Running Tales

My Maiden Marathon Journey

So I need to do a fancy write-up about my triumphant maiden full marathon. I’m all excited to join the club of big boys, and would like to share the story of my journey.

Three years ago when I stopped working with the bright greens, I had just picked up a fancy habit called running. I was ready to move on with my life but running, I wasn’t about to stop. I needed a support group. A good friend advised me to join the Swaras. Now, I had done a run with the Swaras a year earlier, and I was sure I wasn’t ready to die, so I said emphatically “NO!! Those guys will kill me”.

Yes, I Can !

Prior to joining the club, I was training for my first serious half marathon at the Kigali Peace Marathon 2016, when I got my first injury, a leg sprain during a 5am run. The next few months saw me painfully go through physiotherapy sessions with Kariakim, learn to run with an injury and withstand the pain, change my running gear and more importantly, meet thousands of Swaras- or so they seemed to me- go through their normal ‘maintenance’ routine physio sessions. So after my half marathon I joined the Swaras running club.

As will happen in group interactions, I made friends with a few members of this group who were prepping for Comrades marathon. And I started a life of waking up at 4.30am on Saturday mornings, driving to some venue or other, running some crazy distances and coming back dead tired. Soon, if someone said they did 50k on a random Saturday, it sounded normal to me.

One day after a run at Fluorspar, someone mentioned in passing “Judy you should do a full now, umeiva”. I quickly responded “yes, I think I can”. Looking back, I think I should have taken time before responding. I might have been light headed from running 32kms up a hill, and thus overestimated my capabilities. But there I was. A date was set with Stanchart Nairobi Marathon 2017, and training for me somewhat started.

Baby Steps

My training required me to get a trainer, stop running with my friends since they run much faster and longer than I did, plus their running season was over and mine had just began. I also needed to get a training schedule to follow. I did all the above. I had a schedule which I followed for exactly two and a half weeks, a trainer who would be In town waiting for me at 5am and I would turn up at 6:-(. I turned Thursday into my long run day. Every Thursday for 3 months, we were at Karura doing our run from 6.30 am until roughly 12-1pm depending on the distance. I would do 2 or 3 other short runs within the week. I avoided the gym like the plague (big mistake!). My longest long run was 36k and I felt I was ready for the big challenge. My body was, but my head wasn’t… on the week preceding the run, I had all sorts of injuries; ITB, Plantar Fasciitis, I think even my nails were aching.

On the race day, I showed up at the start line very nervous. I hadn’t slept a wink the night before. I needed to prove myself. I started the run but did not finish. I went home with a wounded soul and ego and a lot of unspent energy. Speaking to a few kindred souls, someone told me I was too fat to run. I needed to lose about 15kgs. I hadn’t lost any weight in 2 years, so I dismissed him. Many others just told me to get over myself and re-start training.

What Doesn’t Kill You…

I picked my next target, Kilimanjaro Marathon 2018. I got a rough training plan; run everyday. I joined the gym to build my core, made a resolve not to discuss running; it made me nervous. So to anyone who asked, I had stopped running. I even stopped posting my runs. I started running Monday through to Saturday; solo runs, gym 3 days a week. Waking up time of 4am became the norm. I no longer needed the alarm to ring. The effect; I gained more confidence in myself, I became much slower than my normal slow self. I convinced myself that slower for longer was better than faster over a short distance. It was more of an endurance challenge than a speed one. As a benefit, I lost 5kgs in the 2 months, January and February. My date with fate was 4th March 2018 in Moshi, Tanzania.

D Day

It was obvious from the beginning that I was the slowest runner on the track. From the first kilometre I was left on my own. I did not panic. I had been running on my own for a long time. I wasn’t intimidated. 7k;I met with the other runners on their way back, having done13k. I knew a few of them. I cheered them on, and they encouraged me to push on. K10; I still had energy; I had this. I could do it. 32k to go. 15k; ‘if I did another 15k I would still have 12k to go… grrrhhh’. 21k; I met scores of people who had already completed their half marathon and I was just about to start, with a 10k hill ahead of me. Can I do this? 25k; ‘It’s too much. This hill is not ending’. At this point I start walking. Btw I have never run nonstop for 25k so I still have one up. I walk all of the 25th km and start dragging my feet at 26th km. By now both my knees are in a lot of pain and the soles of my feet are really sore. Then I remember a gym session where we were taught to lift our legs when running. I try it for a few and the pain is now manageable. By the 27th km, each kilometre feels like 5. There is no end (sob sob). k29; what am I doing here? Who says everyone is a runner? I’m not a runner!!!!… with tears in my eyes- literally.

K30; I’m at the Tigo tent. Everyone stands to dance and cheer me on. They shout ‘congratulations!! You are a winner!!!’…energy right there. I drag myself to the tent, get a few hugs, lick chunks of glucose and a glass of water, and ‘collect’ my injured self back to the trail. A few guys run with me for like half a kilometer, and you have no idea how much it boosts my confidence. They are just telling me how strong I am, and how I will finish strong!! I almost want to tell them everyone else has finished running but I keep my peace.

