Running Tales

Uncovering the Victoria Falls Marathon Facade

VFmaralandscapeQuite some coincidence that I’m writing this supposedly ‘fulfilling’ marathon experience just after reading about the dangers and folly of marathons. You may call them naysayers; don’t, the article is absolutely true…I’m already thinking that once I get sufficiently scared, I’ll drop this marathon craze and redirect my energies to a grander substitute; Ultra marathons…:)

Moving on to the marathon at hand.

With the running bug having bitten quite deep, Victoria Falls marathon was a natural contender for marathons to conquer in 2016, its case strongly seconded by past mouthwatering tales of the run and the extras on offer.

Now, I would go straight ahead and tell you how the run went down, but that would be a paragraph or two and I’d feel cheated if the hundreds of hard hours put into the run were to be summarized in a heartbeat.

The Preps

The build up to this race was a test of my uninspiring organizational skills and willpower, squeezing an extensive marathon plan into a 7 week frenzy of running, successfully I must add. Primary goal being to at least get back to the splendid shape I was in while running Kilimanjaro Marathon back in February.

The determination was so intense that around early June I managed to do three long runs in the space of a week;

28th May:               The Ilovoto run, an excess of 35 Kms

1st June:                 a total of 60 Kms, 38 K in the morning and 22 K in the evening (this                                       was attempted suicide I must say)

4th June:                 The Chairman’s Magadi run of 42kms

All running literature of course actively discourages such a foolhardy cluster of long runs. Foolhardy or not, the effect on my psyche was priceless, giving me the impression that I was suddenly ready to run any marathon on any planet.

This marathon was also to be my first gadget-assisted run. I’ve previously been a random runner with the pace dictated by ‘listening to the body’ and hanging onto the coattails of Swaras in my pace bracket. That the dang gadget cost some pretty dollar angered me into training even harder…

Getting there

The last days to a marathon can undo all the sweat and tears (no tears for me), so the planning of all aspects had to be meticulous. I did not disappoint myself. My brilliant plan for travelling was to arrive at Victoria Falls on Friday the 1st at 9:30am, get a hang of the surrounding, do some of the famous Victoria Falls activities, and largely have two days of general calm before the stormy marathon on Sunday morning.

In summary my excellent plan came to naught as I missed my flight and had to hang around till late in the night to leave Nairobi. Probably fate felt I had to stay back to watch the Olympic trials that midwifed the birth of a new 800 m female track star. I eventually had to travel halfway around Africa late Friday night to arrive at Victoria Falls on Saturday at 2 pm, quickly register for the marathon and get my bearings for the race.

It was great arriving to warmer climes, quite a welcome escape from the Nairobi winter. The town was awash with would be runners and tourists.

I gained mini celebrity status at the registration on account of my Kenyan nationality and probably my relatively spare frame. I was in no state of mind to disclose that I was just a slow recreational runner so I made no attempt to correct the ‘marathon winner’ impression. The Victoria Falls marathon never attracts the Kenyan marathon elite, probably due to the modest prize monies which would barely cover airfare to the place; $900 for the full marathon and $500 for the half.

Courtesy of VIctoria Falls marathon website
Courtesy of www.vicfallsmarathon.com

So here I am in the evening at the restaurant of my hideout, dangerously stuffing myself, with the excuse of last minute carbo-loading, when a band of ‘traditional’ musicians/dancers show up and belt out some juicy Southern African tunes; good for the digestion I should add.

Suddenly, and please believe me on this, I get alarmed. I don’t know who they think I am because the next song is addressed at me. They must think I am someone I’m not… they somehow seemed to have seen me over Jordan, and I am swinging low, and I am here for to carry them home, and I am now ‘sweet Cheruiyot’ (unacceptable), very confusing…. Hard to believe? here, see for yourself on the attached video… note that my name is Cheruiyot

 

The Marathon

6:45am is to be the start time. I get there a few minutes early. Swaras are represented as usual. Victor paparazzi is here; no camera this time; serious business. Brendan is here too, as is Suzie who is running her first full, and an unidentified swara lady. Five Swaras doing the full marathon. The half marathon Swaras are probably lost in the crowds except for Antony Mwai who instructs us to run some ambitiously fast times that I am embarrassed to quote here… don’t want to look like a failure.

Victor says he plans to run a 4:42 min/km pace; I on the other hand have a plan of a brutal 4:35 pace for the first 21 kms then slow down marginally the second 21 K. We end up running with Victor almost the entire distance at close to my planned pace.

The first 3 kms is all downhill leading to the bridge, crossing over slightly into Zambia. We are cruising at an average of like 4:20 min/km and so it is no surprise that as we get to the bridge there is a bold ‘Reduce speed’ sign and another one a km later…you may say they were regular road signs, I say they were placed there specifically for us…

The view of the breathtaking Mosi-oa-Tunya from the bridge throws you off balance a lil bit, as does the gorge below you, a whole 110 metres down…

View from the bridge
View from the bridge

The occasional jumbo-sized elephant dung on the marathon route hinted at the possibility of running into wildlife; I visualized what an elephant on my tail would do to my PB…too bad the wildlife kept away. I remember at some section of the marathon there being some cool refreshing showers that got me thinking that it was beginning to rain, only to look up to a perplexing 100% blue sky. Only then did it dawn on me that these were showers from the falls quite a long way off.

