Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
Emma and Mike set off a few days ahead of us whilst we hang out at embassies sorting out visas. Mike who we met at dinner joins Emma for a marathon, which makes a happy day. Local people take care of Emma and Mike along the way and they even get to stay in a hut for a night to make sure that they are safe. (How great would that be?)
We think it was a cooking hut
Emma writing her diary or possibly practicing levitating
Early morning start
The outside of the house Emma and Mike stayed in
Mike, Mike and Emma
Free range pig
My driving licence arrives in Harare just before we set off again, luckily. I am delighted to leave the city and love being back on the dusty road with fields and trees for miles in every direction. We catch up with Emma and Mike just in time before the border with Mozambique: we have their visas and passports and we can all celebrate Robert’s birthday with watermelon and chocolate cake.
Day 61 distance run: 60.31 km, 37.47 miles Day 62 distance run: 61.86 km, 38.43 miles Day 63 distance run: 52.33 km, 32.51 miles Day 64 distance run: 53.68 km, 33.35 miles
Number of Days: 64
Total distance run by Emma: 2640 km, 1640 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.2 km, 25.6 miles
We contact Mike and Emma regularly to check they are okay. Sometimes they whisper if it is after dark and they don’t want anyone to hear where they are. We meet them briefly in Chinhoyi before heading down to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to wait for them.
Harare is beautiful.
I couldn’t decide between that pretty photo or this weird one, so I gave you both:
Robert disappears to see his family and go back to project work for a few days, whilst Woocash gives Cleopatra a health check. I find the best café with internet and spend a lot of time there: photos, blogs and contacting journalists. Luckily for us, friends of the family, Bobby and Margie, generously put us up which saves a huge amount of money. Harare isn’t cheap. As a thank you, Woocash fixes Bobby’s car and we donate some spare car parts. We do a lot of scrubbing and cleaning kit. We also give a surreal children’s TV interview. Thankfully it is live which means that it will never be seen again. Hooray!
First the monkey now a dog, everyone wants to drive Cleo
At the children’s show
Harare traffic, usually only bad at rush hour
A few days later Emma and Mike arrive:
The team takes a trip to The SEED Project’s office to catch up with Robert and meet friendly Nyasha, who is SEED’s only other full time employee . Driving through the city, Emma photographs stallholders, people start shouting and frowning at us to put the camera away, it’s an uncomfortable moment.
Stunning architecture where The SEED Project is based
Look how clean we are!
Emma and Mike enjoy a couple of days of rest at Joy’s lovely home. Emma fits in an interview with a journalist, from the magazine Out of Africa, who writes a beautiful article. At a delicious dinner, organised by Bob and Margie, Emma meets Mike who decides he would like to join Emma on one of her marathons. Which is great.
“Queen of the Night” flowers one night of the year and it flowered the night Emma arrived!
Thank you Specialized for helping out with Mike’s bike
Emma and I found this chick confidently wandering the streets
Fantastic article in “Out of Africa”
The Water-to-Go bottles are perfect for Harare as otherwise the tap water isn’t safe to drink without being boiled. With the bottles we can simply fill up and er, go out and about on our business in the city!
We have decided to head on in to Mozambique. Last year there were civil disturbances and vehicles were attacked. But there has been nothing recently and we are avoiding areas that are considered at risk. Rumour tells us we may have to wait 3 weeks to get visas! Rumour turns out to be wrong. It is all sorted within 48 hours by a very organized and helpful lady.
Over at the Malawi embassy, Woocash has to write a letter explaining why he wants to visit Malawi. He does and the lady bursts out laughing when she reads it. We never find out why.
Huge thanks to Bobby and Margie Warren-Codrington for having us to stay in their gorgeous home, loaning us essential kit and arranging for us to meet with someone from the BBC. And perhaps most of all for linking us up with the wonderful Dora in Mozambique who looked after us through two medical emergencies.
Huge thanks to Joy Peacock for having Emma and Mike to stay and for all the help and connections to journalists that you provided.
And thank you to the Specialized workshop in Harare for helping Mike out with his bike.
Day 55 distance run: 56.21 km, 34.92 miles Day 56 distance run: 52.85 km, 32.84 miles Day 57 distance run: 53.43 km, 33.20 miles Day 58 distance run: 32.11 km, 19.95 miles Day 59 & 60: Rest days in Harare
Number of Days: 60
Total distance run by Emma: 2412 km, 1498 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 40.2 km, 25.0 miles
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Mark is a big character warm hearted and fierce. I like him but then he is inviting us to stay, telling incredible stories and not shouting at us. These details might make all the difference. He is concerned by our route and advises we must be beyond a certain point by nightfall.
