Monday, September 27, 2010

Accra International Marathon

Accra, Ghana
26 September 2010

I got up at 3:30 in the morning so I could catch my ride to the marathon shuttle start point at the Salvation Army Hostel. At the hostel I linked up with the Peace Corps volunteers who had assembled from the neighboring countries to run the marathon. The shuttle bus arrived an hour late (scheduled for 4:30) and after a tumultous hour long ride through the city dropped off the 1/2 marathoners at their start point and then continued another 13.1 miles to our start point- a dashed line spray painted across the road in the middle of nowhere. With no portapotties and only small bushes around lots a white rear ends were visible in the grass as people used the bathroom before the start of the race.

A few brave Africans had run the Milo Marathon the day before lined up at the start line again, some boasting about their accomplishments the day before and bragging they were going to win today (mostly exaggerations in my opinion- one guy claimed to have run a 2:10 marathon the day before). About 50 of us toed the starting line, including 20 Africans, and after four false starts, because the starting pistol kept misfiring, we were off- over an hour after the scheduled start (actual start at 6:45).

The Africans were off like a shot and quickly out of sight and the westerns started plodding along the road. I, like a couple other runners, carried a hydration backpack since the marathon had received terrible reviews last year for not having enough aid stations and running out of water half way though the race. I was happy to find many aid stations along the course and even at some spots a case of water dropped so you could help yourself. However in some of the more congested locations i think the locals may have walked away with the water.

There was a light cooling mist as we ran through the hills in the first half of the marathon and i reached the midway point in just over two hours (2:02). I grabbed a couple bottles and refilled my 2 liter hydration pack and started to alternate short walks with my running. The sun came out and it got hot and humid and by mile 16 i was dehydrated and getting sore. My walks got longer and my running shorter and within a couple miles my stride was extremely restricted.

I was already regretting my decision to run the full marathon- my longest training run was only 14.25 miles and the heat in Dakar had forced me to walk at the end of that run too. My buddy, Brad, had talked me into running the full marathon with him, but then bailed on me a couple days before the run. So i had to run alone, but I passed the torturous miles thinking of him and how I would get my revenge.

Around mile 20 we ran up a hill into a village and people coming home from church dressed in their Sunday best. Many churches were still in session and played a variety of music- some just singing loud into their speakers, others accompanied by trumpets, handsome with full rock bands- seemingly in competition to be the loudest or heard above the rest. Some of the locals yelled encouragement to my shuffling steps, yelling "fast, fast!". Others just read my face and told me the truth "you look tired."

A couple miles later we emerged from the village onto the main commercial street that lead into Accra and had to weave our way through traffic. The sidewalks were full of vendors and walkers, the side of the road had buses and taxis zooming in to stop and pick up passengers, and heavy traffic dominated the main lanes so making forward progress became a lot more difficult. Sometimes i had to stop and wait for traffic or people to move aside so i could try to stumble forward, but with only three miles to go i had hope.

We finally got clear of the market and most of the foot traffic with two miles to go and i decided to do my best to run the rest of the way in and finish strong. I figured it was only two miles to go, and i had run that distance many times before- it should be easy. I made it one mile before i fell apart. I couldn't lift my legs anymore and walking even hurt so bad i wanted to stop and lie down in the dirt on the side of the road.

At that point of desperation the race director pulled up in her car and handed me a bottle of water and cheered me to keep going. I kept going forward. I had to grit my teeth and limp along as my left leg froze up and wouldn't bend anymore and my right foot felt bruised and i could only step with my heel. It took me 25 minutes to walk that last mile and if felt like it was going to last forever under the blazing sun.

Finally i reached some large banners flying on the side of the road and a cut through some high grass that led to the finish line. I manage to shuffle and almost broke into tears as i crossed the finish line, five hours and sixteen minutes after i began.

My first priority was water and i wasn't the only one suffering. The girl that finished after me collapsed at the finish line and had to be carried to the first aid tent (I felt a little envious). Others were lying in the shade and medics were walking around pouring water on people or rubbing them with ice. The race director even collapsed and was helped into the shade and given ice.

A couple liters of water later i was feeling better and an hour or so later lunch was served. It seemed like a riot was going to break out when they started to run out of food, but eventually i got my plate of chicken and rice. It was pretty good and quickly wolfed it down local style using my hands as no forks were provided. Later on they handed out goodie bags and finally the race medal! I then retreated to my hotel and ended up sleeping six hours before dinner and heading to bed again.

People in the hotel kept staring at me as i limped around, and didn't seem to believe that i had just ran a marathon.


  1. I wondered if that ordeal reminded you of the pre-Ranger training in Georgia. It was hot there too. A human body has its limits. But, you are not a quitter, even in extreme pain. I'll have to share your story with my friend from Ghana, Ebe Amaechi. He served a couple years with the local army starting when he was eight years old. Proud to call you my son.
    Love Dad.

  2. Way to push through and see it to the finish! Completing a marathon is a huge feat on it's own but to do it where you did in the conditions that you had! Way to go! I do not know that I could finish a full yet! You are an inspiration!