Love4Gambia 2015 – Are you ready?

Dear Running Community,
The NSGA is proud to release it’s official call for runners for Love4Gambia version 5.0 in the summer of 2015. We are looking for experienced runners to join Pa Modou, Spider and Yankuba on the epic 5th running of the 424km cross-country journey to the Atlantic Ocean in Banjul in either May/early June or late July/ August 2014 (scheduling around Ramadan – June 18 to July 17).

Our new runners will join the ranks of our previous 4 successful teams:

2011 – Erin Poirier & Ashley Sharpe

2012 – Andrea Moritz

2013 – Jennifer & Cielianna Pasiciel

2014 – Terry SanCartier

Who better to share why you should take advantage of this opportunity and run with it (pardon the pun), than these runners themselves:

“I can promise that running across an entire African country, with Pa Modou, Kebba and Spider at your side, will be the most glorious crowning achievement of your running career.” – Erin Poirier (Founder and 2011 runner)

“Love4Gambia was a fantastic experience that allowed me to merge my passion for running with that of exploring Africa with all of its beautiful people and landscapes. Pa Modou, Kebba and Spider are not just the best support crew any ultra runner could ask for, but they will also be your guides for all things Gambian.” – Andrea Moritz

“When I think about the great Love4Gambia 2013 run, I can’t help but smile to myself as a flood of happy memories returns to me. The run was a physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual experience on all levels.” – Jennifer Pasiciel

“What an incredible journey! I will forever remember this adventure and look back on it with fond memories.  The amazing team comprised of Pa, Yankuba and Spider, quickly became “my brothers from different mothers”!” – Terry SanCartier

If you are passionate about running and interested in changing the lives of young Gambians, then the Love4Gambia run is for you!

Please email us here to submit your interest and/or ask questions:

L4Gambia@gmail.com

Week 3 – Day 13, 14, 15, 16 and the Final Day!

After a great day of rest at the Sindola Hotel in Kanilai it’s time to hit the pavement again.

Day 13 – The skies are cloud covered, the sun peaks out from time to time but temperature-wise, it’s more bearable than it has been lately.

Yankuba joins me for the entire run. Because it’s easier to run in this weather, I decide to add some additional kilometres. We reach 30 kms and call it a day. Pa tells me that Erin is the L4G runner who ran the longest distance in one day; 31 kilometres. He then says; “Do you want to break the record?”. Not knowing that he was kidding, I head off. Why not? I’m always up for a challenge. Yankuba was about to grab something in the car but upon seeing me run off, he runs to catch up with me.

As we near the 32 kilometre mark, Yankuba says “I will stop 100 metres from 32 km as I want you to have the record”. I tell him that it’s awfully nice of him but not necessary as I will have the record in Canada while he will have the record here in the Gambia. He still insists on letting me go for the last 100 metres. I say nothing. As we are getting closer, Yankuba asks me how many metres left. I tell him 300. “Ok” – he says. “Let me know”. I say, “Sure. I will.” We are less than 100 metres and I say nothing. Yankuba asks me again and I tell him, “Almost there!”. Then he hears the beep of the Garmin indicating that we have reached 32 km. He looks at me with a surprised look on his face. I smile and tell him that there was no way I was going to let him hold back the last 100 metres. We are in this together. I ask him if he had ever run 32 kilometres in a day. He says no. I congratulate him.

Pa calls me the stubborn king. I take it as a compliment.

We drive to the previous director of the NSGA’s house. We are greeted warmly. I sleep outside for the third time during the run. I sleep well with the gentle breeze and the mosquito net protecting me.

Day 14 – We wake up early. I slept well outside. The director’s wife insists that we stay for breakfast. Pa tells her that it’s not possible. But she insists. And so Pa agrees to stop by when I reach their house. I start 14 kilometres before their house.
It’s much hotter today than it was the day before. The sun is out in full force.

We reach the previous director’s house and stop to eat. I have a few nibbles of rice and some bread from the communal large dish. Given that I have another 11 k to run, it’s not a good idea to have a big meal. There’s chicken and vegetables served over rice. I let the guys dig in. There a live chicken hanging around as we eat outside. I give her a few pieces of bread.

I take a few photos of the large cotton tree just outside the compound. It’s a beautiful large tree.

Back on the road – Yankuba and Spider are running with me. I notice their pace has slowed down from all that food. I give them a bit of a reprieve but then bring the pace back up again and they follow.

At the end of the run, it’s time to drive to Banjul. I look forward to it. We drive to Stew Scott’s place, a Canadian from Ottawa, working for the International Monetary Fund. I stayed at his place on my first several days in Banjul. I look forward to getting to his place again. He’s got 24 hr electricity and AC; two things I didn’t see much of over the last few weeks. Plus, his place is right by the ocean and the sound of the waves is relaxing.

Day 15 – Within a few kilometres of the run, Yankuba and I have company; some students, boys and girls, who are heading to school.

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They decide to run with us. And run they do for more than a kilometre. We stop and I give them each a pencil. We takes some photos then continue on the run. They decide to continue running with us. Yankuba tells me that they shouldn’t be running as they will get all sweaty before class. We thank them for running with us and ask them to walk the rest of the way to school. We press on.

