Marathon Recap: 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie in Africa
“Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation” Zig Ziglar
This blog will be a recap of my marathon and overall experience in Africa for the Jeux de la Francophonie. If you want the shortened version, check out the pics I have shared on Facebook (see album: 2017 Jeux de la Francophonie in Africa). For those interested in more detail, read on!
I’ll start from the beginning, when I decided to participate in the games. I generally prefer to race no more than two marathons per year, with six months between marathons. I firmly believe in taking the time to recover both physically and mentally after a goal race, especially a marathon. However, I also believe in taking advantage of opportunities when they come my way. When I learned that I made the team to compete in the Jeux de la Fancophonie, I decided to participate, as this would be my first international running event and also I will be too old for the next games in four years, as you have to be 35 years old and under to run the marathon. And I have to honest, I also recognize that I am 34 this year (and healthy), and that opportunities like this can be limited 🙂
Given that this marathon would be just 3 months after Boston, I knew that I would not be able to get up to my preferred mileage prior to the race, as I took nearly three weeks to recover after Boston and needed to rebuild slowly. I was okay with this because I was more concerned with making it to the starting line healthy. My marathon build was quite different from previous builds, as the focus was on developing speed. I even did my first workout on the track in two years! In the final stretch of my training I wore layers of clothing while running to simulate the heat in Africa, which was especially tough for my longer marathon paced runs. In terms of mileage, I did not run more than 20 miles in a single training run, but did do a few fairly tough mountain runs that would surely have equated to close to or just over 20 miles. My training program is based on time spent running and not distance, as this allows me to focus more on effort across different terrains.
The week before the race, I co-organized a charity race with my husband for children in need. The planning that went in to the event, along with the crunch to get as much work taken care of before travelling, really caused me to put the planning of my upcoming marathon on the backburner. I spent the rest of the weekend enjoying family time. When Monday rolled around, the day before departure, I came to realize just how unprepared I was for my trip. I spent the better part of the day trying to get my hands on a prescription for anti-malarial medication, despite being reminded to do so by my team manager. Between work, running around getting last minute essentials, and the kids’ soccer in the evening, I was spent. Then my coach messaged me Monday evening to ask: “Do you feel like you are doing a marathon in less than a week?”… Wait, I have race a marathon in 6 days!? I was so caught up on just getting to Africa, I was forgetting that I would have to actually race in just days! Lesson learned, plan early even when busy!
Tuesday, July 18 & Wednesday, July 19 – Travel
Fast forward a day and I was on my way to the airport with my family for an evening departure. I was late, as always, with only 13kms of gas in the tank and we live 12k from the airport. We made it with 1km and 1 min to spare. At the airport, it was a bit of a sob fest. I tried to hold it together for the kids, but I was a wreck, even though I knew they would be in good hands with my hubby and mother. After waving goodbye from the airplane stairs, I flew to Montreal, then Brussels, and finally Ivory Coast, arriving the following night (Wednesday).
Thursday, July 20
After a night with very little sleep, I woke up early and joined the Canadian team to go on a visit to a local school in Grand Bassam, where we had the opportunity to provide donations to help children in need. While there, we played with the children, including a game of soccer and visiting their school. The streets were lined with incredibly excited kids in Canada t-shirts that said Merci. They cheered while we drove in as if we were celebrities! After the visit, we went to a local beach and hung out there for a few hours before returning to the participant village. It was then time to do my first run in Africa. Because we were advised to not leave the village on our own, my shakeout run involved running around a soccer field that will eventually become a track, but for now is a slab of concrete that was not prepared in time for the games. I also received the first of what would become my daily massage and chiro treatments to get me ready for my marathon on Sunday. On the downside, my rather expensive Suunto Spartan watch “disappeared” from my room on this day and it was never to be seen again.
Friday, July 21
The highlight Friday was the opening ceremonies. The streets were lined with people taking in the opening of the games. I was initially surprised that we had to meet at the village for a 14:00 departure where the ceremony did not begin until 18:30. I soon learned the complexity of organizing multiple large delegations on site, including herding teams into waiting spaces and lining everyone up alphabetically by country. When it was time to start our entrance into the stadium, our flag bearer was given the NB flag and we immediately discovered that the flag was upside down! After a mad dash to fix this error, we were on our way and proceeded to enter the packed stadium. It was doubly exciting, as I knew in two days I would be entering the stadium through the same entrance to complete the final 600 metres of my marathon. I was extremely proud to wave my NB flag as we walked around the track and then enjoyed the spectacular show, which included a performance by Magic System and incredible fireworks.
Saturday, July 22
In the morning, all of the marathoners went on an organized tour of the marathon route. The course was essentially 5k out and back four times, with a right turn 2k into the return trip of the fourth lap to head to the stadium for the final 5k. It was by far the most detailed course tour I have ever been on. We even stopped and got off the bus at the start, turnaround, and finish. At the turnaround, they guided us to the middle of the road with multiple lanes of traffic flying by on either side to find the course certification pin. After walking single file in the middle of the road for about 50 metres, the pin was found and we went back on the bus. We also walked the last kilometre of the route, which involved a rather odd entrance into the stadium; it resembled a back alley and had dirt and rock terrain. I am really glad we did the tour as I would have thought that I was off course if I saw this for the first time on race day! I chilled the rest of the day and that evening prepped my race gear, nutrition, and of course some snacks for my race crew. Saturday also marked day one of what would become a GI battle that I would eventually win 7 days later once I returned home. My amazing Nurse Practitioner Shelley G saved the day (again)!
