Last Sunday I ran my solo version of the CUSO-VSO (www.cuso-vso.org) Run for the World/Courir pour le Monde Half-marathon here in good old Katima Mulilo, Namibia. Here’s my race report.
The morning was cold (in the low 50s F) but I knew it would be hot within an hour, so I didn’t want to dress too warmly. What to wear? I finally decided on a short-sleeve Gore shirt which has a zippered neck and windstopper fabric. Then I went back and forth and back and forth about which shorts because I thought I should take a gel with me, just in case my energy dipped, but I didn’t need to wear my Camelback for just a 2 hour run. That meant the shorts had to have an appropriate pocket for a gel. Conveniently, the shirt had a pocket on the sleeve which was perfect for my iPod, and a hole for the headphone wire, so I chose a pair of North Face shorts I have which have these stretchy pockets on the hips perfectly designed to hold gels. They also happened to match the shirt color, so I was much more fashionably dressed than usual for a run J
I had only run twice during the week, and not for two days, so I was raring to go when I stepped out. Besides, it was far too cold to stand still. I started out slowly (or what felt like slowly) and I was thinking about how the run would go. I had a vague, perhaps vain, hope that perhaps I could run close to 2 hours which was my half-marathon race time a few years ago. My best time ever was 1:55 in San Jose in 2005, that was 6 years and an entire age group ago.
The weather was cool enough that I was happy every time I was in the sun and looked forward to the sun coming up high enough to be above the trees. Yet, I also knew that this was probably “perfect” running weather.
Being a Sunday morning, there were few cars on the road and even few people because I was running at the time of most church services. I thought of perhaps getting off the main road, but I wanted to run for time, so I didn’t want to get down into the sand which, though easier on the joints, would have slowed me down to some extent. Not having cars to deal with made this an easy choice. The long stretch from Cheshire Home to the Ministries district went by much faster than usual and then the next thing I knew, I was approaching the Total petrol station after which came the University of Namibia campus. Shortly before UNam, I heard my watch beep and realized I had already covered 3 miles (5 km) and I was feeling very good. My time, at 25 minutes, was also surprisingly fast.
After UNam and the Vocational Training school, there is another long, rather empty, stretch to the border. On a bad day this stretch, particularly on the return, can seem boring and endless. But this day I was just there, just present and the road rolled by. I waved to the border guards on the Namibian side and enjoyed the one sort of descent in this very flat region. Now I could tell I was running pretty fast, but I felt good, smooth and filled with energy. At the bottom of the hill, there was a closed gate before the truck stop area which I’d never seen before (I suppose the gate has always been there, but it has been open every time I’ve come through, so I hadn’t noticed it). The guard there saw me, ran to the gate and opened it with perfect timing so that I didn’t even need to slow down – with a big grin on his face (oh, I fear I may be the most exciting thing in his day). I ran through the trucks and then up to the bridge which crosses the Zambezi and links Katima Mulilo to Sheseke, Namibia to Zambia.
It is interesting that when I run at this pace, most of my attention is on my body, my breathing, my pace, how I am feeling. I see what is around me as it goes by, but I do not retain much. I am looking for obstacles. There is a bit of descent on the far side of the bridge and I am very aware of the series of speedbumps there – they are the kind where there are a group of 10 small humps together, sort of like a cattle guard – and I need to be careful about how I place my feet. There is a corresponding uphill after the descent and where the road levels off, I see that I’ve gone a bit more than halfway and it is time to turn around.
Now I am astounded by my time and realize that if I can keep this up, I will not only reach 2 hours, but come in significantly below that. I am still feeling very good. I think about taking the gel, but I don’t really need it and since I didn’t carry water with me, that would mean hunting around for someone with water. I’m feeling so good, I really don’t want to stop.
After passing over the bridge again, I get some hoots and comments from the truckers, but I have my earphones in, so I don’t really hear them or pay any attention. My friend the gate guard whips open the gate for me again and I thank him with a smile and a wave. As I round the corner and start up the hill to the Namibian border there seems to be commotion ahead of me. Are those dogs? And what? Yes, a couple of dogs and. . . monkeys! Big, huge monkeys. Actually, they were baboons, and they are huge. At least one of them was the size of me. Whoa. Fortunately, by the time I reach them, they are off the road and running back into the bush. I wonder if I am putting myself at risk by running through them (there are a couple on the left, and most on the right – probably 8 or 10 in all), but I get up to the border gate with no incident.
I run through the border, waving to the guards (it’s always good to be friendly to officials in uniforms, especially when they are not making me stop and show papers!) and pass the taxi rank on the other side. Then I am on the long stretch toward UNam and checking my watch. I’ve slowed down a bit, but I’m still clearly on track to beat 2 hours. The road curves a bit and I think I am at UNam, but no. I am looking at my watch too often, gotta stop that and be with my surroundings. Finally, there is UNam and the Total station soon after. Less than 3 miles to go and now all I can really think about is my time. I’m still feeling pretty good and even if I slowed down to 10 minute miles, I’d hit 2 hours. Wow. I can hardly believe it. I didn’t think I was in this kind of shape. Maybe those tempo runs I was doing actually made a difference?
I pass all the Ministry buildings and come to the final long stretch before home. Now I am getting anxious to see just how fast I am going to be. It feels like a real race now. The last mile or two are rather excruciatingly long because I keep checking my watch every couple of minutes, even though I know exactly the landmarks along this stretch of road, I keep hoping I am closer than I am. And right as I reach the turn off to home, I’m at 13.12 miles. In 1:51:43! Woo hoo!
After uploading my watch info to my computer, I check my records and realize this is my Personal Best! My previous PR was 1:55:58 in the Silicon Valley Half-Marathon in 2005. Excellent.