Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Be Sure Your #LintonLies Will Find You Out

You've all heard the story before. Young, attractive, fish-out-of-water is faced with a terrible situation. Deep in the jungle, facing crocodiles, lions, 12-inch spiders, crazed militiamen brandishing AK-47s. Facing trouble on all sides, and given the option to evacuate, our heroine decides to stay to bring comfort to a helpless HIV positive orphan named Zimba.

The problem with this story, however exciting it may be, is that it never happened. It was an utter fabrication. Recently, an actress named Louise Linton published a memoir called "In Congo's Shadow" which got little publicity... until excerpts were published.

Somehow, someone seemed to overlook the fact that Zambia is online. Zambians and expats alike were outraged at the pure fabrication. It made a mockery of peaceful, safe, civilized Zambia. The hashtag #lintonlies was born out of this outrage. So was a Twitter account under the name of "Zimba."

Pretty soon, half-apologies were issued along the lines of "I'm sorry if someone was offended." Linton's father threw in his $.02 worth (actually less than 2 ngwee worth) and gave his own pathetic response. But the Twitterstorm got worse. As did the Amazon reviews. When the excerpt was published, there were ten reviews, all positive. Very quickly, those reviews were "overshadowed"by the negative, calling her out on her lies. Soon the book itself was listed as "Out of Print."

Articles slamming Linton cropped up all over the internet. It's pretty obvious that she simply wanted to advance her career, and what better way to do so than to show how wonderful she is. But because of her lies, it all backfired.

I suppose "no publicity is bad publicity" but now her name is going to always be associated with #LintonLies.

I know I have been tempted to lie to make myself look better. When I was in college, I played soccer for the Northwestern University Soccer Club. Not the Varsity team, but at the club level. We played small college teams, mostly in the Chicago area. But it was easy to tell people I played for Northwestern University. Technically true. But also intentionally misleading. So I make sure, if someone asks, that I tell them the truth. Like the truth about me playing for a semi-pro soccer team... My friend organized a college indoor soccer tournament, and he invited his former team, the Charlotte Eagles, to come and play. They arrived without a goalkeeper, so I was asked to play with them for the tournament. So (again, technically) I played for a semi-pro team. But to be honest, I wasn't on the team. I suppose I was the "semi" in semi-pro. :-)

The problem is that our lies will always find us out. Whether in real time, like #LintonLies, or in eternity.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Junior High Boys

It is official. We have a junior high boy in our family (no, besides me). Our oldest son's voice changed recently (funny when he gets called out for talking during a school assembly because he's the only one with a bass voice), and now he sounds like me.

His list of favorite movies, though still including the Lord of the Rings and all things Star Wars, has grown to include the Blues Brothers and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

He belches loudly at his brother for no reason. At the dinner table.

He makes inappropriate jokes.

He secretly thinks Dad jokes are funny.

He thought Napoleon Dynamite was the worst movie ever. Like anyone could really even know that. But he is constantly imitating Napoleon. With dead-on accuracy.

It is a riot having a junior high boy. No, life hasn't gone too fast. No, he's not still my baby boy (thank God - he was an awful baby).

Friday, July 01, 2016

Get Outta Town

Something we've always liked doing is day trips. In Ohio, we tried to find all the historical sites near enough to drive to, especially if there was hiking available.

This week's trip was a day trip to Chaminuka, a game park and lodge near Lusaka. It's only about an hour (+) from our house, and one bonus was that the 20 km of gravel/dirt/rock road from the airport to Chaminuka was largely paved!

We got there around 9:30 which gave us time to explore a little before going on a game drive. We saw giraffe, zebra, eland, bushbuck, impala, ostrich, wildebeest, and elephant. That doesn't include the fenced-in cheetahs, lion, and lynx.

 After the game drive, we hung around the lodge for a while. Andrew and I tried to play snooker. I don't understand the game, and the big sign with the rules didn't help a whole lot.

Then we had lunch, a buffet with fresh grilled chicken, beef, pork ribs, and African sausage (as well as a lot of other stuff). Delicious and enough to stuff me.

