Running Tales

Nomadic Swara: Victoria Falls, Zambia

Cliffs at Victoria FallsVictoria Falls upcloseINTOXICATING! That’s the only way I can describe the euphoric feeling I had as I ran on top and yes … through Victoria Falls this week. The hypnotic sound of the water crushing through rocks is spellbinding and you may think a siren is calling you to try its wonders. Mark my words, running through the falls is dangerous with a lot of warning signs, and it is meant for people like me. I may not be the first of my name or ruler of nine realms, but I am certainly the breaker of rules, the one who colored outside the circles as a tot… because… honestly where is the fun in always following the rules.

It’s unusually bright for 5:30 am in Livingstone; what wakes me up is the thunderous rush of the falls, and this is an incentive for an adventurous run. I have heard of the falls but never been to them and never dreamt that I would actually run through them (thanks to the low season).

As I begin my run, I bump into a herd of antelopes that quickly and nervously raise their heads. I guess we were both cowards because as I made a U turn and ran in the opposite direction, I heard them galloping away. That sudden rush led me to the gate of the falls, which also has a mixture of primary and secondary forest. The secondary forest has running paths that go around the falls for about 4 kms.

Footbridge at Victoria FallsAs I ran along the edge of the falls, I literally climbed on the guard rails to feel the mist coming from the falls, then would connect back to the track. At some point I ran through a narrow bridge, which had a 100 metre drop; this bridge connects a ridge between the falls. It’s so narrow and slippery due to the mist, and the only thing that was going through my head was, “don’t look down, don’t look down,”! Of course I sneaked a peak, quickly raised my eyes and hands as I continued running (so far I was alone on the track, so I was allowed to be a muppet!). With my hands raised for a minute, I remembered the iconic scene of The Titanic with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio on the bow of the tragic ship, and Celine Dion singing in the background. Well, I did not have DiCaprio, but with giddy merriment and raised hands, I sang loudly and badly on how my heart would go on, as I continued running across the bridge.

The bridge ends on a 45 degree inclination that leads to a section of the forest called the Boiling Pot. This is aptly named as now I had the opportunity not to run along the falls, but inside the falls and the river. This is possible due to the low season. The run to the Boiling Pot is filled with primary forest and a medley of signs that range from REMEMBER THIS IS A NATIONAL PARK AND HAS WILDLIFE, KEEP TO THE PATH, BEWARE OF SNAKES, & DON’T GET INTO THE RIVER! As I said earlier, I am the breaker of rules, except for the snake business… I know my limits. But, of course I dipped my legs in the rushing water.

Anyway I am getting ahead of myself. Running into the Boiling Pot is a typical Swara run, 45 degree inclinations, slippery because of the mist and moist leaves, but what was consoling was that I was literally surrounded by the falls as I ran. The rushing sound of the water was an experience I never thought I would have, though was quickly brought to heel by the steep inclinations.

Bridge at VIctoria FallsAnother consoling aspect of this run was I met fellow runners. We would occasionally grasp trees for support as we ran up and down the Boiling Pot . By the time I was done, 10kms were completed and I literally tottered back for breakfast and it felt so good when someone asked, did you run this morning? And I would answer, yes I did, right in the falls, not just on top of it!

It was worth breaking the rules.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara- Dubai and Rwanda: Of African Cultural Practices and Relativity to Time and Distance

Royally upset and tired
Royally upset and tired

Aarrgh  Africans. That’s it! Our concept of time and distance is relative, nay notorious! Well, before I get ahead of myself, let’s start with our cultural practices. So I am Luo, and we children of the lake are known for one thing, well, at least according to the author, Evans Pritchard- Tough, resilient, deeply democratic, easily aroused to violence and immensely proud. Oh!  We strut about as the Lords of the earth, which indeed we consider ourselves to be (If you have lived in Kenya you will get the gist and giggle). But what he failed to note is that we have deeply rooted cultural practices, which is humorously related to my tale- night running.

Night runners-Jajuok. According to Luo tradition, a night runner is every adjective that supports a character that is nefarious. According to lore, jajuoks ran at night, wait for it… naked! These guys were stuff of nightmares and the kind of stories I was told as a child was a warning if I was mischievous. (Mum to me: If  you do not behave  I will leave you outside so that the Jajuoks take you! Ahem… trust me the psychological scars still exist) So what they’d do is run about naked, preferably rub themselves in ash, and would make abominable noises outside ones’ house. Trust me, wore unto you if you are upcountry and you decided to pee and you had an outhouse instead of indoor civilized plumbing! Your imagination will run wilder than the after effects of watching a C grade slasher film.

Hehe, what has this got to do with Dubai. I am on my path to recovery after my injury, and the whole of last week I was in this 41 degree (and that was on a cool day) sandpit. It was so hot, every time I walked out of the hotel, my glasses fogged over. And I made a decision; I would run at night! I must admit on my first night, I was in a fit of giggles for the entire run as I had to leave the hotel at 8:00pm every day to run.

I was staying at the Arjaan by Rotana in Dubai City, 6kms to the Burj al Arab. So I would pass the Palm Jumeirah, Souk Medina, Knowledge City, and get to Dubai’s iconic building. Of course the city is well lit and I met a few night runners (pardon the pun). 5 days of night running and 12kms return led to 60 kms in total. Oh, for the record I was dressed! So I came back to Nairobi on Friday, rested on Saturday and Sunday, I was in Rwanda.

