Running Tales

Classic Resort Run: The Element of Surprise!

urban swaras imageThis man Otora is either a genius or a sadist, or both! (Mensa & BDSM Anonymous, anyone?) Loved and loathed by Swaras in about equal measure: usually loved before the start of a run and perhaps during the early stages when all is smooth, then loathed when the going gets tough usually way into the run when the end is nowhere in sight and support is faltering, and then loved some minutes after the run when each person’s equilibrium has been restored.

Yesterday’s run was no exception that followed the usual script; but oddly enough, it was simply to die for! It was staged at the nondescript Classic Villa Resort -that is neither classic nor a resort of any sort- on Lower Kabete road. When it was announced earlier in the week, I was a little blase about it since it had been featured on the calendar earlier in the year and I thought that I had it all figured out

Back then in mid February it had been scheduled a week before Kilimanjaro Marathon that features many Swaras so few people went beyond the 20km mark then. As we weren’t on the Moshi trip, Yasin and I whether by some misplaced bravado or sheer foolhardiness dared to do the longest marked distance that came to 33km or so. And we were made to pay for all our trouble as it was a hot day and support petered out towards the end of the run.

This time round not surprisingly I planned to play it safe and for good reason too. Not only because I had been deserted by my comrade in arms who was just concluding Ramadhan, but more because I was not in the best of form. Whatever little confidence I had soon started to dissipate even before the flag-off when we realized that there was no water to carry as we started off.

In gambling they say that the house never loses; and in running the trail also never loses. And that is where Otora the resident trail-fox comes in. Not only is he as wily as the creature he is aptly named after, but he simply never ceases to amaze with his ingenuity. For you see no sooner had we started than I realized that he had tweaked the route in such a way that though we were basically running in the same area, it was nearly unrecognizable. This time though he had thrown in some gentle but steady uphills that got most of us seriously winded, and caught me completely by surprise!

The jury is still out as to whether the plot this time was more wicked than the last time. Suffice it to say that the sight of clearly beaten Swaras homing in on the staging area at the finish told eloquent stories of hard-fought battles with the trail and it was pretty obvious that the only thing that saved the day was the bugle calling off the day’s engagement with neither party prevailing.

How did yours truly fare, you ask? Well, I would rather not talk about it as I was badly chastened. To my shame, I could only manage a measly 10km out of the possible 30km I had set out for. As I hinted earlier I have as many explanations as one could possibly conjure, in fact probably a list as long as your arm. But if the truth be said those are all mere excuses; I failed miserably in my quest to come off better than the last outing.

So yes, admittedly it was a clean and clear victory to the trail once again. My one consolation is that I will live to do battle with the trail another day. Hopefully I will be better prepared so as to prevail next time round!

Until then, keep running!

PS:

It would be remiss of me not to recognize recent achievements of two Swaras: Davis Gitari & Ngatia Maina, who successfully debuted in Vic Falls & Lewa full marathons respectively. And all done in style too; both with PBs of 3:23:31 and 4:18:58 respectively. Kudos chaps, hats off!

Running Tales

Inaugural Olepolos Run: Battle of Wits Against a Formidable Trail!

olepolos shem2Amazing scenes were witnessed yesterday in Olepolos when the Swaras descended on the sleepy town of Kisamis in a convoy of vehicles. No doubt the locals must have known that there was something major in the offing with wave upon wave of vehicles arriving bearing their unsuspecting passengers…

Although the run was to kick off at 7.30am, most had arrived well before that time and were huddled in groups catching up as they waited for the off. A chilly morning it was and we could barely make out Ngong hills, obscured by thick mist, in whose shadow the run is set.

The chief instigator of the whole plot was conspicuously absent, and just when we thought he had abandoned his charges to their own devices, the chairman emerged from his hideout to give the customary pre-run briefing and blow his whistle. The most disconcerting bit was when he disclosed that he had no idea what lay ahead, while inviting the group to discover it…

olepolos shem1For a run that had been touted as having taken two days to mark, one would do well to approach with caution. The first few kilometres consisted of several switchbacks that brought you close to the crest of Ngong Hills. Thereafter you were taken through the undulating terrain and different running surfaces right to the bottom of the Kedong’ valley.

