Sun, Jun 28/15
Victoria Falls Marathon
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Marathon # 376 – Country # 125
I wanted to run this race for a number of reasons:
3) Completing country #125 was an even more important goal
After the past few marathons earlier this year I was not sure how many more marathons were left in the ‘old’ bod? I wanted to at least round out my total countries and World Record to 125! Since I figured it might be my last trip to Africa I decided to do it properly. Nicole and I would visit Victoria Falls, run the marathon and then enjoy a few weeks in Africa. We wanted to do another safari and also visit the Namib Desert. By the time I prepaid the flights and all the excursions it was already the 2nd most expensive marathon trip we ever made! We would finish in grand style if this was my last race?
We departed on a Wed to allow a few days in Zimbabwe to recover from jetlag and to have a few days to explore Zimbabwe & Zambia. However Delta and Mother Nature wrecked those plans! Our first flight to Atlanta was diverted to TN because of thunderstorms in Atlanta and we missed our flight to Johannesburg (JNB), South Africa. And Delta didn’t care that we had to spend an extra day in Atlanta, pay for a hotel at the Atlanta airport, lose the prepaid hotel in JNB, lose the prepaid flights the next day from JNB to Victoria Falls, and buy new air tickets at triple the cost for one day later! In total, that storm cost me more than $800 and Delta didn’t care – because the delay was caused by weather!
With lots of anxiety and last-minute scrambling we re-arranged our travel logistics and arrived in Victoria Falls on Sat afternoon. We realized that any plans/hopes of visiting Zambia had gone out the window with the weather & flight delay. After checking into our hotel we met up with friends (Edson & Dieter) from the Country Club and strolled around VF looking for souvenirs. VF was much smaller than imagined so it did not take long to explore and enjoy a few (Zambezi) beers. I had read that the economy was in shambles in Zimbabwe and that hyperinflation had destroyed their currency and the $US was the de-facto currency. Street hawkers were selling packages of Zimbabwe currency worth $500 BILLION for $10 US- and that price was negotiable! Sadly the street vendors and hawkers had not adjusted to reality and were demanding ridiculous prices for crafts. One shop demanded $75 for a souvenir teaspoon? Granted it was sterling silver but when I pointed out that it contained less than $10 worth of silver he wouldn’t lower his price! It was worth maybe $30 tops! I walked away!
That evening Edson joined Nicole & me to walk into town for pasta dinner. The first restaurant had run out of pasta but we did find another to get our carbo fix.
Sun was ‘M’-day! The race started at 6:45am. Five members of the Country Club met at the race start for a photo. Unfortunately, Dieter had broken his toe in the bathroom the night before the race, and could not participate. Several $$thousands down the drain! But he was at the start line to cheer us on. The weather was cool – so cool that most runners wore a throw-away top.
The first few Km of the course ran across a bridge between Zimbabwe & Zambia and provided spectacular views of Victoria Falls at sunrise! Many of us stopped for a few Kodak moments before continuing across the border into Zambia. The course continued for about 500m into Zambia before we had to turn around and return across the bridge.
Around 5Km the course turned into Hwange National Park for two loops in the Park and around VF. Around 8Km, two friends, Peter, Yen & I encountered a family of baboons. I cautioned them to walk on the far side of the road so as NOT to threaten their territory! At the same time we heard gunshots? A Park Ranger had fired his rifle a few Km ahead of us to scare away a bull elephant that was threatening other runners. Yes- we were running in a Game Park and trespassing on game territory. But no runners were harmed!
When I passed 8Km in 1:00:18 and a split of 7:37 min/Km I was on pace but my legs were already tired? There were plenty of water stations –about every 3Km – so I started walking through them to rest my legs. By the time I passed 16Km in 2:00:15 and a split of 7:23 I knew it was going to be a long day! My legs were tired & sore! I wanted to walk the rest of the race? I figured it had to be the hills – the course was a never-ending series of rolling hills! I never even considered the altitude (3,000 ft)? I just figured that my only option to finish – and I HAD to finish – was to run and walk. And I would walk the whole damn race if necessary!
I passed the Half in 2:42 but my splits had slowed to 8:00/km. It was going to be a long day! And it was getting very warm now that the sun was up. The 2nd half was not fun! I think I walked as much as I ran?
Later, when I learned the elevation, I realized that the combination of altitude & hills had just been too much for my old bod and weak heart! I had once again pushed the old bod beyond its limits. But the good news was that I had mentally decided during the race NOT to run any more races if it was going to be that difficult & painful. However, now understanding the reasons, I believe that I can run more races if I choose my races and courses more wisely! And more good news was that I had finished marathon #376 and country #125 – the new World Record!
It was time to celebrate. Our marathon package included a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River so we did not have much time to accomplish other tasks. Nicole still had not seen Victoria Falls. While she walked over to and across the bridge to view the Falls I scampered (well- limped is a better term) into town to negotiate the purchase of the mandatory souvenirs. We both accomplished our tasks and were ready for the shuttle at 3:30 pm.
On Mon we were to be transported to a safari camp in Hwange Park. After breakfast, we walked over to the Victoria Falls Hotel (over 100 years old) for spectacular views of the bridge and the Falls.
Our camp – the Miombo Safari Camp – was located close to the Park entrance. But it was not as described in the brochure! Our private thatched cabin was nice and had a beautiful four-post bed complete with mosquito netting – BUT – the toilet and shower were outside the cabin? It was very inconvenient and damn COLD to take care of duties after the sun set & temps dropped into the mid-30s!
We returned back to camp in the dark and sadly/painfully realized that we had under-dressed for the temps that dropped quickly after sunset. It was a COLD drive! Dinner was not too exciting – a basic, set meal washed down with free booze. It was a cold walk to our cabin in the dark. And even colder when I had to make frequent potty breaks during the night! Since the morning safari left the camp at 6am we didn’t bother to take a shower in our rugged/outdoor shower in the dark with temps hovering around the low 30s. This time we dressed more appropriately with 3 layers – and still almost froze to death on the drive to the Park in the back of the truck. If our guide hadn’t provided blankets to wrap ourselves in I doubt we would have survived? We saw more animals – we requested zebras & giraffes – and our guide came though. However I am not sure the views and animals were worth suffering with that friggin COLD!
The afternoon safari was much better. Warmer and the final stop at the water hole provided more wild animals in their natural environment than I had ever seen in one place before! There were hundreds & hundreds of animals of different varieties sharing the water hole. Quite spectacular! After another cold drive back to camp in the dark we enjoyed a BBQ dinner followed with entertainment by a group of Zulu warriors performing traditional songs & dances.
The next morning we had to leave early to go back to the airport in VF. Once again it was too COLD to take a shower. After 2 hours of running the same police gauntlet we arrived safely at the airport. After checking in and going through customs/security, etc we visited a small bar/restaurant in the departure lounge for a snack. We ordered a plate of ‘chips’ and a couple of Zambezi beers. Oh what luck & joy! The chips were hand-cut and fried while we waited. It was the best meal we enjoyed in Zimbabwe!