Races

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Races. #1: Honolulu Marathon

Published February 1, 2017 by kokoinsouthafrica

[I’m re-setting my race count and starting from 1 now that I’m back! New beginnings.] 

In January 2016 I got an email notifying me that early registration for the Honolulu Marathon was about to begin. I thought to myself…I don’t even know if I’ll be back in America in December, but I’ll sign up anyway, just in case. It’s only 26 dollars. Low and behold I ended up being in Americaland in time to start my training program. The challenge, however, was the fact that I had foot surgery scheduled in September. How the hell was I supposed to heal from foot surgery while training for a marathon? Have I completely lost my mind??

I set up a 17 week training program for myself, taking off 3 weeks in the middle to have the operation. The procedure itself was quite simple. I opted to forgo anesthesia, and requested only local anesthetic so I could be awake and see what was going on down there. My doctor had to slice open the tip of my toe and, using a mini power drill, saw off the extra bone that had been growing, sand down the remaining bone to be smooth, then sew it up. I came out of it with only 4 stitches and some ibuprofen. The first couple of days were painful but thanks to my good old friend Tramadol I was able to pull through. I was spoiled with food and wine and Netflix, family and friends making sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed as I was essentially couch-bound for several days. By the second week I was back to walking (with a cane) and by the third week I attempted running again. With mild toe discomfort I resumed my marathon training and began ballet again (the only logical thing to do after foot surgery).

What was taken out >.<

The remaining weeks of training were challenging to say the least, but I had a goal in mind and wouldn’t let anything get in my way. Between surgery, moving houses, and a trip to New Orleans, it’s still a mystery to me how I managed to get any training done at all. Probably the most motivating factor was that I was helping my best friend train for her first marathon ever, and knowing that I’m positively influencing someone is always fulfilling. By the taper in December I had accepted that I’d gotten as strong as I was going to get, and needed to relax until the big day.

Race day morning was very jittery. Partially from nerves, and partially because I allowed myself a cup of coffee after having been caffeine free at the end of my training. I always get giddy before a race. With so much adrenaline and excitement I can feel my heart pounding inside my chest. As my best friend and I approached the start area, we admired the fireworks show and stopped for a photo before hearing the shot from the starting gun. And off we all went! A slow shuffle across the start mat and a constant beeping of runners’ timing chips being activated, Angela and I ran along side each other for the first mile or two. We eventually lost each other and I took a deep breath knowing I’d be on my own the rest of the way.


I love seeing the wide variety of participants that show up to larger races like the Honolulu Marathon. People of all ages and sizes with their own reasons and goals. I saw military men and firefighters running in their gear with full packs on their backs. I saw tons of tutus and national flags. And I love looking at people’s race clothing to see what races they’ve ran or what running club they belong to. I was wearing my Soweto Marathon shirt and was surprised when I man struck up a conversation with me about South African races. He also ran Soweto the year I did, and ran Comrades the year after me. He and I ran together for several miles talking about running, traveling, international work, time (and distance) seems to fly when you’re mentally distracted. He and his wife travel all over to run marathons, they had just reached their 101st country they’ve ran a marathon in the weekend before, in Singapore. Wow. Just wow. At some point we lost each other at an aid station but I was thankful for the good conversation and amazed at this man’s accomplishments.

Distance running is made possible by the support the runner has. I am grateful for my friends who met me en-route with water and hugs. Those moments where I see a familiar face provide me with such a burst of energy that I forget the distance and pain. I was keeping track of my time and knew I wasn’t on pace for the 4:40 finish I wanted, which made me a little bummed but I accepted that. As I came back up Diamond Head I saw a girl cheering on the side of the course with her friends all wearing ‘free hugs’ t-shirts. I ran up to her and asked for a hug. I needed that. Then she handed me a cup of beer. I needed that too. There I was, only a couple of miles from the finish line, and I stopped for a beer break thanks to the Free Hugs girls. What goddamn angels.

Eventually I realized I needed to finish the damn race so I picked up my pace and flew into Kapiolani Park. I could see the finish line in the distance, I could hear supporters cheering all along the sides, I could still taste the beer in my mouth, and I knew the feeling of victory was coming. I crossed the finish line at exactly 5 hours and was so relieved to be done. I collected my medal and t-shirt, and sat under a tree with my friends to enjoy the libations they came with. The next couple hours were filled with champagne and foot rubs, and the sneaking emptiness from knowing that the marathon is over. All of that training and effort, months of logging miles, led me to this day, and the race is done now.
I tracked Angela using the marathon’s app, and could see her approaching the finish. So I laced up my shoes and ran back into the course to find her, hold her hand, and be there with her in the moment where she crosses her first marathon finish line. So proud of her. The rest of the day was a celebration complete with champagne, vegan pizza and more champagne. And some vegan s’mores (this does exist).

There’s nothing quite like seeing your friends accomplish their goals. It’s a beautiful thing to be involved in the process of helping your loved ones turn dreams into reality. I’m glad I got to share this Marathon experience with my best friend, and I’m hopeful there will be many more to come.