Sunday, July 23
Race morning!! As expected, I slept very little in anticipation of the race, and also because the nightly music was blaring just outside my room. I set my alarm clock for 03:45am (which is 00:45 back home) but was still awake when the alarm went off. And yes, the music was still blaring! I met my support crew at 05:45 and we headed to the start of the race. It was the most unusual starting line I have ever experienced. No bathrooms, no start gantry, no real sign that a race was about to take place. The conditions looked good, as it was overcast and calling for rain, which I was really hoping for (but never happened). I went for a shakeout run to prep for the race and a few minutes after an easy jog, I was covered in sweat. I knew the humidity was going to be a problem. Once I finished my 10 minute jog, I met with my coach at the starting line and we decided that, given the humidity, I should start slow and gradually progress my pace throughout the race. There was some pre-race organizational confusion that I did not have to worry too much about, as I had my team there looking after all of the details so that I could stay focused and warm up.
Twenty minutes after the race was expected to start, we were called to the line, which was essentially a red ribbon held down by rocks. I ran the first 25k with a woman from Morocco and, aside from water stops, we ran side by side in stride and shared fueling and words of encouragement.
At the 25k mark I felt that I was going to have too much left at the end so I picked up the pace. I was slightly concerned about taking the lead for the first time in the race. Of course I was terrified that I made a move too early, but went for it and by the time I looped back around, I was able to see that I had a 3 minute lead. Just after the turnaround, I saw a male racer fall to the ground up ahead about 200 metres so I sped up to help him. When he saw me coming, he got up and tried to run further, only to crash again on the side of the road. Eventually someone came to help him and I carried on. I held a steady pace after that until about 37k, which was when I left the 5k loop and headed north to the stadium. This was the most exciting part of the race. The streets were lined with kids who were going crazy as I ran past. I was given some great advice before the race from many of my friends and family, especially around taking the time to enjoy the experience. For example, a role model of mine, Donna Trites, told me just days before the race: When it gets hard, remember, not everyone gets the chance to do this! You are the lucky one that does! I tried to wave at every kid I could and high fived those who were close enough. It was also on this stretch that I saw my support crew drive by screaming out the window on their way to the stadium to catch my finish, which was a huge boost. While I pretty much had an even split between the first and second half of the race, I picked up the pace in the last mile. Just prior to entering the stadium, I caught sight of a male runner from Ivory Coast, so I, of course, picked up the pace even more and caught him on the first 200 metres of the track. I was later told by one of my crew that there were a few guys from Ivory Coast at the finish and they looked at each other and said “This is not a good day for our Country” lol.
I enjoyed the finish and was immediately taken to doping control, which took almost as long as my marathon. Between being sick and the humidity, I was just shy of the sample needed for the first go around. Five litres of fluids later (including my Liv9 recovery blend) and a great chiro treatment (as my chiro was my companion for the testing, lucky me!!), we finished the process and headed back to the village where I had a cold bath. I could have just taken a shower, as it was ice cold all week too 🙂 At the medal ceremony, I had tears as they played the Canadian anthem. So much so, that I did not even notice that this time the Canadian flag was upside down!
Side note, I have so much more to say about this race, but I will just end with saying that it was really a team effort; from the mission staff keeping me safe and prepared with everything I needed, the medical team for the many treatments, my support crew on race day handing out my fuel, and of course my amazing support team back home, many of whom I knew were awake at 4am to cheer me on 🙂
Monday, July 24
Now it was time to really enjoy the last two days and take in as much as possible. I started the day off with a massage and chiro, and then headed out on an adventure with Gabe, our team coach, and a local for safety reasons. Then we headed to the track! Aside from the incredible cultural learning experience just being in Africa, I learned so much about many different sports and cultural events, such as track, storytelling, and wresting (what a process they go through the day before their event to make their weight)!! I especially enjoyed watching my good friend Mel race the 10,000 metre for Team Canada on this evening where she ran a brave race leading the way for over 5k.
Tuesday, July 25
Departure day! I felt great (at least marathon wise) today, so I decided to go for a jog. Following all of my marathons to date, I have not run prior to four days post-marathon. I was super surprised to not feel any discomfort on my run, aside from my stomach bug. I did some strength training and then packed up my bag to head to the track to cheer on my new friends. The main highlights today were the decathalon, 100 metre relay, high jump, and 3000 metre steeplechase. After saying my goodbyes, I left for the airport to reunite with my family, whom I had very little contact with all trip as the wifi connection was very spotty and only in one spot in the village. Hopefully it will be better at my next destination, Premana, Italy for the World Long Distance Mountain Racing Championships!! Stay tuned 🙂