The Soweto Race 10k, Race Recap, #14/17

On the 5th November, 2017 I ran the Soweto Race (10 km) in neighbouring South Africa – probably one of the most vibrant and exciting races I have participated in.  This completed my “Road to Soweto Training Plan” and was the 14th Race in my “17 in 2017 Challenge”. It was a fantastic and well-organised race. I didn’t break any personal records but I fought very hard for my medal! Unfortunately with end-of-year work deadlines, more training and more races, nativity plays and Christmas shopping, I haven’t had time to sit down and gather my thoughts. But here it is at last and a huge THANK YOU goes to my friend Tich who took most of the photos and helped write parts of the blog (the race expo and some sections of the race). His input really helped to make this blog a lot richer. Enjoy Number 14. I sure did! 🙂 

Race Expo: Tich who is based in Johannesburg collected our race packs on our behalf and reported: “The Soweto Marathon has been running for a number of years, and one can tell that from the efficiency of the organisation. During the build up to the race, there were constant email reminders about the race itself, stories about some of the competitors and important messages about practical matters, like collecting race packs. The collection started on Thursday 2 November from 10h00, and I arrived there just after 11h00. There were plenty of signs and it was easy to navigate into the stadium basement where I spotted the 10 km area.

I’d carefully collated all the required documents (authorisation letters, copies of runners IDs and copy of my ID) to collect race packs on behalf of the Gabs crew and myself. Imagine my disappointment when the lady simply took the race confirmation letter, scanned the bar code and then asked me to check the runner’s details on the computer screen! All that admin for naught! But in about 3 mins I’d collected the race packs. Over to the 21km collection, and no problems there. I estimate I spent a total of 10 minutes collecting the race packs. 

The exit from the collection area took me through the expo zone. The race organisers had set up various stalls for all running-related companies. Everything from apparel (Totalsports, Cape Union Mart) to nutrition (Futurelife) to supplements and medical supplies to registration for the Comrades and Two Oceans Marathon was on display. There were a lot of enthusiastic stall holders trying to get people to check out their products/services and it was working as I spotted quite a few runners leaving with full bags.”

Road Trip: With the race packs safely in Tich’s hands, the rest of us in Gaborone prepared ourselves for the big trip! Those of you who are regular readers know this running crew very well as they have featured in several of my posts. We travelled down in two cars – Elisa joined Polelo and Paul in theirs; Tapiwa was with Ditiro and I, and Thuna navigated between the two cars! We arrived at the border around 06:30 in the morning but border inefficiencies meant we spent two hours at the border post which really threw a huge spanner in the works. But being in each other’s company kept us in high spirits.

Once we were through the border, everything ran quite smoothly. We stopped for breakfast in Zeerust and as we approached Joburg we stopped at the Mall of Africa where I bought a new pair of running shoes. We then proceeded on to Taffy and Tich’s place around 4/5 pm where they had made a phenomenal welcome dinner. Once everyone had eaten and gone to their respective places of accommodation, I had a fantastic catch-up session with Taffy. Our catch-up sessions usually take us to around 04h00, but because of the race we had to keep it short and by 22h30 I was safely in bed! I was a lot more restless than usual, but settled down after Elisa sent a message that she had managed to collect her race number from the person who had collected it on her behalf.

Race Morning: I was up at 04h00 and by 04h30 Tich, Ditiro and I were out of the house. We met Paul, Polelo and Elisa at our designated meeting spot and then in two cars drove to the FNB Stadium. As we approached the Stadium we were met with a very long queue…

Fortunately, we had plenty of time and once we had parked the cars, we took a beautiful photo in front of the FNB Stadium, also known as Soccer City and The Calabash as it resembles the African pot/bowl. The stadium underwent a major upgrade in time for the Football World Cup hosted by South Africa in 2010. With a capacity of 94, 736 it became the largest stadium in Africa.

We quickly rushed to the toilets where there was quite a long queue and no toilet paper! However, being the expert runners that we now are, we made a plan! Once we were done, Elisa and Ditiro ran quickly to the start as their 06h30 Half Marathon start time was fast approaching. Tich, Polelo and I took a slower walk and soon met Tapiwa who had arrived earlier. She also reported that she had seen Elisa and Ditiro make it into the relevant 21.1k crowds!

We tried to look out for them as we made our way to our starting pen but with all those people our attempts were futile!

We tried to find our relevant starting pens but in the end we just joined any crowd. What a comfort to know there would be mat-to-mat times!

The music was pumping, the energy was high, and we literally danced to the beat as we approached the Start Line. As people made it closer and closer to the start, the race commentator shouted “You are a hero”; “You are amazing”; and “This is your race, go for it”. And on that note, we were off!

