Yesterday, after leaving at seven in the morning, I returned home at five in the afternoon (it was a long day of travel, one of those potential risks of deciding to commute long distances on a Sunday). I spent the weekend in the mountain town of Sabie in the Mpumalanga province, where the Longtom Ultra Marathon was held. I made a post about the event earlier, which briefly described the event.
Just to recap a little of the history: a few Peace Corps volunteers started the KLM foundation about five years ago. The foundation selects bright children from rural villages and then helps fund their education at one of the top private secondary schools in the area (for more details, I encourage you to view their website). The program partners with the Longtom Ultra Marathon, and gives current volunteers an opportunity to do fundraising and then to come participate in the race and spend time with fellow volunteers. Although the original founders have returned home, the KLM foundation continues to exist and new volunteers have taken on the task of organizing the race weekend.
First off, I would like to express my gratitude to all those who contributed on my behalf. I was surprised by (and am very appreciative of) how much people managed to give; it far exceeded what I was expecting from a little blog post. Letters and little gifts will be in the mail soon… Second, I was very impressed by the larger participation of our group. Over seventy volunteers came to Longtom and as a whole, we raised over $20,000, which is the best year yet.
For the weekend, all seventy of us stayed at the Sabie Backpackers, so there was lots of socializing and catching up with people who I haven’t seen since training ended back in September. Saturday morning, we got transport to the race start points. Two people in our group were actually running the Ultra Marathon (56km or 34.7 miles), while the rest of us were either walking or running the half marathon (the usual 21.1km or 13 miles). Of course, the mileage isn’t really sufficient to give an accurate picture of how challenging the ultra marathon is. It is important to remember that the Longtom run takes place on a mountain. So the first 21 miles are running up the mountain pass, climbing from 3,280 feet in Sabie to the top of the pass which is 7,053 feet above sea level. The lucky half-marathon people got to start at the top of the pass and just do the downhill section into Lydenburg (elevation 4,527 feet).
Having not trained (or really done anything physical for the last three months), I intended to walk and take in the stunning view. So sporting my hiking boots and cargo shorts, I started out at a slow pace in the back of the group, chatting with some fellow volunteers. But then I realized I should try to push myself a little, so I slowly picked up the pace and began walking faster. And that started getting endorphins flowing, which are bad news… Around 14km to go, I suddenly found myself jogging (not a good thing to do in hiking boots). And jogged for what amounted to a little more then half the race, even doing most of the long uphill section. I managed to finish in 2 hours 35 minutes, which I was pleased with. But best of all, I just felt so good for the rest of the day. My body clearly needed the exercise and to be pushed. I was tired, but just felt really positive and very alive. Hopefully that feeling will be enough to motivate me to train and run the whole half-marathon next year.
Of course, waking up yesterday and trying to move wasn’t as positive an experience. My calves burned and still today I feel quite sore. But the good feeling remains.
Thanks again to all those who donated to the KLM foundation! I think it is an outstanding program and a great way to create change by encouraging education and creating opportunities for children.