Hmm and this  leads to my exasperation with my fellow Africans. So as I am booking my accommodation reservation, one of my special requests was avail access to a gym with High Interval Intensity Training (I am addicted to it). My hotel had no such facility. However they were in partnership with a state of the art gym, which had these facilities.

So checked in late at night. The following day, I had meetings in the morning and since I had a late afternoon meeting, I decided to steal a couple of hours and hit the gym. So dressed in my gear, I ask the receptionist, how far the gym was from the hotel, and her response was… “oh, it’s just 5 minutes away”. “So I can run to it?” I inquire. “Sure, besides we notice you like running every time you stay with us” she affirmed. “You are right,” I said confidently. And I chose to run. Now, you see, it was a cold drizzly day and it was 12:30pm, so in essence I could hack an afternoon run. You see Kigali (the city of 1001 hills) is not a joke and then the ancestors decided to pull a fast one on me. It stopped raining and it got very hot! So when I looked at my Garmin I had done  5 minutes  of a hilly run and I was nowhere near the gym. 7km later, absolutely winded down, I reached the gym to  find a very enthusiastic gym instructor whose only statement,  was “do you want to  begin the session?”  “You’ve got to be kidding me!” and every possible profanity crossed my mind. However, I straightened myself and limply said , “yes.” Just like that, I felt like a lamb going to slaughter.  After one hour of the HIIT and brutal 7 km hilly run, I hobbled out of the gym, hailed a taxi and went back to the hotel. And bless the receptionist, “Did you enjoy your workout?” she asked, and all I could say was, “5 minutes eh, hmmm, right, err okay!” then quickly calmed down and said, “well it was quite an experience!” I hobbled into my room took a blessed shower dressed up and  went for my next meeting.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara- Of Running Injuries and the Road to Recovery

screaming trainer with a megaphoneMy gym instructor is the antichrist and his idea of talking to me is shrilling like a crazed harpy on steroids.

How did I get here, well, I fell and injured myself in May. A running injury is the bane of any runner, a sprained ankle, wounded ball of my left foot and sore knee had me grounded for two months.  While I hobbled about with a walking stick and enjoyed the privileges of the disabled parking in Nairobi, I had two concerns, how soon do I heal and when do I begin wearing high heels again. Yeah, I do have my shallow moments.

The last time I had a knee injury I had to go for a keyhole surgery and I could not run for a year. After getting used to running and as a result receiving my daily dose of endorphins, I was getting withdrawal symptoms and becoming quite antsy and irritable.

Though I had to be careful and focus on healing , the first thing I did was go for physiotherapy  and  being the coward that I am ,I avoided  Kariakim like the plague and went to a much more ‘gentler’ therapist, who still left me in tears and cursing in ways that would make a sailor high five me  with admiration!

So with physiotherapy done, on the to do list was to identify a gym for strength training. I identified one and what impressed me about this  gym is the four classes they dedicated for one hour  that focus on High Intensity Interval Training, Circuit Training, Taebo, Core Synergy Training. Oh, the so not glorious spin classes and the deceptive  Pilates.

So this gym dedicates one hour for each of these training sessions, four times a day.  I assure you it’s not for the faint hearted. Since I have been running for over a decade, I felt I would be relatively fit enough to manage one class. Day one had me grunting and groaning like a walrus and I could not walk! Every single part of my body was sore and I was in such a foul mood.

My only consolation was that it would help me build my strength for running. After one month I started   running alternately against the training. The first time I was in such pain, that I went back home dejected but as my body grew stronger, I was  able to run slowly. However my highlight was last week, when I ran 10 kms in 48 minutes! The fastest I have ever run, my body felt like a newly serviced car.  The strength training will definitely be part of my running regimen. Other than the fact I feel like  and look like Popeye, I will test the training as I prepare for the dreaded Ndakaini  Marathon. So, I guess I am committed to  going slightly deaf as  the antichrist pushes me through the  strength  training routine.

Running Tales

Nomadic Urban Swara: This is to 2,000 Kms of Running…And the Year is Not Over!

2000-kmsThree pairs of worn out running shoes, grumbling running partners (that woman is too stubborn!), blisters and limping into the spa barefoot because my feet are sore and I am too worn out to be bothered for a massage and mani-pedi after every major run. It’s amazing how much mileage you burn when you put your head to it and the year is not over. I have been running a minimum of 50kms a week since January to date, regardless of where  I am in the world. Below are some of the highlights:


This  started with me beginning the run  40 minutes late and that is a story for another day, however  4 kms into the run I saw fresh elephant dung and I started  questioning my life choices, which included why on earth would I choose not only an ultra marathon but one which is smack in the middle of an elephant route. As I was questioning my poor life choices,  I met a ranger  who tried to assure me that I was safe  and my only answer to him was, “ watch me!” and sprinted far away from  him and the elephants that were 50 metres ahead of me. My school of thought was simple; in such situations, its always the black chap who dies first followed by the blonde (This  reasoning is thanks to watching C Grade quality Hollywood films). Last time I checked, I don’t get blacker than how I look and so I sped off! I  must say despite beginning late it felt good to pass a number of runners and this time I was  prepared. I had a camel bag with water and lots of  Haribo Marsh Mallows.  The run was uneventful but very beautiful, my objective was not to take a boda boda or be carried by the support cars, so at 6pm when I got to Karura, approximately 6kms to end of the run, I saw no markings. Thanks to the adrenaline rush partly due to an overload of Haribos, I saw the railway  line and  thanks to my upbringing in a small town like Karatina, the urban planning was the same…so I assumed. So I ran on the railway line and as I had thought it took me straight to the railway station and what did not come as a surprise was the market next to the station which extended into the main street in Karatina . And  right in front of me was Pork City and Uchumi Supermarket.  I got my bearings and ran to the end of  the line. When I got to the hotel, I was  informed I was one of the few insane ones who did 65 kms!! Lordy …. That’s all I can think of at the moment.


The one thing I love about running in Ethiopia, this time  in three towns, Mekelle, Bahar Dar and Addis is the competitive nature Kenyans  have  with their Frenemies. Every single time I hit the street in these towns, they would either join me or ask if I was running for Kenya or Ethiopia, and if I would consider moving countries to run for them. If they knew I was a rubbish runner, that would not cross their minds!


So when I was in Senegal, the one thing that blew my mind away was what the country had done to invest in sports. Let me  not get ahead of myself… If you have not been to this slice of heaven … this is how it looks and smells like. Dakar has  a mixture of African, French and  Ismalic  architecture. Wide streets, lined  with Jacaranda trees, beautiful mosques  dot the ocean line, and  French bakeries  with sweetly scented  freshly baked croissants  confuse  your senses as  you run. Several times I had a good mind to do a pit stop and stuff myself with croissants and shamefaced continue with the run. At times, I would pass the majestic  African Renaissance  statue, which was built by …wait for it.. North Korea (Who would have thunk??!!) Despite  my overwhelmed  senses  of sweeties  and beautiful scenery, is the  obvious investment  the government has made in  sports. The entire beach front is a sporting arena , which is opened 24 hours and is well lit at night.

Hundreds of sports men are running or playing  all kinds of sports, basketball, soccer, weight lifting…you name it,  and it’s happening at the beach front. Hawkers take advantage of this crowd  and are excitedly selling their  sports wares . I asked my driver to explain this interesting phenomenon and he told me that the government  pays and  maintains  the sports parks. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised about this , and I believe this is something  Kenya should do .


So it’s not the first time I have  run in Nigeria. But this time I was staying in the University of Illorin and of course taking advantage of the beautiful campus I hit the road. Four days into my usual  run before  or after work, I had a meeting with one of my colleagues when he informed me  that one of the lions had escaped their zoo. Here is the thing… this is a warning you tell a hapless Kenyan woman WHEN she visits  your hood, not right in the middle of  the week when you see she has been running  for the last couple of days. Well my reaction was priceless. Let’s just say I was happy to have run for four days and, my eyes were permanently fixed on Murtala Mohammed International Airport.


Every time I share this experience, it’s interrupted with… YOU WERE IN MAURITIUS! To be fair except for the forests, sugar cane plantations  and mountains, it is exactly like Diani. The other thing that was a bit disconcerting was talking to Indians and Chinese who have such pronounced French accents. In my naiveté,  I asked a few whether they grew up in France and that is when I got to know the history of this island whose islanders wiped out the dodo.  Mauritius had no indigenous inhabitants, except for wildlife. So in no particular order, came the Africans (who were former slaves), Indians, Chinese, the British and the French. This island is an absolute melting pot of history and culture and  people are classified as  European, African  and Asian. They are all mixed up  and at times you cannot tell the difference.  The food is a mixture of  all these nationalities and a croissant with fresh orange juice after every run was a must. For islanders, Mauritians love dogs as pets!  Every other  Mauritian had a dog, which I found curious because  you mostly find cats in island towns.

It has a beautiful beach and very friendly people. I was staying  and working in Flic-en-Flac, which happens to be a holiday town and every morning people, had a look like they had drank a bit too much. A hair of the dog moment was so common that it gave me a tickle and  I felt too responsible amongst this crowd.


Besides being a runner  I am an avid mountain climber. I am a nemophilist, the silence  of the woods opening up to the majesty of a mountain is addictive. That’s why I have traversed  all the major mountains in Africa from the Drakensburg  to the Sinai …errr.. twice. Now lets’ focus on Kili… It is really difficult to reduce your speed to a crawl when you are used to  running the same distance, though it was imperative I walked slowly when I was climbing Kili. So what I would do  is get to my camp before every one and go back and get them and this helped also with the acclimatization. Kilimanjaro is revenant, spiritual and just peaceful. Her power and  majesty is felt as you walk through her, and if she is kind you may not experience harsh weather. We were not so lucky, because when I was summiting, it was -18 degrees and windy. We reached  Uhuru Peak and I was disappointed as there was no snow because two years ago I made snow angels and built a snow man on the peak. Now the interesting part after summiting  I told my guide, “see you at base camp,” and ran all the way … that was 20kms! Slept at the base camp and first thing in the morning ran all the way to the gate. We passed  our porters and all they could say , “Dada Joy  mbona haraka.”  Joy why the hurry? My  response was very simple, “Nataka kuoga!”  I want to bathe! They would laugh and let me pass. Here is the thing there is no room for basic civility like  bathing when  you are mountain climbing and  I was done being Ms Stinky! Will I do Kili again… why not!