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We reach a mosque and decide it’s a good place for a break as there is plenty of shade. The place is surrounded by mango trees. Spider and Pa ask a young woman who is sweeping nearby if they can pick some mangoes. She comes out with a large stick and starts knocking down the mangoes to the ground. Spider climbs up one tree and grabs the stick to get those higher up. The guys fill a large bag with fresh ripe mangoes. We each eat one before continuing on our run.

I realize that this is my last chance during this run to snap some photos. Up until now, I was so focused on the running that I barely stopped to take some photos with my DSLR. I always left a point and shoot camera with the guys but I rarely used it myself. And so, on this last day, I’m using the camera more to get some shots.

We reach Brikama and call it a day. It’s hot and humid out.

Day 16 – For the first time during the run, I will be escorted by a policeman. The traffic is bad here from Brikama to Westfield. I’m dreading the smoky toxic car, truck and motorcycle fumes. I am calling today’s run, the “Toxic Run”.

Spider and Yankuba start off with me. The policeman is a very nice guy. I talk with him before we leave. He is the same guy that escorted Jen and her sister last year. To start his motorcycle, he has to push it, pop the clutch and then hop on. He has the siren on most of the time.

The traffic gets worse and worse as we advance. People look on. Some cheer and others just stare. The most warm welcome comes from a large group of women selling things in a market area. They clap and cheer as we run by and wave.

We get word from the policeman halfway through that the road may be closed in the next hour for the president’s motorcade. When the president travels, he doesn’t put up with the congestion. I increase my speed; I want to get out of the fumes asap and make it to Westfield before the road is closed.

For the first time during the entire run, I get annoyed by all the vehicles and the fumes. I’m sure it’s not easy on the lungs. Luckily, there are large groups of school kids along the way. Their smiling faces and cheering sounds made the run much more enjoyable.
The sun gets hotter as we near the end of the run.

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Day 17 – The last day!

We get to Westfield late. It is after 9 am. We wait and wait for the media to arrive. After the experience I had at the press conference just before the run, I knew it would take a while.

The television reporter didn’t have a video camera and so we used the NSGA camera instead.

Finally at 10 am we start running. Pa Modou’s brother is there, Jaynaba, Spider’s wife and several others accompany us on the run. It’s nice to have the company.

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There’s congestion but we manage to move through it. We arrive at the Bajul Arch and are greeted by many school kids. We stop briefly and then continue. Not far left until we reach the Atlantic Ocean.

We stop at less than a kilometre to go. Yankuba’s marching band is waiting for us. After 10-15 minutes, they are ready and start playing and marching towards the water. For the first time in the entire run, I walk. The L4G team and our invited guest runners walk arm in arm.

Metres from the water, we stop. The four of us hold hands and raise them up in the air. After a few photos, we start running to the water. The water is warm and salty. And just like that, the run comes to an end. We are overjoyed!

I realise that I didn’t use my GoPro digital video camera along for the ride and so we get out to do that last part again. But the television reporter wants to do the interview right there by the water. I do the interview on my own then Pa speaks and we all stand with him.

Finally, we run back in the water, with the camera this time.

We are being asked to rush out as there is a ceremony and celebration at the NSGA office. I’m pleased to hear that but I need some time here in the water.

I tell the guys that we are not leaving now. I need just a few more minutes to let this sink in. We huddle together and Pa says some nice words. I stay in the water a few more moments and then it’s time to leave.

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At the NSGA office we attend the ceremony where Pa, Yankuba and myself speak. We presented with certificates and are asked some questions from the media.

Then the food arrives. I’m glad and so are the others as we are all hungry.

And so, just like that, the run comes to an end. Months of planning, fundraising and training all come to an end with our feet splashing in the salt water. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!

No more routine of charging the Garmin for the next day’s run (sometimes using my solar charger), mixing the electrolyte mix in my two bottles, ensuring my running shoes are dry, prepping the clothes (sometimes washing some by hand) and ensuring there is enough bottled water.

My body, my legs, my feet took well to the daily running and I adjusted quickly to the heat. I ran without any headphones or music. I supplied my own music from memory. I had no blisters on my left foot and two very small ones on my right foot a few days in the first week that I was able to get under control immediately. I brought a hydration pack to carry on my back but I never used it. I relied solely on the support vehicle.

What I will always remember from my run across the Gambia is; the smiling faces of the many children I passed along the way; the kids who ran along in footwear that was less than ideal and yet they followed; their gratitude in my simple gestures of handing out empty water bottles, handing out pencils, stickers and candy; the many elders we passed who congratulated us and said that they would pray for us. Some even prayed right there on the spot.

What I found very different, was how un-shy the kids were and how much they wanted to shake my hand, touch my skin, gently touch the hair on my arms or legs. Physical contact is a very normal part of life here and it doesn’t matter if you’re a stranger.

Time to rest and enjoy this great accomplishment!

Week 2 – The Adventure Continues! (Day 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12)

My apologies for the delay in posting this blog. So many great things have happened since I last wrote. I’ll start from the day after I posted my last blog post.

