Running Tales

NO BUSINESS 100: A race report, and related events

This is primarily the story of a 100 mile ultra-marathon.

The ultra, NB100, has an actual distance of 104 miles or 166 km, it takes place in Stearns, Kentucky, Trumpland.

This could also be a Going to America story, being my first time across the Pacific. But we’ll try and limit our attention to the ultra.

It’s also fair to warn you this will be a long read. It was a long run. Here we go…

Part 1: Birth of the Ultra idea to arrival at Stearns, Kentucky

How I got to sign up

In 2017 I registered for Berlin Marathon. I wanted to make it a touristy outing, spend about 2 weeks in Europe, but I needed a reason, then I had a eureka moment; sign up for another race a week after Berlin. And I signed up for a 90 km ultra in Poland, and I got justification for my two weeks.

So when I got entry into Chicago Marathon 2018, I thought I’d keep the tradition alive, look for an ultra a week after Chicago, this time upgrade to a 100 miler. Why 100 miles? It is a landmark distance. Lower distance runs earn you a medal, 100 milers generally earn you a buckle, belt buckle. 100 milers also are invariably multi-day events, most having cut off times of more than 30 hours, meaning you run through day and night, meaning you are exposed to much more challenges than the regular long runs. I was curious. Wanted to see what lay beyond the double digit distances.

I engaged the services of a consultant to find me an ultra. Key criteria; should be a week after Chicago, should be at least 100 mile, should ideally be a single loop course (meaning you don’t get to run a section more than once, also you end at the point you started). The consultant, Google, came up with about 5 options, I settled on the one mentioned up there, NoBusiness 100, if you’ve just walked in.

I registered for it in February 2018 and all that remained was good old training.

The build-up

I had 7 months to train.

I had two events to train for: Chicago Marathon, NB100.

I laid out a grand plan: there would be long runs, loong runs and looong runs. I mapped the longest one, 112km, beginning at Fluorspar in Elgeyo Marakwet County, ending at my frontyard in Chepterit, Nandi County. That run would traverse 3 counties. There would be night runs, there would be back to back long runs like a 50k on Saturday, another 50k on Sunday. There would be strength training, and speed work too. I can stand here and declare that the plan, and its creator, deserved a Nobel Prize.

But as I drew my running plan, some dark forces were taking notes, planting landmines along the path of my award winning plans.

The first setback: I did an excellent job of twisting my ankle while running an un-runnable section of Karura Forest. But that didn’t worry me, October was a long way off. The injury would fade away. And it did, though quite slowly, and I resumed running, and discovered I could run in the Nairobi CBD early mornings before the city woke.

It is with the excitement of this discovery that I hit my big toe pretty hard, while running pretty fast, in a pretty dark section of 5:30 am Nairobi CBD. And that was annoying, very annoying. I didn’t stop running, picked myself up and ran the remaining 2 km, all sense dictated I suspend running to allow the toe to heal, the injury actually extended to mid-foot.

But who am I? I ran the following day, and the next, worsening the foot, activating the ankle injury, and on the 8th of June, my run aborted midway, my foot was dead. The next time I would run was 15th of August. These two months were trying times.

But all was not lost, I enrolled in a gym, did strength-work, and core workouts, and pedaled furiously on the bike that takes you nowhere. Idea was to keep the lower limbs active and maintain cardio fitness.

By the time of closing the training logs I had done only 3 runs longer than 40 km, the longest being a 44.6 km run in Voi on June the 2nd. Longest time on feet was 12 hrs, but that was way back in February running up and down Mt. Kenya.

The most psyche boosting of my workouts was an up-and-down Mt. Kenya run of 7 hrs 35 min on the 1st of September, it affirmed that I could be on my feet for long hours without much trouble from the estranged feet.

To make up for the training hiccups I dedicated lots of downtime to literature, reading everything ultra-running, especially hanging onto the theories that ultras are more mental than physical, therein lay my salvation. To further strengthen my faith, I sought out testimonies of people who had run ultras on limited training mileage. And yes there were testimonies, a good number sitting here; http://www.ultrunr.com/lo-mile.html

Despite the interrupted training, I never really considered cancelling the ultra. ‘I am no coward’, ‘I don’t wuss out’ I kept telling myself. My not-cancelling certainly had nothing to do with the $250 non-refundable entry fee.

So with less that 700km mileage in 7 months, I packed my bags and headed to the land of the free and home of the brave.

Introducing Jen Wong…and how we got to Stearns

Jen is American, she ran with Swaras in 2016 when she was in Kenya for 3 months. We first met in a carpool to the famous Fluorspar run where she can be remembered for not being able to keep her hands off the Chapatis…

I mentioned I’d be within her borders running the Chicago Marathon, she said cool! Then I disclosed my Ultra plans and her eyes opened wide and she said if I did the ultra she’d come cheer me…I only had to get her an Urban Swara t-shirt.

I already had ideas on how to spend the blank week between Chicago Marathon and NB100. I also was firming logistics of getting to Stearns, the race location. I would travel to Louisville then onward to a town named London. There was no public transport beyond London, I was yet to figure out how to get to Sterns from London, an 85 km distance.

Jen promptly overruled my plans. ‘YOU HAVE TO SEE NASHVILLE!’ This was a declaration. I said yes ma’am, I would go to Nashville, I would see the Music City, we would rendezvous Friday morning, 12th October, we would drive to Stearns… Nashville is some 323 km from Stearns.

On 8th October, the day after Chicago marathon, I took a bus from Chicago to Nashville, hailed a cab, got collected by Latoya, a nice lady from de Bahamas, she immediately strikes conversation, where was I from? (trust my African accent), ‘Kenya’, said I ‘first time in America?’, ‘yes’, ‘you must be really brave taking the bus your first time here’, she said sounding impressed and I felt sufficiently macho. Indeed the bus experience had been a little seedy.

After a lot more tête à tête on how she was progressing on her American Dream, to how her boyfriend wasn’t committing to a mortgage, that ‘black guys from here have little ambition’, I was annoyed on her behalf,  style up American boyfriend!…and I felt at home in Nashville by the time I got to my Airbnb digs.

Day 1 Nashville: laze mode

Day 2 Nashville: Wander mode, and Jen was absolutely right, Nashville was a gem. (This is where I would have placed a choice Nashville photo, if only my phone had not changed ownership soon after getting back to KE)

I walked the city attractions, bought a 1 day public bus ticket, hopped onto this bus and that bus, round Nashville and its suburbs, just a’ sightseeing, dusk found me in a bus route 21, the bus wasn’t headed downtown, in a fit of decisiveness, I got off the bus, at a random junction, 25th Ave N & Clarksville pike.

I immediately feel out of place, not unsafe but grossly out of place; the junction looks a little shady, there’s an auto garage behind me, a number of people hanging around, the garage has prominent graffiti; no warranties, no guarantees, no refunds, no receipt…, I’d have wanted to take a photo of the juicy graffiti, but I have traces of wisdom. A guy rides past me, on a bike, which has no seat, another one walks by, no shirt, everyone here is a ‘former African’.

I stand at the bus stop, waiting for the bus to downtown, a guy is on one side of me, a lady on the other, it starts drizzling, the lady remarks on the rain, the guy chips in, basic courtesy dictates I contribute to the small talk as I’m between them, not me, I will not open my mouth and betray my straight outta Africa accent, I stare straight ahead, let them think I’m stone deaf.

Bus came after the most uncomfortable 10 mins, onward to downtown, and I headed straight to Broadway, Broadway at night was an event in itself! I was hooked!… but this is not about Nashville, It’s about an ultra, so let’s get on with the ultra….

How we got to Stearns

Jen jets into Nashville very early on Friday the 12th, her call wakes me from my Nashville-suburbish cozy sleep. She picks the car-for-rent and is at my location before I’ve breakfast stuffed myself.

She got a big car, with navigation, and a sunroof. The bigness and navigation was because we were headed to remote country. She said the sunroof was so that she’d sleep under the stars, in her comfy sleeping bag, as I slogged on with the ultra in the night…such talk is no good for someone who will be running through the night, but I swallowed my protest, I was at her mercy…

We left Nashville, Jen punches in coordinates of our destination. We all know how navigation works, the nice lady with a pleasant voice tells you something like, and ‘in 100 metres turn left into Interstate 64, drive on…more directions…you’ve arrived at your destination’.

The voice of the lady in our Navigation, after seeing the coordinates, said that we would get to a point where we would hear her voice no more, as we would have entered an area that had not been mapped. We said fine.

We drove leisurely for a few hours through what Jen said is usually referred to as ‘hillbilly country’. Jen suggested we visit the ‘Blue Smoky Mountains’ after the ultra, I agreed. We passed by a ‘haunted house’ signpost and I suggested we visit it too on our way back.

We got to the point where the navigation lady’s voice retired, drove further, took a wrong turn, drove all the way to the end of road, we find a cemetery, by the cemetery is a barrier, behind the barrier is a trailhead into the forest. Our destination was a town hall, as a rule town halls don’t sit in forests. Lost we were.

We drive back, find our way. And here we are, Stearns, KY.

Jen is a model human. She took a day off work, flew to Nashville, drove hundreds of miles, crewed and paced me. Never mind that she exposed me to pressure at the ultra by her relentless use of the word ‘Kenyan’, she definitely shouldered some fame being the one crewing and pacing the ‘Kenyan’.

This is where you take a break; check on livestock, go for a run…something…in preparation for part 2.

 

Part 2: Pre-race briefing and the Ultra

We checked into the town hall, collected our bibs, and some really cool race gear, I especially loved the North face hoodie and immediately adopted it as my official garb for the remainder of my time in the US.

Mug shots, like the ‘going to prison’ mug shots, were taken for all runners and their pacers, with the race number held prominently. The mug shots came out really nice and I can’t help thinking they would be perfect for a ‘lost person’ notice or an obituary.

At 7pm there was to be a pre-race dinner and briefing.

One important deviation of ultras from road running is that PBs don’t really matter, it’s about getting to the finish line, one 100 miler can never be compared to another. NB100 had a cut-off time of 33 hours. The idea was to get to the finish line before 33 hrs lapsed, but I knew I’d do it in 24 hrs.

Also the harder the ultra, the more popular it is, selling points for ultra-events are adverse conditions starting with elevation gain; put simply, the more the pain the more attractive the ultra. Most runners, however, want their first 100 miler to be an ‘easy one’. NB 100, with less than 4,000 m elevation gain can be classified as ‘easy’, which is one reason I never got very worried, I was confident. In 2017 I had done a 96 km ultra with 5,000 m elevation gain, how hard could a 100 miler with less than 4000 m be?

