Running Tales

The Inaugural Mua Hills Run

Ameet at Mua Hills RunSaturday 26th August 2017 brought the Swaras into uncharted territory, that of the Mua Hills. Chairman had classified the difficulty level in his introduction as “fairly tough by Swara standards,” and had encouraged participants to go heavy on the breakfast intake. I was in two minds as to whether to follow his advice and fuel up for a lengthy run or go moderate and eat light therefore. My mind had settled on the latter, as the one and only time I ate “heavy,” I had to squat away from prying eyes, mid-run.

It took approximately an hour to get to the venue, and as soon as I took the turn off from Mombasa Road, the road became a climb, and I readied myself mentally for later. Getting to the venue, and as Chairman had stated in his email, a yellow swara shirt was indeed hanging from a post. Perhaps we could make this a regular feature at our runs. A sizeable number of cars were already parked and a smattering of Swaras could be seen mingling.

Amongst them were the host himself Henry, who sometimes travels insane distances just to make the 7 a.m. starts, being a resident of Kitengela. Then there was Diana Nduku, a lady familiar with the place, who pointed out to us exactly where her rural home was, pointing at a shining light where it stands, and which seemed to sit on top of a murram climb (a dream finish for any runner I would have thought). There was also the speedy trio of Dennis Lopua, Benjamin Chikani, and Albert Naibei whose voluntary services to the Swaras are priceless. Leif Newman pulled up shortly after for what may well be his final Swara Run. His presence as far as I’m concerned has been immense and shall definitely be missed, though hopefully he can still contribute to the Swaras digitally once back in Sweden.

The briefing began with Chairman blowing a whistle whose noise whilst audible, sounded strange for a whistle I must admit. Someone also went as far as wondering why the Club couldn’t get a better whistle, but Chairman stood up in defense of the mouthpiece, probably meaning its days aren’t numbered at the Club.

I personally had chosen to do the 15 Kilometers, and the run began as it would end, with a downhill section. We were soon turning left with the course beginning to take up an undulating nature with the weather being absolutely ideal, consisting of completely overcast conditions and the mildest sprinkling of rain. Getting to the first split, I had chosen to go longer than 10 k’s and what awaited straight away was a lengthy climb. The thought “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” briefly entered my mind but there were people looking and I had to save face by not turning back around. The story might have been different otherwise.

Perhaps the most challenging climb was a fairly straight one made up of stone paths on either side, and grass and mud in between. By this time by my recollection, Benjamin Chikani had already raced past me and a couple of other runners chanting “STRONG, STRONG!”, perhaps being code speak for don’t give up! The long climb gave way to relief in the form of a much gentler section, though the loose soil underfoot was still challenging on the old body. Each passerby though was nothing but encouraging, and a little curious on most occasions as to what exactly was happening.

A final climb remained, whose intensity and awkward nature had finally resulted in me walking for a section of it, but which I abandoned and took up a jogging stride once more upon the ground flattening out.

The final section was once again downhill, on the right of which was Sonko’s family farm with a sizeable lion statue erected outside the gate. Peter Park, one of the Swaras had later spoken of his regret that he didn’t take a selfie with the Lion.

Back at the farm, preparations were in full swing for breakfast, complete with a very hospitable serving team, whose varieties were more than my plate could hold.

Francesca later shared that a couple of girls had been running alongside her in the most basic of clothing, whom she had invited to come join us for tea. I wasn’t there long enough to find out if they did but I sure hope they did.

All in all, as Chairman had said in his email to recap the run, I would like to think there will be clamor for the run to be held on an annual basis at least, and next time maybe I will try a longer distance.

My thanks go to those who took time off their schedules to come scout the run, Henry for hosting us, and Otora for marking such an awesome route.

Did I mention the topography? It was amazing.

Running Tales

My Account of the Mulley’s Half Marathon

swaras-at-machakos-half-marathonThe Mulley’s Half Marathon 2016 took place on Sunday 9th October from the People’s Park in Machakos. It would be my first visit to Machakos People’s Park, that being one of the reasons for my excitement. Arriving there at 6.30 a.m approximately, Swara Henry seemed to be the first arrival, he who often posts images from Swara Runs on his Facebook page accompanied by nice words. He was accompanied by a pal of his from Safaricom.

Having had a rather exotic dinner the night before, i was eager to spend a few minutes beforehand in a washroom at the Park, which was surprisingly in an impeccable condition. Once back at the car park, i heard a familiar laugh as i was leaning into my car to grab my jacket. I turned around and saw Tata’s face, who had run 25k’s the morning before in Ngong in preparation for StanChart Full, and would be doing the 10k that day as a davis-son-at-machakos-peoples-parkrecovery run. With her was Davis, who had brought to my attention this run, accompanied by his young son, who would be doing the 3km race. The young boy ended up finishing in the top 5.

Davis then went to collect my race bib and t-shirt for me, something that made me feel appreciative. A delayed start seemed inevitable at that point, as last minute registrations were being entertained. It was the 10k that would start first, at approximately 7:30 a.m, and which would have to finish before the 21k’s started, perhaps because it would have led to confusion otherwise. The front pack came in in quite close packs as we watched later on, with moments of confusion as one or two thought the start line was also the finish line, and had to get going again for the final section after realising that wasn’t the case. Tata could also be seen passing by, looking good in her swara getup.

Soon after we saw Tata passing by, waving to the watching crowd that had built up, the announcement was made that the 21k would be beginning in a few moments. Also at the start line was Swara Diana, who may have only joined us recently, but seems to be a runner going places, having also done the Ndakaini Half Marathon earlier in the year. Henry though had unfortunately left, the late start having caused him to abandon the run.