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I am nervous as the day progresses on my first rest day of the run (Friday June 13th). I know the naming ceremony will be happening and I don’t know what to expect. The guys assure me that it will be great.

After 5:20 pm, it is time for me to take my place on a large mat on the ground. Around me are people from the hotel where I am lodged, Bintou’s Paradise Lodge. There are many kids from the neighborhood. There’s a older woman playing percussion with two wooden sticks on a large plastic container. There’s another woman next to her and she is using the top of a cooking pot on a wooden pestle. Together they keep the beat and sing along. The women who work at the lodge take turns dancing in the traditional Gambian way. It is a sight to see.

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Eventually, Yankuba joins in. He sure can dance! And later, Spider joins in – another great dancer!

More and more kids are gathered around. I ask them to come join me on the mat. I’m not comfortable sitting by myself. A few come at first, then more and more join in. Most want to sit right next to me and touch me. I shake their hands repeatedly as they keep putting their hands out.

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The owners of the lodge, Ebrima and Bintou are on their way. They are delayed due to two flat tires on their drive back to the lodge.

I am asked several times to dance. I oblige but am not comfortable with the idea, but I decide to just go with it and have fun. It’s great! And the locals seem pleased by my participation.

Yankuba makes THE speech. Time to find out what my Gambian name will be. He speaks and I don’t understand a word he says. He says a few funny things and the people laugh. Finally, he gives me my name: Ebrima. I am named after the owner of the lodge. I am very pleased to hear this as I’ve had several discussions with him and he is a very nice man.

Finally, Ebrima and Bintou arrive honking their horn as they drive through the compound doors. The kids and all of us run out to the car. People are singing and clapping. The guys tell Ebrima that they have named me after him. He is so pleased to hear it and give me a big handshake and a hug. I also get a hug from Bintou before we all head back to the main area.

There’s more dancing and fun. What a great evening!

After everyone leaves, Pa, Spider, Yankuba and myself have dinner by the Gambia river in the moonlight. It’s a full moon tonight.

There are a few fishermen just several metres from where we are. They are using nets to catch fish.

Time to go to bed and run the next morning bright and early.

I sleep well every night. My earplugs are my weapon of choice. I pop them in and sleep soundly.

The electricity in the lodge comes on at about 7 or 8 pm (never at the exact same time) and stays on till 2 am. That means I have air conditioning till 2 am. Every night I wake up at 3 am from the extreme heat in the room. The only thing separating me from the heat outside is the curtain between the bathroom (which has openings to the outside that I can’t close) and my room. Not very effective in keeping the heat and humidity out. Still, I manage to fall asleep again and wake up at 5:30 to get ready for the day’s run.

I pack up all my things as we are not returning to the lodge after my run for Day 6.

We drive out to the starting point and take a photo; our fingers indicating what run day it is.

Every day on my run, I’m cautious not to step on animal excrement. It’s everywhere. The farm animals roam freely.

And speaking of the animals, I see cows, goats, sheep, donkeys (I’ll forever associate their sound with the Gambia as I’d never heard that before coming here), dogs and chickens. Sometimes I have to run around them but it’s rare as they usually get out of the way.
I’ve seen many baboons this week but from a distance. They keep their distance from humans. I’ve also seen red monkeys, a few big rats run across the road, some squirrels, some wild boars.

I never tire of hearing the birds in the morning. There are so many colourful birds. I seek them out when I run along.

The smells along the way – I must talk about those. I can’t tell you how many times everyday I smell the distinct unpleasant odor of a rotting corps in the sun (a cow, dog, sheep, whatever). There’s also the smell of burning; either grass, wood, something toxic or simply charcoal for cooking food

I have to watch out for motorbikes and vehicles. Although they have plenty of room to go around, they insist on driving as close to me or whoever is running with me. Ridiculous, but it’s part of the daily routine. The other things these machines cause? Exhaust fumes! And some, a lot more than others. From diesel (or gas-oil as it is know here) to whatever else they are burning, some of it is black and toxic. I cover my face with my shirt when I encounter those.

This week, I totally depleted my candy stock. I still have stickers and pencils. I’ve been handing out all three to some very grateful children. I’ve also been handing out used 1.5 litre plastic water bottles. They are a hot commodity and are used and re-used for various things.

I have fun with my team. As we continue to advance daily to Banjul we bond more and more. I can honestly say that for me, they are my brothers from different mothers. We laugh a lot together.

We have decided that every day, it would be someone’s turn to be king for the day. We must all hail the king and be nice to the king. I would say that Pa is the most vengeful king and when his turn comes we must be on our best behaviours or else! Of course, it’s all in good fun!

In Jarreng, I have the pleasure of sleeping outside – with a mosquito net of course. The place has solar panels but they are no longer working, which means no fan and that means extreme heat in the room.  We take the mattress’ off the beds and take them outside.  I sleep very well.  A first, I am told for a Love4Gambia runner.

We reach an important milestone this week; the halfway point!  212 km on Day 9.