But this confidence was about to go on trial.

Runners and crew congregated for the dinner and briefing, it also worked well as pre-race intimidation; runners sporting gear for tough races like ‘Tahoe 200’ (a 200 mile race), another has a 500 km Ultra jacket…we sit across from a fellow, Brad Hinton is his name, this is his 13th 100 miler, his first was back in 2009.

‘It’s all about pain tolerance man,’ Brad says looking at me, ‘I may not be fast but I sure can out-last you on pain’ he adds. I shift uneasily in my seat. He wasn’t bluffing, he took off the following day and ended up finishing 4th.

Another runner and his crew join our table, this is his first 100 miler, at last a kindred spirit.

Briefing is done. Apart from how ‘not difficult’ the run would be, emphasis is on being safe, the run would be entirely in the forest, mostly on technical single trail terrain. Runners needed to be careful not to trip on roots and rocks or wipeout on slippery sections. Wild animal problem was not to be expected, there could be bear sightings though, snakes too.

Each runner would be fitted with spot trackers, these make it possible for a runner to be located in real time. In case one veers off course or get lost they can be rescued, it also has a button that can be pressed in an emergency. The organizers took pains to define emergency; extreme hunger, wanting to drop out, regular injury etc are not emergencies…the idea is that emergencies would be situations like if you were half eaten by a bear,  broke both legs and both hands, or if you were dead…

The race starts…

Standing at the start line I couldn’t help feeling out of place. Guys milling around the start line were physically intimidating, Jen said they looked like Vikings.

Thickly built Caucasian legs, the size of teenage tree trunks, were on display. I too, without shame, displayed my skinny Kalenjin legs, those legs have a story. They have endured years as social outcasts, hidden from public view out of shame. Starting from when, back in Secondary school, a ‘friend’ commented on how thin they were. That their thinness stood out in a school with more than 95% Kalenjin population shows rare talent in the thin legs department. His comment ensured I avoided any public display of those legs, it explains why I never wore shorts when I started running back in 2014, it also explains my healthy dislike of people who walk around in shorts, bunch of showoffs….

Now I can display them because I pretend to have matured enough to stop caring, and they are slightly improved.

Well, a race has to start, and it did, at 6am on 13th October 2018.

Off we went, only 166 km to go.

The first parts are uneventful, it’s dark, head-torches bobbing single file in the single lane forest tracks, no incidents, I only twist my ankle once, someone trips over a root, another slides on a slippery rock…all regular stuff.

1st aid station is at 9km, I get rid of my jacket, eat a little, leave aid station, a little later I trip on a sadistic root and land on my wrist. Dang pain but I groan it away.

I make a mental note to be careful, it would be easy to DNF (Did Not Finish) on impact injuries more than anything else. Otherwise these early kilometres are easy, there is thick leaf carpet, decomposing to form humus, It makes me recall the few times I’ve seen ‘hummus’ in food places, a food item I’ve always suspiciously avoided. This must be one of the places they get harvested from…

At about the 30th km I catch up with a lady, Amy is her name, I say mine, she asks where I’m from, ‘Kenya, but I’m a slow Kenyan’ (important to qualify that). We chat for the next few kilometers. She finished this run last year in 24 hrs, she is running it again because last year it was run clockwise and this year it’s the other way. This is her 7th 100 miler, I’m impressed, the more because she looks ‘non-ultraish’, no visible toughness about her.

She asks whether I’m shooting for thereabouts of 24hrs, I say yes, she gives me some solid advice, I decide to stick with her for some time, I would forge ahead if I felt she was slowing me down. My watch indicates I’m on track for a 22hr finish.

After the next aid station, I let Amy have a 30 seconds head start as I tackle a large Banana, I follow her, knowing I’d catch up soon enough. I don’t, she’s melted into the forest trails never to be seen again. Amy Macintire went on to finish as the first female and 5th overall, in 25 hrs…

We had been warned that there would be river crossings, that feet would get wet, that it was wise to have a change of shoes and socks along the race, preferably at Bandy Creek aid station, 97th km. Yes there were a few stream crossings, which, I am proud to report, I managed to expertly navigate, avoiding getting my shoes soggy, I felt quite the ninja. Then I got to aid station number 4, the route markings led to a river bank, I looked to my right, no bridge, looked to my left, no bridge. They had forgotten to put a bridge here, I hesitated shortly, not keen to end my ‘dry ninja feet streak’.

‘Building a raft will take too long’, a runner coming back from across the river says to me.

His statement packs so much truth that I promptly step into the icy waters, after all the water was at best knee deep. But the rocks were slimy, and I slipped and got baptized, much to the entertainment of the cheering people across the river. Death of ninja.

I had so far done 40km, still fresh.

The next aid station would be at 55km.

The devils started taking interest in me at around the 50th km, in quick order my knees got painful, then hunger struck, I had neglected to eat well at the previous aid station, then the area between maybe my 4th and 5th rib began chafing, the pain was a royal nuisance. As if on cue, the aid station seemed to be moving further away….and I started thinking how I had 110 km to go.

By the time I got to the aid station, my pace had reduced from the healthy 7 min/km to 12 min/km.

The sight of food was so exciting that I took a photo of the bounty before I began devouring it. There was this food item that looked like pale Chapati, it tasted very agreeably, I ate one after the other until I felt the nice volunteer manning the aid station was looking at me rather suspiciously. I would learn that Tortilla is the name of the pale Chapati, I later observe them being ‘cooked’ at subsequent aid stations, thence did I understand the volunteer’s puzzled looks, his mind must have been, ‘dude’s already lost it, he’s eating raw dough’.

Food matters over, I asked whether anyone had Elastoplast, their blank looks reminded me the name should be ‘Band-Aid’ on these sides of the world. I remembered I had spare Band-Aid in my bag, got it out, taped over the chafing area.

I stocked some food and left the station a new man.

Soon after I catch up with a runner, we chat up. His name is Bart Borguis, he is a Prof in Louisville, has a marathon PB of 2:32, very impressive. It’s his first 100 miler, he’s moved to ultras as he’s getting ‘old’ for road marathons and their intensive training, asks me where I’m from (everyone keeps asking me where I’m from), ‘Kenya’ I say, adding the standard ‘slow-Kenyan’ disclaimer, he asks me where in Kenya, ‘Nandi’.

He knows all about Kenyan running, the Rift Valley, the Kalenjin. He gives me his theories of why ‘we’ are fast; altitude, poverty, bird-like legs with high calves…

I’m about to ask him ’but why shift to ultras’, but I hang the thought, I wouldn’t be able to answer the same question.

It has been observed that the recreational running and ultra-running scenes are dominated by middle-aged, middle-income, mid-life crisis sort of people (I am one of those who doesn’t not fall in any of those categories, unless you add ‘aspiring’ before them…) everyone has their opinion on the demographics and reasons for running ultras. One consensus though is that ultra runners are a bunch of masochists, intentionally seeking out pain…

Bart soon zooms off after an aid station and I vow not to talk to any other runner, it makes them faster.

Me on this side, Jen in the middle, Bart on that side; refueling under the watchful eyes of Jen.

By the time I got to 80 km I was dangerously swinging between highs and lows, and I was getting annoyed, annoyed at the endless forest, annoyed that I was irrigating the already well-watered forest far too many times, annoyed at the many rock formations, the only sight that could excite me was the finish line. I also was exclusively walking, didn’t matter whether it was uphill, downhill, flat. Walking. The pains in my knees, groin and soles of feet were unrelenting.

I attribute these early difficulties to lack of sufficient training mileage.

The aid station at 88 km was one of the most memorable. There was this chicken soup, I asked the nice volunteer lady for it, she said it was very hot, I said fine, she said pepper-hot, I said fine. Drank the thing, it was HOOT, you should have seen me sweat, out of respect I had to finish it. The soup seemed to wake me from the dead, and I left the aid station with some life in me.

Little did I know I was yet to get into the darkest hours of my running career, literally and figuratively.

Behold the night

Night came, just after daylight left, I was at 90 km.

I changed into a thermal top and slacks at the next aid station, 97km. the slacks were to keep my feet warm, I thought it would help with the pain, plus I needed to generally keep warm as I didn’t foresee any more running.  Sleep started playing hide and seek with me almost immediately, I was able to just barely ward it off until I trudged into the next aid station at 105km.

Aid station 105km had a roaring fire and some camping chairs around it, there was a slight drizzle too.

Jen was to pace me to the next aid station, a 10km distance. I proposed to take some time by the fire as I was trembling, and a 10 min nap while at it as I was sleepy. Jen said Ok, 5 minutes. Seated next to me by the fire was a guy violently trembling and dry heaving, a survival blanket around his shoulders. He had already exgested all ingested food.

We left the aid station, a welcome relief to have someone accompany me in the dark night, ghosts of sleep were kept at bay, Jen gallantly fighting a losing battle to improve my speeds of between 13 to 15 min/km, she succeeded however in making me commit to latch onto the decent walking pace of a guy 20 metres ahead of us.

She filled me in on news; a guy had dropped out after being bitten by a snake, another had an accident and injured himself so bad that he had to be pulled out etc. presently our 20-metres-ahead guy sat on the side of the trail to fight his personal demons, probably sleep. How I wanted to do the same! Jen couldn’t allow it, managing to keep me on my feet for the endless 10 km.

Finally, we got back to aid station, I headed straight to the fire as Jen arranged my feeding. The pains were relentless, I asked for meds, Jen got me Ibuprofen, for the first time I took painkillers while on a run.

I was in no position to go out into the forest immediately. I informed Jen I’d take a 10 min nap and promptly closed my eyes, shutting out the troubles of this world. I woke up to Jen standing over me, giving me the marching orders, ‘are you going to get up and go’. The tone, and the look on her face, she wasn’t amused…only much later as I analyzed my run, did I  realize I had spent a whole hour and 10 minutes by that fire.

The 20-metre-ahead guy had come in, sat on the ground, said he was taking a 10 minute nap. Jen later informed me he never left, woke up to pull out of the race. Fire and sleep, lethal combination. That could have been me had Jen been nicer…

The next leg started beautifully, I was energized, the pains were gone probably because of the drug, it was around 2.30 am. Even the slight drizzles didn’t bother me, for a few kilometers I could run-walk.

Then sleep came back, badder than ever, and hallucinations. I had read stories of people sleep-walking and hallucinating in ultras, they have always struck me as exaggerations… until it happened to me.

For 2 hours I was walking intermittently in a daze, eyes literally closing as I walked, real danger of walking into a tree or off course, I was forced to sit on the forest floor to nap, despite Jen’s snake story actively discouraging the nap stops. Runners would stop and ask whether I was fine, I’d say I was fine, just sleepy. ‘Alright, don’t stay too long’ they’d add and fly on.