So with a few hills, lots of water and coke, great weather, periodic hollering at fellow Swaras fighting their individual marathon demons, welcome views of the mighty Zambezi upstream, 26.2 miles is finally conquered and with it dies my earlier PB, knocked out by a whopping 11 minutes.

Section of the Swara gang at the finish
Section of the Swara gang at the finish

The half marathon contingent is hanging around the finish line. Here we find Beatrice and Molly (part of the people I was to travel with from Nairobi on Friday), Njagi (who advises me why and how to scream when doing the swing at the Victoria Falls bridge), and others….

With the supposedly meaningless marathon activity done, there was no earthly reason not to engage in the other equally vain pursuits of jumping off a bridge, fancily named Bungee jumping, and the more adrenaline inducing and terrifying ‘swing’ (and no, heck no, I did not scream as advised), before heading back to boring old Nairobi.

And I will now uncover the great Victoria Falls facade; the Victoria Falls marathon is a blindfold. You think you are going for the marathon as your primary objective and while at it, enjoy yourself a little on the side… it’s a lie, you primarily enjoy yourself and while at it run a marathon on the side… the marathon is definitely hard pressed not to play second fiddle to the other vast array of experiences on offer.

And so ends my whirlwind 28 hour Victoria Falls dalliance…

Running Tales

The Ilovoto Run

Swara Ilovoto runThe Swara out of town runs are usually to look forward to; a Swara is invariably a running tourist. So the llovoto run was a go by this Swara both for the tourism reason, and serious running business as a chance to build up mileage in preparation for the next marathon.

As we zigged and zagged through the Mombasa road traffic, I was anticipating a run right up my alley, the circulated pre-run info had indicated the terrain as ‘undulating’, but who were they fooling, probably someone wanted to use a catchy word. No matter, Kambaland is well known to be flatland all the way from Syokimau as far as the eye can see, with only a few wannabe hills here and there.

On branching onto the road to Kilome at Salama junction, the road soon starts a steady and determined ascension and with each hairpin bend my dream of a ’rolling plains’ run steadily dies, I seemed not to have learnt from experience, clearly optimism has no place in Swaraland. By the time we get to the start point at Nunguni, a decent town at the top of one of the hills, its clear that this is to be a hilly affair.

This narration will have two angles, the run itself as an independent event and my personal experience;

I have since learnt not to generalize my experiences. You’d be huffing and puffing and generally having the worst day of your life during a run whereas the random Swara alongside you is on a ‘slow run’, taking it easy. Therefore if it seems that Ilovoto though handed it to me, it could as well have been a picnic for some Swaras.

Down to business

The run setting was on point geographically and therefore aesthetically. You can always count on the routes crew to deliver a memorable run, especially the out-of-town ones. But the same crew seemingly also took an oath to uphold the doctrine of ‘nothing good comes easy’, so you generally have to sweat as you soak in the experience.

The start point was a spectacle; attracting the townspeople in no little numbers, it was a pity there were no politicians at hand to take advantage of the ready crowd…

On a personal account, a little history will be appropriate; I am lately building up mileage in prep for my next marathon, coming up on the third of July. I had been stuck at 20 kms for two weeks. Last week at Ngong, I ventured further, attempting a twenty-five, which you guessed it, turned out to be twenty-eight. It wasn’t an easy run. But a man has got to be a man and I had this crazy idea that a thirty at Ilovoto was going to be a piece of cake.

The run is flagged off at 8:30, the distances are indicated as 16 kms all the way to 40. The first 3 kms is all downhill.

Now this is how the run was structure. You go to the lowest point of the first hill, run up the facing hill ever so slowly as you appreciate the maker’s creation and Man’s modifications thereof…in this case the modifications are concentric terraces running round the hills to allow for farming on the steep slopes. A forest up top cools your heels and wipes your sweat.

You then find a higher and steeper hill, look for its ‘ground zero’, go up the hill, in this case the hill is less farmed. As you go up, the soil turns whiter and whiter and you soon think you are running on one of those sandy beaches. You get the impression that Otora’s chalk marks could be camouflaged on these bleached soils, and your corrupted mind conceives a brilliant idea how this would work as a Jik advert; normal black cotton soil on one hand and the white soil after washing with Jik…

Halfway up the second hill you get to the 30kms turnoff. The longer route points straight up, while the 30 one takes you downhill. In a moment of dimwittedness, you take the longer route. You’ve just made a split second decision to do 35kms. I don’t know if that rash move was a subconscious decision to tour an extra hill…

The ground zero of the last hill offers a refreshing run along a sandy river with neatly striated rocks and a view of a clearly seasonal waterfall on the face of one of the surrounding hills… at the river crossing you feel like sitting down on the rocks and dip your feet into the cool waters, you immediately rebuke the thought…

Soon after, all hell breaks loose. This is the steepest and longest hill yet, in your level of fitness you should have hung your boots long ago. The hill starts from 29kms all the way to 35… thankfully, the heavens smile on you and Otora shows up at 30kms with all the goodies you could wish for, all except a ride back. On seeing your state, he candidly discloses that the 35 will actually be a 38, talk about a morale boost…

Thanks to Otora, I am on life support for an additional few kms, and then I start teetering on sanity’s edge at close to 34 kms. I nonetheless continue inching up the hill. Mercifully the Ilovoto falls reveals itself and offers a brief distraction. There is a Swara at the falls. We chat a bit. She is also at her tethers end and says she doesn’t think she can handle the remaining 2 km. I think to myself, “lord a’ mercy”, if only she knew it was no less than 4 kms… but I don’t tell her, we don’t want anyone taking a jump down the falls.