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On Friday June 20th, I was supposed to take a day off but decided to run that day. And so on day 12, I ran 25 kilometres. Having run on that day means that I’ve run 25 or more kilometres 7 days in a row; a first for me. Then again, this run across the Gambia is a run of many firsts for me.

Speaking of first, I think I can safely say that no one has run in the Gambia while wearing a kilt. Yes, that’s exactly what I did for the first 8 kms of the day on Day 12 and so did the team. They all took turns wearing the kilt and running 2 km.  In Perth Ontario, I’ve participated in every edition of the kilt run and I didn’t want to miss it and so, I brought my kilt to Africa and ran it here.

The Kilt Run

We have a blast! The guys really get into it. Running through villages and seeing the people’s faces and reactions was priceless!

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Today, June 21 is my second and last day of rest on this run. Gen and I talked a few days before and she decided, as a gift, that she would cover the cost at the Sindola hotel for the guys. The guys were very pleased to hear that and thanked Gen from the bottom of their hearts! We spend part of the day in the pool and enjoy our surroundings.

Tomorrow, I continue with the run. 5 days till Banjul. 119 kilometres left till we reach the ocean!

The Adventure Begins! Days 1 through 5

I am writing my blog from Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang. I’m up on the second floor balcony overlooking the Gambia River. To my right, I can see the ferry go back and forth. It is not a motor driven ferry but rather, it relies on manpower to get across. There’s a large steel cable and at least four men use large hooks to pull the boat across. They haul large delivery trucks and cars across. It sure is something you don’t see very often.

I am happy to report that my total so far (drum roll :) is: 126 kilometres! Less than 300 kilometres to go!

Day 1 to 5

Day 1 to 5

The weather is certainly hot and humid! Especially in the east end of the country where I started my run on Sunday on the Gambia-Senegal border.

Before I give a brief summary of each day, I’ll explain my day to day preparation ritual:
The night before, I make sure I have enough water. I purchase my water in bottles as I can’t drink the local unpurified water (not even to brush my teeth). A 1,5 litre bottle of water costs 25 Dalasis each. About 60 cents Canadian.

I prepare two 1 litre bottles of electrolyte drink in platic drinking jugs. I get my clothes ready and have an extra pair of shoes and socks on hand in case I need them. For all my runs, I’ve been using the same pair of shoes.  I wash them with Tide liquid packs that I brought with me.

For breakfast, I managed to find some instant oatmeal at a store in Banjul; Maple and brown sugar flavor. I mix it with room temperature water and eat that. I drink plenty of liquids while I wait for the guys on the team to come pick me up. Sometimes I have to wait a bit longer for them. :)

In the car, I will sometimes munch on part of a piece of Gambian bread (looks like a small baguette – very good bread). Spider has premixed some Gambian peanut butter (peanuts or ground nuts as they are called here, are grown throughout the country) and Gambian honey. The honey has a smokey/ molasses taste to it. It is good.

I always carry my cameras with me; digital SLR, rugged point and shoot and GoPro Hi Definition video camera. Pa has been taking some great footage of me running. It is important to me that I document as much as I can. As a photographer, I see things along the way that I’d like to stop and photograph but I can’t photograph it all. The runner part of me is saying, keep going.

Day 1:

This is where it all begins. Months of training and preparation all comes down to this day. I’m excited! Our home base is in Basse. We have to travel just over 50 kilometres on a badly maintained red dirt road. There are holes everywhere and Pa is driving around them trying to avoid as many as possible.

We arrive at a remote village to pick some supplies. We continue driving toward the Senegal border along farm fields.

The Starting Point

We are at the starting point; a decaying concrete marker that has no marking whatsoever.
Time to run. It is just past 8 am. Almamo, who was a peer health educator and coordinator is accompanying us. He is always smiling and cracking jokes. All five of us run together for the first kilometre.

After 2 kms, Pa runs back to get the support vehicle; a white Nissan Patrol. Spider and Yankuba continue running with me.

The highlight of the day is arriving at a school and having the kids run out to come and see us. It was great to interact with them. I take out my camera and start taking photos of them and showing them the result on the screen. They sure got a kick out of that! They all want to be in the photos. I meet the teacher and give him some pencils and a bag of candy for the kids. He thanks me and then I continue with the run.

Yankuba and I run together to finish day one at 26 kilometres. What a feeling!! It is a hot day, humid but a light breeze in most areas makes it bearable. At times, the wind was so hot that it felt like a hairblower on hi heat.

Day 2:

Back on the dirt road, bright and early. It’s cooler, at least in the morning, than it was the day before. Starting ealier is definitely better.

Along the way I wave and say hello to the people who stop and stare at this “toubab” (white person) running. Here and there I hand out candy to the kids.

Holding a baby

Almamou runs from kilometre 15 with me. We have good conversation. He tells me about his experience being a peer health educator and coordinator. After 6 kms, he calls it a day.

By the end of the run, temperatures have warmed up considerably. Yankuba, Spider and I are happy to be done for the day. 25 kms total for the day. 51 kms overall. We reach the paved intersection in Basse. No more dirt roads for the rest of the run.

I feel a small cold coming on (in this heat???!!!).

