Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Marathon

The Marathon

It was an early start to the marathon. 7am. Reporting time was at 6. The sun doesn’t come up until 6:15 or so here. My morning began at 5am with a Cliff Bar breakfast that Jacob gave me this week for the marathon plus a banana and I made some Gatorade that was given to me by the PC Medical staff (commonly used to help treat dehydration among volunteers). I got everything ready for the run: running shorts, Ole Miss running shirt which Genia gave me recently, Nike headband also from Genia, running gels that Karen sent in a care package, ankle high running socks, the Nike shoes I recently bought in Mbarara (the only pair I found close to my size), my bib number, my iPod, my running watch which I would be holding because the strap broke a month or so ago and some just-in-case money for water, tp or any strange unforeseen expense I would need. Threw on a fleece I had purchased in the market for the sole purpose of throwing away early in the race. Put some petroleum jelly in some appropriate places and I was out the door, dressed for battle. I didn’t know if taxis would be running at this early hour so I began to walk in the direction of downtown. Fortunately, shortly into my walk a super nice guy named Fred gave me a lift. He was heading in to run the 10km race. We chatted for a while about running. He had run the 10k last year and the marathon the year before but decided that the 10k was more his thing. We found a place to park close by. A gated lot for security purposes. He gave the keys to a boy who was sweeping the lot. I’m still not sure if the kid was an actual attendant of the lot so I hope Fred got his car back afterwards!

It was 6:30 by the time I arrived at the starting line. It looked about like any regular marathon. A long chute arranged for the start and finish, people running warm-ups, stretching and chatting beforehand, streets closed off. Nothing out of the ordinary yet. There would only be 800 marathon runners and then around 2,500 10k runners. The marathon would go first, followed by the wheel chairs and then the 10k.

One of the first things I noticed was that they had given me the wrong bib. All of the marathoners had red numbers on their bibs from 1-999. I was number 4901 and it wasn’t red, it was black. They did, to my great surprise, have the Championship Chip to strap on my shoe for my official time to be monitored. The minutes before the race was chaos. All of the marathoners and 10k-ers were all crowded at the line together. Ugandans crowd. If there’s a line to be formed they attack it with reckless abandon. They’re not in a hurry to get anywhere or do anything but if you leave even a whispered breath’s space between you and the person in front of you or the counter they’ll attack that space and cut in front of you, often times even knocking you out of the way. So people were crowding the starting line like a bunch of starving refugees trying to get food handouts. The race officials couldn’t sort out the marathoners from the 10k-ers. Eventually they got it semi-ready so they started the race. There were several foreign athletes there from Kenya and Tanzania. When the race began people were sprinting out of the starting gate. You can’t win a race in the first mile but you can certainly lose one there. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the run. Months of training have gone in, around 800 miles run and countless hours of training.

I tried to find a gentle pace and let people pass me at the beginning. Less than a mile in a young white guy passed me on my left running slightly faster than I so I buddied up beside him and began to chat. It’s good for the first 10 miles to just run comfortable and chit-chat. His name was Charlie and he was from Maine. He’d been here for 9 months as well and was working in northern Uganda near a city called Arua working with Sudanese refugees. He was doing similar work to an education PCV teaching teachers there. Some of the refugees had been living there for 12 years! I was asking about housing and he told me that they had simple, permanent housing and that it was more than tents, which was my first inclination. We ran and talked and the miles just flew by.

At the 20km point, just under half way through, I was feeling good. I knew my pace was quick but it felt ok. We’d been slowly passing several dozen Ugandans and the course had been a little hilly but not bad. A marathon usually has each mile marked so you can see how your pace is. This course had markings at 5k, 10k, 20k, 35k and 42k (the race is 42.195k, and I’m so glad they marked that 42k. It’s not like the finish was in sight by then or anything…) At the 20k mark I glanced at my watch, which should have read 1:45 if I was on my pace but instead, to my astonishment, read 1:26! I was 20 minutes FAST which is SUICIDE to a runner! I had never run a marathon at that pace, even my fastest ½ marathon I’d never completed in that time! That means one thing…trouble! Abandon ship!! I tried to lock on and just keep running but it caught up with me a few miles down the road. Charlie eventually started to pull away from me and I had no choice but to just let him go.

The course was well marked with cones and volunteers pointing out the way and police stopping traffic with only the occasional boda-boda (moped) driver passing close by. At one point one of the runners got right behind a slow moving truck and grabbed on to help him up a steep hill, but otherwise I didn’t see any violations. It was more humorous than anything.

