23 August 2012

Running the Wall

All summer, I read about running.

It started with a New Yorker article about Sammy Wanjiru, the troubled-yet-brilliant Kenyan distance runner.  I had a huge stack of back issues to catch up on but May 21, 2012 edition was my favorite. The descriptions of slow twitch muscles, VO2max, and lactate thresholds were strangely fascinating.  Almost as riveting as the human story that was Wanjiru's.

Sammy Wanjiru.  Image from WikiCommons. FaceMePLS from The Hague, The Netherlands

In Virginia, I mentioned this new literary obsession to Mama Congo Guest Blogger and everyone's favorite ultramarathoner, Andrew Jenner.  He said, "Here, read this" and handed me the thick 116th Boston Marathon program.  He promised me hours of fun.  It was.

Then, I came back to Kinshasa.  I told another teacher (particularly adept at book suggestions as well as a runner) that I wanted to read about running.  She threw this at me, saying, "The hipsters really like it, but he lost me at the point where he professed his love for the Walkman."

Before this book, I purposefully repeated the mantra that I was not a runner, I just liked reading about running.  However, my hipster tendencies took over and somewhere between passages like:

When I'm running I don't have to talk to anybody and don't have to listen to anybody. This is a part of my day I can't do without.
You end up exhausted and spent, but later, in retrospect, you realize what it all was for. The parts fall into place, and you can see the whole picture and finally understand the role each individual part plays. The dawn comes, the sky grows light, and the colors and shapes of the roofs of houses, which you could only glimpse vaguely before, come into focus.

I started to get curious about what it would be like to run.

I have run before, but not really.  I've always been that person who says, "Well, I hate running," just like my middle schoolers on run-the-mile day.  Plus, it felt hard to run with two little ones at home.  There was a brief time where I would cheat-run by making Elias go with me.  It usually started off strong and ended with me dragging and/or carrying him most of the way.  Who goes running with a 5 year old?

So, I decided the NHS should get involved.  And I downloaded a free podcast where an extraordinarily pleasant British woman tells me I am doing-a-good-job-and-now-it's-time-for-your-90-second-recovery-walk. Inspirational British pop fills in the spaces.

So, now I am running the wall three mornings a week thanks to Haruki Murakami and the NHS.

The wall?

This is the wall:

This concrete-barbed-wire-leafy-forest-path forms the periphery of our compound.  Once around is a little over 1 mile.  It's pretty great.  I ignore Johan when he tells me how fast he ran around four times.  And if I see Sarah also running the wall, I go the other direction, knowing we would both hate to have a running partner.

The wall at 5:45am is loud.  People are up and shouting for transport, children are crying, and sometimes I hear a rooster.  I can't see any of these things beyond the wall, but I hear them -even through my earbuds - and they remind me that I am thankfully not at a gym.

And it's true what Murakami says.  I don't have to talk or listen to anyone.  Except that awkward, breathless, "Bonjour!" - twice - as I run past the guard house. 

I'm not yet brave enough to be a runner runner.  But for those of you who are: Kinshasa actually has a lot of options.  There are these crazy people - many of whom I know and love.  And this club.  And then, there's the many folks who go out every Sunday for an energetic, national-fitness kind of communal run:

When we had our Kima Mbangu (Run Fast) 5K last year (which I, randomly, organized), Mamas Vida, NouNou, and YouYou ALL came to run.  And they actually ran it.  It was seriously impressive. 

Maybe this year, I'll be running with them.

**More running in Congo here.

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