Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lookin' extra fly

I gotta testify, come up in the spot lookin’ extra fly

For the day I die, I’m gonna touch the sky


This weekend’s runs brought to me by Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco and MoeBen sleeves. I finally received a package sent from the US in early July which contained all sorts of awesome stuff, including my new Merrell Trail Lithe shoes (ran 6 miles in them today, Sunday, which went well), StarSoft Roo moccasins (so far only worn inside which gave me this odd, rare experience—warm feet!), StarSoft Moc3 running mocs (ran my 7 mile Tempo run on Saturday—beautiful—just like barefeet, but warmer!), and my MoeBen sleeves which look so totally, completely cool I can’t wait to wear them in the marathon next week. Almost like Christmas!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scenes from a long run

I needed to do a 18-20 miles -- the last long run before the marathon on the 28th -- enough so that I would be able to gauge whether I could actually run the whole 26.2 miles (42.2 km). Happily, I actually felt up to it (which has been a bit of a problem over the last month or so). I was up at 5:30am as usual, but knew I wanted to wait for it to warm up, so I made a cup of coffee, got my Kindle to do some reading and listened to one of my favorite podcasts (RunRunLive: of which I had two episodes I had not yet heard.


I had thought I should get out at 8am, but it takes me awhile to drink coffee and then I had to prep -- get dressed, grease up bra straps and feet with BodyGlide, fill my Camelback, grab a banana & a Honey Stinger gel, etc. So it was a bit after 9am when I got out the door. I had a moment of concern about how hot it might be at noon or 1pm when I would still be out there, but I told myself it was just about time on the road and if I had to walk, that would be fine.


I tried to start out slowly -- focusing on relaxing my shoulders, my calves, going easy -- but the first 3 miles were quite fast (about 9:10/mi). I decided to go over to Zambia and wondered what the route would be like after 7 miles, which is as far as I’d gone on that side previously. Around 3 miles, looking ahead, there was another woman runner coming toward me. Was that Janice? She had a hat on so I couldn't see clearly what color her hair was. It could be a tourist, I suppose. Or maybe another white resident whom I'd yet to meet, though that seemed unlikely. As we got closer, yes, it was Janice! What a perfect coincidence as I had been thinking of texting her all week so we could plan the trip to Victoria Falls! Janice is a Peace Corps volunteer -- a physiotherapist and a triathlete from Hawaii -- working at the Mainstream Foundation, the other organization in Katima (besides Cheshire Home) working with people with disabilities. She's the person who told me about the Victoria Falls Marathon. We stopped and caught up -- she'd been down in Windhoek for meetings for nearly a month -- and discussed our plans. And I told her I was on a 20-miler, which really committed me (someone else now knew!). When I started up again, my pace was easier, which was good.


After leaving Janice, I passed the long empty space between the Vocational School and the border -- nearly two miles along a large corporate farm. Reaching the border was a quarter of the way and I was feeling good. The terrain changes as well, with a bit of elevation change (barely recognizable as hills, but at least not pancake flat). Going over the river, it was very remarkable how much rougher it was now than it had been a month or so ago, the last time I crossed. When I arrived in Katima, the water level was so high that you really had to look hard at the river to even see the flow. Now, so many rocks were visible and creating rapids.


The road dipped down after the bridge and then rose up and leveled off and somewhere on the level part I surpassed my prior routes. There seemed to be a lot more people around. Perhaps it was because it was a bit later—after 10am by now—or perhaps just a function of the greater population in Zambia vs. Namibia. I passed the Sesheke Secondary School up on a hill and the road curved and I could see ahead that traffic, buildings,  and people were getting much more dense. On the edge of town was Sesheke Basic School and then rows of shops on either side of the road and, amazing to my eyes, at least two large shops selling used clothes. Wow! I am now in “normal” Africa. Sesheke is the closest town in Zambia to Katima in Namibia (it is, actually, directly across the river from Cheshire Home, where I live), but it felt so different. It reminded me of every place else I’ve lived or visited in Africa. Two long rows of cinderblock shops selling everything a person needs. Shops, from what I could see as I ran by, that were owned and operated by Zambians (rather than, as in Katima, Chinese or Egyptians or Indians or large South African corporations). Used clothing stalls caught my attention because they are ubiquitous everywhere in Africa, except they do not exist in Namibia, at least not in Katima. Oh, and churches. There were churches. I passed several. Churches right out on the main road with people in attendance. There are a few churches in Katima, but they are (with the exception of the newly built Apostolic Church) small, inconspicuous and not heavily attended.