Direction played games with my mind. I could habitually see headlights of runners up ahead, to my right, this would naturally mean that the route turns would trend right, yet all turns seemed to trend left, yet the lights were always on my right, but I kept turning left.  It was worrying and confusing.

At some point I thought I saw Bart run past me, I couldn’t figure whether it was real or not. I later learnt he unfortunately DNF’d.

The rain too never stopped, making the ground a little treacherous, there were these horse-trail sections with quicksand type surfaces, making movement a laborious exercise… In summary all the ghosts of the night directed their best arsenal at me and had a field day of it. I got out of the night a shaken man.

Somehow the night didn’t seem too long, maybe because half the time I was drifting in and out of consciousness, sleepwalking and napping.

At around 6 am, I got some new power. Barring disaster, I knew I was going to finish. The remaining distance featured in my mind as ‘only 40 km’. Somehow all the hills were packed in these last kilometers, but no matter, life was good, rain too would let up. Smooth going hardly makes a story worth telling, so to save you a few yawns I’ll spare the details of the morning hours and skip all the way to the last aid station where I shed off my slacks and jacket and embarked on the last leg.

Jen met me at around 161 km, with the new shoes she was breaking into in readiness for New York marathon. The shoes didn’t look new anymore by the time we finished.

We made little work of the last 5 km to a rapturous reception by the AWESOME race volunteers and officials at the finish line.

Finish time 30hrs 37 mins. Buckle earned.

I’ve supposedly been ‘cultured’ not to show emotion but even that couldn’t prevent me from feeling a ka-small lump in my throat as I soaked in the reality of what had just happened. A lady finishing a few minutes after me was overwhelmed by emotion, for a few minutes she couldn’t utter a word, sobbing softly the whole time, locked in embraces with her crew and race officials.

Of 96 starters, 39 finished. A 40% finish rate. I was the 24th finisher.

Finishing an ultra is also a factor of good fortune, you can be 100% physically ready but still DNF due to accidents. Broken limbs and other body trauma are common especially in technical terrain ultras. Some runners are unable to keep food down, and woe unto your run if you can’t fuel.

Aside from accidents and other health issues, time contributes to a good number of DNF. Apart from the overall cut-off time, each aid station has its own cut-off. If you are behind this cut-off you will automatically be withdrawn from the race, it does not matter if it is the last aid station.

Having completed the 100 miler on less than 700 km training mileage, I am convinced 100 miles is not as tough as it sounds, most recreational runners would finish a 100 miler with the normal training runs and the right state of mind. Still it’s better to have good mileage in those legs.

A post-mortem

Don’t Make post-run plans.

With a finish time of 30.5 hrs from a confident target of 24hrs, plans to visit Jen’s Blue Smoky Mountains went up in smoke. So too did the haunted house, though I felt satisfactorily haunted by the night ghosts of the ultra.

There was to be Nashville celebrations, some Music City mementos to collect, a day tour of New York. My battered body disrespectfully declined any invitation to unnecessary movement. Plans cancelled. Jen was however determined that I experience the famous Southern BBQ. A real treat and befitting way to reward the assaulted body.

Despite the Ultra tribulations, some things went well for me;

  • No single blister: Me and my oversized shoes made a dream team. The shoes took all the beating and my feet came out unscathed.  I never had to change shoes or socks despite the water crossings. The shoes are now headed for retirement, or plastic surgery.
  • Food and fluid: I had good appetite all along, headquarters at stomach didn’t reject anything directed their way. Tortillas were in danger of extinction as soon I discovered them, I am confident no other runner ate as much tortillas as I did. Oranges kept my taste buds spruce, bananas were my take-away favorites. Hydration was 50-50 mix of coke (dark drink, not white powder) and water, until I felt overhydrated and reduced it to 80-20, and began taking an isotonic drink called ‘sword’.
  • Injuries: the injuries that had strangled my training kept out of sight the entire time.
  • Presence of mind: I feel my mind stayed where it was supposed to be pretty well. Even through the dark ages between 80 and 125km…. Jen insists I ‘cry-babied a little’, such talk shouldn’t reach my ancestors.
  • Positive vibes: Aid stations were a joy, the volunteers making sure you got regal treatment…it was like a 100 mile party. Breaking down the distance into aid-station-to-aid-station segments made it infinitely easier on the mind.

What I would do better

  • Mileage, mileage, mileage. Never again am I running such a race with such scarcity of mileage.
  • Sleep: I still have zero ideas on this. Tips from you, oh wise ones, are welcome…not miraa though.

Would I run another 100 miler? It is exactly a month after the NB100, the pains are all but forgotten while the blissful feelings of achievement remain intact. I’d probably warm up to another 100… in the distant future.

The End.

P.S. This is by far my longest write-up. We salute you for going the distance….

The Very End.

 

They remembered to put a bridge here…such sights offered some distraction from the pains…

Jen, a Finisher, and the all-important buckle: This Jen’s smile was very absent when this finisher was ‘cry-babying’ at 116km…Those sausage fingers are a result of nasty fall at 12km

Running Tales

My Story to Club 42

First I shall ask that you forgive me as I’m not a very good writer. Where do I begin; “oh yes”, Mt. Kenya ultra run which was the ultimate mind test. To spice things up, our very able and active Swara chairman decided that unless you did 45kms, there would be no medal. Anyway Mt Kenya came and I not only finished, but I also got a medal (story for another day). The next day as I prepared to leave for Nairobi, and I’m requested to give my very good friend Elvis a ride, which I gladly accepted. As we drove back from Karatina, I started telling Elvis how I was going to take a break and catch up with my sleep and cold beer for the next few weeks. Elvis asks me why I was not registering for the Stanchart Marathon. Well, we parted ways with my last comment being” I will think about it”.

The following week after my recovery run, I go to Kariakim and tell him I have decided to run the Stanchart full marathon, (you should have seen the look on his face) and the first thing he asked me is do I know how long am supposed to rest after running a full 45kms. My response was that is why am here to make sure my body is getting the right service. So he took out a pen and drew a program for the next 4 weeks which I was to follow to the letter, if I was to be ready for marathon. So for the next few weeks, Kariakim became my second home, besides my weekly and weekend runs.

Then came 28th October 2018 and it was race day. I got up at 4am, prepared myself and in no time we were at the start line waiting to be flagged off. At exactly 7am we were off and in my mind I was just remembering the Mombasa road loop, people had talked about it so much, I was not even thinking about the first 21kms of the race. My plan was, maintain a pace between 5.30 and 6 and for sure I would finish in 4hr and 30mins. For the first 15-18kms things were good, then I hit Upperhill and realized I had slowed down to a 6:45 pace, but I was still ok because I could already see that I would break my 21k PB for last year of 2hr 8mins. Half way mark and am 2hrs and 5mins, and am saying to myself, good job Martin, you are doing well.

Then as I approached the 21 / 42k split and the first person I meet was David Thuo who offers me a Mellon, man that was very refreshing. No sooner had I taken the Mellon then I turned and saw the Mombasa road stretch. Oh my, what a site! Not a single car in sight; just yellow, red and blue t-shirts at a distance, and I said to myself this is where the race starts. Then I remembered one Eliud Kip, the world record holder’s words; “with the human mind anything is possible” and that gave me the courage to move on. As I run the first loop am like it’s not so bad and all is going well. Then I get to Eka hotel and I meet Ndegwa who gives me something which all I can say gives me some good energy to move on. At this point I’m looking at my watch and can see I’m approaching the 30km mark. I kept moving until I got to Nyayo roundabout for my 2nd loop and that is where things just took a turn for the worse cause in my mind I’m saying I have to go back again all the way…and at this point my legs are telling me we are now ready for a break. From then on it was run-walk until I met Loise (Total petro station) and told her my calves needed that deep heat spray so badly. After a quick fix, I was back on the road, but in my mind, I am saying I can’t wait to reach Ndegwa again so he can give that quick fix again. I got to him and he already could see from my face that I could not wait for my next dose. That stretch from Eka Hotel to the turn off was the longest and loneliest part of the whole race and I can tell you I was contemplating calling it a day. After the turn off I meet Davis and I tell him I will finish this race, so I run-walk until I meet Ngatia at Capital center. Ngatia had paced me during one of my training runs, so he knew that I needed company, and he tells me I have come to look for you so I can pace you to the finish line. I felt as if I had been given a new lease of energy. From there on it was running all the way until the finish line, only to find out that I had actually done 43kms in a sub 5.

Stanchart was a great experience with a lot of lessons leant, but the most important of them all, believe in yourself and never give up. I would like to thank all the people who were involved in my long journey to club 42.

Would I run the Nairobi Stanchart again “NO” .

Next stop, I want to see the world, Berlin, Chicago, here I come…..

Running Tales

My Sub-2 Half Marathon Journey and Losing 20 Kilos

The journey to doing a marathon, any marathon, begins with willpower… and then some. Plus, you need someone and something to push you when that last half mile seems like a light year.

When I started running in 2016 – reluctantly, I must add – the villager pushed and shoved me forward, while my weight pushed me down. The villager is Erastus Maina; my husband and the father of our three kids.

See, roundabout that time, I tipped the scales at 80 kgs. And the problem with body weight is that, if one doesn’t get a hold of it pretty damn quick, it is likely to spiral out of control. My BMI was 32.9. It needed to be 23.5.

Running was not even on my mind. It was what others did. I’m a wife, mother and career woman; what do I know about running except getting off to running stats on research papers and proposals, and running a tight ship at home?

One happy day – (for him, he-he, not me!) – the villager finally got me out on my maiden 6kms run. Thank God for supportive husbands. Thank God for brothers who don’t laugh at you when you’re half-walking and half-running – okay, three-quarters walking – but they make you feel like you’re giving champion marathoners a run for their money.

The thing with a maiden run is that it seems like, with each step that you make, the distance grows further by two steps. And at times it seems like you’re going backwards. Or that time has stood still. Speaking of time, don’t keep looking at your watch but at the road ahead.

“Baby, are you sure this is not 60 kilometres?” I kept asking.

“You’re a champion, you can do 60,” the villager joked, and my muscles screamed in pain.

Did I hear you ask how long I took to finish that maiden 6 kilometres run? Let’s just say that it was a personal best … until the next day when I “broke” that record. And that first day when I recorded a personal best, I almost asked the villager to call a press conference.

Seriously, though, I learnt that, contrary to what most people think, the first day is not the hardest, but going out the next day … and the next. Because, that second day, your muscles are in so much pain you think you made a mistake.

