rock city “marathon”


I miss races — running races, bike races, and triathlons.  There just aren’t very many around here.  So you can imagine my delight when Mwanza, Tanzania, decided to host an international half-marathon last year, and to do so annually.  So, as of today, I have run every “Rock City Marathon” (two) since its inception.  Here’s a little about my goals and such for the race today:

  • My primary goal was to run my first race in “minimalist footwear.”  I’ve switched to “barefoot” running now, though I’m much more concerned with barefoot running form than with actually being barefoot.  I do 80% of my running in water socks and the other 20% actually barefoot.  Today was my first race in the water socks.  It felt fine, other than a single blister on a single toe.
  • Because I’ve been working to switch over to “barefoot” running, I’ve purposely not used a watch or timed any of my runs (except for one) during the past six months.  So I had no idea how I’d do today on time.  I ended up running 1:49:10 for a 13.1 mile race.  That’s 8:20 per mile, which I’m happy with for my first “minimal shoe” race.  I think I would have been a tad faster had the race started on time, but this is Africa — and things rarely start on time.
  • Most of the runners involved in this race are professionals, many of whom compete for their countries in international meets.  So there’s no chance of me being anywhere near the top — or even in the top half.  Last year I was the 3rd place white person, and finished in the top 4 or 5 of the amateurs.  This year my goal was to be the 1st place white person.  I was.  But I was the only white person racing this year.  I did finish towards the top of the amateurs again, though, so that was good.

Below is a link to an article about the race — with my comments mixed in for good measure:

Rock City Marathon Takes Place Today

Mwanza city won’t be the same today as the finest runners will vie for top honours in the Rock City Marathon 2010.

Are journalists really allowed to say things like “the finest runners” without clarifying among whom these runners are the finest?  Mwanza is known as “Rock City” — hence the picture above.  And the word marathon is quite misleading here — as the race was only a half-marathon.  Still, all the advertisements, programs, and finishers’ shirts read “Rock City Marathon.”

Co-ordinator of the event Raymond Kanyambo told reporters that preparations for the biggest sporting event in the Lake Zone were complete where the race will start at the CCM Kirumba Stadium at 7am.

Mr. Kanyambo may have said that preparations were complete, but our “7am” race didn’t begin until after 8:00 am.  The reason:  Coca-Cola had not yet delivered the bottled waters to the water stations along the course.  It’s nice they didn’t want us to run without water (there was none after the six-mile mark last year), but I woke up, ate, drank, used the restroom, arrived, and warmed up all for a 7 am start.  I was hungry and thirsty and needing to warm up again by the time we started, and the sun was NOT getting any cooler.

He said that the marathon to cover 21-km has attracted over 1,000 runners while over 2,000 participants have enrolled for other races expected to take place today.

The “marathon” would cover 21 kilometers, eh…?  As for the “over 1,000 runners” competing in the half-marathon?  Make that 50 — and that’s an incredibly generous head count.

“We have also got a good response for the three-kilometre corporate classic race and for people with physical disabilities as well as two kilometer race for children.”

I didn’t hear anything about the results of the 3k race, but there were indeed a lot of kids running the 2k.  And watching them finish was really great.  Several of our friends in Mwanza ran it with their children.  It’s always nice to see kids enjoying exercise.

He said that the winners in the half marathon will each get Sh500,000, runners up would take home Sh300,000 while the third placed winners will be given Sh200,000 each. He said the 21 kilometre race will start at the Kirumba Stadium while the other races will start in town and end at the stadium.

500,000 shillings is about $330, which may not sound much.  But it’s five times the monthly pay of a salaried manual laborer.

The marathon organised by Capital-Plus International Limited. He said that over 3,000 runners are expected to compete in the event; the biggest sporting gala in the lake Zone. “We have got confirmations from Mwanza, Mara, Tabora, Dar es Salaam, Shinyanga, Manyara, Singida, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Zanzibar and Kagera,” he said.