A loud noise went off, signalling the start of the 21k with the more serious looking runners at the front. The first section was a loop on murram ground followed by a somewhat straight section also on murram, heading to the main road, which lasted almost 4k’s. Next was the main road, after which we turned right and began a gentle climb to the turning point, approximately 11km’s long. Inevitably the return section was downhill for a handful of kilometres’ allowing one to clock in faster times.

Prior to the main road, we turn left onto another tarmacked road, leading us into the heart of the commercial district of Machakos, before geting back on the main road for a short stretch. A left soon followed, leading to a tarmacked section curving to the right, from where one could see what looked like an endless mountain range both left, right and in front, that seemed to be continuous. It was a pleasant sight as I tackled that section. Turning right meant the wind was now at my back, giving me a welcome boost of speed and movement.

The run would end with almost a complete loop inside the People’s Park, with mini climbs of it’s own, and ending with a short straight to the finish. I finished in 1 hr 54 min, which I was pleased with. It was perhaps a landmark occasion for Davis, who accomplished a P.B. of 1hr 34.

nduku-getting-award-for-masters-categoryJust as I crossed the finish line, music started blaring again from a big stage set up to my right, on top of which was Tata, showing off some dance moves. She won in the Masters Category, the winnings being various food stuff items.

As I recap the run, i feel that punctuality can be improved as far as the start time is concerned, and water points can be more evenly spread out. However the race stewards were very helpful and lively, and the variety in the run is also good.

I plan to go back next year.

Running Tales

Brendan Molloy’s Run

urban swaras imageOctober 17th was the date and Brendan Molloy’s house was the venue as he hosted the weekends Swara run. Any run hosted by a Swara seems to be very popular with other Swaras and this weekends was no different having attracted over 60 people, some from as far as Kitengela i.e. Tata Nduku.

That weekend we were also joined by kids and older runners from Kibera, where they are part of another running group both headed and formed, if i’m not mistaken, by our very own Swara Dennis Lopua. I hope we can do future runs together as well. A brilliant idea was formed by either someone or a group of people, that Swaras were to be requested to equip runners of that running club with spare running gear, which otherwise was always either folded or hung in respective wardrobes in their homes, or placed among their shoes. We had additionally been requested as a group to spare cash if we could, which would finance entries into the upcoming Stanchart marathon for some of their runners. A total of Kenya Shillings fifty thousand ended up being raised. Quite a phenomenal amount I think.

It had been raining on and off the night before, because of which I had accepted that the run wasn’t going to be a totally dry affair regardless but remained enthusiastic, which as it turned out wasn’t misplaced enthusiasm at all. Amongst the many that had turned up for the run were Joy (our nomadic swara and excellent writer), Ashok (one of those swaras who live life with a big spoon), Liz Kanini who is now seriously into the 42k bracket), and Ndungu (a quiet inspiration to many I suspect, including myself).

The success of the Chairman’s pre-run briefing was a little iffy from where I was standing, caused by there having been a beehive of activity that had been taking place at the same time. One thing that pretty much everyone hears though and something that is an almost inescapable sound is the sound of the whistle that signals the start of the run and which didn’t fail in its purpose that time either. Whilst we were being briefed, Otora was back on the trail, re-marking what had previously been washed off the night before. I find his work commendable.

After we had exited the gate, Swaras could still be seen driving to the venue. The numbers were well and truly swelling. Having begun in the direction of Peponi Road, we had taken a right turn away from Peponi Road. The latest journey of discovery had begun and my heart swelled at that realization. Knowing our respective cruising speeds, I was surprised to find myself in the company of Ndungu with the run having well and truly begun, but I later reasoned with information in the palm of my hands that he probably had his upcoming full marathon in mind when running that day. The same had been true with our biker Swara Brian who later confessed so to me. The run had consisted of both tarmacked surfaces and off-road trails, as well as a section where we went down some steps, crossed a metal bridge and up some after that. Nice addition of variety.

At one point during the trail sections of the run, I was approaching a group of kids standing by the side who were all smiles, whom as I ran passed them, began running with me whilst excitedly giggling and talking amongst themselves. Not only did it give me some extra oomph, but was very nice to witness as well. Running down Kirawa Road, I had been passed by Benjamin Chikani, one of those whose brilliant running exploits had resulted in a strong performance by the Swaras in the Naivasha Relay. I looked on in admiration until he was out of sight.

The penultimate section of the run for me was a section of Peponi Road which tests for agility and mental alertness as a runner, to an extent. The final stretch was the road we had begun on and the parked trail of swara cars was a welcome sight.

What awaited, and what I experienced was a wonderful breakfast that could rival any 5 five star hotel in my view. Not only that, but tents had been pitched up for us to sit under. Sue Wendot was also assisting in hosting us. All in all, it was a wonderful atmosphere.

Many thanks to Brian.

Regards and all the best at Stanchart everyone.

Running Tales

An Account of the KEFRI Run

Urban Swaras LogoLast Saturday took the Swaras to the KEFRI Institute off of the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway. The email had specifically mentioned that it was going to be a run that was reletively flat by “swara standards,” something which newbies, one of whom was travelling with Jimmy and I called James, might have been wondering what that meant, although for some reason i’m thinking Swara Runs may already have developed a certain reputation outside Swara circles. For whatever reason, James’ wife had decided overnight against coming.

I had been under the impression that we might have been the first ones there seeing as though we were already there by 6.30 or thereabouts, but as we drove into the parking area, a few other cars were already there. It wasn’t long before as always happens, there was suddenly bumper to bumper movement of cars carrying Swaras to their running venue. That never fails to put a smile on my face.