Do y’all know that muscles talk? I swear, muscles talk. When you’re doing your maiden run or you’ve hit the gym for the first time, the doggone muscles talk nineteen to the dozen. They won’t let you put a word in edgewise.

Your glutes will be like: “Girl, did he tell you that no pain no gain? He lied through his teeth, the only thing you’re going to gain is more pain.” Your hamstrings will be like: “Stop this torture right now, or else we’ll pull us a hamstring.” And your hip flexors and calf muscles will be the typical Kenyan and threaten to go on strike unless you acquiesce to their demands.

After that first day, my mind was torn between hitting the tarmac and waiting for my muscles to heal. But the villager taught me that muscles heal when you take them out again … and again. That’s why it’s called, exercise. Because it has discipline. He taught me that it’s a battle of mind versus matter. He drilled into me that I should not listen to my muscles, but my inner woman.

I kept doing it. Kept running 5 days a week. It grew into a habit, and a good one at that. I couldn’t shake it off if I wanted to.

Fast forward to … 

My Sub 2 half marathon 1st attempt

On 27th March 2018, I packed my bags and my high hopes. I was travelling to Cape Town, South Africa raring to go run the most beautiful marathon in the world: This was the 20th consecutive Old Mutual Two Oceans Half Marathon run under the rules of IAAF, Athletics South Africa (ASA) and Western Province Athletics (WPA). I was here attempting my first Sub-Two Hour Half Marathon.

Wikipedia defines a half marathon as a road running event of 21.0975 km (13 mi 192½ yd) – half the distance of a marathon. It is common for a half marathon event to be held concurrently with a marathon, using almost the same course with a late start, an early finish or shortcuts.

I was as ready as I could be. I had trained for the two months with the Urban Swaras. Urban Swaras Running club is the largest recreational running club in Kenya .They organize weekly Saturday runs mostly in and around Nairobi, as well as out of town runs at scenic locations all over Kenya. Their goal is to promote recreational running in Kenya. I would wake up early to join the Swaras for their runs in various parts of the country.

For my first half marathon, the Kenyan in me had packed chapatis. I had heard tales from runners that chapatis did the magic for a runner. I don’t know how true this is, but as long as it is not a banned substance – and the testimony came from other runners – I was going to give it a try. I know what you’re thinking; that I can’t get enough of chapatis. That I was just using this as an excuse.

We stayed in a hotel near the starting point at Newlands. On that early beautiful morning before the run, I had my chapati just to ensure I was well fueled for the day. The weather was great. I ensured I was on time at the starting point outside the SA Breweries in Newlands.Together with runners from all walks of life, as the sun kissed the skies, we waited patiently for the countdown and off we went at exactly 6am.

This is usually a family fun day in Cape Town. There was song and pomp on the way. Many families were on the roads as early as 6am just to cheer the runners. I hope one day Kenya will have such a running culture. I mean, it will not just be about breaking records and winning money, but just having fun and it being a way that we can build a healthy nation and prevent lifestyle diseases.

The starting point was a bit crowded. But as soon as I was on my second kilometer, I was able to join one of the buses for Sub 2. Hills slowed me down but I was able to join another bus. We had a great captain and loads of fun singing and dancing all the way to the finishing line at University of Cape Town’s sports field.

I finished my half marathon with a finishing time of 2.04 hrs. It was so close yet so far. I knew shedding off about five minutes or more was no mean feat. But I knew my dreams were valid.

On finishing my run I quickly grabbed the Kenyan flag and went to cheer the villager and other runners who were running the 56kms Ultra Marathon.

As soon as we were back to Kenya from OMTOM on 2nd April 2018, we reviewed my performance of the half marathon. The villager committed to my sub 2 achievement. He helped me to develop and enrich my training program which I followed religiously. He became my training and accountability partner, which made life easier.

We agreed on running three days together.

“A Sub-2 achievement requires speed work and hill work,” the villager put me in the know. “Your schedule and life will have to change … you need not only to work hard but smart.”

”Mauritius is all yours,” he encouraged me. “Hii Sub-2 ni yako.”

At times I believed it. Other times I doubted my ability. Those are some of the conflicting emotions that one has to balance. But having someone who believes in you sure helps; because at times those five minutes can seem like five blue moons.

The cake before the icing

My 2nd Attempt for a Sub-2 Half Marathon was on 15th July 2018 during the Mauritius Marathon. I was ready for a fantastic challenge which takes place in one of the most picturesque parts of Mauritius!

The villager helped me to develop my schedule. On Mondays, I did strength training. Tuesdays were for speed work. Wednesdays were set aside for tempo runs. On Thursdays I did hill work. I rested on Friday, then Saturday I did endurance and Sunday I did a recovery run.

As part of my training, the villager introduced me a seasoned recreational runner, David Thuo of Run Fit Club kenya.

Thuo became my mentor. He reviewed my schedule weekly. He paced me on my last 6km run which I ran at a pace of 5.31 km/hr. He reviewed the half marathon profile and gave me last minute tips.

Since I worked in Nairobi, I joined Thuo and the Run Fun Fit club team at Heron Court on selected days. I needed to leave home at 4am so as to start our run at 5am. I knew this achievement was not a walk in the park. It required tons of focus, discipline, sacrifice and persistence.

We did hill work sessions in Ngong on Thursdays at 5am. I dreaded the speed work sessions, but I knew that they were a vital part of being prepared. I also kept this mental note: I don’t have the luxury of a third attempt.

D-Day

On the D-Day, we left the apartments in the North at 4am, to be at the starting line on time at the La Praire Coast road at 6.15am.

Being mentally prepared gave me confidence. I had done enough physically in the build-up. I trusted my body to get me to the finish line.

And that’s the thing. After you have done all you can do, just trust your body. Your body has been a model student – studying, doing the preps – and it can ace this exam, if you let it.

As we drove to the start point, I went looking out for the Otora chalk marks all the way and I did not find any. I started panicking. I knew there was some unfinished business. Otora chalk marks are the most loved and dreaded marks in Swara runs as at one time they take you to a river and the next time you find yourself on some hills.

I quickly fished out my phone to confirm the starting point again. The vehicles were still on the roads and little did I know we would have to share the road with the vehicles. The traffic police were at strategic points guiding the runners.

I got on the starting point on time and ran 2kms to warm up my muscles. And soon I was back waiting for the countdown. I knew that I was on my own and I ran as fast as my legs could carry me along the beautiful beaches.

Along the way, I listened to the seagulls chirping and squawking, as if to encourage me. The waves hitting the seashores were just what the doctor ordered: they calmed my nerves and made me to concentrate on my pace.

The track went through La Prairie coastal road, Le Morne Village and finish line at Saint Felix Beach, along the scenic lagoon of the Island and across typical coastal villages.

Mauritius Marathon combines sport challenge and discovery of the natural and cultural heritage of Mauritius. At each corner, from Le Morne village to the finish at Saint Felix public beach, the course unveils spectacular sights and sounds, especially the unforgettable views on the vast lagoon of the south.

The weather was great for a run. When I hit 6kms, I tagged onto a runner who was running at my pace. I remember meeting the villager at about 10kms and I was as re-energized as he clapped and cheered me on.

You’ll make it,” he hollered, and I increased my speed. I kept on checking whether my legs were still intact as I keenly monitored my Garmin watch. And I was still 7 minutes ahead of the finish time.

I knew the remaining 10kms was the deal breaker. This gave me momentum to move and increase my speed. At the 15th km mark, I somehow slowed as there was a bit of a hill. Moments later, I picked up and got energy to the finishing line.

Finally …..Celebration time

I finished at a time of 1.57.57. I was so elated. My worst nightmare was to be on the finishing line with my Garmin beeping 2.00 hrs. I am not sure I would have forgiven myself. I had trained well. I went out there with oodles of confidence. I remember my new Garmin Watch was beeping the record time for the half Marathon. It was all song and dance by the beautiful Mauritian dancers at the finishing line as they put the medal round my neck. I was so elated with a runner’s high.

After my Sub-2 it was time to party, celebrate and enjoy the beauty of Mauritius for the next four days. And on 19th July 2018 it was time to head back home. Mauritius, I will be back.

I would not have made it without the support of my training mate and hubby Erastus Maina, aka the villager. Thank you for always pushing me out of my comfort zone believing in me and taking this journey with me. To our 3 lovely kids, 1st & 2nd Nyerian and Jakara; thank you for cheering mummy.

To my great mentor David Thuo; thanks a million for helping my dreams come true. To my training buddies Carol, Nyokabi, Gracie and Wangui and to all my friends; asanteni sana for cheering me on.

Drastic changes occur when you keep your eyes on just doing your thing and not, in this case, constantly staring at the scales. You know what? I have shed 20 kgs in 2 years. Yeah, you heard me right; two-zero kilos.

What was, initially, a dreary undertaking has morphed into a love affair. It has become something that I cannot live without.

Running is living!

 

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

From Old House to Old Moses; A Tale of a Trail Unyielding!

Happy smiles at the start… the lull before the storm.

Drawing from the experience of last year’s inaugural Old Moses Classic, the organizers, Mt. Kenya Blazers, resolved to set a sub 2hr target for both Swaras and Blazers to conquer the 21km trail. The challenge was widely broadcasted with yours truly pledging a 15yr old John Walker Gold Reserve to the first sub 2 arrival at Old Moses.

At exactly 8.00 am on 30th June, 51 Swaras and Blazers congregated outside the Old House, a serene and exclusive riverside hotel by the bank of Nanyuki River on your way to the Fairmount. A 51 seater yellow bus was revving nearby waiting to ferry the runners to the starting point, about 13kms away from Old House.

At 9.15, the organizer, Wanjohi Macharia announced that all was ready – the game rangers were ready, the wildlife along the trail were ready and more importantly Old Moses was ready to receive us. Two MPs, the Hon. Kiai of Mukurweini and the Hon. Mariru of Laikipia West were also ready. So were the Swaras best hope to subdue Old Moses at sub 2; Jackson Ndegwa, Victor Kamau, Daniel, Sara Wawa and Claire Baker. And so was the vertical elevation of 1300m!

Route profile

My best bet Joshua Cheruiyot was in the group, this time as an observer since he was nursing an injury.

The takeoff was smooth, a gradual uphill of 3km before hitting the Sirimon route turnoff. Victor and Ndegwa slowly created a gap and I lost the yellow t-shirts 5km later.

George Kamunya from blazers chased the two, carefully though. Having been the winner last year at 2.47, he knew what lay ahead. Daniel and Masika built the chase at 7km with no intention of chasing sub 2.

