Beautiful, cool but not cold morning here in South Africa for the Soweto Marathon. The morning started well, nice and relaxed until I got to the race site--and discovered I had left my race number in my room! After a rather stressful few minutes, I talked to a race official who told me they would have to write it down when I finished. Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea that my friend Jan would be working with the timers at the finish, so I probably wouldn't have any problem.
Something I didn't realize until after the race is that the altitude here is around 5000 feet. That might explain why I felt like I was breathing a little harder all day. I figure I'm in shape for about a 4:50 marathon. I'd be dissapointed with what actually happened if I were subject that sort of thing:-) Actually, it was a nice day on a course with LOTS of hills. We started out from just outside Nasrec Stadium, and headed for downtown Soweto.
Soweto is a study in contrasts--many "tin shacks" can be seen in some areas, interspered with brick houses. The average house of the working person in the area is only around 300 - 500 square feet. Many of them have little tin shacks in the back yard where relatives might be living. There are lots of small, roadside stands--some enclosed, some not--selling varieties of fruits, vegetables, drinks. "Shade tree mechanics" are actually businesses here, where the sign will advertise mechanic services right out in the open.
Big businesses that we're familiar with are everywhere too--telephone companies, factories. Toyota sponsored the course marshalls who were using their flags.
We continued roughly counter-clockwise around the city, going through the downtown area and past the houses of Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Once in a while we could see runners FAR off in the distance when we were at the top of a big climb. Aid stations were well stocked with Pepsi, Energade, and water. The Energade and water here come in small plastic bags. You bite the end of the bag and squirt it into your mouth to drink--makes drinking on the run pretty easy. Frequently I'd hear "POP" noises as people or cars ran over bags that were full or partially full.
The hills were relentless, and after hitting the 38K mark, only 4K to go, we turned left and saw the most daunting hill of the day. It was continuous climbing all the way to the 39K mark. It was also the first time I decided to walk all day--my slowest K of the day. 3K to go and it was fairly flat the rest of the way in, as we entered known territory, retracing the steps of the first 3K. Finally, we turned toward the stadium, and as I approached 42K, my good friend Scot McIvor (who is MUCH faster than me) was on his way to his car and handed me the beer he was less than halfway done with and ran along with me for a few steps. It was great to see a familiar face late in the game. I turned into the stadium area for the last couple hundred meters, circling the outside of the field then down onto the field to the FINISH LINE, crossing at 5:36:50.
I worked my way through the chute, without my number, and sure enough, there was Jan. I yelled at him and told him I forgot my number, and by the time I got to the person recording the finishes, he was there, giving her my bib number. All that stress before the race turns out was pretty unnessary.
OK, I need pictures, and wanted to do a little video, so I headed back and got my number and then went back to the race site. It was great to be done, feeling good, and getting a little rest. Everyone I knew, old friends and new, were headed out right away, so I came back, got cleaned up, and got a great steak and salad at Spur Steak Ranches. A large fillet, two beers, and a salad is less than $20 there. Not bad!