A.K.A. The Marathon With No Music.
(More on that later).
We were up by 4:45 and in the car on the road by 5am. It would be roughly an hour and half drive to the starting area, plus time to find parking and hit up the registration tent before the start gun went off at 7am…we had barely enough time for it all, but we managed. In the car ride we listened to the news radio and the weather forecast for Polokwane (Northern Limpopo) said there would be thunderstorms all day. I instantly took my iPod out of my race waist pack and tucked it away in the car for fear that it would get rained on if I brought it to the race. I’m so happy I did this because as I rushed to the registration tent, there was an announcement over the speakers that forbid the use of listening devices on the race course. Phew, dodged a bullet there.
The race was organized by Pietersburg Road Runners Athletic Club, and hosted at Mall Of The North- a small shopping mall in Northern Limpopo. This was a wonderful place to hold a race because it meant that afterward we wouldn’t have to go anywhere for lunch- we were already at a mall with a ton of restaurant options. My Host Mom and I attached our bibs to our shirts, we wished each other good luck on our runs for the morning (she was running the 5k race) and I ran over to find a spot around the start line near two other Peace Corps volunteers who were also running (Katie- running the 42.2km with me, and Nic running the 21.1km.) I heard the soft thud of the start gun and slowly all 200+ runners began slowly shuffling along, I waited for everyone to spread out enough to pick up speed. Although I was nervous to not have music to run with, I trotted along with my friends for the first few kilometers trying to keep my mind occupied with conversation. Eventually our paces scattered and we wouldn’t see each other again until the finish line.
The beauty of nature and running outdoors does keep ones thoughts pretty uplifted, and I thoroughly enjoyed this race course. I had studied the course description ahead of time so I knew what terrain to prepare myself for and when and where to expect the hills, other than that I trotted along at a meandering 10min/mile pace knowing I could maintain this and still make the 5 hour cut-off time at the finish line. I was quite impressed with the quality and selection of aid at the aid stations. Not only was each tent fully stocked with cold water and the typical Coca Cola, but there was Powerade(!!!!), bananas, oranges, gummies, biscuits, chocolates, you name it. Every other station or so also had Vaseline (which my thighs were thankful for) and sunscreen (which my shoulders were thankful for) and port-o-potties (which my tummy was thankful for). I’m still not exactly sure what caused my GI upset that day, and I’m not completely ruling out that it might have just been nerves and excitement that caused some rumble in the jungle. In either case, my potty breaks added at least 5 minutes or so to my final finishing time…ironically enough- I still PR’ed with this marathon.
The course was a double loop of the 21.1km course. I like courses like this because I run the first half of the marathon then run the same thing again…so I know what to expect and where and how it feels. Life is easy peezy this way! The course was ran through some back roads, dirt roads and quite neighborhoods of Polokwane, with a majority being asphalt running – which my knees didn’t exactly enjoy. Every now and then there would be a 1 kilometer stretch of dirt/gravel and I looked forward to these stretches because I knew I could pick up speed and gain some ground quickly on this terrain, then slow my roll once I hit pavement again. This is the second marathon in which I’ve left behind my knee braces. I’ve committed myself to rehabilitating my knees and re-strengthening my quads while also properly tracking my patellar tendons. My rehabbing has proven successful now I can run 26.2 miles without needing to brace up – it’s the little things 🙂 I was constantly checking the time and monitoring my pace, knowing that I had a full 5 hours to run this course, and having no doubt in my mind I would finish. I strolled through the halfway mark a little over 2 hours in…taking my sweet time, I figured I’d just enjoy the ride have fun…that’s what this about after-all, right!? The forecasted thunderstorms never hit during the race, but dark clouds loomed over us almost the whole time and this provided relief from the anguishing sunshine. Boy, never have I been to grateful to have clouds in the sky!
With 2 kilometers left to go and 40 minutes left until cutoff time, I knew I didn’t have to rush so I started walking (lol). I walked with 2 very sweet older men who were wearing matching tanks from a local running club. We chatted about a lot of random things…pacing, diet, hydration, but they insisted on asking me what my vegetarian diet consists of (fascinated that anyone can survive without eating meat) and talking them through my meal prep. Lol, if only they knew. I simply said CUT THE ANIMAL FAT OUT OF YOUR LIFE and see where that takes you. 😉 I realized we had been walking and talking for almost 20 minutes! Where does the time go?? We had 1 final hill to climb and the finish line awaited us just over the top. I said “Lets go guys! Lets finish this strong!” Leading the pack, I sprinted upward and into the final loop then around the corner to victory!
I crossed the finish line and collected my medal and t-shirt. My host mom and 3 Peace Corps volunteers waited for me at the finish line with warm hugs and cold drinks. It was a whirlwind of congratulations and photos, then we made our way over to a tent to rest under some shade. I saw 3 other runners from my community gym, which made me very happy because I had been posting flyers and advertising for this race all around my gym in hopes that I could recruit some runners to join me. And it worked!! Two women ran the 5k, one ran the 10k, another ran the 21.1k and I ran the 42.2km. We waited at least another hour for the last volunteer to finish her 42.2, then we strolled into the mall for lunch and drinks. I felt a slight stiffness in my quads and tightness in my calves, but overall my feeling of accomplishment and joy overruled any pain that might have existed. I was floating on a cloud, happy as a clam.
I have taken a couple significant pieces from this race experience: 1. Confirmation that music is a big part of my life. Especially when running. Having to run over 4 hours without any music was pretty mentally challenging. There are dark periods of every race where the mind wanders into rough patches of negative thoughts and I always rely on uplifting trance to blow some melodic tunes through my brain…it dissolves any thoughts that might be detrimental to my performance. This race forced me to find alternate ways to maintain a happy mindset and break out of any negative cycles I found myself in. 2. Now I feel confident about saying I can graduate to Ultra-marathoning and successfully run a 50k next. I felt really good crossing the finish line, and if that finish line had been an extra 8k away, I know I would have crossed that as well.