The following content is comprised of personal opinions, and in no way reflects the opinions of the Peace Corps or the U.S. Government.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kigali Peace Marathon

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Over the weekend of May 21st and 22nd, Kigali put on the 7th annual Kigali Peace Marathon. Given that 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, our Country Director decided to support several runners in the marathon.

Now, I think it goes without saying that there was no way I was going to run 26 miles. I mean, let's be honest: I tried to train for the month leading up to this, but it really cut into my sleep time. Instead, I joined one of our 7 relay teams, meaning I was only responsible for a quarter of a marathon, around 6 and a half miles. Much more realistic…

The Marathon took place on Sunday, but Peace Corps brought us all (or told us to come via public transportation) to Kigali Saturday morning. Our Peace Corps office recently acquired an adjacent building and just finished remodeling it into new medical offices and a Case de Passage (that's French for… I really am not sure what; we just call it the Hostel). While the new med offices were still waiting on more beds for the infirmary and the Case had no mosquito nets, we were allowed to spend our nights in Kigali there.

The Case was designed to comfortably accommodate 30 volunteers at once, although given Peace Corps standards of comfort we could probably put 50+ volunteers there and had no complaints. I mean, there are decent mattresses, electricity, running water, couches, a DVD player and TV, porcelain toilets, showers (WITH HOT WATER), and a kitchen with a stove, oven, and refrigerator (although we still have to make our own food). Rolling into the Peace Corps Office early on Saturday morning, I dropped my bags and immediately headed back downtown to run some errands. It was difficult not to immediately take a shower, but I figured I'd be getting dirty on Sunday anyway, so decided to forgo that for the moment. Chelsea also ended up in town for the weekend as she had some issues she wanted to discuss with our Programming staff.

Saturday night our Administrative Officer (they have a new acronym of the position, something like DPT) held a massive carbo-loaded dinner at her house for all participants. I know I have never seen so much magnificent (and healthy) food in Rwanda, but I might dare say ever in my life. Either way, it's definitely in the top 5. We had pasta, garlic break, salads, olives, guacamole and chips, beer (ok, not ALL healthy), desserts with real, non-frozen or preserved raspberries, and many more things my taste buds wish they could remember.

Sunday morning it was up bright and early (well, not bright; it was 5 am) in order to get ready for the marathon, tape for feet against blisters, and load the buses that would take us to Amahoro (Peace) Stadium, where the marathon would start and end. In true Peace Corps style, we arrived at 7am when the race was set to start at 8 am. It started at 9.

All told, Peace Corps sponsored 22 Volunteers and 6 staff members to run on 7 relay teams, 4 half-marathon runners, and 1 full-marathon runner (shout out to Steve Charles Cahill, the only one brave enough to even try). The relay teams would embark in waves, meaning that the one running the second leg couldn't leave until the first runner finished. I was slated to run second, so I had some extra time to stretch and get ready.

By the time Kelsey, my teammate who ran first, made it back I was feeling pumped. Feeling like true hard-care athletes, I was waiting to untie the tracking chip from her shoelaces while she caught her breath before it was off. Another Peace Corps Relay runner came in at about the same time and switch with Kay, so she and I ran off together.

While Kigali is pretty hilly, the route we took was not so bad. The course took us out towards the Nyatarama neighborhood before turning around and following the same route back to the stadium, or so we thought. Kay and I made pretty good time for the first 'half,' only getting passed by the full marathon runners. You know, the 95 pound machines from Kenya. Just before the turnaround, we passed the Peace Corps office and were more than a little disappointed to not see the non-participating Volunteers who happened to be staying at the Case out front. We soon found out that they weren't there because they were 5 minutes further down the route at the turnaround, fully prepared to cheer us on. The gate guards at the Office did wave and cheer on our way back, too.

Kay and I reached the turnaround, what we thought was the halfway point (that makes sense, right?) in about 17 minutes. If it were the halfway point, like we thought it was, I had just set a personal best for a 5k run. Needless to say, that was not the halfway point. We figures that out at about the 30 minute mark, when the route deviated onto a side street and started heading away from the stadium. It was around minute 35 that I had to let Kay go; she was doing much better than I was. I slowed down for maybe 5 minutes but kept Kay in my sights until near the stadium.  In the end, I entered the stadium and circled the track at just about 58 minutes. Not the best time ever, but still pretty decent I feel.

After a quick tag and chip-swap with Emmanuel, our new Health Program Manager, I was a bottle of water and three bananas away from never moving again for the rest of my life. After the marathon, the buses returned us all to the Peace Corps office where we laid in the grass, sat on couches, slept, or anything else that didn't require movement of the legs. Come nightfall, Chelsea and I headed out to a Chinese restaurant (yes, they have those in Kigali) for a quiet night out by ourselves. A weekend in Kigali will make you forget just how much you've gotten used to the loneliness of site.

Stay tuned for another update coming soon about a visit to Chelsea's site (you don't really have to stay tuned; this isn't radio and I'll probably send that post out right after this one…)


PS. 'Case de Passage is french for House of Passage, ie Hostel. I think. If your French is better than mine; no judging.

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