Running Tales

The Western Kenya Circuit

In 2016 over the Christmas period, I did my first mountain hike and with Amai and Wesonga Victor, did a 30km run that ended in his home. On 15th July 2017, I crossed the border and ran in Mbale, Uganda.

An idea of sports tourism was then born out of these three events. The three of us, all from Western Kenya, decided to do a pilot with a few Swaras to see if our idea and dream could come to fruition.

Because of uncertainty, a few Swaras were randomly approached and most of them agreed to come and sample what we had planned. They are Ngatia, Mbarire, Chebet, Ferrah, Achuka, Loise Mbogo, Wahome, Masika and my 12 year old nephew Olubayi. Together with the three of us, we were twelve in total.

On 28th December 2017, we all met in Kitale town, ate lunch and headed to the Mt. Elgon National Game Park, about 36km away. Because of time constraints, we made payments at the gate and proceeded for caves visit and game drive. We also went to a view point from where the peak of Mt. Elgon, the forest, Endebes and Kitale towns were clearly visible. Then we retired to the self catering Bandas, cooked, ate, took a little wine and slept.

The next morning, Mbogo the matron led the other ladies in fixing breakfast as I took Wesonga through tummy and core training. With breakfast eaten and supplies packed, we boarded the vehicles and headed for the hike. About 26km later, we got to the point beyond which the vehicles cannot be driven, parked and started the hike. The scenery and views were stunning. Due to age and altitude, the young Olubayi could not summit but credit to him, he stopped just 1.25km to the summit. Three hours twenty five minutes later, we summited. It is called Koitobos, 4222m. The whole trek is about 6.25km, one way.

Swaras at Koitobos summit on Mt ElgonAfter catching breath, refuelling, taking pictures and sips of wine, we begun the descent. It took 2 hours 20 minutes to get back to the cars. Back in the Bandas, exhausted, we showered, ate, rested, bonded and retired to bed early enough for the next leg.

On 30th December 2017, we took breakfast, checked out of the park and headed to Uganda. We stopped in Amagoro town, in Teso and ate traditional Iteso foods. For ease of movement in Uganda, we parked our cars in Kenya and boarded the ones hired from Uganda and crossed into Uganda as Ugandans. This was a sneak out of Kenya and into Uganda act because we did not go through the immigration process.

We drove from Malaba Uganda to Mbale town, through Tororo, a distance of about 50km. In Mbale, we quickly checked into our hotel rooms, changed into the running kit, got into the cars and headed to the starting point on the slopes of Mt. Elgon.

The trail took the runners across two streams, five waterfalls and spectacular views. The 16km run took us about two hours and ten minutes, ending at the highest point on the slopes, a massive cliff from where we enjoyed an eagle’s view of the town below and the its surroundings.

The vehicle drivers offered us great support. Ngatia took a short break to sample the Nile Special beer on trail. Amai unfortunately had to seat out this run and support the others because he forgot his shoes for running in Kenya and there were none to buy in the Mbale shops.

The drive back to the hotel begun as soon as the last runner had arrived and taken a view of the town down below because it was getting dark. The nightfall denied us views as we headed back to our hotel. After showering, we were taken for dinner in a restaurant that serves traditional Ugandan dishes which we enjoyed tremendously.

Because of fatigue and the next day’s schedule, we retired early, but Ngatia and Masika stayed up a little longer for some beer. By 8:00am the following morning, we were done with breakfast and were headed back to Kenya.

After sneaking back, we got into our own vehicles and drove to the Bungoma Tourist Hotel where we had early light lunch. By 2:30pm, we were all assembled by the banks of Nzoia River in Bungoma County ready for the last leg of the tour, a 30km gentle hills run in 34’c heat. The run took us through parts of the Kakamega forest in that County, and ended in Victor Wesonga‘s home in the outskirts of Kakamega town.

Chebet was too exhausted for this last leg and did not even attempt it. Amai who took off fast succumbed to the heat and dehydration at 24km. Ferrah the Trail Queen could not take the grueling four day punishment any longer. She suffered massive double leg muscle crumbs at about 18km and quit, possibly to try it again this year. As for me, I took four hours and thirty minutes to complete the run and I was the last one home. Wesonga and Mbogo beat me by more than thirty minutes, for good measure.

Wesonga’s family was gracious, magnanimous and kind. They cheerfully opened their home doors and hearts to the exhausted, stinking and famished Swaras and fed them to their fill. I stopped counting the different kinds of food at count ten.

Some Swaras were in bed by 9pm because of fatigue. A few stayed up until a minute or two past midnight, just to usher in the new year and promptly retired to bed.

For the first time in my Swara life, there were no takers for the morning scent of the Swara recovery run.

As we parted company on 1st January, all were tired but fulfilled.

In four short days, we had driven more than 960 km, done a game drive, visited Sabaot traditional caves, hiked Mt. Elgon in Kenya and ran its slopes in Uganda, and staged a run across two Countries. It was an epic physical activity filled sports tourism. None could ask for more.

The resolution was that the western circuit tour be made less militant and annual for willing Swaras and be replicated in other parts of our lovely country and region.

Running Tales

Reactions to the Ilovoto Run

Ilovoto waterfall cartoon1. Rebecca Miller
At 5km:
“I will come back to Kenya just to view this trail again.”

At 15km:
“Where is Otora, I wanna kill him.”

2. Nancy Gakii
“That I have overtaken Chairman is not a good sign. He must know something about this route that I don’t. “

At the 20km split:
“I am going home.”

3. Patron to Otora
“I intend to do 30km”

Otora: “Patron, it is a bit challenging. “

Patron downgraded to 20km and walked the last 6km.

 

4. Victor Wesonga, returning after one year
“Patron, I will not listen to your advise on this run. The last time I did so, I got injured for a year.”