I eventually finished in a time of 3:44. A full 15 minutes slower than my goal time. It was a lackluster finish. People weren’t cheering at the finish, they were just staring…at everyone. People were going about their business for the most part rather than watching or helping those people finish. I arrived and felt like shouting…HERE I AM! I MADE IT! CAN YOU AT LEAST ACKNOWLEDGE MY EFFORT???!!! I’VE BEEN RUNNING FOR ALMOST 4 HOURS!! HELLO?? …ANYONE?? Now there were some PCV friends along the course that were cheering me on, especially at the end... and that was beyond fantastic! And along the course the Ugandans cheered on the ‘muzungu’ more than they did their own people, which I thought was weird. But finishing a marathon in almost dead silence was just a weird way to finish a marathon. Another PCV named Kristin who is also from Indiana ran. I don’t know what her time was but she did finish ahead of a US Marine who ran! It was her first marathon and I saw her coming around the last corner with ¼ a mile to go and with 4 Ugandans on her heels looking like she was going to attack and tackle someone at the finish line! She CHARGED that last stretch, refusing to allow herself to be passed, which, if you know Kristin at all, she wouldn’t do it any other way! Kristin finished her PC service on Friday, ran the marathon on Sunday and on Monday was on a flight to Spain for a vacation before heading back to the states! I’ll bet that was a looooong flight to Spain!

I saw some interesting things along the way. They didn’t have any Gatorade to pass out, but they did have plenty of water. They also passed out glucose, which was just little bags of sugar that runners would take. At one point, early in the run, I saw a ‘bag lady’ who was in the middle of the street slowly eating the sugar up off the ground. Licking her finger and then dipping it in the spilled sugar. It was really a difficult and moving scene. I also saw people at the end of the marathon who had run the entire thing in aqua shoes and loafers with no socks! I saw big heavy shoes that were WELL worn too. Charlie and I just kept going on as to how strong these Ugandan people were and how determined as well.

Kampala is a city built among the hills and the end of the marathon had several. Each mile at the end of a marathon always feels like 2 miles. Everything in your body is telling you to quit, that you’ve run enough. This time I listened to those voices and allowed myself to walk, which I deeply regret now, (“the pain of discipline is less than the pain of regret”) but at the time it felt like the right thing to do. The next day I treated myself to an hour long, full body massage, my first ever! (hey! For $12 I couldn’t pass it up!)

It was really nice to spend a few days in the big city. I saw a movie The Devil Wears Prada which was great and ate some really good food and hung out with several friends. I also snatched up some good books from the PC office to read.

I’m always torn when I come into Kampala. As in any big city there are beggars on the streets. I’m a helper. It’s who I am and one of my defining characteristics (at least I think it is). My Ugandan name even means ‘helper’ (Muhwezi). So when I see a beggar, one who has deformed legs, feet and hands…I want to help. I don’t want to just give money, that seems like it would just encourage begging, but I don’t know what else to do. I try hard to picture people I deeply respect and admire and to imagine what I would expect them to do in the situation. Mother Theressa, Rob Schrumpf, Roger Williams, Billy Grahm, Jesus… normal people I know and extraordinary people, but people whose actions I mimic. I see them giving. Something. So I give. I always try to have coins and I give those. It’s coins. It costs me almost nothing but I still feel like I give and they receive. It makes me feel better, which, let’s face it, is one reason that we all give, and it helps them out (and encourages more begging which is why we all don’t want to give). In a perfect world I would put together some organization that would employ them all to lick stamps or something and pay them equal wages, but I’m just a tourist in this city for a weekend. So I give coins. I did see something so beautiful that made me well up with tears. A kid was begging on the street near a traffic jam and a car pulled up and rolled down their window and handed him a juice box. As you could imagine, his face lit up with delight and he went to work right away opening the box to drink the contents dry from his new acquisition. That, I thought, was real giving.

Happy Thanksgiving!


At 21 November, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian, Glad to all is going well. You have alot more dedication to running than I do! I never even had that much way back in the Cross Country days! (and it shows) Take care.

At 22 November, 2006, Blogger NanettePC said...

Congratulations on finishing the marathon!! At whatever time that is a great accomplishment! I'm with you on the urge to help people. I see them all over and even on PC wages have more than they do and feel I have to do something. You are a good person for it! Happy Thanksgiving to you to!


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