Guardian Angels

Soon after, a policeman from a chase car says ‘wacha nimsindikishe huyu dada’, and he comes to run-limp with me. I expected him to do 2k but by k33 he is still there. I tell him I’m tired, and he says ‘around the corner is a hill; lets run to the hill and walk it up’. We run another 3k to the tarmac. And another 2 and another 3 and I have only 2 more kilometres to go. This kind policeman realised that I needed his energy next to me to keep moving. In his safari boots, bunch of keys in his pocket dancing as we run, long-sleeved checked shirt, he ran with me 17 kilometres!!! If this guy isn’t a hero, then I don’t know who is. God bless his lovely soul.

At the last corner into the stadium, I find my friends sitting on the roadside waiting for me. Again, who waits for a lone runner for 7.5 hours? I could have gone back to the hotel- I’ve done it before’ ’Thank you so much – you guys are special I owe you’. You have more faith than anyone I know. Anyway, all 5 of them, plus my 2 policemen escorts, joined me on this final stretch, and we made a grand entrance into the stadium to the finish line, just like a super star! 7 hours 17 minutes after the official start time I finish my first marathon. Could I have done it faster? I think yes. I was at the 21k mark at 2:57 hours. But I desperately needed to touch the finish line, so I spared all the energy I could; slow but sure I kept telling myself.

How was it? Blood, sweat and tears! For real. The pain! I could hardly lift an arm let alone a leg. Did I mention, after 15 minutes rest you break into uncontrollable sweating which goes straight into your eyes. So you cry willingly and unwillingly. Will I do it again? Now that I have a runners high, – DEFINITELY YES!!. Am I crazy? I’m beginning to think that I seriously need a check-up 🙂

Running Tales

The Western Kenya Circuit

In 2016 over the Christmas period, I did my first mountain hike and with Amai and Wesonga Victor, did a 30km run that ended in his home. On 15th July 2017, I crossed the border and ran in Mbale, Uganda.

An idea of sports tourism was then born out of these three events. The three of us, all from Western Kenya, decided to do a pilot with a few Swaras to see if our idea and dream could come to fruition.

Because of uncertainty, a few Swaras were randomly approached and most of them agreed to come and sample what we had planned. They are Ngatia, Mbarire, Chebet, Ferrah, Achuka, Loise Mbogo, Wahome, Masika and my 12 year old nephew Olubayi. Together with the three of us, we were twelve in total.

On 28th December 2017, we all met in Kitale town, ate lunch and headed to the Mt. Elgon National Game Park, about 36km away. Because of time constraints, we made payments at the gate and proceeded for caves visit and game drive. We also went to a view point from where the peak of Mt. Elgon, the forest, Endebes and Kitale towns were clearly visible. Then we retired to the self catering Bandas, cooked, ate, took a little wine and slept.

The next morning, Mbogo the matron led the other ladies in fixing breakfast as I took Wesonga through tummy and core training. With breakfast eaten and supplies packed, we boarded the vehicles and headed for the hike. About 26km later, we got to the point beyond which the vehicles cannot be driven, parked and started the hike. The scenery and views were stunning. Due to age and altitude, the young Olubayi could not summit but credit to him, he stopped just 1.25km to the summit. Three hours twenty five minutes later, we summited. It is called Koitobos, 4222m. The whole trek is about 6.25km, one way.

Swaras at Koitobos summit on Mt ElgonAfter catching breath, refuelling, taking pictures and sips of wine, we begun the descent. It took 2 hours 20 minutes to get back to the cars. Back in the Bandas, exhausted, we showered, ate, rested, bonded and retired to bed early enough for the next leg.

On 30th December 2017, we took breakfast, checked out of the park and headed to Uganda. We stopped in Amagoro town, in Teso and ate traditional Iteso foods. For ease of movement in Uganda, we parked our cars in Kenya and boarded the ones hired from Uganda and crossed into Uganda as Ugandans. This was a sneak out of Kenya and into Uganda act because we did not go through the immigration process.

We drove from Malaba Uganda to Mbale town, through Tororo, a distance of about 50km. In Mbale, we quickly checked into our hotel rooms, changed into the running kit, got into the cars and headed to the starting point on the slopes of Mt. Elgon.

The trail took the runners across two streams, five waterfalls and spectacular views. The 16km run took us about two hours and ten minutes, ending at the highest point on the slopes, a massive cliff from where we enjoyed an eagle’s view of the town below and the its surroundings.

The vehicle drivers offered us great support. Ngatia took a short break to sample the Nile Special beer on trail. Amai unfortunately had to seat out this run and support the others because he forgot his shoes for running in Kenya and there were none to buy in the Mbale shops.

The drive back to the hotel begun as soon as the last runner had arrived and taken a view of the town down below because it was getting dark. The nightfall denied us views as we headed back to our hotel. After showering, we were taken for dinner in a restaurant that serves traditional Ugandan dishes which we enjoyed tremendously.

Because of fatigue and the next day’s schedule, we retired early, but Ngatia and Masika stayed up a little longer for some beer. By 8:00am the following morning, we were done with breakfast and were headed back to Kenya.

