Winter Running Countdown
This being Zambia, no one was quiet for long
Running in winter is like running i n summer, only colder. OK, there’s slightly more to it than that, but our playful countdown of tips, hacks and reasons to run includes everything from advice on how to defy winter winds to suggestions for winter’s most indispensable accessories. It will get you on a path to embracing the season like never before.
There’s something uniquely stimulating about running in the Zambian bush: the gnarly baobab trees, the scattered villages where everyone congregates around the water pump, the way in which you’re always halflooking out for a snake, a hippo or an elephant.
It was therefore with relish that, during a recent trip to the country in southern Africa, I accepted an invitation to participate in a race inspired by parkrun, the popular community event first conceived in London’s Bushy Park in 2004.
I was staying at a learning centre on the edge of the bush just outside the town of Kapiri Mposhi, three hours north of the capital, Lusaka. Offering supplementary education to adults and children in the local communities, the centre was conceived by the British-Canadian foundation, Baraka Community Partnerships, in 2019 under the direction of my longtime friend and running partner, Andy McKee. Timing our visit hot on the heels of a long flight from the U.K., we were more than ready to stretch our legs.
First staged in October 2021, the unofficial parkrun takes place every Saturday at 8 a.m. and draws up to 150 young people from the surrounding villages. It’s designed as part of the centre’s “healthy body, healthy mind” ethos, which encourages children and youths who participate to stay and do something educational after the event—anything from reading and Lego to arts and crafts.
The morning I participated, attendance and spirits were high as we congregated in a mixture of Crocs, flip-flops, sandals, tatty runners or just bare feet outside the walled learning centre, and were put through a series of loosening-up exercises by a pair of Zambian trainers, Moses and Kings.
The run began at the end of a narrow, sandy vehicle track. With the sky an azure blue and the heat still bearable, we set off en masse behind Moses, our lead pacer, tracking past a bright cascade of red-pink bougainvillea and a rough-cut football pitch.
I felt infinitely safer striding out in a group. As much as I love running solo in rural Africa, visions of black mambas (Africa’s longest venemous snake) and puff adders often give me pause.
Intentionally non-competitive, the run was more like a communal get-together than a race. Everyone stuck together in a tight group, trotting through the long grass on paths that would probably have been indiscernible if I’d been on my own. This being Zambia, no one was quiet for long. After a few hundred metres of warmup chatter, the kids began
a rhythmic call and response chant that rang melodiously across the dry savannah. “Follow, follow, follow—follow the leader!”
Bystanders—women in colourful wraps, people with huge bowls balanced on their heads, little kids—watched us pass with a mixture of interest and bemusement.
Junior “parkruns” are supposed to be two kilometres, but in the absence of proper measuring equipment, our circuitous route seemed closer to three. With the finish in sight, I tried to outpace a couple of galloping youths in flip-flops, and nearly twisted my ankle in the process. It wasn’t over yet. Moses and Kings proceeded to take us inside the compound, where we cooled down with calisthenics, stretches and more chanting.
My Zambian experience was unlike any other parkrun I’ve done, but I will certainly be back for more.
Baraka Community Partnerships runs volunteer trips to Zambia. For details see: barakacommunity.com.
Brendan Sainsbury is a freelance writer based in White Rock, B.C., who has authored numerous guidebooks for Lonely Planet and written for the BBC, The Globe and Mail and The Washington Post. A lifelong runner, he has competed at every distance from 800m to 100 miles.