In attendance amongst others was Raoul, whom I’d bumped into the evening before and who upon being asked whether he would be joining us had shared that he had only recently returned from the States and was jet-lagged and looked tired too. He had been non-committal about joining us the following morning, but alas had made it; great energy and will power Raoul.

As the display of hands went up for who was doing what distance as a safety exercise, it had struck me that we were looking at a rather large group of Swaras who were preparing for a full marathon in the near future; StanChart perhaps? Part of those who were setting for the longer distances was M.K who, Ashok later shared with me, is thinking its now or never as far as doing a full marathon is concerned. Behind you all the way MK. Others also possibly preparing for an upcoming full were Jael, Ajaa, Leif, Ferrah etc.

I had found myself in front as we set off on the opening climb, which by the way Jimmy and i had pointed out to our new Swara sitting in the back as we were driving there, who had not sounded very impressed upon hearing that, perhaps felt cheated even.

Anyway back to the run, perhaps it was the sun in my eyes or the early morning adrenaline but i would find out later on that i had missed an arrow to our right and had continued running straight, inadvertently leading one or two others down the same path. It was only an effective whistle that had checked me as i ran back up to the arrow turning.

The early part of the run for me had been mainly running alongside Village structures as well as village folk, with the usual smiling faces and waving hands of little children all as king how we were. Always a nice experience. I had been wary of tumbling as i run as i had unfortunately done so less than a week ago and was still tender in parts from the fall. A fall that day might have made for gruesome viewing. There was also a forest we ran through which was extemely pleasant and cooling to the body.

The run had ended just as it had begun with a climb to finish under shade. All in all it was a great run. The breakfast too was extremely delectable and great value.

I recommend this run be done at least on an annual basis.

Thank you to the organizers.

Running Tales

An account of the Kigali Trip

"Gorillas in Uganda-3, by Fiver Löcker" by Fiver Löcker from Wellington, New Zealand - Gorilla Tracking - 20. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorillas_in_Uganda-3,_by_Fiver_L%C3%B6cker.jpg#/media/File:Gorillas_in_Uganda-3,_by_Fiver_L%C3%B6cker.jpg
“Gorillas in Uganda-3, by Fiver Löcker” by Fiver Löcker from Wellington, New Zealand – Gorilla Tracking – 20. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jimmy and I left for Kigali late on Thursday 21st May 2015 with our flight having been scheduled to take off at 23:25 Kenyan time and arrive at five past midnight Rwandan time. Things went largely according to schedule and a cool breeze welcomed us in Kigali as we stepped off the plane.

From what I remember, we got to the Hotel shortly before 1 a.m . in the morning and had been told to be ready by 4 a.m. the same morning in order to go for a Gorilla Safari. My wish was to go to sleep as soon as possible once inside the room. However, just as things rarely work with wishful thinking, that wasn’t happening. I had resigned myself to getting very little sleep on the eve of a forest trek. We had been told that we would be going in a Land Cruiser, the significance of which is coming up.

The reason that became significant as far as I was concerned was that even before my alarm had gone off to get ready, I heard what I had been certain was the sound of a Land Cruiser’s engine being switched off. Our vehicle is here, I reasoned and hurriedly got out of bed and did as quickly as possible the minimum, which included putting on clothes for the trek. When I got down, all the lights were still off and there wasn’t a sign of any Land Cruiser. What followed was a half hour wait for the car in the lobby as I tried to get some shut eye, but didn’t manage another wink.

On the trip to see the Gorrila’s, passengers in the car were Jimmy, Myself and Lilian Onduko. The first few minutes of our drive were filled with chatter and laughter, which soon turned to quiet, bar the music coming from the speakers, as one by one we all decided to catch up on sleep. I had half a mind on the possible struggles our driver may have been having to stay awake at the wheel on the smooth roads, considering he too had woken in the early hours of the morning. However, the urge to sleep overpowered any intention to keep the driver company as we drove to the place.

Our first stop as we reached the vicinity of where the gorillas were was the registration point for visitors where we were offered complimentary tea or coffee for those who take theirs without milk. I indulged in a cup but struggled to finish as it became stronger as I got to the contents at the bottom. It was at the registration point that all those that were there to visit were put in separate groups depending on how long they wanted their trek to be. In our group which was a one hour trek inside the forest, there was amongst others a Gap Year Student from Leicester England, who was spending that year touring Africa’s wilderness amongst other things. There was also a Spanish Couple and a Gentleman from America. Great diversity I thought, within a split second of meeting each other.

Also at the point we were, there were three countries within close proximity of each other. We were in Rwanda obviously, to one side was the DRC, and to the other side was Uganda. That was quite a phenomenon in itself I thought. We began with a walk in the direction of the forest where we would be meeting the Gorillas prior to which we walked by some farm land where some kids who were already up were standing in little groups as we walked past and who waved and smiled at us. I began running at some point, not used to hiking, but had stopped mere moments after that. This was going to be a different experience I told myself.

Before we got in the much more dense area of the Forest, we had been told to leave any backpacks on support sticks in a clearing to be picked up later on our way out. Good idea I thought, not wise to show Gorrilas in the wild what could be perceived as aggression on our part. My first sight of any Gorrila as we made our way through the forest was high up on some vegetation, and that brought about the first sense of excitement, but we were told that was nothing compared to what we would be seeing moments from then. The first close up image I recall seeing was that of a fully grown male gorilla sitting on the ground, arms and legs crossed, and looking perhaps annoyed at something. I peered into its eyes but it never changed the direction of where it was looking which was right in front. I had stood there for a few seconds before moving on, taking in the different world that it seemed we had stepped into.

Our next two sightings were a groups of gorillas all grouped together, some of whom were displaying human tendencies (we were told some interesting facts about Gorillas; one that they are not colour blind and can see all colours and secondly that the Human-Gorilla DNA is at a whopping 97%!)