Again, 3,000 runners?!  The biggest sporting gala in the Lake Zone?  Most people in town had never even heard of the race and only knew it was happening if they happened to be walking down the street as runners with numbers on (reused from last year) passed them.

He said that runners from the neighbouring countries like Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda have also asked to compete in the marathon. Kanyambo said that the route was measured last month by an official approved by the International Amateur Athletics Associations (IAAF). We expect the race to be very entertaining.

The measurement seemed to be right this year.  Last year we ran 19k, giving me an easy PR (which doesn’t count).  By the way, I’m pretty sure every racer from Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, AND Uganda beat me.

But the race was indeed entertaining.

* For an interesting look into Tanzanian culture that relates to marathons and newspaper articles, go here.


Filed under barefoot running, sports

13 responses to “rock city “marathon”

  1. So that’s what all the kelele at the stadium was about today. You’re here in Mwanza? Karibu! I’m staying a stone’s throw from the stadium.

    • that was indeed the kilele at the stadium. i didn’t realize you were already here until yesterday (or maybe saturday) when jason said something about it. christie and i are leaving mwanza for a meeting in dar in about 30 minutes (6:30 am, monday), so we won’t catch you this trip. have you found a permanent place to stay — or are you in that temp spot still? i think i heard lamek was trying to help you some…?

      • Still in the temp spot, and Lamek has been great– turns out he and I have a mutual friend in Mavuno Village.

        But tomorrow I’m flying back to Dar to assist my teammates there until Thursday– wish I’d’ve known yesterday, would’ve tried to bum a ride.

  2. Congratulations on doing well in your run. Yesterday Debra and I ran 12 miles in our preparations for the half marathon we will run October 16. Neither of us has ever run this far before, so we are pleased to complete it. Our training program distances will go down in our long runs until the actual race.

    • thank you for the congratulations. and the best of luck in the murfreesboro half. if you’ve already ran your 12 mile long run, then you’ve done the hard work — and it’s all fun from here.

  3. JMF

    Perhaps the Mwanza paper has hired James Frey to write beat stories.

    Thanks for running that race and representing “the man”, as in, “Whitey.”

    In your pics, you look pretty heavy to run long distance. Let me clarify: I live in the Midwest and so you are the skinniest human I’ve ever seen. So, when I say large I mean in relation to runners. But for distance running, you don’t appear to have the usual frail build. I’d really like to see you get down to about 135#, because it would be cool to see you running in the next Olympics for the Tanzanian team….”the white mamba.”

    • i am pretty heavy to run long distance, if i really wanted to do so competitively. i’m 6’4″ and my weight can fluctuate between about 190 and 220, depending on what i’m training for and how much i’m lifting weights and such. i’m probably 195ish these days.

      you know when i graduated from high school, i was the 135 you want to see. but none of the nicknames i got were nearly as cool as “the white mamba.”

  4. Jason

    Hey Brett,

    I see that you replied last at 6:01. Well, since you were staying at my house, at 6:15 you and I were conversing over coffee when I made the comment that your post represented to a T a very western valued (albeit funny) view of the newspaper article from the Guardian. I then said something like, “If someone googles ‘Rock City Marathon’ I bet your blog comes up in the top five.” You were a little mortified by that possibility. Well, I just googled to make sure…and you are number 5.

    So, since I’m privy to the information that you’re traveling all day from Mwanza to Dodoma, and being that after that conversation you were concerned and wanted to add an addendum to your post, I’ll post a comment from the viewpoint of your average Tanznian forming the jist of our conversation in order to way-lay the concerns of those that are of the sociological viewpoint of a Tanzanian. You can add or subtract later, agree or disagree later.

    Just so all you readers who are going to want to defend Brett know, Brett and I are good friends.

    Considering the several disparaging comments you levied against the staff writer of the Guardian, they all seem to deal on some level with your over-valuing of truth at all costs. You see, as a white-male westerner (as you can only be since you liked the nick-name “The White Mamba”), you value accuracy and truth more than relationship and decency.