This is how the organizers describe this run. A beautiful scenic run with undulating hills dotted with tea and coffee fields.  What they forget to tell you is that these hills are at a 45 degree inclination with an average of a 450 metres climb and drop per hill. Well if they advertised it this way… no sane person would come for the run and well, the few insane ones with poor life choices would still try it. So I made the ‘smart’ decision to  drive to Ndakaini. I left Nairobi at 4:30 am, got to the venue at 6 am, slept in the car, had breakfast and went for the run. And it did not disappoint, it was brutal, humbling and of course hilly. 21 kms later finished  the run and …oh  sugar…. Drove back home.

Now I am reliving 2000 kms as I write this  after finishing 65 kms of the Mt Kenya Ultra Marathon and this time I was smart enough not to drive to  Karatina. To do list, limp barefoot (my feet are still swollen) shamefaced  to the spa, hairdo , mani- pedi and a full body massage  awaits .

Here is to another 2000 kms.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- Elephant Hill Hike/Run

at elephant hillSo here  I am bright eyed and bushy tailed as the Bush Babies  are screeching manically in front of my log cabin somewhere in Happy Valley, right in the middle of the Rift Valley.  I have this amazing view of the  valley, it’s a warm night, the stars are sparkling in their full glory and the moon is shyly creeping out of the clouds into the sky.

Since  I am awake  the only thing that can go through  my mind is  my bull headed , borderline fool hardy hike and eventual run at Elephant Hill in the Aberdare Ranges last week.

So there was an announcement on the Swaras mail portal  on a  hike up Elephant Hill. I  had been on the road for two weeks and a hike and a good trail run is what I needed, not to mention I am climbing Kilimanjaro in July. I wanted to start acclimatizing  as early as possible to high altitude. 12 hours to the hike  it was cancelled. Though disappointed I was still determined to go for the hike, then I get a call from Martin a.k.a Hunny Bunny. He is about  the only person I cannot keep up with and puts we ‘young ones’ to shame  at his consistent pace, even in hilly trains. “I am still going for the hike!” He says resolutely , then followed by Felicita of the Amsterdam Marathon fame, with a firm , “ I am still going for the run.” So we promptly leave Nairobi the following day at 6:00am, happily car pooling with Martin and arrive at Njabini at 7:30 am.

Clearly we were the first ones and  we wake up a partially sleep confused  ranger, with the firm statement, “we are ready  to hike up the hill.”  Can you not wait for a group of 40 we are expecting in a couple of hours whom you could join?” Tempers flare with  harsh words  exchanged ranging from… such incompetence to we did not come this early to hike with 40 other people. As  heated words were exchanged, Wachira of the Graceland fame  joins us and we happily pipe, “ there, we’ve got our crowd and we are leaving with or without the ranger, so wake up and join us.

the elephant hill summitOn hind sight I  felt guilty and sheepishly apologized, but that was done after he found me at the summit. Yes I did leave him behind.  So the hike, Wachira  Felicita ,Martin and I began the hike and  it was more like a speed walk . Then along came the voice of reason or in my view Jiminy Cricket- Felicita, “do you know I once got lost on this hill, we should have  waited for the ranger!”. “Noo we will be fine ” I affirmed and we continued  hiking and at some increasing our pace improved  to an occasional  slow run and in two and half hours we were at the  summit. Having packed  sandwiches , eating them at the summit was  such a joy , I was humming happily and I started seeing the world in Technicolor.

The adventure began on the way down and Felicita encouraged me to run all the way to the bottom and that’s what I did and like that she was gone. So I ran all the way down alone. When  I reached the electric fence… I took the wrong turn and a few things came to mind, Felicita’s warning and having the ranger by my side now sounded like a very good idea.

So chin up Swara style, I reassured myself, “ah, this means extra kilometers to my run.” But I did get my way back, enjoying every bit of the view of  my new route.

So finally back to the original route I continued running back to the rangers forest station only to find  Felicita stretching (that lady has jet fuel for blood!). Martin had reached the Point of  Despair and returned earlier and Wachira joined us 20 minutes later.

What a wonderful way it was to spend a weekend. So, here, to more runs in 2016 and of course I will be running tomorrow in the scrub lands of  Happy Valley.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- Mt Kenya Ultra Marathon


Mt Kenya ultra marathon 2015As always, it was a hair brained, not thoroughly thought through idea. I was going to run the Mt Kenya ultra marathon. My objective was simple; I wanted  to kill two birds with one stone, join club 42 and if I survive it, join the exclusive ultra marathon club and  pull in bragging rights like Loise, Mitch and Raoul and  thump my chest with pride and say I am an Ultra marathoner, and just annoy my friends  every time I say it. Guess what! I did it! And I am such an annoying muppet!

It started with Ndungu’s emails and one caught my eye. We will need rangers to chase away elephants. My first reaction was, “ELEPHANTS”! Ndungu was quick to respond, “ they are tame …honest!” and I  retorted, “the only tame elephant I know is Dumbo. He flies  and he is cute. The last time I checked , Kenyan  elephants do not fit the bill!”