After sneaking back, we got into our own vehicles and drove to the Bungoma Tourist Hotel where we had early light lunch. By 2:30pm, we were all assembled by the banks of Nzoia River in Bungoma County ready for the last leg of the tour, a 30km gentle hills run in 34’c heat. The run took us through parts of the Kakamega forest in that County, and ended in Victor Wesonga‘s home in the outskirts of Kakamega town.

Chebet was too exhausted for this last leg and did not even attempt it. Amai who took off fast succumbed to the heat and dehydration at 24km. Ferrah the Trail Queen could not take the grueling four day punishment any longer. She suffered massive double leg muscle crumbs at about 18km and quit, possibly to try it again this year. As for me, I took four hours and thirty minutes to complete the run and I was the last one home. Wesonga and Mbogo beat me by more than thirty minutes, for good measure.

Wesonga’s family was gracious, magnanimous and kind. They cheerfully opened their home doors and hearts to the exhausted, stinking and famished Swaras and fed them to their fill. I stopped counting the different kinds of food at count ten.

Some Swaras were in bed by 9pm because of fatigue. A few stayed up until a minute or two past midnight, just to usher in the new year and promptly retired to bed.

For the first time in my Swara life, there were no takers for the morning scent of the Swara recovery run.

As we parted company on 1st January, all were tired but fulfilled.

In four short days, we had driven more than 960 km, done a game drive, visited Sabaot traditional caves, hiked Mt. Elgon in Kenya and ran its slopes in Uganda, and staged a run across two Countries. It was an epic physical activity filled sports tourism. None could ask for more.

The resolution was that the western circuit tour be made less militant and annual for willing Swaras and be replicated in other parts of our lovely country and region.

Running Tales

It Will Move You

ny-it will move youWhen they said the New York Marathon ‘will move you’, I did not think it literally. It’s taken slightly over a month before I could get the right words to caption my experience. When I reflect back on my journey to the Big Apple, I realize this movement started way back thanks to role models like James Waliaula. When you have a dream to conquer the big races, one needs to make a move. So I balloted for the Big Apple but failed in the ballot process and my next move was to try the other several options available. My confirmation came through a sports tour company.

Training? With four marathons under my belt, I had an idea on training. But this was different, probably due to its magnitude even though the distance remained the same. And there was the strong desire to hit a sub 3 here since my past three attempts had failed miserably. This time the training had to be right. A slight screw-up and that’s the end; from injury to missed flights to loss of baggage with running gear. These are some of the nightmares runners go through. The training started on 17th July. During the first week, I totaled 39km which was inclusive of a 15km Saturday run with the Swaras at City Park. Not something out of the ordinary, but something to point out where I started. Pace was moderate and the plan was to build my endurance gradually for the next four weeks before embarking on the hardcore runs; Hill work, Speed work and tempo runs. The four weeks ended with the weekly mileage exceeding 80km, with the last Saturday mileage getting to 30km.

It was time to embark on the hardcore runs. I recall several times when I had to wake up and knowing the day was meant for speed work, I’d wish I could get some excuse to sleep a little longer or just avoid the work out totally (this is where guys would go, kumbe Davis is human like the rest of us). However, when the thought of the New York Marathon flashed through my mind, I would get on auto pilot. My body automatically adjusted to the 4am alarm, and by 5:15am I’d be warming up. The great feeling would come when it was all over. This would be repeated every week for the next 11 weeks. The Saturday long runs were not easy, with work outs starting as early as 6am thanks to my training partners David Thuo and Jack Ndegwa. These guys literally made the pain more fun and enjoyable with paces out of this world. Without going too much into detail and for you to get a feel of some of the Saturday long runs here they are; Karen 25km at 4:30mins/km pace, Iten (high altitude) 40km at 4:30mins/km pace (ouch! that was a hard one), Mt Kenya “Ultra” 35km at 4;43mins/km, Kahara 30km at 4:26mins/km (one of my popular training routes), Fluorspar with 1577m elevation gain, 40km at 5:37mins/km (I still don’t know how I achieved this). In total I covered 1,350km over the 16 weeks. For those wondering where I am going with all this, read on. For those who have queried what my training was like, that’s part of the story.

5th November, I’m wide awake one hour before my alarm is set to go off. With some sense of nervousness and the clocks having changed backwards by 1 hour at 2:00am (each year, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning in March, 60 minutes vanish from the clock and the time reappears each year in November! No, it’s not a magic trick — it’s Daylight Saving Time!). I couldn’t help thinking; what if the race started without me because I overslept? Not happening. Sleep could now take a back seat now that the day was finally here. I hit the hot showers, stepped out of the hotel into the cold New York streets to catch my first breakfast (don’t ask why the hotel wasn’t serving breakfast –welcome to New York where you pay for everything). I had planned to have breakfast twice with two hour intervals since the Marathon was starting at 9:50am and I was awake by 4am (my body was still on auto pilot mode, apparently I’d wake up this early even on Sundays). Once done with my first breakfast, I went through my marathon checklist. Kenyan flag bandana-Check, Proper socks and shoes on-Check, Vaseline applied-Check, Elastoplast-Check, Check, Check, Check…

I was good to go. It must have been less than 10 degrees Celsius as we walked with other runners from the hotel lobby for about 10 minutes to board the ferry that would take us to Staten Island. Arriving at the ferry terminus we were greeted with a sea of runners also trying to get onto the ferry. You couldn’t fail to notice the law enforcement officers draped in their blue uniforms and the event organizers (who are volunteers). The level of organization put in place with the sheer number of runners is impeccable.