    Let me explain. You begin by quibbling with the phrase “all the finest runners” and the word “marathon.” Your first questions, as a westerner, are concerned with the accuracy of these statements; whereas as a Tanzanian, you would have had no questions here, since what right-minded person who considers the feelings of others at all would have so coarsely belittled the effort and ability of those involved by directly accusing them of lying. Moreover, we as Tanzanians understand that the article is representing the best hopes of those involved, and has no direct relation to truth whatsoever.

    About starting the race at 7am or later, what Tanzanian wouldn’t want to start later? At 7am it is still cold, is it not, being only 68 degrees F? How would one run in all the clothes needed to stay warm at that early hour?

    Furthermore, you westerners obsession with time over relationship continues to confound me. You value this impersonal entity, time, more than you value being, as you westerners say, “in the moment.” Westerners like to talk of being “in the moment,” or being mentally present to those who are in front of them for the time they require their attention (regardless of allegiance to time), but in reality your true values are betrayed by the fact that many chance encounters are ended by the fact that a previous engagement has been arranged. Truly western, that: valuing that which is in the future, or, let’s be honest, the possible, more than valuing that which is right in front of you, or, in the most basic meaning, the real.

    Did you ever consider that perhaps the Coke driver simply wanted to spend a little more time with his child that morning instead of rushing off to work because of a “previous engagement.”

    And then you land back on accuracy concerning numerical reporting, taking to task the “3000” involved in the race. Yes, of course, there were more like 300 involved, but what right-minded member of a society worth being a member of would value a random number over the intentions and relationships of those involved in planning this great event. So they said 3000 and there were actually 300…so what? Not a single Tanzanian thought there would be 3000. They are again, like good Tanzanians communicating to other Tanzanians, reporting the best intentions of those involved, not the base reality. Everyone in my neighborhood knows that reality is not worth paying attention to, but that it is intention that matters.

    Next you’ll want to tell me that we should judge a man by his actions! No, not even you would be that ridiculous. A man’s intentions and the peculiarities of his situation are much more important than his successes. Everyone knows that. Who in Tanzania knows more than one or two people they could name as successful? Or better yet, someone who is successful and can still named as friend? For we all know, with success so often comes a set of compromised morals.

    Anyway, at least it seems from your post that you value children. At least, from a sociological standpoint, we have that in common. Jesus, as well, seemed to value them at the expense, even, of others.

    Along those lines, even our own writer, Paul, tells us in Ephesians that once we have matured we will be “speaking the truth in love….” Even Paul, that genius of western logic, understands that truth without love was a sign of immaturity.

    How about you?

    • This response was well worth reading.. not that you were taking anyone to task.. but that you spent time explaining the difference in paradigms and how one viewpoint can impact another.

      One of the hardest things to do has got to be putting yourself in another’s shoes.

  5. Well now, that is great, sir! What a great time for your first barefoot race too! That is around my time for wearing shoes, although I wouldn’t mind being around a 1:45 by now.

    And very cool to run over there AND be #1 White guy. 🙂 Congrats!

  6. Well done! And good for Mwanza for organizing a race like that. You should put in some altitude training and go to Addis Ababa for their 10 k in November. We were in Ethiopia when a colleague of mine helped Haile Gebre Sellassie organize a mass participation 10 k race through the streets of Addis Ababa in 2002. It was an awesome experience, bringing together people from every socio-economic strata as well as the significant expat population. I was able to run that first year (although Haile could have run 2 races in the time it took me to run 1), and then every year after that that I was in the country. It has become the largest mass participation race on the continent, with more than 25,000 taking part. Here’s a question about barefoot running in East Africa – How does one avoid parasites?

  7. Pingback: of marathons and misinformation: a lesson in tanzanian communication « aliens and strangers

  8. Pingback: my recent absence and four lies « aliens and strangers

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