Monday, August 08, 2005

People: almost as cool as zebras

So the last time I went running in Africa (also the second time. But let’s not dwell, hm?) was two weeks ago on Sunday.

It was a gorgeous clear day, as were all the days I spent in Africa (sigh, why am I back in DC for August?) and I rolled out of my tent around 8 am, prodded by my tentmate who annoyingly reminded me of the solemn vow I had made the day before that I *would* run that morning, no excuses.

The air was starting to warm up from the sun that had risen an hour before, but it was still crisp and cool—the temperature dropped to the 30s and 40s at night and reached the 80s by mid afternoon. A fact which, after three weeks, still never failed to surprise me. “It’s so cold,” I would complain every evening after sundown. “It was so hot, like, three hours ago! What happened?!”

I’m super bright.

But on that Sunday morning, in shorts and a long-sleeve Coolmax shirt, I ran through the trails around our campsite towards the river (filled with water flowing from Angola, and getting deeper and wider every day we were there). As I cleared the last trees and bushes to get to the shore, I looked across the river where there were three zebras on a sandbar, drinking.

My sudden appearance startled them, and they ran towards me to the shore a little upstream. I was running in that direction, so every time the zebras stopped, they saw me approaching, and they would run away a little farther.

I was holding my breath, wondering how long the zebras would continue to run alongside the river before they gave up and ran inland into the bush. But for probably five straight minutes, we continued this maneuver. Which meant that for at least five minutes, I was running with zebras.

I ran along the river for a few kilometers, then ran inland along trails for a few more, eventually returning to the riverbank on my way home, for a total of about 90 minutes of running. In that time, I saw zebras at least three more times, including a huge, solitary zebra who silently watched me pass by him on the trail a few yards away.

Normally I quake in fear at the thought of a long run sans iPod or running group, but somehow? I managed not to get bored.


Even though I’m not in Team in Training anymore, I like to pretend that I am.

That includes waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to get in my long run.

I wake up, put on my Team in Training shirt, give myself a pep talk a la Coach Everyman, and yell “Go Team” to everyone that passes.

Okay, all of that is true except for the part about putting on the TNT shirt, giving myself a pep talk, and yelling “Go Team.”

But I think the waking up part is the most impressive, don’t you?

This Saturday, I got myself out of the door by 7:15, planning to drive to the Capital Crescent trail to get in 8 miles before the heat made me want to die. I like going someplace special to do long runs, because they get associated with the idea of long runs, as opposed to running around my neighborhood, where I’m conditioned to want to stop after 4-5 miles.

So there I am, all psyched up and?

The car won’t start.

If I have one fault (I concede nothing!) it’s that I refuse to believe anybody when they tell me something I don’t want to hear.

Several people warned me that leaving my car to sit around unused for the entire month of July might not be the best plan.

I rolled my eyes.

I did ask my friend to drive it around the block once when she came to water my plants. If she felt like it.

And she did. She drove it from one end of the parking lot to the other. Once.

Which seemed perfectly sufficient to me. Until 7:15 am on Saturday.

I thought about going back to bed right then. But I was already dressed and ready with my water belt and everything, so with a supreme effort of will, I got out of the car and started running, planning to go 45 minutes out on the trail in Rock Creek Park (hey, am I revealing too much about where I live? Are any of you stalkers who are going to use this information to find and kill me?) and then coming back a slightly shorter way for a total of about 80 minutes, which I figured would be about 8 miles.

I had my iPod, but no running group, and there was a shocking lack of zebras to accompany me (though I did pass the National Zoo).

It was long, slow, and humid, and the time crawled by.

After about six years of running, it was finally 45 minutes later, and I turned around, dreading the return half of the trip.

As I was being passed by the same girl for the second time (coming and going), I slowed a bit to let another man right behind her pass me as well. But then I felt his hand on my back, pushing me to speed up again, and he said, “don’t mind me, I’m going to stay behind you. I have 20 miles to run today, and you’re going to help.”

He was training for his 8th marathon, about to go on vacation with his wife for three weeks, and he wanted to get in a good long run before he left. But he was in advance of his training group’s schedule (I think), so he was on his own. And he wanted to use me as a pace setter.

