Saturday, October 1, 2011

Relay Race 2011

L to R: Karen, Kyle, Danny, Chris,
Rivka & Katie

A couple of weeks ago I ran in the Samoa Perimeter Relay along with the other five members of my team. This was my second year for the race, having been on the winning team last year. It has become a bit of a tradition for us Peace Corps Volunteers who are runners, and seems to be a great motivating factor in giving us something to train for and come together to work on as a team.

The relay is 104 km, or 64 miles and winds from the south side of Samoa’s Upolu Island, along sandy palm fringed beaches, before heading inland and over the Le Mafa Pass, which always proves to be a challenge for its steep terrain. The route then slopes down on the north side of the island and weaves its way through several coastal villages before ending in the country’s capital of Apia.

This year Peace Corps had two teams represented: a group of all women, and then my team, which was co-ed with three men and three women. The women were competing against all women’s teams, and our team was competing against other co-ed teams, thus allowing us volunteers to avoid competing against each other.

Each team gathered separately on Friday, September 16th to organize and go over last minute details. Our team stayed at Karen and Dave’s house, a married couple who are Peace Corps Volunteers. Dave agreed to be the driver for our team, driving the van that would shuttle us down the race route when we weren’t running. His wife, Karen, was our team captain and had run marathons before so we were in good shape. We fixed a big pasta dinner that evening, and then headed off to bed fairly early.

Each team’s start time for the relay was set according to the approximate time it would take them to complete the race, with the race officials hoping for most teams to finish around the same time. So since our team was predicted to be one of the faster teams in our category, we were the last team to start, jumping off at 6:15 a.m., just around sunrise!

The running order was this: Karen, Katie, Danny, Rivka, Kyle and Chris. Each of us would run between 3 to 5 km each leg, depending on the terrain we were running through. Each of us had a total of 4 separate legs. With me being runner # 5, the sun was already blazing hot when I took off for the first time.

I normally go running four to five times each week for my own enjoyment, but there is always something special about running on race day, something that pushes me harder and motivates me more. It really does feel like a team effort I’m rallying for. That was certainly the case on September 17th as I ran through each of my legs. This isn’t to say there weren’t times throughout the race that day when I questioned why I had signed up for such a feat for the second year in a row, but I always felt reassured of my decision as I completed each run and would be greeted by my teammates at each hand-off point.

I’ve learned that running a race in Samoa presents two battles. The first is mental, which I suppose is true for races in any part of the world, but the other battle is the heat, which is relentless. Last year, as well as this year, I was reminded of the power of Mother Nature as the heat beat down on me throughout the day. This year I decided to wear a hat, which proved to be a great decision. Stretching and hydrating just before each of my runs, I set out with the knowledge that there was a van of five other team members following behind me who I was working with to complete our mission.

As I ran along I heard, saw and smelled many different things. I heard the sound of the ocean, cars honking their horns, kids greeting me in their native language as well as in English, and the sound of my team rooting me on. I saw families going about their normal Saturday routines with men carrying 20 coconuts down the road and women buckets of laundry. I smelled BBQ’s being prepared at roadside stands, rubbish being burned in back yards, bus exhaust fumes and stagnant water at bridge overpasses. It was a day for all the senses.

By my third leg there was some light cloud cover, which made a world of difference, plus there was the added surprise that I was running a huge downward slope in the race route during this time. I tried to push myself while I had the advantage of slightly cooler temperatures for about ten minutes. However, by my last leg it was all sun as we approached the outskirts of Apia and the traffic picked up with more busses, taxis, trucks and cars. Luckily we had a police escort behind us who helped keep the worst of the traffic at bay so we could focus more just on running.

I pushed myself during that last leg and handed the baton off to Chris knowing I had done my best. We then traveled behind him until we reached town and were nearing the end of the race route. That’s when our whole team got out helping run with him across the finish line where we were greeted by several Peace Corps Volunteers and members form the office staff as well. It was a great welcome after a long day of running. Soon after our feet came to a rest, a kid walked up to each of us with a cold coconut to drink!

After snapping pictures and cooling down, it was time for the awards ceremony. We found out we ran the 104 km in 9hrs and 1 minute. It was enough to take first place against the other two co-ed teams. The women’s team had also ran impressively that day and also took first place for their category! Two big wins for Peace Corps!

At the end of the day, I was proud of myself, and my team. Each of us depended on everyone else to get the job done. Despite the sun, sweat and aching legs, I was glad that I pushed myself to run the relay again this year. It reminded me that our bodies are strong and can accomplish challenges when put to the test, we only have to remember to keep mentally alert as well, and then we can win the race!

Getting excited before my first leg of the race!

Rivka handing the baton off to me for my first run.

Karen running with a nice view to her right!

The view from the van as I run my last leg of the relay.

With the police that followed behind us the whole day while we were running.

Raising our ava bowl, the trophy for first place.

Both Peace Corps teams after the relay race on September 17th.

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