I thought that I saw him walking up the forest.

5. Macharia Kungu
At the start
“I will do the 40km.”

Downgraded to 35km and at the base of the waterfall, when asked where Raoul was:

“He chose to die, turned right for the 40km.”

On being told by Otora that the shortest route home that he sought is actually the marked trail, 8.5km

“Please inform my people of my death if I die here”, as he slumped to his butt and for a long time could not stand up.

6. Ferrah Etyang
At 14km,
“I need sugar” and I reply, “You have about 25km to go, how much sugar will you need to finish the run?”

500meters later, she bought mandazi and soda.

7. Loise Mbarire
As I was going up the steep bend at about 22km, I saw her, about 50 meters as the crow flies but about more than 1.5km trail wise.
I blow the Swara whistle and she asks,
“Where are you?”,

“Here, keep running.”

“I am dead”, she retorts.

I leave her for dead but she arrived home at 6:22, just 17 minutes after me, alive.

8. Me 
As I climb the steepest hill, three ladies in Mothers Guild uniform ask me where I was from and where I was running to.

I said, “Western Kenya, to Nunguni.”

“Take a short cut”, they advise me.

I said that it is not allowed.

“Then take the main road right turn because it is shorter”, I am advised.

When I turned left following the marks, they screamed in unison,
“woooi!!!, you came here all the way from western Kenya, to die.”

I attempted a smile and trudged on.

9. Me
At about 29km when I was halfway up a punishing 6km hill from the sandy river, an old lady asks me,
“Why are you walking so fast?”

I look at my watch and I was doing 13minutes per km at that time. Totally famished,
I could not spend my last breath and energy to tell her that I was actually running.

10. Raoul
Up the 2km hill to the waterfalls and as I passed him, doing 14mins per k ;

“Men, I have lost control of my legs.”

“Find it”, I replied and passed him.

Then,  as if to console himself and detract his mind from the ritual of pain, he stops,looks down the marvellous country and says,

“This is like my village in Cameroon. “

“Let us first complete this Kenya village run” I tell him.

At the waterfalls, Raoul and I find Otora sadistically smiling and clicking away at his camera and he says,

“5km more to go.”

It turned out to be about 7.5km.

We take pictures and rest for about 5minutes.

“This run is wicked”, he laments as I slowly pull away.

10. Me
On the course I ate three scones, four bananas, and drank two Lucozades and eight bottles of water.

My body got battered and I am down with a fatigue induced flu.

Running Tales

The Annual Fluorspar Run Through My Eyes

Urban Swaras LogoNineteen of us, Ashok, Wahome, Faith Chepkwony, Noelle Keitany, Dr. Owuor, Okoma, Naibei, Otora, Ferrah, Waliaula, Peter (someone), Katwa, Marcel, Makhulo, Onduko, Mitch, Geraldine, Dwight and I made it to the Sego Safari Lodge in the Rift Valley for the 2014 Fluorspar run.

I decided to sight see en route to the venue. I stopped at the Kenol petrol station in Fly-Over market and enjoyed the view of lake Naivasha and Mt. Longonot while sipping good coffee and shooting pictures. In Nakuru we ate lunch and purchased products and fruits at the Nakumatt. Thereafter, we stopped somewhere up the hill near Kabarnet town and enjoyed the view of Lakes Baringo and Bogoria. Some 10km to the Lodge, we stopped at the Chebloch Gorge on river Kerio and watched youngsters dive some fifty meters into the river, at a fee from spectators.

Supper was served at 8pm after which all assembled were briefed about the run the following morning. By 9:30pm, every one, except Katwa who arrived at the Lodge at 11pm, had retired to bed in preparation for the grueling run in the morning.

After breakfast at 5am, I ferried those doing the long distances to their starting points. I dropped Waliaula, Ferrah, Marcel and Wahome at the 43km mark, shot pictures of them and whistled them off at 6:22am. Then I drove towards Iten town for 10km and dropped off Naibei and Mitch who embarked on 53km at 6:32am, with relish. After that, I drove back to the Lodge, 18km away, to flag off the rest of the runners. On the way, I took pictures of the long distance runners as they did their thing and WhatsApped the pictures to them right away even though I knew that they will only see them at night.

At exactly 7:05am, I whistled off the rest of the runners from the Lodge. Soon thereafter, Peter, a friend of Ashok arrived from Eldoret and I gave him directions, urging him to catch up with the rest.

Katwa and Dwight started their 35km at 5:30am.

Other than the fact that it was logistically difficult for me to start the 43km with the rest, I actually dreaded that distance because I failed to finish it last year, a rear occurrence for me. After fine tuning logistics with Otora and our motorbike rider for the day, I set off for the 35km, some fifteen minutes after the rest. 2.5km later, I caught up with Faith who was already run walking. Next was Dr. Owuor at 4km.

Ashok momentarily abandoned his run at about 5km and started urging on Noelle who was by then running and walking. He was oblivious of the task and pain awaiting him further on. He even peeled his energy bar and shared it with the girl who quickly chewed it. Ashok either had a lot of energy bars or was just tantalized by the lady. Why else would one boost energy 5km into a run, with 30km to go?

I maintained a slow pace of about 6:40 minutes per kilometer, being aware of the monster climb that would begin at 11km and caught up with Okoma and Makhulo at the start of the climb, told Okoma who was on her maiden run that the run had just began, wished her strength and slowly pulled away as the hill beckoned and challenged me. I later learnt that she managed 23km and Makhulo 27km.

I actually had forgotten about Peter from Eldoret until I later saw him ahead of me, in great pain. Edging past him at 8:43minutes per kilometer, I urged him to be strong as I let him know that there was just 15km of the monster hill to go. He muttered some unprintable words as he complained that he had no idea of what he had got into. When I looked down the road five minutes later, he was walking. The Fluorspar had claimed yet another runner.