We chatted for a few minutes, but the trail was narrow and busy so I pulled ahead to run without getting flattened by bikers. I had been ready to stop and walk, but I was energized by our conversation.

Plus, there was no way I was going to stop while someone was looking.

It was a little disconcerting to know that someone was watching me, but I enjoyed the feeling of having a connection to someone else out there. And as we pulled up to an intersection, he asked me which way I was going. To the left was the short way home. To the right was the long way—the way he was going. I told him I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go, and he immediately told me to continue on with him. The trail was a bit wider and less busy, so we began running side by side and chatting, the way that you can do with perfect strangers on long runs. The last couple miles flew by, and not just in my perception of them—I was running faster. Before I knew it, I was back home (he was continuing north for another 7 or 8 miles).

Not exactly a zebra, but pretty cool nonetheless.


I will finish the saga of Guide Asshat, eventually. I didn’t see any hands raised at the end of my last post about him, which is good, because in fact he did not show up with our refund that Tuesday as promised. In fact, he didn’t show up at all.


Blogger David said...

Zebras Across the Water and Strangers in the Park. Sounds like a double feature with four popcorn ratings.
Lucky girl.

9:22 PM  
Anonymous BD said...

If I could speak a Native American language then I'd call you "Runs with Zebras." Of course, the traditional Native American tongues probably don't have a word for zebras so I might have to substitute with a domestic animal with black and white stripes. Hmmm. Perhaps not a good idea.

Great job on the run!

12:48 AM  
Blogger ncmunchkin said...

Pretty cool sounding runs. I can only imagine when I'm through with Team in Training that I'll still get up early on Saturdays to get in a long run. Maybe they've brainwashed us!?

9:10 AM  
Blogger Scooter said...

It's amazing how running with others can make a lousy day good. And the zebra story is way cool - I just get deer now and then, but they usually bolt away.

11:04 AM  
Blogger Running from my House said...

i am totally with you about not stopping if someone is looking. Sometimes if I stopped stretching on the side of the road, and a car is coming, I start running. Good thing I live on a very empty quiet long street!

12:04 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Cool! Running with zebras! Sure beats running with ducks!

12:13 PM  
Blogger Riona said...

What a wonderful place it sounds. I really want to go now. Thank you for sharing!

1:20 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

i agree on all accounts!!! first off.. running with zebras? thats awesome. probably nothing like the image of it i have in my head, but very cool none-the-less.
second... i too have a feeling that after TNT i'll get up early saturday mornings to continue my tradition of the long run. its weird to think about not doing that. hmmm.. i'm with munchkin on the brainwashing...
and third... when i feel a wimpy run coming on, i try and run where i know there are more people, so i'll have more pressure to ACTUALLY run. i dont wanna look like a wimp, even if i am one!

1:33 PM  
Blogger Jacqui said...

I want to run with zebras! How incredibly cool. I just ran with my Beagle & we had to out-run some horse-flies. Not quite the same.

What does your water belt look like? I've just been doing short runs on the roads near my house because I find it to be a pain to bring a water bottle to hold (especially if I have the dog). I tried using my camelback hydration pack a few years back but found it to be kind of annoying.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Chelle said...

I have to read more about your Africa trip now...zebras are the coolest! Weren't you afraid of lions?? Or maybe that's in an earlier post. I'll keep reading.

p.s. Thanks for visiting my blog...I totally agree with you about the electricity thing. It's like she's forgotten that children are DYING there.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Noames said...

Jacqui - I have a "fuel belt"--four little plastic bottles on a belt. It's incredibly dorky (I think) but very necessary on these long runs. Andit's pretty comfortable.

Chelle - no lions in that park: it was an enclosed educational park, so no predators allowed. It wasn't exactly the wild, but the animals roamed freely and I could run without fear of lions, so it was pretty amazing.

3:55 PM  
Blogger sarah irene said...

"Plus, there was no way I was going to stop while someone was looking." >> Ha, that is so true! I don't really like running with other people, but I work harder and run better when there are other people in sight.

12:09 PM  

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