I think that was Sesheke, but I am not sure, because it appeared on the road much sooner than the sign at the border said it should. So either their kilometer measurements were off or that was just a little suburban trading area.


On the other side of the shops there were several government buildings – the office of this or that Ministry – including the prison. No, I did not take a picture of that. But there was this tree which had quite a huge nest in it. I wonder what kind of bird (or other animal?) lives in such a large nest? And it sort of amazes me that it doesn’t fall down.


Reaching 10 miles, I turned around confident that one way or the other, I was getting the miles in because the only way to get home was to go back the 10 miles I’d just come. I drank some water for the first time and ate my entire Honey Stinger gel pack. I’d never eaten an entire one at once (usually I take half at a time) and my stomach was a bit sloshy as I started up again because I had to drink a fair amount of water to get the gel down. Interestingly, though my mouth had been very dry and I’d been thinking since about mile 8 that maybe I should take some water, I had been fine. But once I drank, it made me much more aware how dry it was out and I ended up stopping nearly every mile after that to at least wet my mouth.


So the second half my pace slowed considerably. I also stopped, walked and took photos on the way back. For the most part I was feeling okay, but somewhere around mile 15 or so, sometime after passing through the border, my lower back and legs felt “weird.” Sort of tight, but not really sore from strain. I wondered if I my sciatic nerve was getting squeezed—it was an odd kind of nerve pain like that I think. Between the dry mouth and the odd feelings, I lost a bunch of momentum, particularly on that long stretch between the border and the Vocational School where Katima civilization starts up again. A long, vast expanse of brown bush.


Ah, but here’s where the other photo comes from – an electric pole not long for this world as it is quickly being transformed into a termite mound. Untreated wood does not last in this environment.


Once I got back to a bit of “town” it was easier to pick a goal (I’m going to run at least to the Police Station) and keep going. And I also decided that 18 miles would suffice. It wasn’t pretty, but I felt confident enough that I could finish the entire marathon. Of course, by the time I got to 18 miles, there weren’t tons of taxis driving around! But my legs were really beat, so I just walked. I even walked backwards which seemed to help as I was using either different muscles or the same muscles in a different way. Several pickup trucks (bakkies) were going by and I waved my hand for a ride. It didn’t look like a proper taxi was ever going to come and I was still more than a mile from home. Finally, a bakkie driven by a nice older man with his grandson stopped. I climbed in the back and it felt so good to sit down. 18.7 miles or so. Fine. They dropped me at the end of my road and I thanked them profusely since I didn’t have any money to offer.


When I got home, I was really wiped out. I lay down on my floor for a bit but I was covered in salt which started to run into my eyes, so I got up and showered. That made me feel somewhat better. I ate the banana which had gone on my run with me. It looked pretty awful but tasted fine and I didn’t have enough energy to cook yet. Finally, after an hour or so, I cooked up a nice big plate of eggs with tomato and onion and spent the afternoon resting, reading and listening to podcasts while wearing compression sleeves on my legs (do they “work”? I dunno, but they made me feel better.)

Monday, August 01, 2011

Won a local 12k!

Well, well. Yay for me –


Last Thursday, we (Caprivi Hope for Life) rented the conference room at the Katima Youth Center to hold a training with our field promoters. While I was there, I met Ben, the Regional Coordinator for Sports in Caprivi Region. I met him because he was wearing quite a nice looking track suit which I was admiring and Clara, our Finance Officer knows Ben and introduced us. He then introduced me to the woman who is the Deputy in charge of Namibian Women in Sport Association (NAWISA), whose existence was a revelation to me. And then, somehow in the conversation, he mentioned that there was going to be a 12k race on Saturday, put on by some local school as a fundraiser. A race! How exciting. I hardly ever get to race. When was the last one? Oh yeah, the New Year’s Day 10K (also run in Vibrams) where I won my age group. Ben was a bit vague on details (at least for what I am used to), but he said it was going to start at 7am in town, near the market.


