DAY 4—Gonaïves to Saint-Marc
We ran 34 miles out of the agricultural capital of Haiti into another historic town called Saint-Marc. It’s a smaller town where, again..., we ran through the main artery all the way to the end of the town and straight to the giant Pepto-Bismol pink hotel on what we think is a small hill. Our runners would disagree. By the way...shout out to Pepto-Bismol for keeping our runners on the road. Simply put, the day was brutal. Kudos to our runners who got through this day.
Read about Day 5 here!
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Watch the Day 3 & 4 Recap Video:
Photo and video credits: Duy Nguyen, Patrick Moynahan, and Kevin Kim.
We were made well aware of day four likely being the most difficult of our run, but we anxiously left Gonaives destined for Saint Marc. A grueling 34 miles of open fields, lacking any form of shade, with the sun showing no pity. The miles began early and easy, while slowly becoming more difficult. A smile at one mile was wiped away a few strides later when the sun, hydration, nutrition, and prior miles all began to take their toll. Our group, made of mostly Pittsburgh runners, settled into a pace that was enjoyable and constantly moving forward. We knew what was to come, but enjoyed the miles together anyways. Around the 19 mile marker, the true difficulties began to show. We looked out for one another, focusing on making our final destination at mile 34. We saw tears, we shared laughs, and we carried forward. The end of the run began to lose enjoyment and most of us wanted nothing more than to be done running, out of the hectic markets, and to enjoy luxuries not often afforded to the communities we are here to help.
Humbling—the experience, the past miles, and the future distance. Haiti has proven me to be ignorant of truth and understanding. The smells, the poverty, the simplicity—all of which are often overwhelming and gut wrenching—are everywhere. Despite us, “blanco”, seeing life as a struggle compared to our own, I can’t help but love that children are overwhelmed with satisfaction with a simple “Hello,” as we run past.
Arriving in Saint Marc was no easy journey, and it required reminding ourselves why we are running across Haiti. Haiti is a beautiful place and it is a blessing, to us, to be able to spend time here. I love this experience, I love the new friends, and I love getting to see a world drastically different than our own. I am reminded of a Bible verse, Galatians 6:9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” I pray that what we see as good work, will lead to Haiti rising from the state that it is.
Gratitude and joy—the words that have been going through my head since I arrived in Haiti. Gratitude because both that I feel like I am a part of something that is making a real difference in the lives of many and for the privilege to throw my life aside for a week, responsible for nothing but running. Joy because I get to do so surrounded by beauty and in the company of so many kind, interesting, thoughtful and inspiring people. My run across Haiti has been a humbling experience to say the least.
Today’s run was one of those runs that reminded me why I love running. Two and a half years ago, I went on my first legitimate run. Since that day, I have continued to restructure my life more and more around running. To me, running is a discipline, a practice. I wake up every morning and work toward this practice because I love to test my limits and I love to suffer.
Suffer is just what I did today. 34 miles of mostly flat roads in temperatures that pushed well into the 90s without even one tree for shade. As the run commenced around five o’clock, I gradually worked off the soreness and began to settle into my legs, already having traveled roughly 65 miles over the past three days. As runners settled into their respective paces, I realized that I was likely to spend most of the day in no-man’s-lan—something that did not sit well considering the monotony of the miles that would lie ahead. Thankfully, Ozzie caught up to me around mile five and Sean shortly thereafter. The three of us stuck together for nearly 20 miles, working off each other, rotating who set the pace. Today was the first day I felt a real sense of teamwork during the run and I was grateful for their company and encouragement. Eventually, we did break up at around mile 25 and I was forced to search for other sources of motivation. Fellow runner, Josh, had suggested picking a series of landmarks to set as short-term goals and to remind us that we “are actually running somewhere.” First it was a billboard, then a bus, then a tree, then it became the most prominent shrub in a row along the long, straight, unchanging blacktop. As I hit the day’s only hill at around mile 29, I was met with a rush of inspiration. A grin filled my face as I began to run harder, hardly slowing my pace despite the steep gradient. As I crested the hill and began to descend, thoughts of why I made this journey to Haiti filled my mind. I threw my legs in front of me as gravity began to pull my bodyweight downward. Feeling good, I continued to push toward the finish. I was much more fortunate than others when I reached the then relatively calm marketplace. Most other runners were faced with congestion and a heat index of 104 Fahrenheit for the final two or three miles to the hotel.
With so many rewarding aspects that come along with this run, it is not hard to muster up a smile at the end of each section of the run. At today’s finish line, I met two young boys from the community. Hearing them use their best English and seeing their fascination toward my soft flask water bottles was reward number one. Number two came as I walked out onto the hotel balcony and took in the view. A stone’s throw away was the deep blue of the ocean, cradled by the Saint-Marc coastline and some gentle, brown hills. One of the more beautiful sights I have seen, and after 34 miles on the road, in this I felt content.
Today’s run was not easy by any means, but considering the circumstances, I felt great. Certainly one of the most difficult days of the run, I am grateful to have survived relatively unscathed. With around 100 miles on my legs, I am happily looking forward to the days and miles that lie ahead.
