Megan McClowry, a nurse from Naperville now working in Uganda, answers questions via email about winning the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon in Ethiopia.
Q. You've already run 10 marathons. What made this marathon special?
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A. It was my first international marathon, and to run it in Africa has always been a dream of mine. I started running in 6th grade and continued running in high school and college as well. I have ran and watched many marathons and the Africans always seem to be the ones leading the pack. So to be running on their homeland and experiencing their way of life was pretty cool.
At the Haile marathon, they had a cultural fair instead of an expo in which we tasted Ethiopian food, I attempted to learn how to dance like an Ethiopian, and I tried on their clothing. Along the race, I ran around cows, goats, and sheep and listened to the cheers of the African children. I could never get this same experience in the U.S. Additionally, it was pretty cool lining up on the starting line and being just feet away from the elite runners and Haile himself.
Q. Is this your first marathon win?
A. This is the first time I have won a marathon, and I never expected to win this one going into it. I had done the bulk of my training in Chicago, but then had moved to Uganda so had done my final three weeks of running in Africa. Going into it, I was planning on just having a fun run and maybe taking some pictures along the way. However, at the 13-mile mark, I noticed I was pretty far up in terms of females and my competitive spirit took over. At the 24-mile mark, a motorcycle pulled up next to me and the men on it started talking to me. Initially I ignored them, because I was so tired, but they didn't leave. The men then said, "We take you to the finish." I looked at him and gave him a weird look. He then said, "You do understand you are the champion." It then clicked, the motorcade was for me! He drove ahead of me the rest of the way clearing the road, honking the horn, and made sure I was going in the right direction. I was exhausted those last two miles, but experiencing that made me feel excited and in awe. Breaking the tape was something I have only dreamed about. I place well in races in my age group, but never did I think I could win a marathon -- let alone one in Africa with heat and elevation. To break the tape was such an amazing experience, one that gives you chills and makes you realize why you put in all the hard training. At that moment the 26.2 miles and four months of training were all worth it. To look back on that moment and think, "I really did that," is incredible. It is definitely something I will not forget. To have cameras in my face afterward and random kids and people come up to me like I was some sort of celebrity was crazy as well.
Q. What inspired you to travel to Ethiopia for this?
A. I had attended last year's Chicago Marathon Expo, and saw a booth for the newly released mystery marathon that Runners World was promoting. At that point I knew I wanted to go back to Uganda, and I thought that it would happen within the next few months. When I saw the marathon was going to be in Ethiopia I got really excited. I love running, and I have run at least one marathon every year since 2007. I knew I would run in Uganda, but when I saw the brochure for the race I knew I wanted to do it. My mom runs marathons, too, and I told her that I had my next race picked out immediately after I saw the booth. I told her it was in Ethiopia, and she just laughed. But a year later, I really did it. I have always wanted to do a race in Africa, and Uganda is fairly close to Ethiopia and the fact that it seemed like it would be very well organized convinced me that I needed to do it. I enjoyed the people and culture of Ethiopia. Being in Uganda I was used to the African lifestyle and how things run here -- the differences in the road and traffic laws, the way houses look, and the lifestyle. But I was surprised by how many differences between Ethiopia and Uganda there were: the color of the skin, the language, the way the people act and dress.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your nursing job?
A. Right now I am volunteering as a nurse in a small rural clinic run by the Sisters of the Holy Cross. I spent six weeks at this same clinic in the summer of 2009 after my junior year of college. I returned last year to visit. I loved this place, and felt called to come back here, but my job wouldn't allow me to take as much time off as I wanted. I loved my job as a NICU nurse at Rush University Medical Center, but I just felt that Africa was where I was meant to be. This place seems to fulfill something in me that is hard to explain. So I quit my job and moved to Uganda. I came here at the end of September and will be here for about one year. The clinic is in an extremely rural area -- spotty electricity, dirt roads, etc. We have an inpatient and outpatient department and experience patients with malaria, HIV, accident wounds, antenatal and postnatal care, births, really a wide range of things.
The lifestyle (no dishwashers, no laundry machines, frequent power outages, no Wi-Fi) and way things are done at the clinic with such limited resources are so different from what I was used to in the U.S., but at the same time it makes you more humble, and appreciative for life.
Q. Is there a quote that motivates you?
A. As Phil McGraw once said, "Go find your passion and embrace it. When you do you will spring out of bed in the morning, and sleep fast at night because you love what you are doing. There are many kinds of currency in life, not just monetary. I promise you will never regret this work for a moment, because life is not a dress rehearsal. This is your life -- your one shot." I have found my passion, and I am ready to live it out.
Read more about Megan's experience on her blog, bellesforuganda.blogspot.com