We played around the pool (the kids got in, but the water was pretty cold), met some members of a mission team from Willow Creek (Chicago) who had been serving in Lusaka, and then we went fishing. Actually, Andrew and I went fishing while the rest of the family went for a boat ride.

Yeah, our fish weren't very big. But Andrew was pleased as punch to have caught fish (I think we each caught three. Maybe he caught four. None were much bigger than the ones pictured).

It was a really nice day trip, though too expensive to do often. But who else is going out and seeing these kinds of animals close up?

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lafarge Lusaka Marathon, Take 2

Last year I ran the Lafarge Lusaka Marathon pretty much on the spur of the moment. Though I ran a good race (pretty well untrained), the experience itself was terrible. Bad traffic, a difficult course with no signage, and an awful finishing experience made me vow to never run this race again.

However, as this year's race came near, members of the Lafarge team approached us runners to ask our opinions on the race and what improvements we would like to see. I was very frank with them and even shared my race report from last year (which ended with "I will never run this race again.")

Because of the efforts they seemed to be taking, we as a group decided we would run this race again. Give them one more chance.

The Sunday before the race, a group of us went to survey the new race course. It was a good course, mostly flat, with a couple short hills and a couple long gradual hills. The shake-out half marathon was great, giving me a lot of confidence going in to the race. Before the shake out, I was still up in the air as to whether I would "run" it or "race" it. After the 1:44 half marathon on Sunday, I figured it was "race."

Saturday morning came early - I woke up before my alarm (this usually happens when I have to get up super early). I had gotten everything ready in advance, so I was up and ready to go. I got a call to pick up one of the runners on the way, which was no problem. We got to Levy Junction to find tents and a stage built in front of the mall this year - a good change to start with, as last year we had to go around to the back after finishing.

I got everything ready, no problem, except that as I was stashing my car key I dropped it... down in the back of the spare tire! I tried and tried to get it out, to no avail. I scraped up my arm trying to get it. I borrowed someone's stick and flag and couldn't get it. Finally the runner who I had given a ride to get there was able to help me (his arm is skinnier than mine). By this time they were assembling the runners to the start line. In the chaos, I neglected to re-apply Body Glide. Thankfully, that never came back to bite me, but I was scared when I remembered it.

They did some announcements and stuff - I didn't really pay attention; I was getting into the zone. There were scores of selfies and standing around, then they herded us out to the start line. I dashed behind a tree for a quick bathroom break, then the race was on!

I was carrying my phone for this race - not ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but better than having no distance/timing option. I would have rather had my iPod, but it requires headphones while the phone has speakers. So I had my music going for the whole race. That was a good pick-me-up.

The first half went by pretty quickly and uneventfully. I was pleased at how well they had controlled traffic. I ran with a guy named Ben who was running his first marathon. His friends were working with the organization in some way, so they convinced him to run. The splits went by quickly, all right within the time I was hoping for, and we zoomed through the first loop (half marathon) in 1:41. I was really happy with that time, as it was right where I wanted to be to make a surge for the second half. I was hoping to beat 3:30, with a goal of 3:25. 1:41 put me right there. The first half was great, as there were lots of runners who were doing the half marathon. Now it was on to the lonely second half of the race.

Along Independence Avenue, the traffic was really bad... on the other side of the street. The traffic police had done a good job of shutting our side down. While we were running along, this old bearded guy came running along next to me along the median, calling out "Zambia wins!" over and over again as he ran next to me. I stopped and gave him a handful of gummies, as he had been running along with me for about 1/2 km. Plus, the gummies were weighing my shorts down. They kept sliding, especially as I got sweatier and sweatier.

About 25 km in (15 1/2 miles or so) I started to fade a little. The heat was getting to me (it got up to 86*F) and I was really looking forward to the Mountain Dew and the peanut butter sandwich I had prepared. My friend was planning to deliver them to me at about 30 km (around 19 miles). I figured I would gut it out until then. But 30 km came and went and no friend... when I sent a text, I found that they got stuck in traffic and wouldn't be coming. This made things physically difficult, as I needed the extra kick from the peanut butter and the Mountain Dew, but it was also mentally taxing as I was counting on it and looking forward to it.

