Running Tales

It Will Move You

ny-it will move youWhen they said the New York Marathon ‘will move you’, I did not think it literally. It’s taken slightly over a month before I could get the right words to caption my experience. When I reflect back on my journey to the Big Apple, I realize this movement started way back thanks to role models like James Waliaula. When you have a dream to conquer the big races, one needs to make a move. So I balloted for the Big Apple but failed in the ballot process and my next move was to try the other several options available. My confirmation came through a sports tour company.

Training? With four marathons under my belt, I had an idea on training. But this was different, probably due to its magnitude even though the distance remained the same. And there was the strong desire to hit a sub 3 here since my past three attempts had failed miserably. This time the training had to be right. A slight screw-up and that’s the end; from injury to missed flights to loss of baggage with running gear. These are some of the nightmares runners go through. The training started on 17th July. During the first week, I totaled 39km which was inclusive of a 15km Saturday run with the Swaras at City Park. Not something out of the ordinary, but something to point out where I started. Pace was moderate and the plan was to build my endurance gradually for the next four weeks before embarking on the hardcore runs; Hill work, Speed work and tempo runs. The four weeks ended with the weekly mileage exceeding 80km, with the last Saturday mileage getting to 30km.

It was time to embark on the hardcore runs. I recall several times when I had to wake up and knowing the day was meant for speed work, I’d wish I could get some excuse to sleep a little longer or just avoid the work out totally (this is where guys would go, kumbe Davis is human like the rest of us). However, when the thought of the New York Marathon flashed through my mind, I would get on auto pilot. My body automatically adjusted to the 4am alarm, and by 5:15am I’d be warming up. The great feeling would come when it was all over. This would be repeated every week for the next 11 weeks. The Saturday long runs were not easy, with work outs starting as early as 6am thanks to my training partners David Thuo and Jack Ndegwa. These guys literally made the pain more fun and enjoyable with paces out of this world. Without going too much into detail and for you to get a feel of some of the Saturday long runs here they are; Karen 25km at 4:30mins/km pace, Iten (high altitude) 40km at 4:30mins/km pace (ouch! that was a hard one), Mt Kenya “Ultra” 35km at 4;43mins/km, Kahara 30km at 4:26mins/km (one of my popular training routes), Fluorspar with 1577m elevation gain, 40km at 5:37mins/km (I still don’t know how I achieved this). In total I covered 1,350km over the 16 weeks. For those wondering where I am going with all this, read on. For those who have queried what my training was like, that’s part of the story.

5th November, I’m wide awake one hour before my alarm is set to go off. With some sense of nervousness and the clocks having changed backwards by 1 hour at 2:00am (each year, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in March, 60 minutes vanish from the clock and the time reappears each year in November! No, it’s not a magic trick — it’s Daylight Saving Time!). I couldn’t help thinking; what if the race started without me because I overslept? Not happening. Sleep could now take a back seat now that the day was finally here. I hit the hot showers, stepped out of the hotel into the cold New York streets to catch my first breakfast (don’t ask why the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast –welcome to New York where you pay for everything). I had planned to have breakfast twice with two hour intervals since the Marathon was starting at 9:50am and I was awake by 4am (my body was still on auto pilot mode, apparently I’d wake up this early even on Sundays). Once done with my first breakfast, I went through my marathon checklist. Kenyan flag bandana-Check, Proper socks and shoes on-Check, Vaseline applied-Check, Elastoplast-Check, Check, Check, Check…

I was good to go. It must have been less than 10 degrees Celsius as we walked with other runners from the hotel lobby for about 10 minutes to board the ferry that would take us to Staten Island. Arriving at the ferry terminus we were greeted with a sea of runners also trying to get onto the ferry. You couldn’t fail to notice the law enforcement officers draped in their blue uniforms and the event organizers (who are volunteers). The level of organization put in place with the sheer number of runners is impeccable.

We arrive at the start area in convoy of buses, and one is easily moved by how big the event is. The clearly marked signage directs one easily to their respective corrals. The marshals not allowing entrance into a corral not designated to you. Music is blaring from the clear and quality speakers with interruptions from the MC giving directions to runners in various languages. “This is it!” I remark to self. No turning back. Months of preparation have reduced to 2 hours of waiting time. I know guys at home are trying to finish their errands before they settle down with their phones and other screens to follow the event. I grab my second cup of coffee for the day and with my well preserved homemade chapatis, I carbo load away.

The gun for the first wave goes off, one is literally moved to see the runners in their thousands. You can be mistaken to think that these are all the runners. But there are two other groups starting from a different area all in the first wave (if this is confusing to you, It was confusing to me as well at first). It took me 4 minutes before I could cross the official start line and another 5 minutes before I could start running at my target pace. The New York Marathon is huge to the extent they have three different starting points where runners in the same wave start simultaneously and will then run their different routes before merging at km 5. If that does not move you…read on.

The first few kilometers, are brutal. My run is characterized by dodging other runners and running behind runners of similar pace to avoid head winds (don’t blame the player, it was too cold and I was in a singlet). This was not a conservative way to run, I realized later (my Garmin recorded having done 43km) but in a way it helped. The harsh conditions slightly improved as we went through Brooklynn and I was well within my target pace. The cheering becomes deafening, spectators have poured onto the streets; men, women, kids, musical bands, the atmosphere is eccentric. I’m overwhelmed and increase my speed thinking the race is about to end only to check my watch and the reality is I’ve done only 10km. I realize I’m only used to such large cheering when about to finish a marathon. I moderate my pace and move on.

ny marathon - davisI’m not sure at what point I notice the sub 3:05 pacer ahead of me and thinking it must be a mistake, I was on sub 3:00 pace! “Is my garmin playing tricks with me?”, question to self. To confirm I was in the right pace, I had to wait until I got to the halfway mark. The Sub 3:05 bus was now behind me boosting my confidence. My doubts for a sub 3 were eliminated when I crossed the half way mark, at a time of 1hr 27mins. Great! I was well ahead of 1:30 by 3 mins. The aim was to maintain this pace, with a worst case scenario of running positive splits of 5-10 mins within the next half. I can’t recall my time at 25km, probably because I just wanted to get to 30km before I could correctly predict my time again. However, things started to slow down immediately after 25km, at the Queens Bridge, where my pace declined due to the steep climb getting over the bridge and also the quiet atmosphere. This is where I felt my body shutting down. I could do with the kind of cheering I had at 10Km, it makes a big difference. Suddenly, from behind me, I heard someone shouting “Kenya, Kenya, twende” (Kenya flag bandana on my head), who was this guy? Could it be an elite who started late… before I knew it, the guy just disappeared ahead of me like I was stationary. However, he stirred some encouragement and made me push harder. I later learnt he was a Kenyan runner who was placed 17th (the guy actually started in wave 2 and is not an elite).

