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:

 

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