That was the beginning of the end, as I let myself walk once or twice or three times or four. I don't even want to report this part of the run. I did decide to ditch the rest of the gummies after they melted in my pocket. I tried to eat one but it tasted like sweaty sugar and chemicals. So I threw them in the ditch. At least my shorts wouldn't fall down anymore!

The voice on my phone kept telling me the time and the distance and the time per kilometer, and the hope for 3:30 died pretty quickly. As did the hope for beating last year's time. My friend Richard caught up with me (the only one who beat me at the ISL Ultra 6 hour run) and asked if I needed some drugs. I gladly took some (ibuprofen). I was in pain by that point. He also gave me some glucose to eat which perked me up a little. Our friend Sarah also caught up to me and pulled me along. The glucose had me perked up enough that I was managing to run again, maybe plod would be a better word. We rounded the loop around Levy Junction and finished! The best moment was, as we rounded the last corner headed for the finish line, Ted Nugent's "Homebound" came on. I got goosebumps and maybe teared up a little.

But as we were finishing, I saw a sheet of corrugated metal from a nearby worksite sitting right in our path. Sarah went one way and I went the other way around it... except that some moronic workers decided to try to pick it up and move it, right as we were heading that way! I yelled at them, really loud. Probably incoherently. And barely managed to miss them.

We crossed the finish line, right over 4 hours, and as I crossed, my legs just went out from under me. It felt like they just turned into jello. Thankfully, there were plenty of people around to help me to my feet and to get me to the medical tent where I got some nasty stuff to drink and some ice to put on my legs and back and neck.

I was very disappointed in my race, especially as I was hoping to run sub 3:30 and ended up at 4:02. I went through a lot of emotions on the race.

Following the race, they handed out medals (right by the finish - again, a good change!) and a little goodie bag with a sandwich and a bottle of orange juice! The sandwich really was good. Almost as good as the Mountain Dew, which I got shortly!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Isuzu ISL Ultra Marathon Race Recap

I had never run an ultra before. I had run six marathons: Columbus (twice), Kentucky Derby Festival, Erie Marathon at Presque Isle, Lafarge Lusaka (Zambia), and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe).

My friends are training for Comrades Marathon, 90 km in South Africa. While I'm not training for it, I have run a lot of the training runs (including back-to-back-to-back-to-back half marathons on Easter weekend). I had decided I wanted to run this 6 hour marathon a couple of weeks ago, just to say I'd done it more than anything else. I wanted to push myself a little more than I had done before.

Building up to race day, I knew the Comrades crowd was going to run. There were several others who were going to run as a team (the Lusaka Running Club team won last year and wanted to repeat). Richard, the guy who is training the Comrades team made sure to tell them all not to race. But my friend Val and I, who are not running Comrades, were free to race. Richard also started insinuating that I was the one to beat in this race. I thought I had a good chance of actually winning it, but only if Richard didn't.

The night before race day came, and I got everything ready. Bottles of water, some frozen, some just cold. Bananas. Oranges. Coke and Mountain Dew. And clothes. Lots of clothes. Three shirts, four pairs of socks, three pairs of shoes, two pairs of shorts, and sweat pants and a hoodie. And my trusty yellow hat.

Friday's weather was perfect running weather. Cool and cloudy. But then, all night long, it rained. It rained hard, keeping me awake a lot of the night. It was still raining when we got to the race. Richard and I got there just after 6 and set up an Easy-Up tent (another friend came and added two more). And it rained.

We got the news that due to some electrical problems, the race (set to start at 7) would start 15 minutes late. Then another 15 minutes. I was freezing cold, as I had headed over to the start line in my shorts and singlet. Then they got the electricity working, having run a cable across the street from the school, and they were ready to start us.