Some of the behaviors we saw of the Gorillas were one of them lying on its back trying desperately hard to feel some sun on its skin eyes closed tightly, another one had climbed on its mothers shoulder and did a slide along its chest and stomach headfirst, another one had stood up stretched its arms wide and fell back the way one might onto a bed. There was also some playful fighting going on between the baby gorillas and a thumping of chests. These were interrupted every now and then by one of the male gorillas using a grunting sound, as an elder might do to bring calm and peace to a situation. They would stop momentarily before resuming again, cue another grunt. We watched these and other behaviors for about an hour before we were told it was time to head back.

It was back at the Hotel later on in the day when I came across other Swaras, including Susan Amoko and Shem. Some clubbing followed as we sampled some of the Kigali nightlife which was thoroughly enjoyable, with Jimmy blending in very well with a couple of ladies we saw whilst in there.

It was on Day two that I saw more Swaras, namely Ashok and Shiku, the former who we saw at the stadium registering for the following day’s marathon. I had taken a brief walk outside our Hotel the evening before when as I walked past another hotel, I was able to see into the lobby of the hotel, and sitting there were what looked like football players. Me mentioning that to the others led us to inquire whether there was a Football match that was going to be taking place, and we were told that there was indeed one, that very same afternoon and it was going to be between the Uganda U23 Men and their Rwandese counterparts.

A decision was quickly made to add the match to our trip itinerary. What an unexpected surprise! We had found ourselves standing on the running track inside the stadium that same morning after registration and as we continued standing though not short of things to talk about, I suggested to Ashok that we should do a lap of the running track, by the end of which I was panting out of breath and my attention switched to the marathon the day after, and I silently changed my expectations of what time I was hoping to accomplish in the half.

It was also agreed that same morning to have as many Swaras converge as possible for lunch that day at an agreed venue, after which communication was sent out to all those we knew were in Kigali. Shiku had been joined by her sister Consolata, with whom there’s rarely a dull moment. Where we had agreed to meet, we found ourselves waiting for over an hour to be served food, after which we were told the kitchen did not have any supplies and that an employee had gone shopping as we were sitting. That was the final straw, so we paid the bill for a pizza, the only food we had had, and went in search of greener pastures. A grassy field appeared moments after we had begun our search, in the form of an African Restaurant with a ready Buffet. From despair moments earlier there was now relief as we tucked into the food. Part of the buffet food included Peanut Sauce which became a focal topic of conversation as we ate, in terms of its ability to boost sexual performance in males. The creative lot we are, so many angles were produced on that topic alone, which carried on even as we got to the stadium gate to watch the match.

Conso was not completely enthused about the idea of watching a football match but came along as it happened, and it didn’t take her long to warm to the match once it had started. For some reason she was one of those who chose to support the Ugandan Team, and after the goal ahead, her and Shiku came up with a chant in support of their adopted team for the match. It went “We Want Another One, Just like The Other One” Repeat. That was followed by giggles from both of them. The Rwandans came from behind to equalize before conceding once more, with the final outcome having been a narrow away victory for the Ugandans, much to the delight of the visiting Ugandan Fans in the Stands, and in contrast to Rwandan mood, none more so perhaps than a young fan we met outside the stadium afterwards who was saying something in relation to the football to Shiku, with watery eyes and trembling lips.

Dinner that night for some of us, especially those staying in the same hotel was a lovely Italian restaurant that Susan had suggested, but my personal experience eating wise was a little unexpected. As most of the writing appeared to be in Italian, I had opted for what sounded like a Fillet of Fish and was looking forward to it, but not as much after it was presented to me. I wasn’t expecting to see a whole fish, so I pecked away at the accompanying potatoes instead whilst some others on the table indulged in the Fish.

Peace-Marathon 00The following day was the day of the marathon and on our way to the Stadium there were two large groups of runners warming up quite intensely, but interestingly none of them were wearing bibs, about half an hour to the start. As it turned out, they wouldn’t be participating in the marathon itself but would be doing their own run. I had never seen that before considering there was a marathon taking place as well in the same morning. As we waited to start in what was a designated warm up area, we met some of the Kenyan Elites competing to win and took a photo with them. Another unexpected surprise!

The starting numbers were perhaps fewer than what you might get at StanChart for example but still large enough I thought to make it feel like an official half marathon. The gun went and we were off punctually, which is always nice, and under clear skies. There were some large snaking hills, good crowd support and a pleasant breeze most of the way. During the marathon I saw Zipo, who had initially begun training for the full marathon but had to abort and so was doing the half instead. As had been earlier mentioned, water stops were few and far between, so perhaps that is an area of improvement for the organizers and I was hoping that those doing the full marathon would be given sufficient aid, considering we were running on a hot and sunny day and they had begun after us at 8.30 a.m.

Entertainment during the run was provided by roller skaters skating along the course. I pushed and pushed during the final stages myself and was delighted to post a sub 2 hr time. Davis did an impressive 2 hrs 40 min for the half and Susan Amoko gave a testimony of Davis’s marathon by commenting that he was almost flying when it came to the downhill’s. Lilian also shared a story with us; as she was about to enter the Stadium Gate’s, there was a kid standing on the side who had an outstretched hand with a sweet in it and was offering it to her. Bon Bon? Bon Bon? he enquired when he saw her. She politely declined. On my way out of the Stadium I also saw Conso about to enter who was urging the watching crowd to clap for those competing, which they did, and which she thanked them for.

