One of my favorite non-PC activities in Samoa is the perimeter relay. It’s 104k (that’s 64 miles) of scary dogs, heat, rain, catcalls, hills, and exhaustion. “What could be better?” you ask. Well, I actually have a great answer for that.
Through random and unexpected complications, I became team captain this year, which would have been hard enough in regular circumstances considering I am a teacher in a school and live about an hour and a half away from Apia and have about zero opportunity for calling team meetings, attending relay meetings, and arranging all the details. Silly me thought that would be the hardest part. No, the hardest part is everything that pops up when you least expect it (duh!). The hardest part about the relay this year was just getting a team to the starting line.
In our first incarnation, we had a team of 5 and were looking for a 6th person. We found her at the Independence race, an Australian Aid Volunteer, and had our team settled.
Second, about a month out from the relay, one of our members drops out due to a scheduling conflict. Ok, it’s hard to find someone willing to start training a month out, but we got another PCV to replace him.
Third, two days later, another team members drops out for other scheduling conflicts. My PCV network is tapped out, so our AusAid recruits another one of her friends to run. Man, that was a close one.
The next two weeks passed rather uneventfully, but warily. One of our team members had an uncertain fate, and although it was assumed she would be able to make it to the relay, we didn’t know for sure, and wouldn’t know until two days before the race. So I was constantly looking for someone else who might want to run because experience had taught me that it’s always better to have a backup than just trying to make it with what you have. Fortunately, someone else knew someone who was interested in running, so a week out from the relay, we found our backup.
Perfect, because on Sunday before the relay I was deathly ill and spent the day incapacitated on the floor and running to the bathroom. Assuming I wouldn’t feel up to running 11 miles on Saturday, I called our last minute backup and put her on the official team roster. Team incarnation number 5.
Number 6. Wednesday before the relay, the team member with the unknown fate figured out that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the relay on Saturday, so I was back to running on Saturday. I didn’t feel back up to full strength yet, but I survived the relay last year, so surely I could do it again this year.
In a little twist of irony, the first person who dropped out of the relay called me that same day and said his scheduling conflict had been re-scheduled, and if needed, he would be able to run the relay on Saturday. I assured him that unless the world ended, we wouldn’t need him. Surely we’d gone through enough replacements and it was too close to the race for another person to drop out.
Number 7. Thursday before the relay, the world ends. Another team member called me and said that his boss had gotten stuck out of the country and he would have to work his shift on Saturday. So the team member who started this whole war of attrition was back on the team.
Friday before the relay was a flurry of activity for me. Everyone else was working, so I took the day off school to run around Apia and get everything set up. This included the final captain’s meeting (which I was horribly unprepared for. I didn’t have my complete roster, our running order, or our waiver signed because every time I thought I had it under control, it changed again), buying and preparing all the food and drinks, and picking up the rental that we would drive around the island in. This last part was particularly tricky because PCVs can be kicked out if they are driving without requesting permission to drive. I wasn’t planning to drive, but I was the only one available to pick up the rental, so I intended to take a vacation day and request permission to drive, but because my day was a flurry of activity, I didn’t have time to fill out the required form or even talk to the people in the office who approve such activities. So I walk to the car rental place, right around the corner from the Peace Corps office, and get behind the wheel of this van and have a total breakdown because I’m staring at the steering wheel and can’t figure out which lever changes the gear. I called our last last-minute replacement and told him where I was (he was a PCV last year, so he knows the rules). He told me “Natalie! Get out of the car before anybody sees you and you get kicked out! I’m on my way!” and he came over from whatever he had been doing to drive the car ten feet down the street and park it outside the Peace Corps office. Then we loaded everything up, headed to our last (only) team meeting to take care of all those pesky details like waivers and running order, had dinner, and went to bed.
I don’t have much to report about the race itself – compared to everything that happened just to get to the starting line, the rest doesn’t seem so monumental. Even with all the last minute replacements who had less than a month to train (or not) for an 11-mile race, our team was really strong. Our main competition was the Peace Corps team (with two current PCVs and one RPCV out of a team of six, we couldn’t really call ourselves the Peace Corps team). They were full of all kinds of smack talk about passing us on the first leg, but the race results showed that we were pretty evenly matched. Out of four teams in the open-mixed category (teams of males and females), the top three finished within ten minutes of each other. Over 104km, about 9 ½ hours of running, we all finished with tiny time differences (it was actually really weird this year. Last year, we went most of the race without seeing another team, and then we only saw maybe 3 or 4 in the last few km of the race. This year, we all bunched up for the entire last leg, and 5 or 6 teams would be stopped at the same place waiting to switch runners). First place went to a soccer team with a time of 9 hours and 29 minutes. The Peace Corps team came in second with a time of 9 hours and 33 minutes, and our team came in third with a time of 9 hours and 39 minutes. We got a pizza party from it. After all was said and done, I absolutely love the relay. It is the funnest race I have ever participated in and I would love to do more relays in the future, but I will never captain another relay team in my life. Or at least not in Samoa.