Running through Lesotho

The following was published in the Capital Journal

When I think of Pierre, I picture avenue blocks on Capitol, from Popular to Harrison.

Although there are more scenic places to run in Pierre, this stretch is my favorite. To me, it sums up the town – from the residential areas bookmarking the route to Capitol Lake to Georgia Morse Middle School to, of course, Zesto.

I started running in the neighborhoods of southeast Pierre and, from there, it became my way to experience a place, whether it be past Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in Brookings or through city trails in Pocatello, Idaho.

At first, running in Lesotho was about comfort. While out on the roads, I felt like myself in a world that was often overwhelming. It was my escape.

Then I signed up to run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon – 56 kilometers or 34.7 miles – March 30 in Cape Town, South Africa. For seven months, I trudged up and down Lesotho’s hills and breathing hard through the mountain air. Children would join me, most often barefoot, and men and women would greet me and occasionally clap. Much of the time people would just stare, moving their heads to follow my every step.

I usually tried to run early in the morning when most were still at home. During these runs, it was just Lesotho and I. The big African sky encouraged me and the stillness of the vast landscaped reassured me.

There were times, though, that I needed more. Very dehydrated and far from home, I stopped at a water pump to refill my water bottle, only to find it locked. A man, who I eventually learned was a village chief, told me to follow him into his house. He then gave me the coldest water I’ve had in this country, allowing me to continue on.

The race is deemed “the world’s most beautiful” marathon. It certainly was gorgeous, passing by both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and then through a calming forest. As I ran, I couldn’t help but think of Lesotho.

The country’s high elevation and rolling terrain made for difficult workouts, but I am not sure I would have finished before the race’s seven-hour cutoff if I had trained at home. Lesotho gave me the strength and patience to not only the run race but to do so with a time faster than my greatest expectations.

Yet, there was more to my training than a pleasing finish. I spent hundreds of hours with Lesotho on those runs. I saw its beauty and its beast. I learned to push through the brick walls and then let go when I hit that amazing flying-like state. Amongst cultural hardships and work frustrations, running helped me find love for this country.

Besides the people, what I miss about Pierre the most is running through its streets. Although I have eight months left, I know it will be the same for Lesotho. My experience here is much deeper because I ran, and I will always carry these memories – the dirt road to my village, smiling children huffing and puffing next to me, the sun coming up over the mountains– wherever my runs lead.

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