We arrive at the start area in convoy of buses, and one is easily moved by how big the event is. The clearly marked signage directs one easily to their respective corrals. The marshals not allowing entrance into a corral not designated to you. Music is blaring from the clear and quality speakers with interruptions from the MC giving directions to runners in various languages. “This is it!” I remark to self. No turning back. Months of preparation have reduced to 2 hours of waiting time. I know guys at home are trying to finish their errands before they settle down with their phones and other screens to follow the event. I grab my second cup of coffee for the day and with my well preserved homemade chapatis, I carbo load away.

The gun for the first wave goes off, one is literally moved to see the runners in their thousands. You can be mistaken to think that these are all the runners. But there are two other groups starting from a different area all in the first wave (if this is confusing to you, It was confusing to me as well at first). It took me 4 minutes before I could cross the official start line and another 5 minutes before I could start running at my target pace. The New York Marathon is huge to the extent they have three different starting points where runners in the same wave start simultaneously and will then run their different routes before merging at km 5. If that does not move you…read on.

The first few kilometers, are brutal. My run is characterized by dodging other runners and running behind runners of similar pace to avoid head winds (don’t blame the player, it was too cold and I was in a singlet). This was not a conservative way to run, I realized later (my Garmin recorded having done 43km) but in a way it helped. The harsh conditions slightly improved as we went through Brooklynn and I was well within my target pace. The cheering becomes deafening, spectators have poured onto the streets; men, women, kids, musical bands, the atmosphere is eccentric. I’m overwhelmed and increase my speed thinking the race is about to end only to check my watch and the reality is I’ve done only 10km. I realize I’m only used to such large cheering when about to finish a marathon. I moderate my pace and move on.

ny marathon - davisI’m not sure at what point I notice the sub 3:05 pacer ahead of me and thinking it must be a mistake, I was on sub 3:00 pace! “Is my garmin playing tricks with me?”, question to self. To confirm I was in the right pace, I had to wait until I got to the halfway mark. The Sub 3:05 bus was now behind me boosting my confidence. My doubts for a sub 3 were eliminated when I crossed the half way mark, at a time of 1hr 27mins. Great! I was well ahead of 1:30 by 3 mins. The aim was to maintain this pace, with a worst case scenario of running positive splits of 5-10 mins within the next half. I can’t recall my time at 25km, probably because I just wanted to get to 30km before I could correctly predict my time again. However, things started to slow down immediately after 25km, at the Queens Bridge, where my pace declined due to the steep climb getting over the bridge and also the quiet atmosphere. This is where I felt my body shutting down. I could do with the kind of cheering I had at 10Km, it makes a big difference. Suddenly, from behind me, I heard someone shouting “Kenya, Kenya, twende” (Kenya flag bandana on my head), who was this guy? Could it be an elite who started late… before I knew it, the guy just disappeared ahead of me like I was stationary. However, he stirred some encouragement and made me push harder. I later learnt he was a Kenyan runner who was placed 17th (the guy actually started in wave 2 and is not an elite).

30Km mark, time is at 2hrs 3Mins. “I just need to finish the next 12km in slightly less than one hour”, I said to self. “Will it be a miss or a hit?” I briefly reflected back to my first 15km which I did in 1hr 1min, but that was the FIRST 15KM. I was still not sure of sub 3 though my Garmin pace was still within a sub 3. Still, chances of the body cramping, asking for a bathroom break, or anything were imminent and beyond my control. The aim now was to continue moving, step by step, listening to the body, and pushing where I could. According to a recce we did in a tour bus the previous day, there was a mean hill waiting at Km 40, (it came earlier -probably because of the dodging of runners at the start). So my pace dropped at Km 38 and the next two Kilometers was a bit of a struggle. My calves started cramping up until the hill was done. The remaining two kilometers were blissfully covered without much effort, like something out of the ordinary was moving me. Probably it was the loud cheering from the thousands of New Yorkers who braved the morning chill just to watch the runners race to the finish line.

Official Results

ny - davis results
ny - elevation profile

Running Tales

Nomadic Swara: Victoria Falls, Zambia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was worth breaking the rules.

Running Tales

Berlin Marathon 2017; Breaking the Sound Barrier

Yours Truly in BerlinThe Journey to Berlin started in 2016 as a journey to London. I balloted for the 2017 London Marathon, held my breath, was rejected, exhaled, and balloted for Berlin in the next breath. On 30th Nov 2016 I got the all-important email. I was in!

The Months Before

Berlin Marathon is a special race. Touted as the fastest World Record (WR) eligible course, it is the World Record (WR) and Personal Best (PB) destination of choice for elite runners and regular folks as well. I too was keen to make Berlin worth its while, sub 3 was my goal, a project my mind neatly christened ‘breaking the sound barrier’.

