June 25, 2016 – The Big Five Marathon
There’s a charity challenge at some marathons wherein a runner is the very last person to cross the starting line. For every person he or she passes on the course, a dollar or five dollars or some amount is donated by the sponsor to a charitable organization. I always felt like every runner should just pull to the side and let this person pass us so the maximum amount can be raised but that may be overthinking it.
I got to inadvertently experience what it’s like to be that charity runner this morning. In the opening kilometer of the race, I had a wardrobe malfunction – my phone fell out of my pocket. To my fellow runners’ credit, everyone announced that somebody had lost a phone and when I realized it was me, I tried to locate it. Some people said it had been picked up and passed forward but as I raced ahead asking folks if anyone had picked up a phone I was told it was passed BACK and I turned around, a salmon swimming the wrong way, only to be told it was picked up by a ranger and taken back to the starting line.
And so I went back to the beginning. Lars was giving last minute instructions to the half marathoners who would start in about ten minutes. A young man from the sidelines reassured me he had seen the phone being given to a ranger. He asked me, “was it an iPhone 6 with a BB-8 cover?” I was really, really glad to know this kid was up on his Star Wars. A minute or two later of me asking if folks had found a phone and a ranger did indeed have it and handed it to me. A few of my Aussie travelers from Ravineside saw me and I told them I had lost my phone but all was okay now. I started… Again… This time chasing the field.
It took a while, maybe 1.5 kilometers for me to see the back of the pack again. I cheered folks on as I madly dashed trying to make up for some lost time. One by one, I passed runners, pushing my pace to run down at least the middle of the pack if not trying to suds out the leaders’ times. This was not the smartest strategy given the early hills and what I knew was coming up, but there ya go. I’ve never been the smartest tool in the shed… Which I think means I was dull and not very sharp, right? Mixing too many metaphors to the point of incomprehension. But I just ran a marathon so cut me some slack!
The prior evening, a lioness and her cubs had a kill on the course route in the lower escarpment prompting a last minute re-routing. As one of the race organizers pointed out, you don’t often find that in London, Paris, or Boston! He also had a final word of advice for us before the start, “This is Africa… Only food runs here.”
As part of the revamped course, we did a small out and back around 2-4 km. At the turnaround was Thomas Thomson, one of the founders of Albatros Adventures and specifically the Big Five Marathon. Before the start I met him and thanked him for putting this on… Albeit I wasn’t sure I should thank him for the big freakin’ hill he put into the course!
It was amazing to run through the reserve. This is apparently the only time they let regular folks traverse the grounds on foot and it was really something running the game drive paths. In the opening miles (kilometers given this is a Standard Measurement Race), a stampede of wildebeests could be seen on the prairie in the distance.
At the Hanging Lip Lookout turnaround, I received my orange wristband to prove I was doing the full distance.
As we headed for the steep downhill segment, a pack of Impala decided to cross right in front of me. There’s a reason this race is billed as the wildest of events!
At the top of the hill, my Mom was waiting with fellow cheering spectators. It was a real boost to see her and to have former strangers and now compatriot game shutterbugs cheer me on with cries of, “Run, Kevin, Run!” As I snapped a selfie with Mom she said she heard I had some troubles at the starting line. I guess the story of the lost BB unit was making the rounds as surely as it did on Jakku.
And to steal a phrase from the Star Wars trilogy, I had a bad feeling about the downhill. I tried to keep a decent jogging pace but the incline of the hill made it so I essentially had to lean back while running, doing some weird approximation of the Michael Jackson “Smooth Criminal” dance moves. I’ve often heard of quad killing hills and though I’ve run more than a few tough courses, I really felt it this time.
I even got to snap a photo with Albatros Adventure Tour Guide Veronica. She was a last minute entry to the half marathon event as she found out an elephant was on the medal and she’s a real pachyderm fan.
Once at the bottom, we set off on an even more trying segment — sand. A woman I was running with said there’s only one thing worse the running in sand. When I asked what that was, she indicated the incline before us and said, “Running uphill on sand.”
I just couldn’t get any footing on the sand. I tried running in the Land Rover tire ruts but they were too narrow. Any attempt to run along side the road or in the middle just lead to collapsing superstructure and my feet were then sucked into the sand itself.
But slowly we made progress, bypassing the lioness kill scene and heading along the shoreline of the Hippo watering hole. They were there, ears wiggling, snuffling the water, submerged to their snouts. I don’t think I captured it on film so there’s no shot here, even one that may or may not feature a hippo in the water.
After yet another sand segment, we were at the base of the hill. I grabbed my spare socks I had left but decided not to swap them out, fearing taking off my shoes might be disastrous. Instead, I threw them in my pocket and grabbed one of the baggies of water that we were supposed to rip open with our teeth (hey — it’s a wild animal marathon after all!).
And I began to climb. I started the hill at 11:30 AM. I did not run it. I stumbled, crawled, and scaled the hill. I powered through as best I could. No photos taken can do justice to the incline, to the steep nature of the ascent. But I did snag a pic with Tiggy Bailey on the course — she’s leaning way back as she was on her way down and I am struggling to maintain my balance after having climber maybe a 10th of the way back up.
Up, up, and up I climbed. Again, photos aren’t going to do it but here’s a few from along the way.
I finally got to the top in 33 minutes, spotting the Team Phil cheer section that once again cried out, “Run, Kevin, Run!” My legs were like jello but I had 13 km to go. Onward I ran… Albeit far slower than I had been doing in the opening distances.
The upper escarpment had an Arizona or Aussie Outback vibe. There were plenty guano, scat, dung, etc to indicate the presence of wild animals but none to be seen by my untrained eye. I was just trying to keep my head down to avoid the aforementioned shit. Well, that and exhaustion was taking a hold and it was hard to keep my head upright!
But kilometers slowly, ever so slowly, passed by. The wind kicked up a few times, buffeting me in the face and body. But still I pressed on. Somewhere around the late 30s I saw Ravineside Ranger Gibson and took a quick selfie.
Cruelly, there were two more hills to climb in the closing kilometers. I had grabbed another water baggie and despite my best lion impression, I could not tear open the plastic bag to save my life. It took me a few minutes of squeezing and prodding and pulling and twisting to pop the bag, which was fine as I walked up the hill during this epic man vs. food struggle.
Heading into the home stretch, I was eyeing the time hoping to break 4:30. It got really, really down the wire as my legs were revolting… Both in the beauty sense as they were covered in sand particles and dirt, and in the physical French Guillotine style of revolt against my choice of “leisure” activity.
But I made it. Mom was there to cheer me on. And I finished just under 4:30. How many people I passed along the way is something I’ll have to investigate later. And what might have been had I not had to go back for my phone? Doesn’t matter — I don’t have a time machine and I can’t change history. And as of this writing, the Big Five Marathon 2016 is in the history books!
I did hear the top three finishers were women and that’s awesome beyond words.
After a quick lunch and celebratory Coke Zero, mom and I cheered on a few other runners and basked in the too fast waning sunlight.
We also stopped to pick up mom a souvenir — a painted dog stuffed animal that was super cute and that mom named “Ravi” in honor of Ravineside Lodge.