Ok for exercise. I must say the 10 kms runs I do every other day regardless of where I am in the world really helped. Investing in a personal trainer last year to focus on strength training was helpful. The trainer turned me into a small Popeye with the ability to bench press up to 60 kgs and the strength built in my muscles was evident in the run. So for practice, I ran 20 kms on Sunday in Diani, but I was so chaffed that my plans to run during the course of the week in hilly Kigali (yes I was still travelling) was thrown out of the window. I got back on Thursday night, and on Friday drove down with Martin Boelle to Karatina. Now that was the only smart choice I made!

Saturday morning, we are having breakfast and I declare boldly, “I will run 56kms!”. There was silence followed by the following statements, “write a will,” “hmmm, let’s see how you will survive with the rain!”, then followed by a rather sage question, “What is the longest you have run?” “21kms at the Ndakaini run in September!” I chuffed with pride. “What about for exercise?”  I responded “Well, I did 20 kms in Diani on Sunday, doesn’t that count?”  Silence and everyone focused on their breakfast, then one last reminder, “make sure you write a will!” Honestly who needs enemies if you have friends like these?

But I was so excited. This was green Mount Kenya; we were going to pass through forests, with the possibility of evading angry pachyderms. I had hiked through the same forest in March, ran through it in September and it was a beautiful day. I just knew I’d do the run, plus on hind sight I was on an adrenaline rush.

We drove 10 kms to a small village called Kagochi, and we started running. What was my plan? What plan! I had no idea except drum into my head to save energy, put one foot in front of the other and make sure I finished the run. And in Ashok’s words, if you can’t fight the hill, you can as well enjoy the view. And what a view we had as we ran passing through runpotato  and coffee farms, until when we reached a river and I debated on whether I should remove my shoes or not; Martin threw me a stick from across and shouted, “You will need it for support as you cross.”! I gave up and removed my shoes and started crossing. Susan was ahead of me and she happily chirped, “my shoes are water proof so I do not need to remove my shoes,” “Oh Susan….” I grouched.

I am glad I removed my shoes and waded through the cold river as it cooled my hot feet. I resumed the run and after 30 minutes it started raining and once again Susan chirped, “Did I forget to mention that my shoes are water proof!” “Susan, I swear you will be mugged in Nairobi and they will only take your shoes!” I further grouched as we slogged in the mud.

It was at this point that I definitely made up my mind to do the 56 kms run as I kept on asking, “What is the worst that could happen, other than being rained on?”  and I swore, unless there were hailstones and earthquake and the actual possibility of snow, I would not stop and definitely finish the run.

To keep my mind busy and off the run, I started playing associative mind games. I started with the rainy, muddy forest and reminded myself that it was like running in Karura Forest. Then in some stretches  I reminded myself of when I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and it brought back memories of my preparations for the expedition and the actual run kidachievement of reaching Uhuru Peak, and of course I was already planning my diary, I had a lot of kilometers to cover and my entire week was planned ! But the most important thing I learned was that people love people. I greeted everyone on the way, asked people in kiosks if they had tea for a weary miserable runner, to which they enthusiastically responded and I encouraged children to run with me. Some held my hand as we ran together.

Then I started looking for life lines. Susie (Brendan Molloy’s fiancé), gave me her gel and she offered to give me money for a boda boda, which, I declined just in case I got tempted to hop onto a motorbike due to fatigue. Susan also gave me her gel, and then the vehicles started following me. The soft purring engine of Ajaa’s and Wahome’s vehicles reminded me that I was not alone and I slogged on, in the umpteenth wave of rain.

Vehicles and boda bodas pulled over to give me a lift and I politely declined and I continued running. At some point I was given an orange which boosted me, my Garmin watch had died after 30 kms and I resorted  to asking the friendly villagers how far I was  and I got colorful responses ranging from, Huogopi mvua? Aki uko mbali, Madam ingia tu kwa gari (Aren’t you worried about the rain. You are really far. Madam, please get into the car!). 3 kms to the finish, I had unexpected euphoric energy and ran nonstop to the end. The Swaras were waiting for me, followed by exhilarating high fives with incredulous comments, “Joy, you are crazy! My God you are stubborn!”. 9hours 20 minutes later, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am an Ultra Marathoner!”. Will I do this again? Oh yeah and I cannot wait for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in South Africa.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- To a Decade of Running

Joy runningCommitment to running is marking a running trail in the rain (Otora I salute you. Marking trails is not easy).

Commitment to running is still  going for a run, regardless of the weather ( To the Swaras, who I have given flimsy excuses about not coming to your runs as it’s raining… well let’s just say, I will kick off the warm blanket with enthusiastic ferocity as I come for your run)

Commitment to running is actually seeing running routes non runners  will never find, which, answers the question I get asked all the time, “Where do you run in Nairobi, Lagos or Cairo?” My answer is very simple, “ I get into the hotel, before I  unpack my clothes, I get my running gear and just run!” “ If I am in Nairobi, I get out of bed and just run…”

Commitment to running is also looking  like  a crazed  woman or  who may be passed for a limestone miner , as one is dusty from head to toe with chalk dust ( This is a result of  marking running trails).