The Race: The race started on Stadium Avenue just outside FNB stadium and then made a left turn onto the Nasrec Road, which led to a slight incline (nothing like the real hills later!). There were crowds and crowds of runners but I never really felt like I had to battle to get through them. Miraculously, in that crowd and with that incline the slow pace suited me and I always managed to navigate passed people where needed (1 km Split: 08:36). We took a right turn onto the Rand Show Road over the N1 highway and into Diepkloof suburb. Diepkloof is the home of Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital which is the main medical centre in Soweto and the third largest hospital in the WORLD! The route meandered through the houses and shopping areas, and there were some spectators out and about cheering the runners on. I felt so comfortable and happy. I was pushing hard but at the same time my body felt strong. My splits for km 2 – 6 were solid: 07:41/07:04/07:01/ 07:20/ 07:05. Just after 6km, the road turned right onto the Soweto Highway and the start of the hills that humble you! Oh boy, did these hills humble me! I pushed and pushed, but at one point like Elisa said, “There is no shame in walking” and I walked for at least a km. A police officer actually came up to me and said, “Lady, keep moving, keep moving lady, keep moving!” And I told him, “I am moving. I am moving!” It was also so hot and I remember thinking, “You are from Gaborone. Why are you struggling in Joburg heat? Come on girl, you are better than this!”

This seemed like a never ending hill, but eventually we were greeted by the glorious sight of the FNB stadium – at least we now knew the finish was almost there. My splits for km 7 – 8 show that the struggle was real: 08:47 (!)/ 07:43. I then started pushing again and my km 9 split was: 07:24. It was at this point that Tapiwa came up from behind me and shouted my name and some encouraging words, “You’ve pushed Shats. You’ve really pushed” and tapping her head she said, “Follow my cap. Just follow my cap” and off she went. I tried to keep an eye on her cap but she was going for her trademark sprint finish and was just too fast. The final kilometre was a gentle descent into the stadium, through a tunnel and then into a cacophony of noise that made us feel like football players about to kick off for a cup final! Coming through that tunnel was one of the most amazing experiences of my life – I used what little energy I had left to stand up tall and just sprint home like a champion, like a warrior coming home! Last split: 07:20. Thankfully, we didn’t have to complete a full lap of the track and then it was over the finish mat!

I found Tapiwa and then held onto a rail struggling to catch my breath, demanding a drink! I felt so nauseous but held it together. We soon found Tich, or rather he found us as he had been keeping track of us on the app so he knew as soon as we were done. Ditiro was soon done with his Half Marathon, and when Polelo and Elisa came through our running team was united again. We took in the glorious atmosphere, shared our individual war stories and made our way out of the Stadium where we soon met Paul.

My time: I ran the course in 1:16:36 (07:40 pace). Oh my word, I was so happy for two main reasons, 1) My watch reading was the same time as the chip reading! Those of you who have been following me for some time know that this has been my biggest issue with races I have done! Thank you Soweto!!! 🙂 But even more importantly, 2) My time was almost the same time I recorded for the GC Mayor’s 10k race (1:16:09) in mid-September – one of the flattest courses in the region! So for me to have done hilly Soweto in the same time was a monumental achievement.

After the Race: We had such an amazing time after the race – once we had washed and changed we all headed to this beautiful restaurant where we were joined by our chief supporters Taffy and the kids, Thuna and Tumi! We wined and dined in style and it was the most special way to end such an amazing day.

We hit the road at 16h00 and after another long wait at the border, we were home around 23h00. By far, one of my most amazing race experiences ever. Thank you to my friends – the whole experience was made that much more special by the fact that you were all there.

Would I do this race again?

What do you think?! YES! YES! YES! And next time, I think I may just take on the Soweto Half Marathon! 😉

I am so excited to be linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run! I am also linking up with the Wild Workout Wednesday crew – Annmarie froThe Fit Foodie Mama and Nicole from FitFul FocusLinking up is such a great way to get motivated and to get to know other bloggers! So please take some extra time to read some of their stories and link up if you can!

Jwaneng Desert-Bush Walk 30k, Race Recap (#8/17)

I am on a crazy but wonderfully fulfilling mission to complete 17 races this year. Here is the story of Number 8 – a gruelling, exhausting, intense, and dare I say just plain UGLY 30 km walk through the desert!  