It certainly lived up to its billing: rugged, scenic, punishing and rewarding all at once! Aside from some very steep ascents at the 6Km mark and at the very end, the course took you through acacia forests here, a veritable moonscape of strewn volcanic stones there and some scattered homesteads along the way…

It was the best of runs, it was the worst of runs. Some parts of the course were so treacherous that a number of Swaras had their seemingly unbounded energies earthed by having to kiss the ground! My sincere commiserations to all those who suffered that unhappy fate though mercifully no major injuries to report.

olepolos runStill, it was not all that torturous, doom and gloom. It also offered some rewards for each exacting segment of the run. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the run was the beautiful dam that those who went beyond 15km encountered. Never mind that encircling the reservoir involved clambering over rocks for the most part on the southern side but the sight of shimmering water and the lapping sound in the gentle breeze was quite a welcome distraction…

Battered, bruised and clearly beat from the run, most (if not all!) arrived at the finish clearly spent. Personally, I barely managed to drag myself and stagger to the end and the welcome sight of Nanyori Cafe. Here a feast to end all feasts and succour our sapped energies awaited like the promised land. The food and service was simply excellent, catering to different tastes and on point.

And so it goes that despite the Swaras tendency to push the limits, sometimes coming so close to self-destruction, we had nevertheless survived the arduous run and  will live to do battle with it another day. I believe I’m not the only one who is definitely looking forward to test my endurance there again, hopefully sooner than later. Having done only 20 Otora-Kms (that turned out to be 25km on the conventional scale!), guess that covers only one day’s route marking and I’ll need to see what was marked on the second day…

See you there on the trail, meanwhile keep running!

Running Tales

Maasai Lodge – Reliving Childhood

Maasai Lodge PoolSo, why exactly do you leave a warm bed to get up very early on a Saturday morning and head out to a Swara run? Is it because:

a) you are a fitness freak and someone lied to you that running is up there with the best forms of exercise? 😉
b) you have some pent up steam from work during the week that needs to be worked off before the weekend can start?
c) you need to pay for Friday night’s indiscretions or perhaps make advance payment for the excesses that are bound to happen over the weekend?
d) you love the idea of trying to decipher chalk-marks on the ground and subsequently following them over all manner of terrains in all weather?
e) you really have nothing better to do on any given Saturday morning so why not do it just for kicks?
f) None of the above.
g) All of the above.

Well, whatever your reasons I am just about to add yet one more. I have always held the opinion that what we invariably find ourselves doing as a running club every week must seem quite odd or even positively irrational to the casual observer. However, before anyone calls the nearest shrink for some group therapy, I believe that there may be indeed some method to the madness.

For you see, yesterday’s run was one of those that really makes you question your sanity. Granted, it was an excellent setting, some fairly flat terrain and the weather was just perfect for a long run. And besides all that, the longest distance was going to be 25Km, so there really didn’t seem to be anything much to forewarn the unsuspecting crew of what lay lurking this particular morning…

The first half of the run was innocuous enough, but trust the CRE and their trusty point man Otora to conjure something guaranteed to upset the day’s proceedings. As it had rained the night before, there were some long muddy stretches alternating with puddles that any hope of finishing the run quickly with ease were quickly washed away with all the flood waters. From then on it degenerated to some sort of dance without a formula and not unlike the performance by a novice skater the first day on the ice rink!

But such is the quirk of nature that when one finds oneself in a sticky situation you quickly learn to grin and bear it. Having accepted one’s unhappy fate and forgetting everything about time, splits or paces the event then took on a brighter outlook. And I’ll let you in on a little secret here: when clods of mud cling to your shoes and they then seem about five times heavier, there is no better way of getting rid of them than wading through the nearest pool of water!