Swara Ilovoto run2I had hitherto not really walked, but you should have see the hill after the falls, how do I put it; the steepness is the kind that if you stretched your hand out in front you’d probably touch the ‘ground’ or better still, looking straight ahead would be looking directly at the ground. Absorb that!

So we walk up the hill with the 2 km swara and I resume my run upon reaching regular ground. But I’m soon at my wits end. Something snaps deep inside. My feet feel like they’ve been clamped; I lose the will to live and give up the ghost (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I maintain something snapped)…my run is therefore over at 34.35 kms.

The rest of the distance is covered by Grace. How long did I take? Many hours, five I think…

On reflection, my level of fitness was suited only for 25 kms max. As I celebrate getting off easy, my body clearly took the brunt of the ordeal, I hope it bears no hard feelings…

I join a retinue of Swaras who are reminiscing the run and MK, Le Patron himself, makes a timely prophetic statement; apparently it has been asked why Swara runs begin so early. In all his wisdom, the Patron concludes that it must be so that by the time the Swara minds are fully awake, they are already done with the run or are in too thick to pull out’…how true.

Lunch is oh so great… MK asks for the beloved Swara mixed tea, the fellow serving looks at his century old beard and says to himself, ‘this one looks exotic, we’ll serve him tea the proper way in spare parts; milk, water, teabag’…the price for not looking local…

As we leave to dance in and out of the Mombasa road traffic, some brave Swaras; Loise, Ferrah, Chairman and Raoul are still in the wilderness on tour. As I write this Sunday evening, we hope they have finally finished their run…at least Raoul has confirmed he has.

And so to Ilovoto, we have some catching up to do in a year’s time…

In other news, I hear the Magadi run is checking in soon. That’s where this swara got baptized last year, both literally and figuratively. But that’s another story.

Running Tales

Kilimanjaro Marathon – A Late Account

Kilimanjaro marathon 2016Its one day shy of a week after the Kilimanjaro Marathon as you sit down to muse over last weekend’s happenings. Providence decided to hand you the busiest, most hectic week it could muster just after your 42 kms, the Monday after not spared.

You are unsure whether you can still recall the details of your outing; so you do a test run of your memory and ah, you are not a complete dunderhead; you clearly recall that you travelled down to Moshi on Saturday the 27th, you further recall that seated to your right was the eminent swara wordsmith and encyclopedia; Ndung’u Kahihu. The rest of the swaras populating the seats behind…

So you close your eyes to see more clearly and put together the following;

A Pilgrimage

Arrival at moshi is at five-ish. Swaras are soon all over. The estimate experts put on their thoughtful faces and approximate the swara numbers as upwards of sixty, easily better represented than some of the ‘home runs’ in Nairobi. Swaras have clearly found their Mecca.

A sizeable number of swaras have been here before; you are one of those for whom this is the Maiden Kili. As they lounge waiting for dinner, recounts of previous Kili experiences are shared in plenty. The nucleus seems to be a certain 9 km hill section. You adjust your running strategy accordingly.

One advantage of the swara runs is that one gets to know fellow swaras with paces similar to their own; you are pleased to notice that there are enough swaras with paces in your neighborhood ; Victor, Timo, Davis, Elvis and Kuria. You’ll be in first-rate company.

Settling In

Ameet has done a splendid logistics job; the man deserves a Nobel…

Thanks to the said Ameet, Swaras settle in at Lutheran’s as part of the crowd takes up accommodation in that other hotel. You notice a peculiar eating habit in the Lutheran section come dinner, there are claims that the food is ‘little’; you look at the volumes on the subjects’ plates and suddenly realize you do not know the meaning of little. Second helpings come in handy.

Breakfast is organized for and served at 4:30am, you notice one Swara destroying Chapatis like there is no tomorrow-(he expressly warns that this info shouldn’t be leaked in a write up)… You eat your fill noting to leave no space.

The Run

Davis in his “killing two Kilis….’ has captured this part very well, so we’ll just skim over…

The start point is about 2.5 kms from the hotel, you warm up with Davis to the start line.

Kilimanjaro marathon is literally run at the foot of the mountain. The famous hill section is basically you going up one of the mountain’s toes and down the other side.

You do not have a PB yet, so all you need to do to get one is finish. And with the hill stories you do not have ambitious times in mind.

You start off with Victor Paparazzi, chat up a bit, he falls back to reorganize his phone cum camera; you’re persuaded to think that Victor does not ‘take photos while running’ he ‘runs while taking photos’ and ends up with a 3:36 time on his first full marathon (shudders). Timo catches up with you after a km and you decide to latch onto him. He maintains a very comfortable and even pace of slightly below 5 mins per kilometer.

The run is well organized but you have to learn taking water from the cups. In the end you realize that you just have to stop to drink up. Then there is the Coke (soda, not drug) and glucose offered, not to mention the water shower you run under and the water spray…

The roadside is splashed with substantial numbers of onlookers cheering you on all the way, super….