The Trail Fox was always at hand, appearing whenever you needed water or sugar most, patrolling the whole route, turning back and forth at the head and tail of the now so spread out runners with the mastery and efficiency of a mountain potter. He read out to the runners in their various stages of death his menu of water, soda, bananas, water melon, potatoes, sausages, bread and samosa. Believe it or not, all that he offered was eaten.

Onduko joined Otora and did a splendid job seeing to the well being of all of us and ferrying the fallen runners to the end of the run for tea and mandazi. She ran 20km from and back to the Lodge in order to assume water girl duties. Thanks Onduko.

I was at 30km when the mighty Naibei caught up with me, eyes sunken deep into their sockets, lips dry, teeth gnarling and face ashen grey. He was at 48km, five to go. To me, he could die any minute, so I sacrified my red bull for him with a caution that he takes only half but I had to wrestle the bottle from his mouth and save a little of the drink for myself because he was downing it, bottoms up.

At 32km, I saw Dr. Owuor whom I had passed at 5km, walking ahead of me. Was I seeing a ghost?! She apparently hitched a ride from Onduko and hid inside the car as it was driven past me. “I am finnished”, is all that she could say in her Ugandan accent when I urged her to run and walk.

From about half a kilometer behind, I saw Naibei completing his 53km, one of the toughest ultra distances in the world. 4hours and 35minutes later, I wobbled to the finish line, happy to have conquered 34.5km non stop. Waliaula was long done with his 43km in about 3:20, in that terrain! Hail King Waliaula.

I felt so strong that I decided to round off my distance to a more decent number. Saw I added 5.5 km and completed 40km in 5:16, slowing but never breaking stride. I am dreaming of the 53km next year.

Mitch, more keen on six hours for training for his 160km run soon than distance, arrived last but strongest.

Wahome and Ferrah aside, would anyone believe that Marcel completed 42km? Well, he did so.

In the kiosk, I drank tea and ate a bowl of beans.

Naibei was by then both triumphant and delirious. He was mute, took tea and vomited, sat, woke up, lay down, walked around and moved stool. He recovered though. Having sacrified his run, Otora decided to run back to the Lodge and did 23km in 1:18minutess.

In the evening and after supper, tales were told, drinks were downed, roast meat was eaten, fire enjoyed and music listened to. None had the energy to dance. Every runner promised to go back next year and either conquer or improve distance or time.

The scent of the Swara was an easy 10km for which nine out of nineteen turned up, including Katwa who set off for it an hour earlier than the rest.

Running Tales

The Magadi Run 2012 Summary

Urban Swaras LogoDate: May 26, 2012

Somewhere in the gated community in Kitisuru, off Kirawa road, Ameet must have woken up at about 5am, taken his power breakfast of cereals and milk and hopped onto his Hammer to pick up Otora in Kangemi and head to Eureka hotel in Kiserian. Otora was at Engen Petrol Station, Waiyaki Way, at 5.30am together with Albert waiting for a ride.  He did not find it necessary to refuel.

At 6.00am, Muyodi’s call interrupted my bread and black tea breakfast.  He and I agreed to ride together.  I swung by Tusky’s on Muindi Mbingu Street to grab 2 cans of red bull for the Magadi road hills, parked my car in town and got into his after picking Emojong the driver/waterman off Parliament road.

Gerald Mutua called me at about 6.30a.m. requesting me to hold the start until he arrives at about 7.30am.  Molly Ayiemba too called requesting for the same but was actually ahead of us.

When we got past Nakumatt junction, the bad news came in.  A matatu had rammed Ameet’s car damaging the entire front right side.  The driver was speeding while talking on his mobile phone when he inexplicably swerved onto Ameet’s lane.

I called Wahome to help.  He drove into the Ngong Police Station but established that the accident occurred within the jurisdiction of the Kiserian Police.

To Ameet’s relief, the officer in charge of Kiserian traffic police happened at the scene of the accident while on his way to the police station.  Nzansumuryimi, Ndichu, Avani and four semi-elite runners who had come all the way from Kangemi by matatu to experience the Magadi course were at the scene.

A breakdown was called by the police officer and it towed Ameet’s car to Nakumatt Galleria.  It was agreed that Ameet will unfortunately skip the run.  He had planned and trained for 35km. Avani and the rest of the runners squeezed into the two cars, Nsansu’s and Muyodi’s, and we drove to Eureka.

At Eureka, I flagged off Otora and Albert at 8.05am. They were going for 66km and so were to run one way for 36km then turn back for 30km, ending at Kona Baridi.  The two took off as if they were doing 10km.

The rest of us crammed into Githenya’s and Emojong’s cars to be dropped at 30km, 25km, 20km and 15km.  There were no takers for 10km.

I flagged off Ndichu, all ready with his tablet strapped on his back and one Semi elite at Ole Tepes Market to commence their 30km pain.

Soon thereafter, I flagged off Kones and his co-semi elite at the 25km.

Molly, Ferra, Muyodi, Wahome and I tackled the 20km.  Mr. and Mrs. JT, Avani, Nzansumuryimi (the name means “come to the lord”) and Ndichu’s workmate must have flagged off themselves because I begun running before them.

After 7.4 km of running uphill, molly started bending and stretching her back as she struggled to run while complaining of backache. I advised her to run off the pain, which she did. Soon she started walking and running and walking.

Before long, I put respectable distance between the four and myself.  When I looked back, I saw Ferra too walk for a while. 12 km later and as I neared Ole Polos, my fellow 20km runners disappeared.  The running became steeper.  When I got to the traffic sign warning motorists to beware of the possibility of toppling over and to engage lower gears, my pace dropped from a respectable 7.46mph to 9.21 mph.