And so it goes that yours truly got a rare opportunity to relive his youth. Back in the day, before paved roads and paths became the norm [or at least more common] and the typical mode of getting from point A to B involved much legwork, the rainy season was fraught with many possibilities of a tangle in the mud that weren’t entirely unwelcome to any average lad until you got home to face the music…

So yes, where else can one go back in time and behave like the youngster you once were running around without a care in the world? For all you know, perhaps such rare opportunities are the elixir of youth for those who would remain young at heart. They say that there is a boy in every man, so why not let him out to play? At least anyway that is what I did and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

And now that we are on the subject, tell me about your childhood. I am all ears…

Running Tales

Ndeiya & Spring Valley: A Study in Contrast

Lower kabete1Among the many refreshing things about Swara runs is the sheer variety of different places where the runs are staged. In fact, no run is ever like another even when set in the same locality and so for the most part when you line up at the start you really have no idea what to expect. And perhaps the best way to prepare for any run is to first do away with any preconceived ideas of what the run may turn out to be…

Saturday’s run from the Total station on Lower Kabete road was no different. Having done a few runs in the locality, I was fairly confident that it would be on a familiar route and didn’t give much thought to any preparations or provisions to make for the run. But no, the route-meisters had other ideas chief among them to show you some hitherto unexplored parts of this beautiful country as if to shame you for claiming to know the city you live in.

The first part of the run took us through residential areas of Spring Valley, Peponi, Thigiri Ridge, Nyari, etc. After that section, if you were going the long run, you got to? go as far as Lower Kabete, Vet Labs, Loresho, Kyuna and back to the start. In between these inhabited areas were quite a number of interesting places that would make one wonder if they are still within city limits. These included some forested areas, some two streams with crossings over some makeshift bridges, up some steep climbs complete with concrete steps, coffee plantations and even a swamp!

And this is really what reminded me of the Ndeiya run which we did a couple of weeks ago. Apart from the minor challenge of arriving there on time (and not getting lost on the way!), the rest of it was really easy and quite enjoyable too. Just as described by Chairman, this was one run not to miss that delivered as promised: a little off the highway, the first part of the run takes you through a cedar/eucalyptus forest, then a rocky climb with a quarry at the top, before you reach some scrubland that runs along the edge of the escarpment that affords beautiful views of the Rift Valley below, with the Longonot and Suswa calderas visible on the valley floor in the distance. [see pictures courtesy of Erastus Ngatia]longonot & suswa

The thing is that whereas one may naturally expect the countryside run to be a whole lot tougher than the one in the city, the reverse was actually the case. OK, at least that was what I experienced. Granted, I neglected to take the usual precautions of carrying water, energy drink &/or gels for the town run since the longest distance was to be 25km. Little wonder that I was suitably chastised by the relentlessly hot weather and the support that arrived rather late on the last stretch of the run by which point I had resorted to looking for the shaded side of the road to run on! ????

Without a doubt the lesson learnt for me is to always be prepared for any eventuality regardless of where the run is staged. And so until the next one, keep running!

Running Tales

Kilimanjaro: A Beautiful Run Aptly Named!

Kilimanjaro marathon 2016How to describe the just concluded Kilimanjaro Marathon? Two words come to mind: nasty, long and brutal. OK, I’m sure some will have figured out where that is stolen from even if corrupted, and yes I know those are not two words either but my brain is fried and I can’t quite count properly just now…

One can think of a few more words too: punishing, unforgiving, searing heat, hot sweaty affair, intractably exhausting, difficult terrain, testing the limits of one’s endurance, pure unadulterated insanity, so on and so forth. But all those are mere negatives that do not even take away from what is otherwise a wonderful run.

Enjoyable? Yes, you can say that once you get over the shock to the system that it certainly delivers in very high voltages! Even beautiful actually in hindsight once the arduous run is done and you look back with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. Yet another testimony of what the body can do when pushed to extreme levels of endurance.

Anyway, for a run that is named after Africa’s tallest mountain whose name actually derives from a corruption of “difficult/impossible mountain”, the Kilimanjaro run is indeed at a so much higher difficulty level than many runs and it certainly lived up to its billing once more.

It wasn’t my first run in Moshi having done it last year, but back then I only did the half which is itself already challenging enough indeed. So this year, buoyed by a false sense of confidence, I decided to go for the full marathon returning a time of 4:36 and thus improved on my previous PB of 5:05 in a competitive run. And I have with me my hard-earned medal though it can hardly testify to the experience here today.

To say I was knackered at the finish would be a major understatement. It is no exaggeration to say that I nearly swore by all that is holy never to attempt a full marathon again, but you all know that we’ll be looking forward to the next one too. Suffice it to say that I am right pleased with my performance even if I say so myself.

I salute all Swaras who showed up for this year’s run in sizable numbers and would like to congratulate each one of them for their various achievements whether in terms of improving on their previous times for Kilimanjaro, setting PBs or even just finishing strong. You deserve all the plaudits for a job well done.