After the 10kms the monstrous Kilimanjaro is slightly to your right, sitting there with her signature white wig, seemingly eager to pass judgment to these mortals stepping on her toes…

You get to 21 kms in 1hr 39mins and think, ‘hmmm, that was fast’ but you don’t feel it.

The hill starts and you slow down appropriately…at around 23kms you are back to running alone.

Davis shows up at 27 kms in his trademark hill sprint. The guy clearly will never have patience with hills. You say ‘heck, life is an experiment’ and decide to hang onto his coattails, you have to increase your pace substantially to keep up but you hang in there all the same.

You get to the top of the hill and your lungs have felt the effect of ‘keeping up with the Davis’.

The 10 kms descent is tricky on your knees, but the two of you fly down the hill at some impressive pace…the 21 kms crowd growing with each passing km.

With less than 2 kms to go, the ‘what if’ part of your mind suddenly comes awake and you think; ‘what if I sprint the remaining distance?’, ‘What could possibly happen?’…No answer.

So you sprint hoping to find an answer at the finish line…

Swaras dot this last section with medals weighing down their necks, they cheer you on energetically, Antony Mwai offers you water, Ndegwa runs kidogo with you, Nduku snaps away, a voice in the crowd says ‘go swara’…..

You cross the finish line, you have your first Full Marathon PB, you have your first medal, you’ve run your first int’l marathon, the deed is done.

Enough swaras have powered in to post impressive times; Davis, Victor, Timo, Elvis, Kuria, Emily et al…. Ashok seems to have missed his post 7 hr target time, no worries, he always lives to fight another day.

So with the Kilimanjaro musings over, you run with the first lady tomorrow, its during this run last year that you first saw the swaras…21 kms has to go down in commemoration.

Congratulations to everyone on your Kili exploits and all the best tomorrow if you’re chasing something.

Running Tales

Graceland Upcountry Run 2016

urban swaras imageThe Graceland upcountry run 5th edition cannot go unmentioned. It is one of those runs with a conscience; there can hardly be a nobler cause to running than educating someone…

Humans are supposedly selfish, so apart from the obvious cause, one can be allowed to add a secondary goal, like make this a speedwork prep for the upcoming Kili marathon. This swara did just that.

The Graceland Girls’ school has a homely forest setting, the school buildings tucked away within a forest of indigenous trees set in a valley. The school is approached from the top- I kid you not- from where you can only see the forest canopy, prompting you to ask the guy at the gate; ‘where is the school?’, and he looks at you perplexed and tells you to ‘follow the loudspeaker’.

As you roll down, following the loudspeaker, suddenly buildings peep out curiously from behind the trees and here you are… It resurrects painful memories of your 4 year jail time (high school was the politically correct term) where your captors could spot you from a mile off with nary a shrub in sight…

A few swaras have showed face, the rest of the herd show up in no time but by the time the run is flagged off you look worried, seems your speedwork drill isn’t going as planned.

This is why; being largely a random paceless runner, you planned that at Graceland it would be prudent to have a scientific pace for your speedwork. Victor would be the ideal pace, having run with (but mostly after) him for the last few months; this is that paparazzi fellow who takes those super photos during all difficult and scenic runs whilst maintaining an effortless pace as the rest of the swaras puff and pant up slopes and over boulders…

But Victor is a no show, neither is Davis who has lately been missing in action, nor Elvis who could be substitutes. Timo is here, but you know your limits.

The run is flagged off, there is a 14 k and 24 k run, that hill that you rolled down is what you almost vertically go up for some hundreds of metres. Outside the gate you take the 24 k turning, no one in front, the elites took flight long ago. Most runners are doing the 14 k, while the 24 k is almost exclusively a swara affair, apart from the elites and a few brave souls.

So at the 24kms turnoff, you take a downhill that immediately negates the hill you’ve just tackled, you get to a river and a second hill dosage is handed to you. You climb for like 2kms then it flattens out and… Whoaa! The Mountain in all her imposing grandeur is thrown right in your face, you feel like you’ll run straight into her…so you slow down… no accidents this soon…

The grand view more than makes up for the hill…no cloud cover, nothing, the rugged peaks and the glacier tucked in their bosom nudge at you and you romanticize getting into hiking gear and taking on the mountain already… the run organizers must know people in very high places to pull off such an unobstructed view…

Before you know it you’ve changed course and hit tarmac, the road is lonely, kept company only by the forest. The road is relatively flat and meanders quite agreeably… you feel like this evenness will go on till kingdom come, so you pick up speed, your mind wanders, the Aberdares sitting dreamily in the distance. You only encounter a slight hill after a scenic hairpin bend.

Now, the water stations were on point, the school girls manning them cheering you from a mile off lending wings to your feet, and once you’re gone you’d tell there was someone not far behind when a new set of cheering erupted…. The only thing they should not do is curtsy, because when one curtsied you felt the age old chivalrous need to bow but checked yourself just in time lest you kissed tarmac.