For the weeks following, I was left with post-race depression. I felt lost not having a set goal to work towards, and I was (and still am) unsure of my next step. I’m at a point where I want something harder. I want to push myself to try something different. Marathons are great and I’m already signed up for the 2017 Honolulu because why not? But I’ve done enough of them that I’m feeling a strong pull to try something different/more/longer. I’m told this is the natural progression of distance running.  I want something so challenging that I have to question if I’m strong enough to finish it. After the Honolulu I’m faced with the reality that I still have toe pain. I want to train for something more challenging but I don’t know how far I can push beyond this pain. In the meantime I’m keeping myself busy training for the Hapalua Half Marathon, my favorite distance. šŸ™‚

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Races. #18: Cape Gate Vaal Marathon

Published March 7, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

There’s was once a time when the thought of running a marathon was a far-off dream. A distant idea that seemed too challenging to come to fruition. I keep a Dreams List, a bucket-list of things I want to do in my life, and on this list I wrote #43. Complete a marathon. I just wanted to run 1, just to see if I could do it, just for the experience. Run 1 then I’ll cross it off my list and be satisfied. Little did I know, at the time when I logged this dream into my list, did I acknowledge that fact that when I set my mind on something sparkly- I chase it wholeheartedly. Nor did I recognize my habit for indulging in things that I enjoy and that make me feel good. 

So I signed up for my first marathon in Honolulu. I didn’t do very well, I walked a lot, winced and wobbled in pain due to lingering knee injuries from my tumbling days. But I finished, and that’s all I cared about. 

A few days of recovery was all it took for me to start daydreaming about future marathons and recalibrating my body for more precise training and deeper dedication to the process. At that point I thought- Well I’ve done one, I can do it again but make it better. 

Peace Corps service equips us with a lot of free time. More so just alone time regularly allocated into our schedules where many volunteers pick up hobbies, or binge watch TV series off their hard drives alone in their bedrooms. I filled this time with going to the village gym: teaching yoga and training myself for more marathons. I set my mind on Comrades: the Ultimate Human Race. The greatest and longest running ultra marathon in the world. Which just so happens to take place in South Africa, about 10 hours from my village. 

The rest is ancient history. In around a period of 16 months, I ran 9 marathons and ultra marathons; each ranging from 26.2 miles to 50 miles. I ran all over the country, got to meet amazing people and bond over these insane experiences. 

Yesterday I ran my very last marathon in South Africa- the Cape Gate Vaal Marathon, just south of Johannesburg. The race was well supported, and I had friends scattered throughout. I ran a pretty good time- just over 4hr40min. Not my best but not my worst. And although I’m quite happy with how I ran my race, I’m also incredibly humbled by my friends I ran with. Anthony Bond, who hosted me for the weekend and who holds the National record for the running festival- a 6 day circuit race where he completed 563 kilometers- ran the Vaal in 3:23. And my friend Talita who ran a 3:52. Both of these people are amazingly fast runners and they inspire me to strive harder. No matter what I think I’m struggling with or how much adversity I think I have, I remind myself that excuses are the nails that build your house of failure. And I will never allow myself to drown in self-pity.

   
   
  Today, trying to recover from the marathon, I went to the doctors for a lingering toe problem. I’ve been in pain for months and after X-rays this afternoon finally found out I have exostosis; extra bone growth on the top of my toe due to trauma from running. I’ve ran multiple races of marathon distance or longer, always chasing a medal or a time or some goal that helps me transcend pain and seek only my dream. I’ll deal with the toe problem when I come home, it’s painful and most often these situations require surgical removal. 

I must always remind myself that certain opportunities are once in a lifetime experiences and a little problem like exostosis won’t cripple me. I had the best time ever running my last South Africa race. I regret nothing. 

Races. #17: Deloittes Pretoria Marathon

Published February 28, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

I ran the half marathon yesterday at the Deloittes Pretoria Marathon. The course was lovely, had a couple gnarly hills, but totally worth it. It ran through a lot of residential areas, but like nice residential. Then we climbed some hills up and up until we overlooked Pretoria, the Union Buildings, and there was even a band playing the bagpipes to add a little something extra to the already beautiful moment.

The field before the start.

Deloittes offered 4 distances at this race- 5, 10, 21, and 42 kilometer options. In total, 10,300 runners pitched up.

Runners toeing at the start line!

Casual band playing bag pipes

Pretoria Boys High School Band

I like half marathons because they’re kind of an ideal distance. It’s long enough to be slightly challenging but it’s mostly just for fun. State of flow!

Ok, now let me digress into something a little more serious. I really dislike the lack of eco-consciousness that exists in the running culture. On a race course there will be a water station every 3ish kilometers and subsequently those areas become littered with plastic water sachets. The race organizers place plentiful recycle bins strategically to help runners have a place to throw their trash but sadly, most runners just toss their rubbish wherever.

