Running Tales

OMTOM 2018; Snippets From a Villager

two oceans ultra marathonThe decision to run the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon 2018 was arrived at as carelessly as many other endeavours of the villager. I’d only heard of it for the first time in 2017, when my friends Joseph Masika and Peter Macharia ran it. Then, I couldn’t figure out how you’d fly all the way south, spending a fortune to run a race where you have the chances of a snowball in hell winning any prize money. I didn’t give much thought to the undertakings of mad men! Besides, I’d only ran my debut 42k in June 2017!

The two gentlemen brought back with them captivating stories though, and these aroused my interest in the run, and I registered. A real Swara (Speed is their surname) Victor Kamau Miringu, insisted that this would be easy for me, and encouraged me to train. The cost worried me though. Spending more than 10k in a single venture gives me endless nightmares.

My qualifying race would be Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon, where I was already on a makeshift programme I’d called ‘Breaking4.’ Around the same time, there was ‘Breaking2’, a Nike effort that possibly more people had heard of, than mine here.

Though Stanchart Marathon was severely interrupted by the politics of our nation, extending the training by over 4 weeks, #Breaking4 was a huge success, but was quickly forgotten in the wake of another local favourite, a mean bugger, Moshi Marathon. It’s safe to mention that the #Breaking4 effort remains my PB, at 3.52, while Moshi is a cute second at 4.05. To me, these are a big deal, and to my faster friends, it points to where the journey began!

Other than a 5 hour flight, nothing spectacular happened between Moshi and CT. I hate heights, and flying is always a last option. Nikavumilia, but not without nightmares, and generous quantities of liquids that weren’t water. Jo’burg at 8pm and CT at 11pm were all soldered into one. And I could be grossly incorrect.

When I was in college, one lecturer insisted that as an architect, you could only create as far as your cognitive map, what you knew at the basics. Going to CT, I knew it was at sea level, and I thought it’d be in all ways like Mombasa. I am still trying to figure out how a coastal town can be chilly. And foggy. Even with the sun out, and not a cloud in the skies. Wahome, seeing me at a loss, mentioned winter, something I’d never thought of, let alone been through. Running gods are great though; race day had a perfect weather.

Running an ultra marathon is unlike anything I’d ever ran, in a normal running day out. A full marathon will probably give you one brick wall, at around 34kms. Two walls if you’re really unfortunate. This is your best chance to curse all those you hate. Forgiveness is assured thereafter.

56k came with so many walls, I lost count. But I probably created some myself, knowing how many ‘enemies’ I had. Forget about this being the most beautiful marathon in the world, or a run at sea level, for it whips hard. And tests your lineage.

At OMTOM, there’re several mistakes and assumptions I made, that I hope those making a similar journey in the future could avoid. Being my first time out, I am certain I’ll get off on a lesser charge.

1.  Listen

And once you have listened and learnt, assimilate your lessons into your run. Watching a video of the ultra course with James Wahome at the expo, he kept pointing out places where the incline demanded slowing down. Impatient, I at some instance pointed out to him that Urban Swaras, the running club we both called home, prepare you for just about anything, possibly even a moon landing. And it’s no lie; there’s a Swara who ran a full marathon wearing bathroom flippers, another won prize money and they weren’t even aware of it, and still, two Swaras ran up to Lenana Peak and back down before their tea water had boiled.

Constantia Nek was to prove me wrong, and trash my confidence. Having started too quick, I wasn’t ready for this killer. Maintaining the thought that walking is for the weak and dying, I couldn’t cope with it either. That’s where the 60 year young ones played their cards! A shame for a 43 year old geezer.

2.  Stick to your plan.

This is two fold; during training and on race day. During training, if your schedule says 30kms, stop when your timer hits 30kms. Don’t run 45kms even if your body is crying for it. Don’t extend even if by 1km. Take a boda if it’s a Swara Run, and you’re far from the finish. It’s a lesson Davis Munene reminded me often. On race day, stick to your sector paces, even if everyone is passing you. There’s nothing as humiliating as a 60yo passing you on a hill, on a steady pace, hopping about, and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t want to be cursing the running gods, with 8km of hill left. At the start, I met Michael Nawari Chemonges, a lot faster and stronger than I, and I got carried away matching his pace.

3.  Keep a high profile.

It’s no longer bragging; heading to a big race, all you social friends know your paces, your strengths, and are probably walking with you in your weak points. A few days to race day, when your confidence takes a dip, it’s these friends, some of whom you’ve never met, who hold you upright. Post your progress, because sometimes a nondescript comment can stay with you up to the end of the race. On race day, knowing that your friends are tracking you gives you a kick when you think you’re gone.

4.  Don’t race alone.

Take a true friend with you to the race. They could be a spectator, waiting for you at the finish, or running with you, similar pace, aiming to finish together, or as in my case, a spouse running a shorter race, looking for a PB, and later cheering you on to finish. I owe my dear wife Muthoni Wa Maina a couple of heads of cattle for coming along, and picking up many of my bills, as I pretended to be drunk black! Nothing boosts your confidence more than hearing your name called out. It transcends your pain. It restores your belief in humanity. After the race, these companions make your recovery less painful. You both share stories of accomplishment and discovery. You’ll probably visit new places. You’ll tackle difficulties together. The world won’t be too lonely.

5.  Inspire.

Talk less of your achievements, and don’t look down upon those who got less of the bread. Everyone who came out on race day is a winner. Crossing the finish line, before or after cut off time, it doesn’t matter. Handing out water or shouting yourself hoarse encouraging runners, everyone is part of the win. With running, EVERYONE is a winner, and no one goes home with a long face. Go further, and encourage those ‘behind you’ to come aft. Run slow once in a while, to push them. Applaud their achievements, without mentioning yours. When they run better than you, they’ll remember.

6.  Running is fun.

It’s never too serious. If an injury holds you down during training, sit it out, without casting a long shadow. If rain holds you down when you’d felt it was a PB run, smile at the clouds. They hide the running gods! You’ll run one day and the same clouds will come as a blessing. Have fun as you run. I’ll always remember two beautiful placards during OMTOM; the first and my favourite, held up by even more beautiful lasses, ‘You thought they said RUM, didn’t you?….’ And the second one, ‘You’ll not win this one. Be easy, try to smile’ held by a cameraman’s assistant. Unless you’re an elite and chasing a top finish, enjoy your run. I left CT cursing the people who conjured this kind of punishment, swearing never to go back. Well, they say time is a healer; I can’t wait for 2019 registration to open! I am certain other snippets will come up, and we will all enjoy making our running much better. OMTOM 2018 was indeed the most beautiful marathon I’d ever ran in

Running Tales

A Villager’s Tale

Wandering. Wondering. Gani ni gani?

How do you tell a story, itchy as it may be, but surprised and fermented by time?

This story is about Moshi; the Kilimanjaro Marathon 2018. A villager’s journey to the big stage. Preceding this, there are three stories yet to be told, fire cracking, but words stuck; #Breaking40, #42@42 and #Breaking4.

Why do villagers sit on stories this long?

Moshi is a simple Swara Story, and therefore easy to tell. It’s about a villager who believed that to go further, company is essential. He went about and got a ragtag team to assault Kilimanjaro, bad an idea as that may sound.

That Sunday morning in Moshi, this assault team, comprising this villager, Joseph Masika and self declared captain Victor Wesonga, set out to run and have fun, after a couple of interesting runs in Ngong’ Hills, under the watch of Wahome, a Swara stalwart.

The villager got into this race ‘Shingo upande,’ on meds due to injury, but eyes trained onto Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) in Cape Town later on. The idea was to run easy, with the physio advising that this had to be the last long run in preparation for OMTOM.

Masika, having ran the Two Oceans last year, was taking a break this year, to allow for family connections. Wesonga would be running the Comrades later on, a tad tougher than OMTOM. Since there was no pressure on any of us, they asked me, being the geezer, to set our goal.

We all agreed to attempt a 4:15 finish. In setting this, I knew that in running the full marathon here, a 9.5km climb waited for us at the start point of the half marathon, which in our race, would be our halfway point.

The first half was great for all of us. My meds held, and I kept up with the youngsters, though with a couple of cautions, as they kept running too fast. I kept reminding ‘The Kapteni’ that it was a long run for me, not an end. I was very keen on what I could spend because having run the half two times before, I knew what was waiting at the 20km mark. Meanwhile, Wesonga was keen on Bukusu circumcision songs, threatening everyone in his eyesight, and often attempting to recruit ‘foreign’ looking runners into Urban Swaras. At some point, I actually thought ‘this is the future of USRC!’ I’ve certainly revised this consideration since then.

The hill got us, inevitably, at 20kms. Fortunately, the early mornings in Ngong’ Hills paid upfront. Right on the exchange, I wasn’t cheated! 9km up, the youngsters took me. Once or twice, some un-African words were thrown my way. It boiled my old blood, though am certain they never meant to hurt me.

I‘m a fighter, when the fight has meaning. I called in my ‘Captain’ and released him and his foot soldier at the top of the hill. And they went. Inside, I was glad I’d stuck that long, plagued by injury, with these two Swaras. In Kilimanjaro Marathon, once you crest the hill, you know goodwill and faith can get you home.

Somehow, after cresting, my compatriots were not too far ahead. I thought I could catch up, But I couldn’t call out, there were enough mad men this stretch.

Surprisingly, when they left me, the two rascals didn’t forget me. I suspect that they saw a chance I could catch up, and the buggers slowed down for me. I did catch up, and actually set the pace all the way down. Initially, our captain had set our first possible breakdown point at 31kms, and now at 38kms, declared a free run zone.

Though we all finished under 4:05, I know my compatriots could have done it under 4, if I hadn’t held them. If I’d been more prudent in my training, and not picked up the injuries I was nursing, we’d all have nailed it. Surprisingly, at the finish line, dancing with a Kenyan flag, nobody remembered who failed us. It was a happy moment.

To all the Urban Swaras who cheered us that last 3km stretch, SALUTE!

To the two rascals, SALUTE!

Running is Life!

Running Tales

Tales From The Bottom Of Kerio Valley; A Villager Goes On Tour

Kerio Run 2016
Image Courtesy of Davis Munene

Five days later, I finally have the courage to narrate my tormented story, from the bottom of Kerio Valley, amidst the fluorspar mines. It’s an annual event in Urban Swaras running calendar, billed as a relatively hard run and a must experience for every Urban Swara. We departed Nairobi and travelled to Sego Lodge on Friday, in dramatic fashion. A morning meeting in my office took longer than I’d expected, and I was the designated driver. Rather than leave before 11am, I was still shuffling papers at my desk at 2pm. Thereafter, a traveling companion wasn’t at his pick up point as agreed, and despite waiting on the roadside for a further 10 minutes, I had to leave without him. He’d later hail a ‘boda boda’, catching up minutes later, as I was picking others at Gitaru. The Gitaru group had been waiting by the road since 11am.

We drove to Nakuru in heavy traffic, with no chance of recovering lost time, though we still managed a shopping stop. One or two items were foremost on my shopping list, and none had any relation to running. In Nakuru, there was a ‘super grand mega’ healing crusade by ‘the mightiest’ prophet, one Owuor, and traffic was heavy getting into and out of town. In spots along the highway, anxious followers waited for the prophet to pass by and bless them. I mildly remembered the caution by the good book that a society gets lost for lack of knowledge. I felt that the prophet was perhaps lifted higher than his ‘Lord’.

After Nakuru, we tried to beat the approaching darkness. The mild showers around Kabarak helped none. I hit a pothole somewhere before Marigat, and was to loose that tyre. The mechanic mentioned something to do with low profile tyres. It was now dark, and I’d never driven this far out of my backyard. Descending into the valley, a sharp turn sneaked up to us, and I nearly lost control of the vehicle. This experience totally freaked me out. We took our time driving on, finally arriving at the lodge around 10pm.
The following morning saw us start at 6:30am. Breakfast was uneasy, with words like ‘carbo loading’ and ‘hydrate’ being thrown around. In the village, you don’t plan to run. See, no lion warns you to eat carbohydrates three days before it breaks into your compound. A cow on estrous doesn’t care if you drank beer or water the previous evening, before running off to look for outside help. On the other hand, Swaras don’t care if you’re a villager, before throwing technical jargon in their talk.

Whereas I’d prepared to run 25k at the most, there were not many Swara running the ‘shorter’ distances, and peer pressure saw me start at the 34k mark. I immediately knew it would be a long and hard day. At the starting line, my friends Jack Ndegwa and Davis Gitari encouraged me, though to be honest, if these two gentlemen run, mine is a crawl and hop affair. Knowing that I’d be running solo shortly, I set my music to Pure Trance, and shut out the world. The first 11k was a good affair. The valley is beautiful at sunrise, with protective sheer cliffs all around. At various streams crossing our paths, villagers were filling their water jerricans, probably to go and prepare breakfast. You could tell that most hadn’t bathed that day, and possibly the whole week. I felt at home, and even quickened my stride. Some streams were wide enough to deny you a clear jump, and what better place to fancy running a steeplechase that the valley of ‘jambions’.

I managed to stick to a group of runners who told childhood stories as they ran, laughing along heartily. I was out of breath just trying to keep up with the lot, and they were laughing! One even had the energy to run backwards, like all this was child play. Once or twice, it crossed my mind to pick up a couple of rocks and stone someone. I could blame it on an unexplained natural phenomenon, and worst case scenario, pretend I was loosing my nuts. The latter wouldn’t have taken much acting. Saying a prayer, I stuck to my music, and plodded on. As the morning sun struck the westerly cliffs, we were rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid my eyes on.

Kerio Run - NgatiaAll hell broke loose at the 11.6k mark. I’d earlier realized that we were running at the floor of a pan, completely surrounded by towering cliffs. A couple of streams cut through the tops of the cliffs, in a white splash of a waterfall. Casually, I’d mentioned it to my companions, and one of them observed that at some point, we may need to climb out of the pan. This I did for the next 22 kilometres, in about 4hrs 30minutes, in what was the most torturous road run I’d ever had. Not once did the hills level out, and I immediately found myself running alone, in a ‘runner’s wilderness’ where you’re so lonely you loose all sense of position and time. I passed other ‘walkers’ who’d since given up running, and though there was a little comfort knowing I am headed the correct direction, the beating continued, and it came in hard.

With my pace now well below 10mins per kilometre, my walk home started after I’d run 25k. After a while, solitude, trance and hiking played well to allow me a good walk, eventually dragging myself to the finish line after five and a half hours on my feet. A motley crew of beaten but cheerful Swaras received every finisher cheerfully, one of the ngatia fluosparbest experiences of the day. It’s a while since I ate bread with juice, but on Saturday, I was certain ‘maana’ couldn’t have tasted better.
The whole morning, a dedicated group of Swaras drove or rode up and down the valley, dishing out bread, oranges and bottles of water. After my sixth bottle, I’d lost count of how much water I’d consumed. These volunteers saved the day for many runners.
The afternoon and evening were less boisterous but cheerful, every runner to his poison, alcoholic in many cases. The battles fought that morning were told again and again, and compared with previous wars fought in other arena. While most runners had indicated that they’d never run in this valley again, a few now discussed how they’d run the following morning, to ‘recover’. I’ve never understood how you recover from a harsh run by running some more, and these weren’t the right people to seek an answer from.
I came back to my village from a beautiful run, carrying with me memories as beautiful. Given another opportunity, Fluorspar Run is worth a repeat.