I love the 5:00 a.m. start time. Stars beautifully puncture the clear sky, and a breeze blows lightly. It’s calm. This feeling won’t last long, but it’s something special. Runners start switching on headlamps and reflectors, and the lights blink with anticipation. It’s go time. We kick off each day by circling up and electing one person to read out loud a letter written by one of the family members who Work supports. Their English is strong, and their words joyfully genuine. We smile. Love emanates from the page, and it fuels us. We’ll need it, especially today. This consistent camaraderie makes the 34 miles ahead feel possible, and it keeps our collective purpose at the forefront.
Yes, we’re all runners, but we’re not here just to run. We’re all motivated by the challenge, but we’re moved by the mission. I’m starting to see that running is the medium through which we get to experience this country and share its beauty. We run to share stories. We run to generate momentum behind something much bigger than any of us—a chance for hard working people to secure a dignified job and the right to unlock their own potential. More than the months of training, this is what makes most of us go farther for longer than we ever have before. The distances and the heat and the blisters and the never-ending straightaways lined by rice paddies fade away (not forever, but for a solid few minutes every time we remember ‘the why’). This is so much more than running.
Just over 20 miles in, as I trudge along toward Saint-Marc, I make eye contact with the woman miraculously carrying a huge load deliberately yet delicately balanced on her head. A man whizzing by on his moto. A group of school kids dressed in uniform. Sometimes it’s an energetic smile, a wave and a ‘bonjour’; other times it’s a stoic glance. Either way, it’s mutual recognition. I don’t know who you are or where you’re going, but I see you. The basics of human connection. In the days to come, when we get to meet some of the families supported by Work as they generously welcome us into their homes and communities, I look forward to listening and learning and connecting.
"Pa gen Pwoblem." No problem. Those were the words I spoke to Medical Leader, Ray, 45 days ago when he called and asked me to come work as a Paramedic on the Run Across Haiti. No problem. I’ve worked in the tropics before. I’ve worked in developing nations before. I’ve got this. I’m prepared for Haiti.
I could not have been more wrong.
The beauty of Haiti was not anything for which I was at all prepared. The beauty of the landscape, the beauty of the ocean, and especially the beauty of the people. I was stationed at a fuel pump yesterday, waiting to direct and encourage runners the last kilometer, when school let out for the afternoon. Parents walking their children by with hands grasping wrists. Gaggles of boys and girls streaming out of the school buildings, their brightly colored matching uniforms a little ruffled from the day’s hard work. Sidelong glances in my direction, my guess wondering what I was standing in the heat waiting for. I greeted eye contact with a smile and was often greeted in kind. Then the crowd began to gather…25 children around me and attempting to engage me in conversation (I speak neither Creole nor French). Crew member Josette came to my rescue, “They say welcome, welcome to Haiti!”
No, I was not prepared for the beauty of Haiti.
Hello everybody! I am Josette Jeune. I am part of the crew members, especially the one who is here to serve the runners. I am really happy because of this experience and I want you to know how happy I am to see all of these runners with us this year. That’s why I don't want to see anybody just stay home watching this activity via internet, I want you please to come experience it yourself.
Thank you everyone!
This is my second year of running across Haiti. Halfway through the week now, and a couple of big days of running yet to come. But to be honest, the run is only a small part of this journey. It’s why we all came to Haiti a few days ago, but not why we are here by the time we leave.
It’s such a different experience the second time. There are so many familiar sights, sounds, smells, landmarks and mountains (to run up!) that are oh so familiar. Many familiar faces from last time in both runners and crew as well. A bit of of reunion for some of us that first day. This familiarity brings so much comfort to me in getting out on the roads each morning to set out on our runs.
So many new faces this year as well. Which is the most amazing thing. Being here to experience so many others “first experiences” of Haiti with other runners and crew has been a joy for me to see. To see the love develops for a country and is people that I had developed so many years ago as well the first time I visited Haiti. To see them ask questions, interact with our crew and to want to learn more about this beautiful country try brings joy to my heart. I am so excited to continue to watch the passion and love grow over the last few days of our Run Across Haiti of 2018.
The day today was warm, long, and hard. Kind of a just “grind it out” kind of day. No great mountain top views to be rewarded with, no cooler temps of higher elevation, no tree lined mountain roads. Just a lot of long straight asphalt to run. But today was my favorite day so far. I was blessed to spend the day with another RAH veteran Matty Mo. We both ran last year and decided to give it another go this year. Matt and I spent a little over 5 hours today talking, cultivating and growing a friendship, and getting to know one another, and learning what drives and inspires each of us. Funny enough we have a lot in common when it comes to that. It was a huge blessing to not be out there alone today. The act that each of us was able to draw strength and power from each other was definitely a huge part of getting us to the finish line today in Saint Marc. Now time to sit back, eat and omelette and papa frits, washed down with a Prestige or two.
Today was a good day.