With a PB of 3.04, I needed to knock off 5 minutes; not too hard, not too easy. In 2016, had transformed into a decent running machine, training back to back for three marathons; Kilimanjaro Marathon in February, Victoria Falls Marathon in July, and Stanchart Nairobi Marathon in October, dropping PBs by 10 minutes each time. But I was flat lining. To improve my shape would mean digging much deeper. I had lots of time; 10 months, or so I thought.

And so as 10 months whittled away, I put in some good long runs, deferred those essential but painful speed works, picked up a knee injury 3 months to race day, dropped the knee injury a month to race day and immediately embarked on the fool’s errand of making up for lost mileage. I figured I could as well be in top mental shape if I couldn’t be in 100% physical shape, and so when three weeks to race day I registered my highest weekly mileage of 137km, my mental preparedness was up in the clouds.

And We Have a Quorum

Swaras at BerlinAs the battle for miles raged, life was going on in the sidelines. Avani rounded up the Berlin bound Swaras into a WhatsApp fold which ended up holding what proved to be a first rate group; Avani Patel, Barbara Napoli, Felicita Kagwanja, Rebecca Mbithi, Anthony Mwai, Edward Mungai, and the default head of mission El Patron…. oh, in the group was an external observer, Shem; who’d occasionally cough or throw in a thumb lest we overlooked his presence.

The group morphed into a resource center on race matters, everyone throwing in valuable info; and I’ll allow myself to single out Barbara and Avani, the two took a solemn oath to make the rest of us look extremely lazy; between them digging up and sharing accommodation options, flight options, setting up several rendezvous; a ‘compare notes’ lunch in Nairobi, a touch base at the expo, hosting a pasta dinner on marathon eve… the list goes on.

Where We Hit the Expo and Breakfast Run

Blink blink and 10 months is 2 days to D-day. I landed in Berlin, found myself at the business end of a looong queue snaking into the expo. I’m soon at the entrance, frantically searching for my predictably forgotten entry pass… thank heavens for good souls, marathon officials facilitate a pass. I collect the bib and other goodies, meet a few swaras at a Barbara meet point, we hear Patron had some unfortunate flight glitch, fortunately he still made it to the marathon.

World Majors FinishersAnd then as I sweep the expo, I happen on this wall; it has a list of many names. Turns out it’s the 6 star finishers; humans who’ve run the six marathons making up the Abbott World Marathon Majors- Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo. My interest is instantly piqued and I carefully browse the list. I know what I’m looking for; there, James Waliaula, our decorated six star General sits solidly on the wall of Fame. Against the names are the participants’ countries. I browse the countries; nope, no other Kenyan, and so James blazes the trail as the pioneer Kenyan 6 star finisher. I pick out SA and Zimbabwe as the other African countries represented on the wall.

The Majors fever seems to be doing rounds in the Swara ranks, some going for the six stars, others just to experience a major or two. Jack Ndegwa gets to be a 4 star in November and could well be the second Swara (Kenyan?) on the wall. Of the Berliners, Barbara, Avani, Felicita, and Edward are already multi-starred. Mwai, who seems to train very easy, is on his way too.

Berlin marathon 2017Berlin has the traditional Generali Breakfast run on marathon eve; a 6km run ending inside the historic Olympiastadion that hosted the infamous 1936 Olympics. I don my Kenya jacket and join the estimated 11,000 odd runners. As I leisurely jog, lost in the marathon spirit, someone falls in stride alongside me speaking Swahili. Meet Rose, a Kenyan living in the United States. She’s running Berlin the second time back to back. She’s going for 11 marathons this year, and is on her 8th! She’ll hit Chicago in two weeks; she’s odd, like most of you runners are. Felicita pulls up and we make a Kenyan trio at the electric finish inside the stadium.

Day ends with a Swara pasta dinner and by the time I get back to base, the Garmin on my wrist says my restless legs have covered 23kms, nothing a solid 9 hr sleep couldn’t make right.

Day-D

Marathon is to start at 9.30. At 8.00 am I leave base, train station, meet nice Mozambican gentleman, hop onto train. Nice Mozambican has stories; he’s been in Germany for 32yrs, somewhere between how frequently he visits native Mozambique and how best to live in Germany, he tells me “if you were to live in Germany” he says,” you’re better off getting a local girlfriend, trust him”. Pity I couldn’t pick his brains further on the matter, pity I have zero opinion on the matter, and sub-zero intention of living in Europe…

You don’t want to hear my personal race details but allow me to bore you with a paragraph or two.

Finally, time of reckoning is here. Based on my interrupted training schedule, I have shaky confidence in my endurance. My plan is simple; go out at a blistering pace of 4.00min/km for the first 21km, and then let the race unfold. I presumed I could handle that pace given that I’d averaged a 4.11/km pace at muddy Mwea half marathon in July, and my shape had slightly improved since then.

