We did it! Finished another marathon. And a very special one. But how… and with what kind of preparation, that is another topic. Some quotes from during and right after the race that describe the situation best:
“I said I was not going to walk this time… but now look at me!” – Josien
“Here babe, take a piece of banana but just keep running! Am proud of you!” – Franklin
“I will never again do a marathon without proper preparation, this hurts!” – Josien
The marathon preparation
The year prior to our trip Franklin was extremely busy with work and finishing his bachelor at the same time. I was also very occupied with work, but next to that I could focus on our passion: triathlon. I started training with Yvonne van Vlerken, which was the best possible decision! Not only did I become a lot faster in all disciplines, we also have a fantastic community with athletes from The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Russia and Austria.
Of course, with Corona most races of the year were cancelled, and I could only show my improvements during the Ironman Virtual Championships. Which to be honest was one of the hardest things I have participated in so far.
Well long story short, two months before the Serengeti Marathon, I was ready to run FAST. But one thing Franklin and I agreed on for this year is that it is about fun, exploring, and being active. Because we love it, and NOT because we MUST train to compete. So it happened that we only ran a couple of times in the two months leading to this marathon. Also in the last four weeks we hiked the Kilimanjaro and I climbed the Ol Doinyo Lengai. Which was hard on the knees.
Franklin is a fantastic runner, so a marathon for him, especially in my pace, is apple egg as we say in The Netherlands (appeltje eitje). Easy Peazy Lemon Squeezy so to say. I know I have the endurance to go for hours, but at what speed? And how much would it hurt? We would soon find out!
But first carb loading. Dinner in the great Land Masters Hotel in Bunda consisted of Pizza, Chapati and Sweet Potato. We also ordered some warm water in a thermos bottle so we would have some coffee at 04:00 in the morning. We ordered at 20:00 it was brought at 23:00 when we were both sleeping. Honestly, back home I could get so frustrated about this, here I am a version of myself that I like much better. I stay relaxed. Maybe it also helped that I was sleeping so deep that I did not even realize that Franklin went out of bed to open the door to get MY coffee haha.
The Serengeti Marathon
This was the third edition of the Serengeti Safari Marathon. Organized by Tim, Henry and China. Great guys from Arusha, who own a Safari company and who saw rightfully that more and more people are willing to travel in order to have a special marathon experience. And what is better than to combine your marathon with a fantastic vacation or even a few days of Safari in Africa’s most beautiful National Park – The Serengeti.
Also for them this Corona year is especially hard and they were super happy that we participated in the race.
The marathon starts in the Serengeti National park, at the West Entrance, which lies at around 1150 m altitude. The first 8 km are on the gravel road inside the park. If you are lucky you will see some Wildebeest or Zebra’s cross the road. It is very unlikely that you will see lions, leopards or cheetah on this side of the park at this time, but there were rangers present to guard the participants if needed.
Outside the park, the road is tarmac, which makes the rest of the run easier.
As always when we have a race, I wake up before the alarm. I saw the coffee thermos bottle in the room and was so pleasantly surprised. Franklin was still half sleeping but said that he could not believe that always everything wakes me up, but when someone is knocking on the door to bring my coffee, I keep sleeping. I honestly also have no clue.
For breakfast we had Chapati, honey and eggs. We love Chapati, but at 04:30 it’s also a bit early for us. We organized the trail running backpack Franklin would carry and put on the hard needed sunscreen. And of course, many times toilet. Nervous or did I eat something bad? It did not feel good, so to be safe took some medication. Better safe than sorry.
We got a ride to the start from two other participants in the hotel who work for the UN. From the main entrance gate of the Serengeti Park we were brought to the start by bus. Once all the participants arrived (42.2 km, 21.1 km, 10 km, 5 km), the marathon runners were the first to start. We spotted the field: 2 girls from Kenya, 1 from Tanzania, a couple from Europe / America and me. Number 1-3 would get a podium place, but the three girls looked super-fast and when the start shot sounded, they disappeared on the horizon.
Right before the start we also met Wojtek Machnik from Poland. He is running a marathon in every country of the world, and this marathon would be his 100th! Incredible.
The first 10 km of the run were easy. Very well on track to finally run under four hours (for me… Franklin already has a 3:04), but then stomach problems again. Different than with races in Europe, no toilets anywhere during this race. As they look to make it a bigger race next year, this will all improve.
We were lucky with the weather as it was cloudy. But at km 17, quite a hill rised in front of us and at the same time the sun started to break through. And this was the point where I also started to break. Uphill, stomach pain, heat, not my success formula. But Franklin dragged me through, brought me water, gave me salt and sugar and was such a huge motivator!
The two Kenyan girls passed us, already on the way back – and wow they looked fresh and fast! Fantastic! But we did not see the other girl from Tanzania. Which meant that I was in position three. But not far ahead of another woman. Which meant that if I finally wanted to have a podium place we would have to keep moving. So we did.
It did not look good, it was not fast, not sexy, but I finished another marathon! And Franklin… he even finished more than 42 km, as he ran back and forth to get water, food etc. He makes it look so easy! I am so proud!
Four hours, 27 minutes I believe. But still not 100% sure as time was measured with the stopwatch and not with a chip, and no official results are online yet. I believe it’s the same time as my first marathon in Valencia, and for Franklin for sure the slowest so far. I swear, for the next time I train. If not only for a faster time, then for less painful legs.
As I ended on the podium we went to the main stage where they would do the ceremony. The former President of Tanzania was also there & there were many speeches in Swahili. We did not eat yet and sat in the sun for another two hours. It was interesting but not the best feeling. The nice part was, that we were sitting next to the girls from Kenya. They told about their lives as professional marathon runners, their training, how it works to earn a salary and again… how corona impacts their lives. No races, no money, no paying rent. So, they travelled more than 8 hours by bus to race here in Tanzania. Right after the ceremony they started the trip back. And then next week again… back to Tanzania to run.
These girls ran the marathon in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. This is about 1:45h faster than me. It felt a bit strange to be on the stage receiving the medal and prize money. We saved for this trip and also have no income for this year, so we cannot spend money without limits, but of course these girls need the money so much harder and also work for it so much harder. We decided to give the prize money to them so they could share it among their group. Super nice and inspiring people and we hope to visit them at some point in their training facility in Kenya!
And then the best part of the day: fries! We went to a local food place and ate three portions of fries, drank some beers & then took the public bus home. Which got a flat tire. When we reached the hotel it was Netflix and sleep.