A little later that morning, Jimmy and I decided that a massage wouldn’t go amiss and were directed to a Hotel nearby with a Spa. It was there where further surprises awaited, as far as I was concerned at least. I was shown the door to the Men’s Changing Room, and once in there, there were no lockers as I had been expecting, but people‘s clothes hung on the wall one next to the other, I was able to also spot people wallets in the trouser pockets. Secondly, outside the Changing Rooms, men and women roamed freely only wrapped in towels. That was different. Coming back after my massage, all monies were intact. Impressive honesty!

That night was the mother of all night outs as far as our time in Kigali was concerned. Shiku, Conso and Jimmy had earlier identified and spent time in this Kenyan Establishment called Car Wash and we all went back there later for food and drink and basically to get on the dance floor. Everybody was in full flow. Waiters and Waitresses had joined in. Jimmy had shed some clothing as the night wore on and for a brief moment gave us the impression he was going to strip right down, but that was just teasing it turned out. The Mugithi took place as well, to cap off a fine night.

Though Lilian stayed on until the early hours of the morning, she was taking a very early flight the same morning back to Nairobi and into a business meeting. If I remember correctly, her plan was to go back to where she was staying, pack her bags and head to the airport. I don’t know how she would have made it through the next day in that case.

Most of us left at some point, with only Shiku and Conso having remained, Conso with a Big Bottle Of Beer in her hand which she said was her last drink. I’m not sure whether it turned out that way though.

We were to leave the next day but still had enough time to visit the Genocide Museum which was an important part of our visit to Kigali. Also a mention about where we stayed i.e. the Hotel Five To Five. I would highly recommend it to anyone, in all aspects and is only a 5 minute walk to the stadium. I personally plan to make it an annual visit. The bug is inside the body I think.

Our flight back was through Bujumbura which included a wavy takeoff from there. Wonders never cease.

Running Tales

An account of the Masai Lodge Run

Urban Swaras LogoOn May 2nd 2015, the Swara Run took place from near the border of Kenya if certain people’s perception that Ongata Rongai is actually another country that one wouldn’t find no matter how closely they looked on a map, is true. The venue was Masai Lodge from where the running Superstar James once hosted.

I was almost shivering and perspiring at the wheel as I drove there as intentionally behind me was Lillian whom perhaps I’d convinced the evening before that I knew the directions to the place. A dead end, a chancy turn later we arrived with a few minutes to spare. I felt I had outdone myself. Already there amongst others Loise the conqueror of the 56k two oceans and within Ajaa’s desired time, Brian the first swara I’ve seen arriving to a run riding a piki-piki (not a boda-boda I don’t think) quite swanky I thought as I looked at it and by the way even with his helmet on Ajaa knew immediately who it was whose face was under it, and Sean who is not only a runner from another sphere it seems but a also a top class bloke.

The run began a few minutes late as MC Susan had made a request to Ajaa to postpone the start until her quickly moving car reached the venue. We were told that Otora not for the first time was in the process of remarking a running route due to the rain that had fallen overnight. So after a brief description of the scenery that lay ahead of us we were off on command of Ajaa’s whistle. (Can anybody think of a nickname we can give his whistle?) Answers please if anybody wishes to send a reply back to this account I’ll be sending via email once I’m done typing it out.

There was a familiar sight at the beginning of a breakaway at the front but at a slower pace than usual I got the feeling. I was running with Peter Macharia for a while (the man who can run a full marathon in around 4 hrs (Cool man!) and also settle for short distances when not in training I suspect. The early stages of the run were relatively dry and I was able to get a consistent pace going, but which changed quite dramatically but 6k’s into the run when we got of the main roads and onto the inside areas. Not long after that I had settled for walking most of the time and attempting to enjoy the sound of the shoes sinking into the wet mud. Ajaa came running past me on the same surface and I looked on in both bewilderment and envy. He just loves running he does.

I had attempted to pass my time during which my personal time taken as far as the passing kilometers were concerned was becoming laughable. I had almost expected a question mark to appear on the face of the watch as the kilometers passed painfully slowly. Attempted interactions with the locals weren’t bearing much fruit. They may either have been wondering why we had chosen to do this, or were cursing the overnight rains themselves.

The terrain became dry again on the road back to the Lodge, but not before I had to make a somewhat tricky decision on whether to go left or right at a point as there were arrows pointing in both directions. My guess proved correct and ended up following the straight road back to the Lodge which was not the case with some as I was told, who had gone the other way and only realized they were running in a different direction from the camp when they saw a barrier all would have used when coming but coming from the other direction.

Interestingly I saw small group of Swaras on the way back, each of whom were of the faster cadre of runners (Albert, Benjamin, Dennis et al.)  The breakfast did not disappoint as there was plentiful supply of both food and drink and the breakfast took place under a lovely and cool shade mixed with nice conversation everywhere.People left at leisure thereafter.

Running Tales

An Account of the Tigoni Run

Urban Swaras LogoSusan’s email in the third week of March 2015 took us to the leafy paradise that is Tigoni. Tigoni was my first chastening experience as a Swara personally, but for some reason I never contemplated sitting in front of the T.V on a Saturday morning where you can’t feel lost at least geographically.

The party I was in arrived at the Gulf Petrol Station at about 20 minutes to 7, but there were already a couple of cars there and faces that weren’t immediately recognizable being a fairly regular attendee of the runs, so I suppose it shows the quality of the club in terms of attracting more people.

With me was Susan Amoko and her friend Belinda, although I’m certain I’ve gotten her name wrong. Sorry about that. It’ll grow on me I’m sure. It was a laugh a minute as we made our way to the Running base. I had shared my chastening experience with Susan and our newbie which was met with a chorus of laughter. Some things get funnier over time I suppose.