Gun goes off, my 4.00 pace holds for a massive 2km, then it laughs in my face; too fast, I slow down to a more humanly pace. Nothing much to report until around 20k when the mid-race demons strike, the 3.00 hr pacers glide past with their many disciples in tow (the so called bus). From then on, my main occupation turns to keeping the 3.00 hr bus in sight, surging once in a while as they threatened to open too wide a gap. We get to 36 km and miraculously my body undergoes a revival. I somehow pull a 3:52 min 36th km and with the pacers back in sight check my speed. Body now feels fresh; with renewed confidence I cruise the last 5K, proudest moment being able to pull a 3.29 minute last km, very fast by my standards, to decisively break the sound barrier. 2.58.27 is the official chip time.

Trust the entire Swara team to do very well for themselves and it was good vibes all round.

My main takeout for the run is on the watch, final Garmin data shows a distance 43.22 km (strava compares at 42.9km) – a result of weaving in and out of the crowds and mostly running on the outside. With that distance, the Garmin average pace is 4:08 /km. The 4.08 ish pace fooled me until the 3hr pacers flew past, then I smelt trouble. I then had to pay more attention to the distance markers, then I had to (groan) engage my non-mathematical brain to estimate finish times. I bet a good number of runners marginally miss out on their targets for exclusively relying on their gadgets. I remember telling a fellow runner that the pacers were going too fast- before I saw the light.

I won’t mention the much hyped rain, I didn’t mind it…its only nuisance was messing up my bib.

The post-race massage was perfect, not least because I landed on a spot manned by two nice smiley ladies who while massaging my tired legs asked me to point out any particular pain points for their attention; well my knee injury had come alive, and my groin was beat on account of the strides…I directed them to the knee.

Some Stats

Total Finishers 39,214 (female 11,062, male; 28,152)
Sub 3 Finishers (don’t people run fast) 1,766 (female 89, male 1677)
Cheruiyot’s placement 1,535

Source; http://results.scc-events.com/2017/

And then there was the evening party, a proper way to recover by meeting the elites and have a recovery dance for the lovers of dance floor. I hit the party with our newfound Amerikenyan friend, the rest of the Swaras deciding to give their legs a well-deserved rest.

It’s impossible being a non-elite Kenyan in such a forum; especially when the other six Kenyans are elites, so I soon got tired of explaining that I was regular folk. My kenyanness got to pay off as I strode into the VIP lounge with no entry pass and no questions asked, where I finally got to hang out with most importantly the legendary Kipchoge and also Kipsang, the pacers and the rest of the elites.

And that was Berlin.

Running Tales

Three In One Endurance Race

 

Achuka on the trailThe first time I ran in my life, apart from physical education in secondary school, was in October 2016. It was actually a slow painful jog that lasted about 10 minutes, most of which were spent walking. My friends ran and planned their lives around running and so to spend time with them, I decided to run as well.

I jogged two to three times a week, never able to do more than fifteen or so minutes per run, and had no idea of distance. I do not know the number of kilometers I covered per run, but looking back, I estimate them to be between three and four.

As time went by and my body got used to running, I started to enjoy it a little bit and surprisingly, my body would call for a run if I took many days off runs.

The turning point came in January this year (2017) when I joined the Urban Swaras and learnt many things about running. The rubbers gave way to proper running shoes, and cotton was cast aside for breathables. I learnt of kilometers and realised that the distances I had done previously never exceeded 8km. With the help and in the company of the slow runners, I gradually added distance, increased speed and put in milage from the back. A running watch soon followed, and so I learnt of pace, speed and distance, even though I am yet to run fast.

From the Swaras, I got to know that there are marathons, with distances of 10, 21 and 42km. My aspiration was to attempt 21km at the StanChart in October this year, since I was already comfortable with lesser distances that I did on Saturdays in the Club runs.

My plan was to try the Mt. Kenya ultra-marathon by running it as far as my body would allow, in preparation for the Standard Chartered. Then I got an opportunity to participate in an endurance race at the foot of the Himalayas Mountains in India, and registered for 25km. Even though it was a mountain run, the distance seemed achievable since it was less than the dreaded 42km. Two months to the race day, I registered and then focused training begun in earnest. I increased the number of weekly runs to four and on advise, cross-trained once a week.

Achuka at UER eventThe race is called Uttarkashi Endurance Races in Uttarkashi town, Uttarakhand State, 300km north of New Delhi and consists of four races, 25, 50, 75 and 100km.

On 23rd September, I lined up for it and all the participants were flagged off at the same time. As I neared the end of my chosen distance, I begun to entertain the thought of just running the way I would have run in Karatina that morning; that is, until I could not run any more. Feelings of guilt crept in. How could I come all the way to do the least distance on offer?

Mr. Arun Bardwaj, the race director, is a multi-day ultra marathon runner. He holds the record in India for the most distance run in the least number of continuous days; 4500km in 60 days, from southern to northern India, averaging 75km every day. He planned the race with the runner only in mind and so fuel, water and first aid stations were available precisely every four kilometers. With constant rehydration and replenishment of energy, I soon knocked down my first ever half marathon. Then 25km fell, and having completed my official distance, I had no fear or worry but adrenaline. So I trudged on, exhausted but excited and determined.

Achuka on the trail2Seven hours later, without walking even for a meter, in those hills some 4000feet above sea level, in a foreign land, I crossed the 50km line, arms barely in the air and tears in the eyes, to the warm embrace of the race director.