Chairman Ajaa was ahead by a Km, leisurely admiring the pedigree ahead, which Urban Swaras have nurtured under his watch.

Among the ladies, the fast pacing Sara Wawa lead the onslaught, followed closely by Monica Gichuhi and Claire Baker. Wanjira pursued the trio with an eye at the prize. Sara was later to abandon the chase in favour of a musical walk in the park.

From a warm equatorial sunshine, the weather started cooling at 13km just as the gradient picked.

By this time, Victor and Jackson were kms away. I glanced at my Garmin and it was exactly 2hrs from the start, the now famous sub-2 threshold set by Nike for Eliud Kipchoge to conquer the full marathon. Considering the gradient uphill, I had my doubts whether any Swara can break Sub 2, doubts that were confirmed by the 2.09 achieved by Jackson Ndegwa. Victor was behind him at 2.19

As I approached the 3km stretch to the finish, I spotted Wanjira at the winding as she negotiated the last corner. The view of Old Moses from my point of despair was magnificent, made more beautiful by three Swara shirts I could spot from this distance. Suddenly, I reached for my phone to capture the moment. As I was about to click the camera, soft clouds descended upon Old Moses, covering him from any view. It was like a pack of nuns rushing to protect Mother Superior from rape. No photo taken and next thing I was fighting hailstones, thrust upon the trail by a furious Old Moses who felt disturbed by the running activity.

After 3.11, i arrived at Old Moses, same time as last year, No haircut but at a respectable 12th position. Claire was the top lady finisher at 2.39 followed by Monica Gichuhi and Wanjira, both at sub 3.

The fun was at the finish point. Ice cold rain showers welcomed the late comers as the heavens opened. Live cooking of tea progressed. With no one to claim the whiskies, Saxo and Hon. Kiai bid for the double black at the top and it was widely shared among the group.

Back to the Old House at 5:20pm after the yellow bus got stuck in the mud at the Sirimon gate. Dinner was served at 6:15pm and it was a very lovely evening spiced by both Ronaldo’s and Messi’s exit from the World Cup. Hon. Kiai sponsored a happy hour with a 10K contribution, thanking God that he survived the vagaries of Old Moses.

Whereas next year’s men’s target remains at sub 2, it was felt that the ladies target be adjusted to sub 2.30 for them to have a realistic stab at the prize. Next year’s prize will be reloaded to excite the Swaras and Blazers.

A big thank you to Mt. Kenya Blazers and their captain Wanjohi Macharia for organizing what in my view was a run to die for. Why lie, when some of us almost died!!

 

Running Tales

Once Bitten, Run Back to Back

Comrades back to back“In Flanders Field the Poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row, which mark our place; in the sky, the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the dead. Short days ago we lived. Felt dawn, saw the sunset glow. Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders field” excerpts from John Macrae Poem on his memoirs of the First World War. One of the survivors of the horrors of that war was a humble steam engine driver, Vic Clapham from the town of Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. To honor his fallen Comrades he created a living memorial, he started a run that would capture and embrace the spirit of fortitude, bravely and endurance. Comrades Marathon was born. The marathon is run annually between Clapham’s home town of Pietermaritzburg and Coastal City of Durban. The run starts interchangeably between the two locations. Comrades 2018, the 93rd edition, was a down run starting from Maritzburg. Don’t be fooled by word down run Comrades course remain almost the same, you still have to concur numerous hills on your way down.

Any lingering doubts I had that you watch only free to air TV have now been laid to rest. How else would you have missed the biggest piece of news in town? But since am cool like that I will break it down for you. I ran 3.454kms in exactly 52 seconds. Yes I did it. Before you start calling me names, here is how. There is an old adage that numbers don’t lie, why should they start now. Since am the one unravelling them to you, here they are. Comrades 2017; Distance 86.73kms time 9.55.05hrs. Comrades 2018; distance 90.184kms, Time 9.55.57hrs. Difference in distance 3.454kms, difference in time 52 secs. You see the reason I will go to heaven, I don’t lie. 3.5 kms in exactly 52 secs. Does mathematics gets easier than that. I know what you are thinking and trying to bring logic here but let me spare you the trouble, don’t argue with me. Last I checked we are not age mates. This is my story and I am sticking to it, make yours and sell it. You can’t blame me for the ineptness of your mathematics teachers and yourself. Probably results of free primary education, now on free to air consumer bracket, choose one struggle mate. Am also sure you’re wondering why I include millimeters in the distance, wonder no more, am petty like that. There you go, new sheriff in town, all the way from the hills of Mau with love. Take a bow so n. Now send all the gifts, we accept even the crypto currency called crates of beer.

Numbers don't lie
You can’t make up this stuff, can you? Numbers don’t lie; if you know, you know

Comrades 2018 lived up to the billing as The Ultimate Human Race, my training started in December and even after covering a total 1,941.72kms in the training which included over 14; 40kms runs, you still can’t help but feel like you have not done enough as you stand on the starting line on a freezing cold morning in Maritzburg. As they say show me your friends and I will show you the doors you knock at, that might not be the saying you know about but you know why? English is my 7th language well below sheng, body language and other ungazetted ones. Moral of the story I kept John Kuria as my training partner because last we did it together nothing was broken, why the hell fix it. Don’t be fooled by the numbers there on the starting line, 20k plus, once the cock crows you’re on your own. And whether you’re running it to win it in just 5hrs or just finishing in the allowed 12hrs you still cover the 90kms the rest is timing difference.

This was our back to back run having done the up run last year. You see the organizers have this funny arrangement that if you run your first and second comrades consecutively, on finishing the 2nd run you get two medals, one for that run and another for running them back to back, it’s a once in a lifetime chance. Reason? Your guess is as good as everyone’s, Comrades is brutal, people come here and get humiliated never to attempt it again. But as they say if Comrades humiliates you, there is nothing wrong with you. It’s just what the run demands, RESPECT. Armed with the most potent of weapons, experience. I set out to enjoy the down run and just worry about the cutoff of 12 hours. Yes, last year’s run did it thing on me. Most of training was done at a pace of 6mins per km and this was the strategy for the day. But as I would realize later, best strategy is no strategy. Not training doesn’t fall into the category. The following is my sidelines experiences on the run. Nothing much is related to running but sideshows, if you’re of short time you better stop here and move on swiftly.

Three for the price of two

Touch down in Durban is 2 days before the run, nothing much happens here as you can’t even breathe in too fast just in case you mess up the fitness levels. Just stock up with Carbo-loading food stuffs, water and the like. But true to my character, I am a visionary we need to stock up for the after party. Indulge your imagination on what figured most on the budget. The flight from Jo’burg creates the atmosphere that this is Comrades weekend. Everything in Durban comes to a standstill.

Saturday is a Dash to the Expo to pick the Race Number, on getting there first shocker, we have to queue with the rest of the South Africans since Rest of Africa is also Africa and Africa is South Africa. You can’t really blame them can you? After all an (in) famous person of public interest believes that Africa is in Namibia. The process takes 20 mins or less thanks to the flawless registration process. We enter the Expo but there was nothing much going on there and in exactly 2 hours we are out. Prices at most of this Expos are exaggerated akin to a Hawker in down town Nairobi on sight of a light skinned mortal even though some might have bleached. The rest of the afternoon is spent legs up and drinking lots of water in readiness for the big day.

Pre-race dinner and briefing is at 6, announcement that breakfast is at 2 in the morning, the bus to the start point (90kms away) leaves at 3 with or without you. That’s all the briefing, all this time everyone is behaving as if you are just up to a morning jog. So what to do, act Captain Cool. The menu is rich with anything you would need on the evening before the race and justice is served. Back to the hotel room but sleep is always a scorned in-law the night before the run. Power nap and at exactly 12.30 you’re wide awake after sleeping for a solid 189 minutes. 1 am its breakfast time, rush back to the toilet for 17 times within the hour before the bus leaves, oil all your essentials, because in a few hours all the talk will be over, it will be party time. We leave at exactly 3 and the 90kms journey is fast until 15kms to Maritzburg where part of the highway has been fenced of as it will be part of the course. We however manage to get into the city well before time. Long queues are formed on the mobile lavatories and one can’t resist the temptation to queue yet again just in case something has found its way down your digestive system. Another queue at the Tog bag drop-off points as my mate John has carried a Tog bag, I decided against it. Forgive my eyesight but there was nothing much in it. Actually the only thing I saw coming out from the bag in Durban many hours later was a beer. As to who consumed majority of the content on that can, I will take the Fifth or pushed I will just say what any serious liar in this town would tell you to say, I don’t recall. After all, isn’t that why National Security exists? So that people can maintain “sharrup” on things that less concerns them.

The air in Maritzburg is almost carnival, the streets are full of song and dance and people walk up and down to make their start corals. Its freezing cold as it had been predicted that it would be as low as 8 degrees. We are all tucked up in our corals by 5.20 as they close corals and the first movement is made towards the start point. As always the National Anthem of South Africa is followed by the famous “shosholoza”, if this song doesn’t move you then you must be a distant cousin of Chemical Ali. Beats to Chariots of Fire play until you hear the cock crow followed shortly by the gun and its party o’clock. The journey has begun. Destination; Iconic Moses Mabhinda World Cup stadium in Durban, Distance approximately 56 miles (90kms if you love The Queen that much), time; well does it even matter? You still have to cover 90kms.

Since its 90kms there is nothing interesting worth your note, I will stick to the highlights. The first 10kms are run in pitch darkness as within 3kms you’re out of Maritzburg. Never in my dull life have I imagined myself taking up night running (at least not on the spot) as a hobby, but here I was. Running along the main highway to Durban the trailers and cars are hooting and occupants reminding you, it’s your funeral with ‘see you in Durban” as if its 2kms away. The pace here is kept at the pace of runner ahead of you, I and John try to indulge in a conversation to try and forget what we are doing. The temperatures tend to dip as distance increases and the body can’t seem to warm up. First encounter is the Pollys, on the up run; these section a very steep hill which hits you when it hurts most 79kms. And they are always kind enough to remind you that Comrades up run is not done until you go over Pollys. This part is run with minimal problems although the cold can’t go away. I rarely run with a jacket but I kept my top until well over 35kms before it met its maker.