It wasn’t long before Cars began streaming in with the drivers looking for every inch of space available, which wouldn’t disrupt the normal operations of the place we were in as we were gone. Amongst those who were there was one of our International Superstars and one whom the Swara’s are very proud to be associated with I say with confidence; James Walilula, Abdi who always offers a tranquil place of rest, relaxation and group scheming whenever there are runs beginning in the environs of Nyayo Stadium, Susan who’s done and dusted with the full marathon in Kili and who seems to be refueling before her next full marathon assault, and Loise Mbarire; part of those who will be very shortly doing the 56k at the Two Oceans Marathon. It seems a formality to me that she amongst the others will do it.

The pre-race briefing was done by Susan M.C who also announced the other roles she would be adopting that day; Chairman (or Chairwoman), Treasurer etc., so it was going to be a one-stop shop for anyone who approached Susan. An entertaining prelude to the race followed which included her warning those doing the 15k that they would be doing a bit more. I remember having heard her say 18 and a half k was the potential actual distance. There was also some sad news that our Trail Fox a.k.a. Mike Otora had been involved in an accident whilst travelling back from marking the route. I spoke to him later and am happy to say that despite having suffered some injuries he is on his feet.

As there was no whistle, we began on Susan’s release. The first part of the run was a downhill stretch along the tarmac of about 5k’s and as always seems to happen whenever we use that stretch, kids began greeting us from the very same spot. How are you?…………How are you?, in those sweet little voices.

The early morning chills were lifting and the sun was peeking just a bit but it remained pleasant. The run went as expected until I came up to Abdi well into the climbs, I’d also managed to stay on my feet which is always a concern and a relief when it happens. Whilst we were close together I heard a kid shout from behind me Mzungu Moja!, after which another kid corrected him or her and shouted Wazungu Wawili. Some light relief as I tackled the inclines of Tigoni. Still with Abdi, at one point after that he asked me how much we had done, to which I replied 17.8. Shock, horror, he had set out to do 10!, and was running without a watch. “No wonder”, he said out aloud. He was tiring at that point.

Back on to the tarmac I noticed I was barely 300 m to completing my intended distance of 20km, with the split yet to come. As I approached the split, I estimated that running straight to the station which was in sight would have been almost sufficient to cover the 20 k’s, and so I told Benjamin Chikani No way!, as I approached the split where he was standing in response to him telling me to branch off. I gave him my unopened bottle of water instead and continued straight. I suppose the good thing with these multiple distances is when you get to a split and you have data on you, you can judge for yourself and make your own decision.

As Susan had said earlier, those who were doing the longer distances would have been reasonably close to the Station to be able to replenish before heading out again. Mbarire and Ndichu, though they may have been others, took up this advice, stopping by to get replenishments before continuing, and possibly ignoring the comforts of home. That’s real determination I thought to myself, when I saw them doing that.

Not only were the staff so very pleasant at the cafeteria but breakfast felt like a steal. For me I had a sausage, a very big Mandazi and a very big Samosa washed down with 2 cups of tea for only 200 bob. Wow!

There was the usual catching up going on everywhere and shared tales about the run and people left at leisure.

Have a great week all and I hope it runs smoothly (weak pun intended.)

 

 

Running Tales

Penultimate 2014 Swaras Run in Karura Forest

Urban Swaras LogoThe penultimate run of the Swara Calender 2014 took place inside the Karura Forest (a place of tranquility and greenery amidst the increasingly concrete looking Nairobi). Long may it remain that way. Fortunately it was a dry morning as Karura in the wet is a totally different kettle of fish. I got there at about 6.50 and was taken aback by the sheer number of cars already there. Nairobians don’t sleep much it appears.

Already there amongst others was M.K aka Surinder who is finishing a perhaps turbulent year in fine running form, Ajaa whose passion for running has also taken him down South including to the Vic. Falls Marathon whose T-Shirt he is adorning, a newbie Swara and daughter of the Chairman i.e. Kanana who if she likes running can go on to achieve great things. Some of those who got in after me were Nancy Kinyua who belongs in the top echelons of the Swaras as far as running prowess is concerned, Melissa who never gave away much during her time with us but is quite an incredible person (happy to share in private) and for whom sadly it was her last Swara Run before she goes back to the U.S. Hope fate sees it differently.

The briefing was fairly straightforward because Karura is pre-marked though there were some murmurings of people who fancied creating their own routes. I don’t know if anybody actually broke away from the general direction of the herd though (pun intended).

The run began with that famous but steep opening climb. I don’t know of any other run where the breathing changes after about 100 metres. I reckon I was at the front at that point but had soon been joined by Mitch who has great lungs by the way and if you want someone talking to you when you’re running he is your ideal man amongst his other likeable traits. Soon to join us in what was now becoming a Swara stampede almost were Benjamin Chikani and Co., and then they were gone immediately after. It was also nice to see Otora pass and not with chalk in his hand this time. I think he has largely done sterling work this year as other years in terms of his marking. He ended up doing his 16k route in an hour thereabouts, but something HE wasn’t happy with. Ashok was probably getting a sun tan decked out somewhere topless where he was in Mombasa otherwise he too would have been great company.

Personally it was my first time doing the 15k route and the first thing I encountered after going off the beaten path was an uphill climb which took me somewhat by surprise but I decided to be relaxed about whatever was coming as it was my first time doing it. Through the run Swaras could be seen coming from the opposite direction, or coming from the right, such is the uniqueness of Karura Forest.

I got to a section where I could hear water in the distance but naturally began wandering if there was going to be any wading to be done at the end of an unsuccessful attempt at balancing myself crossing, just like M.K has pipe phobia when it comes to doing a circus act over them over flowing water. The first structure I saw, unknown to me at that time as something that had been discarded, was a series of sticks going across but something I could tell was slanting. My shoulders dropped, but then I saw a much sturdier one and one we were expected to use to cross, so they picked up again and I crossed no problem.

