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.)

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