To all I say onwards and upwards, keep running!

Running Tales

I am Legend; My First Full Marathon, 42km @42yrs!

The 3 MusketeersThe simple picture message sent by Ashok on Saturday read: “A marathon is an event where everyone is equal and ordinary at the start line… but a legend is born at the finish?.” And sure enough a number of legends were born at yesterday’s Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon.

I was? privileged to be among the Swaras who were making their full marathon debut, together with my training partners Lawrence Kibet, Kenneth Muchina and Karanu Waweru. Other debutants include Marrion Kimani, Anthony Mwai, and I believe MK and Brendan too. I am not sure who else from the Swaras team, but feel free to add to the list. So there we were lined up at the start, set and ready to make history even if only at a personal level for most of us.

Now, a bit of a background: for the longest time since we started road running with my mates, we kept telling ourselves that one of these fine days -when we grow up 🙂 !- we’d do the full marathon. Easier said than done I’m afraid as distance & endurance running is not for the fainthearted, something that we know all too well from the many Swara runs where Otora has worked his magic again and 25km turns out to be 30km, or the no-hills easy run promised by the Chairman turns up some surprisingly steep sections just when you had run out of juice, so on and so forth… So, in the run-up to this year’s Nairobi Marathon, the question top on our minds was, “To grow up or not to grow up?”

Of course, everyone has their own reason(s) for running, something that the organizers never fail to remind us. For some, it is to prove their mettle, others to improve on their PBs and yet others to push the boundaries of what they have a42@42 College-mateschieved before. Now, I cannot speak for my mates as to why they felt it was about time to do their first full 42km [they are of age and can speak for themselves!], but I had one compelling reason myself: you see, having turned 42yr old in September, I thought it an apt way of marking that milestone by doing one km for every year I have walked this earth. I was joined in this quest by a classmate from college who had the same idea too…

D-day was finally here, and since we had prepared in the usual manner with increasing intensity and then tapered down in the last 2 weeks or so, we were fairly confident that we’d manage it. I couldn’t help noticing though that the crowd that had turned up this time was a little thinner than last year’s and that the usual fanfare before the off was also lacking. There was no warm-up session, the sound system was a little suspect, not much music to get us psyched and I don’t even recall hearing any starter pistol being fired before we took off! May be it is just me, but methinks the organization this year was a little below par as they could certainly have done better…

And so we set off and were soon doing the usual loops in the CBD before heading out to Forest Road via Museum hill. It was at around this point that we encountered the elite field already returning from that loop on the other side of the road. It was smooth going at this point in the run and I remember us discussing whether the police chopper that was hovering overhead was part of the event or it was patrolling the area for security reasons. On the return loop from Pangani we encountered the half-marathon elite pack near the Limuru Road overpass and I was mildly surprised that they had narrowed down our head start in such a short time!

Anyhow, we breezed through the first half of the marathon that had no surprises really as it was the same as last year’s route. We kept telling ourselves [my team & I] that the first part was only a warm-up and appetizer for the main course that would be served on Mombasa Road. Now, the second part is a different ball game altogether. This is definitely the bit where the men are separated from the boys, and some of us who had hitherto thought we had come of age were rudely reminded that we still had some growing up to do! Those four loops on the section of road between Nyayo Stadium and Sameer Business Park really take it out on you. Well, there was nothing else for it but to try to leg it even when the going got tough.

Suffice it to say that even on a relatively flat course a full marathon run is not an easy undertaking and can be quite brutal. Although the conditions yesterday were perfect with cool weather and overcast skies for the most part, I still found the going hard from around the 36km mark when both my legs seized up and I had to take it easy from that point on. I had already fallen off the pace with my mates and was basically now struggling and straggling on my own. Eventually I just had to walk-run-walk until the finish, but was grateful for the company of Loice Mbogo who had caught up with me at that point and we psyched each other up to the finish.

Many thanks to the support team who were strategically positioned to hand out some much needed supplies to the runners. They were such a godsend and were also pressed into service to massage my tired legs after they rebelled and refused to take orders from my command and control center! The mobile team on bikes and the paparazzi also Proud finishers showing off their medals & cutting cakedeserve a special mention. The breakfast at the Swara tent was simply to die for. Oh, and there was even a cake to be cut in honour of the full marathon finishers and to add to the celebrations!