The tarmac always ends. You get to a rock strewn stretch that needs you to execute some steeplechase moves. Before you’re done, you run though a coffee plantation, around a dam, through a farm you find hard to describe and then Chaka ranch…

You wind down the run, free falling into the school and to the finish line where you are handed a real life Red Rose!, and you try to recall whether a rose has ever been handed to you, your mind comes up empty…not to worry, you can’t remember because you’re worn out after running for a cool, hot 2hrs 7mins…

It’s a prize fest for swaras, Jael coming home first overall in the 14k ladies edition, Emily coming in second in the 24k ladies (and first among the swaras- so she bagged two sets of goodies), followed by the other two suspects Loise and Ferrah. Chikani bagging the prize for the top 24 kms swara finisher. The other close finishers being Kuria (is it?) and Ndegwa. We congratulate and envy you guys in equal measure.

And so we wait for the 6th edition…

Running Tales

Eburu Scouting Run – A Documentary

Eburu ReccingOn this year’s Jamhuri Day, fifteen Swaras headed to Eburu for a Scouting run.

What is Scouting?

Most swaras have wondered how the memorable trails they run every Saturday are discovered. Others have posed the question to Chairman. Therefore the ‘Scout masters’ decided to drag along a few of the curious ones on one such engagement.

So scouting is, ‘agreeing on a geographical area to be scouted, run around it looking for trails, getting lost, hitting dead ends, and if lucky getting back to where you started from. At the end of it, a run route is born (loosely chairman’s words)’. In retrospect, it is a ‘dark art’ as a Swara (Shem) had correctly speculated.

The Cast

Swaras at Eburu

The fifteen Scouts were composed of two steely ladies Loise and Ferrah, some next generation elites Victor, Davis, Elvis, Shem and Yasin, the old guard Chairman and Wahome, the crowd pullers Ashok and Ameet, an undefined Joshua, and finally the elites Ben, Otora (support role), and the host Lopua. Some fit into more than one category.

The Scouts met for a heavy breakfast at the Delamere place in Naivasha to load up for the task ahead.

Location

Distant views from Eburu

Eburu is about 20 kms off Naivasha Nakuru road, branching off into the road leading to ‘The Great Rift Valley Lodge, approximately 4 kms from the Delamere Petrol station. Scouting started 30 kms from this turnoff at Lopua’s front yard.

Driving to the start point was in itself a scenic and rewarding side-show. Driving in rugged terrain most of the way to the top of the hill, and another 10 kms downhill to the start point. One would be forgiven for thinking this was an off-road driving expedition in the Swara calendar. The Swara convoy of 7 cars drew lots of attention in the reserved and detached neighborhoods.

The Scouting

Not to miss a thing, roles are assigned; Paparazzi, support, observers etc. At 10 am, scouting begins with a steady hill run of 5kms to the Songiroi Township uniquely built almost exclusively with reeds. The Scouts regroup here as they take in the views below and wait for the ones behind.

Another 3 kms beautiful incline ensues, followed by running through some undulating terrain of farmland and along the edge of the forest on the outside of the electric fence. This section of the run offered one of those rare steep climbs that Swaras would die for, and a subsequent steep ‘downhill’ that requires quite a bit of manoeuvring.

The Scouts regroup at a vantage point that offers unrivalled views of Lake Elemetaita below and an outline of Lake Nakuru way yonder. On the other side you can see the top of Longonot rising higher than the Scouts’ location, in a clear affirmation that she is still the giant of the Rift Valley. You can also make out the Mau ranges.

water harvesting at EburuThe run then veers from the forest edge towards humanity who, it is soon discovered, live amidst pockets of steam wells. Now, these steam wells are actually sources of water, with the residents employing ingenious ways of trapping the steam, which then condenses and flows down some pipes as real liquid water and collected in containers.

Swaras get distracted a great deal by the geysers, some wanting to take a sauna there and then, some trying out the condensed water in the hope of a ‘loliondo’ effect (medicinal), some marveling at the ‘bubbling’ ‘gushing’ sounds coming from below the ground.

The next attraction soon comes up in the form of three mammoth water tanks at supposedly the highest point on the hill (citation required). Word is that they hold water from Lake Naivasha, which supplies the towns below. More work for the Paparazzi.

Downhill a ‘lil bit, then another steady climb, and what is this here if not a crater! What we are trying to say is that the Scouts find a crater, they take in the view lustily; it has one of those seductive mermaid/Delilah effects. You want to go down but know it’s dangerous. The Scouts are convinced that the crater is undiscovered and a few names are hazarded. But there is another angle. Once you turn your back on the crater, you take in the breathtaking view of Lake Naivasha down below, the various flower farms hugging her shores, and in the poor visibility you can still make out shadows of the Aberdares slightly to your left, and the Mau ranges to your right.

You’ll notice that the Scouts have been kind of skirting the hilltop, starting from the Elementaita side all the way round to the Naivasha side. From the crater, the scouting goes inside Eburu Forest. Another distraction; just inside the gate is a watchtower rising to great height. Davis and Ashok want to go up the tower.

The forest starts with shrubbery and lush greenery of the grass kind. A few false starts and the Scouts get to a trail that runs through the forest. There is a break here. The Scouts exchange stories, crack jokes, gang up against Chairman who apparently painted too rosy a picture of scouting. Something like a hike with picnics, the good trappings of life, and round tables over a map with every one giving an opinion of what direction to take. Food becomes a topic.

The Scouts have so far covered 16 kms in a time of 3 hrs 36. Some in this herd would have dispensed of a full marathon by then. After 1 km into the forest, Otora shows up with goodies. The picnic dream could come true after all. There is a big steel contraption at our picnic site. No one knows what it is.