Day 3:

In honor of the fallen RCMP officers, we wear red on our run today. We stop along the way and take a few moments in silence in their honor and for their families.

A moment of silence for the fallen RCMP officiers.

A moment of silence for the fallen RCMP officiers.

We don’t have far to go from where I’ve been staying for the past few day, the SOS Children’s Village (an orphanage). I’m settled in a separate little house with air conditioning (yes!) but the power is not turned on all day Darn!).

Spider, Yankuba and myself run through Basse. Basse is the largest city in the Gambia. We run through streets lined with shops and homes. Kids are walking to school. There are people on bicycles, on a donkey pulled cart, motorcycles, cars, on horseback and whatever means of travel at their disposal. There are cows walking the streets, goats , stray dogs and donkeys. I’ve never seen trucks and vans loaded up so high with whatever needs to be transported. One wrong turn and the whole vehicle could fall flat on its side.
In the next town, I give out candies (or “mintees” as they are known here) to the kids. Some are playing with used bicycle tires.

The highlight of the day is a little boy of around 8 or 9. Upon seeing us, he decides to run along on the dirt road parallel to us, in his bare feet! Yankuba yells at him to join us on the paved road but he stays. I get off the paved road and join the boy. He is running fast and we stay with him. He doesn’t speak. He just runs. I look at him and smile. How great is this? I tell Yankuba that we’ll stop at the next kilometre or until he decides to stop. Eventually, after almost 1 kilometre, he stops. I give him three “mintees” and a bag of water (in addition to plastic water bottles, water is sold in small bags here).

Our running companion

Day 4

I pack all my things as I won’t be staying in Basse after today’s run. We drive to the school crossing sign where we had stopped on day 3.

It is very hot and humid; the worse it has been so far. Temperature with humidity is in the high 40′s degrees celcius.

Poor Yankuba has a toothache. He stays in the car. Spider runs with me for several kilometres and I run the rest solo for the first time since I started the run. The guys don’t have to run with me but have taken upon themselves to run as much as they each can. Admirable, especially since they have all admitted to not have trained at all or very little.

Along the way, a woman decides to run as I’m coming along about 50 metres behind her. I catch up and run with her. After she stops, I thank her. Spider gives her some water and off I go on the road again.

I try to get my run in as fast as possible so we can get Yankuba to the hospital (they have dentists there).

At the hospital dentist, we are allowed in the room with the patient. I see the dentist insert the needle of anesthesia and press the contents in quickly. He is certainly not gentle. To my surprise he gets to work right away; he doesn’t have time to let the effects kick in I suppose. Yankuba is in major pain and is yelling, and at one point, he grabs the dentist’s hand to stop him. Finally, the dentist gives him one more shot and decides to wait 10-15 minutes to allow for the area to “freeze”. There’s no dental hygienist with a suctioning device. You have to spit in a bucket by the chair. A bucket that already has about an inch think of… How hygienic is that?

When the dentist comes back to finish the job, Pa decides to get up and leave the room. I do not need any convincing and I leave with him. When we return 15 minutes later, the dentist pulled out 2 teeth. Yankuba had an absess.

While all this was happening, Spider was elsewhere in the hospital getting treated for pain on his upper leg.

Both Spider and Yankuba are given prescriptions and so we drive to the nearest pharmacy. We arrive and I look at the place and exclaim “That’s not a pharmacy?!?!?”. But it was. And the guys got their pills.

For the next three nights, I’m staying at Bintou’s Paradise Lodge in Bansang.

Day 5

I wake up early and stand outside to wait for the guys. The owner of the place follows me out and we chat. He calls me Theo because, for him, it’s easier to remember than Terry. He speaks perfect French. He is Gambian-born but has spent over 30 years in Paris and still has a house there. His four children still live there.

Pa Modou is joining me on the run today. Before I go into the rest of my story, I must provide some context:

When Erin, the founder and first runner of Love4Gambia was running, she would talk to the guys as she ran. Certainly not something they are used to and/or enjoy doing. One day, Erin pointed out some homes and asked Kebba about why people would live in such poor conditions. Kebba, too tired to speak, just responded with one word; “Poverty!”. The guys still laugh about it today.

On today’s run, as I am chatting away, Pa says “I feel like responding “Poverty!”. We laugh. And then I say, “That bad eh?”. Suffice it to say, it didn’t stop me from talking. On his last kilometre of the day, I let him listen to his music.

Due to a bit of rain overnight, the air is less humid in the morning. The frogs can be heard loud and clear as areas that were dry the day before are now filled with water. They certainly don’t sound like our Canadian frogs. The sound is different and much much louder.

Today’s total is 25 kilometres and the total 126.

I’m so pleased with how the first week has gone. I hope it will continue!

Please note that donations are still accepted. I’m seeing first hand where the money is going and I can tell you that your donation is going to a very worthy cause!

Thank you for reading! (I am having difficulty posting images here, if you have a Facebook account, please have a look at the photos there.)

 

Arriving In The Gambia – The Press Conference – The Drive to Basse

After months of fundraising and preparation the time has come to travel to the West coast of Africa, more specifically, the Smiling Coast of Africa – The Gambia.