However, during the day we have another team meeting to resolve problems. Well, really it is about valuing the role that each person does and showing our appreciation for each other. So everyone knows how fantastic we think they are – there are tears. And we all feel wonderful but, then it turns out it hasn’t worked (which is a good lesson I will remember).
That there are problems is not that surprising. Sometimes it feels as if we are living in a submarine, cut off from friends and family AND Emma is running a marathon everyday, a phenomenal endeavour in the dust, heat, in pain and without privacy. Throw in other details such as some of the team barely knew each other before we started and that we are from 3 different cultures and I think everyone did pretty well. Emma ran 37 marathons before any hint of serious issues arose.
However, we are at this point now (54 days of marathon running): Emma and Mike will travel alone, whilst the rest of us will push publicity, sort out visas, and other logistical issues. We will meet Emma and Mike regularly to refuel with food and water. Mike will need to carry food and camping equipment on the bike. The increased weight means a change of route: off sandy tracks and onto firm asphalt. Instead of travelling straight across to Mozambique, they will head south to Harare. We will avoid the path Mark was worried about and miss out the most remote and dangerous part of the journey. Perhaps the change of plan was a good thing.
We all camp at Mark’s beautiful farm that night.
Early in the morning, Emma sets off running with only Mike on the bike beside her.
Number of Days: 54
Total distance run by Emma: 2217 km, 1378 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.1km, 25.5 miles
Distance run today: 12.84 km, 7.98 miles
Thank you Mark for welcoming us in and letting us stay at your gorgeous farm.
We are secretly camped beside a farm that was forcibly removed from a white Zimbabwean farmer and given to black Zimbabweans. Robert is jumpy. Acting on his advice, we are cautious.
The redistribution of farmland was set as an objective by President Mugabe in 1980, when Zimbabwe gained independence. 20 years later the process had barely started. In 2000 government supported land seizures were enforced by armed gangs of young men, these were often unexpected and violent and farmers, their families and staff were sometimes injured and killed. The most recent land seizure in the area was in 2008, just 6 years earlier. That is why we are hiding behind a thick hedge.
Robert warns us that these people can be aggressive and may think that we are trying to steal their land. He also assesses the camping spot as likely to attract a lot of snakes. Everyone is wary when we hear cars passing, becoming silent and switching off torchlights. To add a little extra adventure, I have a stomach upset in the night and 3 times have to make a dash into the darkness. Given the situation, I wake Woocash to keep me company, which he suffered with surprisingly good humour. We are happy to get off the site as quickly as possible in the morning.
Number of Days: 53
Total distance run by Emma: 2204 km, 1370 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6km, 25.8 miles
As we cannot find a secluded area to camp in. We stop outside someone’s house and Robert asks them if we can stay. It is fantastic having Robert with us. He knows how to approach people in a polite and respectful way: the rest of us are learning to cup our hands and clap them whilst saying “Wakadini?” which means “How are you?” in Shona. Zimbabweans are delighted and laugh at our childlike stumblings.
The homeowner tells us we must ask the Chief’s permission first. Warily, we drive on to the Chief’s house. He turns out to be a very welcoming man and insists we stay on his land. I think this is for our safety and the safety of his community if we turn out to be the bad guys.
We are settled under a beautiful tree and given a large bowl of fresh nuts as a gift. Robert tells us that we must return the gift with a plate of food. I hope they are going to like my cooking. Of course, they are too nice to say anything other than it was delicious.
Emma was up and running before we could take the photo with the Chief and his wife.
The Chief and his wife and myself, Robert and Woocash
A half spider half scorpion that is entirely harmless
Number of Days: 52
Total distance run by Emma: 2163 km, 1344 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6km, 25.8 miles
I am running with Emma and as we come round the corner of a hill I see a class of children let out to play. Before they spot us I can see their skittish joyful runs around their school and then they see us. Excited shouts pour out as they race towards us and surround us. Emma wants to run free, so I slow down my pace and hold my arms out, guiding them to run in line with or behind me. Unsure how to entertain them, I encourage them to sing. One of the girls looks uncertainly around her and then takes the lead with confidence. My senses are overwhelmed with their energy flowing through their voices.
I could tell you many things about this day, about crossing the Tsetse fly border or the moment the team spirit was broken when something was said that took away trust, but this is the moment I want to remember, to share with you and show how wonderful visiting Zimbabwe and meeting Zimbabweans can be.
Cleopatra being checked for Tsetse fly
A Tsetse fly (big aren’t they?)
Number of Days: 51
Total distance run by Emma: 2109 km, 1310 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.4km, 25.7 miles
We are not meant to be here already. Emotions have swirled us up and now we have transported here to take a break and discuss ourselves, or rather each other.