What started 10 years ago in Dar es Salaam , Tanzania as a long walk, turned  to a routine  that has become  part of my lifestyle, regardless of where I travel or work. Plus, for the first time  I happily bonded with men over shoes, and not the high heel type.

It was a rather rainy Sunday afternoon,  when I chose to celebrate a decade of running. I had just arrived the night before from Durban and the first thing I did was call my co-host and ask if there was anything I needed to contribute for  the run and  party, and in German precision, I got a  break down of every detail , which was precise to the kilograms of food bought. “ What’s left is to peel potatoes and mark the trail,” was the chirpy response. I inwardly groaned, knowing the last time I actually peeled potatoes  en masse, was in boarding school, as a punishment. I must say I was not look forward to it.

Fast  forward to Sunday morning, which turned out to be  rather gloomy and the first thing I did was send  an invitation to the various running mailing lists, then I began potato peeling duty. The gloomy morning turned to  a rainy mid-morning through to afternoon- and I remember  my contribution-marking the trail. “I am not going to like this,” I inwardly groaned.

Joy running2Thankfully the rain  slightly  dissipated (it was down to a drizzle), and I quickly changed into running clothes, minus running shoes, hoped onto the back of  my co-hosts’ pick up and started  marking the trail. This is where I got lessons on marking trails and as it was drizzling, I was not taking chances, I rather took to the job enthusiastically ( It’s Wednesday and you can still see the marks on the road 🙂 ). I was the antithesis  of a Sunday best look. Covered in chalk dust from head to toe and sometimes running on the route and plonking markers ( Once again Otora, we are not worthy of your duties).

Gratefully the rain had stopped and we were able to mark their entire  route  in the quite rather sleepy ( Rainy sunday afternoon with minimal traffic) Lavington neighborhood.

I must say I was pleased with my markers ,which, provided  runners with options to run from 5 km, 10km and 15km. By 4 pm the rain had stopped but it was still  cloudy, gratefully the air was now clean, the  running paths were cleaner and with over 40 runners who came, I was confident that it would be an easy run for the guests. I must say I was abit cheeky about marking the short run, such that the short route was actually 10kms . So the 5kms  runners ended up running 10kms, which, turned out to be the popular route. I took the long route and measured it with  my Garmin watch and it turned out to be 14.5kms ( Not bad for a first time fox trail).

As the guests happily  enjoyed the German themed  barbeque, all that could go through my mind, was 10 years is such an achievement.  It means, I am no longer  eligible for the Kenya Youth Fund and now I understand what a young adult and adult means. Being called Madam, Ma’am is mixture of respect ( because of one’s age) and civility. And,  looking at the mature runners in the clubs is a reason to look forward to being old and of strong mind and health.

Here is to the next 10 years of running.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- The Naivasha relay

swaras at Naivasha Relay 2015 -1“Joy, you are Captain!” An undignified, “ Eh”! was my response, followed by a plaintive, “why!!” “Gender diversity!” responded the Chairman with a straight face  and all I could say was, “really… Ajaa, you will pull gender diversity on me?” Well, by then he was gone and, that , Swaras ,was my baptism by fire into the Naivasha Relay.

I must say I was so excited about this run; allow me to explain. I am a child of the eighties an absolute country bumpkin , who grew up in backwater one street dusty Naivasha town (for the Brits Happy Valley should ring a bell). It is still dusty but no longer a one street town.  By then our only source of entertainment other than playing in mud pits was looking forward to 5pm, when  the Voice of  Kenya (VoK) opened its station and we were subjected to children’s programmes for two hours,  then 2 hours of news filled with Baba wa Taifa!,  Swahili  for Father of Nation, and I must admit then the only president I knew, and who was  the bane of the West was President Daniel Arap Moi- Baba wa Taifa. So I did not know better  except for play in the mud pits, take a quick bath and wait for the multi color TV stripes to change to the blessed  VOK logo, then it was  cartoon time followed by news.

So it was in this rather , now that I think of it, boring routine I lived my life until once a year every Kenyan, country or city mouse, came out of their homes to literally eat dust, to  watch  the East African Safari Rally.  This was an iconic route; it passed my home through the escarpment to Nairobi. Our local hero Shekha Mehta, won a record 5 rallies and was a force to reckon with. All I knew was Shekha Mehta, I swore to drive a stick shift like he did,  be the first woman to join the rally. But the closest we kids could do was create motor vehicles made of wires, complete with tyres made of cut out slippers and race them .  This led to the development of play from the mud pits to pushing creatively produced car toys made of wires  and have our own rally. For the clueless like me who were utterly hopeless at shop , we stole our parents spare wheel tyres and pushed them alongside our  innovative  pals and triumphantly raced in our rally.  And prayed  we were not caught by the said exasperated  parents ….sigh… good times.

Suffice to say, today,  I cannot drive a stick shift and I am still rubbish at shop is an understatement and  thank God for technology and  automatic driving.

swaras at Naivasha Relay 2015 -2What does this have to do with the Naivasha Relay? Well, this was  the East Africa Safari Rally route. Never in my life would I have dreamed of using this route as an adult and use it as part of a sport beyond watching the rally and eat lots of dust, as it is truly a dusty route.