By this time, Otora and Albert had run past us, flying but not before I had described the turning point to them.  Later I learnt from the waterman that on reaching the turning point, they were so famished that they stopped and took tea and bread in some Kiosk before embarking on the return journey.

At Kisames, some 6km from Kona Baridi, I met Gathenya.  Avani was comfortably seated in the car. She had revised her desired distance from 15km to 12 km and finally to 10km and then walked most of it before hiking the lift.  When I requested for my energy drink, I was told that some runner had drunk it.  This guy had not even brought water for himself and I wonder why he thought that an energy drink would be available for free.

Disappointed, I grabbed Muyodi’s bottle of water laced with honey and headed for the distant finishing point.

From a distance of about 1km, I could see Kones closing in on me.  I vowed never to be caught up by him and kicked in my low towing gear.  I averaged 7.3mpk on the kona Baridi hills.

At the finishing point, JT and Ndichu’s friend were all smiles and fresh having successfully completed their 15km.  They walked some though.  I stopped the clock at 2hrs 30mins.  My average speed was 7mins, 50 seconds. This was admirable given that I had not run at all for thirty days.

Kones who was doing the 25km arrived five minutes after me, annoyed with himself for having failed to catch up with me.

Muyodi wobbled in some twenty one minutes after me, tired, hungry and anguished.  He walked the Ole Polos hill.

Next to arrive was Molly, hardly moving her legs, ten or so minutes after Muyodi.  She then understood why I sent to her an sms the evening before begging her to come for the run.  Molly has sworn never to do Magadi again but I know that that was just fear borne of fatigue.  She will be back.

Ferrah Etyang clocked 3 hrs 11 minutes.  She must have walked the entire Ole Polos hill.

By this time, I had stretched, eaten a banana, drunk water and rested.  I paced around waiting for Ndichu to arrive. He arrived of course but in Githenya’s car.  He said that his  tablet read 17.4km when he hit the wall.  He has vowed to “heshimu milima”

The three semi elite surrendered to the hills at various stages.  None of them managed 20km.  One of them later told me that he usually covers 21km in 1 hr 20mins.  That this time, his watch ticked but the distance never reduced substantively, so the guy stopped running, sat by the roadside waiting for the stragglers bus and poured water into his shoes to cool down his burning feet.

The four of them want Magadi road to become their training base.  I am willing to teach them hill running as they teach me speed.

Unknown to me, Otora and Albert could not conquer the return journey non stop.  They were ferried by one of the watermen for about 12km.  They resumed running at the base of the Kona Baridi hill and ran all the way to Eureka.  The guys must have run for about 50km.

Of the Swaras that turned up for the Magadi run, only the chairman ran his distance, NON STOP.

Raoul was away in Somalia, Amai was down with a flu and Ameet got an accident.  Soon, I will take them  for their Magadi run.  Any swara interested in coming along?

Running Tales

GRACELAND MARATHON 2012

“The Eagle has landed”

On the morning of the day of the marathon (18/2/2012), I woke up at 5.00a.m., took a quick cup of tea and bread and left.  The MC had emphasized that the Swara Van would leave at exactly 6.00a.m.

When I turned on my phone, the sms from Francesca, sent the previous night came in.  She reminded me to pick Patyan the boy from Samburu from her gate.  Some five minutes after take off, I found Patyan at her gate, lightly dressed and shivering in the morning cold.  Onto the car, he hoped and within four minutes, we were on the University Way round about.  He exclaimed in excitement as he asked “Ala hii ndiyo town?” when I answered in the affirmative, Patyan told me that he had never been to the city centre.  On seeing the many tall buildings, he wondered aloud, “mkubwa si ndovu anaweza angusha hii nyumba?” I laughed and told him that there are no elephants in the city centre.  On seeing lit shop displays, Patyan thought that the businesses were opened so early in the morning.

At the assembly point opposite the Laico Regency, our van was already packed and most runners were in.  MK, Alice the nutritionist and Ferrah were the only runners yet to arrive.  The later two entered the van at 6.03a.m. MK as usual, cancelled the last minute by sms to MC.  At 6.13a.m., the driver started the journey and soon got onto Forest road.

Most of the Thika road super highway is now open to motorists.  The Chinese are yet to teach Kenyan drivers how to use the road.  Our driver, a man from Tata Nduku’s county, lost his way on getting onto where the Forest/Murang’a roads round about used to be.  We found ourselves at the Pangani Police Station.  The driver did an illegal U-turn on the super highway to get back onto the right road. Luckily, there was no oncoming vehicle.

At Karatina in Wahome’s county, we stopped to have tea and ‘mandazi’ and for the MC and Tata to buy water for the eighteen runners.

At a town called Chaka on Nanyuki road, we turned right towards Sagana state lodge and  I km later, we turned onto an earth road and rode for 2 km to the Graceland Girls’ School.  155km after takeoff, we arrived at 9:15am.

The last 490metres to the school are a steep descent to the banks of river Thegu.  The school straddles the river.  One hardly sees the buildings because 75% of the compound is filled with trees, most of which are indigenous.  The school looks more of a five star holiday resort than a school. There is no typical block of buildings.  Rather, every building is a bungalow set out on its own and far apart from the others like huge Beverley Hills homes.  Some bungalows are patched on rocky cliffs and others are by the river and yet others are across the river.  The tennis pavilion (Mrs Wachira, a petite flat stomach, young looking grandmother, has played tennis for decades) and the amphitheatre are across the river.  There are three or so foot bridges for crossing the river.  The ceremony and the start and finish of the run were held on one side of the river and lunch was served on the other side.  Mr. Wachira’s home (he lives in the school) is tacked at the farthest eastern end of the school. It is a three floor behemoth sitting on a cliff overlooking the river and the golf course.  Seated in his hanging patio which is some thirty or so meters above the ground, one watches the snow capped Mt. Kenya in the horizon and listens to the rambles of river Thegu down below. The eagle (Nderitu Wachira) has landed. Graceland school is full of beauty and grace.