How I wish the technology in Star Trek was available today; I could transport directly. Instead, I take the bus from Ottawa and arrive two and a half hours later in Montreal. Then, a 7 hour flight from Montreal to Casablanca. I arrive in Casablanca at around 11 am. I have to wait almost 11 hours for my flight. Luckily, the airline (Royal Air Maroc) provides me with free transportation and lodging in a hotel in downtown Casablanca. Even my meals are covered.

After a decent lunch at the hotel restaurant, I go for a short nap, then shower and head off to explore the city. Casablanca is not a pedestrian friendly place. I follow the example of the locals and find my way across the crowded streets. There is plenty of honking and the exhaust fumes permeate the air.

How I wish I could snap away with my DSLR but I don’t want to draw any attention to myself. I need to use the map on my smartphone – I am cautious when I take it out.

The highlight of my day is wondering through the seemingly never ending market. Vendors selling fruits, vegetables and meats. The paths are narrow and crowded with goods and people. The rubble of of a building spills out onto the path. There are stray dogs and cats almost every 20 metres. Someone has poured milk in a blue plastic bag for several week old cats. There are old umbrellas and tarps to shade us from the sun.

I finally arrive at the mosque and have very little time to waste. It’s time to walk back and grab my ride back to the hotel.
Another waiting game at the airport and off I go for a hour flight this time. I arrive in Guinea Bissau and wait there for over minutes before we take off again. A short 25 minute flight and I finally land in the Gambia. Finally!! It is late, 2:45 am.
Once in the airport, I have to fill out a form and wait in line for passport control. As I wait, I catch a glimpse of the guys and wave. I can see Spider waving back with both arms.

After a few questions from the policeman at passport control I cross over and am warmly greeted by all three guys on the team; Pa Modou, Spidder and Yankuba. I can’t believe that all three are there. Not only that, there more NSGA people there to greet me including the director. I thank them profusely as we drive away from the airport.

We arrived at Stew Scott’s place. Just an incredible guy that has been so supportive of Love4Gambia. Not only that, but he offered that I stay at his place while I’m in Banjul. Sweet.

We say good night to the guys and I settle in at Stew’s place. I am immediately taken by the sound of the waves as the ocean is just steps away.

Over the next few days, I spend time with the guys and visit the NSGA office in the Gambia. I am so impressed by everyone there. They welcome me with open arms. I tell them how impressed by all the work they do from my discussions with them.

On Friday June 6, it’s time for the press conference. I am nervous – just a tad. As I wait I talk with Yankuba and other members of the NSGA. Kebba arrives with Cathy and I so pleased to meet them both. Just before entering the conference, I ask Cathy to take photos.

The official start time of the press conference? 9 am. We finally start: just before 11 am.

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The press conference goes extremely well. The message of Love4Gambia and the mission of the Nova Scotia Gambia Association is well communicated by all and the media seems to show great interest. One of the journalists there was a peer health educator with the NSGA and he is keen to share our story.

Just after 9 am today (June 7) we depart for Basse. This will be our home base for the next 3 nights. The drive is equivalent in distance to a drive from Ottawa to Quebec City but it takes us much longer. The roads are paved and I must say much nicer that a lot of our pothole filled roads in Canada. We have several stops to make along the way. We notice the heat intensify as we continue eastward. Even the Gambians are finding hot!

We arrive shortly after 4 in Basse and I am settled in a nice house in an orphanage compound.

Tomorrow is the big day!! Day one of the 424 kilometre run! Tomorrow at 6 am, we will be driving to Koina – a 1 hour drive. From that point on, I will be running back westward, 25 kilometres per day to Banjul.

Hopefully the sun won’t be out in full force and there will be slight breeze. A guy can hope.

One last thing: I can’t say enough about Pa Modou, Spider and Kebba. What an incredible team!! More about them in future posts.

 

The Blue Nose and the Fortieth Birthday

What a busy month!  It started May 1st with the comedy club fundraiser.  Turnout was great!  And the comedians were hilarious.  I did not know any them and was relieved that they put on a great show.  I wanted to ensure that my guests had a great time and good value for their money.  They certainly did.

During the May long weekend I traveled to Halifax.  Erin, the founder and first runner of Love4Gambia picked me up at the airport with her two adorable kids, Regan and Levi.  I had lunch at her place and met her sister.  I got to hold Levi and talk to Regan.  I’m not sure I understood everything she said but we managed to have some conversations.

On Saturday May 17th, I accompanied Erin and Regan on the family 2k run.  Erin’s friend and her son Marty were also there.  For the duration of the 2 km, I was their personal paparazzi.  Early on, Regan asked her mother if she could have fish crackers.  The kids would walk, run, or hold up their arms to be in their mothers’ arms.  The mothers would pick them up for a short time but let them down again.

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We had a great time and the crowds near the finish area were cheering loudly.  The kids received their medals at the finish.  They also got to enjoy their fish crackers once they got home.