All in all it was a memorable outing and the arduous experience of a first marathon was well worth every minute. While it is highly unlikely that my time of 5hrs 5 minutes will have caused any ripples in the world of distance running, that tiny step of running a full 42km marathon is indeed a giant leap for yours truly. It may also be safe to say that the likes of Dennis Kimetto, Eliud Kipchoge and Wilson Kipsang will not be losing sleep on account of my entry into their domain, but perhaps some day in the not too distant future they may have reason to watch their backs!

I take this opportunity to also offer my hearty congratulations to all those who achieved some personal target whether big or small in yesterday’s run. I believe that we did ourselves proud and flew the club’s flag high with our own individual efforts. I remember Anthony asking me after we finished if I’d ever do it again, and my considered reply was that if anyone had asked the same during the run especially between 30-40km, I would have forsworn ever doing a run that is longer than 30km! Of course you can bet that I’ll be out there sooner than later pushing the envelope on endurance running, so see you soon on the Swara trail 🙂

 

 

Running Tales

Ndakaini’s Bark is Worse Than its Bite!

urban swaras at Ndakaini 2015Ndakaini is one of those places that has managed to build a reputation of being something of a giant killer. This fearsome attribute has become such stuff of legend with reports of an impossibly hilly terrain guaranteed to squeeze out the last ounce of strength left in any runner’s reserves…

And so it goes that yours truly having heard all the horror stories about it, and being an intrepid Swara to boot, didn’t need much encouragement to give it a go this year. And he wasn’t alone judging from the response to the sign-up call from Susan earlier in the week that ensured that there were many yellow (mostly) and pink-shirted Swaras to add colour to the event.

Now, getting there early enough on a Saturday morning proved to be a bit of a challenge, and I’m sure there were a few violations to the traffic laws. I plead the 5th on that and will not admit to any wrong-doing, but suffice it to say that the earlier one got there the better. Forewarned is forearmed and those who heeded the advice to arrive by 7am reaped the reward of a good parking spot.

But I digress so back to the run; after walking like 1.5km (which should surely count!) to the start, but having unwisely dilly-dallied in the parking area with last minute visits to the conveniences, barely arrived in time for the start (actually met the lead police escort vehicle setting off with lights on and had to run to the starting arch!)

The first like 5km was tame stuff and mostly downhill, which can fool you that it will be smooth sailing all the way. In fact, the only unsettling thing was passing the finish line some 500m or so after the start and wondering if at all it was really that short!

Anyhow, after that false alarm and the easy bit, we come to a series of climbs which though mostly longish were still fairly gentle and manageable at a steady if slow pace. This takes us through nice scenic areas with gentle slopes covered with tea mostly and trees in some places. At some point it is even possible to see the dam from some nice vantage points. We pass a tea factory where the pleasant aroma of tea being processed pervades the air and sets the juices flowing…

Anyway, so at this point when one is on cruise mode, you start wondering where the infamous killer hills are. And that is where you’ve got to hand it to the ones who marked the course, for just when you start thinking that maybe it was all a myth, you get to them in the last 5km! In fact, the first one is bang at 16.5km then quickly followed by the mother of them all at 17km or so.

Now, I must confess that up to that point I had nursed the unrealistic (as it turned out) ambition of surmounting them? all on my first try. However, having had no prior acquaintance with the route, those two major ascents really took it of me and I was reduced to trudging up the hills with all weary runners. It was only after that I could resume running somewhere around the 18-19km mark.

Fortunately, the rest was all downhill and fairly manageable. But boy, did those hills knock the wind out of me! In fact, truth be said, I’m still smarting from the ignominy of being mugged in that manner just when my reserves were at their lowest. I am sure that I am not the only one who had to suffer that unhappy fate…

Not to worry though, I guess that calls for a rematch same time next year, and this time round I will be well prepared for whatever they cook up next time. Even then, there is no guarantee that the hills will not come out tops, but one must try all the same!