After our meeting, I saw Ben talking with Peggy, one of our promoters from Liselo. He called me over to tell me that Peggy was a great runner, one of the best women in the region. As we walked to town, I spoke with Peggy a bit and she said she would come Saturday morning for the race. Great! We promised to see each other there.


I didn’t expect an enormous crowd – the population of Katima is pretty small to begin with and I only knew of two other runners – one Chinese guy I’d see on the road in the evenings a few times and Janice, a Peace Corps friend who is down at Windhoek now for a conference. But I thought, oh maybe there’d be a hundred people or so.


Wanting to make sure I had time to find the start, get registered and not miss anything, I left the house at 6:30am. It was COLD. Cold enough that I jogged out to the road and kept moving so I wouldn’t freeze. I had on shorts and a long sleeve running shirt with a pair of light track pants and my Katima Mulilo Town Council track jacket. There was no one out on the road and only one truck went by going the other direction. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get a ride. But soon enough a taxi came by, just when I thought my feet would go numb from the cold. When we got to town, we went by the market, but just saw a few people there setting up a brai (barbecue), so I didn’t think it was there. I asked the driver to take me to the Youth Center, but that was closed, so I said to take me back to the market and drop me there, figuring I would ask around. When we got back to the market, I saw Peggy and a couple of other people who looked like runners, plus a few children running around. By now, it was minutes before 7am and it was clear that things weren’t going to start right away. There was some commotion, though – one man was clearly in charge, I later heard he was the principal of the school – and there were two police there who were our safety escorts. Apparently the brai was part of the fundraiser and so parents of the school’s children were setting that up and then showing up with pastries and pancake batter and meat and sodas that they were going to sell. A few more people showed up, including Ben, and the women in charge of registration were organized, so around 8am we could pay our $20 and get our numbers. There were going to be two races, a 1-mile race for the younger children and a 12k race which I thought was only for adults, but when the gun went off, it was clear that it was also for the youth (12-18). We got our numbers and still had quite awhile to stand around. This gave us time to size up the competition and for random folks to wander by and enter the race (the guy who got 3rd place was coming to open his shop, saw the race was happening and decided to run!). A bit of sun finally came up and we would huddle in the spots where it was shining to try and warm up.


I was wearing my Vibram Fivefingers (Bikila LS) which engendered quite a bit of interest. I considered running barefoot, but I didn’t know what the route was going to be (and therefore the conditions of the road/path) and 12k is about twice the distance I’d ever run barefoot and I knew it would wreck my feet. With a marathon in a month, that didn’t seem wise, so I opted for the VFFs. There was quite a variety of footwear among the runners. The shopkeeper had a pair of spikes (without the spikes in) that he wore. Quite a few people were in the Converse knock-offs that are quite popular around town, some had knock-off brands of “regular” running shoes. One guy showed up at the last minute wearing dress shoes, but  as he passed me (having gotten off to a bit of a late start) he was barefoot. Quite a few of the kids ran either barefoot or in their socks, including two boys carrying their shoes, which apparently did not work as well as they had hoped.


When we started, there were less than 20 adults, with Peggy and I the only two women, and another 15 or so youth. There was no starting line, but everyone pretty politely lined up next to each other and the principal said “go” and shot something or other and off we went. Since my toes were actually numb, I started slow and just decided to “run my own race”. Slow is relative, though, as my first mile split was 8:15—I just didn’t go like a bat out of hell like everyone else. About 10 of the girls pooped out after ½ a mile and started walking, but I have to give them credit because they did it—they ran the whole 12k race.