The 2nd of the big 5 hills is Inchanga and clearing it will leave you well over 35kms and approaching the halfway mark of the run, but calm down first the hill is almost 2km and once you are done and steps up Drummond, the 3rd in the sequence and almost after Inchanga that you won’t realize you’ve actually ran almost another 2kms in between. Drummond is a nasty hill and at the top of that seats the Arthur’s seat. If you’re wondering what the heck that is, Arthur Newton is a Comrade’s legend who won the run 5 times in the 20’s. Runners stop there to say “hi” to him drop some flowers and hope it brings good tidings for the second half of the run. 150 meters from Arthur’s seat is Comrades Wall of Honor with the names of many comrades’ runners past and present who have gone for the great ultra-marathon up above. Of course you stop here to waste a few minutes. Needless to say I never saw the two during last year’s up run but since this year was a leisurely stroll, I wouldn’t miss it. What follows is almost a flat that leads to the bottom of the 4th hill. Botha’s hill and on top of it there is a huge crowd, the hill is almost a km or so and at its apex you are staring at the Devil’s Valley of 1,000 hills. At this point you already have 60kms on your legs and only liars will say the body isn’t tempted to give in. A boy stands on the side of the road with a big placard “Fresh legs on sale” on it. It’s one of those moments where you clearly know that the devil is a liar but you still want to ask what lie is in stock today. There is no time to gaze on the scenic hills; after all you could have gone to the Aberdares for that.

The Comrades down run starts after 60kms where you have to run almost downhill for well over 20kms. If you ever thought running downhill is easy, try it with 50+kms on your feet, it’s damn painful and it’s no surprise that I slowed down to the 7mins per km bracket. The initial strategy was walk-run on the hills and recover on the flats and downhills. I know better now as I couldn’t wait for the next uphill so that I run. The bones are almost falling off your quads and you can only just spend the next 20kms stopping at every water point, enjoy the soft massages on your legs, take more water, energade, bananas, oranges laced with salt(pathetic taste) and everything on offer. Before you know you are staring at the last of the 5 hills, Cowie’s Hill and you ran up it, on top there some lasses are holding a “what the hill” poster on their hands and when you are just about to stop and appreciate the Almighty’s handy work on them, they be like “no walkers on runner’s shoes”. At this point you can only pray that their souls be blessed. Scratch that, I lied. I waved them the one finger salute in my head. The end is near but even the mind has given up. With some 15 or so kms to go I meet a guy who had been running with his crutch, I was later to read his story of how he had planned to run with his prosthetic leg but his leg had developed some wound and he had to do it with a crutch. The organizers had allowed him to complete the run in 16 hours which he did. There was another guy who ran on his wheel chair with the assistance of his long term friend but am not sure whether he finished. Even in one’s tiredness you can’t help but stop and applaud these heroes before leaving them to their battles as you fight yours.

The last few kms are uneventful but most of the water points are deserted as it has been a long day even for the supporters along the way but everything you need is available. 2kms to go the finish point can be seen from a distance and the crowd and noise is getting louder as the runners summon the last ounce from their reserves to get to the stadium. At 1km to go you can see the face of the stadium full of splendor and you can’t wait to embrace its grace. There is a big bill board with “ASIJIKI- There is no turning back now” just before you enter the stadium and for sure where can you turn back to.

Once you get to the stadium there is a huge cheer and on crossing the finish line you get your medal and you are led into the tunnel, we are made to walk another long 200 (k) meters before getting the desk where I collect my back to back medal. You can imagine the number of times I asked around where the desk is just in case I missed it. That distance was very long. In between there were tents offering soup, but in my mind I was just wondering, Soup for who? My mind was fixated on one thing and one thing only; the 18 beers waiting for me in my hotel room. Actually that’s what I had been thinking about for the last 30kms if not more. The walk up those stairs is torture and once we sit outside the Stadium waking up to walk to our transport was another 90kms. We find ourselves in the hotel room and the party starts. You don’t sleep after comrades rather you roll for a few hours in bed and then catch a beer. That happens until sunrise. And for another 24 hours.

Moses Mabhida StadiumThe Monday after comrades is always World Penguin day in Durban. All funny walking styles are on show and even the mighty do it. A few stretches helps abit but all in all every part of the body is aching now. But we are well reminded that’s what this run is all about. Respect. Not that our bodies are weak or there is anything wrong with us. If Comrades teaches you nothing else, at least it serves humbleness in appropriate portions and hence its name, The Ultimate Human Race. Or as they say it there. Izokuthumba, it will humble you. Every finisher has their Comrades story and One of Tata Nduku who completed it with more than an hour and a half to spare at the tender age of 60+ captured the spirit of the comrades. Not forgetting the other senior citizen James Wahome, who is always all eager and ready to remind you he is on retirement holiday during this runs. Unlike some of us who ran comrades to get capacity for more beer they did it for very noble causes; support them in whichever way you can. All I want to do in my life is run like them at their age. Comrades is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They represent this spirit in every facet.

With back to back now in the bag, I will not say never, but it’s not happening again any time soon. Focus now shifts to more fancy sports like, yachting, canoeing, fishing and bird watching and may be learn how to use Instagram while at it, not this running after the wind shenanigans, which even the good book warns us against. May be I might have to wait for slay queens to start wearing Vitenges to weddings and stop dancing Kwangwaru on table tops with their heads on their tails or tails on their heads, may be then we can have the conversation. Now that’s for sure is the beer doing the talking. See you when we can’t avoid, most probably on the trails although I prefer it to be in a bar.

My Favorite meeting point right now; tell me you like the head, or better still, when do I see you?

 

 

Running Tales

A Long Voi-age Uphill

I left myself several days to recover. I didn’t think my fingers could type, as the aches and pains from my legs had travelled upwards to my knuckles, but I also knew that if there’s one thing Swaras aren’t famed for, it’s sitting back and waiting. Enough photos have been shared and anecdotes bandied about, for an official, non-partisan and purely factual narrative of the weekend’s antics to be necessary unfortunately, dear readers, that’s not what you’re going to get. Far from it. You’re going to get an amateur runner’s, accomplished wine-swiller’s, recently (sort of) Kenyan’s account of one heck of a weekend, with all the subjectivity and personal colour she can possibly muster.

Now I’ve been Swara-ing for long enough to have had two babies, or run one and a half rounds of all the great marathons (in other words, around a year and a half) but this was my first time to attend the legendary Voi run. Friends (Rosemary, I’m looking at you) had told me about the succulent tangerines. Others (Saxo) had warned me of the heat and the after-parties. Some (I forget the names as they were gone in a blur of overtaking) had told me the trail was to die for. And so it was with excitement, trepidation and slightly wobbly legs from lack of any real hill training, that I set off, in a full car (four adults and two children), one grey Friday morning. Hold up! We weren’t skiving; it was Madaraka Day. So, to celebrate, I let the Kenyan do all the driving – who am I, as a wanton muzungu, to take away a Kenyan man’s independence at the steering wheel? Masika, our able chauffeur, wasn’t fazed by the ladies and children singing ‘Frozen’ Disney songs, Ed Sheeran, and Taylor Swift at the top of their lungs. Although we did notice he sped up once we opened our mouths for the first high notes…

Weary travellers like ourselves trickled into Afrika Lodges over the course of the afternoon, happy to see familiar faces, and familiar white chalk arrows outside the entrance gates, a promise of what was to come. Credit to Wahome, our phenomenal host and barman, for providing the most comfortable of beds for naps, night-times and who knows what other shenanigans. But this is a family-friendly publication.

The first run, the ‘warm-up’ got pretty heated, in the late afternoon Taita Taveta sun, throwing up red dust over small ravines, through expansive fields of dusty green vegetation that perfectly reflected the dappling sun that was getting us nice and ‘warmed up’ as we eased into our 13km. Some Swaras, with names that may or may not rhyme with Pond and Saoul, barely broke a sweat, and warmed our seats back at the hotel bar once they were done. Our muscles looked at the hills in the distance with longing; little did we know what was in store for us the next day.

First though, back at Afrika Lodges, there were of course refreshments aplenty, and Swaras got busy carbo-and caffeine-loading, swiftly followed by copious amounts of dinner and, to our delight, more carbs. I’m not ashamed to say I took some of my carbs in liquid form, which I assured everyone makes me run better, but only Cheruiyot (whose fault it is that I’m the scribe of this newsworthy adventure) joined me for something cold and slightly fizzy before everyone got a rather sensible early night. I would never claim that Chairman had anything that wasn’t water so let me end this first chapter here.

I feel like I can allow myself to shake things up a bit. Fast forward to 24 hours later, all Swaras (except for a handful of die-hard runners who are also very good at running to the bar) were safely tucked up in those same beds, with the memories of their 20, 30, 35, or even 48km accomplishments cradling them to a deep, peaceful and well-earned sleep. But how did they get so tired, you might ask? Swaras are die-hard athletes who can tackle anything and go on to be productive, social human beings in the big wide (normal) world!

It all began with an early morning wake-up call from Ferrah, who had sequestered Chairman’s whistle but couldn’t quite figure out how to use it. Luckily for me I was bunked next door to her so I got the full blast of her attempts as I was emerging from my dreams of marrying a prince and having my designer dress broadcast across the kingdom.

Then there was, you know, the Andean, Alpine, ten-times Mount Kenya-esque range of hills that we conquered, bottom to top, with varying degrees of intensity and speed, but always with confidence and panache, because that’s how we roll.

A brief breakdown of how this run works: the dirt road starts when you take a turn off the tarmac a few kilometres outside of Voi town. From there, it’s 48km to the end of the road. As long as you carry on straight, you’re on the right track, and will be rewarded with views that will take any breath you have left in you completely away. For those who aren’t made of superhuman material, you can be dropped further along that same road, cutting your total running distance down to 40, 35, 30, 25, 20, or less. I was the only one doing the 35km, so I was able to sing to myself and skip and make all manner of noises and expressions as I went, with only the monkeys to judge me. I thought the 48km gang would never catch me up, but of course Benja and Otora broke that rule 7km in, and overtook me, uphill, in a leap and a bound. In fact, the 48m cohort was the biggest…at the start line. Let’s not talk about the end line until later.

The air was balmy, with an early morning briskness about it, perfect for starting an uphill climb. The day warmed slightly as we got higher and our blood pumped a little more vigorously. Then I realised that Chairman wasn’t lying when he said the climb would only end at the end. The hills were relentless, twisting and turning through what felt like a hidden universe of villages nestled in between ranges and dips that even Safaricom network couldn’t reach. I wasn’t completely alone though. Because I have a fear of being alone, (psychoanalysis to come in a later write-up) I sped up to try and catch up some of the 25-ers, and came across a few, nice and sweaty and in spirits as high as the crest we were heading for. There was Chairman with Martha, and a steady-paced Rebecca; then I caught patron and his son as they approached an uphill climb. Of course, I had to pretend I could tackle that hill with ease, otherwise Patron would have seen me as a disappointment. Good thing he couldn’t see the writhes of pain on my face.