In eleven months, I had done what I was yet to even begin dreaming of as a runner; run and complete an ultra-marathon. The off season monsoon like rain that had started the previous night pounded me unrelentingly for the entire seven hours. Perhaps it was the magic that enabled me to set a record, or is it records of sorts.

In the one race, my first ever competition, I transformed myself from a mere runner, to half marathoner, marathoner, and ultra-marathoner.

For these feats, I have the mighty Urban Swaras Running Club to thank.

Running Tales

Cape Town Marathon – I’m Now Officially a Marathoner!!!

Happy runner
Happy runner

Date: September 17th, 2017
Venue: Cape Town, South Africa

One thing I have discovered with running is that it is a happy addiction. The wave of endorphins you get is better than any high. The crazy injection of energy at the end of the run, is just out there. This cannot be described until you done it. At 30 KM you curse yourself for doing the run, you doubt your sanity, your body is in pain, you can do better things, wondering what you have been doing on a strange road for the last 3 hours plus (that’s for slomos like me) … at 42, you have this “feel good” feeling that you are good for another 10km.

As I start a rant about a second marathon in the year, there are a number of people who claimed I said I will never run a marathon again after the last one four months ago. I do not recall ever saying such a thing, and no screenshot will prove otherwise!! :).

Planning for the Run

I have never been a fast runner, and I doubt I am capable of running fast. The best I average is 6:20, this is a big improvement from 8mins that I started some years ago. I guess I enjoy running a lot, that I want to take my time doing it.

I happened to be scheduled to be “in the neighborhood” of Cape Town in September for official business. Entries had closed over one month earlier but being a peculiar Kenyan, I believe a slot is always available. Sure enough, after sending around 10 emails, a slot opened up and I had my confirmation in two days…

I got contacts of a Swara “we” imported and adopted, Cecilia. She is a very nice Tanzanian who stays in Cape Town and has run this race. Somehow Swaras imported her from Moshi during the Kilimanjaro marathon. She was very helpful in pointers and kind enough to pick my packet and drop at the hotel since I was arriving very late the night before the race (chronicles of bad ideas goes on…).

The Training

Now all I have is 3 weeks to train and one week to tapper (more ideas…),. They say each marathon is a new experience. For me, this is what I allowed to get into my head. Before the registration, I had clocked good mileage and not missed any Swara run, and if I did, did reasonable mileage at home on Saturday. But once I decided to do this run, I decided to follow a “programme”. I doubt that was necessary. Luckily, my friend who is rolling in the majors, Avani, was doing the Berlin Marathon. We managed to sneak some run together, the best run being at Ngong, that I felt I was on my best form and unbeatable.

Things went awesome, I enjoyed my training. My form and speed were really good and I even planned to get some PB since it will be sea level. Two weeks down when exhaustion hit, my legs could barely move and I dragged myself on the Kiambu and Ruaka run, still not relenting. The week before the run, I stopped running and had some sessions with Kariakim which helped relieve the soreness, but heaviness persisted.

That coupled with my shoes experiment. I am very flat-footed and my shoe brand seem not to work for me anymore, so I decided to change brand, (wrong choices near a marathon) and left me with crazy shin splits. At one point I understood why flat footed are not allowed to join some militaries. On the shin splits, I was advised calf sleeves work, and this is the best invention ever, they even relieved my tired leg… see me rocking the sleeves below. My search for perfect shoes goes on…

Race Day

The alarm went off at 4 am on the race day, wondered the level of love I have for myself if any. As I had oatmeal for breakfast and craving my normal pre-run ugali breakfast, my mind was telling me not to take this run. Thought of maybe taking a trip to Robben Island, former Mandela Prison. I expressed this view to a friend who was strangely awake, and he told me if I want to tour a prison he will gladly take me to visit Kodiaga Prison in Kisumu, and ensure I stay there if I come back without a medal!!. I did not take that threat lightly. With that, I finished my oats, banana, and final hydration, before heading off the start line.

Beautiful run against backdrop of the Table Mountain (what hand pose is that?)
Beautiful run against backdrop of the Table Mountain (what hand pose is that?)

Reaching the venue, the high was back. I was already excited about the run. At the backdrop of the amazing Table Mountain, it was all upbeat about the run ahead. Looking at the strange shape of the mountain, even the idea of taking a hike after the run crossed my mind, by it was killed immediately, knowing how these things go

The gun went off and after 4 minutes’ walk reached the actual start line, the sad bit of being a slow runner (sure the first lot were on their 3km)…. I was so upbeat even the heavy legs were easily ignored. The beauty about this run is that they print your name on your race number. So, as you run, feel like an elite guy cheering “go Daisy!!!”, that is an amazing feeling and I understand how the elites feel, probably they are focused and no time to feed off their name being called, but for this mere mortal, it felt awesome. The run had amazing pacers and I managed to stay with the 4:30 pacers, past the half mark.