Running Tales

The Lunatic Express to Victoria Falls

Vic Falls 2015 Swaras teamThis is a ‘short’ account (the official abridged version) of our trip to the Victoria Falls for the Vic Falls marathon run that was held on the 28th of July 2015. The following events happened in real time between 0630Hrs on Friday the 26th of June and 1842Hrs on Wednesday the 1st of July 2015 in at least six different countries of eastern and southern Africa. If any of it is/was contrary to local and international laws or liable to cause a diplomatic incident(s), this is by no means an admission of guilt by any or all of the parties involved whether singly, jointly or severally.

And so it goes that four Urban Swaras – Zach Drennen (pilot-owner), Katharina Rochell, Ashok Franklin and Shem Kiptoon had signed up for the trip of a lifetime on Zach’s single engine 4-seater light aircraft Cessna Skylane182 registration number 5Y-CCY (which we nicknamed Charlie after its call sign Five-Yankee Charlie-Charlie-Yankee). Right from the outset, we were all heading into what must surely have been hitherto uncharted territory, at least as far as recreational running is concerned.

Friday, 26 June

At 0630Hrs we set off for Wilson Airport, arriving shortly before 7am. The plan was for take-off at or about 8am so we had time to grab a quick bite before boarding. Due to some slight delays, we ended up leaving a few minutes to 9am. Meanwhile, as we waited for that, Zach took us through our pre-flight briefing. We were all excited and raring to go!

1230Hrs: Touched down at Dodoma in Tanzania. So far our journey had taken us on a south-westerly where we had splendid views of Ngong hills, Lakes Magadi, Natron & Manyara, several volcanic features in northern Tanzania including the active volcano Oldonyo Lengai which still has white volcanic ash on its slopes from the last eruption a few years ago. As it was quite a clear day, at one point one could even see Kilimanjaro and Meru mountains in the distance to the east. We were received by a very friendly and enthusiastic immigrations officer who was clearly glad to receive visitors. Stopped for an hour or so to refuel, stretch our legs and have some light lunch before embarking on the next leg of our epic journey.

17:30Hrs, Central Africa Time: Arrival at Kamuzu International Airport, in Lilongwe-Malawi. Barely had time to clear with customs and immigration, then look for a hotel in town before it got dark. At this point we were all famished and desperately needed a hot meal. Someone had recommended to Zach a certain restaurant but he couldn’t remember if it was the Bushman or Buckman restaurant; tried looking for it, eventually stumbled on a good place where we had dinner anyway only to discover Buchanan’s in the same complex on our way out…

Saturday, 27 June 

0800Hrs: We checked in at Kamuzu International Airport for the last leg of our journey to Zimbabwe. Interestingly, we are all herded into the aircrew briefing and flight planning room despite the fact that it was only Zach who had a clue of what to do… Anyhow, we take off at about 9am after refuelling and are soon headed west across the border with Mozambique.

1430Hrs: We landed at Victoria Falls after enjoying magnificent views from the skies of the humongous man-made Lake Kariba with its many islands (Ashok staked a claim to quite a few of them as we over flew 🙂 ) The airport there is currently being expanded with a second longer runway under construction which confused our final approach.

1530Hrs: After clearing immigration and customs where I got my fair share of ribbing from an officer who said he wouldn’t let in any Kenyan to claim the marathon purse (well, no sir, at least not this poor specimen of a Kenyan athlete!) We head to town and make a beeline for Kingdom Hotel to pick our race numbers before checking into our hotel. The place was teeming with people from different countries and we were all sizing each other up, eying the competition…

1700Hrs: We finally arrive at and check into the hotel that had been booked for us. We meet up with Marcel Owino who had arrived the day before from the US. He shows us around the town as we look for some chow being famished after the fairly long flight. Later in the night we meet up with Mercy Wanjiru with whom we head out for supper at a Thai restaurant called Nam Took. There we also met with Anna Dybicz and her friends, though they were on their way out.

Sunday, 28 June -RACE DAY

0615Hrs: We walk to the start line from our hotel that is nearby. The atmosphere is charged as we wait for the start of the full-marathon run. Molly Ayiemba and her friends manage to locate us and we have a few good laughs with them too. We encourage and psyche each other up especially the people doing the full, Mercy, Marcel and Ashok who soon set off at precisely 0645Hrs. Funny thing is the start pistol fails to work and we are startled a few minutes after they leave when it finally goes off! At 0720Hrs the rest of us set off for the half.