Do you ever have moments in nature where you get misty-eyed because everything is so beautiful? I get those frequently and I love them. Yesterday I experience extremes ranging from gratitude for the beauty, and utter shame of the human condition of carelessness. Here we were, running through gorgeous scenery, but every time I look down I see trash created and left by runners. The race organizers hire a crew to come clean after the event but the reality is that some trash does get overlooked and we’re slowly but surely destroying our natural environment by not discarding garbage into a bin. Plastic doesn’t readily decompose in nature and can take well over 20 years to break down!

These bins exist all throughout the course…

I won’t lie, once or twice I’ve caught myself throwing my empty sachet to the ground, but I have committed myself to never allowing that to happen again. Now I shop for my running shorts in the men’s sportswear department specifically because men’s shorts tend to have larger pockets. When I’m running I carry all my trash with me until I find a proper bin to throw it in. Runners have got to start being more aware of the impact we are having on the environment and not allowing laziness to dictate actions.

ā€¦yet trash always ends up hereā€¦.this makes me really sad šŸ˜¦

Many runners have been hasgtagging #runclean to promote eco-conscious athleticism, and the #runclean campaign has gone viral. Strides are being made toward bringing awareness to this issue as many runners are unhappy with the state these events leave the ground in. I encourage you to think about your impact on the litter that exists in your realms of life and how you can influence it.

All in all, it was a good race with friends. I met some cool people along the way. Shared some ciders at the end. And I’m sad to say that I think next weekend will be my last race in South Africa! Wild.Ā 

Races. #16: BMW Modern Autohaus Marathon

Published February 21, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

Yesterday I ran another marathon~ 42 kilometers or 26.2 miles. I ran it just for fun, and a lot of Peace Corps volunteers were there running other distance, and my host mom and sister came too! 

  My host mom has been coming to races with me and running 5k’s and working her way up to 10k’s now! So proud! After some coaxing my host sister decided she would do a little training to prepare for her first 5k- which she completed yesterday!! I believe any person can achieve remarkable things if they can push themselves beyond their perceived limits. I enjoy seeing this being done in the physical context, and find great joy in helping people discover their own physical ability. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have positively influenced my host family with running. 

  
My iPhone has a nike+ running app that I wanted to test out. I used it on my iPhone about 3 years ago, and I like the idea of having a log to track my runs. First I tested out the app on a treadmill. I ran 5k in 27:17 according to the treadmill. I had to keep running until about 29:30 for the app to log 5k. The app wasn’t recording distance properly; I thought, ok, maybe the app just isn’t accurate for treadmills but for sure running on the road would be more precise because the app is tracking distance via gps, versus treadmill running which uses an accelerometer through the app on the phone. So I took my iPhone out on the marathon course with me and kept it in my waist pack while running. Once I hit the 10k mark at 57 minutes I looked at my phone to check the accuracy of the app- it said I had only run just over 4 miles!?! Hence, the nike+ running app is horribly inaccurate not only on the treadmill but with road running as well. In the past I’ve used Map My Run and from what I remember it seemed to work pretty well, so maybe I’ll switch back to that because Nike is terrible. 

  The course itself was pretty flat with no major hills and on all tarred road. It was hot as balls, as the African summer is in it’s prime. Some aid stations ran out of water (rookie mistake) which forced runners to walk for a substantial amount of time. I also struggled with my asthma most of the race. I have a respiratory disease and it can be limiting at times. I have trouble finding a balance between my ambition and the reality of sickened lungs. I tend to set lofty goals for myself ignoring the limitations I know I have. Asthma causes me to struggle breathing just doing regular-ass things. Then I try running a marathon and get angry when I’m slowed to a walk because I can’t breathe. When I was young I used to be really self conscious about it. I was embarrassed having to carry my inhaler with me especially when running in gym class, always trying to control my breathing. Over the years I’ve learned techniques to avoid asthma attacks, but they can still happen of I’m not careful. But I love to run. I always have. As a kid my favorite recess activity was racing the boys across the blacktop. I’ve always loved running. So I still try my best to push through and manage my inner dialogue that flip flops through positive and negative cycles. There are moments where I curse the gods for damning me with a weakened respiratory system. Then I have to remind myself that despite my frustration and limitations, I still cover a distance that less than 1% of the world population will ever do. Running a marathon is absolutely crazy, and each of those 26 miles presents its own challenges I must overcome to get to the finish line. 

Some days are good; some days are not so good. I overcame the adversity, ran when I could, walked when I couldn’t breathe, and met some cool people along the way. I strolled through the finish line with a big smile on my face as I heard my friends cheering my name. One thought that kept me pushing through to the end was knowing afterwards I would go to my friend’s house and leap into her pool while simultaneously guzzling champagne. šŸ™‚ 

  I am constantly being humbled by my physical limitations, and at the same time motivated to keep pushing the limits to find out how far I can go. Asthma won’t stop me from running. 

  

Races: #15: Bronkhorstspruit. And the Buddhist Temple.