The forest is now the real thing with grown up trees. There are a respectable number of hikers doing their thing, accompanied by armed rangers. Curiously, Chairman never mentioned the forest could harbor any dangers. The forest trail is not to be missed; peaceful, serene, beautiful, and runs through sections of thick carpets of fallen leaves and a long stretch of elephant grass so tall that we the short types may have to learn running on stilts. It is said the Ndorobo inhabit this forest.

The forest then thins out into shrubbery, signifying a change of climactic zones, and the Scouts got out of the forest 10 kms later. The forest run is basically a one-way slice right through the jungle. Outside the gate, the Scouts are able to espy their starting point way down the valley. Their homing instincts take charge and the nearest route possible is soon charted. The route down takes them through an eroded landscape, a picturesque gorge, Lake on Eburuand little lakes of dirt colored water. The author is yet to find out what these are, and why they are ‘colored’. There were quite a number. One was clearly a Crater Lake up top where we veered off the forest edge.

The scouting has clearly taken a toll on some of the scouts. Case in point, close to the end, there are some healthy looking goats. Instead of goats, Davis sees meat and calls the boy herding them to negotiate a purchase. The boy takes off like he’s seen a ghost. Davis is taken aback; he thought people like him. It has to be the scouting…

Yasin, having been a perennial laggard, gets his energy and after coming from way back, zooms past everyone at the last stretch. The Scouts conclude the day out after discovering what is bound to be one spectacular run in a hotbed of geographical phenomena, should it make it into the swara calendar.

The End

6 hours 50 minutes is the time the scouting took; 34.8 kms is the distance covered as per Ferrah.

After feeding, Ashok, who probably comes from the long line of Beans (descendants of R Atkinson aka Mr. Bean; they clearly look and act the same), offers a befitting and moving ‘thank you’ to our hostess, with Lopua translating. The Scouts then drive off through a different route, and sadly the darkness makes them miss a scenic drive that passes through the neighborhood of Ugali Hill and Lake Elementaita.

Over to the Calendar crew… their lines are now open for bribes… eh proposals 🙂

Running Tales

Kakamega Forest Marathon- And A Dose Of Ultra

urban swaras imageTrue to form, a sizeable number of swaras (13 I hear), myself included were able to attend the Ingo marathon on 28th November 2015. I was a bit unsure of participating having attempted the ultra just a week before.

Allow me a word on the ultra before we get to Kakamega.

Mt Kenya Ultra; Mini-Brief

This is a run that I totally outdid myself. I showed up with an open mind with a cautious ‘run till I drop’ goal. Finishing would be a bonus.

There seemed to be a few other bonuses in the bag; the excellent trail, good mountain air, rain, rain and more rain.

I must credit my completion to Sam, he managed to run the slowest he’s ever done in his born days and as a result we completed the whole distance together. At some points he was clearly struggling to maintain the pedestrian pace I was subjecting him to. It is almost unreal that I could actually sprint with him the last few hundred metres to the finish (I only believe it because I saw it)…coming home in a little over 6 hrs.

Other notable parts of the run was the mud, specifically after Ndung’u mentioned that the roads had been graded so no mud… well, we ran through a few ‘mud farms’. One can only conclude that Chairman and Ndung’u couldn’t stand a mudless trail and therefore created ‘man-made’ stretches probably the day before, they even managed to throw in a river to be waded across.

Then there was a long lonely stretch where we were totally out of energy and kept looking out for a kiosk for around 7 kms (probably between the 46th to 53rd kms)… an opportunity for any enterprising swara out there; picture the amount of monies you’d make selling sodas and related stuff to ultra runners…

Ultimately, the great Ultra outing encouraged me to sign up for Kakamega, especially after I suffered no notable hangovers.

The Kakamega Forest Marathon

Ingo Marathon is the competitive run I’ve entered with the least pressure on expectations and preparations. I probably treated it like a normal swara run.

The main aim was to conquer myself- finish a full marathon. Especially after my DNF at the Stanchart; the account of which I shared in these pages eliciting well meant messages of ‘condolences’ from concerned swaras.

Marathon Expectations

Being the inaugural marathon and coupled with its location, I didn’t have any illusions on the level of organization. TV adverts mentioned a start time of 8 am, when I registered on Thursday the marathon brochure indicated a skeptical start time of 6.30 am.

I would also have been sufficiently surprised if the aid stations were up to speed and roads closed (the brochure indicated road closures to private motorists). So no surprises on the late start time and lack of water.

The only thing the organizers would have done better was on the rain, there was no rain whatsoever, even clouds were conspicuously missing, and this being el-nino season.

The course lived up to expectations. It was excellent, through the forest twice, tea plantations and friendly backcountry.

Personal expectations

Coming a week after the ultra and with no knowledge of the course, I couldn’t burden myself with a time target, although there is that small voice that gives a time considered reasonable.

Also, the Ultra had given me such a feeling of invincibility that in a case of mental inertia, I donated blood the Monday after. Reasoning that five days would be sufficient to replenish the pint… Google later informed me that my performance would probably be slightly affected; it (Google) was surprisingly not very knowledgeable on subject though.

So there, just finish the run.

Preparations

After the Ultra, I resolved not to run at all, just recover, next run being at Kakamega.

