Day 15 + 16
“Nimbarra” means “hard work” in Mandinka.
Day 15, Sunday, July 24. 30km run.
As Ashely wrote, Day 15 was a really big challenge for me. Several factors came together to make this so. My sneakers melted at km 17. More funny than challenging. We didn’t have enough food and I was hungry. We were in place that food was hard to get. I was cranky. Then my breasts chafed really badly. My sports bra and running tanks rubbed the skin right off, leaving several wounds.
When we started run #2 of the day, we were supposed to hit Brikama at 6km so the run would be one kilometer longer than our usual 25km. I was hurting and I knew that I would need to focus on running and not give in to hurting. If I could just focus enough, I could get the pain under my sports bra to go away. I couldn’t do this while running with one of my guys. If they were next to me, I knew that I would break down and become really emotional. So I put Ashley in the truck at 3km and told the guys that I needed them to help me by letting me run alone for the next 3km to Brikama.
They agreed- eager to help me. But then Kebba told me that Brikama might not be at km 6. Where is it!? I demanded. I was hovering really close to pain threshold and also to snapping emotionally. I had been yelling at kids. This is not like me. “Maybe one or 2 km more.”
So I take off in somewhat stony/stoic silence. I could focus alone and I could numb myself to the pain in my chafed areas. I’ve run lots of late miles in lots of races, it was just like this. I was just running.
I stopped at the truck at 7km. We weren’t in Brikama. “Maybe one or two more km,” says Kebba, apologetically. My smile was gone. Brikama was lost. Kebba and Pa wanted me stop but there was no way I was stopping until we got to Brikama. I had to get there. The team had to get there. Our police escort was going to pick us up in Brikama on Day 16 and the police escort was very necessary in the heavy traffic of urban Serrekunda.
I started running one or two kilometers more. I was angry. So angry at the kilometer markers that led to the middle of nowhere. I was hungry. I knew there was pain under my resolve and I was worried that I was creating pain in my legs that would make me suffer the next day. At my lowest moment, a truck full of soldiers drove by. Along with the kids and the mamas, I love the soldiers. They travel on open flat-bed trucks. I salute them. They salute me back. I made it to 9km.
I did not make it to Brikama by 9km. “How much further?” I ask, wearily. “Less than a kilometer,” says Kebba. “Are you sure? Positive?” I demand. “Well, maybe 990m,” he says. Poor Kebba. I had turned into Charlie from “Running the Sahara” but felt like Kevin from the film when he says that he can’t go on running aimlessly to Libya. Kebba doesn’t have a map in his head. He was doing his best.
During that last stretch, I was thinking of my coach Cliff watching me run 150s at the track. It was comforting so I ran 150s over and over. It wasn’t necessarily the running that was difficult, the kilometers were disappearing, but during these extra kilometers, everything was difficult.
Brikama was 900m from km 9, rounding out the day’s total at nearly 30km. When I reached Brikama, I grabbed my water from Pa and said that I needed to walk and to meet me up the road in about 5 minutes. When I walked away from the truck, I was crying. I don’t run and cry in real life but I just didn’t know what else to do with myself. I was so emotionally overwhelmed. I felt bad for the team because I wouldn’t let them run with me. I felt bad that I wasn’t my usual smiling self. But I knew that I wouldn’t have been able to push beyond the pain of my chafed skin without being alone.
I pulled myself together by the time the truck came to get me. I had to pull myself together because I knew that the guys wouldn’t be able to handle their runner crying.
We clocked the kilometers to the finish line at the ocean after the run and about 25 minutes into our drive, I was steady and ready to talk to the team:
“Pa?” I said. “Thank you for helping me today.”
“Spider. Thank you for helping me today”
“Kebba. Thank you for helping me today”
“Ashley. Thank you for helping me today.”
Day 16. Monday, July 25. 24km run. 410km total. 13.5 to go.
We are at Banjul’s doorsteps. We stopped our run today at the Westfield junction. It was a really… big challenge getting there.
I was really nervous about today because it involved running through urban, throbbing, bustling, busy Serrekunda. I wrote on Facebook this morning that in The Gambia, this would be like the equivalent of running through Manhattan.
I needed some extra courage this morning so I opened up my precious package of daily notes and photos from my girl Gina. Today’s photo was of all of my best girls running down Leeds Street in our wedding gowns at our Royal Wedding Party. Gina’s note said to think about my girlfriends running with me today, just behind me. I got teary. I told Ashley that I had accepted that the next 2 days would be an emotional rollercoaster.