0645-1200Hrs: THE RUN! Words fail me to describe the incredible route that first takes us down to the bridge over the gorge where we get the first fantastic views of the waterfall. Of course we try to keep our eyes on the road, and the route quickly loops back at the 5km mark into the park where wild animals abound. Game rangers and race marshalls in vehicles patrol the route, though that doesn’t stop one rogue young male elephant from chasing Marcel and others (I will leave it to him to recount the rest of that story firsthand, though happily it ended well!) The route was on paved roads for the most part except for some short loops that were easy on the feet, and also took runners through forested areas, bushy scrubland and also posh neighbourhoods of the town.

We finished our various runs well enough, which is to be expected of all Swaras anyway. Those who finished earlier waited at the finish line to cheer on the rest until we had a full complement of the team. The course itself is fairly balanced with a gentle gradient for the most part. However, there is a killer steady uphill climb from around 16Km to 18Km that really saps one’s reserves. I can’t imagine how those doing the full (that was essentially two loops of the half!) would have felt on their second and final ascent of the killer hill. Other than that the rest of it was quite manageable and we were able to put in some respectable times too…

1300Hrs: After the run, the weary band of Swaras both hungry and tired trudged back towards town from the finish point. Somewhere along the way, in true Nairobi style, we hijacked a van and much to the chagrin of its official passengers, we commandeered it to drop us all at our different hotels…

1500Hrs: We went to have lunch at this fantastic place called Look Out Cafe which has fantastic views of the gorge and the bridge across the Zambezi river. While there, some got tempted to do a few crazy stunts there: the Zip line, Gorge Swing and Flying Fox while suspended from a cable across the gorge. And of course yes, the Bungee jump!

1900Hrs: The After Party!

If there were any doubt to the hospitality acumen of the race organisers, the after party was just the bomb! This was an outdoor event with tables set right on the bank of River Zambezi, soft lit with paraffin lamps and then a large tent which was both the cash bar and dance floor at once. So we feasted the sumptuous fare that had been set, enjoyed the drinks and danced the night away. What better way of warming down after such an exacting run by shaking a leg, eh?

Monday, 29 June

0900Hrs: On the morning after, this happy band did not rest despite being already accomplished as far as running the marathon is concerned. Instead we set out to do some assorted activities: some did white-water rafting down the rapids, others elected to take a walk by the falls and hitch a helicopter ride over the falls in the afternoon…

1900Hrs: Braai by an open fireside! Of course, where there are a few Kenyans you can always trust them to sniff out a local nyama choma joint. Problem though is that we had to go there with our own meat and veggies then they’d do the rest. So again we got to wind down and work off some steam after yet another exciting day!

Tuesday, 30 June

1300Hrs: We started on the return leg of our journey that would see us go back the same way we came. This time though there was a very strong headwind on the route to Lilongwe that it took us nearly an hour longer than we did when going. In addition to that, due to the late take off we arrived after sunset and had to land in the dark. Interestingly, when we got to the immigration desk they had closed for the night and even switched off the lights on the airside!

Wednesday, 1 July

0930Hrs: Even such a very good thing as the adventure that we undertook must come to an end. So it was now time for the last leg that would see us briefly land in Dodoma and then back to Wilson Airport. It is really interesting that as we waited for take of on the apron at Kamuzu Airport, a KQ flight landed and there was a funny moment while we were taking off when the captain made an inflight announcement to the passengers on the control tower frequency!

And so from those of us who had the privilege of flying with Five-Charlie Charlie-Charlie-Yankee, we report our arrival back home. It is worth noting, as one of us pointed out somewhere along the way, that the four of us who were on that special flight all come from 4 different continents (Africa, America, Asia and Europe) clearly demonstrating the diversity that is also represented in the Urban Swaras club.

Kudos and many thanks indeed to Zach our able pilot who did all the hard work of flying us there and getting us back home, we really have no words to express our gratitude. All we can say for now is: “Three cheers to the captain: hip-hip, hurray! Hip-hip, hurray! Hip-hip, hurray! Bravo, roger that, over and out!” I guess it may not be much of an exaggeration to say that he midwifed the birth of a group that may some day be worthy of the name Flying Swaras!

Warm regards to all and whatever you get up to today or any other day, keep running!