The Run

That danceathon mentioned by Beatrice was a super preamble for the run.

In my books, Luhya tunes are by far the most danceable in Kenya, so it was not surprising that enough swaras (Susan, Suzie, a bit of Victor and Myself ) plus the local populace were carried away shaking legs and shoulders… the smart swaras entertained their eyes from the sidelines and preserved their energies for the challenge ahead.

The 42 k start line was an elite affair. As far as I could tell, the only non-elite part of the pack was Brendan, myself and another fella. The 21Km swara crowd soon join us after missing out on transport to their starting point.

Gun goes off, the elites speed off. Brendan Is also going curiously fast, I catch up with him and the earphones explain his speed… he’s on performance enhancing Music, those are probably still legal…

Its clear this is going to be one lonely run. Not a bother…this too was expected.

At around the 3rd Km, something odd happens. A little boy of like negative height whizzes past me; I shake my head and look again; it’s real. I dog him for 2 kms. The first aid station comes up. There would be only two other more in the course of my run.

After a few kms of forest, Victor shows up out of nowhere. This is one of those fast Swaras. He slows down to my pace and we run together for more than 10 kms. He is ‘doing 21 kms plus 5’ (beats me why he couldn’t just say 26kms…). He selflessly shares some of his water with me.

Further on we meet Wahome fighting the good fight as we tackle a rocky downhill… I am quite sure the lead car(s) were overtaken by the elite pack at such sections… vehicles could only be driven through here at considerably slow speed.

Victor finally pulls away at around 4 kms to the 21 k finish line.

Having studied the run route from the marathon’s website, I knew (or thought) that at around this section the 42 k’s and 21 k’s were to part ways. I get to the junction that separates the two distances, ask a fellow holding the 42 km ‘sign post’, he says that all runners take the same route. I suspect that he is directing me the 21 km way because the last full marathon runners probably went by more than an hour before, but he insists.

I therefore take his direction. A km later, I meet Beatrice heading the wrong way. I am thoroughly impressed that she’s completed her run and is walking back. Not so fast; she clarifies that she lost her way…

Presently the finish line shows up. I already feel worn out and the run is getting confusing. I decide to run past the finish line and do probably another few kms then call it a day. Two hundred metres later, I find a 42 k sign; I can still run the full distance after all.

I’ve probably covered 26 kms at this point. And here ladies, gentlemen and others, is where the real marathon begins. My body is shutting down; I am alarmed because this is too early. I’ve done better enough times before. But fortunately quitting doesn’t cross my mind; it’s not an option. Not after the StanChart…

My enemy would be walking, knowing only too well that once I stopped running there would be no rebound. So I push on, my feet hardly co-operating.

I am now conspicuously all alone till the end. A pleasant surprise awaits me at around 29 km; an aid station with actual water, they are probably waiting for transport to ferry them back to the marathon village. This is the last I see of water- the bottled kind. I have enough sense to keep the bottle which I get to refill at a roadside stream. Otora’s chalk marks give direction for the rest of the distance.

By now, I am drawing (much to my chagrin) sympathy from residents hanging out by the roadside;

“kasaneko tu kichana yangu, utafika”… (’push on dude…’) a lady encourages…and similar comments…

I conclude I must be looking like a wuss. Unacceptable, so henceforth- whenever I spot people, I adopt a running pose complete with facial settings that say,…’ look here, running this slow is absolutely out of choice, I’m still strong…’ the concerned looks and sympathies keep coming.

One helpful guy offers to show me a shortcut, I decline, he insists, I decline. He asks ‘am I sure’, I nod vigorously. He catches his breath, then gives it another go… I tell him, ‘fine, but I won’t take it’…

Soon after, a GSU lorry, the ‘straggler bus’, shows up, the aid station people are in it. The driver asks me to get in. ‘No thanks’ I tell him, ‘I’ll finish this thing’. You should have seen the look of annoyance on his face…

The lorry falls behind me and I understand his attitude, he probably is supposed to come in after the last runner… the ’bus’ follows me for like 3 kilometres then gives up and speeds ahead…

The straggler bus incident makes me suspect I could be the last person on the road. It curiously makes me feel good; ‘Last man standing!’

The last 5 kms is possibly the truest test of endurance in my running career. I finally crawl over the finish line -for the second time- in 4 hrs 34, doubting the distance covered.

kakamega run

Note the confusion on the actual and expected routes for the full marathon… (forgive my artistic shortcomings…)

The aftermath

I crash into one of those first aid tents (a first). The two nice looking ladies smile and prep me for aid, then they mercilessly tear at my muscles. I beat a hasty retreat and spread-eagle on the ground somewhere.

Two runners from my hood find me. One did 2.24 (has a PB 2:10) and the other 2.28 (PB 2:14). They both missed the top 10. I ask whether that was really 42kms, they are non-committal… ‘Doesn’t really matter as long as everyone did the same distance…’.

It’s now four days later. I still walk around with a slight stylish limp; a massive improvement from the hobbling of Saturday, and limping on both feet of Sunday.

I must say I attempted to write this on Sunday, but aborted… was writing with too much feeling. Now my ‘feelings’ too have recovered.

So, mission accomplished. A full marathon conquered and my physical and psyche limits stretched to the fullest in the process.

The trail comes highly recommended, you should try it….

