Saturday, March 13, 2010

50km Charity Run from Thimphu-Paro

March 8, 2010 International Women’s Day

In late January, I won 30,000 Nu ($600) in a 13km ‘marathon’ held in southern Bhutan. Ever since, the unopened envelope sat in my top drawer as I debated which local charity to give the money to. Through my work with Save the Children here in Bhutan, I learned about a local NGO that supports women who are the victims of Domestic Violence (DV). The organization is RENEW, which stands for Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women. Unfortunately and ironically, the two wonderful helpers (nanny/housekeeper) we hired to care for Catherine and Caroline in Bhutan have both been victims of Domestic Violence. This fact enabled me to easily decide to donate the proceeds of the 13km race to RENEW. I only wished there was more that I could do to help RENEW raise awareness of the problem of DV in Bhutan and highlight the great work that they do.
Fast forward to the Wednesday before International Women’s Day, Monday, March 8. I decided to take on Dave’s suggestion of running from Thimphu to Paro and agreed that the run would be the mechanism by which to help RENEW raise awareness and money for their work. On Thursday, I met with RENEW’s Executive Director and explained my idea to donate the proceeds from the 13km race and the idea to run to Paro to help RENEW gain some media coverage. I told her I would be willing to do the run on International Women’s Day-even though that day was only four days away! She was not only open to the idea but excited about it and organized her staff to help me achieve this lofty goal. I drafted a press release later that day that was posted on their website the next day and shared with all of the local newspapers. They contacted BBS-the local TV broadcaster in Bhutan and asked for coverage at the start and finish of my run. They organized volunteers to send me off/receive me at the finish. I got multiple calls over the week-end asking for interviews and/or people organizing the International Women’s Day (IWD) festivities, of which I would officially take part. The local school hosted the IWD programme-where there were representatives from RENEW, UN and even Miss Bhutan! I made some very brief remarks to the entire school, just after Miss Bhutan spoke. At 10AM sharp, I left with my Camelpak on and headed out to the highway and to Paro for my nearly day long journey.

I started running and felt good (who could be tired 1km into it?) I realized that my goal of 12 minute miles could be unrealistic as I was running 9:45 pace! I immediately slowed way down and started running 10:35 and couldn’t run any slower! I found that 10AM turned to 11AM and then to noon quickly. The first half was nearly all rolling down hill, which was nice. About 11:30AM, the BBS camera crew came along side and wanted to interview me…couldn’t they see I was busy?! Anyway, the reporter got out and holding his microphone ran alongside me. He said he would run with me for ‘awhile’. He lasted 2km before he jumped back in their vehicle and they sped off. I ran through wind tunnels every so often that nearly stopped me in my tracks! At one point, I turned a corner and the road climbed and the wind hit me square in the face, as I was furiously pumping my arms, my GPS registered 14 min mile pace! At only 12km into this thing, I started to have serious doubts about whether I could finish. Just at that moment, a small yellow butterfly came out of nowhere and fluttered in front of my face, then flew away. I was amazed because it reminded me of the RENEW pin that is small and yellow and symbolizes peace rather than violence. Just as this comparison hit me fully, I turned another corner and the road evened out and the wind stopped as quickly as it had started. I felt it was a sign that I could finish this thing!