Published February 15, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica

I’ve been wanting to visitĀ Nan Hua, the largest Buddhist Temple in Africa, for the longest time. They offer meditation retreats and lunch with the monks and it all just sounded so intriguing. It’s in a town called Bronkhorstspruit- only around 250 km from my house so it would be feasible to get there by public transport.

Then I heard there would be a race inĀ Bronkhorstspruit (10k) this past weekend, so I decided this is my opportunity.

After work on Friday I went to the taxi rank and after nearly 7 hours of public transport, I arrived inĀ Bronkhorstspruit. It was a short 2 km walk to the hostel (called the Sink Shack) a friend told me about, and luckily they had a bed in a dorm room available for me! This place had walls of shiny tin and a maze of hallways and made me feel like I was in a fun house at EDC. I’m not complaining. They had a huge bar/restaurant area with indoor/outdoor seating, and live music! As much as I wanted to chill there enjoying the music all night, I knew I had an early morning and wanted to feel rested for the race, so I hit the sack pretty early. Conveniently, the Sink Shack is located directly across the street from the high school where the race would be hosted (could this be any more perfect?). So I woke around 5am and walked over to the starting area.


The 10k course was all tarred road and ran around the neighborhoods of Bronkhorstspruit and the temple, ending at the high school where we started. I placed 7th for women which wasn’t good enough for any prize money but whatevs. I had fun so that’s what counts! After watching the prize givings I showered up and headed to Nan Hua.


The temple is huge, with many buildings for different thingsā€¦a meditation hall, prayer, a dining hall, a guest house.


There were long corridors and staircases everywhere. It made me feel like I was in some Asian variation of the Labrynth LOL


Meals are eaten in silence, with and without the monks. Everything is vegetarian, served buffet style, and donation-based. While eating we’re encouraged to contemplate how our food got onto our plates, considering all the people and steps involved and showing gratitude for each one. Also thinking of food as nourishment or medicine for the body and believing in its healing properties. We also think about greediness- a trait we want to avoid- and when given the opportunity to serve oneself in a buffet, practicing self-control, only taking as much as one needs and not more.


Through the years I’ve developed my own unique set of spiritual beliefs that don’t ascribe to a particular religion, but I do believe in the power of meditation and the formidableness of inner peace. As a person who’s very energetic and restless, I try to use yoga and meditation to quiet myself down for some soul check-in time, and I find it very helpful. I saw this weekend as an opportunity to practice meditation in preparation for theĀ VipassanaĀ course I’ll be taking in a couple months. It can be challenging to sit still, in silence, and focus on myself; but this weekend I forced myself to do so and left the temple feeling so light and clear.
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All in all, it was a wonderful weekend. The race felt good, the temple was fulfilling, and I managed to be home just in time for Sunday family dinner with the host fam! I brought home some pink and white cupcakes for our Valentine’s Day dessert! ā¤

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Races: #14. Dis-Chem Half Marathon

Published January 18, 2016 by kokoinsouthafrica
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Sunrise overlooking the finish area

You wanna know what the dominant emotion is that I feel when I run these races? : Gratitude. Through and through.

They say running is supposed to be one of the only ‘free’ sports out there. But if you take into consideration the cost of a running license, race entry fees, good shoes, clothing, and food for fueling, it can quickly become a very expensive activity…available only to those with privilege.

Being a Peace Corps volunteer and not having earned a real paycheck in over 2 years, running is also something that can be a bit out of the reach of my pocket book. This is why I am overwhelmed with gratitude for those that contribute to my racing habits and make it all possible for me.

Athletics Gauteng North, a division of South African sports that oversees running and athletics clubs here has sponsored me with a running license under their athletics club. Without being sponsored, I would struggle to come up with temporary licensing fees and entry coverage. And some races wouldn’t even allow me to participate without a license. Thanks to my family and friends, I can afford to keep fresh running shoes on my feet and a dry-fit shirt on my back, and appropriately fuel myself for training.

Privilege is a complex topic. Some could say I’m privileged in ways for being white, American, and educated. Contrariwise, things like being female, young, and unmarried are qualities that make me oppressed and a target for harassment here. I think about all these things when I’m out on the road.

This past Saturday I was told by the club director that they had a race entry and license for me if I wanted to come run with them at the Dis-Chem Half Marathon in Boksburg. It was the first half marathon in Joburg after the new year, and this race is incredibly popular. 6,500 runners registered and entries for the half marathon were completely sold out. Initially I was planning on taking a taxi home from Pretoria that day, but the allure of this race was just too tempting to resist. So I pitched up.

The race was very well-organized, plentiful aid stations with great music. The traffic marshals were delightful! They had signs and music and always had fun chants to shout.

