Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – Part 4

Continued from Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – Part 3

The Journey to Cape Town

Disclaimer – these next several posts may be done on the run and may be the product of free form real time brain purges. So I will apologize up front for the lack of a polished and edited product.

This is a very interesting and eclectic group of GRS teammates. We have an aspiring musician in Josh Elkes, his father Steve Elkes, who we have to thank for this adventure through the charitable efforts of the Elkes Foundation.  We also have Josh’s girlfriend Carolyn running the half marathon. We have two former Survivor reality show contestants in Nicole Delma and Trisha Dunn… Nicole who I have known for a few years has also run several other GRS events and has known Ethan for many years. Then we have Rusty Trump and Evelyn Gonzolas, both of whom seem like a lot of fun.  And of course my buddy and fellow cancer crusher Ethan Zohn is the common denominator for us all. I am bummed that my family isn’t able to be a part of this. But the reality is, whether they are here or not, these dreams don’t come true without them. So, thank you for this life.

While I was waiting at the gate, a woman sat down next to me at wanted to be my friend. She put her hand on my knee and asked me if I was going to Africa…. Then insisted on pulling everything out of her carry on bag to not only show me, but provide detailed commentary of all of her belongings and medications. I kept  looking around  at others to see if she belonged to anyone or to see if I could get some sympathy from someone. One woman saw what was going on but quickly buried her face in her magazine with a certain “better you than me” smirk. Thank  God Rusty and Nicole, who as it turns out were sitting close by, came to my rescue. So I hopped up and said goodbye to the crazy lady from LA and we all had a laugh about it and her .  Nicole and Rusty were trying to figure out who the older Latino woman was that I was traveling with. Beats the hell out of me…

All morning connections were perfect….. Even the 4:30 am shuttle pick up at my home in suburban Philly. It got me to JFK nice and early, the way I like to be. Our team was  all seated close to each other and I had an entire 4 seat row to myself.

But wait…. There is more! Once we boarded, crazy LA woman made her rounds up and down the aisles trying to make a few more friends along the way. Anytime she came my way, I just closed my eyes, hopefully sending a “do not disturb” message. It seems to have worked.

Had a pretty good in flight lunch of tortellini . At least I guess it was lunch. But I’m sure it was tortellini, in spite of what the server was attempting to call it. Then settled in and watched Lincoln on my little monitor. Good flick. Really liked it for sure. Also finished another couple of chapters of Dean Karnazes’ book “Run”. Five hours in and I was still feeling great. Oh nice! Nicole Delma to the rescue with Oreos ! Thanks Cole. It’s funny because all the shades were drawn so it felt like  the middle of the night. In reality it was 4:30 est but 10:30 Cape Town time. But I figured it was happy hour somewhere and declared it time for a beer.

Ahhh there we go….. A cold Castle lager – my favorite…. Well, not bad anyway. And no charge. Unless the crazy lady from LA paid for it. Ha! And it came with a bag of friggin Fritos. I think I gained a few pounds already.

It’s odd watching the real time destination map of the flight path. I think 99.99 % of it is over water. Check it out on the map, it’s wild. More later.

Crazy LA lady caused a little bit of a scene overnight when she decided to switch seats to find a little more room. In doing so she was seriously invading the personal space of one of the other passengers. And that other passenger was non other than our own Steve Elkes! So the rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. Long as hell but relatively comfortable all things considered. Had a great breakfast at 4:00 am local time then touched down in  Johannesburg. From there we had a brief layover then reboarded to hop to Cape Town. The flight to Cape Town was short and sweet and under two hours.

The Cape Town landing and airport pick up was very smooth. We met our Sherpa Sam Mayer and made our way to the Dolphin Inn Guesthouse….. which happened to be about 50 yards from a dog park and beach. This little bed and breakfast is so damn cool and run by a young couple who were nothing but very nice and supportive of anything we needed. Oh yeah and there was  a house cat and we sort of adopted each other. Rusty and I took an awesome walk along the water and found a waterfront shopping and dining area. Our view gave us mountains out the back door and ocean out the front. It’s pretty damn sweet. Had a terrific seafood dinner outside along the waterfront and was entertained by a number of South African acrobats. Cool stuff. Our group all hung out together for dinner and a few glasses of wine.

By Thursday it felt feel like I had experienced a week’s worth of scenery and activity.  The day started with a tour of the Grassroot Soccer offices which had a very cool sort of creative loft feel and the staff was all very cool. From there we headed out to tour one of the actual program facilities that GRS uses. It’s a very modest building but with an awesome little all weather turf field in the middle of what looked like a very repressed township area. We met a number of the coaches, who were all young adults and university age students who have been trained by GRS to help guide these kids to a better way of life through healthier choices, using soccer as its medium.

