Nine days in, 232 km completed, and we are over half way done our run across The Gambia!
I was told by a follower that they would like to hear about more drama and hardship in term of the love4gambia run. She said that I am making the run seem easy.
I think there are definitely two sides to this coin: It is extremely challenging, mentally and physically at times. The running, as well as the daily necessities (eating, sleeping, not overheating), are all challenges that have to be overcome on a daily basis – and this is not always easy. On the other side of the coin, there are the great moments that make this voyage possible and enjoyable – the team, the NSGA schools, the beautiful Gambian countryside…
So, in attempt to explain the difficulties (drama?) along the journey, I thought I’d go through some of the challenges we have had to deal with so far:
• The HEAT! I have adapted to running in the heat. I have accepted that I will be ridiculously stinky and sweaty. My stomach has grudgingly got used to me drinking huge amount of water and Gatorade while continuing to run. (Though this took about two painful days of getting used to). However, one of the most challenging parts of the trip for me is finding a cool place to relax and recover after the run is complete. Most of the accommodations so far do not have electricity until the general power is turned on. This is supposed to be 6 o’clock in the evening, however that rarely happens. For example, right now it is 7:43pm and there has yet to be any electricity in this compound. So, it is too hot to sleep (I am sweating just typing this), it is too hot to lie down and relax, and there isn’t really anywhere (that I am aware of) cool to go. This is the most challenging part of the run so far for me. I want to rest and recover for the next day, but instead I end up laying in a hot bed or floor and swat flies for several hours on end. Not exactly the best way to recover, but it has to work. I am complaining about this, but I do realize that everyone in The Gambia deals with the hot weather during this season, most with a lot less electricity than we have. SO, I guess keeping things in perspective has helped.
• The food. Eating food that your body is used to is especially important while running. Many runners will have a specific diet that they will eat the day/morning before a training session or race in order to ensure they do not have an upset stomach or suffer from any intestinal issues. Not fun to add digestive complications on top of the running pain. So, when you first come to Africa, (unless you are staying in a tourist resort), it is pretty much a given that your diet will have to do some adjusting, and it will take a while for your body to adapt. This can be especially nerve-wracking if you are expected to run 25km regardless of whether or not the food you ate agrees with you. On top of this, being a vegetarian in a country that serves meat with almost all of its dishes has added to the challenge of finding nutritional food. This was especially challenging at the start when I was unaware of the food types that were available. However, as I am learning what is available in each town, I am finding the eating easier and easier. And, as the choices in terms of restaurants increases as we approach the coast, this is also making the food challenge easier and easier.
• Africa Time. Things run on a different schedule in Africa in comparison to Canada. There is nothing wrong with either system; they are just different, very different. When you are used to the Canadian system of things running on a specific time schedule, it can test your patience when trying to adapt to Africa time, especially when you are exhausted, hungry, and sweaty from running 25km throughout the morning. In Africa, things happen when they happen, and there is no rushing or hurrying things along, no matter how hard you may try. Luckily, we have our own vehicle and are able to make our own time schedule as much as possible, which has definitely helped to keep me patient☺
• Accommodations. It is currently the off-season for tourists in The Gambia on account of the extreme heat, so accommodations in many villages are limited/non-existent. Running water and electricity are precious commodities, and I have definitely had to adapt to that. For example, today we came home after 30km and there was no running water – so a bucket shower it is. Not the end of the world, just another challenge that goes along with running and traveling in rural Africa.
• The Chaffing/Loss of Toenails. Along with a lot of sweating and repetitive motion comes many random agitations. Luckily, I have had no injuries to worry about, so chaffing and losing toenails has been my largest issue. My back is now covered with random lines following my camelback, sports bra, and heart rate monitor. These things are painful while running, but the worst is when I hop into the long-awaited shower. I am so excited to get some cool water on me, and then as soon as I turn the shower on, the water mixes with my salty sweat and mixes on top of the chaff marks. Therefore, most showers are usually accompanied by muddled screams and curses until the salt clears away and the mark gets used to the water. Not my favorite part of the day. In terms of blisters, I have also been really lucky. No blisters on the main part of my foot whatsoever. I have only had blisters under two toenails, and have lost one of the toenails completely (soon to be followed by the other). These blisters have not been too painful, they just make my feet look extra weird, and bring my toenail count down from 10 to 6…
Moving on from the challenges, I also have a lot motivating and reinforcing my run across The Gambia. I’d also like to go into a bit of detail about these:
• Team Love4Gambia. The team is what makes this experience. We all have our good moments and our challenging moments, and we all are vital to make the trek across The Gambia successful. I won’t go into too much detail because I think it is already clear how well the team has developed and how instrumental they are for getting me through all of the challenges I have had to face so far.
• The daily notes. During the 20km rest break, Pa always reads the team messages of encouragement sent to us over the internet from his phone. I truly look forward to these during the first 20km and they give me something to think about and smile over the last 5km for the day.
• The experience. Whenever I start to feel tired/bored/sore I just look around me and try to appreciate the situation I am in. I am doing something I love – running – with the people I love, in one of the most beautiful and exotic places I have ever been. Then I take a deep breath and my mindset turns from negative to appreciative that I am able to be apart of this great journey.
• The Cause. Last, and most importantly, Running for health promotion and education programs in The Gambia has certainly been one of the primary motivational factors as I face the challenges of running across an African country. The best part is when the schools are able to join us and run along with us in support of the NSGA. All of the challenges seem miniscule in comparison to the feeling of running with a school in support of health education programs for them.
So, when I look at the big picture, it really is hard to complain and talk too much about the challenges/dramas we are facing. So long as we all stay healthy, happy, and united, we will all continue to get stronger and stronger as we approach Banjul.
Today, I ran 30km with all of the challenges and all of the motivations. The running part of the day seems to pass so quickly and before I know it the time is up. I can’t wait to reach Banjul, but at the same time I am thoroughly enjoying every moment of this journey. 232 complete, only 192 to go!
Jennifer and the love4gambia team