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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. 🙂

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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. 🙂 

  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: #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 🙂

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. ❤

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Namibia! 

Published December 24, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

 I went to Namibia last month. My tendency to live in the moment often means that photos don’t really happen in the process. I suppose I put my eggs in the basket of hope that someone else is capturing and documenting the moments. Doesn’t always turn out that way. Haha. Here’s what we’ve got from journeying through the Namib desert 😄

  
    
    

    
    
  

    
    
    

    
    
  

    
   

Beautiful people. Beautiful country. Although there’s a large population of Germans that have settled in, I didn’t feel the same racial tension as I do in South Africa…it was so much more racially integrated. It was so refreshing to not be constantly identified by my skin color, I could walk everywhere and felt really safe, even at night. The population of Namibia is also much smaller which I’m sure directly influences the level of harassment driven by poverty. 

All in all, a wonderful vacation! 

Empowerment

Published July 6, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica
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The crew! From the left: Me, Mapula, Thepiso, Tumelo and Busi.

On this year’s 4th of July, I wanted to introduce my host family to American culture and show them how we celebrate our Independence Day by organizing a women’s empowerment weekend away. Five of us ladies (ages 16 – 46) rented a vacation cottage in the lush, beautiful Graskop area of the Mpumalanga province, which is centrally located near many tourist sites, making it easy to get around and squeeze in all the funsies. Each day was filled with many activities, delicious food and a belly ache of laughs.

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I made a point to incorporate typical ‘American’ things into our day on the 4th – BBQing, making s’mores, and playing card games. I even managed to facilitate some ‘U-S-A’ chanting. 🙂

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Turns out none of us are very skilled at BBQing and couldn’t keep the fire lit…so we took the party inside and finished up on the stove and roasting marshmallows over a candle. >.<

The aim of the weekend was to place emphasis on physical and emotional health, self confidence and overcoming fears. Each day we has group exercise- yoga, running, hiking and trampoline jumping. Each meal was carefully planned and home-cooked (and often vegetarian!) to encourage broadening dietary horizons and incorporating healthier foods into our lifestyles. We also had group discussions about boosting self image, feeling confident and recognizing ability.

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One activity supporting personal empowerment was zip lining!

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That’s the face of confidence.

Each of us took our turn zipping down a 450m line, 130m above a natural riverbank. This was easier for some more than others…but after extensive coercion and encouragement- we succeeded in getting all 5 of us women to zip the line! This adrenaline rush boosted everyone’s confidence and we were all smiles for the rest of the day.

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There were a couple of beautiful waterfall hikes in the area that we checked out – Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls at Blyde River Canyon.

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Lisbon Falls

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Berlin Falls

Another hike we went on took us to God’s Window. We also managed to see the Lowveld View and the Three Rondavels – very popular panoramic mountainous spots in this side of the country.

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me and tumi
We found an adorable little photography studio where we could dress up in old 1920’s costumes!!

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Family photo!

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I just had to.

This ended up being one of my favorite weekends I’ve had in South Africa thus far. Getting to laugh, joke, cook, BBQ, sing, dance, jump, zip, and spend time learning and growing with these beautiful women was an amazing way to spend my 4th of July. (While supporting cultural exchange- yay Peace Corps Goals 2 & 3!)

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Races: #8. COMRADES

Published June 5, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

The Ultimate Human 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. 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 was 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, intending 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.

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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 😛

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 wake 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 line 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 was the spectators trying to encourage me! I’d hear “Go Koleana Go!” and “Go USA!” from all directions. 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 statistics – 

  • 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

 

Comrades 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. 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 mind… 😉

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Races: #7. Nguni’s 4-in-1 Ultra Marathon

Published May 4, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica
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From left to right: My Host Mother, me, 3 of my yoga students.

There were a few things that made this event special: 1. It was my first Ultra Marathon, 2. A fellow PCV came with me to run her 1st 5k and so did a few of my yoga students, 3. We celebrated Cinco De Mayo afterward! I love that my students are always down for new experiences, and I especially enjoy introducing people to the world of running.

We had to wake up at 4:30am to pick up some fellow runners and make the drive in time to register before the race started at 7am. As us runners gathered at the start line outside of Nguni’s, the race director took a few minutes to give instructions. He also touched on recent events regarding the xenophobic attacks that have been happening around South Africa, and how running is not a place for discrimination, it’s where all people can participate together in sport regardless of color or ethnicity.  We said a prayer, thanking the higher power for the opportunity and asking for strength and cloud cover, it was a beautiful moment to look around and see hundreds of runners all united under a common goal, independent of race.

