Now that I spent the first few posts talking about traveling and sightseeing, this one will actually be about running (it’s also my last post in this set).
Packet pickup for this race is part of the pre-race party. Like I mentioned in some of my earlier posts, runners traveling in from the states or Europe all stay together and we had a bus waiting to take us to the start line on race morning and we were all able to leave our gear on the bus instead of having to check it somewhere, which was nice and convenient.
When we first got there, it was raining…. not a big deal – I actually really like running in the rain. The only downside was that the first quarter mile or so of the race was on a dirt road that had turned to mud overnight so within the first couple minutes, my feet felt soaked and heavy from all of the mud that was sticking to my shoes. Once we got onto the pavement though, I was able to knock most of it off and carry on. Other than that, the course was pretty decent and the weather did eventually clear up.
Here are a few of my memories of this race that stand out the most –
When I tell people that I ran a marathon in Africa at the end of June, one of the most common questions I get asked is how hot it was. Actually it was quite mild. Tanzania is in the Southern Hemisphere, which means that the middle of June is actually the middle of winter. Being so close to the equator, it obviously never gets as cold as it does in the states, but the average temperatures during my entire trip ranged from the high 60’s to the mid 70’s F.
The streets in Moshi are not as well kept up as they are in the states. Even though we were running on major roads throughout most of the race, there was still quite a bit of dodging cracks and potholes that needed to be done. That being said though, there weren’t very many runners doing this race so it really wasn’t a big deal. Within the first half mile or so, we had pretty much all separated out and were running our own pace (more on that in a little bit).
It’s not easy to block off 26.2 miles worth of roads in Moshi because there wouldn’t be enough alternate routes for traffic, so the race was actually a loop that was roughly 10K long and we ran it four times. I was good with this too because there was some interesting scenery along the course, including a lot of leftover bridges and other various relics from back when Tanzania was still a colony. Tanzania was first colonized by Germany in the late 1800s, taken over by Great Britain in 1919 and then became an independent country in 1961. It was the Germans and British who built a lot of the infrastructure, which means that a lot of the roads, buildings, etc… are over 50 years old (hence the cracks and potholes).
Instead of traditional water tables, the race director and some of her assistants drove up and down the course in a van handing out water and orange slices to anyone who wanted them. I actually really liked this – on a normal race course, there’s a water table about every two miles or so, and unless you carry your own water with you, if you start to feel thirsty, you have to wait until you get to the next table for a drink. By comparison, this was like having a personalized water delivery service available.
About a mile into the race though something crazy happened that I’m not sure will ever happen to me again in another race….. First a little background: the Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon is the original marathon in Moshi that offers views of Mt. Kilimanjaro and tour packages that include safaris and options to climb the mountain, etc…. Once the race started to get popular, a rival group created their own race and called it the Kilimanjaro Marathon (similar name, held about 6 weeks earlier, and run by a completely different group of people). The directors of the Kilimanjaro Marathon have a lot of local connections, not only in Tanzania, but in a lot of the surrounding countries as well and they’ve used their connections to try and attract runners away from the original Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon. In this particular case, there was a police officer directing traffic at one of the busier intersections…. who we later found out had been paid off by the directors of the rival race… and he sent a fairly large group of runners (myself included) off in the wrong direction. Even though we had seen the course the previous day, none of us were familiar with the area, so we followed the directions and didn’t realize that we were going the wrong way until about 3 miles later when we realized that nothing around us looked familiar. To make things worse though, by this point we had split off into two groups and it was the group that was further back who actually made the realization about the course so a few of us had to pick up our pace and run ahead a little more quickly to let the others know…. and then of course we had to turn around and run back to the actual course. At the time I wasn’t very happy about this but when I look back now, I honestly have nothing but fond memories of this race and trip and I would still go back and do it again in a heartbeat. Not every race is perfect and something that I’ve come to learn is that the most challenging ones are the ones that I come away from with the best memories and stories.
To circle back to my thoughts about pace…. this race is open to both overseas runners from the states and other continents and also to local runners from Tanzania and other surrounding countries like Kenya. Two things about this – 1. A lot of the local runners ran the entire race barefoot…. potholes, cracks, mud and all….. and 2. The slowest Tanzanian runner finished the race almost an hour ahead of the fastest American runner…. even with bare feet….
After the race, there was a big post race party where awards were given out by the mayor of Moshi. Because of the huge differences in finishing times, there are actually two sets of awards – one set for local runners and a second set for people who traveled in for the race. I thought that was kind of funny…. but my favorite memory from after the race was meeting my friend Nelson. Nelson is from Tanzania and finished in second place overall in the race. He was also one of the people I mentioned above who ran the entire race barefoot. The reason we started talking was because we noticed that we had the same sized feet and he mentioned that he liked my shoes. So I gave them to him. I had brought another pair and I figured that he could use those a lot more than I could. Nelson showed me an invitation that he had gotten from Elite Racing to come and run marathons in the United States and he’s been here a few times since then. We’ve never gotten a chance to see each other again in person but we do stay in touch via email – English isn’t Nelson’s first language (and I don’t speak Swahili) but we’ve always been able to find ways to communicate with each other and this is a perfect example of why I love running so much. Runners all share a common bond that reaches across cultural barriers and all it takes is a pair of shoes and a good run with someone to make a new friend for life.
After the race, we had another day to head into downtown Moshi and we all had one last lunch together before everyone started heading to the airport to catch their flights back home. As I was leaving to catch mine, I got a couple great shots of the sun setting and I thought it was a perfect end to an amazing trip –