I started training and telling the press and friends what I was going to do… slowly and surprisingly, people started asking if they could join me and then asking if they could run too, so we ended up with two complete 4 x 25km teams, John, Kim, Jackie, Matt, Janet, Brady, Kristen and Petra…most of whom had never run much before. I was surprised, and excited at the same time because we now had a group of 10 people raising funds for the charity rather than just me.
Training for the ultramarathon
We trained, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group. I remember the first few runs with some of the new runners and 3 to 5km was a really challenging run for them. In the fall I entered the Kelowna Marathon and had an excellent marathon run with my youngest son Leagh, which I really enjoyed and then I ran a 50km training run a few weeks later which I did not enjoy. I was dehydrated, my achilles tendons, which had been playing up for most of the year were now so angry that I had a hard time walking most of the time, but I put it to the back of my mind and just did as much rehab as I could to help them recover…. that was three weeks before the race and I decided it was time to taper and let the body heal.
Everybody impressed me in their commitment to go the distance. Of particular note was Kim Weiler, the founder of FeViva who we were supporting. Kim is a little older than me and was challenged by a good friend, John Jansen to join us on the run. John thought it was a pretty safe bet to challenge Kim because he would say no and John would be off the hook. Kim laughed initially at the suggestion, took another gulp of coffee and then said “Yes”. I had known Kim for a long time, and he is an amazing man, a man of faith without a doubt, but this may be a stretch.
Kim launched headlong into a training regime and pushed everyone around him. I think he may have lost 30lbs in the fall, and we often went for 15km or 20km runs as he prepared for the Guatemala run. Kim had a naturally fast pace and so keeping up with him was good training for me and John as we went running together. Whenever the running was a little arduous or difficult, we just started talking about how much we would be able to help the children of Nicaragua and Guatemala and put our focus right where it needed to be.
On November 14th, the team were so excited to be boarding the United Airlines flight from Vancouver, high spirits, coupled with a healthy dose of nervousness permeated the teams spirits. We all had certain fears and limitations which kept us pensive and quiet for much of the time.
Despite the fears and anxiety, the overall anticipation and excitement was in regards to seeing the Casa Kids. They are a very special group of children. Kim and Lyn Weiler, founders of Fe Viva, run a Children’s home which is part of their Guatemalan operation. It has been very successful and highly admired for the way it operates. Looking after somewhere close to 40 children. Feeding them, clothing them, teaching them and above all loving them is critical to their successful development. One of the most recent admissions was three children from the same family who were found tied to a post, badly abused and severely malnourished. Kim and Lyn were asked to look after them but the children were in such a bad state of malnourishment that they needed a three month residential stay in a hospital just to get them physically healthy.
Petra reading enroute to Guatemala
My philosophy has always been that it is harder to quit when you are doing something for someone else and the rest of the team had risen to the challenge admirably.
The flights to Guatemala City went very well and we were met at the airport by Kim and Matt who were shuttling us back to Casa Esparanza near Chiquimulilla. Once assigned to our rooms at around midnight, everyone disappeared to attempt to get their first Guatemalan sleep.
Guatemalan sleep is like none other. The first thing you learn is the Roosters don’t crow at dawn, they do it all night long, apparently because they are hungry. You also find out that mangoes make a very loud sound, much akin to a hand grenade going off, when they are blown off the tree and land on a tin roof. As if that were not enough, you will find out that Guatemalan’s start their day very early, lighting their aromatic hardwood fires and preparing to cook copious amounts of Tortillas. Then, if you are not accustomed to creepy crawlies, the sounds of tiny scorpion feet, buzzing mosquitos singing lizards are likely to keep you awake.
None of that seemed to bother me, I travel very well, had just spent three months sleeping in the Australian bush in a hammock, so why when I woke up did I feel like I had a massive hangover? I was awake around 7am and breakfast was at 8am and I was already looking for the bus that had so obviously run me over in my sleep! It was going to be a rest day for us thankfully. My body was present for the whole day but for some reason my brain never showed up. My wife could not understand, she had not seen me like this before. It was as if I had been awake for 36 hours.
Installing the stoves
Thankfully night fell, and off to bed I went after convincing someone to give me a pair of their ear plugs, just in case I had not slept well. Thankfully, I had a good nights sleep and ended up feeling rested. It was a good job because this was a work day. We were off to install two clean burning wood stoves for cooking in some remote homes to help families reduce the chances of child mortality and bronchial infections.
The Guatemalan’s have one of the highest rates of child mortality due to their terrible cooking conditions. Children are burnt, scalded or die of severe bronchial conditions. Their kitchens usually have an open “three stone” fireplace with no chimney so the whole building fills with smoke. The new stoves that we installed burnt far less wood, had a flue to direct the smoke over the roof tops and were safer for pots and pans that would not accidentally fall over. It was hard work for the afternoon. First we installed the new stoves on freshly installed concrete pads and then dismantled the old stoves to remove any temptation to go back to old habits.
Playing with some of the “Casa Kids”
We were tired, hot and happy. Many of the team had not been to a developing country and took to hugging the poor people incredibly well. Everyone was discussing tactics to remove hair lice and fleas once back in Canada and talking about the chances of getting Chicken Pox again which seemed to have affected many of the children, but not one person was cautious about giving a big hug to a child or elderly person, knowing that it meant so much to them.
Smoky kitchens cause all kinds of problems for Guatemalan’s
Back at base we had a fabulous pep talk from Matt and Kerry about the run. They had so much experience and willingly shared it with the team. Even as far as to talk about the dynamics inside an 11 passenger van. Many of the team would be in the van for almost 24 hours with very little time to get out, other than for their leg of the run. The discussion ensued about changes in personality with enforced sleep deprivation. It was obviously going to be a very interesting evening.
What did become obvious during that conversation was the “team spirit”, the Esprit de Corps as the army calls it. The willingness to give whatever it takes for the team. It was clear that the one thing that would not be missing was encouragement. In all, we would be 15 people. Matt and Kerry had agreed to drive the passenger van that would follow and support the relay teams, Edwin, a partner with Fe Viva had agreed to drive a support vehicle following me and Grant, Anthony and Shaun were going to be “runners” between the two teams with the purpose of filming a documentary, iRun, which should be ready for viewing early next year.
With all of our gear packed, food organised and strategies at hand, we set off at lunchtime the following day to drive almost to Antigua, the oldest capital city in the America’s. This would be the starting point for our epic overnight adventure.