Before we start, I want to back up. This race actually had two races. a 6 hour race and a 3 hour race. The 3 hour race was to be punctuated by people throwing color packets on one another. I'm just not into that and was a little worried that I'd get it all over me and my Lusaka Running Club singlet or that I'd have to go to church with dyed hair. The 3 hour run would be crowds of little kids and teenagers and I wasn't looking forward to that. But it is a school function, first and foremost (ISL is the International School of Lusaka).

So anyway, the start. The race director got us to come up - not too close to the mat so we didn't trigger it early, and said, "Start." I was a little surprised, but off we went.

It was a 1 km loop through a rather narrow trail, which wasn't a problem as the numbers weren't great. Did I mention that it was raining? Hard? So the trail was already muddy. Especially around by our "camp" where there was a sharp switch-back in the mud. It was hard running through the mud, but Val and Rich and I were managing 5:30 or faster for many, many loops. The mud was awful, though, and it was hard to keep your footing. And did I mention that I hate mud? I sure did to everyone around.

Things went really smoothly for a long time. The race crew started throwing bundles of tall (cut) grass on the really bad muddy areas, and that helped a lot. Still it rained on, and the path was a mud bog. Mud was everywhere. Twice I had to stop and scrape mud out of the insole of my shoes. It was even hard to untie my shoes because the mud was so thick on the laces.

As we ran, I got the feeling I was in the top 3 - there was one guy who was unaccounted for (JoJo) and Rich, Val, and I stayed up there.

It continued to rain. Soon one of the RDs came and announced that the 3 hour run was cancelled, but we could keep going if we wanted. Then I overheard her telling the other RD "It doesn't seem like any of them want to quit." I was glad that they didn't pull the plug on our race. I think we would have continued it anyway unless we got kicked off the course.

Around 40 km, I had a sudden twinge in my upper groin muscle, so bad I had to walk/limp most of a loop. I decided I was done. It was a tough decision, but I figured there was no reason to hurt myself worse. DNF is better than injury.

I sat down, stretched it out a little, then decided I might as well see if I could walk it out. That felt fine, so after almost another loop, I continued running. I never felt it again the whole run.

Another factor that came into play about 30 km was my watch. My Garmin (GPS watch) has been losing charge, so much that I have stopped using it. But at the last moment, a friend who wasn't able to run lent me hers. So I was running with it, keeping track of my pace and my distance, but then it just shut off. So I went back to my Timex. Unfortunately that led me to lose count of laps. I thought I was 1/2 lap ahead of Richard (so did he) but I was really behind him.

At about 40 km I stopped to change shoes. My feet were really hurting and my shoes were so muddy, so I switched from my old Kinvaras to my Asics GelLyte 33s. Good move. It was like I got new legs and new feet.

The rain stopped, and it got windy, which was nice because it dried some of the course a little. But it was cold. I found the driest line, usually right along the edge of the trail, getting in the weeds a bit, but footing there was better. Otherwise it was slippery and mushy. I had a couple of loops where I ran with a friend and we were unintentionally slopping mud all over each other. Did I mention how I feel about mud?

At one point near the start line I saw a family and their little boy started laughing at how dirty my feet were. I told him "I'll let you in on a secret - this is my second pair."

I decided I would go for 50k. But when I hit 50, I figured I'd keep going. I was amazed how fast the last hour went, me just plodding along. I got my lap count figured out (this is when I figured out I was in second place). Richard was gaining on me, and shouted out, "If you walk a bit, we can walk together." He thought I was still ahead of him, and this was just one of his tricks. Like saying earlier "I'm only doing 40km." "50 is all I've got in the tank today." Yeah, right. But I was glad for the company, especially as I knew he was really ahead of me!

We finished up the last couple of loops - there were 3 minutes left when I crossed the line with 54 laps - not enough time to try for another. As it turned out, Richard's 55 was enough for a course record, while my second place 54 was 6 more than last year's winner.

