Posted by: kristinej | January 21, 2010

January 21st

Yesterday I had another one of those “Only in Mali” experiences, though it was self-imposed so I can’t complain too much.  It started last week when Becky and I went to the Bank of Africa to get money from the ATM, and we saw a sign advertising the Bamako International Marathon, set to take place January 20th, Armed Forces Day in Mali. I had no idea that Mali had a marathon (apparently 2009 was its first year), but I did know that I was in no shape to run a marathon.  However, the sign said that there was also a 5K for children, a 10K that was for women, and the marathon was only for men.  Obviously, the runner/ feminist in me thought this was outrageous, so when we went inside to get more details, I asked the guy why the marathon was only for men, and he said that it was too far for women.  Ha!  I replied that I had, in fact, run three marathons already, and his response was that I should then have no problem winning the 10K.  Hardly the point, and certainly not true, but I wasn’t going to argue too much in case he offered to make an exception, only to have me explain that I didn’t actually want to run the marathon.

Anyway, the race was free, and I decided to sign up even though I wasn’t sure I would do it since it started at 2PM. Now, it is “cold season,” but that’s just relative since it still gets well into the nineties each day.  The man’s logic was that when the marathon ended, it would be cooler, which would be good for the runners, but who cares if most of them have already keeled over by mile 15?

On Sunday, I decided to go out on a trial run in the heat at 11:30AM.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make it too far – going only 2.5 miles before calling it quits – and upon returning to my house I listened to my family discuss the color of my face – my host sister said it was red, whereas my host mom informed me that it was more of a dark pink.  In the end, curiosity got the best of me, plus the fact that all the Malians I told about the race thought that I was going to win AND be on TV.  I didn’t want to disappoint.

So yesterday I armed myself with Gatorade, sunscreen, and my visor (I knew I would look ridiculous compared to the Malians) and headed over to the stadium with Daniella and a Peace Corps friend, Eric, who wanted to run the 10K with me even though he technically wasn’t allowed to. The races started an hour late (typical), with the marathon runners leaving first.  There were probably 100-200 racers, a handful from other West African countries who, dressed in singlets, were clearly professionals, and the rest who were dressed in the white t-shirts, most of them not wearing running shoes but rather Keds-like tennis shoes or plastic jelly sandals.  Those things aren’t even comfortable to walk in, so I cannot fathom what it’s like to run in them.

After the marathon started, the 5K, which probably had over 500 participants, took off, and then the only people left were the 10K runners – all 20 of us.  Some of these women were pretty ripped, so I didn’t feel too confident that I would win one of the cash prizes for the top ten finishers, but it did occur to me that maybe people would see me on TV – there were video cameras at the start, and I did stick out from the group (see photo).  In fact, there were only 3 other white runners there – Eric, a German man running the marathon, and a girl running the 10K.  I thought a lot of American and French runners would show up, but I guess no one else was crazy enough to run a race in that kind of heat.

As the gun went off and we left the stadium, it soon became clear that there were 3 sub-groups within our group of 20: the ripped women who took off ahead of us and would clearly finish far ahead of me, the women who probably had no idea how far 10K was and who quickly slowed and eventually dropped out, and then Eric and I, who lagged behind but were determined to finish.  The first twenty minutes or so were pretty pleasant and I was impressed that they had race organizers and police officers stationed at the intersections to stop traffic and show us the way.  After that, though, the heat began to get to me, and after our first walk break I realized that everyone behind us had probably dropped out and been picked up by the first aid vehicle following us.  This would have been fine, except that it seemed that after that first pack of faster runners went by, all attempts to control traffic and show runners the way were abandoned, so that we were soon running amongst the crazy Bamako traffic, at some points having to stop and wait to cross an intersection, at other times actually weaving through traffic with our hands up saying, “stop, stop!”  Also, while at the beginning of the race there had been spectators lining the streets, at the end no one had the slightest idea that there was a race going on, and probably just thought we were crazy.  Despite these difficulties, and after several more walks breaks, we arrived at the stadium where we were forced to

run a lap around the track before reaching the finish line, which was pretty mortifying since we were the only people on the track and the bleachers were filled with spectators.  Luckily, I think most of them were focused on the skydivers who were at that moment landing in the middle of the soccer field (I am not making this up).

I honestly think I felt worse by the end of the race than I did at the end of the Boston Marathon, and probably the only thing that kept me going was the thought that I might win one of the cash prizes (sadly, I did not), plus the fact that the afore-mentioned first aid vehicle had long disappeared.  I’m still glad I did it, but never again!



  1. I’m proud of you!

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