The  run started  from Nairobi and systematically went on through 17 stages   which had up to 6.6 kms  in each stage to Naivasha. The run promptly started  at 7am and by the time I was getting to my stage (stage 9), it was  high noon and apparently the most dusty route. Though the shortest, I must say I loved the banter amongst the  running groups, with continuous encouragement, that this is  fun (which it was), and that it was not a competition (yeah right…) and just simply enjoy the run ( which we did).  As we ran through this route  all that could go through my head was, my hero drove on this road and what a beautiful view.

By 6:30pm we were done  with the run , which, ended at Hells Gate.  Everyone was exhilarated, vehicles were blaring with music  and  people were dancing celebrating their personal success. Despite the fact we won, the group that made  the greatest impression on me were the children from the Swedish School, who, ran with such enthusiasm and in one of the stages they were leading just after the elite runners and I was absolutely proud of them. In my opinion they were the true winners, that early enthusiasm in sports should be encouraged among children, bearing in mind the 21st Century children consider sport as a game console and a screen.

I will  definitely do this run again and now Chairman, I know what it takes to be  Captain and I say, “bring it on!”

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- Mt Kenya Run

With Hashers At Mt Kenya Run 2015“I run because it keeps me balanced as there is a thin line between spiritualism and sanity, which running places in check, plus I plan my day, all my To do lists and work diary and above all it’s a confidence booster.” “I get the same feeling when I wear a good pair of high heels and carry my favorite handbag and I just know I will nail that board meeting.”

Yes, Swaras, I do have a rather Chatty Cathy of an answer when I am asked why I run. And the response I get is always in the line of, are you always working or thinking of work, and that’s when I get a bit sheepish , shy and tongue tied. As I write this story, I have a confession to make; I am in my running clothes in Kigali, it’s 6:45am, I am sitting on the verandah with the beautiful view of the 1000 hills, about to have my breakfast, I just ran for 45 minutes and yes, I planned my days’ meetings. But what is going through my mind is not this weeks’ run in Kigali but my experience in the Mt Kenya Run last week, where I learned to live a little.

The hair brained idea to run up 10,000 ft in Kenya’s highest point came when I went through our Frenemies website the Hash Harriers and it honestly sounded like a good idea and besides I thought, “ I have been running up Mt Longonot for the last three weeks, so how hard could it be?” So one of the times I was in Nairobi, I was going for my usual 10 kms jog when I bumped into Ajaa at the Arboretum Forest and I told him I want to run up the mountain. His answer was very simple, “if you want to enjoy that run you need to do a long distance high altitude run, why don’t you try Ndakaini Half Marathon?” That found me fumbling at the last minute emailing Jael to find out if there was space for one, which I got and just like that I ran a half marathon on Saturday, went the following day to Naivasha at 6 am and ran up Mt Longonot. Yes, I was on a mission to conquer Mt Kenya, and continued running during the week. Then came the day for the Mt Kenya Run; I left Nairobi at 6am, I was very excited, and I was in such a chirpy mood, all I could see were the golden rays of the sun bouncing happily on the leaves and I remember raising my hands breathing in deeply, twirling and saying, isn’t it such a beautiful morning?”

And I got an absolutely undignified grunt from my fellow runners. Hmmm, clearly these were not morning people, none the less it was not going to spoil my mood as it was such a beautiful morning.

Driving down to Nanyuki, passing the Aberdares and seeing the looming Mt Kenya was really exhilarating until, the cops stopped us. So this policeman was trying to explain what law we had broken, until at THAT moment the clouds cleared from the sky and I could see View of Mt KenyaMt. Kenya very clearly, complete with the snow and I did the unthinkable and said, “Boss, just hold that thought for one minute.” I rummaged through my backpack and started taking pictures of the mountain, I mean it’s not every day you see the mountain this clearly and yes, we temporarily found ourselves as guests of the state. And as the policemen were trying to explain what we did wrong, which we finally understood, I could not help but look at the view they had behind them. The beautiful mountain. So during the entire-do-you–know–what–you-have-done–wrong-speech , by the cops, I had this goofy smile, because it was a such a bloody beautiful day. Okay so we were let off, with a warning and continued with our journey.

The run was planned for 1:00pm and we made it to Nanyuki at 10:30am , went straight to Naro Moru River Lodge, where all the runners were staying, opted to camp instead of staying in the lodge, yes, the camp was facing the mountain. Prepared breakfast at the campsite and just relaxed as we waited for the remaining runners.

By 12:00pm, all the runners had come and we drove to the base of the mountain and there were two running options, 12kms and 16kms. And I chose the 16kms, I was the only lady in the entire run who chose this and a fellow Swara called Nderitu, and we began. It was tough. My feet felt like I had added 5 extra kilos to them and I had to run 4km to the National Park’s gate in time for the call for the 12km run, though I made it I must say that was a forced warm up and I am glad I did it as not only did I catch up with the other runners but passed most of them. Now this was not only a beautiful run, where I saw wildlife, but it was equally well organized, there were water points in every 4km, clearly marked signs, showing how many kilometres were left for you to run, until it began raining. I was 12km to my destination and the heavens opened up and I must say, what was missing was shower gel and I could have taken a good bath with that rain. I had to be more careful as it now became a slippery run all the way to the end. I finished my run; I was very pleased with my performance. Bless the organizers, as they had prepared tea, samosas, mandazis and sausages, which I wolfed down with relish and they promptly sent me to the car that was carrying all the warm clothes with firm instructions, KEEP WARM!