We got in the truck to drive to our start point in Brikama. I was nervous and not feeling very strong and clutching the photo of my girls in my hand. I told my team that I was nervous and they told me that they would take care of me. They told me to try not to let the traffic get to me. I trust my team so absolutely and I knew that they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. We started running. Walliduff Jarr, our Gambia Police escort on the motorcycle in front. Spider, me and Kebba behind. My men, flanking me. And Ashley and Pa in the truck behind me. I had a protective cocoon.
I was thinking of my Aunt Debby’s advice to “Do you best and the forget the rest.” Today, “the rest” was the long line of unhappy traffic we were creating behind us. I did my best to forget about them.
At our 20 minute water stop, a little boy named Molamin joined us. He listened to Kebba explain Love4Gambia to a young man. Kebba said, “We are running for the youth of this country.” When we began to run, he was next to us. Molamin was 12 years old and from Brikama. He ran the next 9km with us in his plastic sandals.
Molamin was incredibly helpful for me. Obviously my legs are tired and while I’m not injured, of course I am hurting. I have used mantras during many races- a short sentence repeated over and over again. It helps me push the sensory data from my legs out of my head. I concentrate only on the words. I was watching Molamin run and saying to myself, “Run for him. Run for him.” I hurt everywhere and nowhere all at once. We got to 12km relavitely easily. The transfer trucks hauling logs from Casamance were terrifying and I was scared that cars were going to knock over the police motorcycle several times.
Team switched up at 12km. Kebba in the truck. Pa out of the truck. Kebba also have Molamin taxi money to get home. When we started running again, I realized that my second pair of shoes in so many days had melted. All of a sudden, my left foot dropped and felt flat on the ground. It was like wearing 2 different pairs of shoes. At km 14 of the day, we hit 400km. Erin with 2 pairs of shoes melted.
We stopped at the truck and Ashley asked me if the same foot melted each day. When I said they were different feet, she told me to put the good shoe from yesterday on. I started to tell her that different pairs of shoes have different wear patterns and you can’t mix them up…. And then I stopped myself. My shoes have just melted! Wear pattern is no longer a concern! Now this isn’t a reflection of my shoe sponsor at all. My shoes have been very, very good to me. I don’t think that any brand of shoe would stand up to running 400km across a hot African country.
At km 16, our run became really challenging due to factors beyond our control. We had been running easily from km 10-16 through traffic because the road was a double-lane divided highway with a median. We blocked one lane, leaving the second lane for moving cars. Then news came that the President of The Gambia was going to be leaving the city and they shut down one entire side of the highway. Now traffic in the busiest urban core was using only 2 lanes, one travelling in each direction. Exactly where we were about to run.
I saw the traffic jam up ahead and dread washed over me. The “highway” is narrow and there was very little space between oncoming traffic and the traffic in our direction and the flow was moving very slowly. The very tight space between the 2 lines of traffic, in the centre of the road, was where we ran.
For the next 6km, the police bike drove through the traffic and Spider, Kebba and I followed. We had to run single file: Spider, then me, then Kebba taking up the rear. Car swerved, sometimes in front of us. The guys were yelling at cars. I was yelling at cars. I slapped about 10 cars when they tried to move in front me as soon as the police motorcycle passed. Pa and Ashley and the support truck lost us several times because they couldn’t follow through the tight traffic. If I had any sense, I would have been scared. Instead, I was just mad and that emotion is much easier to run with.
We had to run the last 6km non-stop because there was nowhere to stop for water in the traffic deadlock. I embraced the traffic light at the Westfield Junction and Spider and Kebba embraced me. The team survived.
If my blog reads to you like a journal, that’s because it is. I am keeping this for myself and for my friends and family. If you are outside of my friends/family circle, I sincerely thank you for taking the time to follow my team as we run through this incredible experience. Please let me remind you why I’m running. I’m not running for glory or accomplishment, I’m running to keep kids alive in a country that I love dearly.
If you’ve been following Team Love4Gambia, you’ve gotten to know Pa Modou Sarr and Kebba Suso. My team. These 2 remarkable men are staff of the Nova Scotia-Gambia Association. They are the ones that go out into the field and run the projects that keep kids alive in The Gambia. Pa and Kebba do the malaria prevention. They do the HIV prevention. Using cinema, they educate communities about Child Rights Protection so that no one will exploit kids like Molamin and his sister.
I am running to raise funds so that Pa and Kebba can continue to do this life-saving work with the NSGA in The Gambia. If you’ve gotten something out of my blog, if you keep coming back and if you haven’t supported Love4Gambia already, please consider donating. Donate Now! is an easy button to click on the homepage.
We finish this unforgettable journey tomorrow when we jump into the Atlantic Ocean as a team. If you want to celebrate, please donate.