On Sunday May 18th, I woke up bright and early to run the Blue Nose marathon.  Race start: 8 am.  I lined up and spoke to another runner from the Blue Nose Love4Gambia fundraising team.  I wished him luck and we were off shortly after.  I have never been this close behind Kenyan runners at the start of a race. Only 286 participants for the marathon.

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I knew the course would be hilly and so I was prepared for it physically and mentally.  I had done my hill training.  I did not have a specific goal time in mind except that I wanted to finish in sub four hours.  I considered this a training run for the Gambia run.  In addition, I have another marathon to run in Ottawa in exactly one week.

The weather was perfect, sunny and around 8 degrees Celsius at the start.

I don’t run with music.  I enjoy hearing what’s going on around me especially when there are bands playing or when people are cheering.  I also enjoy exchanging a few words with other runners.

Early on in the race, we run on the MacDonald Bridge.  The view is impressive.  I start chatting with a few runners who were going my pace.  I run with them for several kilometres.  I wasn’t seeking company but I found it almost all the way.  It was great. When you find someone running your pace, it makes the time go by.

I must hand it to Haligonians, they sure know how to cheer for us and make us feel welcome.  I always thanked them as I ran by.

The sun hid behind the clouds halfway through the race.  The weather was still ideal.

We run through Point Pleasant Park in the last part of the race.  I love the smell of the ocean mist.

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The crowd is loud at the finish and helps me to give that one last push.  I am pleased to finish my 30th marathon in 3 hours 53 minutes.  A runner who ran with me for most of the second half is waiting for me at the finish line.  We congratulate each other and head inside the Metro Centre for some refreshments.

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That evening I had dinner with the Love4Gambia team – such wonderful people!  We all shared our race weekend stories.

The next day, Halifax welcomed Prince Charles and Camilla.  Later in the day, Mary-Catherine drove me back to the airport.  She did a wonderful job coordinating the Love4Gambia Blue Nose Team!  Thank you M-C!!

Sunday, May 25th – 7 am: Time to run another 42.2 kilometres.  This time in Ottawa.  The Ottawa Marathon will always be special to me as it is where I ran my first marathon in 2007.  I’ve run it every year since.

This year is the 40th anniversary of the marathon race in Ottawa.  The weather can be tricky in Ottawa.  It can get hot and very humid.  So far it is foggy and near 10 degrees.

I’m happy to see my friends Brian, Pat and Andrea.  Brian will doing the “Starbucks  coffee run” and will be cheering for us throughout the day.  His wife Jo-Anne is waiting for us at kilometer 10.  How cool is that?

Andrea, Pat and myself get in to our corral and wait for the race start.  Again, this is a training run so I don’t have a hard goal.  I want to finish under four hours but I also have a secret goal of finishing under 3:50.  No pressure.

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The signal is given and I start my 31st marathon.  I see Gen a few hundred metres into the run.

The fog keeps the hot sun at bay.  The Ottawa marathon course is flatter than Halifax. There are a few hills but nothing major.

To my left is the calm waters of the canal and there’s a mist just above the water.  I hear a runner to my left comment on how beautiful it is. Since no one responds, I move near where he is and agree.  He is from Toronto and I tell him that I get to run here often and never tire of it.  I wish him a good race and move ahead.

I high-five Jo-Anne at the 10 k mark.  Shortly after I start a conversation with two guys in their early twenties (Adam and David).  We’re on pace for a 3:35 finish.  I feel great and decide to run with them for over 16 kms.  Just before 27 k, I let them go.  I feel a little tired.  It’s nothing unusual for a marathon but I don’t want to run out of steam later on.  Part of me wants to race hard but the other is reminding me that the run in the Gambia is the main event and that this is part of the training.

I continue at a slightly reduced pace.  The crowds seem bigger this year.  It sure is nice to hear your name yelled out even when you don’t know the person.

Somewhere after 30 kms, my friend Andrea catches up with me and says “You call this an easy pace?”.  I laugh and tell her that it feels “comfortable”.  I run with her for several kilometers and let her go. (I’d like to add that she ran her personal best and qualified for Boston!  Way to go Andrea!)

I look forward to seeing Karen (my ex-sister in-law aka “cousin”) near kilometer 35.  She has come out to see me every year since 2007.  It means a lot to me that she does this every year.  She took this photo of me just after the water station just after kilometer 33.  I’m happy see Slavica there also.

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At this point it starts to get warmer. The sun has burned away all the fog.  The race is almost over.  The crowds are plenty as we approach the National Gallery and beyond.  It sure helps.  The half marathoners join us at the convention centre.  It’s more crowded but manageable.

One last sharp turn off Pretoria bridge and it’s the final stretch to the finish.  Time to empty what’s left in the tank.  Crowd support is great.  I kick it into high gear when I catch a glimpse of the finish arch.

At 3 hours and 43 minutes I finish my 31st marathon.  Yes!  Not only have I beat my secret goal of running a sub 3:50, I’ve beaten my personal best for this course.  I’m grinning from ear to ear. How I wish all my races could be like this!!  Perhaps the trick is to run two marathons back to back?

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I talk with some friends at the finish and get interviewed with Radio-Canada television.  It runs later on the 6 o’clock news.

