Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Seychelles Eco Friendly Marathon.

The Facebook posting said;
"I am looking for a travel Blogger that can run a 21km race, 
in the Seychelles"
My response was "I will"!
And a few days later, I found myself on an Air Seychelles flight
bound for Victoria.

I landed late on a Friday night and was whisked off to the VIP lounge 
at the airport.
Everyone should get to experience this at least once in a lifetime.
I was offered a beverage and a cold towel while my hand luggage 
was discreetly scanned and my passport stamped.
"What about you suitcase", I hear you ask...
That was collected for me and brought to the lounge.

The airport is on the Eastern side of the island,
and my hotel (for the first night) was on  the Western seaboard.
It took a good 45 minutes to get from one side to the other as the road winds its 
way up and down the mountain that runs along the spine of the main island.
I was only here for one night before being moved to a hotel that was less than 100m 
from the start line.

This is where I stayed the night before and after the race.

The morning before the race, I was driven around the course.
The sun was shining and the weather was perfect.
From the car, the road did not seem steep
and the scenery was truly spectacular.
(Little did I know that at least two of these impressions would change on race day) 

This is why I was on the island.
To compete in the Seychelles Eco Friendly Marathon.
This event was founded 10 years ago by 
Mr Dong Chang JEONG, Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Seychelles.
It is structured to accommodate a range of fitness levels.
Run over four distances, 42.2km, 21.1km, 10km and 5km,
there is something for everyone.
(Walkers are also welcome).
The local runners seem to dominate in the shorter distances,
while the international contingent (myself included)
choose to either the full or half marathon distances.
The organizers accept 2000 runners for the 5km
and 2500 for the 10km.
There were less than 80 runners in each of the longer distances.
Run on the last Sunday in February, this is more than a race.
It puts equal emphasis on enjoying the health benefits of exercise, 
while appreciating the natural beauty that the Seychelles has to offer.

If in doubt...
Here I am in my hotel room.
All kitted up and ready face the rain...and the course.
Watch the rain pouring down on the afternoon before the race:

It poured at the start and with not much shelter for the runners,
we were all soaked through before we set off.
The rain is actually warm, 
so that it was more like standing fully clothed in a shower
than being outdoors exposed to the elements.
Even though I do not like running "wet" I chatted with a couple of the runners around me.
A husband and wife had come all the way from the USA to take part.
He had completed 98 marathons in 97 countries.
This was his 99th (he did complete it) and his 100th 
will be run in Botswana later this year.
Well done Richard!

The full marathon (42.2km) used this clock in the centre of Victoria as the turning point
On the half marathon, all I had was a spray painted blue dot in the middle of the road.
Just to make certain that I would not be penalized, I ran around the dot twice
 under the watchful eye of one of the marshals.
At least we were both able to laugh about my "moment of madness".
Blame it on the humidity...
But more of that later.

This is why the event was founded 10 years ago by...
To make certain that the youngsters were taking part in outdoor activities.
Many of these youngsters passed me (at speed) as the three routes
shared a similar course.

I was one of five journalists that competed in the event.
I finished the half marathon in a time of 2:50:30, flying the Flag for South Africa.
Not my best time by any stretch of the imagination,
but given the rain and the humidity (80-85%) I was happy to have finished.
I was the second oldest competitor in the 21.1km event.
The others journalists were;
In the full marathon
Stefan Schlett, from Germany, finished the marathon in 5:59:30
Oliver Vitrac, from France completed the same distance in 7:03:35.
In the half marathon,
Anne Engelbert-Jung from France crossed the line in 2:16:42
The best performance by a journalist HAS to go to Remy Jegard of France.
He was 3rd in a time of 1:36:03

And after the fact!
It turned out that the course was NOT flat at all.
In fact there were probably more hills packed into those 21,1km that I have ever run before.
But did I give up?

And this was what is was all about.
A t-shirt, a medal and a certificate.
But these represented more that just this race.
They affirmed that I have reclaimed my health 
as well as my passion for running.
Was it tough? HELL YES!
Would I do it again? HELL YES!

How tough was it?
At 5.09km my heart rate was 209bpm,
and my fastest km (4:55) was with less than 2km to go.
I could almost see the finish line 
and I really wanted to complete the event looking strong. 

A fellow South African...Morongoa Morena 
who finished 35th in the full marathon.
It was great to see a fellow South African,
even it was only in passing.
I did meet another runner, who although is from the Seychelles,
lived and worked in South Africa for 10 years.
He and I got chatting as he was running in a Comrades Marathon t-shirt.
As both of us had run that particular race we had something in common
in order to take our minds of what seemed like endless hills.

Time to stop for some well deserved help.
Luckily for me, I did not need any "road-side assistance"
My plan for the race was to run all the downhill and flat stretches as hard as possible.
And then to walk the uphill at the best pace I could.
I was on time to finish in around 2:30 when I realised that it was NOT going to happen.
At that point, I decided to relax and enjoy the scenery,
that is achingly beautiful. 
At this particular point the runners were well spread out,
but I did manage to find a couple to keep me company,
if only for a short while.

The watering points were well stocked with water.
Some were serving fruit and several
offered glucose water.
I have to say that I was longing for a Coke,
but perhaps we are spoiled for choice back in South Africa.
I had a lot of fun interacting with the people that were manning these stations.
What is the point of running past without saying "Thank You"
or cracking a joke?
As a runner, I was at least going from Point A to Point B,
but these volunteers had to stay put for several hours
(There is no cut-off time)

I cannot run with music.
In fact, in South Africa, runners are not allowed to compete while wearing earphones
In retrospect, this fellow had the right idea,
carrying his own hydration with him.

When I looked at the course layout,
I have to say that I believed that it would be a gentle run on a reasonably flat course.
It turned out to be neither.
Ms Giovanna Rousseau, the race organizer
and CEO of the National Sports Council,
described the race as "Hell in Paradise".
And having completed the event, I have to say that it is a most apt description.
Watch what she has to say about the race:

The awards dinner was held in conjunction with a display of Korean fan art.
The woman on the right of the centre image is the artist.
It was a pity that not more of the local winners were present to collect their trophies,
but all of the International runners were there and seemed to be in good spirits.
Great food and good company rounded off a tough day for me.

A chance meeting at a local restaurant...
On my left is the man responsible for instituting the race 10 years ago,
Mr Dong Chang Jeong.
The Honorary Consul General of the Republic of Seychelles.
On my right is Julie Kim,
who is the regional manager for the Seychelles tourism office, Japan & Korea

I got to interview Ms Giovanna Rousseau,
CEO of the National Sports Council as well as the race organizer.
This is what she had to say:

In order to get around, 
I used Gilly Mein.
I can highly recommend him as both a driver and a guide.
His knowledge and passion for the Seychelles and its history
made for some interesting in-car conversations.

Find out more about what the Seychelles has to offer tourists:

This carrier will soon be flying directly from Durban to Victoria.
Watch what the CEO, Roy Kinnear had to say:

Listen to the Podcast of my Seychelles Special radio show via this link:

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