When 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.
I’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.
INTOXICATING! 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.
As 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.
Another 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.
The 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
As 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.
And 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 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.
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.
|Total Finishers||39,214 (female 11,062, male; 28,152)|
|Sub 3 Finishers (don’t people run fast)||1,766 (female 89, male 1677)|
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.
The 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.
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.
Seven 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.
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…).
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…
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.
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.
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.
Finally, I kicked another marathon behind. So now to the next, maybe an Ultra .. really no limit this time.
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.
Saturday 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.
How did I get here, well, I fell and injured myself in May. A running injury is the bane of any runner, a sprained ankle, wounded ball of my left foot and sore knee had me grounded for two months. While I hobbled about with a walking stick and enjoyed the privileges of the disabled parking in Nairobi, I had two concerns, how soon do I heal and when do I begin wearing high heels again. Yeah, I do have my shallow moments.
The last time I had a knee injury I had to go for a keyhole surgery and I could not run for a year. After getting used to running and as a result receiving my daily dose of endorphins, I was getting withdrawal symptoms and becoming quite antsy and irritable.
Though I had to be careful and focus on healing , the first thing I did was go for physiotherapy and being the coward that I am ,I avoided Kariakim like the plague and went to a much more ‘gentler’ therapist, who still left me in tears and cursing in ways that would make a sailor high five me with admiration!
So with physiotherapy done, on the to do list was to identify a gym for strength training. I identified one and what impressed me about this gym is the four classes they dedicated for one hour that focus on High Intensity Interval Training, Circuit Training, Taebo, Core Synergy Training. Oh, the so not glorious spin classes and the deceptive Pilates.
So this gym dedicates one hour for each of these training sessions, four times a day. I assure you it’s not for the faint hearted. Since I have been running for over a decade, I felt I would be relatively fit enough to manage one class. Day one had me grunting and groaning like a walrus and I could not walk! Every single part of my body was sore and I was in such a foul mood.
My only consolation was that it would help me build my strength for running. After one month I started running alternately against the training. The first time I was in such pain, that I went back home dejected but as my body grew stronger, I was able to run slowly. However my highlight was last week, when I ran 10 kms in 48 minutes! The fastest I have ever run, my body felt like a newly serviced car. The strength training will definitely be part of my running regimen. Other than the fact I feel like and look like Popeye, I will test the training as I prepare for the dreaded Ndakaini Marathon. So, I guess I am committed to going slightly deaf as the antichrist pushes me through the strength training routine.
The run took place on 29th July. Third time for me. First was back in 2015 as a newbie swara still cutting teeth in matters running. Fluorspar humbled me then. I went back in 2016, wiser this time and managed to conquer the tarmac to tarmac.
My plan for 2017 was to re-conquer tarmac to tarmac faster than in 2016; for comfort that I was improving as a runner and as a training run for a marathon I have in September. Then injury happened.
Before you throw any sympathy my way, I have to own up that I’m pretty hopeless at following advice, which I’ve received quite a lot, solicited and unsolicited. So I probably set myself up for injury by not getting enough physio, sudden exponential changes in mileage, cross training apathy…the list of sins is endless. But in life, you have to be your own cheerleader, so to justify my case I typically seek solace in the fact that even elite athletes succumb to injuries; more depressing because they do this for a living…look at the likes of Rudisha unfortunately having to miss out this year’s world championships…
Extensive research and professional opinion indicates that my injury has to be rested. Not good, not with my September marathon. Still I wasn’t going to miss Fluorspar, so I simply changed my plan for the run and decided that this time I’d run a little experiment, after all I was now ‘freelance running’, my neat marathon training schedule already scattered to the four winds. I therefore packed up and took off to Fluorspar.
Defining Fluorspar, the Run
Fluorspar holds sacred status among runners. Kenyan and visiting elites regularly train on the hill. For an increasing number of Swaras tuning up for the Majors and international ultras, it has become a pilgrimage, making at least one visit to the hill before their races. You’d think some ‘running god’ sits up there and runners pay homage by running the hill, whereby getting to the top earns them a ’go ye forth and conquer’.
But why Fluorspar? Nyaru, the end point of the run sits smugly at 2740 plus altitude. One of the highest points in the entire region. Compare this with Iten topping out at slightly under 2400 m. but that’s not the magic of fluorspar, the magic is in the climb to Nyaru, a relentless 21km climb from an elevation of 1349 m to 2740 m asl.
My little experiment
It was quite simple. To run in the dark… reason behind it is another story.
My alarm went off at 3.20am. Like any self-respecting human, I snoozed it all the way to 3.40am. Showered, chewed on a few chapo pieces (which the nice lady at the restaurant had discreetly set aside for me the yester-evening) washed down with coke, geared up; jacket, headlamp, bag on my back with a 2L hydration bladder, two bananas, coke…
Got out of the door at 3.50 in the AM, the little gate leading to the restaurant is locked- for a split second this looks like a perfect excuse to reunite with my warm blanket… I look around, maneuver through some flower bushes, find an alternate gate, good… this one isn’t locked, I’d probably have scaled it if it was.