30Km mark, time is at 2hrs 3Mins. “I just need to finish the next 12km in slightly less than one hour”, I said to self. “Will it be a miss or a hit?” I briefly reflected back to my first 15km which I did in 1hr 1min, but that was the FIRST 15KM. I was still not sure of sub 3 though my Garmin pace was still within a sub 3. Still, chances of the body cramping, asking for a bathroom break, or anything were imminent and beyond my control. The aim now was to continue moving, step by step, listening to the body, and pushing where I could. According to a recce we did in a tour bus the previous day, there was a mean hill waiting at Km 40, (it came earlier -probably because of the dodging of runners at the start). So my pace dropped at Km 38 and the next two Kilometers was a bit of a struggle. My calves started cramping up until the hill was done. The remaining two kilometers were blissfully covered without much effort, like something out of the ordinary was moving me. Probably it was the loud cheering from the thousands of New Yorkers who braved the morning chill just to watch the runners race to the finish line.

Official Results

ny - davis results
ny - elevation profile

Running Tales

The Journey to Vic Falls

Victoria FallsIts 4am on a random weekday, my alarm goes off and I drag myself out of bed wearily. The morning cold hits me in a rush as I push the warm blankets away. The temptations to go back are higher than getting out to fulfill my marathon training schedule. I am lucky this time, the latter overshadows the former. 30 mins later, I’m on the road to the gym with music playing in the car stereo to get me in the mood for my morning Run. The same routine is repeated every day, with speed runs and hill reps being my nightmarish days.

The journey started back in 2015, when I placed Victoria Falls Marathon in my bucket list. However I kept shoving it away. So, in late March this year when I signed up for the run, booked my flight and paid for accommodation, I was too cocky about it, notwithstanding my injuries, which had plagued me for over 12 months.

I’m not sure whether to call it luck or a miracle, but within one month of the intensive journey through regular runs, physio sessions, strength training and stretching, I was out of my injuries (note the plural in injuries). Not only did my speed improve, I signed up for the Voi Run, considered one of the toughest in the Swara Calendar. But before I took a bus to Voi, I was hiking Mount Longonot, a 13km, high altitude hill located near Naivasha town, the very same day I was travelling. I’m not sure how confident I was with myself to undertake these two adventures without a break. But there I was on my way to Voi the same day I had hiked. My 30km run in Voi the following day after few hours of sleep in the bus was not disappointing and can be summed up on the infographics below.

Voi Run

When you achieve so much in so little time, one of two things are bound to happen, it could either get better or worse. I chose to remain optimistic and the training just got tougher. With solitary early morning runs on weekdays and weekends, the D-day for my long run was here. Was I ready for the fluorspar hill? I was nervous. Someone said; if you are overconfident you are bound to fail, if you are not prepared you will fail, if you are nervous you are likely to succeed. Well, yours truly was nervous and could hardly sleep a wink before the long run day. 5am on the D-day I was up and about having breakfast. Sego Lodge was gracious enough to make me an early breakfast, this is because they are used to such requests by runners who visit the lodge. The previous day we had arranged with a rider to pick me up at 5:54am so that he could drop me at the start point by 6am. That did not happen. He was running late, this guy didn’t understand my burning desire to have an early morning start. Probably that’s his nature. At 6:00am as I waited at the parking lot, I heard the loud rattling of a motorbike, could this be him? The motorbike rattling grew louder as I waited. With some ironic excitement my rider was here, clad in a brown leather chaget (Kalenjin accent for Jacket). We exchanged greetings with Felix before I hopped onto the motorbike for a trip to the start point.

The Fluorspar hill is one brutal run. Some time back I shared how brutal it was when I attempted the infamous “tarmac to tarmac” (a 42km distance) back in 2015 with the Swaras. As if my 2015 experience had not prepared me well, I attempted it again in 2016 and it flogged me again. Never mind I was doing half the distance (20km) due to injuries. This time (2017) I was all alone save for my support rider. I had been beaten twice, I was not ready to allow the beast of a hill to take me down this time. I had prepared well and the first 20km was achieved without much effort as it was mostly downhill as one runs to the base of the Great Rift Valley. The next 8km was achieved without support. You see, we had agreed with the rider he would provide support every 5Kms. As I approached Km 28 Felix was nowhere in sight and every time I had the sound of a motorbike pull behind me, I would look back hoping it was him. Three Motorbikes passed and my anxiety grew with each passing bike. The riders actually thought I wanted a ride, but they were ferrying other passengers. Finally, Felix showed up as I was approaching 29Kms. He apologizes profusely and with the typical Kalenjin accent tells me he got a puncture. I’m too dehydrated to listen and I quench my body with what I could find in the bag. I inform him I may need him more as I accomplish the last 11km. At Km 35, fatigue starts to wear me down. Luckily Felix is around to hand me a banana. I am fully rejuvenated after two bites. Nyaru is the town that sits at the top of the Fluorspar hill. It’s difficult to explain the excitement one has when you have only 100 meter to go; you know you are fast approaching Nyaru. With all the remaining energy (where the hell it comes from, I’ve never known) your sprint can be likened to that of Usain Bolt’s. It’s done and dusted when you step on the tarmac at Nyaru. Thanks to Felix and the awesome kids who muttered some words in Kalenjin, which I could not understand, but I interpreted as words of encouragement to a Mkimbiaji (runner).

fluorspar run

My Morning runs continued for the next 3 weeks before a minor lower back pain manifested itself 6 days prior to my maiden Victoria Falls run. The last two Physio sessions before leaving for Victoria Falls did little to reduce the pain which was now as stubborn as a mule. I was not going to throw in the towel having secured my flight and accommodation and months of training. Come Friday, I was on the morning flight to Livingstone. On the flight, I spotted Judy Muhoro, the only other Swara, accompanied by her friends who were also going to Vic Falls for the half marathon and of course some bit of fun. My host had organized a Taxi from the airport and within 45mins after border clearance and picking my bib at Kingdom Hotel, I was relaxing at my host’s residence.

Saturday Morning run on the eve of marathon day proved more of a misadventure than one of building my confidence. Things could not have been worse, I ended up doing 6km out of the intended 4km. This was as a result of an encounter with an elephant grazing less than 50m from where I was running. Who would have thought in this part of the world elephants graze close to main roads where cars are zooming at full speed. Do I turn back and go back in the direction I came from, or do I continue and look for an alternative route back to my residence? The latter was more convincing. I did not travel thousands of miles to race an elephant. So I kept going. With the small population in Vic Falls, I could not get anyone to ask for directions, I had only a vague idea of the area, and the only thing I could do was to keep going. Luckily, I met another runner coming from the opposite direction who I stopped; I know how one feels when you have built momentum in your run and you are suddenly stopped without notice. I quickly explained my predicament and he was understanding. It took him sometime to convince me to go back in the direction I had come from because it was shorter. Moreover, he was running in the same direction and was used to this kind of things. We ran together hardly talking to each other so as not to anger the elephant which was now chewing nonchalantly and without a care for two runners passing by.