One cool thing was the support we got. We had a tent with friends in it (and those running the relay, when they weren't running, hung out there). They had music playing (though Kenny Rogers' The Gambler wasn't all that motivating, it was certainly a positive distraction. Though playing it {randomly} when I was considering the DNF was pretty funny) and they had all our dry stuff and our food. So when I'd go by on a lap, I'd just tell them, "Next loop, I want a sandwich" and they'd get out my sandwich box." Or they'd open a Coke for me. Or an orange. It was awesome. It was like a full-service hydration/nutrition station. They even gave stuff to people who weren't in our club.

They had an award ceremony and it was funny listening to some boys who won their age group of the relay. They were amazed as each number of loops was read. They had combined for 61 or so among 4-5 runners. When they heard that we had done 50+ on our own, they were amazed.

Actually I was amazed. I'd never done more than 42, and here I was, second place overall with 54 loops - more than 54 km...

Monday, June 29, 2015

Victoria Falls Marathon

Since before I moved to Zambia, I looked forward to running the Victoria Falls Marathon. For a while, I wavered about the plan for the race; would I "race" it, or would I "run" it? By "race" it, I mean, would I train to run it fast and work to the goal of beating my PR (personal record) of 3:24; or would I run it (just enjoy the run)?

In August, I met a fellow school parent/runner, Johan, and we began running together after school drop off on Tuesdays and Fridays. Somewhere along the line, Johan decided he wanted to train for his first marathon, which would be Victoria Falls. Coupled with the fact that he would be returning to Sweden to live, this made up my mind; my goal became to run the race with Johan and to help him complete his first marathon.

After long training and multiple long runs, we decided on a goal time of four hours...

The run started with a drive to Victoria Falls, camping overnight Friday night, carb-loading spaghetti for lunch, an easy shake-out jog Saturday evening, no pasta at the restaurant on Saturday evening (even though the waiter assured us that the pasta was very good), and camping on the floor of Johan and Klas's hotel room on a leaky air mattress (I reinflated it three or four times during the night).

Sunday morning, I ate a bowl of oatmeal and an orange, drank half a bottle of Mountain Dew, and went down to the start line (right outside the hotel). It was nice being right there before the race; I reached the start line only 10-15 minutes before the gun and was in perfect time to start. I met a fellow Northwestern Wildcat who was also hoping to break 4 hours in her first marathon and a couple of other fellow runners and then the race started.

The first thing we did was go downhill to the Victoria Falls Bridge into Zambia. I worked hard to keep our pace slow - it would have been easy to go out way too fast, as our legs were fresh, it was downhill, and there is a lot of energy and adrenaline at the start of a race. The plan was to run even 5:40 kilometers (that's about 9:06/mile), but for the first kilometer or two, 5:25 would be excusable. The bridge was incredible, especially seeing the view of the falls, and well before the turn-around, we saw the elites heading toward us. They are so fast. When I saw the guy who was in first, I told the others, "He won't win." Funny thing, when we saw the front-runners later, I never saw him again. You could just see that even if he had a good 5K, he didn't have that for 42.2.

We followed the route back into Zimbabwe, on a curvy road through the National Park (there was elephant poop everywhere - apparently some runners who were back a ways got mock-charged by an elephant while running!), and up lots of hills. All along, I kept checking my Garmin to make sure we were right around 5:40.

The water stops were plentiful, where they'd give out little sealed baggies of water. I saw one guy struggling, trying to open it with his hands. The key was to rip it open with your teeth. I managed to hydrate really well - in fact, I have never, ever had to pee as many times as I did along this course. Funny thing; at about the halfway point, I felt something sticking in my ankle; I thought it was just my sock bothering me, but after the race, I found that I had picked up some little thorns in my sock on one of my bathroom breaks!

The first half went by in just seconds over 2 hours. About this point, I was experiencing some serious tightness in my left hamstring. I decided to just forget about it, which turned out to be the best thing. I had to laugh when I felt better at 30k than I had at 20k.

The kilometers just kept on clicking by, right at 5:40. Along the way, I saw baboons, warthogs, and even a donkey (I think it was tame, though). The water stops began serving Coke or Fanta as well - I loved having Coke breaks (I actually walked with the Coke cups). I also ate a pack of Gu Chomps - I'm a little embarrassed that I've had these for as many years as I have; I bought them at least 4 years ago. They were a little hard and extra chewy, but that was good, because it meant they lasted longer in my mouth. When I was getting ready to eat my first one, however, a guy told me, "You'd better watch out; there are baboons ahead." I stuffed the bag back in my pocket, and I was glad I had, because they are quite aggressive.

We did a couple of loops, it got hot, and there were a couple of major uphills. On one of these, right about 35km, Johan hit the wall. For those of you who have run this distance, you probably know how he felt. I tried working with him "This is less than our loop from the school," but there's nothing anyone else can do to get you through it, and though he didn't quit, he urged me to go ahead.

 I decided if I was going to go ahead, I was going to push the pace. The other hopeful 4 hour runners had long since dropped back, so I was on my own. I wish I'd counted roadkills; I was picking off runners left and right. In fact, nobody passed me. Not even one runner (now, to be clear, I was overtaken while drinking Coke, but I re-passed every one of them). It was just one after another, and I loved it.

My pace started dropping, down under 8 minute mile pace for the final 7km. There was a period where we went down a long straightaway through a residential area, and that was boring and hot and I just concentrated on catching other runners.

I knew that the 41st kilometer would be the toughest, as it was entirely uphill, yet I still managed to drop the pace. The finish itself was a little unclear, as I came upon an area full of cars and lots of runners who had finished their half marathon race. But the course turned back into a school, where a fellow Lusaka runner told me, "Save a little; the track goes around a long way." I figured I could keep the pace, especially when I saw how close I was to 4 hours so I ran hard, with my Garmin registering a top speed of 5:30!

I crossed the finish line at 3:59:46!

At the finish line I was given a bottle of water (that's the last thing I wanted at that point) and my medal (pretty cool design) and told to "sit here and wait for your shirt" (in the sun). I waited. They didn't have my size (M). Or small. So I got a large one.

There was no free post-race food or anything other than the bottle of water available, and I didn't have any money, but a friend lent me some, with which I bought apple juice, which tasted fantastic.

Johan and Klas finished shortly after I did (I believe Johan made it in 4:10, which was fantastic, especially for how hard he hit the wall). I made it back to the hotel and soaked my legs in the pool for a while.

The best parts of the race: I negative split. I've never managed that, not in any marathon. It wasn't a huge difference (2:00:35 for the first half, 1:59:11 for the second), but it was cool. I also nailed hydration and nutrition during the race. And passing so many people without being passed? That was the most incredible feeling.

It was also cool to have such great support from the Lusaka runners. Lusaka Fitness Club and Lusaka Running Club made a great showing and it was amazing to have them all cheering and all the camaraderie.

After the race, and after cleaning up and eating, it was time for an all-night drive back to Lusaka (definitely the low point of the whole adventure).

This was night-and-day different from the Lafarge Lusaka debacle in March. A great marathon experience.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mizuno Wave Sayonara Review

Notice that When my favorite training shoes (Asics Sky Speed) were discontinued, I had to find a new go-to high mileage trainer. The Facebook group "Running Shoe Geeks" overwhelmingly pointed me to the Mizuno Wave Sayonara. 

I was in Columbus and stopped in Roadrunner Sports and they did a whole gait analysis and determined that, yes, Sayonara would be a good match. But they didn't have any. 

Finally after waiting a while, I found a pair online (no discount) and bought them. As soon as they arrived, I wore them on a quick run. I loved them. No break-in time. Fit was amazing. Firm underfoot but not clunky. And fast. Did I mention that I felt fast in them?

The problem is with durability. Not only is the upper frayed and tearing all along the little plastic lining around the toe, but the rubber on the heels is toast. Compared to my Sky Speeds with double the mileage. Notice that the rubber is gone on the Sayonaras (330 miles) while it is just worn on the Sky Speeds (650 miles)