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Loved her sign šŸ™‚

The course was gently challenging with a few annoying hills but mostly it was a smooth 21 kilometer ride, with a long and fun downhill stretch at the end. Finished the race and celebrated with a couple friends and beers. I barely had time to shower and get to the taxi rank to begin my 7 hour journey home. And while on my way, I thought a lot about how I end up in situations and experiences like these. How much of it is societal positioning versus how much is just the stars aligning and the universe shining down on me? To what degree of it all is influenced by my own leaps of faith and constant pursuit of new experiences? Am I really in control or is it all privilege? Society? The universe? Some combination? All I do know is that I’m grateful for the opportunity. ā¤

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Races: #13. Kaapsehoop Marathon

Published November 7, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

~Run With The Wild Horses~

It’s nice to know that in 91 degree heat, being sick and missing a toe, I can still run a 5 hour marathon HAHA

But really though. 

This is my life. 
I was so sick this week and completely bed ridden after running the Soweto marathon and my doctor deciding it was a good idea to cut off the tip of my toe due to an infection (oops, I suppose pretending a problem isn’t there won’t make it go away, my bad). Buuuut I had already registered for this marathon in Nelspruit and what’s more important is that once I get an idea in my head there’s no stopping me. So I bit the bullet and hobbled my sick, injured booty down to Nelspruit for some camping and marathon running (casual). 

  
Plus I was really stoked on this race because it starts in the pear orchards of Kaapsehoop and leads through wide open plains where we run amongst wild horses! Then run down into Nelspruit and finish at the Mbombela Stadium. Who would wanna miss a race like this!?! Not me. 

 I was not disappointed. This race course was absolutely stunningly gorgeous. Rolling green hills and sun shining through the trees, the smell of pine floating all around, and I actually ran alongside wild horses. Sweet Jesus, this experience was once in a lifetime. 

  
I won’t lie, this was definitely not my best marathon time, I struggled, wobbled, winced and cursed the Gods for the pain in my foot but that was all pushed to the back burner in comparison to the beauty that surrounded me. There were magical moments where I just felt like I was flying. *sigh…I’ll never forget that* 

I took my time hobbling myself into that stadium for a smooth 5 hour finish and it felt great to sit down! 

  
I wore my Soweto marathon shirt and every time I noticed someone wearing it or someone noticed me, we’d congratulate each other for surviving the heat of Soweto and praise each other’s bravery for running another marathon with just 5 days’ rest in between. 

The running community is all about lifting each other up!! 

Oh, and I was pacing with a man whom I also paced with at Comrades- let me tell you- this man runs marathons backwards. :O He’s run Comrades (a 55 mile race) multiple times and always runs the entire thing BACKWARDS. I saw him again today and was still in awe. Plus, I really enjoy seeing runners who add elements of pizazz or fun to races…it reminds me to not take things so seriously. To just enjoy myself and have fun with it. 

Another Peace Corps friend ran this marathon with me today and while we were waiting at the start line we came up with our 3 running goals-

Goal 1: Have fun! (If you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right)

Goal 2: Don’t die. (For obvious reasons)

Goal 3: Make Dr Armstrong proud (Our Peace Corps doctor, haha) 

  

Races: #12. Soweto Marathon

Published November 2, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

‘The race of the people.’ ~ South Africa’s most iconic marathon.

This race was super cool–its course runs past all the historic sites and monuments in Soweto- a subdistrict of Johannesburg that’s incredibly rich in history and culture, thus dubbing this race as South Africa’s most iconic race.

From the day I registered for this race, I had exactly 5 weeks until race day…5 weeks to commit myself to train and prepare after taking some off-time in September.

I read the course description and it indicated a few hills, but the actual course was nothing like I had read.     
What the race course actually was= 

 Still worth it though!

The marathon course took us past 6 important sites:
Hector Pieterson Memorial
Vilakazi Street
Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital
Regina Mundi Church
Walter Sizulu Square
Morris Isaacson High School
We started and finished at the Nasrec Expo Center (the same place where Ultra Music Festival is hosted!)

Running up Vilakazi Street was amazing- this is the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Peace Prize winners- Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.   
Although the novelty of the race was enjoyable, there were factors that caused the runners to struggle. It was very hot out this day, and by hot I mean 35 C with no rain and not a cloud in the sky, with occasional bursts of dust storms. (35 Celcius = 95 Fahrenheit). Running in this intense of heat could have been bareable had there been adequate water supplies but unfortunately the hydration stations ran dry, and I remember sometimes running for several kilometers before finding water again. There was immense crowd support so many of us took to asking spectators sitting in front of their houses for something to drink and they were all very helpful! In times of race struggle I find that the comraderie actually increases, and spectators get involved, and we are able to cross finish lines because of the support we each give and receive. 

There were a few phrases that kept tumbling around in my head. The first being “I figure if I’ve gone this far, I might as well just keep on going.” –channeling my inner Forrest Gump during challenging times, knowing that I refuse to give up and must persist. 

Another is a line from a book I’m currently reading called The Power Of One, in which the main character is training to become the welterweight boxing champion of the world, and he always tells himself- “First with the head, then with the heart” when he goes into a fight. I feel this accurately described my experience with this race- I went into it with my typical race logic- having a pace in mind, a hydration plan and nutrition strategy; but there’s a point where all that logic goes out the window and I’m running purely on my heart’s desire to finish. When you’re running in 95 degree heat and you have no water but too much pride to give up- you just start running from the heart. 

