Saturday morning, when I should have been sleeping, I loaded up into a taxi van at 2am with the Hot Man and two other couples – Mark and Luisa Small, Daniel and Hanah Afoa – and drove out to Sinalei Resort at Siumu village to start the Samoa Perimeter Relay. Organized by the US Samoa Veteran’s Assoc as a community service outreach event, the relay is 104km of winding roads through coastal villages and rainforest and over the mountain pass of Le Mafa before heading back to Apia. Teams of six take turns carrying a baton from start to finish, with each person running approximately 5k, four times.
Yes, after four years, I had been persuaded to do the Relay again. Even though I’ve been sick and miserable with some ongoing health issues, and even though I’d only done a couple of weeks of “training”. (Ha. If you count delightful walks along the seawall, admiring the sunrise, blasting Eminem and stopping often to take photos and Facebook - “training”, then yeah, I’ve been doing lots of that.)
What got me into that early morning van? The opportunity to do a sports event WITH my husband – as opposed to being the usual watergirl and cheerleader on the sidelines. Both Mark and Daniel are Samoan Ironmen with the Hot Man and all three of them have been training and competing together for the past year. The promise of some fabulous fun times along the way with good friends was also a huge drawcard.
Before the female component of the team agreed to do it though, we had certain conditions and requirements. Especially as none of us are Iron athletes and only Luisa was a regular runner and exercise’r. After much discussion (over lots of drinks and dinners and family beach outings…) a PreNup Race agreement was negotiated.
Final team meeting. #AllSmiles
Team IronHeart PreNup Race Agreement
1. The purpose of the venture is FUN. And FUN only. At no point will the Ironmen impose their elite athlete standards and expectations upon us and our efforts. No matter how dismal they may be.
2. The goal of our team is to FINISH the race. Without dying. (Vomiting, crying and curse-words optional.) Therefore, the Ironmen will not get upset when other teams pass us on the route and leave us in a cloud of dust. The Ironmen will not get sad or angry or frustrated. No matter what. Even if we come in last. Even if the other runners who overtake us are senior citizens / sluggish non-athletes / running backwards.
3. The safety of the female component will be the Ironmen’s first priority at all times. They will put their lives on the line to protect us from: vicious Samoan dogs, gigantic angry Samoan pigs, little children who might throw rocks or say bad words at us (words like, “waaah, palagi valea!” and “aikae!”), heatstroke, dehydration and the possibility one of us could trip and fall off the mountain at Le Mafa Pass.
4. The comfort and happiness of the female component will be the Ironmen’s second priority at all times. They will sell their souls to ensure we travel in an air-conditioned van and have a delightful selection of energizing snacks. They will speed up and down backroads to get us to decent restrooms because everybody knows that a woman NEEDS to GO before she can run up or down a mountain, and we would reeeally rather prefer not to pit stop in the bushes. They will provide ice, water, Diet Coke, chocolate, cheerful banter and motivating music at all times on the journey.
5. And IF after all that, any of us women decide that running/walking a 5k four different times throughout the 12 hour period – is a stupid idea and “I QUIT DAMMIT.” Then her partner will run her sections for her. Without complaint. Or (much more likely) without cheering because it means the team will go twice as quick…
The Hot Man, Runner #1 with the mini light saber baton.
At 3.45am, the Hot Man started running the first leg. There’s no street lights out in the rural coast so the first five runners needed us to highbeam the road so they didn’t trip in a pothole. Fall over a snoozing pig. Or get hit by an early morning bus. It was raining and windy so everybody got soaked through pretty quickly.
Luisa – fastest fittest fabulous woman on #TeamIronheart
Luisa was runner two and she was doing fine until a pack of dogs got excited and started barking up a storm. Her screams for help were so loud that we almost crashed the van in our haste to pull over and leap out to rescue her – except she didn’t need rescuing after all because the dogs were scared off by her fierce shouts and so she continued powering on through the darkness.
By the time the baton came to me for my first leg, the sun was coming up and it was a stunning dawn in paradise. Something funny happened to my legs after the first ten minutes and they hurt like hell. I decided then that once I got back in the van, I would inform the Hot Man that he needed to take over for me. I tried not to cry as I went up and down hills approaching Vavau and the bloody road just seemed to go on forever.
