Preparation for the relay started…well, it was supposed to start 9 weeks prior to the relay when I got a training plan from my ex-coach, but…life gets in the way. It’s hot, or it’s raining, or I don’t feel like it, name your excuse. So preparation kind of started 9 weeks prior to the race, but it wasn’t continuous.
Peace Corps had two teams entered into the relay – they were roughly the group 82 team/all girls and the group 83 team/mixed + one 82er. I was originally on the 83 team (which was highly competitive – two college athletes, and everyone else was ridiculously fast), but about 3 or 4 weeks out from the race, I got a call asking me to switch to the slightly less competitive 82 team. One of the girls had to drop out because of knee problems, and now her replacement was dropping out because of foot problems. I switched teams so we would still have one team of all girls and one team mixed, and the husband of one of the girls on my ex-team replaced me. Then another girl dropped out of the girls’ team because of knee problems. This was about two weeks out, and while we did find a last-minute replacement, nobody had been training, so the poor girl – who was the 4th replacement on the team – had two weeks to prepare. She ran her first 5K ever during the relay. She also ran her first 6K, 4K, and her second 4K. The girls’ team seemed jinxed, but I figured with the progression of injuries, I would most likely break an arm, so I would still be able to run. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
The day before the race included the rest of the preparations. We had to have a driver in the relay to shuttle all the runners from one leg to the next, so we had to go rent a car. We got a lovely soccer-mom style mini-van that held everyone and all our stuff rather perfectly. Then we all did some quick grocery shopping to prepare snacks to eat during the race, then drove out to the village of one of the girls on the team. She lived closest to the starting point, maybe 30-45 minute drive away. Driving was by far the hardest part, especially since we started in the capital so we could buy all our food. You’re driving in a foreign country, on the wrong side of the road, in a huge unfamiliar car, with 7 people in the audience after at least 1 year of no driving whatsoever. Good grief, I was happy I did not have that job. Anyway, once we got back out to the village, we started a mad assembly line of making PB&J sandwiches, tuna fish sandwiches, chopping up carrots, and reorganizing everything to make it more accessible. We had a race-healthy dinner of spaghetti and tuna (if you prepare the tuna right with spices and whatnot, it can actually pass for a meatball), and were all in bed by 9. Surprisingly, I fell asleep rather fast. Good thing, because we were all up at 2:15, thanks to dogs barking. My alarm was set for 2:30 anyway, so I didn’t miss too much sleep. And once I was up, nothing could stop me – I was so excited for the race that I didn’t even need caffeine at 2:30 in the morning. Although I don’t usually need caffeine anyway. The morning consisted of brushing teeth, repacking, reorganizing, loading up, and heading off by 3:15.
We got to the starting line with just enough time to get a quick briefing of the rules (run on the right unless the car is following you), a team picture, then I started off the first leg at 4 in the morning. The baton they gave us resembled a glow stick, except it was controlled by a button. Thank goodness it lit up, I think that was my main defense against dogs in the morning because they didn’t know what it was. Dogs are only a major problem when you can’t see them, meaning when it is dark. During the day, they still like to chase you, but you can at least keep track of them a little bit. I only had two major dog encounters during my first leg, then I hit the forest, and there weren’t any fales or dogs around.
I really lucked out by being first in the line-up. I think I had the easiest runs, and they were mostly through small villages or REALLY rural areas, so I didn’t have much traffic, children, or dogs to fight with for the road. In my second leg, I got to run through my village. By then it was about 7 in the morning, so not too many people were up, but those who were out and about all waved to me. My third leg was probably the hardest – it had rolling hills with an overall uphill grade, and it was maybe 10 or 10:30, so it was getting hot. My last leg was around 12:30, also hot, but much flatter, so it wasn’t too bad. After each leg, I would take a little break to eat and drink, then by the time the runner after me finished her leg, I was re-energized and eagerly awaiting my next turn.
Driving was a lot of quick jaunts and long pauses. We would drive to the next checkpoint, wait for the previous runner to show up, then when the next runner started her leg, we would all pile into the car again, drive to the next checkpoint, and repeat. During breaks, there was lots of stretching, lots of drinking (it’s hot in Samoa, especially when you run, I think I drank about 5 liters during the race – 3 waterbottles and 3 niu – niu are the coconuts you drink), and lots of bathroom breaks.
After the race, we stayed at one of the swankest hotels in Samoa. Somebody has an in with the manager, so we got rooms for half price, and split 4 or 5 ways, it was reasonable, especially for the luxury. Hot showers, air conditioning that you can actually use because you have a down comforter to sleep under, all kinds of tea, and plush bathrobes. It was fantastic.
To sum up the day: we all joined the last runner for the last sprint of her last leg across the finish line. We ran 104K (64 miles) in 10 hours and 43 minutes. I personally ran 11 miles, but I forgot to keep track of my time. The other team in the women’s division started the race at 3:15, and they finished in 11 hours 8 minutes or something like that. Some crazy guy ran the entire race by himself and finished in around 14 hours (he started at midnight). The other Peace Corps team started the race at 6, and they finished in 9 hours and 1 minute. Both Peace Corps teams came in first in their division. This year was the third year for the relay race, and it was also the third year the Peace Corps teams have won their divisions. That’s a good legacy we’ve got going, let’s hope we can keep it up next year. I can’t wait!