All in all I’d say this race was a fun experience with so much to be said about it’s history and culture. I was never without the support of the crowd, and I loved seeing all the traditional dancers and drum circles scattered around the course- it added an extra element of fun. šŸ™‚

  
 

Races: #11. Sizwe Irene Half Marathon

Published August 30, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

Today I ran a half marathon, or a 21.1 kilometer race. It was hosted by the Irene Sports Club in the Irene farming land of Gauteng. One questionable thing about this race is that it started at 12pm, so the African sun was high in the sky with not a cloud in sight. This time of day provided an interesting challengeā€¦running in the heat -_- But that’s neither here nor there, and I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. WORTH IT.

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Deviating from my typical race re-cap, I have decided to present to you 21 thoughts I entertained during the 21 kilometers I ran. Here is an inside look at what goes on in the mind of a runner throughout a 2 hour race.

  1. Half marathon, here we goooo!
  2. Jesus it’s hot out
  3. Why am I doing this again?
  4. Only 2k in?! I feel like I’ve been running for 2 hours already!
  5. 5k in, time for a salt stick
  6. Let’s have some fun this beat is sick, I wanna take a ride on your disco stick HEY!
  7. It’s beautiful out here, there’s nothing around, except a bunch of dairy cows
  8. MOOOOOOOOOO
  9. What do I wanna eat when this is done? EVERYTHING.
  10. Maybe something health conscious like a smoothie or salad.
  11. Or pizza. MMMMMM pizza.
  12. And beer. Cold, crisp beer.
  13. And ice cream.
  14.  What a beautiful day to be out running, the sun is shining, life is gloriously perfect.
  15. Time for another salt stick.
  16. I should’ve brought more. ITS SO HOT.
  17. I think I have to pee. No, think about something else.
  18. I have to pee. No. Ignore it. Ignore it. IGNORE IT.
  19. 2k left! F**KING FINALLY.
  20. Almost there. Just tap it in.
  21. Happy Gilmore. Happy Koko.

FINISHEEDDDDDDD!!!! šŸ™‚

Indeed.

Indeed.

Races: #8. COMRADES

Published June 5, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

The Ultimate HumanĀ Race

Comrades is more than just a ‘race’, it’s an experience. Like how they say Electric Daisy Carnival isn’t just a ‘rave’, it’s a festival experience.Ā There’s events leading up to it, the actual event, after parties, and an ubiquitous feeling of togetherness sprinkled throughout.

With this year being its 90th year running, it is known as the longest, oldest running marathon in the entire world. The Comrades Marathon is internationally popular because of its history, traditions, and mostly because of its treacherous course. It is called a ‘marathon’ even though it is an ‘ultra marathon’ technically. There are ultras out there that are certainly longer or have more difficult elevation gains, but Comrades is special because it eloquently combines both ultra distance and insane elevation changes all mashed up in 1 ridiculously difficult race.

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Everyone in South Africa talks about Comrades. They either are running it, have run it, know someone who’s running it, or sit and watch it every year as the entire 12 hour race is nationally broadcasted. It’s a big deal.

So what prompted me to sign up for this death march? I think the allure of Comrades springs from that nagging inner voice that says “Do you think you can do it?” Most people who run distance events in South Africa are training for Comrades, so it wasĀ easy to get swept up in the excitement. Being that I am living in South Africa, this seemed like the perfect time to take advantage and run the race.

Every year the race course changes from an ‘Up run’ (going from Durban to Pietermartizburg) to a ‘Down run’ (from Pietermaritzburg to Durban). 2015 was an Up Run and the course was measured to be 87.72 kilometers ~ 54.82 miles long.

Topographical Course

I registered for Comrades in September, qualified for it in November, and since then have been training and running smaller races to prepare. I felt pretty good about the training program I was following, the only thing that had me nervous was the elevation gains and the fact that I live in a very flat area so I don’t have a lot of opportunity for hill training other than inclining the treadmill. Another Peace Corps volunteer was also running this race, so it was comforting to have someone to talk to about it and plan for it together. We headed down to Durban from Pretoria on the 28th, intendingĀ to take the final few days before the race to rest and mentally prepare.

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Friday I went on the bus tour for international runners. The tour drives us along the race course and we had a director named Billy, who had run Comrades many times and gave us all the tips and tricks to running a good race. It helped a bit to physically see the hills and landmarks and to know what to expect come race day.

We drove to the Wall of Honor- where every Comrades runner has the opportunity to have a brick with their name and race number on it.

Wall of Honor

Wall of Honor

We stopped at the Ethembeni School for children with disabilities – a school that is directly along side the race course and the students look forward to seeing the runners speed by every year. We got to see the stadium where the finish line was, and we stopped to have lunch at the Comrades House – a museum commemorating all things Comrades.