Sunday Morning, 5am my alarm goes off. The first thing I checked was whether the pain had gone. No! Some painkillers would do the trick after breakfast; no, this is not doping. I was lucky to have a good host by the name of Mambo who was kind enough to prepare breakfast really early for me and other runners who were staying in the same residence. We exchanged pleasantries over breakfast before leaving for the start point, 1.5km away from Mambo’s residence. Livingstone is a small town and you can virtually cover the whole town in 30 mins by walking. That’s why the Marathon is a double loop with distances in and out of town passing through the game park. I arrive at the start line, having warmed up and join other runners as they stretched. I notice one runner with a Comrades road ID and I immediately strike a conversation as I am curious how he can run a full marathon just one week after running the Comrades (87km Ultra marathon). We are all different! (Eyes rolling).

At 6:45am, the gun goes off for the start of the 42Km Victoria Falls Marathon. The weather is perfect; cloudy, slightly chilly, just like my morning run weather. The only difference, I am dressed in this oversize Swara singlet. I had not realized I had lost so much weight training for this run and the singlet just hung over my body like a coat on a hanger. My focus was more on finishing the run, not how I was dressed, (as long as I was dressed) and not on improving my PB. That was far-fetched with my injury.

I’m not sure if this happens to all runners, when you start a race with a fast paced crowd, one tends to start running faster than your normal pace. It’s like the crowd of runners who take off with a sprint are pulling you even when you want to run at your normal average pace. I am a slow starter, and gradually increase pace as my body warms up. The race is well organized with frequent water points. Water is served in small transparent Sachets holding approximately 100mls. So all one needed to do is rip the top part with your teeth and you feel the content gush into your mouth. It reminded me of my primary school days where we would consume what we called cools- iced flavored liquids in sachets which would pass for some sort of ice cream in various colours. I am amazed with the spectators who have turned out to cheer despite the small population of Victoria Falls town. 10kms in, my focus remains on finishing the run despite the pain radiating through the right leg from my back. To numb the pain, I would place pressure on the area of pain using the cold water sachets as ice before ripping the sachet apart and emptying the contents on my lower back. This seemed to work even though my running had changed to a hobble. At Km 20, yours truly consoles himself he is halfway there. A glance at my watch reveals impressive time at 21km. This is the time the two voices in the head start talking, “If I continue with the same pace I could make it for a PB in 3hrs 15mins”. “No, it is impossible to maintain similar speeds or even run negative splits in the second half”. I concur with the second voice. I’m now in the second loop; the roads are now teeming with the 21Km participants, most of them walking. They slow me down, maybe that’s what my leg needed. However, further ahead, the roads are clearer and I step up my speed, more like hobble faster actually. At 35km my speed drops as I take on the last gentle hill. With only 7km to go, I was not giving up. I clear the hill and get onto the home stretch. I get to the 40km mark and couldn’t help noticing I was on my way to shattering my PB, well not with a big margin. Now my push had a different focus, to improve my PB with however small a margin. I cross the finish line with two minutes to spare from my previous PB.

http://results.finishtime.co.za/MyResults.aspx?uid=35-2248-1-98164

Davis at vic Falls

As I limped towards the baggage collection area, I catch Judy Muhoro and her friends as they hydrate and relax next to the finish point. Their tired limbs spread on the grass as evidence of completing the half marathon. By now, the heat was getting the better of all of us and it was time to leave for a swim. The rest of the afternoon is spent at the swimming pool at Kingdom Hotel before we all go different ways to dress up for the after party. The after party did not disappoint, and I did not allow my already battered leg make my moves on the dance floor disappointing.

Sunset at Vic FallsThe Vic Falls experience could not have been complete with several outings such as dinner at “The Boma” where I learnt I had some hidden talent on playing the African drum. The Sunset cruise on the mighty Zambezi River made sunset look much better on this side of the world than any other. Other adventures which are a must do for adrenaline junkies like me were; the bungee jumping and water rafting. I highly recommend the place for a run and tour.

 

Running Tales

My Up and Down Moment in Kigali

Peace-Marathon 00My experience at Kigali last weekend was Just like the city of many hills – up and down. The city is built in a hilly country, sprawling across about four ridges and the valleys in between. The city center is located on one of these ridges, with the main government area on another. The tops of the ridges have an average elevation of 1,600 meters, while the valleys around 1,300 m. The city is ringed most of the way round by higher hills, with some suburban sprawl rising up these. The highest of these is Mt. Kigali, with an elevation of 1,850 m above sea level (this is equivalent to Nairobi).

When I made by debut last year for the half-marathon in Kigali, I clocked a time of 1hr: 40 mins (I surprised myself as well). I was therefore confident to up the stakes this time by attempting a full marathon. My aim was to use this run as my last long run training towards the Lewa Marathon (slated for 25th June). Having ran 30km in Eburu (another hilly run) three weeks prior to the event and with only two weekends remaining, my plan was to taper to 25km and then to 20km.

The Saturday I was to run 25km, I chose a fairly flat course (not by Swara standards). However, things did not go well as I approached my 20km mark. A sharp pain on the side of my knee made me hobble towards the finish of my 25km. A visit to the Physio confirmed my worst fear -ITB (Illiotibial band Syndrome). ITB is a common injury to the knee general associated to running, cycling, hiking or weight-lifting (squats). Reassurances from the Physiotherapist urging me to continue training did not alter my plans. Bavaria run came up, and I stuck to my program of 20km. I’m not sure who I was trying to impress, but at 15km the ITB flared up and instead of taking the shortest route back to the restaurant, I pushed to finish Otora’s unending marks which seemed to get nearer but further away from the restaurant. A Second visit to the Physiotherapist to manage the ITB left me with mixed feelings on whether I should continue with my planned full marathon in Kigali.

Race day
Having not done any run for the last 5 days prior to the day of the event, (as per the Physio’s recommendation), and without any pain, my conscious was clear I can run a full marathon. I was upbeat and the only thing I needed to do is run the 21km course I did last year twice (the full marathon is a loop of the 21km course).

The full marathon in Kigali was schedule to start at 8:30am while the half marathon at 7:15am (not sure who came up with this “bright idea”). We arrive at the stadium at 7:00am accompanied by Judy (a newbie Swara –no pun intended) and immediately spot other Swaras (Nduku, Leif, Ngatia, Anthony and Yasin). You cannot miss to identify a Swara 10km away when donning the conspicuous Swara Tees. The Safaricom running team is also here with a representation of over 30 (we met some of them, the previous evening at a Kenyan owned nyama choma base called Car Wash). After a few photo shoots the half marathoners assembled and were flagged off at exactly 7:15am. The small crowd of half marathoners at Kigali made the Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon look like a London Marathon. It was equally surprising when the full marathon participants were asked to assemble at the start point. We must have been less than 35 from my quick calculation. Most participants were elite runners going by their dressing and long legs. The amateur runners could have been between 10-15 who included Leif and I.

Somebody must have told the organizers the weather conditions were not getting favorable as the temperatures were building up by the minute. So at 7:45am we were flagged off and oh boy! This was my first time to start so close to elite runners; within seconds they had disappeared. I could see organizers equally amazed. When you start a run with a pack of elite runners, you naturally tend to run faster like there is this magnetic pull towards them. Due to this, my first 1km was at a pace of 4mins:34sec (not my pace for a full marathon, not even close to my training pace).