As things shook out, I could see Peggy ahead of me—far enough that I couldn’t reach her, yet within sight. I think we were probably going about the same pace, because she always seemed to be about the same distance. Around 3 miles, I started passing people. First the two boys carrying their shoes and running in their socks, one of whom had music playing from his phone—they would run, walk, run, so we placed leap frog for about a mile, but then they couldn’t keep it up. I caught up with two girls and a boy who were plugging along pretty well, but started to lose steam. One of the girls ran with me for awhile, but then faded. Then I caught a boy who had been running with Peggy, and we went through the turnaround checkpoint together where we had to pick up a “wooly” – a colored piece of yarn that would prove we made it to the checkpoint and was necessary to qualify for prizes. The nice thing about the out and back course was that I could cheer on folks who were way ahead of me. After the turnaround, the boy I was with kept having trouble with his shoelaces. They were quite long and didn’t stay tied, so he dropped back. I think caught up with the first girl, who was so far ahead of the others that even though she faded near the end, she won handily. Then, suddenly, Peggy was reachable and seemed to be slowing down, while I just kept clipping along (my splits for the race were 8:15-8:30 per mile, with the last mile a bit faster at 8:08). We passed an area which had shops, a bunch of people (including a boy who shouted at each of us “how much did you pay?” which seemed an odd question) and little piglets crossing the road!


By the time we got to the intermediate water stop (without about 2 miles to go), I caught up with Peggy. With me there for a bit of competition, she rallied and we ended up running side by side, alternating fading a bit and rallying.


At the beginning of the race, a police bakkie (pickup) had escorted us out and along the route (though it was quickly too far from me to be considered an escort). It came by at least one more time and another time a police car came by, both with sirens blaring. However, by the time we reached that intermediate water stop, there were a LOT more cars on the road and they were rude and somewhat aggressive. We had been running with the traffic, but Peggy and I decided to cross over. I was hoping that if they saw us with numbers on our shirts, they would understand we were racing and not run us off the road. We could see two of the guys up ahead of us.


When we turned onto the road going back into town, it was quite a zoo. Now we not only had cars, but also people walking or standing, bicycles, etc. to deal with and we had to cross the road to get back to the start. Finally, at one point, there was a break in the traffic and I looked back and was glad to see Peggy was right behind me. I signaled to her and we crossed over and then I picked it up as we were about a block from the finish. I thought she’d come after me and probably catch me. The main intersection in town, 200 meters from the parking lot of the market and our finish, was crazy. There was a huge truck trying to turn and a bunch of taxis honking, so I hopped up onto the sidewalk in front of the bank and cut diagonally across, whipping my head from side to side to check for traffic—no use getting killed when I’m this close to the finish! Peggy didn’t catch me, which meant I won! In fact, she was at least a full minute behind me. I hadn’t realized how close to exhaustion she was. My time was around 1:01:00 (according to my Garmin—there was no clock for the race).


The post-race waiting period was even longer than the pre-race wait. First, we sat around for quite awhile – cooled off, swapped stories, and found out that the two lead men had missed the turnaround checkpoint because they were literally following the police bakkie and turned when it turned, never seeing the water stop and not picking their woolies. So they were disqualified. Then there were two guys who ran very well (they may have been 3rd & 4th) who never registered, so they were also disqualified. I took off my VFFs which gave many folks a chance to pick them up and give them a good look. By this time, we were getting antsy but learned that we had to wait for the last finisher of the 12k to come in. Finally 3 of the girls who had pooped out right at the beginning came running in followed by a police car and we were hoping they would do our award ceremony. By now it was 11am and all the shops in town close at 1pm, so people wanted to get on with the day. However, we were told that the children had not yet run their race (on the roads now very crowded with Saturday morning shopping traffic). As they lined up to run their mile, I decided to go to the market, since I clearly had at least 30 minutes before the awards ceremony.


When I came back, it was hard to spot my compatriots among the market-goers, brai patrons and onlookers, but I found a couple who said they thought things would start soon. Sure enough, within minutes, the principal called for us to gather around. The prizes weren’t bad. For the 1-mile--$600 for first place, $300 for second place, $200 for third place girl and boy. For the 12k--$800 first place, $300 second place, $200 third place male and female in 3 categories: 12-17, 18-49, 50+. I was hoping they would use the standard definition of veteran (40+) as that would have put Peggy and I in different categories. Ben, being the only veteran, won his age group. I won the women, with Peggy second. The boy who won the 12-17 group was a 15 year old sprinter who was actually third overall (and actually, first not disqualified). When you convert $800 Namibian into USD it doesn’t sound like much money (~$120) but at nearly ¼ my monthly stipend, this was quite a great boon! To celebrate, I spent more than half of it on a Namibian Schools Sport Union track suit like the one I saw Ben wearing that Thursday. A fine souvenir, I think. Here I am sporting the jacket: