Running Tales

StanChart Nairobi Marathon: What a Day!!

Today was incredible for me, accomplishing my first ever marathon! I’m beside myself with excitement at having entered the famous (or infamous) Club42!!

I’m particularly delighted because I trained for 4:30 and I finished just inside that time – 4:29:27 by my Garmin.

I have special appreciation for the support volunteers and the CRE for organising such fantastic support. I know, for a fact, I would not have made it without your encouragement and ensuring I had fruit and Fanta at intervals.

Finally, Peter Macharia: you were my rock when I finally ran out of physical strength and was too exhausted to summon my own mental reserves. At 39.5km, I ran past Susan, Peter and a couple of other Swaras on route support and I said, “I’m so tired.” Even I didn’t realise it was a cry for help! ???? Peter did and he ran the last 3km with me, leaving me at the stadium entrance with only 200m to the finish. It is thanks to him that I finished strong. On my own, I would have ran-walked that final stretch.

Abdi, Ajaa and other route photographers: every time I happened on any of you with your cameras, I purposed to smile and smiling gave me pep!

Mbarire and Ndinda: you two ladies gave me so much encouragement today and even in the run-up to today! Thank you!

And there are many more “Thank yous” that i have yet to say, to so many of you. As I contemplated today, I realised -and not for the first time- that Swara support begins long before race day. Swaras totally rock!!

Once it all sinks in, I will endeavour to pen a recap of my experience. For now, though, I just wanted to share my excitement and appreciation.

See you all soon! Happy recovery week!! And congratulations to all today’s runners and volunteers!! We got this!

Running Tales

Nairobi Marathon 2015: Of Disappointment and Unexpected Gains

Nairobi Marathon 2015First, I have to ‘fess up and say that, before this year, I had never run the Nairobi Half Marathon. I have run other half marathons, but whenever the Nairobi Marathon came around, I either ran the 10k or gave it a miss altogether. This intro is not quite so random – it becomes relevant later on.

The half marathons I ran before 2015 were mostly unpleasant and really difficult because I would never really dedicate myself to building up the mileage and fitness for them. So I would run them and curse the whole affair for days after the fact, until my body finally recovered. I did run fairly consistently, but I was typically a 10k runner and only very occasionally would I run a 15k Saturday Swara run. That changed in 2014, when I began to challenge myself to longer distances and discovered that there was huge gratification – a great sense of reward and accomplishment – in distance running. In December of that year, I decided that 2015 would be the year I ran my first full marathon.

With my sights set on a marathon victory, I trained for the Kilimanjaro Half Marathon 2015 and ran it in 02:09:37 and was fit enough that I actually enjoyed the race and did not suffer regret and agony after. I continued training, building up mileage and confidence that I could and, indeed, would run the Nairobi Marathon (full) 2015. For accountability and to surround myself with encouragers, I told the Swaras, my family, friends, colleagues, my Instagram community…everyone! I set up a training program on Asics website (recommended to me by Jael from a conversation in Arusha) and was following it committedly and experiencing improvement week-on-week. As soon as online registration opened for the Nairobi Marathon, I registered for the 42k.

Then I developed an injury.

Undeterred, I started physiotherapy (in addition to regular foam rolling, which I had already been doing) and continued training. The physio was working but, as you can imagine, progress was significantly hampered by the fact that I was training through physio, so it was 5 steps forward, 2 steps backward. I managed 27.5k in Iten and thought, “Yes, if could do this, I will be well in time for StanChart.” Not so. When I attempted my 35k run, which would have been my final long run before going into taper, I strained my leg so badly that my skin bruised from the inflammation in my muscles. At that point my denial came to an abrupt end and reason kicked in: even if I managed to cover 42k in that state (which was unlikely), I would most probably damage my knee and that simply wasn’t worth it. A marathon was off the cards for me this year.

The disappointment was crushing. Even I didn’t realise just how badly I wanted this personal victory until I realised I wouldn’t be able to even attempt it, after all. I got over it; I rationalised it by the fact that I had never run the Nairobi Half Marathon anyway, so I may as well do that and collect that medal. See where that random intro becomes relevant? I registered for the Half Marathon and stopped running to just allow my leg to heal.

In the week preceding the Nairobi Marathon I ran a couple of short runs (7k and 8k) to just get my body back in rhythm, then decided I would run it simply to finish and get the medal – and hoped that it would be a pain-free run.

Race day

I was nervous on the morning of the race because I was anticipating pain and the memory of it made me literally cringe. I wore my elastic knee support around my ankle, like a sock, in case I needed to pull it up over my knee at some point, to help me get through the race.

I met Irene at the assembly bay and was excited to see her as we hadn’t seen each other since Kilimanjaro. As we chatted and caught up, I forgot my worry about my knee. The half marathon was flagged off and we let the ‘stampede’ crowd go as we chatted and suddenly the announcer was making the last call for the half-marathoners and that was our cue to set off.

I set a comfortable 5:50/km pace and settled into my rhythm, all the while conscious that I was waiting for pain. 3k…no pain…5k…no pain…I spotted Abdi and happily waved for his camera…9k…I stopped waiting for the pain and began to simply enjoy my run.

I finished strong, pain-free and with my knee support still sitting at my ankle like a sock – I didn’t use it. I finished in 02:05:48 (by my Garmin) achieving a new PR. I collected my medal, bumped into Loise and we went off together join the Swaras supporting the 42k runners.

In retrospect, I learned

  • A good race is a good race. The fact that I didn’t get to attempt my first marathon didn’t keep me from enjoying my half marathon
  • Training is never wasted. Despite not running for 3 weeks preceding the race, the mileage I gained while training for a marathon delivered an effortless half marathon PR
  • I have friends and family who will only ever run if their lives are in danger, but they have been great encouragers and will continue to be
  • The Swaras really commit to your goals. On race day, almost every Swara I met asked me, “What happened? Weren’t you doing 42?!”

I’m not done yet. I will run my marathon. And then I will run many more!

Running Tales

Fluorspar Tested My Mettle – and I Passed!

At Fluospar RunI have long shied away from participating in the flagship endurance runs (Magadi and Fluorspar) because I simply didn’t believe I had the mettle for it yet – and I was probably right. In 2014, I went along to Magadi, but only to drive route support on the day.

This year, emboldened by a combination of completing the 63-day Insanity Challenge and embarking on training for my maiden full marathon, when the Fluorspar run came about, I thought it was time I upped my ante and tested my newly-accomplished fitness and endurance levels. In the week (perhaps two) preceding Fluorspar, Ajaa began sending through Swaras’ accounts of the previous years’ Fluorspar runs. I read each one as it came, and was horrified and entertained in equal measure. I wasn’t sufficiently horrified to be scared off it though; still, when Susan sent through the payment details to kick off confirmation I had to dig deep to be sure that I really did intend on attempting this run. Without giving myself time to talk myself out of it, I made my payment within less than 5 minutes of Susan’s email. Bullet=Bitten.

If I said I was excited about Fluorspar, I would be telling a lie. I spent the days in the run-up to the event contemplating all the horrible things that could happen. Foremost on my mind was the fact that I’m in physio for an injury and while I’m making definite progress, it’s rather slow and I didn’t know whether I could run more than 21km before the injury called time-of-death on my effort. I wanted to attempt 30km at Fluorspar. Eventually, I arrived at the place where I knew the worst that could happen is that I would end up sitting heat of the day, waiting for rescue. I could live with that. I didn’t stop contemplating horror, but my sense of dread was far less stifling.

I’ll skip to the venue now, but first: my appreciation to Ameet and Surinder for the rides there and back.

The Accommodation

At Sego Safari LodgeWe arrived at Sego and I had no grand expectations of a welcome drink and a cold towel; it made a rather delightful first impression. Later, I would discover my resident spider, deafening crickets, broken toilet flusher, trickling shower and non-functioning instant heater. None of this took away from a pleasant experience, though. The spider lived in the bathroom and I just made sure I always located it first so that it wouldn’t scare me when it scampered (I kept reminding myself it was more afraid of me than I was of it). The screeching crickets…well, what to do, right? The broken toilet flusher – a bucket from ‘housekeeping’ took care of that easily. The trickling shower…45 minutes per shower – well, it’s not like I had to be anywhere in a hurry, right?

The Night Before the Run

I still dreaded it, but in the company of the Swaras, I began to catch their enthusiasm. I enjoyed hanging out the evening before, getting to know Swaras whom I only heard about or read from on email and put faces to names. It was a pleasant evening and after Ajaa’s briefing, most of us called it a night to go to bed early. I was serenaded first by my singing neighbour (I remembered to compliment him on his singing voice the following day) and then harassed by screeching crickets. I did fall asleep, eventually, and slept rather well, all things considered.

Run Day

I had set my alarm for 5am, but my singing neighbour’s equally melodious alarm roused me half an hour early (did I mention that Sego has very thin walls?) I didn’t mind – it gave me a head-start on my pre-run panic – yes, the dread was back.

I don’t usually eat before a morning run and all the literature, and seasoned opinions advise against anything different before an important run. I decided to take risk and eat a light breakfast, particularly because I was set to run longer than I ever had before, so I figured this merited breaking my habit. If there had to be consequences, I would rather deal with the consequences of having eaten than of a run hampered by hunger.

I joined the Swaras (including Nduku, Mercy, Jael, Ndinda and Maurice) who had decided to start their run at the lodge. In hindsight, that was my best decision of the day. The first 10.5km was an easy stretch of gently undulating hills, that allowed me to warm up and find my pace for the remainder of the run, as well as boosted my confidence for the climb that was subject of the dreadful stories. It also let me test my knee and get a sense of how it would hold up, and by the time I started the climb, I felt confident that I would make it to at least 25km.

At 10.5km, I reached the foot of the hill and began the climb at a steady pace and with confidence. I had Jael in my sight and she seemed as light-footed as a gazelle. She suddenly picked up her pace – because I’m pretty sure it was not me that slowed down – and before I knew it she was around several bends and far out of sight. The hill was gentler than I anticipated and I actually enjoyed it. Every so often, I would realize that I was enjoying this run and I’d get a silly smile on my face – I expected many things on this run, but enjoying it was not one of them!

At about 17km, my knee began to feel weird – not painful, but uncomfortable – so I slowed down and eventually decided to walk 0.5km of every 2km stretch. That alternation worked pretty well to keep me moving while keeping my knee well below a pain threshold.

Every so often, I’d come upon a small group of children walking downhill and they were hilariously splendid motivators. At one point a little girl ran at me clapping her hands and shouting (in Swahili), “Stop walking! Run! There are others ahead and they’ve left you far behind! Run!” With a laugh, I broke into a jog and she called out after me, “Yes! Like that!”

Otora caught up to me at about 20km and I still had enough water, as I was wearing my hydration belt, but I gratefully took a banana from him. At about 25km, as he went back downhill, he gave me two watermelon slices and took my picture. I was approaching burnout by this point and considered jumping into the vehicle, but decided to keep going until I simply couldn’t.

That didn’t take too long. At 27.5km, I was done. Just like that. It was like someone pressed ‘EMERGENCY STOP’ on a treadmill. I paused my Garmin, ended my run, walked a few metres to a shady spot under a tree and sat down to finish my water and wait for the next rescue vehicle. David soon came round the bend behind me and it seems he was looking for encouragement to stop too. He joined me in the shade and we introduced ourselves and struck up conversation. Before long, blessed rescue came with Mercy at the wheel accompanied by Jael…I was so wasted, I cannot remember who else was in the vehicle. They were like trail angels, offering refreshment, encouragement or rescue, depending on what was needed.

At the top of the hill, we joined other tired, exhilarated Swaras and the celebratory mood of accomplishment was simply fantastic. With Jael leading us, we stretched, then hung around chatting, snacking, hydrating and cheering on other Swaras as they completed their runs. Nduku and Katwa were among the Swara’s who came in to a victorious finish while we waited there.

Not long after, on the drive back down to the lodge, we took in the full measure of the distance we had covered. I was so tired that I kept on nodding off – literally – hitting my head, a few times, on the headrest in front of me.

I set out to run 30km, I expected to achieve 25km and I achieved 27.5km. I felt so proud. I think can say, “I am an endurance runner.” I’m not done with Fluorspar, yet – I will return. For now, though, I’ll hang onto these bragging rights until October 25th when, God-willing, I will be able to say, “I am a marathoner.”

Swaras rock! I’m proud to be one.