After taking a tour of the school, I got into the mood of holidaying, not running.  Run I had come to do, so I had to.  Quickly, the Swaras registered.  The gesture of the V neck T-shirts was great but the Swaras are used to their branded breathables.  Apart from Patyan and I, all the other Swaras opted to remain in their T-shirts.  The master of ceremony, a man called Mad Cow by the Hashers, announced on the powerful public address system that all the runners must wear “Mr. Wachira’s T-shirts”. The Swaras reluctantly obliged.

Before the commencement of the run, all those gathered were treated to dee jay music and entertainment by Chaka Mwomboko traditional dancers, a troupe of five women  and one man who is the leader.  He introduced his troupe to us and begged to “represent” his songs and dances to the runners and guests. Jokingly, he told me that he is the only man in Nyeri county who beats five women.

The clubs in attendance were Nairobi Hash, Nairobi Sunday Hash, Karura Recreational Runners, Kobo and The Urban Swaras.

The distances to run were 24km and 13km.  Only Petyan, Otora, Mollys’ Ethiopian friend called Daniel and I opted for the long. The other Swara’s were on the tapper because of the imminent Kilimanjaro marathon in Moshi.

Off the long were flagged. We took the steep ascent for 490m, turned right and descended for about 500meters.  I was the last upto this point.  Then a pushing 2km climb begun.  The two Hash girls dropped off without a fight.  Daniel’s breathing became shallow and labored.  About a quarter way up, he predictably begun to “walk run”.  At the top of the Hill, primary school children were lined on both sides of the road singing in Kiswahili “ni Baraka kukimbia” meaning that it is a blessing to run.  At this point, I actually thought that at times, it is a curse.

I started closing in on the runner in front of me.  He was short and arched forward at the back like a sumo wrestler only that he was all muscle.  Not wanting to be overtaken, he increased his pace and opened a gap of about 500 meters between us.

6.3 km after take off, we hit the state lodge tarmac road and turned left to head towards Nanyuki road.  The first water point was here.  The Graceland girls cheered us in melodious  innocent voices  and offered us water and sweets.  I had never before taken a sweet while running but I could not resist the offer.

This road was undulating, ever gently descending and rising.  The dense and beautiful natural forest was on both sides of the road.  Birds chirped and the residents cheered us. I felt happy and strong and enjoyed the run.

We came to a steep climb at 10km. The Sumo man slackened his pace while I maintained mine.  When I caught up with him at the end of the climb, he increased his speed and again put some distance between us.  I smiled and asked him in ateso (my mother tongue) english, “can you run with me?” to which he responded “let us go”. Watching his lack of stride, body size and uneconomical running, I knew that it was a matter of time before I chopped off his neck.

The second water point was at the 14km mark.  The girls gave me a water bottle without a lid but I insisted on one so that I could sip the water for a long time because I could not be sure of the next water point.

I caught up with the runner at this point.  When my watch beeped, he asked me what time it was.  I told him that we had been running for 1hr 27minutes, had covered 14km and had 10 km remaining.  His engine must have been over heating because as I sipped my water, he gulped his, 300ml, bottoms up.  As his body gathered weight, I told him “strong” and left him for dead.

Some five minutes later, I was all alone and that is how I ran through out.  The elite and semi-elite were way ahead of me and the others were way behind.

The trail was awesome.  Soon I was running on huge hay farms demarcated by electric fences.  This county is rich. The trail took us round a brand new exquisite building sitting in the middle of the savannah and I was sure that it was a holiday resort but was told at the end of the race that it is actually a home of a prominent media personality.

The trail never ceased being sweet but challenging.  I rolled down some valley while dogging and enduring pricks from thorns on the thorn trees abounding.  As I begun the ferocious climb after crossing the fourth and last river, my watch beeped 22km.  I held on and even increased my pace because I knew that only 2km remained.

All along, I did not know where I was but I was sure that I had followed the clear markings of Antelope. Suddenly, I got onto a town called Kiganjo which I thought was another Kiganjo because the only Kiganjo town that I knew was about 7km from Graceland Girls’ School.

After running round the town, I came onto a very busy highway and wondered where I was because the ran was in the country side.  I turned right on the highway and was told by the Graceland Girls that I was on the Nyeri – Nanyuki road.

Then it occurred to me that I had somehow missed a turn for the long run and followed the marks for the short.  When my watch “said” 24km, there was another 7 or so km to go.  I had no energy left.  I had run only five times in the three weeks preceding this run and the longest of them was 14km in Tigoni.

The Graceland Girls School strugglers van drove by. I stopped it and hitched a ride back to Graceland.  I had bowed out of the race, gracefully.

Not many Swaras may have seen the chairman beaten before and so when I lighted from the van on reaching the school, Wahome rushed to me, thinking that I may have suffered injury but I told him that I lost my way and the route became longer.  After explaining the route to him and to other runners, I was assured that I never got lost.  Rather, Antelope had understated or is it overmarked the route by about 7km.  Those who ran the 13km said that it was actually about 19km. No course defeats me for long. I shall return next year to finish this run.

Mr. Sumo and Daniel the Ethiopian finished the race after some four and five hours respectively.

The Swaras took ice cold showers which refreshed , at the end.  We sat through the prize giving ceremony, ate the three star lunch taken care of by outside caterers and begged to take leave because 155km awaited us.  Wachira obliged and requested us to go through his house.  Therein, the contributions and pledges of the Swaras were given and made to the Wachira’s.

