Friday, October 14, 2011

Harrismith Mountain Challenge

             Like I mentioned earlier it has been really awesome getting to know and grow with the J-life interns. Monday October 3 was Amanda and mine’s 2nd anniversary. (Crazy it has been two years already.) Sorry grandmas, you still have to wait for kiddos. Amanda woke up early and fixed me pancakes and they were amazing. Here they call pancakes flapjacks, serve them as dessert, and our nowhere near as good as in the states. The interns at J-life were so awesome in helping to make the day special for us. One of the girls, Nicole, that works at the camp left chocolates, flowers, and a sweet note made out to “the Americans,” in our room. Then that night the interns made a cake for us, it was so sweet and we were very touched. That night all of us were sitting around talking over dinner. Some of the J-life staff guys began to talk about a race they were going to run that Saturday. The name of it was the Harrismith Mountain Challenge, and they described it as a 15k(a little over 9 miles) run up a mountain and down again.  Amanda had been running with some of them so they were trying to convince her to run the Harrismith. She took some convincing but after a couple of days she agreed to. I decided I would drive one of the cars there to cheer her on.
So Saturday we left at 6 in the morning to make the two hour trip to the town of Harrismith. There were 18 of us in total, four in a car, and then the rest in a J-life kombi, basically a form of a 15 passenger van. The kombi was filled with staff guys and guys from extension 23, the local township. They were hilarious, they blared the music so loud, and every time we stopped somewhere they got out and started dancing. Well we finally arrived to the stadium in Harrismith where the race was starting. And we quickly realized that the size of this mountain Amanda was going to run up was greatly understated, this was no Texas hill country mountain. You can see in the pictures that this thing was huge! It was like the Israelites when they first saw Goliath, it was a huge giant looming over us. The mountain from very bottom to top was a little over a mile high.  So we no longer had to wonder why they call it the hardest 15k in the world. Now Amanda is a great and very capable runner. She has run multiple full and half marathons, but I did know there are two things Amanda does not like, and those are climbing up and down mountains. So I began to lose peace about Amanda doing this on her own.  So there I was faced with a decision. You that know me well, know that I despise running. I love to play sports, and I love to workout, but I have never enjoyed running. Running is something I do out of necessity not enjoyment, from the time I start running all I can thing about is how happy I will be when I stop running. And the most I have ever run in my life was probably about 7 miles, and this race was two and a half more than that. However, there was the other side to this choice. The major factor was concern for Amanda, and if something happened to her how I would look her family in the eyes and say yeah I let her run up a mountain alone. Then there was this complex I have. See I have a complex where I see something a lot taller than me it bothers me, and I just want to conquer it. So I felt as if this Harrismith Mountain was almost mocking me, saying, “yeah you know you can’t climb me.” Once again just like Goliath, but now I began to feel more like David than the rest of the Israelites, I found myself staring at the mountain and thinking, “you need to be conquered.” It sounds crazy I know, but hey these are the thoughts that go through my head. So after weighing the pros and cons, I made the unbelievable choice and told Amanda I would really like to run with her. She tried to talk me out of it, knowing how much I detest running, but I told her that I felt I needed to so she conceded. We went to sign up and realized that you have to buy a running license in South Africa, a running license? Really?  TIA right? So we got our temporary running license and our numbers to pin on our shirts. I realized wow this is the first race I have been in since I did high school track and the first time I have ever pinned a number on myself, the reality of the choice I had made began to set in. The race was starting at 11, which is late for a long race like this, but we were told it is because one year it was really misty in the morning and one person ran off the top of the mountain and died, again another comforting thought. We all lined up at the starting line wished good luck to everyone in our group and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for what we were about to undertake, however regardless of how we felt we were doing this, that starting gun was like the return of Jesus, whether you like it or not its coming, and it did.
            The gun shot and we were off. The first 3ks are pretty flat so Amanda and I paced ourselves, but the next 3ks began to climb at a pretty steady rate. The whole time you can see yourself inching closer and closer to the mountain. When we got to the first checkpoint at about 6k Amanda and I stopped for a quick rest. There they provided us with water, oranges, and energy drinks. We also found out that at every stop they served Coke, why you would want to drink in a race I don’t know but people were doing it. The next 1k takes you about 20-40 minutes to run, that is because it is straight up the mountain. Ever since we first saw the mountain I wondered the path you would take to go up it, because it had a large rock escarpement seemingly all the way around it. As we were running I noticed little figures going straight up the mountain in front us, like straight line up it. I pointed this out to Amanda and she said, No those have to be rocks.” I had to agree because in our minds there were was no way that was the path we would take. However the closer we got the terrorful realization came, that those weren’t rocks we saw those were people going up the path we were going to take, there was no turning back now. So we preceeding to take the path or climb up the mountain. It was very slow going and there was no way to pass anyone, so you were really at the mercy of the people in front of you. I am a pretty good climber and it helps to have long legs to easily step up on rocks. Amanda does not have this advantage and I stayed behind her so I could push her if I need to, but she did an amazing job. You just have to keep going and not focus on how much more you have to climb, and eventually we reached the top. On top it was gorgeous! The top is like a large mesa, so it was very flat, you wouldn’t even know you were on top of a mountain, If you didn’t look out over the horizon. We didn’t have much time to take in the few though before we were off and running again. It was another 1k across the mountain until we reached where we started to descend. Going down was another adventure in itself. It was very steep, so I would run down about 5 steps in front of Amanda and then turn around to help her down and that is what we did all the way down. Once we got to the it was pretty much downhill or flat the rest of the way and after the slow pace going up and down the mountain it felt like we were flying. We got all the way to the last 300m around the track to the finish, I was afraid Amanda was going to stop so I kept encouraging her. The on the final 100m she saw an old guy in front of her she wanted to catch and she took off sprinting, to my surprise. I thought after running this whole race with her she was trying to leave me! So I had to sprint my hardest to keep up with her. We finished just in enough time to be with the bronze medal group. It was crazy too look back up at the mountain after and take in what we had done. I no longer could feel the mountain mocking me though, I was David after he had slain Goliath, well ina small way. I was so proud of Amanda, she was the only girl in our group to run, and like I said she hates climbing so it was a huge accomplishment for her, it really was a once in a lifetime experience. Even though it was a feeling of great accomplishment, it also made me realize how small I am. It was so hard to climb up and down Harrismith Mountain, but yet Jesus said with the faith of a mustard seed we could move a mountain. Puts into perspective how hard things can be when we try to do them ourselves, but how easy we can make it if we just rely on Christ.

Jerrod and his team from Ext. 23.  Guess which one finished last? lol

Me with my team from J-Life :)

About to tackle the mountain....

Here's the beast....

Jerrod and Muree

On our way up to the base...

 There's me in the white shirt, black shorts.  Struggling uphill...I'm used to running in flat Houston!

There it is!  Up, over and down... 9.5 miles :)


Jerrod and Amanda