I am ready for the adventure that awaits in the Gambia!  I can’t wait to meet the wonderful people there!  I fly out June 3rdl.

Rotterdam Marathon, Around the Bay 30K and a trip to Belgium and Holland

Time flies!  Only 6 weeks left till I leave for the Gambia.  6 weeks!!!

The last four weeks have been busy and fun!  The weekend after the Wine Tasting event on March 22nd, I was off to Hamilton for the Around the Bay 30 km road race; my 7th consecutive Around the Bay, the oldest road race in North America.  

The night before the race, the weather was terrible.  There was a snowstorm and the winds were so strong that the snow was falling sideways.  Gen, my friends and I were all expecting the weather on race morning to be a challenge.  Luckily, it cleared up on race morning; the roads were dry and the sun was shining.

I ran with my friend Shauna.  Shauna and I first met over seven years ago when we were both training for our very first marathon.  I couldn’t find her at the start line but found her 1 or 2 kilometres into the race.    

A few days before the run, I was severely sick with a 24 hour stomach flu.  I had very little time to get myself in tip top shape but I was determined to run the race.  Although I felt fine for the first 21 kms, after that, things fell apart. I didn’t tell Shauna, I just let her go at 21 km and slowed down my pace.  I felt dehydrated and not my usual self.  I drank extra liquids at every water station after that.  I pushed on.  I ran up the famous hill right up to the top.  I high fived the guy dressed as the Grim Reaper at the top near the cemetery.  He’s there every year and hurls insults as we run by. It’s a tradition.

I finished my race with a personal worse for this race.  I wasn’t disappointed as I was able to push on and finish.  It puts things into perspective when you see a fellow runner being carried away in a stretcher less than a kilometer from the finish line.  How I wish I could have helped him to the finish.

Five days later on April 4th, Gen and I drive to the airport in Montreal.  We are Amsterdam bound!

I sleep very little on the plane.  We arrive before 8 am Amsterdam time.  We pick up our rental car and I drive us to Bruges.  I feel surprisingly alert and awake for the 2h45 drive to this small medieval city in Belgium.  We arrive at around lunchtime.  We park the car, check in to our hotel and head out to explore this amazing place.  There are chocolate shops after chocolate shops.  I think I’ve found heaven.  We stay up for over 37 hours.  We sleep well on our first night in Europe.

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After a wonderful visit to Bruges, we drive back the next day and return the car.  We spend the next four days in Amsterdam and the following four in Rotterdam, the Netherlands second largest city.  We spend an incredible amount of time on our feet visiting the sites and even with good walking shoes; our feet are sore and tired every night.  But we wouldn’t have it any other way.  There will be time enough to rest when we get back home.

My one worry from all this walking is how it will affect my marathon.  Gen is running the 10k and she too wonders how it will affect her race.

April 13 – Rotterdam Marathon – It’s race day.  The race start is late.  10:30 am for the marathon.  The 10 k leaves 15 minutes after the marathon start.

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My legs feel fine.  I hydrated well the night before.  The sun is out, it’s warmer than what I’ve been used to back in Canada but there’s a mild cool wind that makes this day practically ideal to run a marathon.

The canon nearby is fired – it’s time to run.  For the first 10-15 kilometers I run regular “systems checks”.  The legs feel fine, I feel good and so I keep a good pace.  My goal is not to run a personal best but to finish strong and to enjoy the run.

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It’s fun running a course for the first time. I have no idea where I’m going.  I just follow the runners and the signs.  I understand nothing of the cheers – the Dutch language is a difficult one to grasp.  I am happy to hear many simple “Terry!” being yelled throughout the race (my name is on my race bib).  I also get several “Canada!”.

The further I get in the race, the happier I am that all is going well.  The daily walking marathons Gen and I undertook over the last week have not impacted our running.

A few times during the race, I think to myself how fortunate I am to be able to do this and to be running in Rotterdam.

My pace slows down in the second half, I feel that the effort is the same as before but the speed isn’t there.   I’m not worried.  Physically I feel fine and that’s what’s important to me.  This isn’t the time to fret about time.  I keep going as fast as I can without over exerting myself.  I try to keep enough in the “tank” to overcome anything that might pop up along the way.  It’s a balance of speed, comfort (if there is such a thing during a race) and enjoyment of the race.

I cross the finish line in 3 hours and 55 minutes.  Not my faster time but not a bad time either.  I’m just so thrilled things have gone so well.  I pickup my medal and walk through the crowd to my hotel.

I arrive at the hotel and moments later, Gen arrives.  I am so pleased to hear that she had a great race.  She too was not affected by all the walking.  She ran a personal best!

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What a great finish to our trip to Bruges and the Netherlands.  We fly back home the next day.

Next up: The Bluenose Marathon in Halifax!  I can’t wait to run this race!  If you want to be part of Team Love4Gambia let us know!  We’ll get you connected.  You can run the 5k, the 10k, the half or the full marathon and raise funds for the NSGA!

Next fundraising event: Comedy Night at Yuk Yuks on Thursday May 1!  Tickets are $20.  Let me know if you want tickets!