I was eager to hit the 15k mark hoping that I was going to have something to shake my head at; i.e. if after that we were still within the forest and off the driving path. It did happen that the 15k mark had been reached according to the watch I was wearing and I was still running in unfamiliar surroundings within the forest. It was at that point where I went past Ajaa and Kanana and after Ajaa had given a word of encouragement I shared with him that I thought I was lost. But then the familiar Ajaa laugh was heard and he told me to keep going as we were about 1 ½ ks from where we had begun, and true to what he had said it ended up being pretty much that.

After that we mingled around and then made our way to the Java Coffee House where there was a substantial of Swaras who gathered there. It was a pleasant breakfast and lots of things were discussed from athletes doping to why should we be having runs from the Arboretum directly before the end of the year and immediately after. I think that still stands. Vell, people left at leisure to go about the rest of their weekend.

Have a great week all and Merry Christmas too.

Running Tales

An account of the Naivasha Children’s Village Run

Urban Swaras LogoDecember 6th 2014 was the date for the hopefully inaugural Naivasha Children’s Village Run. First things first, it was to be held in a dry area and away from the rainy part of the day. I’m led to believe it always rains at some point in the afternoon there. It’s always helpful when its dry as opposed to wet though the latter has never resulted in a poor turnout historically.

I drove down together with Patrick Daoust, who despite being soft spoken is a fantastic athlete who has done jaw dropping endurance events. Also with me was Lilian Onduko who not only has achieved every runners dream I imagine of doing a full marathon (in Lewa of all places), but also has a passion for cycling and life in general as I see it. Driving down, I was at ease until we got to the section of the dual carriage way, after which my thoughts went back to one of the previous Saturdays where I missed a turning after Sigona Golf Club and ended up driving the entire length of the concrete barrier once again and in the process making the runners in my car on that day late.

My anxiety was reaching crisis levels then I saw the Bata sign pointing to the left after which I breathed a sigh of relief. Since Patrick who was sitting in front with me wasn’t very familiar with that route, we could have driven down to Nakuru and he would have been none the wiser I felt, would have probably fallen asleep I reckon, having just gotten back into the country the night before. I knew for certain it was a left at the immediate T Junction thereafter having been corrected the weekend before by Ajaa. Since I was sure of that, I wasn’t surprised to see the familiar Rift Valley bit a few kilometers later on our left. Stunning views and a taste of what was to come during our run, albeit from ground level.

Anxiety returned once again after we had passed Mt. Longonot on our left because I knew locating the correct turnoff was touch and go after that, and I began having visions that every other driver heading to the home apart from me, the one who was supposed to be most familiar with the route there, would have located it and branched off correctly. Luckily perhaps a temporary sign had been mounted off the road displaying the name Children’s Village.

I was careful enough to branch off at that point and thereafter was able to get to the home without having to stop and take any u-turns. There was one more moment of slight alarm though when we came across a pool of water in front of us, inside a dip. We were prepared to test the depth of the water to see if it was passable. My two passengers stepped out and carried out their own tests. Lilian threw in what might have been a pebble or a rock I can’t remember, perhaps looking for signs from the splash it would create. Patrick picked up a tall blade of grass and inserted it straight down right to the bottom, I think and it didn’t get fully wet, so that was our cue that it was passable. Mission accomplished a few seconds later and not long after that we were waiting outside the Children’s Home. The air was quiet.

We were the first to the gate, followed by amongst others Wachira and his partner (Wachira a veteran runner with his wife who may have caught the running bug from him or perhaps someone with the attitude ‘if you can’t beat them run with them’. Some others to arrive was Kevin; another powerful runner who made a very young running buddy whilst there and took a selfie with him, Mugambi who it can be argued never sweats even when running (seriously Mugambi!?!), Ferrah for whom in 2015 its largely onwards and upwards at least as far as running is concerned where she plans to breach the 56k mark, and M.C Susan for whom it has been a remarkable running year having done the full at Stanchart in under five hours from very humble running beginnings a relatively short time ago.

We were standing in cool air as we gathered for the pre-run briefing accompanied by some of the kids who would be running with us. I tried to picture what they were thinking at that moment but came to my own conclusion that kids know no nerves. A short brief followed and we were off, and just before we reached the main gate on the way out, we could already see to our left kids playing on the playground, their holidays had started. Less than 2k’s into the run we came across more cars with people still making their way to the home, part of whom was Samuel Nyingi, who unsurprisingly seemingly coasted past people as the run wore on, including myself.

It seemed as  if some of the kids had found adult running partners, for example I saw Patrick with one, a strong and enthusiastic little runner. Whilst running with one of the kids myself, my watch made a familiar sound signaling the end of a kilometer. I noticed we had covered 3 k’s at that point, something I let my running partner know about, before I came to the realization that these little runners had already done 3 kilometers of running. I found that impressive.

Apart from the fact that the run was nice and easy in terms of general gradient, I must say the views were amazing. We were either facing plains against the backdrop of lovely sky, Mt. Longonot or the lake in the distance. As I approached the 10 k split, I could see Ajaa infront of me, in front of whom was one of the kids who looked disappointed when Ajaa advised him to take the 10k route instead. He wanted to follow us. Talk about energy and enthusiasm.  One of the best things about the run for me was very few cars to have to contend with. I felt it was a perfect end of the year run and something I wish we can do annually.

I decided to follow the 20k route which ended up being 18k exact. Not bad I thought considering the nature of our runs.

Albert was leading a warm down which was enthusiastically being replicated. I gave it a go, eventually, but was struggling to do exactly the same.

