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!

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