The beauty of the marathon manifests itself as the run takes you to the city with clean roads, well-manicured pavements and the views from the top of the hills. It’s magical, until you get to the first water station and you find out you cannot hydrate from large water bottles (20-30 litres) due to lack of cups. All the empty cups are littered on the road because the half marathon participants used the few cups made available. I make a pass on the water station but with a sticky dilemma on how to cover the remaining 37km if all the water stations are like the first one. I am not an owner of a running belt, but thoughts of owning one after this run clouded my mind. At 6km we approached a steep hill which slowed everyone down. By this time, I had caught up with a few half marathoners who were struggling on the hill. After about 1.5km from the steep hill, I got to the second water point. The situation was no different from the first water station, a big water bottle full of water with a tap at the bottom stared at us with no cups. I’m forced to hydrate by clenching my hands at the bottom of the tap to make a cup like container where I drank from my hands. I left the water station in fury with thoughts on how to solve my dilemma.

Training with the swaras makes one adapt to different challenges when running. One of the challenges was when you get limited or no support and you have to figure out what to do. Within minutes, after the second water station I see some shops which could be selling water. However, I had not carried any Rwandan Franc with me. I even thought of purchasing water on credit, but I knew I had no chance negotiating with the Rwandese shop keeper. As we passed through this estate with lovely homes, well-groomed fences and dogs walked around by their owners, I knew this was my only chance to get a bottle of water which I could use to refill at each water station. I approached this kind looking couple who were baby-sitting two of their kids as they watched the runners. I quickly explained to the gentleman my dilemma and he immediately ran to his house and came out with the small 500ml bottle. He had even topped the bottle with water and just like that, my problem was solved. Hey buddy if one day you read this story….. You are my hero!

The next 5 km was uneventful, save for a lady who had fallen on the side walk and was being helped into an ambulance –I’m not sure if it was due to dehydration. As I got to the road that turns right towards the direction of parliament, a small irritation starts on the side of my knee. For one to finish a full marathon, one needs to be positive at all times. On one of the Swara runs, Victor shared to me how he builds his confidence when he sees hills, -“this is an opportunity, go for it”. I needed this kind of positive attitude, therefore thoughts such as; “Keep going, the pain will soon disappear” went through my mind. I was so confident I focused on other things other than the pain to keep me going. The environment played a big role to boost my confidence level; from the clean roads, beautiful building and well-manicured grass on the roundabouts.

As I took the turn to head back to the stadium, the irritation turned to a sharp pain behind my knee at the 15km mark. My decision changed from running a full marathon to half a marathon. I slowed down and with a slight limp I pushed on Leif at Kigali Marathon 2016reassuring myself I could finish the last 6kms. On the other side of the road, I noticed Leif not in his usual speed and complaining he was not feeling well. At 16km I caught up with one Swara who was running the half marathon (not bad). However, my joy was short lived when at 17km, another sharper pain immobilized my right leg. I sat down in pain and I declared the race over for me. Luckily, after a few minutes the pain subsided and I could walk normally. I used a shorter route to get back to the stadium to cheer on the Swaras as they finished.

Conclusion
Despite my mishap and lack of proper hydrating station, The Kigali Peace Marathon is a great run which I would recommend to any person. Bus arrangement can be made, where air ticket cost is far from the reach of many. It will be worthwhile to take time and visit the Memorial museum while in Kigali. I hope to share more of my running accounts (the good, the bad, the ugly) to enable us improve on our runs.

Running Tales

How I Hit Two Kili’s with One Stone

Swaras at Kili 2016Some things usually look impossible, but the more you think about achieving them the more they get vague and then clearer as the days get nearer. It’s true, all dreams are valid. Here is my dream and how it became valid. Here is how not to set limits but go beyond them.

It started just after the Stanchart Marathon, when clinching a PB goal of 3:30 came so close with only 6 mins off (for some elite runners 6 mins is a long time). My resolve was to avenge with another run soon after. The nearest run was MTN Uganda, but that was too soon (one month a part). Not impossible but I was 50-50 since the date coincided with Ndungu’s Mt. Kenya Ultra Marathon, which I did not want to miss. After consultation with some of my mentors M.K, and Ajaa I was totally sold out to the Mt. Kenya Ultra run. And what a run it was. I’m not sure what words can best express the run, but it was one of my best and longest runs (7hrs). As I deliberately digress, for those who have not done this run, it’s A MUST DO! My thoughts for the Kilimanjaro Marathon must have become clearer during this run and the training had just begun.

Talks of climbing Mt. Kenya came up during one of the Swara runs with one Ken and Shem. A follow up on when we can do this led me to getting contacts for some guy who organizes such expeditions. The contacts revealed Mt. Kilimanjaro climb was the first during in his calendar and this was slated in February while Mt. Kenya was second in April. I was totally sold out for both. However, there was one problem, Mt Kilimanjaro climb was one week apart (15th to 21st Feb) from the Kilimanjaro marathon (28th Feb). In my mind, I was not sure if this was even doable. A quick check with my close Swara friends (they know themselves) to get some encouragement and company did not yield any interest. I remember Joshua warning me it’s dangerous to stop running for one week before a full marathon. “Your legs can forget to run again” he warned. I chuckled not knowing if he was joking or serious. It seemed I was all alone in this and finally I decided to give it a shot, after all “what’s the worst that can happen”.

I have never trained so hard in my life. I normally rest in December with few or no runs during the month, but this December was different, I only rested for about 5 days during the Christmas break. When the first Swara run in January was announced with a maximum distance of 20km I thought that was too short. I needed to do 30km as the dates for the two events were less than two months away. I therefore came up with my own route, though I did not get to 30km but I ended up doing 25km -not bad, huh! With only a month to the climb, I did not get an opportunity to hike any Mountains or hills as most Saturdays were full of exciting Swara runs. A last minute organization to hike Mt. Longonot with some guys on a Sunday did not materialize. However, I managed to squeeze in 36km run in Tigoni and two 30km in Ngong hills. The two areas being of high altitude should work for the climb and run, at least that’s what I convinced myself.

The day of travel to Mt. Kilimanjaro climb I squeezed my last 5km run and I was hopeful I could do this. The next 6 days events are documented separately. However, in short I successfully summited on 20th Feb albeit with a struggle to turn back at 5,000m. The Highest point of Mt. Kilimanjaro is 5,895m.

kili climbTwo days later (one day to descend and the other day to travel back), I was back running. It was those runs where you are guilty of missing 6 days of runs knowing the challenge ahead of you in 5 days’ time. So with all the guilt and some little caution not to get an injury, I did 20km on Monday and 15km the following day. There was something peculiar about these runs, I noticed my pace was naturally faster but my breathing was heavier, could this be a good or bad sign? I’m not a person who focuses on the negative so I chose to remain positive telling myself this is a good thing. I did a few other runs before I left for the Kilimanjaro Marathon on Friday afternoon.