Road Trip:  On the 28th July 2017, I set off for Jwaneng which is a 2 hour drive from Gaborone and is home to the richest diamond mine in the world. My hubby was still in the US so my mum volunteered to join me on the trip for moral support! We set off around 15:00 on Friday and arrived just after 17:00. After checking in to the Hotel, we had a lovely dinner and then collected my race pack which was at the same hotel we were staying at. After dinner, we chatted for an hour or so, and then went to sleep. I was very excited albeit a little bit nervous as this would be my first event without any of my friends or family on the track! But I was also proud of my independence and my decision to take on the desert alone.

The Start: After a gluten free muffin and banana, I set off to the starting point of the race. The event this year attracted a couple of thousand people and when I got there, the place was buzzing with excitement. Some people were well-kitted out in boots, gators, backpacks and walking sticks. I made sure I looked the part of a “desert-hiker”, and having learnt my lesson from last year’s event, I bought myself a proper pair of trail sunglasses to protect my eyes from the glare. I also invested in a nice backpack where I carried my drinks and snack supply, as well as sunscreen lotion, tissues, a whistle, headache tablets and lots of packets of re-hydration salts.

It was fun to see big South African and Lesotho groups dismounting buses, waving big country flags with smaller ones perched neatly on their hats. There was a big aerobics warm-up session that I didn’t participate in though it looked like fun. After some welcome remarks by the organisers, we hit the road and within 300 metres we were in the sand.

The Route: The track was extremely sandy and the surrounding areas varied between barren expanse and thorny shrubs and bushes. There were also some cattle posts along the way. 

The Race:

1 – 5 km: This was a solo race for me but I wasn’t alone. I was always surrounded by people and in those first 5 kilometres, the walkers were loud, excited, enthusiastic, and full of energy. I didn’t actively join in on the conversations but I enjoyed the banter.  The thick sand took a while to get used to and the effort put into walking didn’t correlate nicely with the distance covered! I remember looking down at my watch and being so disappointed that I had only walked 2.7 km. At the 5 km mark, there was a drink stop and those doing the 10 km walk separated from us at that point. My splits for the first 5 km were (min/km): 14:42/ 12:31/ 12:19/ 13:08/ 16:17).

5 – 10 km: There was still quite a bit of banter in this section of the walk and when someone from Botswana made fun of those from Lesotho (who are not used to sand), they quickly responded with, “You guys must come to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, and we will see who struggles then!” As we approached the 10 km mark, people started getting quite concerned with the sand which was becoming increasingly harder to navigate. For some sections, we chose to battle the thorny shrubs just to get a break from the sand.

But the fear of snakes and scorpions always brought us back to the main track.

Close to the 7.5 km mark, two wild horses crossed our path with great speed. What a majestic sight they were!

“Find your happy place”

Looking at my splits, this was actually my quickest section of the whole race: 11:38/ 11:30/ 11:27/ 11: 14/ 12:31.

10 – 15 km: I started this section strong but around the 12.5 km mark I started to have some discomfort in my upper thigh area. It almost felt like cramps waiting to happen so I consciously slowed down a little bit. My splits for this section were: 11:50/ 11:41/ 11:43/ 12:20/ 17:20.  I was so happy to get to the 15 km stop and even felt brave enough to ask a fellow walker to take a photo of me! 🙂

15 – 20 km: After the short break at the 15 km mark, I felt motivated to continue. But around the 17.5 km mark, I started feeling blisters forming on my left foot and all I could hear was my husband’s voice, “Make sure you wear two pairs of socks” which I had purposefully decided not to do. Gggrrr! I didn’t want to stop as I felt I wouldn’t want to get up. I also didn’t want to start falling back. So I continued but could feel my blisters getting bigger and bigger.

I was generally good at listening to my body. When I felt dizzy or just weak, I mixed re-hydration salts into some water and felt better almost immediately. Sometimes all I needed was a cookie or a couple of sweets to feel energised again. The last thing I wanted to do was to get dehydrated so I made sure I kept sipping water.

20 – 25 km: This was the 20 km sign – how amazingly appropriate!

This is around the time I started to struggle. My back was sore from carrying my bag, my legs were aching from trudging through that thick sand, but even more – my mind started to play games with me, and I reached a point where I wondered whether I would finish. It didn’t help that this was around the time when we started getting casualties. Many people could not go on, either because of cramping, blisters, or sheer exhaustion. And that’s when the pick-up trucks/ medics started to come through and for the remainder of the race more and more people were carted off. That was tough to take. I remember passing a guy who was writhing in pain and seriously cramping. He was gutted that his race was over, but he just realistically could not go on.  It must have been at the 21 km point when I met a radio presenter who asked to interview me live for Duma FM, a local radio station. I must have really looked awful because he asked me, “Are you defeated?” I answered somewhat courageously that, “This race is tough. It takes everything – heart, mind and soul. But I still have 10 km left in me.” My pace was painfully slow though. It took everything to just put one foot in front of the other. I then decided to play a game, counting down from 10 as I did each km… 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 but when 1 km takes 15 – 16 minutes, it is tough… LOL! It was great to see the next two signs:

My splits for this section were: 19:09/ 16:07/ 16:13/ 15:50/ 14:56.

