Monday, 30 June 2014

Victoria Falls Half Marathon

First light: 0635 hrs
Time start: 0715 hrs
Time finish: 0857 hrs
Weather: 12C
Humidity: 33%
Circumstances: 2014 Victoria Falls Half Marathon

"It has never been seen before by European eyes, but scenes so wonderful must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight." Livingstone's words in 1855. Difficult to better.

Not often you run one of the 7 wonders of the world. Not every day you run across Victoria Falls bridge into Zambia. Not every day you run through a cooling shower of mist rising from Devils Gorge. Not every day you run in a national park with armed wardens at elephant crossing points. Quite the event. Quite the run.

Arriving to the Falls was, eventful. An arduous journey by vehicle. Distance 750 kms. 11 hours. Another late night of Harare hospitality meant a later than planned for departure. Moreover, the last 4 hours were driven after dark O clock. Not at all sensible. The risk of a chance encounter with Eddie the Elephant, or a host of other animals, increases significantly after last light. Great times at Amanzi's though.

0715 hrs. Race time. Field of around 700 for the half marathon. Tremendous atmosphere in town ahead of the start. With prize money down to 10th place a quality field was 
assembled. The full marathon set-off 45 minutes earlier at a speed I could barely sprint. To give you an idea of the quality of African athletes participating, the half marathon was won in under 65 mins. Mo Farah territory.

Perfect conditions today. Altitude feels fine after a few days in Zim. Low humidity and a pleasant temperature, together with a rising sun. Doesn't get much better.

Hooter sounds. Run north past the main entrance to Victoria Falls on the left. Through the customs post and into Zambia. A beautiful setting as the field stretches out over the 109 year old Victoria Falls bridge. When completed in 1905 it was the worlds largest cantilever construction. Cecil Rhodes had a vision of a railway line from the Cape to Cairo. A bridge was required over the Zambezi gorge. He died before it was completed. A true feat of engineering brilliance. These days more people throw themselves off the bridge than cross it.

People throw themselves off by bungee jump half way along the bridge. $135 to scare yourself senseless by plummeting 111m towards the Zambezi. What can possibly go wrong? Well, the cord snapped a couple of years back, miraculously the jumper survived. The world's press had a field day; crocodile infested waters, swept away by the rapids, the whole works. She managed to swim to the bank with her feet tied together and haul herself out with a broken collar bone and other injuries. She made a full recovery. Aussies are tough.

Funniest thing though was Zambia's tourism minister jumping a few days later to help assure the safety of the attraction. Bet he enjoyed that... Which British, US, Canadian, or Sierra Leonean Minister would you like to see hurtle towards the Zambezi to make a point? I'm trying to talk Lifeline into a tandem jump later this afternoon, we might be back later...

Run back across the bridge a second time and head towards the first water station at 5 kms. Plenty of runners taking selfies on the bridge. The amount of gear people run with these days is amazing. Music, headphones, head cameras, camera for the selfie, belt kits with water bottles and food, headbands, calve socks, huge watches... incredible... Suffice to say those Kenyans & Zims at the front of the field had no such paraphernalia.

I'm flying today, haven't run 5 kms at this speed for many a year. Go past 2 elephant crossing points. Huge elephant poo everywhere. Bigger poos than even yours Tea Cake. We see no elephants today.

Plenty of support on the road adds to the atmosphere. Lots of cars with stereos turned up full blaring out rock music. African drums playing incessantly in some of the lodges. All adds to the feel good factor.

Little more on Victoria Falls. Also known as 'Mosi oa-Tunya' (the smoke that thunders) is half way along the mighty Zambezi River. Africa's fourth largest at 2,700 kms (after Nile, Zaire and Niger respectively) and the only one that flows east into the Indian Ocean.​ Victoria Falls is approx 1,700m wide. It’s one and a half times wider than Niagara Falls, and twice the height, making it the biggest curtain of water in the world. My second time, it remains breathtaking.

Good time at 10 kms. Won't keep this pace up. 14 kms turn into the breeze. This is more realistic. More of a struggle now. At 16 kms going uphill. Pace now falling away quicker than the Iraqi army.

Last couple of kms. Final push. Can hear the music at the finishing point - Victoria Falls Primary School. Good turnout. Try to lift the pace for the last 400m around the grass track. Blow that. Just finish.

Waiting for Lifeline to finish. Teamwork. I head for breakfast, have a rub down, do some stretching, read the papers, have some coffee, hang on, ... quick, here he is...

In all seriousness, he's had a good run and extremely pleased with his time. Right, enough praise, into town for that big brekkie.

We've spent the previous 2 nights in a more humble lodge outside of town. Tonight is the reward. We book in the luxurious Victoria Falls Hotel. What a hotel. Expensive, even when sharing a twin room. Worth every cent though. Steeped in more than a 100 years of fascinating history. There's the Livingston Room, Stanley Room, a beautiful terrace for afternoon tea, and of course a bar with chilled glasses and cold Zambezi. Come on, we deserve it...

Photos and other bits on Twitter: @roadrunnertns

Roadshow now moves to Bulawayo tomorrow...

P.S. This post is dedicated to JH's 95 year old Mom in Canada. She was read the last post (Harare) and liked it. Apparently she's a tough critic... This is for you Mrs. H. I hope you enjoy it. Ask your son to tell you the story when he went down with malaria, following a trip to Kenya with me...

P.P.S. Divas, look busy. I'm back Friday...