There were a number of small kids there as well just playing around since school is out for Easter break. They seemed to look at us with part hope for what we might be able to add to their programs, and part amusement by our clothing, flamboyantly colored running shoes, and our overall “foreign factor”.  I realized then and there that this ultra marathon pales in comparison to the other things I was experiencing. The race almost became an after thought at that. After meeting these kids and seeing their communities and the work that GRS is doing, it became clear what mattered and what didn’t.

As we concluded our visit, we all boarded our team van with one slight change in plans. One of the coaches had asked us for a ride into town. And when we said “sure, hop in”, the guest list quickly grew to another 4 people all needing a ride! I later learned that these coaches take two trains and a taxi in most cases to get to this facility, so a free ride was welcomed and embraced. The one problem being that we were driving a mini van that comfortably seated about 10 people, including the driver. And 1o was exactly the size of our traveling roadshow. I was riding shotgun and saw the look of concern on Sam’s face as we increased our payload by 50%. I just smiled and said “Sam, don’t even look…. I promise this has all of the ingredients of a very interesting adventure ride”.

We learned more about our new friends and the neighborhoods in which they live during that ride than any tour guide or book could possibly tell. Their dwellings were modest at best and in some cases almost seemed uninhabitable. BUT their pride and sense of community was very strong and evident. People presented themselves better than you would expect given what appeared to be their living conditions. We saw people walking about the neighborhoods coming and going from some less than desirable looking houses dressed for the runway. And as we drove through the neighborhoods, our passengers were having fun waving to their friends, proudly showing off their “luxurious” ride home.

From there we went to the race expo which was an incredible glimpse into the economic and social dichotomy that defines and divides this land. But in some respects I suppose it’s much like a homeless person begging for their next meal across the street for a Fortune 100 financial institution in a big city in the states. And we’ve all witnessed that. The highlight of the expo was getting the chance to hang out with the legendary South African runner Zola Budd. Google her if you don’t know the name. My Newton Running contact set us up as Zola is the SA partner for Newton. Zola was very very nice and had a pretty calming impact on my per race nerves.

Two Oceans bills this expo as the biggest and greatest expo to grace the planet. While I found nothing “wrong” with it, it was basically just like any other big city race expo – except everyone had a beautiful SA accent. So I found myself engaging vendors just to hear them talk. Didn’t buy a darn thing though! It was cool to be be given a little VIP treatment at the “International Athlete Registration” kiosk. It was there that I picked up the Two Oceans race guide and saw the article that was done on Ethan and I.

After the expo we hit another great outdoor steak and seafood place. I have had both the steak and the seafood at a couple of different restaurants but am steering clear of the “game” option that appears on the menus because I don’t even think the chefs know what constitutes “game”. And as I understand it, this can vary depending on …. something.

On Friday there was an international fun run held for any athletes and their families who felt like participating. We didn’t all do this as a team, but Nicole and Rusty went to the start of the race and ran the short distance back to the guesthouse. And I ran from the guesthouse to the start, and then ran back with a team of Germans, laughing and clowning around with the along the way without a clue of what we/they were talking about. It didn’t seem to matter though. It seems laughter and running are universally understood.

As Friday progressed, my focus shifted to the following day being “go day” and I hit a little bit of a dark patch.  But by the time I came back from shopping I started to feel a little better. And through it all I kept finding myself saying “dude, you are in friggin SOUTH AFRICA”! Friday was pretty much a free day to explore things on our own. By midday I already had my race gear ready to go for the morning. At that point I just needed to run because the chatter in my head was starting to drive me crazy. I didn’t want to be anti social but I needed a little space from the team on Friday to deal. I also grabbed a quick nap outside in the dog park so I could be soothed by the warmth of the sun and the sound of the crashing waves.

Friday night we had a great per race dinner with GRS staffers Leah, Rob, and James. Dinner was terrific but the night before something big like this I usually prefer my space and there was a lot of noise and chatter at the table and restaurant. Luckily Nicole sat next to me and as it turned out, we shared the same pre race mentality. By the time we finished our main course we looked at each other and declared to each other that as wonderful as it was, the evening needed to end – soon.  By the time dinner was over, we were all ready to be done with everything and needed to focus our energy on the race. We ended our dinner and visit and made our way back to the guest house to get mentally and logistically ready…

Continued ….. Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – Part 5 Race Day

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