The speed was just normal knowing I was struggling with tired muscles. I managed to do half at 2:20, slower than what I did at Kili in high altitude, but felt great. This time I decided not to overhydrate. At 30kms, the legs just said enough is enough. Speed went down from 6:30 to around 8-10 per KM. I decided it’s a tour and slowly took many selfies and photos of the town. I lost the pacers and the 4:55 pacers caught up. The last I heard was someone shouting “come on Daisy, this is the last sub 5 bus”, well, I thought there were plenty more buses and they may as well continue.

The beauty about a slow run, you appreciate the beautiful scenery. I would recommend this run for anyone who knows they can kick some sea level behind or who just wants a beautiful scenery run. I had an “aha” moment realizing why it’s called “two oceans”. Planning a trip to the Cape? Just run it; ditch the tour buses.

Awesome run within the City of Cape Town
Awesome run within the City of Cape Town

Strangely, the energy sneaked back at 40 kms (I am yet to understand how this marathon works) and I sprinted to the finish. Well, sort of; the feeling of finishing was just awesome, and your name being called individually as you finished just crowed it all.

daisy4Looking at the stats, I was so excited I managed to maintain an average of below 7 minutes per KM. The final stats I was also happy that I was not graded really badly among my peers.

Finally, I kicked another marathon behind. So now to the next, maybe an Ultra .. really no limit this time.

daisy5

Happy Finisher- Second marathon done!!!
Happy Finisher- Second marathon done!!!

 

 

Running Tales

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

Royally upset and tired
Royally upset and tired

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running Tales

The Inaugural Mua Hills Run

Ameet at Mua Hills RunSaturday 26th August 2017 brought the Swaras into uncharted territory, that of the Mua Hills. Chairman had classified the difficulty level in his introduction as “fairly tough by Swara standards,” and had encouraged participants to go heavy on the breakfast intake. I was in two minds as to whether to follow his advice and fuel up for a lengthy run or go moderate and eat light therefore. My mind had settled on the latter, as the one and only time I ate “heavy,” I had to squat away from prying eyes, mid-run.

It took approximately an hour to get to the venue, and as soon as I took the turn off from Mombasa Road, the road became a climb, and I readied myself mentally for later. Getting to the venue, and as Chairman had stated in his email, a yellow swara shirt was indeed hanging from a post. Perhaps we could make this a regular feature at our runs. A sizeable number of cars were already parked and a smattering of Swaras could be seen mingling.

Amongst them were the host himself Henry, who sometimes travels insane distances just to make the 7 a.m. starts, being a resident of Kitengela. Then there was Diana Nduku, a lady familiar with the place, who pointed out to us exactly where her rural home was, pointing at a shining light where it stands, and which seemed to sit on top of a murram climb (a dream finish for any runner I would have thought). There was also the speedy trio of Dennis Lopua, Benjamin Chikani, and Albert Naibei whose voluntary services to the Swaras are priceless. Leif Newman pulled up shortly after for what may well be his final Swara Run. His presence as far as I’m concerned has been immense and shall definitely be missed, though hopefully he can still contribute to the Swaras digitally once back in Sweden.

The briefing began with Chairman blowing a whistle whose noise whilst audible, sounded strange for a whistle I must admit. Someone also went as far as wondering why the Club couldn’t get a better whistle, but Chairman stood up in defense of the mouthpiece, probably meaning its days aren’t numbered at the Club.

I personally had chosen to do the 15 Kilometers, and the run began as it would end, with a downhill section. We were soon turning left with the course beginning to take up an undulating nature with the weather being absolutely ideal, consisting of completely overcast conditions and the mildest sprinkling of rain. Getting to the first split, I had chosen to go longer than 10 k’s and what awaited straight away was a lengthy climb. The thought “WHAT HAVE I DONE?” briefly entered my mind but there were people looking and I had to save face by not turning back around. The story might have been different otherwise.

Perhaps the most challenging climb was a fairly straight one made up of stone paths on either side, and grass and mud in between. By this time by my recollection, Benjamin Chikani had already raced past me and a couple of other runners chanting “STRONG, STRONG!”, perhaps being code speak for don’t give up! The long climb gave way to relief in the form of a much gentler section, though the loose soil underfoot was still challenging on the old body. Each passerby though was nothing but encouraging, and a little curious on most occasions as to what exactly was happening.

A final climb remained, whose intensity and awkward nature had finally resulted in me walking for a section of it, but which I abandoned and took up a jogging stride once more upon the ground flattening out.

The final section was once again downhill, on the right of which was Sonko’s family farm with a sizeable lion statue erected outside the gate. Peter Park, one of the Swaras had later spoken of his regret that he didn’t take a selfie with the Lion.

Back at the farm, preparations were in full swing for breakfast, complete with a very hospitable serving team, whose varieties were more than my plate could hold.

Francesca later shared that a couple of girls had been running alongside her in the most basic of clothing, whom she had invited to come join us for tea. I wasn’t there long enough to find out if they did but I sure hope they did.

All in all, as Chairman had said in his email to recap the run, I would like to think there will be clamor for the run to be held on an annual basis at least, and next time maybe I will try a longer distance.

My thanks go to those who took time off their schedules to come scout the run, Henry for hosting us, and Otora for marking such an awesome route.

Did I mention the topography? It was amazing.