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This lil guy was particularly excited to meet an American

This lil guy was particularly excited to meet an American

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After the bus tour we went to the Comrades Expo – a huge event where over 100 vendors present the latest and greatest in running gear, nutrition and technology. A place to buy Comrades swag and pick up any last minute supplies for race day. Saturday’s schedule was intentionally empty, not doing much besides laying around on the beach and mentally preparing. The last chance to enjoy full mobility before destroying our bodies šŸ˜›

The Last Supper.

The Last Supper.

The night before race day we had a big meal and went to bed by 8pm, knowing we had to wakeĀ around 2am. Finally race morning came! We puttered around getting ourselves ready, I ate my typical pre-race meal- a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter, and we piled into the car to make the 40 minute drive into Durban city center. We found a secure lot to park in and had to walk only a few blocks to the start line. It was 4am with a very slight ocean breeze but rather neutral temperatures which felt good that early in the morning, but I knew that also meant the day was going to get very hot and we’d be running under a blazing sun. We all separated into our seeding batches based on marathon times. I was categorized into batch G for sub-4:40 marathon. The race didn’t start until 5:30am so I had over an hour to just stand there. That’s when the nerves hit me. I was about to run Comrades! AHHHH!!!

Before separating at the start line

Before separating at the start line

I saw the flag of the sub-11:30 bus and immediately decided I wanted to hop on it. The ‘buses’ are pacing groups that run the race with an intended finishing time and pace the whole way together. With a 12 hour cutoff time at the finish line, I knew 11:30 was cutting it close but figured that was my best bet at finishing. The bus driver, Wietsche, has run 37 Comrades and was well experienced in the undulations of the course, I knew I would have to put my trust in this man if I were to follow his bus.

One of the favorite traditions of Comrades is corralling at the startline and singing the South African national anthem and Shosholoza – both of which I learned during my Peace Corps training. That was a very emotional moment- 17,000 runners all singing together before running the ultimate human race. Most people get a little misty, I know I did. Then Chariots of Fire plays over the speakers before the cock crows and the start gun fires off. At precisely 5:30am we began the slow shuffle forward, it takes a long time for that many runners to gain ground and spread out, for a long time we were shoulder to shoulder, front to back, making a very slow shamble through Durban. It took a couple of hours before I felt I had enough elbow room to actually swing a full gait. I followed the 11:30 bus for the first 4 to 5 hours- running when they ran, walking when they walked, drinking when they drank. It was hard for me to run a race that’s not my own pace, but at the pace of this driver whom I didn’t know and had to just trust he knew what he was doing. He was very funny, whimsical, and encouraging. I finished my gels rather early on (oops) and he gave me one of his Turbovites. That’s true Camaraderie right there. Climbing Field’s Hill was the first point that I really felt like the race was winning. And things only continued to get more and more difficult from there. After Botha’s Hill I had to stop for a porta-loo break and when I came out the bus had gotten way far ahead, I could see the flag in the distance but they were just too far for me to catch up. From this point I was on my own. And I was scared.

I trotted along, running the down hills and walking the ups, all the while I monitored my pace and made sure I was on track to hit all the cut off times. I knew the halfway mark wasn’t far ahead but I was so fatigued and really didn’t know if I could finish the course. Passing Arthur’s Seat helped my spirits a bit. I placed a flower down and said “Good morning Aurthur” (a Comrades tradition) and a burst of energy hit me, I felt good about having made it that far and I knew I would have a slight downhill run into the halfway point at Drummond.

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Inspiration struck as I ran through the tons of cheering spectators at Drummond congratulating me on making it halfway! I passed the Polokwane Athletic Club tent and saw my friend’s boyfriend among the crowd. I stopped and had him help me re-pin my bib to the back of my shirt, it felt really good to know half the course was over, I had climbed 3 of the major 5 hills, and I was well ahead of cut off times. Immediately after Drummond we began the slow, steady climb up Inchanga- the Zulu word for knife with a jagged edge. Inchanga is a massive hill that zig zigs for almost 3 kilometers- and pretty much everyone walks up this entire thing. I saw everyone around me walking, so I did as well. I spotted a man with a green number bib (which means he’s run Comrades at least 10 times), I figured I’d talk to him for a bit- he’s done this so many times he probably would be a good person to follow (race logic!). He and I had a good pace going- a slow jog then a fast walk and did this all the way up Inchanga, then we separated at some point but I was thankful I had a wise runner to follow and learn from for a bit. As I came down Inchanga I ran into a woman with whom I was chatting with at the startline and who was also in the 11:30 bus with me earlier on. She too had gotten separated from the bus and was running solo. She said “I’m happy to suffer to the finish lineĀ together if you want”. I gladly agreed. Her and I ran together for what seemed to be quite a while. She’s an American ex-pat living in Singapore, her and her husband come to SA to run Comrades every year, this being her 5th year. We talked about everything from education to careers, culture, running, anthropology, economics, anything to keep our minds busy and off of what we were doing physically. I got a really bad cramp and told her to run on ahead, I didn’t want her to sacrifice her time to wait on me. She slowly jogged out of my sight and I never saw her again. I hope she finished. I heard a voice from behind call my name and I recognized this man who was in the 11:30 bus with me, he was also a first time Comrades runner, we ran together for a bit but I lost him somewhere on a downhill. I kept spotting runners I knew and finding people to chat with, running Comrades alone is a really hard thing to do so it helps to make friends quickly and keep the mental distractions flowing.

