There are a surprising number of V marathons to chose from, and three years ago I picked Vilnius. As my overall timetable began to take shape, particularly last year, I changed my mind. The sensible option would have been Vienna as it would still have left time for me do fit in one I really wanted to do, The White Nights in St Petersburg. But it would have been a too close to the NDW50 and I also really wanted to complete the continents by running an African marathon; luckily Victoria Falls fitted perfectly (but not The White Nights which was the week before) and it gave me plenty of time to run W without having to do one in my home country.
The 11 hour flight to Johanasburg followed by a shorter one back up into Zimbabwe had the advantage of only a one hour time difference so no jet lag. But the flight was overnight and I do not sleep well, or even at all, on planes and I had 2 nights to catch up before the 6.45 am race start.
Registration, it wasn’t an expo, did throw up the most unusual race rule I have come across.
Well we didn’t see any, but the large deposits on the trail at various places were evidence of the elephants; but there were armed around the course, just in case! We did see baboons a few times, and some of the runners were not alert enough to their habits and lost bottles that they were carrying in their hands.
Of the two problems I had been suffering with over the previsions weeks, the hip was the one I was most concerned about. Self/Google diagnosed as bursitis it was giving a very sharp pain when first getting out of bed, and different degrees of discomfort during the day; I hadn’t run at all since it surfaced. An ankle problem appeared a week or so earlier, a dull ache inside the heel that occasionally became a very sharp pain during running. The hip was as bad as it had been when I got up for the race, but magically disappear when I sat down for the essential pre-race ablution; and it did not appear at all during the race. But the heel pain was noticeable on the walk down to the 6.45 start, just a short distance from my hotel, and it ended up being the factor that determined my conservative pace right from the starting horn.
The beginning was comical, the inflatable arch collapsed just as the race was starting and we ended up clambering over it wondering if our chips were being registered! The start time might seem bizarre, why not 6.30 or 7.00, but it was clearly chosen to give a view of the spectacular sunrise over the Falls as we ran over the bridge that joins Zimbabwe and Zambia over the Zambezi; I have never seen so many people stop in a marathon to take photos.
After our detour over the bridge it was into The Zambezi Nature Sanctuary for most of the two laps. Although the surface we ran over was vehicle accessible, it wasn’t really made for family saloons, uneven, dusty and not made up in the most part. I was the first race that I have done where, apart for the brief time we were in the vicinity of the Victoria Falls township I had no idea where I was with regard to the start/finish. Apart from other runners the only signs of human habitation was the odd lodge. There were aid stations every 4k and every one had Coke as well as water. There was also a half marathon, which started 30 minutes later, which covered most of the first lap.
The course was mostly flat, the few undulations towards the middle section of each lap (but nothing that could be called a hill) which shouldn’t have been of any concern. Even when the sun was up it wasn’t too hot as there was plenty of shade over most of the course. As usual I started off running on my own, occasionally chatting to other runners. Around the half way point I teamed up with Geoff Thomas who had nipped over the boarder from Zambia for the race. It was Geoff’s first marathon for many years and he hadn’t trained much over half marathon distance so we worked to keep each other going particularly over the last 10k; Geoff kept me inside my Athens time while I helped him to not walk at all over the last 5k as he suggested he would not be able to start running again if he did.
We entered the last stretch together, for one of those annoyingly long trips around a field after you have passed close to the finish line; Geoff was meet by his family and his three young children ran over the line with him.
The race bib was different to most others in that it had a box for age to be filled in. This lead to me being spoken to quite a number of times by and I was actually interviewed by a US YouTube sports channel who were very interested in my alphabetic quest; haven’t seen if it has appeared yet.
#feelthethunder is used by the organisers, and when you are standing next to the Falls you can understand the reason for it; even though my hotel was more than 2k from the Falls, at night when there was no other noise, a constant low level rumble is very clear.
This marathon is not one of those were the organisers are frightened to make sure the race is recognised after the event, the race top really advertises it well.
I am so glad I decided to include this in the 26, I don’t expect to do another where a majority of the course will be through a setting where you can loose yourself and reflect on being lucky to be able to run over the ground not too far from where Mitochondrial Eve would have walked.