Now, I’m the first to admit my errors. But taking a wrong turn is not a mistake. It’s a deliberate challenge to oneself. I found myself getting lost on the route that Otora had said was ‘so easy, you just follow it straight’. So I turned left. And cruised downhill for 4km before smelling a fish and hitching a ride back up on a boda, feeling ashamed but also proud of my extra 4km. Just 5km and approximately 300m of elevation later I was at the top. And, by gosh, it wasn’t half bad. We discovered a hidden viewpoint and a natural spring to wash the slick from our faces and the grit from our throats. Of course, many selfies were taken, then we dutifully headed back down to join the others and have our neatly packed picnic lunches. And this is where things started to go wrong. We met the Masika/Cheruiyot gang who had snaffled away all the beers we had ordered the night before for a celebratory post-run ‘cheers’. Yes, ALL of them. They were heading upstream, we were heading back for dry land, so we let them go. Then came Otora, with my champagne. That’s an offer no lady can refuse, so back up we went, followed by James ‘barman’ Wahome, Raoul ‘birthday boy’ Kamadjeu and a motley crew of long-distance troopers. In fact, everyone followed us up the hill to finish the gruelling challenge in style.

Let the party begin. Beer and bubbles flowed, as did the good times and the risk of falling 300m down the rockface with all the tomfoolery and danger-selfies we were attempting. Thomas Bond and Katara Wawa guarded the buses and lunches down below as we let 2600m of total elevation, five hours of blood, sweat and tears (of laughter) and body-loads of adrenaline wash over us in a cascade of unbounded joy and relief.

Several naps were had on the bus back, but someone whose name may or may not rhyme with ‘Catia’ was calling for more beer at every shop we passed.

And so, dear reader, you have a better picture of how 23 Swaras ended up exhausted, elated and fast asleep, several hours later, after yet more (recovery) carbs, a giant cake to celebrate Raoul-48-years-but-doesn’t-look-a-day-over-21-Kamadjeu’s birthday, and enough speeches to win an election. I guess we all knew we still had one more run to come.

I’m not sure if it’s fair to call what I did the next day ‘running’. Sure, I transported myself from one spot, back to the same spot, with some movement in between, but it was by no means elegant or athletic. But at least it meant I didn’t completely fossilize ahead of the long drive back to Nairobi. Again, some people, whose names may or may not rhyme with Pond and Rara, don’t seem to be able to slow down. Maybe they thought we were chasing them, zombie-like and blood-hungry. I guess that’s just me before my morning coffee.

For the journey back, Daisy, Marylyne and the children and I found a new chauffeur, none other than the one and only Joe Black, who we also pushed to his limits with bad karaoke (Whitney and Mariah even got an airing) and girls’ trip shenanigans all way down back to western Nairobi.

Whilst the aches and pains have now dissipated, the memories of this kaleidoscopic running extravaganza of a weekend are fading much more slowly, partly thanks to the deluge of Whatsapp images that have been inundating our smartphones since that day, and partly due to the fact that this running club, it has to be said, is one-of-a-kind. With Swaras, there’s no a-Voi-ding hills, and all attempt to give up are null and Voi-d.

Running Tales

Kigali Marathon 2018

The titled marathon happened on the 20th day of May. Based on the info queued up for offloading on this paper, the actual run may take like 20% of the word count here. So in case you are pressed for time, you may take a by-pass to the relevant sub section. For the time-rich ones, here goes the meat and bone version…

The Going: Nairobi to Kigali

Kigali is one of the marathons I’ve done for next to nothing in terms of travel and accommodation preps. This was courtesy of some great souls over at a running outfit by the name of Medal hunters, an energetic pack of runners of whom the general idea in my mind is like this; Sentinels’ noses are always up in the air, on the ground, everywhere. They sniff out a run, run should have medals, howl howl, pack gathers, hunts down Medals, victory howlulation, pack disbands, next Medal sniffed, repeat. Wolf pack incarnate. A good number of medal hungry Swaras moonlight over there to benefit from the medal sightings and hunting.

We travelled by bus. 17th May, the travel date. 5pm, the time bus left. 24hrs, the expected trip duration. Kigali, the name of the destination in case you skipped the title up there.

The bussers were: Four runners of the Swara species (five if you include this one), many Hunters, and naturally the bus had an overwhelming minority of regular travelers.

Nairobi>>Nakuru>>Kisumu>>Busia. Border business. Into land of Wakanda >>Kampala. Between Nairobi and Kampala the bus windows were heavily tinted, could hardly see anything outside, or maybe that’s because it was nighttime. Daylight met us at Kampala. Kampala >>Mbarara. After Kampala they removed the tint, or night. Either way outside was now visible, and it was like watching a Banana documentary. Bananas here, bananas there, bananas everywhere interspersed with endless swamps.

Mbarara>>Kabale>> Katuna Border. The landscape from Mbarara to the Rwandan border could give Otora a fever. What with the tasty, scenic, mostly clean shaven rolling hills…of course Otora would turn them into torture chambers, and you Swaras would love him for it.

Into Rwanda. Suddenly the driver loses it and drives on the wrong side of the road. Soon enough I realize it’s an epidemic, all drivers, everywhere in Rwanda, same ailment, drive on the wrong side of the road. We hope they get well. Here in Kenya we, of course, drive on the right side of the road, which is left. Left is right, right is wrong, something like that.

So yeah into Rwanda. The hills! Every crazed, hill-seeking, pain-loving, runner’s dream. at one point we were sandwiched deep in the bosom of two tall proud hills and I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if they suddenly got an irresistible urge to hug (shudder), well that didn’t happen and that’s why, in a little more than 24hrs since boarding in Nairobi, we got to get to Kigali unburied.

Kigali

Most of the bus runners were staying in the same hotel, we were to be joined by a second group of runners who were travelling by bird.

We’re well aware that this is not a travelogue, but just a lil more patience, we will get to the run. So in the company of two hunters I had a little preview of what Kigali has to offer under blanket of night, you shall

be spared of the details (before you get imaginative the said details are rated GE). As tired and responsible citizens, mostly tired, we were back in the hotel soon after midnight.

Next day was spent visiting the somber Genocide Memorial. What strikes you is that man can turn against man in such cold-bloodedness, that we can allow ourselves to be used as weapons against neighbors, ‘friends’, kin, people who have done absolutely nothing against us, that we also do not learn from history. Going through the memorial is hardly a touristic exercise, the gory of it all will grip you, the sadness too real, evidence in form of the bony remains of victims, their clothes, photos all there for your eyes…by the time you get to the end you realize only too well that you can’t even get close to understanding how the people who got through it, who saw their families murdered, who lost their relatives en total, you cannot begin to understand their pain. With the sobering experience that the memorial was, we’ll skip the other happenings of the day.

Life has to go on… so evening comes, the general rule is that after evening, night follows, so night followed. With night came a plan to again see another little bit of dark Kigali, this time with a Swara and her friend, an almost-Swara. We boarded boda bodas, had some round about rides, ended at a scene of nightlife in downtown. Everything was normal until we spotted some supersized mattresses being taken into the club (we were seated at the terrace), as expected, we had all kinds of imaginations what they were for; were they for revelers to take a nap when tired? Did the nightclub later turn into a communal dormitory? Etc. etc. Doors to the club were closed soon after the mattress sighting… to short the story, the said mattresses were for sound proofing, lining the insides of the club. Maybe to conform to the city’s noise regulations?

Marathon day

About the marathon: Kigali marathon is special, half marathon begins before full marathon, full marathon is double loop of the half marathon, organizers are allergic to flat sections, they therefore had the city turned hilly to satisfy their sadistic genes. For good measure, they also have the marathon start at 8 am just to make sure runners experience the glare of the fully awake tropical sun.

About this person: My legs had been resisting lately, but I’m still the boss of them. So I had registered for full marathon, and had hauled myself all the way to Kigali, and may have picked the medal infection from the hunters in the bus, so I stopped flirting with thoughts to downgrade to half-marathon or less, maybe I should just complete the marathon. Key to me finishing the run would be shoes, I needed comfortable, roomy shoes, airy also, and how do you get airy? By having the foot ‘outside’. Therefore the shoes had to be sandaly, and I had sandals. I would run in them.

About the run: It went well (we already know about the hills and sun), spotting familiar faces on the out and back sections. At some point I was busy overtaking a Swara, Lyma is her name, she seemed to like my ‘shoes’, she offered to trade, mine for hers, I declined the barter. I met her later on an out-and-back section, I had already done 22kms. This time she offered more forcefully, I relented and the exchange of running shoes for cool sandals happened. And I ran in her colorful shoes and she flippy flopped in my sandaly ones.

Three Swaras did very well for themselves in the full marathon. Elvis (who arrived in Kigali that morning, also he had his shirt on), Bond (the Tom one, not James), and the top finisher Swara, K.W., we’ll not use her name, (you’ll soon know why) she came in as the 6th female, a position attracting a cool 800,000 RWF prize money. Now you know see why we can’t use her name, not with such truckloads of cash, also not

with the lot of you with manager and coach ambitions. Many Swaras also did very well in the half marathon.

Season’s greetings (a mis-title but in my head it sounds just right for this section)

Congratulations to the full marathon finishers, the two loops needed grace. To the half marathoners too, you ended up running 24 kms instead of the prescribed 21.0975, you then very stoically and graciously took the accidental excess distance as a post-race cool down, any grunts or grumbles was because society expects it, and why disappoint society?

End of congratulations. Start of thanks. To the faithful ‘followers’ (they’d rather not be called stalkers)…to the faithful followers back home who kept refreshing their Strava and Garmin apps, waiting to ‘kudos’ and write congratulatory messages to those with exceptional times, or, for us with lackluster times, give condolences messages like ‘great effort considering the hills’. Thank you, our souls have found peace.

Wrap it up

Marathon done. Everyone happy (not sure about this). Evening. Bus stage. Same route back. 25hrs later. Nairobi. End

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

The Heartbreak – Boston Happened

The day was Monday, April 16, 2018 – Patriots day’ in Massachusetts and I was here for the Boston Marathon 2018!

It was rainy, wet, cold, foggy and windy! The 35th Kilometer marked the end of the mythical heartbreak hill. The hill itself is not horrible, but it does come at a point the runners are already too tired from the previous series of undulating hills and is therefore a real heartbreak and if you made it through with your heart intact especially in the extreme weather conditions of this day, then you knew you were safe. Why didn’t my heart break then? Even I don’t know -I think it was not even capable of being broken as it was frozen, or so I think, because I simply couldn’t feel it! I was extremely tired, numb and my mental faculties had shut down –at this point, only my legs were semi-functional; they remained in some form of motion and somehow kept moving. I wanted to stop but stopping appeared more lethal than moving…so the legs chose the lesser of the two evils and agreed to defend my patriotism and fight the Sub 3 war to the end!