The Marathon day was finally here, and a feeling of nostalgia crept in me as we headed to the start point with Joshua. This distance from the hotel to the stadium was approximately 2.5km and we covered it as a warm up as we exchanged what times we were looking for. I must say, I was not being modest when I told Joshua I had no time in mind and my aim was to do it below 4 hours due to the fear of my performance after the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb. As we got closer to the Stadium, we came across other swaras and one could tell this is one well attended Full Marathon far from home. With such a good number of swaras I should have some company from the beginning to the end, I told myself.

Shortly without much warming and after our official Paparazi AKA Tata Nduku took some lovely photos, we were flagged off. The route leaves Moshi Stadium and heads downwards towards the town and then along the main road to Dar-Es-Salaam for approximately 8-9km before turning back to the direction of the stadium.

As we exited from the Stadium within the first kilometer stretch, we met participants of the 21km heading to the start point and shouts from Swaras ranted the air as we passed them. There is no such good feeling to hear cheers from fellow Swaras even when one has done less than 1km, it’s an awesome feeling. The next 4-5 Kilometers I was pacing with kili marathon pic2Emily, Elvis and Victor, I told you -good company right there. It’s also at this point I noticed Tim pull a first one to settle ahead of us with Joshua approximately 30-40m ahead. Victor is one special one, when some of us are running with as little items to carry as possible; the guy decides to wipe out his phone and take photos. Who does this? Anyway, I admired this act and I want to thank him for the memorable photos he took during the run.

I think it was at 7-8km when I realized I could not see Joshua and Tim. Elvis had also pulled ahead of me while Victor and Emily were on my tail (not sure how far behind). Since I am so used to running off-tarmac, I did just that where I could get some soft ground cushioning. This continued for a while both on and off tarmac. I’m not sure if it really helped but the soft landing on non-tarmac was a good feeling.

As I approached 11km where one makes the turning back to the Stadium, we exchanged glances with Tim and Joshua who were neck to neck. Shouts of STRONG! STRONG! ranted in the air again. I noticed they might have been close to 200m ahead of me. Once beaten twice shy, I can’t risk the thought to catch up with them. My pace was excellent and I was actually doing better than what I had envisaged. We were now neck to neck with Elvis who by now had reduced his pace. I don’t remember talking much with him but the thought that we were doing this together was all that mattered. It’s until at 20km I noticed Elvis had fallen behind me, it must be the gradual hill which would take us another 10 to 11km that must have started punishing him. This is where the marathon begins, I told myself. Having read the previous year’s articles about this stretch and having attempted it last year when I made my debut on the half marathon, I had an idea of what was ahead of me. All the same, I did not think it was such a challenge. I covered each kilometer slowly but strong with the aim to get to 30km without stopping or walking. However, I obeyed all water points quenching my thirst moderately and cooling my head by pouring at least a cup of water over my head at every stop.

The temperatures were quite high for everyone. As I struggled up the hill I noticed Tim cooling himself at some water point up ahead. By the time I got there he was gone. I cooled myself as I continued with the uphill task and it was at the 25km mark where I managed to catch up with Tim and I could see he was really struggling on the hill. We exchanged our usual “strong strong!” phrases before passing him. I guess it was after a kilometer later, when I caught up with Joshua and just like Tim he was struggling with the hill not that I wasn’t, but the struggle must have been more difficult for the two champs. I am not sure if the Kilimanjaro climb had done something to my legs or it was the acclimatization which did the trick but whatever it was, I don’t mind “smoking” it again. Joshua is one person who does not easily give in. Despite the struggle on the hill, we ran together for another 4km until the hill was done. At 31km downhill we were still neck to neck with Joshua, we exchanged a few words here and there not much probably to conserve the little energy we had.

We continued together for another 10km not too fast and not too slow. One guy tried to destabilize our pace before we regained it at the last water point where we quickly hydrated and continued leaving the unknown guy behind. We must have been remaining with 4km towards the finish and we continued together for another 2km when I could not match Joshua’s pace. I could see some sense of remorse as he told me “tuende” which in French means Let’s Go! But I could not match the pace of this guy from Nandi Hills. I told him not worry and he could go on and it’s like he was waiting for those words. The guy just took off like a Car with a V8 engine kili marathon pic3on a freeway. The last 1.5 Kilometer seemed the longest. They all seem to be the longest in every marathon I have ever run. Anyway, I finally get to the finish point clocking 3hrs 25mins 58 Sec –a new PB. Joshua clocked 3hrs 25mins 24Sec. Congrats Joshua! And to all those who inspired, challenged and motivated me to achieve this rare fete…. A BIG THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS!

 

Running Tales

A Bitter Sweet Marathon

DSC_0249.JPGHaving read many Swara accounts on their experience at the Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon, I did not see the need to write another article fearing it would be the same/repeat of what most of you have been reading. However, it took Nduku’s  (aka Tata) telephone call on Thursday at 1:30pm to convince me to write something. I was impressed at how she convinced me, “Davis, you know everyone went through a different experience even those who are keeping quiet”. Tata said. And I thought, she is talking about me and all the timid souls (oops sorry “legends”) who have a story to share no matter how bad it was. It also got me thinking, that the more we share on our different experiences, the more we learn on some do’s and don’ts in a marathon.

The day before the Marathon (at Jeffery’s), Caleb shared his experience of his 2014 Stan Chart Marathon where he did not pace himself well and ended up doing a sub 4. Of course a sub 4 is a good achievement to most of us especially if it is your first time like him. However, he achieved this run by running so fast during the first 20km and painfully slow in the remaining Kms. Today, I now understand why he was happy 50-50 (bitter-sweet) when narrating his experience. Foolish of me, thinking something like that should not befall me, happened to me on Sunday 25th October 2015………

0Km  -We are flagged off, and I start at a pace that I find comfortable. My mind echoing the words of the Chairman “run your race”.

3km -I notice, my pace is fast according to the Garmin (borrowed from one Mbarire -Thankyou!!), but my body feels comfortable. I’m confused should I slow down and follow the Garmin feedback or should I listen to my body. The inner voice speaks and says if you want to achieve your goal of 3:30 listen to your body. So I maintained the pace.

5km -Speed remains the same and I get excited when I see a fellow Swara (Timo) ahead of me. I check my pace again and it’s still the same at a scary 4:20/km. So, I slightly change strategy and tell myself let Timo pace me since I have ran with him many times in the swara runs and his pace is similar to mine. I know, -wrong move!!

8km – I catch up with Timo -not the plan, but good for some conversation. At least, one way to know if you are running at a comfortable pace is when you can have a conversation without panting I tell my self. “What’s your target”, I ask him without panting, “3:30” he responds. “That’s my goal as well” I retort. I deliberatley look up at the Garmin to check the pace which is averaging 4:10/km. I mention to him, “if we continue at this pace we shall surely nail it”. He agrees as we continue with the run.

9km – We are still neck to neck with Timo and I mention to him about the museum hill up ahead. I adjust my pace downwards in preparation of the hill.

12km -The hill is covered without much effort. However, I notice Timo is now behind. I check my pace again and notice, these are not my normal speeds and definitely not for a full marathon. However, my breathing seems to be normal and body is not complaining. Damn! If I slow down, I may not make it to my 3:30 goal an inner voice tells me.