While at Tigoni, the previous weekend, on 11/2/2012, I had joked to Wachira by making him to promise boiled chicken if I attended the marathon.  The man had taken me seriously.  Before long, chicken was served to all the Swaras.  Wachira called it “the chairman’s chicken.”  Because the chicken was in my honour, I ought to have eaten the gizzards as per the tradition of communities of Western Kenya. But someone ate my gizzards. I suspect Vivien Akinyi because she seemed to enjoy the chicken most.

I look forward to more chicken next year.

Running Tales

OF (HER) WATER AND (MY) WATCH: THE A.P KIBIKO RUN

Date: September 24, 2011

By the calendar, the 24th September 2011 run was to be held at the A.P Station, some 3 Km from the Kedong Valley, the valley that is loved and dreaded by the runners in equal measure depending on their level of fitness and on whether they are running it up or down.

The MC was not going to be around for the whole week and Tata is in the fields of Tala in the Machakos County.  It therefore fell upon me to send mail to the members reminding them of the run and giving directions to the A.P camp.  The trail was on the dry side of Ngong hills, deep in the country, the intention being that the runners get to soak in some sun in the valley as they get rested from hills because the next run will be on Magadi Road which will be one long hilly run regardless of the distance that one will opt for.

Because of the location of the run, it was impossible to Google map or describe the route in writing.

Eight days before the run, Antelope and I worked on the route and the distances and he agreed to mark it the Friday before. It never crossed my mind to plan for water, an omission that would later cause a runner intending to join the club anger and frustration.

This runner was the first to arrive in a taxi with bottles of water which she handed over to Antelope to be given to the hired boda boda waterman who was to give it out on the trail.  No sooner had the runner told me her name than I forgot it.  She was in a pink breathable singlet, so I shall call her Pinky for the purpose of this write up.

The runners assembled at 7.40am and Antelope and I gave the distances and described the route.  Pinky elected to do the 32Km.  After the watches were adjusted and the whistle was blown (the whistle is the starter gun for the Swaras), Pinky charged and surged forward ahead of every runner, ahead of even the seasoned Nadine Citta.

Soon, the runners broke up in two packs depending on energy levels, pace and distances intended.  Ameet, that consummate gentleman and last bastion of civility and Amai were in the second pack, going for the 25 Km.  MK, ever cautious, slower but sure, brought up the rear as he intended to take out the 18Km.  I lay somewhere in between but nearer MK.  My distance was 18Km, a treat for my legs after they set PB’s on 3rd, 10th and 17th September in Mt. Kenya, Mwea and Ndakaini.  I was later to regret my decision because my run was so short that it ended before I had warmed up.

After about 2Km, I lost site of Pinky.  Nadine remarked that either she is too good or she does not know what she is doing.  Whichever of the two, “she does not know that there is Kedong coming”, I answered.  The first water point was at the second split where those doing the 18Km turned left and those doing 25Km and 32Km turned right.  I was later to gather that Pinky missed the water at this point because, guess – she was ahead of the waterman who was in a ‘piki piki’.

When I turned left, Francesca was so sure that I had taken the wrong turn but I told her that it was her and not my turn that was wrong.  I kicked in some speed in order to catch up with Linus Makhulo and Gerald Mutua.  From their body language, I knew that the former might be easy prey but the later will be a tough call.  For sure, I passed Makhulo but Mutua beat me.

After taking a second left turn and hitting a gentle straight rise, I saw a pink shimmer some 700 meters ahead.  Neither Mutua who was still within my reach nor I could make out the Silhoutte which seamed to be running.  I concluded that it was one of the many Ngong runners doing a solo run.

When Gerald Mutua neared the runner, she stopped to talk to him.  Then I made her out.  She was Pinky.  What the running hell was she doing on the 18km route?  She turned left to head somewhere unknown even to her and I blew my whistle to draw her attention to me and sprinted towards her.  I asked her if she had revised her plans downwards because I have known runners, most notably Eugenie in the past and Violet Kageha to do so.  No. She had simply lost her way.  By the way, violet has been missing in action since oxygen refused to enter her brain at the Mwea Classic causing her to fall down and speak in tongues. I am hereby volunteering to teach her how to breathe on the trail and in competition. Francesca and Nadine are some of my more successful students in this regard.

Pinky told me that she intended to do the 25km route even though she had raised her hand at the starting point in response to my question “who will do the 32km?”  She was determined to go back and retrace the route but I told her that she will end up doing six extra Km because she was already about 3Km away from the 25Km split.  Besides, she could get lost again.  I promised to give her a loop in Kedong that would help her make up for the lost distance.

Mutua must have been grateful for my presence because he took off immediately I started talking to Pinky.  Makhulo simply ran past as if he did not know me.  I do not remember seeing Francesca overtake me or seeing Makhulo ahead of me but somehow, they both finished our course before me.  Is it they or me who missed the route?  Not me because I had run the route before and had plotted it with Antelope, remember?

Pinky and I ran down together past some slum structures called a primary school, through beautiful acacia trees, cattle ruts and dry water pans as we hattled down towards the base of the Kedong valley.

It got markedly hotter and I started sipping my water.  She had none but I relaxed when she told told me that she runs ultra distances and had infact organized one in Laikipia in July this year. 76Km.  When I told her that I was a Two Oceans Old Mutual Ultra Marathon veteran, we bonded immediately.  She even promised to invite our club to the second edition of the local ultra next July.  In turn, I promised to introduce her to Nderitu Wachira, the able chair of the Mwea Classic because she was looking for sponsorship.

