Monday, April 11, 2011

From the hills to the flats

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had started marathon training back in California. Menlo Park, where I was staying, is flat enough itself, but the Peninsula south of San Francisco is lined with a range of mountains between the coast and Silicon Valley and many of my runs, particularly long runs, included trips into the many parks in those mountains. The Menlo Marathoners are in training for the Big Sur marathon, which has some significant hills on the course (or had – due to a massive mud slide in February, the course had to be changed), so we intentionally headed into Wunderlich, Redwood, Windy Hill and the Stanford Dish, to ensure we were in shape for that.


Now I find myself on the other side of the planet between the hilly copper belt of Zambia and the Kalahari Desert and it’s nearly flat as a pancake. (I have noticed, as is often the case, that “flat” from a driver’s perspective often includes gradual inclines and descents that are easily felt by a runner, but honestly it is pretty flat.) I haven’t seen the approach yet, but I think the bridge between us and Zambia, 5km from where I am staying, does have a bit of an ascent, and I have found a nearby neighborhood (called a “location” here) that has a 20 ft “hill”, but that’s about it. For reasons of staying in shape and wanting the change of gait and pace that hills provide, I intend to look around for where I could at least simulate hill work (there is a stadium in town, which I haven’t yet visited, which might have bleacher-type seats, I hope).


So, I’ve gone from very hilly and very wet (and cold – at least to me) to very flat and very dry (and blessedly warm). Even though the rainy season is just ending (and it actually rained in April for the first time in people’s memory), the terrain here is all sand – a fine white sand – and the water just disappears within hours, except for a very few places right near the river, which has greatly overflowed its banks.


Also as I mentioned, my first week running here in Katima was difficult – anything over 4 miles felt like pure drudgery. Doing some reading and podcast listening on various Paleo sites, I thought maybe I either wasn’t eating enough generally or maybe I wasn’t getting enough carbohydrate energy. So I bought some sweet potatoes – abundant here – and made sure I ate at least 3 meals a day. (When I started the Paleo thing, I had about 10 lbs I wanted to lose which I gained while in the US, but by the time I arrived in Katima, I clearly had lost those pounds.) And it worked! Now I feel back on track and things are humming along.


I also stepped back and reworked my training plan since I’m not going to run a marathon on 1 May and I really lost momentum in the whole moving across the world thing. So, now I am focused on the Safaricom Lewa Conservation marathon which takes place at the end of June in Kenya. I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to go – I can’t actually afford the plane ticket and the registration fee is very steep – but there is a chance and I would LOVE to run this marathon. It is run in the Lewa Conservation area and in past years, they’ve had helicopters fly over to keep animals (elephants, giraffe, zebra, etc.) clear of the running route! It’s supposed to be quite a tough course – trails, hilly and under the sun with little shade. But it is definitely on my “must do” list. So now, it is at least my training impetus.


Yesterday I ran 12 miles, for a total of 28 for the week, and it went pretty well. I had wanted to run on a road I saw on Google Maps that runs south out of Katima but is a secondary (and I think sand) road, rather than on the B8, the tarmac highway. However, I missed the place I should have turned to get on that road, so I ended up circling around town and meeting up with the B8 and needing to run a couple of miles on it. It wasn’t too bad, though because there weren’t many cars.


Namibia has a very sparse population – between 2 and 2.5 million people in the whole country. So, even though many people have cars, and the B8 is *the* road between Caprivi and Windhoek (and therefore, from Zambia and Botswana and points beyond), it’s not even as busy as a typical street in an American suburb. I do appreciate the fact that the paved roads here, particularly the highways, are wide, because the cars and trucks drive very, very fast.


I headed out for my run wearing my Camelback. In the press to pack up and leave the US with a limited baggage allowance, I somehow left behind any water bottles that could be carried. I can run 10 miles without carrying water, but not further, so I donned the Camelback. Overnight the wind had been quite fierce and as I started out at 7:30am, it was pleasantly cool and still very windy. The wind was at my back as I headed out (which I didn’t really realize until I was coming back and had to run into it) until about mile 2 when I turned off the highway and headed down the road that forms the eastern border of town and goes past my office. All the locations (neighborhoods) in Katima Mulilo have names and I am beginning to learn them because this is how you tell a taxi driver where to go. I am currently staying about 5km out of town in “Mission” – so called because it is the location of a Catholic mission, a Catholic school, a hostel for girl students, a parish church, a convent and Cheshire Home – a home for children with disabilities – which is where I am staying. When I turned off the highway, I ran through Boma (the “nice” part of town), then New NHE (Namibian Housing Estates, I think – a development of houses built in the last couple of years), NHE (20-30 years old, I think), Choto (a poorer location of mostly self-built mud houses) and Greenwell. It was there at the border of Choto and Greenwell that I should have turned and found the other road, but I missed it. Altogether it was quite a pleasant run. The sun was out and strong, but my eyes were well-protected by my Livestrong Oakleys and it wasn’t very hot (maybe upper 60s, lower 70s). I had to run probably 3 or 4 miles directly into the wind, which was a bit tough, but at least it wasn’t cold or rainy. I got a lot of strange looks, of course. So far, I’ve not seen a single Caprivian running, though one guy I ran past said hello and said next time, he’s going to join me. <g> Several taxi men called comments – “run, run” and such – which seemed benign and even encouraging.


This kind of run is both typical of my experience generally in Africa and quite comfortable for me. I have to say that it was odd for me when I was back in the US and everybody and their dog was running (I was in San Francisco, Ashland, and Menlo Park – maybe not indicative of the entire country, but places where running is extremely popular). Runners don’t even get a second look, unless an angry driver is taking aim at you and people didn’t even greet as they passed each other. I had to suppress the urge to say hello to everyone I met. . .


I’m loving the warmth. I was miserable and very whiny the whole 4 months I was back in the US. I would never have chosen to visit the US in winter. Uggh. It was so hard when I was packing to come here to figure out what sort of clothes, particularly running clothes, I needed to bring. I had accumulated quite a collection of warm clothes and it was hard to believe I would not need them. Now, I am in the southern hemisphere and we are actually moving into winter, when it does cool off here (though not as much as down in Windhoek or South Africa), particularly in the early morning, but I doubt it will match the low 30s F that I met in Ashland. I did bring a few warm tops and jacket, though. In the meantime, however, I am thoroughly relishing the big decision of whether to wear a tank top or short sleeves!


Oh, the other thing I’m quite chuffed about is that the training plan I’m following (from the RW iPhone app) calls for Tempo runs and Speedwork and I have actually done those workouts! My pace is much faster than what was programmed (based on my last marathon time of 4:30 – confirming to me that I have a much faster marathon in me) – about 1 min/mi faster – but I’m keeping the differences the same (that is, my easy runs are 1 min/mi faster than Tempo and 1.5 min/mi faster than Intervals). I’m sure this is all due to the confidence I got from the Menlo Marathoners Yasso workouts – the first “speedwork” I’ve done since leaving Cameroon.


This week, I have 30 miles on the schedule, including a 14-miler over the weekend. I’ll have to figure out when I’m doing that because I think I’ll be going down to a meeting on Friday and then possibly to Windhoek Saturday morning to shop for a few things. That involves a 12-15 hour drive and a the moment transport hasn’t been figured out yet, so I need to stay both flexible and committed to getting the run in.

1 comment:

LAT said...

Go Tracy!! I'm glad you're still running on the other side of the planet! We miss you here in Menlo...