The start gun fired off and away we ran! This course was pretty level, ebbing through some residential areas of northern Polokwane, it lacked the inspirational scenery that I usually look forward to. Also, not being able to run with music is a challenge I have had to face recently due to race guidelines, this is a psychological test that is not fun. The silver lining is the ability to make new friends and chat while running. I paced with a man named Walter who I also paced with at the MOTN marathon back in March. Seeing so many familiar faces at every event made me realize how small the world of running is.  Walt is a sweet old man and he inspires me- he’s over 50 years old and still kicks ass at running marathons! He is also preparing for his first Comrades, just like me.

I reached 21km around 2:05 and hit the official halfway mark at about 2:30, at which point I allowed myself to walk a bit knowing full well I was making decent time. The second half would be hot and grueling, so I made a plan with Luvo, another runner who paced with me until the very end. The aid stations were roughly 3km apart, so we ran from station to station, allowing about a minute of walking to drink after each station. This plan seemed to work well for us and we trotted along. The last 12 km or so was pretty rough, it was really hot- the clouds that had shaded us for the first 2 hours dissipated and there was no longer protection from the sun that was beating down on us. However, we knew we were going to finish before the 6 hour cutoff time, so we restructured our plan to allow us to walk for a minute after every kilometer. For me, the final 2 kilometers of any race feel effortless – by that point I am running on shear determination and my legs glide on autopilot, carrying me across the finish line. Before the race, my friend asked me what time I was hoping to finish with – I figured a 5:40 was pretty attainable for 48 km. I ended up finishing with a 5:57…which I don’t think is particularly impressive, but I’m happy I completed the first Ultra marathon I’ve ever attempted. A couple years ago I wrote down on my Dreams List that I wanted to complete an Ultra Marathon…I am deeply thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to take on that task and cross that entry off my list.

My favorite part of this race had nothing to do with running, but with the conversations I had with other runners along the course. Luvo taught me a lot – I told him I’m preparing for my first Comrades and he said he’s preparing for his 7th. :O I took full advantage of the fact that we were running together for those last 3 hours, and I picked his brain for tips on Comrades- both preparation and the race itself. Here are some of the most significant things he shared with me: Have a pacing plan going into it. Walk the hills- especially Inchanga, and literally everyone will walk at Polly Shorts. Hydrate in the beginning, even if I feel I don’t need to. Run through the pain. And my favorite tip of all- don’t look at anyone else while running…don’t compare myself to anyone, don’t get down about myself if another runner passes me, the race has to be ran for myself, not for anyone else.

Races are a platform not only for personal growth, but for sharing with and learning from other runners as well. We share the laughs, the pains, knowledge, and victories as we cross finish lines together. We come out of the experience with new friends who were strangers a mere 6 hours beforehand. I am thoroughly enjoying becoming part of South Africa’s running community, and I cannot wait to experience the shear volume and positive energy of Comrades, coming up on May 31st.

After the race, we piled into the car to go get lunch before making the 2 hour drive back. Once we arrived home, we immediately got to work preparing our Cinco De Mayo feast with my host family and a few other Peace Corps volunteers. Thankfully people send/bring me special key items from the States- like taco seasoning and Tapatio sauce, that coupled with my new found ability to make tortillas (thank you, Peace Corps), we shared a delicious spread!

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Ready for our Cinco De Mayo feast!

GREEK WEEK!

Published April 15, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

I went to Greece for Easter holiday. Here’s a photo update! 

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Travel buddies!

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The food was to die for.

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Everything is hella beautiful.

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Like hella.

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And really old.

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With so much history.

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And culture.

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Those ancient Greeks really knew what they were doing.

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It’s quite impressive.

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Stray cats & dogs everywhere.

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Theater was a huge part of ancient Greece.

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Like really huge.

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They took it very seriously.

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Theaters everywhere.

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Hydra is an incredible island. Can you say retirement destination??

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No cars allowed. The only transportation is via horse or donkey.

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Trotted all the way up the mountainside.

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Feline fest.

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The Panathenaic Stadium was probably my favorite place to be.

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And run.

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And sit.

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People love their art installations here. Hand crafts everywhere.

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More food. Because…food.

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Ancient Greece also had libraries.

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Where people could gather to share written and spoken word.

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Headless and armless statues everywhere. Sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

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How can something built over 2,000 years ago still be standing!??!

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What a beautifully enriching experience.

 

Races: #6. MOTN Marathon

Published April 1, 2015 by kokoinsouthafrica

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.

IMG_2484 Stay tuned for more race updates!!