Each step I take, I’ve taken three times before. Every mile, every rest stop, every plate of rice, beans and goat, I’ve experienced them during my past three Runs Across Haiti. As I make my way through my fourth Run, I’m reminded that the only thing that truly stays the same is the Run’s course. Haiti is a country in perpetual motion and it’s evident in the newly paved roads, the inexplicable increase in Haitian people jogging in Cap Haitian at 5am, and most importantly the way Work’s family members have grown into strong employed leaders in their communities and within our organization. This year, we have several of Work’s family members crewing for us and leading the rest stops at each 5km marker. It’s gratifying to see the Run Across Haiti bridge the gap from fundraiser to job creator. All of our crewing Work family members are being paid good fair wages for this work and have continued to do an absolutely incredible job (this has been our most successful Support Crew EVER).
This year’s Run has also provided me the opportunity to be a resource for first time runners and to play a more strategic role in shaping the Run. A question I’ve received from many of our new runners is, “Why do you keep coming back?” For this I have two reasons;
One, showing up is the most effective thing you can do (I believe this applies to nearly everything in life). I am a better Board Member for Work by showing up to this Run, seeing Haiti in person, spending time with our families, and thinking creatively and strategically about how we can continue to accomplish our mission while continuing to grow.
Two, I love to run and I love this Run. Plain and simple, I love to wake up and run every day. There are few things that feel better then waking up before sunrise each day and using my health and physical abilities to their fullest advantage. I love this Run because it attracts incredible people. By default, if you’re willing to show up in Haiti and run 200+ miles over a week to raise money for Work, you’re most likely someone I’d be happy to share many miles with.
To see this Run grow from 7 strangers in 2015 finding out if it was possible to run from Cap Haitien to Jacmel and raising $75k, to 29 runners and 20+ crew members (including our own Work Family members) in 2018 running strong and raising more then $200k, is a testament to how showing up year after year really pays off.
Day 4. Today was a tough day. This AM, we got up and began the run at 5am. It was a lovely cool, dark and slightly windy morning. I started running at my usual pace, but WOW. The preceding three days had certainly taken their toll. I was a little achy, but mostly blistered and the sore feet were noticeable right away. I tried not to think of the 55km that lay ahead. They said day 4 would test us. All I could think about was the distance. In the first kilometer, I though wryly, only 54 to go! Think of your pace, settle down and just relax I kept telling myself.
By the time I got to the first check point at kilometer 10, the sun had come up. There were beautiful pink mountains and I had been serenaded with a chorus of bleating from the goats along the way. I have so enjoyed watching the world wake up in Haiti. Each morning, a different town, a different market and a different morning routine. Today, school uniforms and men heading to the fields were the most common thing I saw.
I was surprised to find myself suddenly overcome with emotion at just kilometer 10. I stood at the check point and had a really good cry. My head wasn’t into the game and I considered calling it a day right then. Christina, our amazing Work Director, talked me down and said “just remember who you are running for”. It was the perfect thing for me to hear right then. Who am I running for? The amazing families in the Work program in Menelas.
As the sun rose in the sky, the temperature climbed and it became harder and harder to keep going. Left. Right. Left. Right. Drink, eat, ow my foot, gah its hot. Left. Right. Left. Right. Next check point, one of our crew, Julie, jumped in to keep me company a bit.
This was the turning point of my day.
What is Work? Who are we running for? These dollars I fundraised? The people who have supported us? I intuitively knew from my research, conference calls pre-run, but it was amazing to hear Julie’s stories. She knew the founder of Work for many years and gave me so many details about how Work (formerly Team Tassy). I was over joyed to hear to so many of the success stories of the Menelas families. Even 3 families are ready to graduate out of the program this year—roofs over their heads, jobs, food on the table and kids in school. Incredible.
It did not take long for 15km to go by hearing about Haiti. My mind was already feeling better, but the previous days still left a fatigue in my legs. Rodger from the crew jumped in and amused me with stories from previous runs, his work with the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation and some fun games to play to pass the miles.
We ran through endless rice patties—kilometers and kilometers in the heat and humidity. We had smiles, some curious looks, and mostly pleasant answers to our “bonjour!” A challenging hill lay ahead and I decided it was time to tackle it on my own. All the way up—I reminded myself—you picked this running challenge, you are here by choice. People in Haiti have hardships day to day and they persevere, not by choice. I decided I could make myself handle the the last 10km of the day. I was rewarded by a long descent into this lush green valley and it was just beautiful. Suddenly, I was at the 50km aid station and the ocean was beside us. I ran through the town with several of the other RAH runners and we were treated to a really cold beer at the 55km finish and an absolutely stunning view of the area (Saint-Marc) from the roof of the hotel.
Interesting and random thoughts I have had from the last several days of running!
- The population distribution here is really skewed; there are many many young people and not many who are in the older demographic
- Motorcycles and pick-ups don’t have a capacity per se (4-5 motorcycle, 15 on a pick-up!)
- Celine Dion is alive and well here
- These runners are incredible and inspiring people and I am so fortunate to have met them
- The Haitians who are working on our crew make me want to better myself—endless optimism, smiles and love for the runners
- Smiles are really the universal travel language
- Any emotion here can be fixed or tempered with a Prestige (the local beer!)
I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to run here and see Haiti, one kilometer at a time. This is such a unique experience and the cheers and words of encouragement from home are SO appreciated! See you in Jacmel!