15km – I notice the route has many other runners. I sense some discomfort as runners pass me fast. I get confused, as I am not sure If I should increase my speed or reduce (I realise my mixed feelings is because I have never run with other athletes doing shorter races)I calm down and ignore them.

20km -I check the Garmin again (SMH!) 1hr 30mins “This is not good time for a novice like me doing a full marathon”. Abdi (our official photographer) asks,  “did you take a short cut?” I smile at him as I continue with panic. I have been listening to my body, no signs of panting or getting tired. I have another 22Kms to go…… Can I run with the same pace?

25Km -Fatigue starts creeping in (ignore, ignore, ignore rings in my head). But I can’t fail not to notice my pace is down to 5:40/km from 4:40/km. I do a quick calculations on the remaining KMs and at the current pace, I can still hit my goal.

27km -I slowly start grinding to a halt. As the 45 degree angle my lower legs were making from one step to the next nears to less than 5 degrees. My calfs start to pain when I try to lift my lower legs up. I can also feel blisters and toe nails screaming “remove the shoes”. Damn! this cannot be happening now. Timo catches up with me and realises something is terribly wrong. I wish him all the best. ( I Later learnt he finished below 3:20)

30km -Painful to say, but yes!……… my walk of shame started somewhere around here. The legs just gave in, thanks to not doing enough long runs and concentrating on speed works. The best I could do is only walk and try some baby steps in a slightly not so fast motion.

35km – I slightly improve my pace as I go back from Nyayo Stadium to Vitafoam. Thanks to the support from Chikani who urges me to push on with a bite of Oranges and Water Melon (fantastic support).

37km -As we approach Nyayo stadium roundabout towards the finish more pain on the legs coupled with fatigue, Thanks to the hard surface (Tarmac) that I am not used to. So I do the walk of shame again. James Waliaula shouts from the other side of the road while riding his bike, Davis run! with all the guilt of aspiring to be like him some day, I try to pick up myself and continue.

40km -I’m now making progress on my runs, thanks this time to the crowd swelling at the Nyayo Stadium Roundabout. “Everyone is watching” I tell myself, this is not the place to walk. I later learnt my better half and kids saw me here and they tried to shout my name (Phew! I didn’t walk at this stage).

42Km -I finish exhausted and completely worn out (bitter) at 3hrs 36mins (Sweet).

Despite finishing 6 mins off my goal, I’m happy, I shed off 28 mins from my previous Marathon. Sad, I did not finish strong.

Lessons learnt:,

1) Pace yourself well -Use gadgets (they are more accurate) rather than natural instincts.
2) Follow your training Schedule strictly -I missed a couple of long runs and concentrated on speed work.
3) Running on tarmac is very different from what I am used to -Not sure how to overcome this.

Running Tales

A Personal Best at Mulley’s Half Marathon -2015

urban swaras imageHaving done this run last year, I was upbeat to take a revenge on the long (7km) but not too steep hill which Munyao beat me to last year. I’m really thankful to have met Munyao at the Mulley’s Machakos Half Marathon last year because without him, I would not have joined the Swaras and probably would not have written this article. Going by the route map, which I insisted to be given as I registered for this run, the course was pretty much the same as last year save for the start and finishing points which were moved from the main Machakos Stadium to the Machakos Peoples Park.

At 7:30am we arrive at Machakos Peoples Park with Tata and my Son on board and I am worried we are too early (last year the 21km run started at around 10:00am). However, my worries diminish when a few minutes later the Public Address System announces the 10 km runners to assemble at the starting point. Going by this efficiency, we decide it’s best we get ready as the organizers had not shared when the other races (3km and 21km run) would begin. As we remove our Jackets we notice the weather is chilly and we almost want to put them back on. Tata comments on how the weather is favorable for a run, which I concur.

The 10km run is flagged off at 7:45am and I anticipate the 3km run is next. However, that is not the case to be, when the MC announces the 21km runners to assemble at the start point. Yes, very confusing to me too. I immediately, ask my son to join a group of other kids preparing for the 3km and we agree when and where to meet when I finish.

The start of the half marathon run is slightly delayed, as the organizers realize the elite runners for the 10km are soon approaching back where they had started. We are asked to give way as they pass where we had assembled. We are later flagged off 8:30am and I mutter to myself “not bad, what an improvement from last year”. I notice Tata ahead of me and friend of mine called Mwenda who are all running at a very fast pace. With no plans on how fast or slow I should tackle this run, Tata and Mwenda’s distance starts to increase. I’m still debating how I should cover the run (fast or slow). I could not make up my quickly because the previous day I had done an unexpected 18km run with some “wannabie” swaras in my neighborhood. However, that distance was covered at a very slow pace and the weekend before that, I had done 43km (or the infamous tarmac to Tarmac) at Kerio Valley. With these runs and others done during the week I thought I would be fatigued for this run. However, since I did the Kajiado run (what was that!) I’ve always questioned instincts on what is the worst thing that can happen, if I push myself to the limits?

With that in mind, and the fact that I’m working on reducing my time in my second full marathon in three weeks time, I gently increased my pace. I must have caught up with Tata after 0.5km from the start and we exchanged words, “we meet at the finish”. At this point let me digress, and point out that Tata is a strong runner at her age and I was very impressed at her pace. She is a source of inspiration to many. I must add she completed the run in 2 hours.

After about 1km we turn off to the main road that leads to Machakos town and I notice my pace is unusually faster. “If only I can maintain the same pace all through”, I tell myself. As we approach the first water point, I notice my friend Mwenda does not pick a bottle of water. Well, if I had not joined the Sawars probably I would not have known the importance of hydrating from the start. I get to the water point and without slowing down I grab the bottle of water and sip it as I try not to maintain the same pace. By this time I have now caught up with Mwenda and I’m impressed with myself, because last year I caught up with him at 18km this year at 2km.

At 3km we are almost at the centre of Machakos town and we turn left, and I know the challenge is fast approaching in the next 2km. I am prepared psychologically, and I plan to continue with the same pace which was at this time averaging 4:20 per km. As we leave the main Machokos town and continue heading West the climb gets steeper and steeper but manageable. After 8km onto my run I notice the first batch of elite runners coming from the opposite directions and you can’t fail to be mesmerized by their speed.

At 10km, I get to the turning point where one has to dip his hands into some bucket containing paint. As I turn and run back the same direction we came from, I don’t take note of the time as my aim is to run faster. The remaining course is more of downhill and flat. It’s only when going back to town I notice the distance covered off town was quite lengthy. I guess my expectation was to get back to town as quickly as possible. My pace has not changed much and a few locals can see how I am struggling to catch up with the few runners ahead of me. One lady, who I guess was on her way to church shouts “Ubarikiwe Kabisa na Jehova” (Be Blessed by Jesus Christ to the fullest) I softly say Amen to myself.

By now, I realize the last water point was at the point we dipped our hands in paint. I take notice of the next water point at the next turning as we near the town centre. With nothing much happening in town, I’m impressed as motorists obey the Police to allow the runners to pass. Having run the last 5km on my own I catch up with a few other runners in town. By this time, I am exhausted.

