Located around 85km from Gaborone, Kanye is the eighth-largest village in Botswana and the administrative capital of the Southern District. Steeped in cultural, traditional and political history, Kanye is also well-known for its rolling hills, beautiful gorges and stunning scenery. More significantly to me, it is my husband Ditiro’s home village, a place he believes truly moulded his character and values. The last time I raced in Kanye was five years ago at the Ga-Maila Race with Ditiro, Elisa and Tapiwa. I had originally signed up for the Kgosi Malope II Half Marathon, but after my dismal performance in Mogoditshane, I changed my entry to 10km as I start a more focused Half Marathon training plan. Kgosi Malope II is the Head (Chief) of the Bangwaketse Tribe and according to the race website has been “very active in promoting sports and healthy lifestyle in Kanye”, spearheading many sporting and cultural activities.
We spent Friday night in Kgogomodumo Lodge and headed to the Tomela Grounds around 05:45am on Saturday. When we arrived, it was quiet. Some runners, several from Gaborone clubs, were warming up, but there were no obvious signs the race was starting any time soon. We stayed in our car for as long as we could. Around 7am, I was desperate for the toilet, and spotted some porta-loos across the field. That’s when they started calling for the Half Marathoners. When I returned, the Half Marathoners were still there so I managed to get a photo with Ditiro, shortly before he set off. Ditiro asked if I had some FOMO for not doing the Half. Surprising, not! I felt happy with my decision and was looking forward to my shorter run!
Not knowing anyone, I quietly warmed up in the crowd as I listened to the jovial chatter around me. That pre-race nervous excitement just never grows old, does it? At 07:15, the race announcer counted down for us to start. When I run Half Marathons, I typically position myself in the middle-to-back of the pack. Not thinking, I did the same now. But when we started, many were walking, so I realised then, I should have positioned myself further ahead.
But it wasn’t a huge crowd, so I calmly navigated my way round some of the runners and soon found a comfortable pace. From Tomela, we ran downhill, passing the SDA Hospital (where my husband was born), opposite of which stands the old SDA Church established in 1921!
Even though we had set off late, it was still quite cool at this point. We ran mostly downhill for about 4.5km and my splits (min/km) were 6:51/ 6:36/ 6:52/ 7:02/ 7:32. Although I enjoyed it, I kept thinking, “What goes down, must come up again!” And indeed it did! Around 4.5km, our ascent began as we headed into the bustling town centre. Each time I was tempted to walk, I told myself, “Just Keep Pushing.” This seemed to work as I ran up (maybe shuffled is a better word) each incline, except for maybe 50 metres of a particularly difficult incline close to the end. My splits for the second half show how much tougher it was: 07:31/ 08:21/ 08:05/ 8:28/ 07:48 min/km. When I came through the gantry in 1:12:28, I was extremely proud, and later found I had placed 17th out of 83 female finishers, which is probably my highest ever placement. This was such a confidence boost. Ditiro came through shortly afterwards, and spoke of the incredible time he had running the peaceful hills of his beautiful village.
FIVE Things I Loved About The Race
1/ Convenient Race Pack Pick-Up: As the race was out of town, I had expected the race pack pick-up to be in Kanye as well. But surprisingly, on Friday morning, I spotted a notice on social media that race pack pick up would be at The Studio Café in Gaborone from 1pm onwards. This made things so much easier as we could collect our race packs, and then focus on completing work assignments, packing and then hitting the busy road to Kanye.
2/ The Hills: Being from Gaborone, which is extremely flat, we don’t get much exposure to running on hills. This might seem great but running hills has so many benefits including improving strength, speed, and confidence, as well as just relieving boredom! Many runners new to Gaborone have said they struggle on our flat terrain, often getting bored and tired, for lack of hills! Although I complain every time I experience the slightest of inclines, the hills in Kanye made the race so much more interesting… and challenging! I felt so much stronger for it and for days after the race, I felt proud of the intense muscle pain in my glutes and quads!
3/ The Views: With hills come views, and Kanye put on quite a show! As we ran downhill from the start, we were treated to the most spectacular views. I wasn’t able to get a photo so you’ll have to use your imagination here – there were flowering trees in all colours – the Syringa trees showed off their pinks, and the Jacaranda trees, their purples, not to mention a host of others, with bright yellow, white, red and orange blooms. It was beautiful. The peaceful first half of the race gave way to the hustle and bustle of the town centre but it was fun to see the village alive with people headed to work, church, school or just on personal business.
4/ Spectator Support: Although there were not many people supporting the runners (and a few impatient drivers), I have to highlight the encouragement from bystanders. We got cheers from party-revellers heading home after a long night and around 5km there was a group of around 20 kids on the side of the road clapping and singing for us. There were two older women I remember well – one asked me in such a sweet yet sympathetic voice, “O tla a helela kae?” Loosely translated, where are you ending up? And when I told her, she exclaimed in utter surprise at the distance I still had left! Another woman said encouragingly, “O tla a goroga!” You will arrive. To which I replied with a laugh, “Ee mma!!” Yes ma’am.
5/ Meeting Other Runners: On the course, there were four people who recognised me from my social media and shouted, “Gabs Runner!” I love meeting people who follow my blog and I always squeal with such excitement. There were two others I follow on social media – one was Johannes who recently participated in my #9×9 Spring Challenge and recorded super-quick times for each of his 9km runs! Then there was Shirley, a mum of five, whose fitness journey has inspired me for the longest time. They were both doing the 10km run.
Although I had an amazing time, I also want to share some areas for improvement which I feel can take this race to the next level. We were scheduled to start at 06:15 but the 10km runners only set off at 07:15. This is a very late start and creates a lot of unnecessary anxiety and frustration. There was also no “vibe” at the start – without a loudspeaker, the race announcer had to stand on a car and shout instructions. Thankfully, the crowd was small but having music and a loudspeaker adds to the race atmosphere. There was some casual marshalling on the route with a few marshals on their phones and not directing runners.
There also appeared to be very little community/ local involvement. For a race bringing many runners from Gaborone and other towns, it would have been great to involve the local community so they reap some benefits from the event, for example, having food and drink stalls at the race start/ finish, encouraging participation by the local secondary schools, and ensuring that lodges are well informed of the event so they capitalise on runners travelling into town. There was also no water in the last 10km of the Half Marathon route which, given the tough hills, would have left some slower Half runners struggling. And finally, the medals arrived so late that many runners (including ourselves) had left by the time they arrived, meaning we were medal-less at the end and with nothing to show off for #MedalMonday.
This event has the potential to be an incredible destination race – the route, the hills and views are outstanding, and there is a kindness, joviality and humility from spectators that you don’t always see. Being so close to the border, it could also attract runners from the North-West and Gauteng provinces of South Africa. I hope some of these suggestions help make this race the next not-to-miss race on Botswana (and Southern Africa’s) racing calendar.
I’m linking up with Kooky Runner and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics. I’m also joining the link-up, Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Running on Happy! Hop on over to their blogs and others, and be inspired!