The sun was unmerciful. It was blazing hot and runners were slowly starting to fall apart. I saw runners collapsing all over the sides of the road. I gave everyone water as I passed them, knowing that could easily be me. This is what Comrades is all about – you help people and people help you. Every runner is your brother or sister and we all have the same single goal: to cross the finish line. My bad knee was acting up, I felt a sharp pain with every stride on my left leg and wondered how much farther this knee could carry me. Thankfully the spectators added an element of energy. The bibs we wore have our names on them and what country we’re from, as well as how many Comrades we’ve run. People were cheering my name- I knew it wasĀ the spectators trying to encourage me! I’d hear “Go Koleana Go!” and “Go USA!” from all directions.Ā This helped a lot.

At around 67km there was a cutoff time- which I was fully ahead of and felt good about it. My body was in pain from head to toe by this point and figured I had the time to spare to walk a bit. But once I slowed to a walk, I couldn’t really pick up the pace again. Camperdown has 3 unnamed but significantly difficult hills, all of which I struggled to get over. Then comes Little Pollys and Polly Shorts. Once you climb Polly Shorts there is a cutoff time before the last 7km and the finish line. As I climbed up I knew I would miss the cut off time and be pulled off the course. This is where the water works started flowing full force. Jogging and crying, jogging and crying, I knew at 80k my race would end and I would not be crossing the finish line. That’s a sad reality pill to swallow. As I reached the cutoff point, dozens of other runners were there waiting for the bus to drive us to the finish line.

I climbed on board the bus and sat and cried. Tears of pain, defeat, sadness, joy, a mixture of everything the last 11 hours of running has caused me to feel. My race had ended.

The bus dropped us off at the finishing stadium and I worked my way through the crowds and into the International Runners tent. I quickly spotted my friends and they gave me a chair to sit down. We all talked about our experiences, the ups and downs, some of us crossed the finish line and some didn’t, but we all felt good about what we accomplished. There was a buffet line for us international runners, I was starving. I inhaled some butternut soup, spaghetti and Sprite (which I never drink, but my god was that crisp and refreshing!)

We made our way to the bus that would drive us from Pietermaritzburg back to Durban and sat in traffic trying to get out of the stadium for at least 90 minutes. I was so tired, sore, stiff, happy, sad, and more tired. I curled up in the seat and tried to take a little nap. We made it back to the city center, limped to the car and drove back to our little beach hut. Walking up the stairs was not a fun moment in time. Struggle bus!

First things first, I needed a shower badly, then we all made food and ate and celebrated a bit but we didn’t have much energy and passed out fairly early.

The days following were all recovery and massages, beach time, movies, and eating all the food.

Bunny Chow - a Durban original.

Bunny Chow – a Durban original.

Reflecting back on the whole experience, there are a lot of things I really enjoyed about Comrades, and some things that I was not very happy with.

Things I liked:

-The bus tour: great for mental preparedness

-Runners singing at the start line

-The encouragement of aid station workers

-Physiotherapy massages along the race course

Things I didn’t like:

-The spectators and their children crowding into the race course

-The timing system being gun to gun, instead of timing chip to mat

-The adjustments of cutoff times and the placements of them

-Not enough food in the first half

Here’s Comrades 2015 in numbers & medical statisticsĀ –Ā 

  • around 23,000 people registered for the race
  • about 5,000 of those people didn’t qualify to run it
  • 17,000 runners showed up at the start line
  • 13,000 finished the course
  • close to 600 runners were treated in medical tents along the course
  • nearly 100 runners were sent to St Augustines and St Annes Hospitals
  • ailments treated were dehydration, heart problems, pneumonia, renal failure, low blood pressure; most were treated and discharged but 17 remained in the ICU
  • the 1st male finisher was South African, and had a time of 5 hours 38 minutes
  • the 1st female finisher was South African, with a time of 6 hours 12 minutes

 

ComradesĀ was everything I expected it to be. I didn’t sign up because I thought it would be easy. I wanted to push myself harder and farther than I ever have – and I did exactly that. I ran 50 miles up and down hills. And although I didn’t cross the finish line, I’m happy I got to experience the magic of Comrades.Ā It seems surreal to finally be done with it. The last 9 months has been all preparation, planning, organizing, and training for this 1 event, and now that it’s over, there’s this “what’s next?” feeling.

Right after the race my friend asked me if I would ever run it again, I told him ask me again in a few days because right now I’m saying definitely not, but I’m sure I’ll change my mindā€¦ šŸ˜‰

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