The last leg was off town and my energy levels have considerably been depleted. One last hill I tell myself, before we branch left onto the Machakos People Park turn-off. We get onto the meandering road leading to the park and the distance to the park seems one hell of a long stretch. The sun makes it worse as we get closer to the 21km mark. However, I tell myself this is not the point to give up. At 19km my app tells me I have done it in 1hr 19mins. I’m surprised with myself, “this could be my personal best”. The next two Kms were one of the longest. At 21km the all too familiar voice of Nike plus App tells me I have done it in 1hr 30mins. I’m not sure if I should stop and jump up to jubilation or cover the remaining distance by walking to the finish point. I kept going to the finish point, which was an extra 1.8km.

What a fantastic run, save for the last 1.8km done inside the park.

Running Tales

My Ordeal in Kajiado

kajiadoWhat happened on August 29th 2015 in the simmering hot weather in the hills of Kajiado is something that has taken me one whole week to comprehend and attempt to explain. When the Kajiado run came up, there was little talk on how tough it was. Probably I might have listened to those who talked about how scenic it was than how tough it would be. What follows is my ordeal in Kajiado while attempting to run 30km which changed to 20km.

When I set out for Kajiado with my son, I was cool calm and collected with no expectation of a difficult run. My aim was to complete 30km in approximately 3 hours and dip myself in the pool. A few minutes upon arriving at the lodge, I notice Raoul with the family reversing out of the car park and he mentions how he has to miss the run because the son is not feeling well. (I hope he has fully recovered). The Chairman blows the whistle to signify the “run” is about to begin, but a few latecomers (no pun intended) delay the start of the run as the chairman needed to sort out their accommodation (a true leader he is). The delay helps, as we take this opportunity to do some last minute stretching and pick as much water as one could carry.

When the run finally begins, the first 2 kilometers is on tarmac before we are directed off tarmac to a dusty road with a slightly steep but long climb. I catch up with Amai who by this time I notice he is sweating profusely, thanks to the scorching sun, which was out with its brothers, sisters and cousins (simply put, it was hot). Never mind, I was also sweating like him and the three bottles of water that I had struggled to carry were now down to two as I cooled my head with the already warm water. Amai points to a hill on the left, which he mentions we are going to climb. What he does not explain to me is how we shall get to the top (my thinking was will go round it). We suddenly divert to the left at the bottom of the hill and the long vertical climb begins. This was the start of a climb that never seemed to end. I walked, stopped, tried to “run”, walked, stopped, and nothing I did seemed to signify I was getting closer to the top. “What was this”? I asked myself.

I finally got to the top. By this time I felt like I had done 15km. Getting to the top felt good as I met with two other swaras who had slowed down to a halt maybe to cool off or just to enjoy the scenery from the top. We did not enjoy for too long before we started to take the downhill which was equally challenging, due to the rocky terrain and the thorny bushes. This slowed us down to a walking pace as we dodged the thorny bushes and the loose rocks. The bushes were that of Acacia and other thorny types of which Ndungu would have explained better in their scientific names if he was around. I had to stop at one point to remove a thorn which had gone through my shoe. Luckily it had not caused any injury to my foot. So thorny and rough was the terrain, while back at the camp I noticed Ajaa return with a torn t-shirt and a few swaras had some scratches on their hands and legs.

So far, I notice the markings have been done with a close spread, which was helpful as the rocks/terrain camouflaged the chalk marks. However, this posed a new challenge for me as I am short sighted and it was difficult to differentiate the chalk marks from the white stones. As I continued with my run (half walking, half running), I got to a homestead where they had poured ash around. I literally stopped as the ash confused the direction I was to go. After a few minutes of trying to locate Otora’s marks, one swara who was behind notices my dilemma and quickly points to an arrow up ahead which leads me out of the maze. I decide its best I stayed with him at this rate. However, this did not last for long as I was too slow for him.

By this time, I have no recollection of how many Kilometers I had done and what time it was, if this is the idea of “running Zen” according to Ndungu, not a good idea in such a harsh environment. My energy levels had been depleted and I was down to the last bottle of water. The tough terrain made it difficult for use of a motor bike to pace up and down to distribute water. So the remaining water had to be taken sparingly. As I continue to attempt to push my beaten body, I arrive at a remote village where I am touched with the abject poverty all around the surrounding. I come across kids smiling and saying hi! (I guess the joy of seeing foreigners around brings joy to their hearts). I notice a group of kids seated just next to the trail and they offer me water. I am tempted to reject as I do not know the source, but I quickly learn they are in the same packaging as the water we picked at the lodge. I pick the water as I wave asante! and disappear to the nearby bushes which leads to another steep hill. “That was clever of Otora, to leave the water with the kids”, I tell myself. As I climb the already exhausting hill, my thoughts turn to the organizers of this run as I question, why would one want to punish someone like this. The hill was another killer, never ending and as steep as a “wall”. Who comes up with such a course?

Finally, I get to the top where two donkeys are grazing. I know of some swaras who use motor bikes to get back to the finish point when the run gets tough. With no motorbikes on sight, my thoughts were on the donkeys. I quickly dismiss the idea when the donkey gives me a mean and hungry look and I continue with my struggling “run”. After a few minutes (2-3 mins I guess), I am elated to see the 20km split and without much thought I knew I would be back to the lodge soon. I later learnt this was a detour for many swaras who were attempting a longer run.

I might have used another one hour to get back to the tarmac. I struggle to the tarmac walking and running with my last drop of water (warm) getting finished. As I get to the tarmac, I was sure one could see the sign post to the lodge from the dirt road where we branched off at the beginning. This time one cannot see it and I’m thinking am I in the right direction? Should I have taken a left and not a right? “The markings were clear, let me continue and ask the boys seated ahead” I muttered to myself. The boys confirmed it’s up ahead not too far.

I finally get to the finish point at the Lodge where I meet up with Ameet who notices my anger and frustrations. He politely asks “how was it?” I retort back “what was that!” It takes a while before a few more swaras arrive back. At 7:07pm, we witness a beautiful full moon just before James Walialula arrives looking like he was in a fight. He can’t talk for a while as he tries to catch his breath. He finally asks, “what time is it?”. Ameet responds and asks him how many Kms he had done, which he responds by saying he estimates 45Km but he was not sure as his Garmin went off. Other swaras arrive and the reaction is the same; “What was that!`

Running Tales

My First Full Marathon – Lewa

Lewa2015

Inspiration

If I said I had plans to do a full marathon within the first half of this year, I would be lying. Lewa Marathon would be the last place to attempt and do my first full marathon. You see I have attempted to do half marathons at the Lewa not once but twice (in 2012 and 2014) and in both cases failing miserably. So by now you get my point, Lewa was the last place I would even think I will try to do a full marathon or so I thought.

Actually this year, I wasn’t even sure I would participate (even as a spectator) at the Lewa since I had missed on the short window available to register. So when my good friend Bernard mentioned he managed to get some slots through Safaricom Dealers Association, I quickly signed up for the half marathon. This time with a plan to conquer or let’s just say do it under 2 hours (that meant no walking of course). I knew I was injury free and I was at my peak, thanks to the Saturday runs with the Swaras. “This should be a walk in the park” I told myself.