Once outside, the first 10 kms is due south (read downhill), running jackets and bags are clearly not built for stealth, the racket generated by the jacket and ‘not-so-compact’ bag possibly woke the dead- but they probably decided to give me pass this time… no such luck with the dogs- all dogs far and wide were having a barking field day… the light from my headlamp bobbing up and down, picking out luminous eyes of hounds inquisitively checking on me by the roadside, one or two brave ones made to come too close making my heart pump rather urgently….anyways, I tried as much as possible to ‘ignore’ them. Twice my lights picked out a pair luminous eyes in the bushes not accompanied by barks, I reassured myself that they MUST be cats-no room for alarming alternatives.
In just three kms, I was fed up with the dang riot on my back and pretty much life in general. I soldiered on. The 8 kms from the Lodge to the tarmac was soon over. The tarmac was infinitely more peaceful. I took the road leading to Kabarnet, went past the Kerio River and up that steep hill. I hadn’t expected to meet any humans that early given the rural setting, but surprisingly I in total met 4 souls (with bodies wrapped around them) between 4 and 5.30am. I turned around on hitting 16km… my run back down to the river can accurately be described as ‘lepers gait’. The painful knee not allowing any form of fluid movement.
The rest of the run will not interest you. In summary by the time my distance was in mid-thirties I was having a perfectly imperfect day and decided I would stop at 40k. On hitting 40k that proverbial little voice urged me to better my distances for 2015 (43k) and 2016 (46k)…little fella’s argument made sense so I kept going.
43kms found me at the base of Fluorspar hill proper, 21 km of pure uphill nirvana. It’s a hill you take on with reverence, submitting to its every whim and demand, hakuna ujanja. Well, this time I wasn’t worthy to run in its presence and after a brief 7 kms of the hill, at exactly 50k by my watch, I stopped and embarked on a leisurely walk, waiting for the support car.
Conclusion: I am not in any particular hurry to repeat such a run, thank you.
Life as a support assistant
The support and ambulance duties was under the command of one Eddah, a maverick behind the wheel… she stops, Otora the trail fox is riding shotgun- shooting out water and related aid items… I say my run is done as I attempt to get on board, the ‘commander’ says no, I insist, she doesn’t budge… I’m in no mood to take a ‘no’ so I hastily let myself into the car before she zooms off- the same treatment is extended to other runners flirting with the idea to quit- end result being that only one more swara forced himself into the car… and regretted soon after.
I take over Otora’s duties and he takes off running in my shoes- literally.
The Fluorspar hill predictably makes Swaras a particularly needy lot. You have to anticipate and be ready for their specific demands as you pull up alongside (kinda like those Formula 1 pit stops with no seconds to lose). The irony of their urgency was that they were all running a shuffle. So I was kept busy opening the water bottles, having sodas, bananas and watermelons on the ready. What I thought would be a siesta on the backseat became an ‘emergency room’ situation. I still expected to have a little peace in between the runners, but the ‘rally driver’ behind the wheel had other ideas, making sure we were hanging onto that ka what’s-its-name thing on top of the door as she navigated the hairpin bends hooting a warning to whoever and whatever lay on the other side of the bend.
So two hours was spent shuttling to and fro between the front and back of the Swara pack, our driver looking to take the shortest time possible between the two extremities…
My first time in support was therefore anything but dull.
It’s a wrap
Swaras seemed to have cracked Fluorspar this time. All the starters completed their distances except for one (who I will not call out for the love of my skin), but it was as well he DNF’ed as he turned out to be a rare target for all manner of jibes later in the evening (never let people have high expectations of you). Of course I also technically DNF’ed as the spirit of Fluorspar is to get to the end point at Nyaru regardless of your start point. So one who sets out to do a 15k and ends up at the Tarmac at Nyaru is a finisher as opposed to one who completes a 50k but doesn’t get to the end tarmac. Still, I successfully hid behind my 50… I don’t know where to classify the lady behind the wheel…
The evening was, as is in all the out-of-town runs, quite an evening. I’ll however not go into details seeing as I’m running out of paper…
Come Sunday morning and its Nairobi time. My carpool mate was keen to see Iten, so we make a short foray into the still sleepy town, visiting the world famous Lorna Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Camp (HATC). This camp regularly hosts distance runners from around the globe, running tourists and curious persons trying to solve the mystery of ‘Kenyan running’. Not having any mysteries of our own to solve, we had a brief look around and headed back to good old Nairobi.
(I’ve used DNF in the past and someone asked me the meaning, so for the benefit of anyone else not in the know…)
DNF; – ‘Did Not Finish’…can be cloned to DNF’er, DNF’ed, DNF’ing, etc. (they all make no grammatical sense but no one seems to care)