, turned around, and got back to an intersection, where I saw a nice wide deserted road going around a hill. That seemed nice, so I took that road. It wound around the hill on the top of which was the military camp. I had seen this from a distance and as I rounded the bend I realized why it was there. Across and below me was the border with Rwanda. There was the bridge over the river, across the way was a Rwandan military camp. I followed the road down, hoping it would actually circle this hill. But it went down to the dam where our electricity comes from and ended there. So I had to climb yet another hill and backtrack. This was a nice part of the run, however, except for the fact that for the whole 2 miles or so I saw only one other woman on a very deserted stretch.

Back at the intersection, I tried one road briefly until I realized that it only went up to the camp. I returned to the intersection again and went back down the original road I had come up on. When I got to the bottom, I found a well-traveled alley which climbed up one hill, then another, where I found myself on the road I had originally meant to be on. Surprise, surprise! Winding my way back home, my run was exactly the  7 miles it was supposed to be, according to my training plan, even though a thousand times along the route, I decided I was too tired and wanted to cut it short. Ah well.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Exploring Bukavu

Part of me likes exploring a new town and part of me gets annoyed that I dont already know where to go to cover a certain distance. So, we are in that beginning phase now where Im getting to know Bukavu as a runner. I have heard that Sunday early mornings are when all the weekend warriors are out running from the border (w/Rwanda) to the Governors office about 14km round trip that includes no less than 3 killer hills each direction. This habit of going out for a hard run once a week seems to be an African pastime (at least in Bukavu and Bamenda). Interesting. Id be afraid of getting injured or sure that I wouldnt have the stamina, but that doesnt seem to faze them. Anyway, I didnt get up this morning to partake in the festivities, but maybe next weekend. The problem is that there is a sort of standing date every Saturday night among the ex-pats that work with me at IRC and their friends which rarely ends early and the English-language church service on Sundays is at 7:30am. So that leaves little time to get a run in.

But my explorations have uncovered some good routes. There is the route within my neighborhood which can be configured several ways to make about 5k or a  bit more. If I extend that and run up to our office, I can get a 5-miler in and Ive found a nice path that curves around the bay that sits between the peninsula on which I live and the peninsula on which the office is situated. Yesterday morning, I ran down to the border and decided to take the paved road up past the office, which led to the discovery that the hill from the border up to the office is long and steep! I was feeling all good about getting back into shape and getting my times down under 10 min/mi and then I couldnt even make it up the hill without walking. Hmmph. We still have a ways to go.

Since I get regular R&R breaks as well as vacation days, I was thinking about the possibility of training for a marathon. There are now quite a few marathons around Africa, some of which actually sound fun and interesting (though some just sound grueling and lonely). Thinking, thinking, thinking.

At any rate, Bukavu is a nice place to run. It is cool enough now that I usually wear a long-sleeve shirt to run, though I dont need gloves or anything that severe, thank goodness (at least at the moment). Theres really only one paved road, so most of my running is off road which is good for my joints Im sure. And Im not the only person who runs, though Ive definitely discovered neighborhoods that, judging from the responses of those I pass, are not frequented by expats.

More adventures to come!

Kinshasa, not an expat runner's paradise

I spent a week in Kinshasa before finally moving to Bukavu and was able to run four times there, which was nice. However, the ex-patriate community there is currently living under fairly restrictive rules certainly restrictive if you are a runner. We are not allowed to walk on the streets. We must be driven (or drive, if you have a car) everywhere. The one saving grace is that someone has decided that it is safe to run this one loop along the river around the Embassies. So, in order to get a run in and get back before the drivers changed shifts, I awoke at 5am, and was sitting in the car by 5:30am. It was barely dawn when I started running 15 minutes later, but that also meant it was cool and quite pleasant. White mans loop is a bit more than 2.5km and by 6am, there was quite an international crowd of us walking and running around. One thing I appreciated was that it was relatively flat, so I began to feel like a runner again for the first time in months.

The nice thing about the run was the river the Congo river and looking over at Brazzaville on the far shore. It reminded me a lot of running on the banks of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Off to DR Congo

Well, I havent written in awhile because I havent been running much. And mostly Ive been cold and miserable and whiny about it and I know you dont wanna hear all that.

The good news is that I got some much needed medical attention during my sojourn in the US several high quality massages, great core training advice and diagnosis and treatment of adrenal fatigue. So I feel like I am in good shape moving forward and looking forward to getting back into shape and a good solid running routine.

Today I board a flight to start the long trek to my new life in Bukavu, the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I am taking up the position of Partnership Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee and will be there for at least a couple of years, if not many more. I fly to New York, then Brussels, then Kinshasa where Ill be for a couple of weeks of orientation. So, stay tuned for dispatches from a country rebuilding after a long, hard civil war.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Looking for a coach

I am looking for an online coach. Someone who can work with me over e-mail or the web. Heres a bit of a profile. If you have any leads, let me know!

Im a 47 year old woman and run about 9-10min/mi pace. Ive done some stupid things in my day, though I try to not make a habit of it anymore. My mileage is way down in the past couple of months. Something (under-nutrition?) really sapped me when I was in the Solomons. Im down under 20 miles a week now, though I run 4-7 mi at a time.

The half-marathon is my best race, although I continue to harbor marathon dreams. I ran the Chicago marathon in 1985, but nothing since. Whenever Ive tried to train at that level, something happens I hit a wall, either physical or psychological, I’m not sure, and can’t seem to get past it and then cant see any reason to try.

What Im looking for is someone to help with motivation and accountability and to help me learn to read my body and my response to training and respond appropriately. I cant seem to figure out when to push through and when to step back. Id like to have someone set me up with a program to build up from where I am now and then be able to check-in via e-mail once a week.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Last Buala long run

Sunday was my last long run here in Buala. Surprisingly (to me), I covered 7.5 mi, although I did a fair amount of walking. In part this was because I was tired. I sort of overdid it, but I was so excited by being able to get past the mud to the flat section, that I went out further than I should have. But in part, I walked and stopped just because I wanted to savor the experience. We had one heckuva tropical storm on Saturday it rained 11 hours straight and the water just poured off the tops of houses like a river. It was pretty amazing and made it clear just who is in charge here (the weather!). This made it even more amazing to me that my path wasnt completely flooded out. Its all about drainage I guess. But Sunday morning, Easter, began bright and sunny (though it did cloud over and rain more later). It was beautiful that fresh, clean after the rain feeling.

Rather than going up and over the killer hill after Kubalota, I decided to go over the rocks on the path I discovered the other end to last week. That was an adventure real scrambling, and trying to be very aware because the rocks were wet and very smooth from all the foot traffic. This is one of those times when I really wish my feet could handle the terrain without shoes, as the locals do. Ive watched them and they walk completely differently than I do, particularly when they are going over rocks. They can use their feet to curl over rock corners and grip things that I just slip off of.

I saw a few pigs along the route. One which was quite big and caused me a bit of pause, but they really are much more afraid of me. Since they expect all humans to be coming after them to turn them to dinner, I dont think they realize the damage they could do if they decided to. Lucky me! I also saw a beautiful flock of red birds fly overhead, but I didnt get my camera out before they settled onto the tops of the trees. I waited for a bit in the hopes that they would take flight again, but no luck.

Ive just read Running: the sacred art by Warren A. Kay and I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone interested in how to encourage more spirituality in their runs. Kay teaches a course called Spirituality and Running at Merrimack College in Massachusetts and the book is really quite good. He is a Christian, but he writes from a broader perspective and the message and exercises in the book are definitely not specific to any particular faith.

Tomorrow I fly to Honiara for a week and I am really, really looking forward to running on the roads!