It was when I was taking tea I found out one of our runners was 78 years old, she ran 12km, she was my hero, she entertained us with her songs and as we happily sang along all that could go through my mind is that God bless me with life and such strength.

After the run we picked all the rubbish we created on the entire trail, went back to the campsite, took a hot bath, set up the camp chairs and as I popped a bottle of Champagne, toasted with my fellow runners, we watched the sun set and looked at Mt Kenya, I breathed in slowly and I finally had a shorter answer as to why I run, “it makes me relax and live a little.” Truly that was indeed the end of such a beautiful day.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-LONDON

London 1There is a Swahili saying that goes Kingereza ilukuja na meli (English came by ship). The saying forgives us hapless Africans, when we speak or write poor English. I grew up watching TV shows like  Mind your Language that emphasized on the importance of speaking proper English. Prior to  the Children’s Act and the term spare the rod spoil the child  was used with relish, my elementary teacher put the fear of God in me, every time I failed my English test by reminding me with every whack on my hand, “Joy, English IS the QUEENS’ language!” and  in tears I grudgingly acquiesced  and wanted to know who this Queen was who made my life very miserable. Then later in my career working closely with academics and researchers, it was further reinforced that English IS the language of Science.  So armed with this knowledge and ready to do my English teacher proud,  I landed  in Heathrow and discovered ….Cockney ! Don’t get me wrong I have been to London a number of times but in the soft bubble of my academic peers,  and I never quite had the privilege of being spoken to in Cockney.

How can I explain it, well, Cockney is to England as deep south old prospector English is to the US. You know, the kind where you ask for directions and the helpful chap goes like, Weeeiill… (Well) as he grabs his laurels and all you can visualize is that he will expertly spit in a cup on the floor, before further giving you directions.

What led me to this medley of corrupted language? Avani Patel.  During the dreaded Magadi Run in June, I was running with Avani and for those who have met this Swara, she has a cheeky and very lovable demeanor about her. Don’t let her pint size fool you, she will run steadily nonstop in any run thrown at her. So back to Avani and Magadi. As we were huffing and panting through the dreaded hills, she told me about the Vitality run, that was taking place in London in July and by then she had already registered.

Now in true African fashion I was late to register and my excuse was , “well it is not Lewa and I will definitely get space”. 3 days to  the race I went to apply online and there was a  big sign on the website-registration closed. Frantically I went through the website and got the contacts of the founder and organizer of the run and that is when I got my first taste of Cockney. Trying to explain to him and at the same time apologizing profusely for my tardiness was quite an effort. Fast forward   to the day before the run, I land  at 6:30 am, check into my hotel by 7:30am and  I try and make my way to the registration desk where I’d get my running T-Shirt and tag. Well, to get there I needed directions and that’s when the Queen’s language was thoroughly desecrated . “ How do I get to WaterLoo and Pall Mall for the Vitality Run?,” I ask. And this is what  I got in response , “If yew wan’ ter get ter WaterLoo an’ Pall Mall. Ye need ter pass Leicester Square , Piccadily circus, turn left an’ yew are on Pall Mall road. Know what I mean?”- translated to -If you want to get to WaterLoo and Pall Mall. You need to pass Leicester Square , Piccadily circus, turn  left and you are on Pall Mall road.

Incredulously, with raised eyebrows, I asked, “What! Did you just say?” and bless the good Samaritan as he asked, “Wa ?” and I tried to clarify “What or did you mean Wort or Wat?”. I was going to be here for one and a half weeks and on my to do list, when I got back home was have a serious sit down  with my elementary English Teacher on the Queen’s Language .

Language aside, which , I had to adapt to very fast… and yes, there is a Cockney-English dictionary. Thanks to Google. So armed with it I got my way to the registration desk and went back to my hotel, though miserably got lost, as by then  my battery was dead and well no dictionary to support me! But it was good fun. So race day , I had a good breakfast and it was a warm day , got in touch with Avani and this time she was the true  African, she came in later than me and as a result I found myself in the second wave and she was in the  eighth wave of runners.

The warm weather turned briefly to a drizzly morning, but that did not stop the twenty thousand odd runners dressed in very interesting costumes from taking part in the run. One of the reasons I was excited about this run was because  we’d pass all the major  sites in London. Ideally  it was   a very tourist centric run.  All the major London iconic  sites were in the  10km route and  it was  worth every  bit of it. So 1hr 2min later I was done with the run and very pleased with myself and celebrated by going to the theatre to watch a musical on the Phantom and the Opera, which, I proudly sang along to, very loudly and badly. In my defense I wasn’t the only one and besides, what better way to enjoy London’s cultural highlife than go to the theatre.

So these are my tips on being a proper Londoner:


  • You should own a good pair of brogues
  • Own something made of tweed.
  • Own a pair of wellies…well it always rains.
  • Definitely own an umbrella…because… it always rains.
  • Visit the theatre (They have plenty of them)and museums (the entrance is FREE)
  • Ooook….learn a bit of Cockney, so you are not lost in translation.


Now  do I have plans to come to England , just on holiday and not Worliday (Work- Holiday)? Lor’ luv a duck! Yes! Why not?! Know what I mean?– Yes why not!