Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mālō Mātou (Part 2)

The sun was a factor. On the car ride over the mountain, I looked out the window and, though it was still before dawn, the sky was growing lighter. I turned to AJ, “That doesn’t bode well.” He shook his head wearily. During last year’s race, cloud cover was a welcome state of affairs for most of the day. It wasn’t until we got to the village of Falefa on the north side of Upolu that the sun became a factor, but this year, from the beginning, there was no cloud cover.

There was a clause in the race rules this year that essentially said if you finish the race too early, you’ll be disqualified. This was an effort to keep teams from inflating their estimated finish time in order to get an earlier start time. Earlier start times allow for more running in darkness, which is much much easier.

AJ started the race about 20 minutes after dawn, which meant my first leg came somewhere around 8:30 a.m., and anyone who’s been to Samoa knows a sunny day here gets hot well before 8:30. Sunscreen-laden sweat rolled down my face into my eyes moments into my first run, my shirt and pants immediately soaked.

We had Joey’s fiancée buy us matching dry-fit shirts in The States before her recent visit and used fabric paint to add a mock-Peace-Corps logo and our official team name, “Toa Pisikoa”. The fabric paint held up surprisingly well, though there was still a faint trace of red and blue bleeding into the rest of the shirt. I joked with Dan about the post-9/11 Bush ‘These Colors Don’t Run’ mantra. “These colors...” I trailed off.

“...occasionally run,” said Dan.

“It’s a race, man. These colors run fast.”

During one of my legs I ran through patches of small bugs, only to realize it was light rainfall. I was still in direct sunlight, and the raindrops weren’t nearly substantial enough to feel good. It just felt like more sweat.

We used the Peace Corps name to get us into the bathrooms at Faofao Beach Fales in Saleapaga. And when we remembered PCV Paul and his mom were staying at Tafua Beach Fales in Lalomanu, we drove past shouting, “Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Fa Paul! Fa Paul!” We spotted him eating breakfast, and it seemed like he was pretending not to know us, but he told us later he simply hadn’t heard us. Sure, Paul. Whatev.

Though none of our runners ever got near that of our rival team, our leap-frogging van caught up to their truck sometime around leg 11 up nearing the Mafa Pass. Whereas the morning had been a leisurely affair, getting within sight of them brought a new urgency to the race. We dug our heels in and pushed ourselves harder.

This newfound motivation came just in time: the distances of the legs increased toward the end. Everyone’s last leg was 5 kilometers, a longer distance than all but 2 legs had run contiguously, and by that point it was 12:30 in the afternoon and the day was reaching peak temperatures.

AJ looked dazed after his final leg. Dan bottomed out on blood sugar after his and took copious amounts of Gatorade before he became coherent again. Kyle said it may have been the most painful thing he’d ever done in his life. I don’t want to make us out to be a bunch of whiners; I’m just trying to paint a picture.

Since I had the last leg, I sat and listened to all this in a state of nervous denial. As I stretched before my final leg, I tried to get real with my body, “Do you realize what we’re about do to?” I asked my dawdling legs. “You know that everyone is talking about how awful this last leg has been? Are you ready for this?” Ben came tearing around his final bend in a dead sprint. The kid looked good. He passed me the baton, and I was off.

My final leg was nearly identical to the course of the Independence Day 10k a bunch of us ran in June. I started in Fagalii-Tai and worked my way toward town.

Oh! Before I get to my leg, I should tell you: for whatever reason, our team had its own police escort for the entire race. This meant one guy on a motor-scooter behind the runner, and one in front of the runner for the entire event. Have you even run 18 km with a guy following you on a motorbike? It’s weird.

They were nice though. They’d occasionally shout words of encouragement, “Faamalosi! Faamalosi!”, and once one of them offered me water mid-leg.

In any case, as I entered the village of Moata’a on the outskirts of Apia, they seemed to both shout, “Only two more villages!” It was fun.

Back to the sun’s death knell: It was fiery and there was little-to-no shade. The pavement reflected the heat, creating a sort of broiler. And with the smog and dust and pollution of urban Apia, things could only get worse. Traffic picked up, exhaust fumes blanketed the course, the foliage-lined highway gave way to dingy, crumbling sidewalks. It was a briar patch of pavement and asphyxiation.

But just like Brer Rabbit, I was at home. The up-and-down driveways, the drivers that can’t find it in themselves to give a runner (with police escort!) right-of-way, the uneven curbs, the curve of the seawall, the giddiness of other pedestrians, the kids walking along the walls of the bridge, the beauty of the harbor, the majesty of the trees on the waterfront, the music of the car horns. As Shaquille O’Neal would say, “This is my house.”

We finished 7 minutes behind the next closest team; the same team that started 16 minutes before us. We won the race by 9 minutes. Our total time was 8 hours, 5 minutes. Not too shabby.

I drank a niu.

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Kyle making a much better "My house!" Shaq face.


Crossing the finish line. Dan was low at the time, but the other 4 guys crossed it with me.

Dan and me after the race.

The girls crossing the finish line. The girls took first place in the Open Womens' Division.

Group photo.
Guys left to right: Kyle, Dan, AJ, Joey, Me, Ben.
Girls left to right: Rachel, Dana, Lily, Kaelin, Corinna, Erin.


Rachael said...

Congratulations you guys are awesome!!

Skippy said...

saw your pic in the samoa observer too matt!! nice one..

Karen said...

What a great day for all of you! Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

I love your writing - 'real' enough that i could just abt imagine i'd been there. Okay, wait up, I was there...The heat was a killer and you guys did an amazing job in spite of it.My son REALLY wanted to beat yr team and wants to know if you're going to be here for 2011?! (While Im just happy he didnt get hit by a bus or collapse on the road)
Congratulations on your win - and hope you're not all too sunburned running with no shirts in the Samoan sun!