I got to Chuzom, the police checkpoint and halfway in 2 hours and 51 minutes. With my estimated finish time of 6 hours, I was a little ahead of schedule. I still felt good and hoped the second half was just as uneventful as the first. Dave was to meet me at this point and run the second half (25km) with me, but got caught at work, so I didn’t see him until about 15km to go.
I ran across a large metal bridge about mile 20 and heard some rustling. I looked up and saw dozens of huge white monkeys! If I had been of clear mind I probably wouldn’t have thought that I was on the Planet of the Apes. At about mile 16, I got a terrible side stitch and ran with it until I saw Dave at mile 21! Those were not a fun 5 miles. I realized (too late) that even though the temperature was quite nice, the sun was on me all day and stupidly I was only drinking water-Dave had my Gatorade. I took my first sip of Gatorade at mile 22 and it was, unfortunately, too late. I was not able to converse much with Dave at this point, and I worried with 8 more miles, I was at risk of dropping due to hypernatremia (too much water and not enough electrolytes). I asked Dave to try and find me some potato chips if he saw a little store. With 10km to go, there was a group of RENEW volunteers by the side of the road cheering. One of the volunteers was even there to run into town with us. What a wonderful sight, given this was a one person race! They had a white scarf (traditionally given to welcome someone) and because Dave had called our driver, who had called the RENEW focal point, who had called a RENEW volunteer, there were bags and bags of chips with the group! I started eating ‘Spicy Tomato’ potato crisps (yeah, they tasted as bad as they sound) and drinking mango juice. I was still having weird effects from whatever it was that hit me-GI problems, dehydration? (felt the same way at IronMan China last year) and could not talk at all to Dave and when I had to say something, I could only whisper?! I also had plugged ears (which would become much worse after I finished until I went to bed that night).

At this point, you will not be surprised that I was walking. I felt absolutely horrible. I was thankful that I could walk, but asked Dave to do the math as I still wanted to arrive about 4PM, my projected finish time. We walked for 2-3 miles probably. A bit further down the road was another store and Dave and the RENEW Volunteer (the only one of us with any money!) went in to buy me a Sprite and more chips as the spicy tomato chips and mango juice were NOT having the desired effect and I was still feeling pretty bad, uh, like AWFUL. These chips and Sprite helped. Thank goodness! At the airport gate I started to jog along the high barbwire fence all the while Dave was saying things like ‘Imagine a rope attached to your chest and someone is pulling you down this road’ and ‘Feel that wind at your back pushing you along’ and ‘Just put one foot in front of the other’. Thankfully, he is an experienced marathoner and endurance athlete himself and never once uttered any banal crap like ‘you’re almost there’. (my total pet peeve during marathons! FYI: mile 23, 24, or 25 is NOT almost there!). Walked a bit more and then started jogging when I saw the Zhong, national museum and buildings of downtown Paro. We crossed the bridge into town and the BBS camera crew were there filming us running by. At this point, I not only knew I was going to finish this damn thing, but that I was going to be able to run the rest of the way. As I ran towards the town square, with Dave and the volunteer, there was a group, including Police to offer us our white scarf-welcoming us into Paro.

I was so happy to stop running, but decided to walk a bit and stretch out. It was DONE! By now, my ears were totally plugged and talking was likely speaking underwater. Unfortunately, it was at that moment the BBS reporter wanted to interview me! Just after we finished our driver pulled up with both girls in the car. It was so great to see them, but I was too tired to pick them up.  After a few minutes, they ushered us to a local restaurant and gave us tea and sandwiches. The tea tasted like chai and was the best thing I had ever had-I think I had 3 cups! The head volunteer from Paro spoke and thanked me for my effort. They also asked me to speak about my experience and they all wanted to know did I have ‘fun’? Well, with plugged ears, upset stomach and shaky legs, how could I said that had been fun? But it was definitely an EXPERIENCE! With an article in the local paper that day and coverage on BBS, RENEW had gotten some media coverage and that was the ultimate goal.

I have received donations from friends in Thimphu as well as pledges online from friends in the US and Peru! Thanks to everyone that has agreed to donate to the RENEW center and thanks also for your well wishes and congratulations! They are much appreciated. Right now, I am resting up until National Marathon NEXT week-end!



hensses said...

Robin, your run was incredible and inspiring! We would love to donate to RENEW, please let us know how. Way to go!!! The Belu-Hensses

chrissie said...

That is really and truly amazing! What an amazing thing you did--not just running through such pain and discomfort (which I can now relate too) but for such a worthy cause! Awesome, awesome, awesome.

Will Smith said...

Hey, Robin! Dave sent me the link to this article and I loved it. So much for a tapper before the National! Your right... "an experience". Good on you for taking it on and for contributing to a good cause. It is fun keeping up with you guys. Stay in touch... and take a little break! -Will

Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to more travel, thanks.
Flights to Bali,
Flights to Kuala Lumpur,
Flights to Cape Town,