Dispatches…from…Africa…at…128…kbps…

Where it was once called The Dark Continent, I would now characterize Africa as The Slow Continent. And I’m in South Africa, the shining beacon of modernity here. Internet connectivity means plugging a cellular doohickey into the USB port and pouring a nice big cup of tea for every page you hope to load.

No matter, though. I didn’t come here to sit in front of a computer. I’ve spent most of my time either outside running and walking, or inside eating and drinking. Copious amounts of sleeping have figured into this schedule as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of activities thus far. It took us roughly 36 hours over two flights (and lots of ass time in Heathrow) to get from JFK to Cape Town, but thanks to modern chemistry we were able to sleep on the plane and get time adjusted along the way. Our destination was Greyton, a tiny town of around 800 nestled in the Overberg mountains, around 1.5 hours SW of Cape Town. It’s a combination gay/retiree mecca, which means lots of quality restaurants and watering holes, a good wine shop and many organized activities during the day.

We were only here for one night before departing 45 minutes away to the coast to run our half marathon in Hermanus, a big whale watching destination. We stayed in a wonderful B&B, just a five minute walk from the race start and finish. The race itself was actually very funny in some ways, and one I’m proud of. Funny because we awoke a few hours before our 4:30AM alarm to howling winds. They only got worse and by the 7AM start there was a steady wind of 30mph with gusts of (I’m guessing) 50. Enough to knock over heavy garden planters and turn restaurant sandwich boards into potentially lethal projectiles.

My quasi mother- and father-in-law (it’s complicated*), Margaret and Geoff, had generously scoped out the course beforehand, noting that the entire second half was straight uphill, some on loose gravel. So we knew going in that this would not be a PR course. The wind, however, introduced a whole new level of absurdity. I can honestly say that this was the toughest course I’ve ever run. The wind was just relentless. There was one section in the middle of the race, an uphill, when we had a strong tailwind, and my split shows it. The rest of the time, though, it was mostly headwind with an occasional shift to sidewind for some temporary relief.

The course was beautiful, starting in a high school rugby field, a little bit of cross-country course in the beginning, then winding through the town and down along the very wild waterfront. Then up again through the hoity toity area in which we were staying, and back to the school for the finish amongst the stands of spectators.

Knowing the challenges of the last half of the course and figuring in the headwind, my strategy was to run on effort and not worry about pace. I wanted to pass people in the second half and really be able to race those big hills. So I ran the first half at around 88-90% effort (a little lower than I’d typically do for a half), then picked it up in to the low 90%s and finished up in the mid-90%s. I passed a bunch of people and ended 11th woman overall. I have no clue what my masters standing was. Jonathan came in 5th overall and was first masters male. But after much confusion it emerged that this was a club race and, being interlopers and mere holders of “temporary licenses” (don’t ask), we were not eligible for any awards.

As usual, I forgot to turn off my watch, but I think I just broke 1:46 (update: official time was 1:45:52). A good 12 minutes off my best time for the half. Hee hee. Lousy times and awards ineligibility notwithstanding, I’m happy with my execution and ability to perform well in abysmal conditions. I felt great throughout the race and don’t think I could have run it better than I did.

The other highlight of the trip has been the little girl next door who has a massive crush on me. In this case, she’s a Doberman-Alsatian mix. I passed her on a solo run around the neighborhood yesterday, sitting in the drive two doors down from our rental, and she happily tagged along. On the way, she made sure I knew she was the boss of the cows and the guinea fowl. Although she did cower behind me when we were threatened by barking dogs behind fences.

She was the perfect running partner, spending most of her time just off my thigh, her ear brushing me, never half-stepping. Sometimes she’d run off to explore, but never for more than a minute or two. Every mile or so she’d look up as if to say, “How far are we going exactly?” But she never stopped running.

This morning, as we headed out for a group hike, there she was again, waiting for me. We tried to shake her, but she’d have no part of it. Even putting me in a car to drive away from her only resulted in her tearing down the road after us even as we accelerated to 40 km. So she joined us on the hike, again just off my leg. Now she was becoming a problem, as we had to alter the route to take the “no dogs” path. Then she followed us to the pub. So I walked her back to her home, but no one was there. I opened the gate and led her in, only to discover that she is capable of leaping right over it. So, on a lark, I tried a command. “Stay,” I said sternly. And she stayed. So now I know the trick. Fortunately, her owners speak English rather than Afrikaans.

I have more stories to tell, but I’m due at my quasi-inlaws for dinner, so I’m off…

*As Jonathan and I are not married, I’m never sure what to call his mother in relation to myself. Further complicating things is the fact that Geoff is Margaret’s third husband. Did I mention Jonathan’s half-brother, Robbie (different Dad) and his husband, Phil? After a few drinks, it’s challenging to communicate to strangers what we all are to each other.

6 Responses

  1. “Hee hee” indeed. That sounds like an awful lot of fun–and I cannot wait to see the photos.

    I have always wondered what it would be like to run with a well-trained dog.

    Hurry back!

  2. That is so cute! I guess you have a way with animals!

  3. E x c e l l e n t R a c e R e p o r t . H u r r y b a c k . T h e g e e s e a r e l o o k i n g w o r r i e d t h a t y o u ‘ r e n o t a r o u n d .

  4. Bloody hell – less than ten years ago I would have killed for 128kb/s!

    Welcome to the southern hemisphere. Didn’t take you long to get the hang of upside-down running. You both did well in the half. Post the URL of your finish-line video.

  5. Un-in-laws.

    My ex-husband, at age 37, had a step-mother and two half-brothers, ages 13 and 7. Ex-husband had a 13-year-old and 9-year-old himself.

  6. [...] with Jonathan’s 78-year-old Mum, Margaret. We made each other laugh several times. After our last trip to South Africa in October, I was doubtful she’d do any major travel again. But now they’ve got plans to go to [...]

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