25 – 30 km: My mum called me just after the  26 km mark and I had run out of water. I sounded horrible. I just wanted to cry. I grabbed some salts and mixed it with the last bit of water I had left. It was a good pick-up. But I was overjoyed to see another water stop just around the 27.5 km mark.

What a relief. My lips were sunburned, my body was tired and I just wanted out. I told myself that I would never do this again. It didn’t help that we got to 30 km with no end in sight! The course ended up being 31.39 km according to my watch. When I emerged from the desert onto the tarred road, my mum was waiting for me. She later said I looked so dishevelled as if I had been at war and had narrowly escaped to freedom. If that’s how I looked, I most certainly felt it. The transition from walking on sand to tar was awful. Those 300 metres took forever, but as I passed other finishers who were sitting on camp chairs, grilling meat, I knew the end was near. Some of them cheered me on, and the radio presenter from Duma FM shouted, “You did make it!” I said to him, “I told you I would!” I shouted at someone else who had a medal, “How far to go? This is taking too long!” She laughed and said, “You are almost there!”  My splits for this section: 19:04/ 16:17/ 15:57/ 13:50/ 14:45/ 15:23.

My time: After 7:25:39 hours in the desert, I walked through the gantry to claim my well-fought medal! I sat down on a curb-stone and put my head in my hands. My mum was so excited and wanted us to take photos, I simply said, “Give me a moment!” We then took a couple of photos. How beat do I look? And I am not sure if you can see it very well, but the eight fingers I am holding up are completely swollen!

Lessons/ Discoveries

  1. After 8 races I am beginning to see that my 17 in 2017 Challenge is more than just a physical challenge. It is a mental challenge too. I am learning so much about myself and who I am as a person. One thing that I know now more than ever is that I don’t quit. I just don’t. Out there in that desert, there was ample opportunity for me to throw in the towel, but I didn’t. So long as my legs could carry me, I was determined to push through until the end.
  2. Listen to your body: I did well to listen to what my body was telling me out there. That helped me to know when to eat or drink something or when to take a little break.

Pros of the Race

  • This event was really well-organised. It was easy to buy tickets, and t-shirt distributions started long before race day. This is only the third time this event is being held, but they did so well. Well-placed water stops and cheerful and enthusiastic marshalls at each one of them.
  • The distance markers were fantastic – and the motivational messages were so clever – it was always just what you needed to hear at that specific time!
  • All the money raised goes to fantastic projects dedicated to children and their education. That just makes all the blisters and pain so much more worth it. 🙂

Cons of the Race:

  • No porta-loos! Unfortunately for women, squatting in the open desert is not quite a feasible option! Even if there were just a couple at the 10 km and 20 km mark, I think this would have made such a difference. Many women probably got dehydrated as they were trying to avoid having to go to the toilet.

Would I do this race again?

Yes. But not alone. I couldn’t do it alone again. The sheer will power that I needed to get through those last 10 km which took me around 3 hours… It was just too mentally exhausting. I have proven to myself that I CAN do it alone but next year, I am bringing my crew along!

I’m linking up with HoHoRuns and MissSippiPiddlin for their Weekly Wrap! This week they have the lovely Ponder ‘N’ Wonder as a guest host! I’m also joining Courtney at Eat Pray Run which is such a great place to get motivated about your training! Last but not least, I am linking up with Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run. So please take some time to read some of their stories. You won’t regret it!

Palapye 10k, Race Recap (#5/17)

For those of you reading this blog for the first time, I am on a mission to complete 17 races this year! Yesterday I ran my 5th race in Palapye which is a 3-hour drive from Gaborone. This race also served as part of my training for my goal race next week – The Diacore. 

We left Gaborone at around 15:00 on Saturday afternoon, picked up our good friends Polelo and Paul, and had an enjoyable drive to Palapye with lots of chatting and dodging of crazy bus drivers. Palapye is a fast growing town, situated about halfway between the two big cities, Francistown and Gaborone. Its strategic position makes it a convenient stopover on one of Southern Africa’s principal north–south rail and road routes. The Morupule Colliery coal mine is located here, and supplies Morupule Power Station, Botswana’s principal domestic source of electricity.

