By Jackie Jennings-Bates
We made it safely home from Kenya and after tackling water, we tackled fire.
Our friends in Guatemala were developing a program of installing “safe stoves." Cooking in developing countries can be challenging and in Guatemala open fires are common under an awning attached to the house because it is often raining.
This unhealthy combination leads to smoke inhalation and burns, especially among small children.
Our friends had found an innovative stove system that involved a small fire box built inside building blocks on a simple concrete base. They were easy to install, burned much less fuel and the smoke could be extracted through a chimney. Plus there were no open flames, so burns were minimized.
We decided to support them and after a call out to our friends and associates, we assembled a small team of intrepid adventurers. Our commitment to raise money for the stoves was to participate in an Ultra marathon.
Fortunately, the distance could be divided into 4 x 25 kilometre relays and we formed two teams and my husband signed up for the full 100 kilometres.
None of us were runners, and we only had one summer to get ready. It was a lesson in perseverance and forming friendships through struggle.
We really got to know each other as we trained together, forming lasting friendships. It was hot of course in the Okanagan, so we thought we would be well prepared for Central America, but we largely ignored the fact the race was run overnight — who has time to train at 2 a.m.?
We flew to Guatemala and excitedly prepared for the big day. Fortunately, one of the directors was an experienced ultra runner, so we had a wonderful coach, and a great support truck full of enthusiastic folks and lots of high-energy snacks.
I don’t think any of us got any sleep the night before with mangoes falling off onto the tin roofs, local dogs barking and the day’s tortilla preparation that always starts about 4 a.m.
On race day another challenge emerged. The race was supposed to start in Guatemala City, but at the last minute, it was moved to Antigua. I can’t remember why.
This was along a quieter road, which was an advantage, but it was a huge change in the descent altitude. The first 25 km was now a steep, downhill run. This may sound pleasant, but it takes a toll.
It was really an honour to represent Canada. Everyone else was a lot more local and they were pleased to see us join them. They treated us like royalty, they might have thought we were good runners, so they soon found out that was a misconception.
My husband, Mark, who was hoping to run the full distance was really impacted by the new route. He thought it might help to switch shoes and got blisters.
My friend and I ran the second leg and it is one of the most memorable nights of my life. She is competitive (I am not) and she set of at an alarming pace. I tried to tell her we would never keep it up (except I couldn’t really talk). However, we did keep it up.
We just flew along on a cloud of adrenaline. It was quite surreal to run along a highway in a foreign land, in the heat, in the middle of the night. All the unfamiliar smells and noises seemed accentuated.
With the end of our leg in sight, my friend took off in a sprint. I had nothing left, so I finished a minute behind her, but it was still way beyond my wildest expectations. I am grateful to her for pushing me to my limit, but now that I have done it, I don’t feel compelled to do it again.
Our other team members had their own adventures. My son and his friend got lost (with the support truck too), so did quite a few extra kilometres, but they also did really well.
The last team had been up all night by now, so they were really tired, but we all joined them for the last part of the leg along the Coast. As the sun came up and it started to get increasingly hot, we all dragged ourselves across the finish line just before the cut-off time.
The local runners were so gracious even though I think they thought we were quite a motley crew and a little crazy.
After a few days rest, we were recovered enough to install some stoves. It all came into perspective as the recipient families welcomed us into their homes, made lime juice fresh from the trees and were so delighted with their new modern appliance.
If I have a message here it is to encourage you to take on a challenge of your own. You will create your own memorable adventure and be able tell your tale. I look forward to hearing it.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.