The ultra distances runner loved the trail and even gasped in owe when she visualized the windmills in the horizon.  Then I knew why she had lost her route.  She could not balance enjoying the countryside scenaries with looking out for the route marks.

As we approached the Kedong-Kibiko road which was the point at which we were to turn left and tackle the 3Km section of the Kedong hill back to A.P camp, I figured out that we were doing about 6mpk (minutes per kilometer).  At the main road, I told her to turn right and ran for 20 minutes and then turn back and run straight up, one way to base.  This way, she would put in additional 7Ks if she maintained 6mpk, only that the first 20 minutes will be all down and as a runner, you know what that means.

There was a little problem though.  Pinky had no watch! As painful as it was and struggling to lead by example as chairman, I surrendered my old reliable casio watch to her.  Together, we saw that it was at 1:18:58 and agreed that she would turn back at 1:40:00.  Before she took it, she asked me “why the watch’? and I wondered aloud to her how she intended to know when to turn back without a watch.

As she turned right, I turned left, just in time to see Gerald Mutua for the last time on the trail disappearing on top of the hill, agonizingly pulling away from me.

Damn it! Pinky had cost me the opportunity to try and catch up with Mutua.  I saw him look back and knew that he must have smiled to himself because even though I am stronger than him on the hills, he was too far for me to catch up.

I drank my water for the last as my engine begun overheating on the up and then littered the valley with the bottle.  When I got to where I had last sited Gerald Mutua, he was nowhere to be seen.  For some stupid reason, I had expected to find him there. May be it was the effect of running the hill, watch-less.

Up the hill I trotted looking out for the water man who never showed up.  From the knowledge of the route, I knew that there was about two kilometers to the finish.  When I looked at my left wrist to work out the minutes left and my ETA (estimated time of arrival), there was no watch! You could not imagine the pain that I felt.

Then on the last straight, some 400 meters to the finish, I saw Francesca ahead of me sprinting to the finish, obviously racing against time.  I did not even attempt to “kick it” because what time would I have done without a watch?

At the end, I saw Gerald full of smiles and licking his lips like an old cat that had just  eaten a fat rat to its fill.  Why not?  He had beaten the chairman for the second time in his five or so short months of running, the first time being at Arboretum two weeks ago.  I was the fat rat.

JT, Mrs JT, Steve and the new runners, they of the 8.7Km and 13.3Km, were already rehydrated, changed and fresh, exchanging the pleasantries of the route.

Soon, Eugenie the Cameroonian Kenyan, arrived with a spring in her ran true to her vow never to do less than 15Km any more.  What time did she do?  I don’t know.

I gathered all those that were present and willing and led them through some stretches.  Mrs JT came out the worst here and Francesca for some reason was fairly stiff this time round.

Then Ameet, Amai and Raoul arrived in that order in quick succession.  After they had rested, Ameet graciously offered to do a write up.  At this point, I wanted to dash to Ngong town for a quick cup of tea but decided to wait for my watch, my only running watch because Amai is yet to return the other one two long running years after borrowing it.  Some forty minutes after Raoul, Nyawira arrived, walk running, having proudly done 25km.  Yesterday when I met her in her house, she could hardly walk down the stairs.

Three runners to go. The tenacious Nadine, the unknown Kimie and Pinky, the ones training for the Soweto full, New York full (both in November 2011) and the Comrades in May next year, respectively. MK, do you know the Comrades?

After 2hrs 35minutes Pinky arrived. I blew the Swara whistle to welcome her but she did not respond.  She stormed to the camp justifiably ranting mad.  “My water, what happened to my water, they took my water but never brought it to me on the trail, who drank my water?”  Pinky was screaming using the last ounces of energy spared her by the merciless Kedong valley.

Knowing that water or lack of it can be fatal to a runner, I dashed to my car to get water for Pinky.  She shoved my watch at me (this is when I knew that she had done 2:35), turned around and headed for her hired car.  There, her driver opened a 1 litre bottle of water for her and she bottomed it up.  As I laughed ferociously, she got so angry, got into her car, put on a visibly expensive pair of shades and ordered her driver to speed off.

Ameet the scheduled writer approached her for her name but she retorted that she does not wish to be in the running group any more.

When I walked towards her car to thank her for bringing back my watch and to invite her for the Magadi road, she made as if to wave me bye as her driver drove away.  All the while, I could not help laughing.

Mr. Waterman, you may have cost the club an opportunity to run a local ultra marathon next year.

For the thirty two, Kimie clocked 4:05:30, every minute and second of it.  By her side riding slowly and urging her on was her personal outrider of the moment, the Piki Piki Waterman. He was carrying Pinky’s water! If I knew her well, I would have been tempted to declare her not so ready for the New York in early November. All that you need Kimie is three more long runs with the Swaras. She was full of smiles but lamented the altitude. She responded to the whistle by dashing to the end, the outrider obediently in tow.  In her appreciation for the run and club, she formally joined us by paying up for two months (how many runners are payment compliant?) and promised to join us next weekend for the Magadi road but begged that she should be given a shorter distance.  Well, 20km she has earned. The gallant Ferrah will pace her.

Such is the nature of (running) life, you win some and lose some. Pinky out (please come back) and Kimie in.

Pinky, I know that you are reading this mail. I hereby solemnly promise to (a) know and remember your name however difficult it might be to pronounce and (b) mobilize the senior Swaras to train you for the Comrades as they train for your local Ultra if you come back to the Club and promise to invite the members to your Laikipia ultra marathon.

Running Tales

THE MT KENYA RUN EXPERIENCE

Date: September 3, 2011

The Mt. Kenya run is organized annually by the Nairobi Hash House Harriers.

For the Swaras, this run had been in the cards since early July when the Swaras calendar for weekend runs for the period July to early October 2011 was rolled out.  It is one of the more adventurous and difficult runs.  It was my fourth Mt. Kenya run.

