By Mike Garden
Over the years, running has become a part of my lifestyle. Its physical and mental benefits for me are enormous, I am always excited for a challenge, especially one that is for a worthwhile cause. Thus, when an opportunity came up to run in the 50th New York Marathon, I did not hesitate to put up my hand.
The only catch was that I had to raise funds and awareness for the Zambezi Elephant Fund (ZEF). ZEF is dedicated to elephant conservation through work in the Zambezi Valley working with local authorities as well as a collaborative group of alliance partners to maintain a strong anti-poaching presence.
Living in Harare’s Greystone Park allowed me to use the steep hills for some intense training sessions. My love for running and conservation kept me going through it all preparing me both mentally and physically for the event. After a long flight over, I had sufficient time to recover from the inevitable jetlag before heading downtown to the huge registration expo hosted by New Balance – my preferred running shoe. The race was set for the 7th of November with 33,000 other runners from all over the world. The latest style of New Balance shoes was introduced specifically for the New York Marathon and a suave saleslady convinced me to buy a pair as well as the mandatory T-Shirt!
I found out that daylight saving had started during the night before the race meaning that all clocks were set back an hour. The race was set to start at 10:40 am but my pickup was 5:30 am from the New York library, leaving me with 6 long, cold hours from my wakeup time of 4:45 am to the start of the race. For my comfort, I bought a cheap cushion and blanket to sit on along with some old corduroy trousers and jerseys to keep me warm. All of this was disposed of in a communal bin for distribution to the poor at the end of the race.
I completed the race in a time of 4.47- two hours slower than my best but, hey!, one has to take into account “The ravages of age!” The fastest guy in my age group was a 68year old who sprinted around in 3hours 10 minutes. The crowd support was very special – fellow ZEF runner, Jos Janisch, and I had our names and Zimbabwe printed on our running T-Shirts. So many people turned out to show their support for us runners – there were constant screams of “Go Mike”, “Zimbabwe” and more importantly just “Babwe” from spectators that must have had some link with Zim. “You got this Mike” was repeated ad infinitum. One runs through the 5 major burrows starting on Staten Island and finishing 42k later in Central Park. Overall the race takes place on a flat course except for 3 major bridges that bring you quickly back to reality.
Living at a higher altitude had its benefits for us. Having only run one complete marathon in the last 20 years, I was surprised to feel so good for the first 15km waving at the crowds and dancing alongside the many bands on the run. From then on my style of running went from a gliding Cheetah to a plodding Elephant finishing as a sad old Dagga Boy (Buffalo). The runners were divided into several different starts (waves) and Jos ran a couple of hours after me being privileged to view an awesome sunset coming into Central Park.
A large number of participants were running for a cause – from cancer to autism and Alzheimer’s – we were, of course, running to create awareness for our Elephant population and their living environs. I would ask you kindly, therefore, to make a small ($10) contribution towards our goal. Running in one of the (Abbott) World major marathons should be something more people add to their lifelong “Bucket Lists” – great adventure along with the “Feel Good” benefits
For me, it was all about the experience and what a day Sunday turned out to be!
See you on the road, remember to give 2 Hoots!