When I mentioned to Mwihaki (My Nike + Challenger and I mean CHALLENGER! -this girl can run) I had joined the band wagon to Lewa, she asked one question, “Are you doing the Full or Half?” I confidently told her, “the Half…………”. At that time, she had not shared with me the fact she was doing the full marathon. She was happy for me not because I had registered for the half marathon but for getting a slot at the Lewa. And then everything changed when she broke the news she was doing a full marathon. I was in shock at first and she broke it down how I should have registered for the full because my running stats on Nike + App showed I could do it. I immediately got challenged and I asked myself “if she can do a full marathon, why not me?” That was my turning point and I was convinced to change from half marathon to full marathon.

My friend Bernard arranged the change from half to full (he later admitted to me he was skeptical on what I was doing). However, it did not click to me what I had just done, until I started to research on how to run a full marathon. I even used the coach on NIKE + App to take me through the training process only to be shocked when it gave me a seven week crash program with long runs so close to each other. All materials I googled did not give a seven week training program for a full marathon, but I had to start in the middle. Mwihaki even tried to send me photos of pages from her book (I guess she knew she was responsible for her actions). Nonetheless, I took up the challenge.

Training

The training and psychological torture is one that will be edged in my memory for a long time. During the seven weeks prior to the race day, my body and more so my legs went through some beating never experienced before. It was not easy with the rains pounding Nairobi during the first three to four weeks upon starting my training. The unpredictable rains ruined my planned runs which were mostly morning. I therefore shifted to do evening runs but it would also rain and I would end up canceling my runs for that day altogether. One Saturday morning, I was doing the usual runs with the Swaras and it drizzled and I got wet and cold. That evening I ended up with a flu, which changed my training program significantly. I remember I did not run for the next 4 days to enable me recover as quickly as possible. By this time, I knew my plans to conquer Lewa were out of the question. With only three weeks to go, my coach (running App) was indicating I should have done 50% of the runs -I had done only 25%. Never mind, I was still determined, because when the “the Magadi death run” came up, I knew this was the run that would seal my fate and confirm if I was ready for Lewa. I therefore attempted to do 40km, but without much success beyond 35km (that’s a story for another day, with a revenge plan up my sleeves). Even if I did not accomplish the 40km run that day, I considered my achievement not so bad.

One week to the race day and Mwihaki sends to me the final tip which I must say really helped during and after the run. The tip observed one has to take lots of carbohydrates, hydrate well, stretch, stretch and stretch. I’ve never been so bored with stretching and the water intake that week was too much, which made the washroom one of my most frequented rooms. The eve of the race day which is also the travel date is finally here and I manage to squeeze a 3 km run. By this time I had done 75% of what was recommended from the coach, “not too bad, considering I did not use the App on all my runs” I consoled myself. Together with my wife, we pick Rasmus and Bernard and we set off for Nanyuki. We got to Nanyuki at 2pm for a quick lunch and proceed to Lewa but not before grabbing some Chapatis (a must have for me, before any runs nowadays). We got to the Lewa Conservancy in good time and immediately proceeded to the registration desk. At the registration desk my name was missing under the Full Marathon list. It’s only when they checked on the team participants list they found my details. That meant my registration details had not been changed from half to full marathon. When I enquired on this, I was told everything was ok, and I could do the full marathon (despite the reassurance my results were placed under the half marathon list). I still had doubts as I walked back to the car and finally to the camp site where we spent the evening.

D-day

I will be forever thankful to some Sawaras like Susan and Ndungu who taught me how to have breakfast hours before a marathon. A cup of black tea, Chapati and a banana is what I mean. This combination of a meal had helped me before during other long runs but this run was different, it was much longer. Lewa Conservancy roars to life as kids from the community rush towards the start line and spectator vehicles snaking towards the park. The morning chill bites my already exposed skin as we walk towards the start line with skimpy shorts (this time I remembered to carry the right gear for Lewa). I meet up with some Sawaras at the start line and we have some group photos before the race is finally flagged off at 7:20am

As we start, the first 2kms is generally slow (at least for me) as runners jostle for space by trying to outdo each other from the crowd. The dust from the crowd welcomes you to the Lewa marathon as it subsides after 3km when the crowd gets thinner. After 4Km, my pace stabilizes to 5.40/km with no crowd and fewer people on the trail. Jael catches up with me and after exchanging greetings she notices I am not running my usual pace. So she asks “what is your time?” I reply “I’m doing a full”. I go ahead to tell her that I had no time set for the full and my aim is to finish strong. For the next 2Kms we continue chatting and she gives me a heads up on where to encounter the hills. Jael is an experienced Lewa marathon runner because true to her word after 10Km I encountered the first of the many hills.

I could remember Ndungu’s words “a marathon is 90% Psychological and 10% Physical”, at 10Km, I mattered to myself “that was just warm up”. However, when another thought crossed my mind that I shall be doing the same hills after 30km I shuddered. Hill after hill I continued at a slow and manageable pace knowing the same hills await me on round 2. At 16kms the hills subsided just as Jael had mentioned.

At 20Kms where the deviation point for the full and half marathon was, I had done 1h: 52mins and I suddenly became excited for achieving the half in below 2 hours. A thought goes through my head “I could do this in 4hrs”. “Naaaah!” another inner voice speaks to me and continues “Let’s take this nice and easy”. By now I had approached 30kms and I was on the horror movie called “Hills Season 2”. For the next 7kms while continuing to hydrate at each water station I did the hill runs as I looked down to avoid the intimidation from the steep the hills. I knew I was done when we got to the steep decline at 37km and the marathon was over (at least psychologically). The hills were all done and it’s a matter of time I got to the finish line, I encouraged myself.

The next 5km towards the finish was the longest I have ever run. I mean, I never seemed to get to the finish point and it reminded me of the animation movie Shrek 2 where donkey kept asking “Are we there yet?” Luckily the spectators were amazing when words of encouragement like “just a mile to go!” and “you are looking strong” filled the air. Despite the encouragement the finish point was nowhere at site and I felt weaker and weaker. At 41.5km (according to my watch) there was still no sign of the finish point. I even slowed down to confirm I am on the right track only to see a sign ahead indicating “1km to go”. That is when it dawned on me the course may not have been accurate. But why worry, Otora has done this to us before (no pun intended) and the only thing to do now is to keep going. I crossed the finish line with a time of 4hrs and 2 mins with a distance covered of 42.95km. What a sense of relief……

I knew I had done it well, when I crossed the finish line and I did not collapse. I remembered Mwihaki’s tips “….do not sit immediately after the run but pace around and stretch”. That really helped because days immediately after the run I did not have sore muscles. I have learnt a lot during this experience which I hope shall inspire those who read this article. There is nothing impossible in what you want to achieve in this world, you can achieve if it, if you only change your mindset.

Thanks to God and all the above named persons. I will remain ever so grateful.

Lewa marathon - Munene