The runners who decided to have their debut this year are Avani, Violet, Eugenie, Alix, Ferrah, Mulinge and the indefatigable MK.In the two to three weeks leading up to this run, MK had trained so hard, ever doing the long runs on weekends and sweating it out twice every week in Arboretum.

Unfortunately, fate decided to postpone his debut.  His wife was taken ill the night before and he had to be by her beside in the hospital.

When I broke the news of his inevitable absence to the participating Swaras, the sadness with which the news was received was palpable.  Avani wondered who will do the weekly write up and I promptly requested her to try and fill the big shoes of MK. This write up is meant to supplement her efforts.  Ferrah noted that the journey would be less interesting without the jokes of MK.

The point of assembly was City Hall.  By 7:50am, all the runners had arrived, all dressed in sports gear.  We therefore departed the City at 8:14am – destination Mt. Kenya.

Because of keeping time, I decided to throw in a treat for the runners.  When we got to Thika at 9.30am, I drove into the Blue Post Hotel so that we could refresh, stretch and have some tea.  I also decided to show our “foreign” legion the waterfalls sandwiching the hotel.  All of us loved the falls and Avani and Alix took many pictures of the runners with the falls forming the background.

At 10.00am, it was time to hit the road but not before the all-important matter of fuelling and carbo-loading had been attended to.  I had carried only 1 bottle of water.

For the first time since we embarked on the journey, I counted my blessings for carrying a trailer load of lasses.  My! They unleashed all manner of food, some of which was boiled eggs, broccoli, tomatoes, tuna, bread, ham, bananas, avocado, assorted vegetables water and juice.  So much was the food that it took us a whole thirty minutes to fuel and load to capacity.  Mulinge and I who had brought nothing ate the most.

We began the second leg of the journey at 10.33am and drove through Sagana and Karatina towns turning right to head towards Nanyuki some 10Km after Karatina.  At Naro Moru, we turned right to head to the starting point 9Km away.  The ran was scheduled to begin at 1.00pm, we arrived at 12.44pm.

The Mt. Kenya trail is one way, all up hill, getting steeper as one nears the foot hills of the mountain.  The long is 17Km and the short is 13Km.  The short distance runners begin at the KWS gate, some 4Km ahead of those doing the long.  The end is so steep that runners congregate some two kilometers before the end, to change and take tea.  The problem with this is that some runners get to the tea place and refuse to tackle the last 2Km, whoever does this “disqualifies” himself or herself because the times and names of runners are recorded  at the end.  For those who complete the distance, the 2Km roll down to the tea place offers some kind of recovery run because these 2Km are the only down hill in the entire course.

The Swaras peeled off their track suits in preparation for the start of the run.  To our pleasant surprise, no Swara wanted to do the short.  We wore our Swara T-shirts.

The run began at 1.25pm when Chilli Sauce (nickname) flagged us off.  There were four clubs, the Nairobi Hashers, the Original Hash, the Karura runners and the Swaras.

I ran from the back and slowly overtook the other runners.

At the 4Km mark (the starting point for the short), I was number three.  Not so far behind, I could make out the green and pink colours of the other Swaras.  One kilometer later, I caught up with number two and told him “On, on”, the Hash rallying call.  The man was so tired that it took him some five seconds to respond.

One by one, the runners doing the short fell by the trail side.  Most of them found the running uphill so tough that they opted to run and walk and run and walk.

I caught up with the number one exactly one hour into the run.  I could see that he was a fast runner who did not have enough endurance and hill training, (the Swaras need to introduce him to Kona Baridi, by-passes and Kahara).  Not being one to be overtaken easily, he made feeble attempts at keeping in front of me.  Six minutes later, he was down and almost out.

As I overtook the hashers, I could hear them say that those are the Swaras who ran every Saturday morning and their shortest is always 15Km.

Suddenly, I ran into cold weather and I started feeling cold as I ran.  When I got to the tea point, cold wind was blowing, mist quickly descended and ice cold rain fell.  I shivered as I tackled the last 2Km, energized by the shouts of “Swara” from the hashers who had travelled all the way to cheer the runners at the tea point.

I stopped the clock at 1:51:41. My last PB was 2:06:20. By then, my fingers and hands had almost lost sensation due to the biting cold and the lashing fridge cold rain.

To recover, I quickly descended to the gathering point, taking 9 minutes only to do so.  Then I met Ferrah at the tea point and told her that she had only 17 minutes (2Km) to go.  The lady could not talk. Then Mulinge flew by.

Changing took me more than five minutes because my fingers were numb and near frozen. I picked my umbrella from the car and headed for the tea.  Two cups and handfuls of mandazi and samosa later, Alix arrived feeling strong.  I blew the Swara whistle and encouraged her to take the last 2Km.  She obliged.  Hot on her hills was Avani Patel who was very nearly tempted to end it there.  The whistle did the trick and she charged upwards to complete the race.

The whistle was not so lucky with Violet and Eugenie.  Try as I did to get them to complete, they had no ounces of energy left.  Mercifully, there was tea and snacks for them.

The Swara girls did the club proud.  They claimed the 1-2-3 for the long on their debut.  Ferrah did 2:16, Alix and Avani were not more than ten minutes behind her and each other.  Mulinge was about number 7 and I was number 1 of the long and number 2 over all.

Driving down was quite an adventure.  Our car got stuck twice.  Avenger (nickname) from the Karura team and Mad Horse (nickname) from Rwanda helped us to steer it safely to the KWS gate where the other cars were packed.

All the Swaras were so happy with their performances and the experience.  Alix said that “ever since I met the Swaras, I never want to go back home”.

The Swaras, you were well represented.