Today I ran my first marathon! We (a bunch of PCVs) had been planning this marathon for almost a year now and it had been rescheduled and relocated numerous times, but it finally happened today in Guijá and Chokwe districts of Gaza province. The number of participants had also changed throughout the year, but today there ended up being four of us: Jenna, Anna, (both from Moz 14, my training group) and Joe, a Moz 16. We awoke early and were out at the “starting line,” the Guijá hospital gate, by 4:45am. Right on time, Ally and James (both Moz 15) pulled up on their bicycles to take our water bottles, chocolate, bread, etc—they were our support for the day. We expected them to leap-frog us: go to a couple places along the route and be there to hand out water, etc when we passed. But they biked all 26.2 miles right next to us cheering us on, taking pictures, handing us requested water, Gatorade, toilet paper, bread, and chocolate and, when it started raining and we all took off our ipods, singing to us. They were fantastic and a huge reason we all finished! And after the marathon James decided that he wants to run it next year, so Anna and I will get to be his (and whoever else runs it) water girls on bicycles.
We set off in the dark and got to see a beautiful African sunrise as we ran. The route had been planned by Jenna and was exceptional, we ran on a paved road for only a mile of the entire run. The rest of the marathon was on sparsely populated dirt roads/paths on which I think we were only passed by a total of three cars. I live in a fairly “urban” area, by Mozambican standards: a large town, an area where many white people pass through, directly on the national highway. So it was a pleasure for me to run on all these back roads, it felt like what I had envisioned the “Peace Corps Africa” experience would be like. One boy stood on the edge of his yard staring at the 6 white people passing, bewildered and half-asleep. We laughed that he would probably later wonder whether he had really seen us or not. The houses and terrain look very different in this region of Gaza than where I live and I loved getting to see them. The houses are made of clay and often painted with beautiful designs using different color clays. I was wearing a high-visibility yellow tank top and had lent Jenna my hi-vis t-shirt, and Joe was wearing a yellow shirt. Only Anna was wearing a light blue tank top, so when we ran past a man wearing a hi-vis shirt she stopped to ask him for it. He refused but it was a nice jersey, not just a regular t-shirt, so we weren’t too offended and ran on. We ran across a dam in a river where Jenna said there are sometimes hippos, but unfortunately none came out for us today. One truck pulled up next to us and offered us a ride. September 25th is a national holiday so in one small town we ran by the town monument right in the middle of their celebration. Right as we were about to pass they started singing the national anthem, so we stopped and sang with them (whenever the national anthem is being sung here one must stop and stand at attention). It didn’t feel great for the muscles, but they loosened up again after a few minutes.
At about mile 14 Valerie, Clancy, and Jen, three other PCVs, and Peter, a South African friend, met up with us in a truck, having left from our finish line in Chokwe. They drove along with us the remainder of the way and at a couple points Clancy got out and ran with us in her skirt and Chacos, including the last half-mile. That beer (accompanied by water and Gatorade, of course) we had after the run was one of the best I have ever tasted in my life. After a nice shower we went back to Guijá and met up with a ton of other PCVs who had come from all over Gaza province to meet up for lunch that day. A stiff knee, a sore hip-flexer, and some serious chafing, but definitely worth it!