Breakfast was awaiting us inside which I enjoyed, coupled with metal mugs from which to drink from. Metal being a very good insulator of heat, the handles became too hot to handle very quickly, literally speaking. And so it wasn’t unusual to see people picking up a serviette on the way to the tables in order to hold the handle with. From what I can recall, Ashok, Samuel, and Patrick did the maximum distance though I’m certain there were others too.

A formal part followed, which included a brief speech by Ajaa, Susan MC, and of the social workers Agnes. They were all lovely speeches. Pledges were also made to sponsor children for a year, both from those that were present and those who perhaps hadn’t been able to make it. The sense of giving was incredible.

Something else about the run that amazed me but I forgot to mention earlier was that I saw a lady perhaps in her early teens, running in jeans and running rather well I might add. That was a first for me. Almost like army training.

After we had finished with the activities inside, we were given a tour of the place, green houses growing vegetables including Sukuma Wiki. Loise Mbarire mentioned that just two leaves out of an entire plant would have left her well fed If I can remember. We passed by a lone cow, looking very healthy and a chicken roost.  The final part of our tour was inside one of a like for like accommodation structures. Each structure housed a certain number of children, had a housekeeper who would cook meals for her ‘household,’ washroom and bathing facilities, rooms and a notice board where various accomplishments by the children had been pinned up.

One of the children had been awarded a certificate for his or her performance over a 10k run. It was good to see that shared there is a passion for running just like we have.

People said their hearty good byes after that and we left one after the other thereafter.

Have a great week all.

Running Tales

Our Scouting Trip to Naivasha

Urban Swaras LogoIt was a Saturday late afternoon when I was catching forty winks exhausted partly because of the intensity of the morning’s Swara Run, when the phone rang with Otora’s name flashing across the screen. I suddenly remembered I was to host the following weekends run and sat up straight to answer it, having had a feeling I was about to embark on an important phone call.

It was indeed important, Otora had a series of thoughtful questions that we wanted to ask. At the end of it all it was agreed that we would make a trip to the Children’s home and its environs the following morning. I don’t think I can overstate the sacrifices Ajaa and Otora make with a good heart as far as any run is concerned i.e. making a trip to advantage of the host covering the better part of a Sunday in this case.

So as had been agreed, I met Ajaa at his house at 10.30 the following morning, the car loaded with normal supplies for the home with enough space though for Otora fit at the back, his view to the left blocked by boxes. And so we were on our way without much further ado. Our first stop was one of the view points. Ajaa wanted to satisfy his curiosity on two fronts. On one front he had been mentioning to us a remote based restaurant owned by mzungus deep in the heart of the valley which he hoped to generally spot and the second was to plot a running route from a few hundred feet up. I wonder if he sometimes wakes up with a jolt of excitement in his sleep and makes quick notes before he forgets, pen and paper at the ready before he closes his eyes to go to sleep.

The viewpoint was our one and only intended stop on the way to what I was hoping was a straight forward ride to the children’s home. As we continued down the highway at a point Ajaa pointed to our right showing me where they had tortured their bodies on a previous run, pointing all the way at the top of a big hill. Eco-Lodge felt like a cake-walk compared to what I was picturing one had to go through.

I was flinching nervously as we passed Mt. Longonot to our left knowing that we were either close to the roadside signboard or I had perhaps driven past, such is my inability with directions. I sometimes confuse a simple left with a right especially when driving. We hadn’t passed the signboard luckily so there was no need to turn back to look for it despite the fact that we only just saw it leading to a bit of swerve.

I had managed to successfully locate the rail tracks that I was told to expect largely aware that we would either lose our way from there before we got to the correct destination or end up somewhere else. It was all up to me at that point somewhat worryingly. As if right on cue we did end up at a wrong place, something I was half expecting. Boys driving a donkey cart came to our immediate rescue pointing us in a general direction to where it actually was. We got further assistance from one of the ladies at the home. One thing we knew for sure was that we were at the wrong place. So we set off again and one more stop later to ask for directions we were finally there.

Gaining entry to the home was simply a matter of protocol at the gate. Thereafter after some brief introductions with those at the home, a sit down that consisted of us quenching our thirst, and initial discussions regarding the upcoming run, we set off on our scouting mission.

We began driving toward the lake, with Ajaa’s wishes having been that some part of the run would be adjacent to the Lake however this wasn’t a certainty as private land may have restricted us from getting that far. Ajaa’s keen eye for estimating distances proved to be coherent with another at the home whose estimation of the distance to the lake mirrored that of Ajaa’s. They were both of the view that it was about 5 km’s away.

The scouting trip itself was not without moments of laughter and smiles. Apparently cars are rarely seen being driven in the area we were in, an impression we got from some excitement we created whilst driving there, a couple of  very young looking puppies who perhaps frightened with the presence of a moving car hurried along the side of the road we were on as fast as their little legs could carry them as it appeared, before one after the other fell by the wayside to catch their breath from a safe distance away.

The best moment arguably though took place as we were driving back to the home. A naked little boy was bathing out in the open surrounded by clothed children and feeling the chills of the water temperature somewhat when he saw us approaching. Mumbling something he stopped what he was doing and began running towards us. We came to a brief stop as soon as he was next to us, he continued mumbling something after which we drove away, though he still followed us for abit, still mumbling. I assume he got a little dirty from the dust so would be requiring another wash. I get the feeling you had to be there to fully experience the moment. Nevertheless, we were all in laughter.

Back at the home we put the finishing touches to our visit and we’re on our way again back to Nairobi, and as it happened it rained almost the whole way back making the journey rather slow but not boring for me with such good company. We stopped briefly to buy cooked maize on the highway, something which is becoming a bit of tradition.

The drive back was safe.

Have a good week all and hope to see you all on Saturday.