It is also home to one of Botswana’s largest universities, Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST). Our drive was uneventful and we arrived at the Majestic Five Hotel at around 18:00.

We had a lovely dinner before heading off to bed. For some reason I had put a lot of pressure on myself for this race, so I had a restless night as well as a headache which fortunately had worn off by the time I got up at 6am.

The Race: The starting point of the race was at our hotel so there was no big rush in the morning. After eating some cereal and getting dressed, we headed down to the Start for our warm-up. Unfortunately, this race was so poorly organised. I don’t want to be too scathing in my attack because I know a lot of work goes into preparing for a race… but… it was a huge disappointment. Race bib collection was from 6am – 7am on race morning but by the time we got there at around 06:30am, they had run out of race bibs and t-shirts stating that they had only made enough for 93 participants. Did they not know how many tickets they had sold? There was no attempt at an apology and we were simply told that we should run with our tickets and then show people our tickets as we finished. To make matters worse, we were supposed to start the race at 07:30 but only set off at 08:11, 41 minutes late.

The Route: Majestic Five Hotel – onto the A1 (big motorway) – over the Lotsane River Bridge – towards Cresta Hotel – turned left into the Palapye Bus Station – and then back to the Majestic Five Hotel. 

The A1 Road

Bridge over the Lotsane River

Clock at the Palapye Bus Station (Around 5k mark)

Ditiro was running this race alongside me and in the week leading up to the race we had “talked race strategy”. I knew I wanted a 2 minute PB which meant running an average pace of 07:19 min/km. This was a slightly faster pace than I had done in training so I was a bit sceptical that it could be done. We agreed that as I always do the second half of the race faster than the first half, I should aim for 37.5 min for the first 5km, leaving me with 35.5 min to get back, to finish in a time of 1:13 hrs. The plan was clear. However, I started the race around 07:00 min/km and Ditiro even said to me, “This is a bit faster than we are supposed to be going”. At that point I thought to myself – “Well, this is really a training run. I feel so comfortable. I am talking nicely, my breathing is okay, my body feels good. So let me stick to this.” And stick to it I did! When we passed the clock at the station we were at the 5 km mark, and were 1.5 minutes faster than we had planned for. My slowest pace (per km) was on the incline where I did a 07:17 min/km pace, still faster than the average pace I had planned for.  With 1.5 km to go, I turned it up a notch and headed for the finish with a pace of between 06:53 and 06:04.

My time: I ran the course in 1:08:02 – a remarkable 07:09 minutes Personal Best, and smashing my Goal A which was to do it in 1:13:11! I was in complete and utter shock that in just 1.5 months I have improved so much. This was not my goal race and because of the complete chaos of the race, there were no official times, but I am claiming this “unofficial” PB! And of course, there were not enough medals to go around so these photos next to the race banner will have to do! No race bib, no medal – I promise you I did actually run and PB! LOL!

Pros/ Cons of the race:

  1. There were not enough race bibs/ numbers/ t-shirts to go around
  2. No timing chips or proper timing method that I noticed
  3. Not enough medals to go around
  4. 41-minute late start – and we were only saved by the fact that it was a cloudy day, otherwise the heat would have been ridiculous at that time
  5. No distance markers on the roads
  6. Completely dangerous route – we were running on a very busy route, with no safety measures in place – too few marshals and no police officers at key points where we had to cross roads. No orange cones along the roads; no warnings for drivers that there were runners on the roads. Some of the 21.1 km finishers, sprinting in at the end of their long race, were almost knocked over by a taxi.

Would I do this race again? NO – for a race that had so much potential, it was a complete disappointment. But I will choose to remember it for my 7 minute PB and the phenomenal time I had with my friends!! 🙂

Some Shout-Outs: I am still one of the slowest athletes on the track but I have a phenomenal team behind me – Thank you to my dear friends Polelo and Paul for putting aside so many things to join us on this trip. Thank you to Paul for the great photography. Thank you to Ditiro for sacrificing his own race to run alongside me. Thank you to all my friends, those who run and those who don’t, for all your support and encouragement. Thank you to all the runner bloggers for your advice and kind words. Thank you to my parents and in-laws for taking care of the kids so we can participate in these races. Finally, thank you to Coach Nicola from Running Happy for giving me such focus, guidance and clear direction.

Once again I am linking up with the amazing Courtney at Eat Pray Run for the Training Recap and the awesome bloggers HoHo Runs and MissSippiPiddlin for the Weekly Wrap. I am also joining Patty, Erika and Marcia for Tuesdays on the Run. Linking up is such a great way to get motivated and to stay accountable! So please take some extra time to read some of their stories.