Just me and the road. A most beautiful place for a relay.
People in the village were starting to wake up and be up and about. Small children waved and smiled. Women sweeping cut grass by the roadside gave me sympathetic looks. Old men sitting in open fale called out encouragement, “Malo, fa’amalosi!” (But a grazing horse paused to stare at me with disdain.) I suspect they all were secretly wondering, What the hell does this vale woman think she’s doing? Walking through here at 6am in her fia’runner ofu, carrying a baton, followed by a truck that has to crawl along at a snail’s pace for how many hours!?
Hanah, ready to run.
The day progressed with lots more of the same. Running, walking, thinking ‘this is a dumb idea…who’s idea was this?’, wondering ‘should I fake an injury so I can get out of running my next leg?’, and lots of laughing and commiserating in between turns.
The party van.
Our van got messier and smellier and sweatier with each kilometre. The sun came out with a vengeance and I lived for the moment after each leg when I could climb inside the massive ice bucket on the back of the truck and have blessed relief for my feet and aching muscles. So grateful for Hanah and Luisa. They made the distance bearable and doable and fun’able. You should only ever do a long distance endurance relay with people you like and that make you laugh. Because otherwise, you could end up throwing yourself off a cliff to escape them. (Or pushing someone off.)
The best place to be on the relay – the ice bath!
And through it all, the Ironmen lived up to their word. They ran extra fast when it was their turn. Walked alongside us when it was our turn, chasing away dogs and giving us ice water and sponges. They told us often we were fabulous (even if we weren’t…) and cheered effusively for our every step. At all times, they made us feel safe and supported.
Daniel shows (Lani) why he’s an Ironman…who runs and NEVER stops.
Mark – also known as #Flash.
By the time we crossed the finish line in Apia, 11 and a half hours later, we were pretty much on an adrenaline endorphin fuelled high. (Okay, everybody else was. I wasn’t. As runner number six, I was the last one to finish and every step was rather torturous. Especially since I had to go through town on a busy Saturday afternoon and have kazillions of people see me all funky, sweaty, nasty and looking suspiciously like a wildebeest.)
Crossing the finish line with our team was a pretty shamaahzing feeling though.
I love this pic of the Japanese Volunteers team crossing the line. Truly captures the elation!
Then it was celebration time. Bring on the Vailima and Diet Coke!
While I had lots of miserable painful moments along the route, I also experienced some highs. Samoa is truly a majestic land with so much to be awed by in both the natural environment and also the social cultural setting. One moment in particular stands out for me. Climbing a horribly steep hill and wishing I were somewhere else, the thought slammed me.
‘Look around you. See how beautiful and blessed this place is? You are strong enough and able enough and healthy enough to be walking up this hill on this glorious sunny day in Samoa. You have the support of a great partner who loves you and is watching to make sure that mangy dog up there doesn’t run out and rip your leg open. You have awesome friends in the van cheering you on, ready to laugh (and cry) with you when you’re done. Don’t waste this moment wishing it away, wishing to be somewhere else. Live in it. Savor it. Love it. Breathe it in deeply. Give thanks. Be grateful. Be awed. But above all else,
Thank you to my teammates for a fabulous adventure. Darren Young, Mark Small and Daniel Afoa - special thanks for honoring the team prenup agreement and going above and beyond your #Iron committment to making us women the #Heart of the team.
Huge appreciation for the USA Samoa Veterans organizers led by Mark and Pat Moors, and all the volunteers that make this event happen every year.
If you’re a local and you haven’t done the Perimeter Relay, then what are you waiting for?! You don’t need to lose weight…be an Ironman…or train for two years straight. Get a team together, start walking and commit to a truly memorable experience. This is the third time I’ve done the relay and I’m not an athlete of any shape or form. Each time has been a unique learning and kickass fun adventure.
If you’re somewhere else in the world and wanting a challenging, thrilling reason to come visit Samoa, then definitely consider doing the relay. Whether its with your partner or some friends, I guarantee your relationship will be the stronger for it and you will get to experience Samoa in a truly awesome way.
Photos from Luisa Small, Lani Moors and the Samoa Perimeter Relay site.