At the summit of Heartbreak is this huge Church of Saint Ignatius of Layola that also marks the beginning of the downhill back to the city for the finish. You see it, you are happy the infamous heartbreak hill is all behind you. I can’t even remember how I got to that point. There must have been so many moments I ran half-conscious, like dream running. The thought of downhill at this point would offer some relief but the quads and hammies were so done. At the 40th Kilometer, I managed to glance at my watch. I was still at an overall pace of under 4:10. My confidence picked because I knew at that pace and with the distance left, I would break 3 and validate my dream. However, my body was sore, and the weather had conspired to trash my dream. My shoes and clothes were wet, I had lost both inner soles by the 10th Kilometer and my forehead felt like it had developed a series of bumps from the various hits by the ice-cold rain drops. I honestly can’t tell what happened during the last two kilometers, but I miraculously found myself at the finish line, shivering like a leaf and holding on to a rail for support.

Voila! within a time of 2.58.08, the job had been accomplished! Shortly, I was on a wheelchair headed to the heat tent! I just saw one and sat on it. God bless those first aiders, totally soaked in rain and sweat (did I even sweat?) I was shivering uncontrollably. It was difficult to hydrate along the way as the water was ice cold, visibility was poor, and movement was somewhat directionless-what a brutal weather! There is no other way, no other word to describe it… Oh but, come on! ALIVE with the medal in hand and a SUB 3 achievement in such brutal weather, what more could I ask for?

See, towards the end, there was hardly anyone to cheer me on, the crowds had scattered, the weather stole them away from us, we needed them, you know what I mean… but then again, how on earth would they withstand such harsh weather conditions! Well, I guess they were not as crazy as the runners. But at Kilometer 37 I wasn’t completely out of luck with some cheers …a fellow runner approached from behind and cheered; “keep going brother, we are almost there ……” that was refreshing. I had begun to slow down almost to a halt. I suddenly felt amazingly strong and this pushed me to the end. There was a water point at the 40th Kilometer. I was thirsty but couldn’t hydrate, the water was ice cold, the lips were locked, my hands were frozen- how would I have done it? Just about the 42nd km mark, I tried to take out my favorite Kenyan flag, tucked in a carrier belt, which I usually do towards the finish line as a patriotic gesture and even that, a simple one second job, I couldn’t pull off- everything was just hard, or was it impossible? I think impossibilities temporarily checked in…

Back to the finish line, I trembled, I was cold and in pain …I was quickly wheeled to the heat tent and offered a hot drink –I think it was some form of hot mwarubaini, it felt like a miracle drink. The first aiders got off my wet clothes and wrapped me in thermo films eskimo style. It felt great in there-warm and comforting. However, my stay was very short-lived. You get stable you are discharged quick quick to create room. The tents were full and there were many runners in need of help. As soon as you are off the danger zone, they’ d ask you to give room. I refused, yes, I told them that I wanted to stay longer na nikakatalia blanketi (refused to give back the blanket). Long story short, my time was up- They took back the blanket and forced me out. Left without a choice, I gathered some little charge from the hot drink and warmth of the tent (I think my battery was at 5%) and headed out to the left luggage in the thermo film wrappers – I collected my luggage, changed into some warm and dry clothing and set off for the hotel. I was lucky to be alive and moving…

The journey began at about 4.00am when I woke up. I put on my racing gear and took breakfast at the hotel. I packed a chapati and some gels to fuel along the way. David Thuo (a.k.a Captain) and I were staying at different hotels and were to start in same Wave but different corrals. David offered to back down one Corral, so we could run together, how kind! It always intrigues me how these marathons manage to sort out 40,000 runners in some seamless flow. Boston uses school buses to ferry runners to the start line because the start and finish are far apart. This historic course starts at the outskirts of the city in the rural New England town of Hopkinton. I picked my assigned bus to the start point and got to the start at about 7:30am. It was cold and wet from the previous day rains, but it wasn’t raining. It had been predicted that the weather would be severe but at this point, it appeared manageable- after all we had ran in darkeness, rain and mud in Ngong, Kahara on several occasions – we would hack this, nani kama sisi? (Who is it that is like us?). Runners were gathered and clustered together to keep warm in tents as we waited for the call up to the start line. There were plenty of warm drinks and loads of food. Coffee, bagels, Bananas and I had my Chapo. I traced Captain just near the entrance of one tent and joined him. We were upbeat. Kujichocha nayo? Even in the cold shivers we managed to stay positive. Who knew what awaited us? Mama was not there to give us the signal…. Mama, why didn’t you? where were you Mama? Oh, but wait a minute! I think mama had sent the weather man, but I didn’t listen. I had been advised to wear a cap and dress warm with water proof gear. I had never run with a cap before, so I brushed it off and my running gear was far from it! Next time, I will listen… I paid dearly for this omission.

The gun went off at exactly 10am and we set off happy, each one of us for him/herself and God with us all- we had our individual goals, we were optimistic. We started off and ran together with Captain. It had rained the previous night, so it was extremely wet and cold but at this point it was not raining. My shoes were already so wet and soggy. Just before the 2nd Kilometer my inner soles started to edge out. At first, I got so scared because I thought that the outer sole of my shoe was torn. I was ready to run barefoot- kidding! how? I stopped briefly, asked Captain to carry on as I put the inner soles back in place. At the 5th Kilometer, I stopped again, you know what, even Eliud kipchoge ran without inner soles in Berlin and won. I removed them. I continued, picked up some pace, and caught up with Captain at about the 10th Kilometer. By this time, the rains were heavy, the wind and the cold were extreme and generally, the weather was increasingly becoming unbearable- we could hardly speak and or see- Captain would often ask me, unaona? (can you see?) and with my lips locked together and quivering, I would mumble back, hata mimi sioni (even I can’t see) – it was foggy and visibility poor. We were talking like we had just had one too many. Yaani, the lips felt like you just came from a dental situation! Other bodily places I won’t mention here felt like they disappeared, frozen to extinction. We had some headgear which had become so wet and heavy so we both like in unison decided to throw them away. Little did I know. The ice pebble rain would hit our bare heads with such force that concentration and focus became an issue. However, armed with faith that we could still make this, we matched on. I separated with Captain just before the 20th Kilometer mark, and we each continued with the race independently. He had stopped briefly to what I thought was a shoe issue.

The race starts with a sharp downhill and gets into undulating uphills especially in the second half. We had done a route recce the previous day and, on the bus and wearing the Kahara lenses, it appeared fairly even. It is a totally different story on foot and more so in that hostile weather! The first half was not too bad, but the second half was what the Chinese would call “mafan”- meaning real trouble! The race got technical. The organizers had their job cut out and they did a good job. There were Medical tents at every mile and medics were quick to attend to runners. That was comforting- at least I knew that I could check in in any of them if it became unbearable. There were also pockets of crowds cheering on, but they dwindled as the weather made its way. The cheering, especially the mention of Kenya from my Tee, even though intermittent, kept me going. Some kind runner, a Japanese (I am always hitting out with Japanese during races) gifted me with a running head band which partly shielded my forehead from the pounding ice cold rain drops…I’m so indebted to this fellow!

I was well prepared and had trained well for this race. Three months intense training to be precise. My body had become accustomed to 4am daily wake-up calls to join fellow runners at Heron Court for runs that would start at 5am. Ngong (Kahara) had officially become my home. I know every turn and bump on that Kahara – corner baridi route. I even know of the number of plots on sale here in case anyone is interested. “Buroti maguta maguta” (really nice plots). Such a Kikuyu. I would go there once a week and run distances of 32-35Kms averaging 90Kms per week. At some point, in February 2018, I sustained a glute injury from the infamous Kimunye run in Kirinyaga. That took a while to heal and I had to slow down for a few weeks. For strength, I choose a weight vest of 7-10kg. I would run with it every so often for distances of about 15Kms. This, I believe, built my core strength and helped release some body weight to achieve my targeted weight by the marathon date.

I did fluorspar twice, yes, in February and March, topping my stamina. Fluorspar is hard but necessary, if you can do it, you can manage a PB anywhere!

My target was a sub 3. It was no secret. My reputation was on the line. I had talked about it to anyone who cared to listen. Pressure was on. I trained hard for it and did everything that I believed would help me in achieving my target. I didn’t expect bad weather and I’m grateful that I still made it despite the bad weather. Training for a marathon is never easy especially when you have a specific time target in addition to finishing the race in good form. You will receive a lot of advice and read a lot of different literature on how to run better and achieve your target. However, from my training and experience during and after the Boston Marathon, my take aways are:

  1. Focus and Consistency- it is not about complicated and fancy training plans, featuring intervals, repeats tempos etc. I am not trashing the science of running but just run day after day, week after week at a level where you never get injured. It is all about focused and consistent training.
  2. Discipline- Even when you don’t feel like it (unless injured), just get up, lace up and get moving.
  3. Learn to use different gears while running – caps, jackets, layers etc. in the event of a bad weather. I wish I had learnt how to run with a cap and gear up for the Boston run- I need to side chat Felicita, she had a mwakenya on the dress code
  4. Identify the areas to work on during your training e.g. weight, strength, hill work, speed etc. – each one of us is different and what works for one person, may not work for another
  5. Believe in yourself, don’t give up, keep training and you will achieve your goal- I started off as a half marathon runner, I never imagined that I would ever do a full marathon. My first full marathon attempts 8 years ago, back fired. I checked out of the race at the 30th kilometer; I did the 2nd Marathon in 2015 at a time of 3.48……. and on on, I kept improving my time and now by the 7th marathon, I have achieved a sub 3!
  6. Identify a team to run with if possible- running with people with a common objective keeps you motivated even when you don’t feel like it!

I wouldn’t have made it without the support of others: my family, Heron Court team, my colleagues at work, the Physio team, all my friends and well-wishers. Special thanks to my Captain and Boston training mate -who even after a very painful race, came personally to my Hotel room in Boston to congratulate me for achieving a sub 3 in the harshest of environments, Asante Sana Captain! You are my hero! Felicita, you went out of your way to make Ugali sukuma for the dudes a day before the race. That must have been the best Ugali I have ever tasted, asante. To all of you, I’m sincerely grateful – I could constantly hear your cheering and words of support all through the race…. we journeyed and did this together! Thank you and God Bless!

I achieved my Sub 3 goal and I’m DONE chasing time. Going forward, I will take it easy and enjoy my runs…On to the next race…..