With perfect metaphorical timing there is a huge storm in the night, puddles form inside the extension tent. Across Zimbabwe there are power cuts and flooding. I am struck by how fortunate we are to have not been camping in the bush as, when rain comes in the tent, Emma and Mike can swiftly put up another tent under shelter on a dry surface. In addition, the next day we are able to lay our wet things out flat in the sun.
Karoi, itself is a lovely town. The market sells the most delicious honey any of us had ever tasted. And we make someone’s day when we buy lots of our fresh food supplies from them. We find an electrician who helps to fix our inverter which we are using to charge all our phones, cameras and other electrical items. At night, there are no lights along the streets, our torches pick out a snake crossing our path, gliding along focused on its business. I’m glad we didn’t step on it that would have been bad for it and us.
We sleep, eat, and take a break from each other before we meet for some honest discussion. I contact two wise people in my life for assistance. After two days, we think we have solved the issues. The team is in good spirits and singing songs as Woocash, drives rollercoaster style, back to where Emma finished running 2 days before. Stopping only when we come across a bus crash to donate food and water to the shocked passengers on the side of the road – they had been there for hours. We arrive just before the sundown, in time for us to set up camp.
Number of Days: 47
Total distance run by Emma: 2056 km, 1277 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.7km, 27.2 miles
Distance run today: 33.48 km, 20.80 miles
On days 48,49 and 50 Emma did not run, her daily average distance on day 50 was: 41.11 km, 25.54 miles
Crackling bush fires start and grow around us, flickering high above our heads. We are parked in the middle of the dusty track waiting for Emma and Mike, Robert assures us that the fire cannot cross the road. I hop out to take a video of the fire, which suddenly swerves closer to me and Cleo, the car. I quick step back to Cleopatra and my video instead of showing the magnificent flames soaring above us, shows a crazy swerving shot of the inside of the car, as Woocash swings her around and out of harms way. Darn it.
We wait to make sure Emma and Mike get through safely. The fire swiftly dies down and makes a fool of our concern.
Children on their way to school
Number of Days: 46
Total distance run by Emma: 2022 km, 1256 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.0 km, 27.3 miles
Emotions are disturbed. Dust devils of discontent have been swirling, slowly picking up strength and pulling in all members of the team. At the same time, Mozambique, our final country, is due an election in a few weeks, and there are fears of civil war. I learn to take joy in every thing I can, whenever I can. Luckily, we are in Southern Africa – Africa is amazing.
We met these young men who are studying to become a policeman and an engineer
This friendly lady explained how to use a gourd as a smoking vessel and that particular plant is almost extinct.
An idyllic spot for lunch where a bird of paradise lived.
And one of the hills that Emma & Mike determinedly reached the top of:
That night we camp round the back of a store. To do so, we must first get permission and we hunt through the village for the owner. The owner’s teenage son says we can stay. But later his Aunt comes to check who are these strange people. Children peek round the corners at us and I can’t resist walking up behind a group and saying “Boo!” They all jump and giggle.
Number of Days: 45
Total distance run by Emma: 1965 km, 1221 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.7 km, 27.1 miles
This 3 second video is definitely in my top favourite moments. It’s early morning, Emma and Mike have already set out and then these children come whirring by on their bicycles, pedalling fast down the hill that aspires to be a mountain. Calling out in that joyful way of children: “Morning!”
“Morning!” I almost sing back to them.
As they whizz into the distance, I am left with chirrups and bird noises.
It was here also that we discovered a mini but potentially lethal scorpion sleeping under our blue barrel. These ones can put an adult in hospital and kill small children or the elderly. How do I know? Robert told me. And he knows as one stung his uncle. This article tells you more but essentially, what scorpions don’t have in pincer size they make up for in lethal injection.
Emma and Mike have to tackle huge hills up and down along this route. Some of it on a”corrugated road”, which is exactly as you would expect but probably worse, bumpy in the car and worse on a bicycle or on foot. A combination of bumps and soft sand.
Meanwhile at the less impressive end we have had flies in our eyes! Mopane flies are technically bees but then you wouldn’t be able to bond with me over a love of “Catch 22”. They are in our eyes, and ears and up our nose, busy collecting our secretions to make into honey, so Robert says. Which is amazing. I am the source of honey, I have no idea if I make good tasting honey. (Wikipedia says they are only collecting moisture but what does Wikipedia know, there’s no moisture in my ears). The little things are remarkably robust. I more than carelessly pinch them out the corners of my eyes, and they regularly stretch themselves out to fly off my fingers. However, They don’t help to make Emma as comfortable as possible. Cooking dinner is a test of my focus and inner zen. We resort to hiding ourselves in Cleopatra with the air conditioning on until it is dark and they fly home to bed.
Number of Days: 44
Total distance run by Emma: 1906 km, 1184 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.3 km, 26.9 miles