Running Tales

The Flourspar Experience

Kerio Valley runHeading to Sego Lodge down the picturesque escarpment from the Iten side, I get a premonition of what to expect, the distance from Iten town-at the top of the escarpment- coincidentally being 42 kms, same distance as the full run.

I arrive at the Lodge at half past seven to find the car park full of swara cars, testament of the Flourspar run magnetism. I check in, head for supper, land at a table with Sam and Ferrah, they soon lose me in their elite run talk. They are to take on the full 43 kms, more famously ‘tarmac to tarmac’.

The Chairman gives a brief of the run, breakfast would be served at 5 am, the 43 km and 35 km suicides to leave the lodge at 6.20 am and be driven to their starting point, there seems to be a general confusion on getting Chairman’s directives, a direct consequence being that the 20 km runners started at the wrong point and ended up doing 24 km.

At 5 am swaras are upbeat and maybe a tad bit apprehensive, breakfast is served. At 6.20 whistle time, we head to the car park where there seems to be a mini-epidemic of flat tires, could this a warning? I think…

The ‘tarmac to tarmacs’ and the 35 kms leave for their respective starting points.

7:54 am and 9 swaras start at the 43 km point to a cautious pace, except for the powerful bulky guy (I think Timothy is the name), Ferrah and Sam who forge ahead unable to keep down with our pace.

For the early kilometres the guarded pace prevails with one or two swaras engaging in small talk to kill time and get rid of excess energy. At 20kms that has involved running past the Flourspar mines, the ‘Muskut’ area (that name has stuck to my mind like a tick) the crowd running had kept our energies in check and so when Chairman decrees that the run had just begun, we hit the incline with determination. At this point we’ve run for slightly over 2 hrs.

The ‘crowd’ soon breaks up beginning with Davis, now I’ve run with Davis a few times and he clearly does not like hills, we’ll be running on regular terrain comfortably and as soon as we get to a hill he gets agitated and runs ahead to get it over and done with while yours truly- I have nothing against hills- slows down or walks just to savor the view.

So Davies pulls slightly ahead, as chairman and Raoul take care of the rear.

The run seemingly holds no surprises, you know where you are headed, the top. Once the hilly bit starts, – while not steep in the Boston and Echo Lodge versions- the consistency is incredible.

You kill kilometre after kilometer and then some more, soon enough you get rewarded by the scenic view of the valley below as you make each turn on the many sharp bends. Quite heartening to see the amount of altitude displaced.

I soon get reunited with Davies and he scouts for a kiosk to buy a soda, I dissuade him with unfounded predictions that support would soon get to us, truth of the matter is that at this point all that mattered was to put as many kms as humanly possible before stopping knowing that once I stopped there would be no more running.

Luckily we catch up with two swaras and beg for a drop of water, Rose is gracious to offer us her remaining half-bottle (may you live forever!) she later confessed that she seriously questioned her decision almost immediately.

At this point I feel Davies is having mixed feelings about the hill thing; he falls behind, only to zoom past a few hundred metres later with Chairman in tow. I meet him a few hundred metres ahead, no sign of Chairman- he must have been pacesetting, I tell myself. I leave him in the company of another swara.

After 4 hrs 45 minutes of running, I am out of fuel, patiently waiting for the water and soda crew as I plod along. There are two monstrous rocky outcrops ahead I think it can no longer be too far to the end (I pride myself with having sound judgement of distance), so in a fit of genius, I engage a young boy herding cows at the roadside;

This Swara: How are you (loosely translated- the entire conversation was done in his dialect)

Boy: never been better

This swara: Tarmac is no longer far, is it?

Boy: Very far…

My body revolts, enough of this punishment, we are not running an inch further. I obey.

I am immediately overcome by a feeling of lightheadedness and my body tells me to sit down. I disobey.

So my run ends after 4hrs 45 mins and maybe 37 km. ‘run’, though, can be disputed, as I can bet at some points I was running slower that someone standing perfectly still.

You’d think the walking would be easier, you’re wrong.

Support shows up 200 metres later as I walk, I stock three bottles of water and a 500ml fanta. No more taking chances.

I take the soda; some of it goes down the wrong way and instinctively I COUGH, wrong move mister! The resultant experience is out of this world, it feels like all the blood vessels and organs are being yanked right out through my mouth, the force of the cough almost propelling me forward to a headstand position, the resultant pains in my torso and groin excruciating… I just can’t seem to nail describing the experience.

Lesson: DO NOT COUGH DURING SUCH A RUN… involuntary? Doesn’t matter, JUST DONT COUGH…

Davies catches up again and we walk till Otora tells us we got only a Kilometre to go. Psyched up, we run for 20 metres, give up, and only run again once we spy the tarmac.

The welcome party is grand, swaras cheering as we make little work of the remaining centimeters.

Swaras colonize a local hotel and the tea therein is dope, samosas too are consumed at a most alarming rate… they feel so at home to the point that no one wants to fill available spaces in a car going back down.

We go back in a 14 seater matatu carrying everything from cement, petrol, milk, heck- there could have been livestock in there. The matatu thus has space only for 6 persons, 9 swaras hop in, a rare feat of space maximization.

I feel like I’ve said close to nothing, but this is getting too long. So we’ll just stop right here….

Many thanks to the organizers of this super run!!