Running Tales

Kilimanjaro Marathon 2012

This is Monday, and as promised, follow the link at the bottom to view photos; right from departure on flight TPG something, something, something, piloted by the very interesting pilot Cockar, with whom Ndinda made a good acquaintance (I have no idea how the other flight was piloted); to the various stops on the way to Moshi where at one stop a good number of you disappeared into the bushes in a bid to reduce body weight ahead of the run, and at another some of you went behind the curios and ate and I had no idea people were eating!!! (though I identified myself with the Cameroonian contingent and had very sweet mandazis to show for it)

The photos will also have you reminisce on how you (am not naming names) hid from the nutritionist and ate ice-cream, only to regret it at the 8th Kilometer the next day. It is a pity I was not able to take photos at that spot because most of your ice-cream smiles were wiped out, and instead I saw painful, courageous smiles. (Listen to the nutritionist next time!)

Then there was this place where we stopped over for lunch and soon realized that you had to go to the kitchen and fetch your food. This is where I made a clear distinction between the well-mannered Swaras who waited patiently to be served, and the rest of you who took over the kitchen. Again, no naming names, though I took mug shots of all of you, and we can tell from your photo whether you were patient or giving the waiter those eyes….

It is evidenced here that we all picked our race numbers, though some were heard to demand for the goodies of the 42km that were reserved for Wahome, Raoul, Tata, and Katwa. The moral of the story: If you want a cap, run the full marathon next year.

At dinner that day, most of you were quite humbled, and only Raoul and Tata showed any real signs of life by going for an evening jog. Most went to greet Nakumatt and use their smart card points. The next morning all I saw were sleepy people, bracing for the run, rain and all. At this point the camera went to rest, though in retrospect, I should have just carried it and continued taking photos during the race because what I did at Moshi cannot be considered as running.

However, all is well that ends well because no matter where Swaras go, they find their own dessert. First you raided the tree with those fruits will small red sweetness(I forget the name), and the very next day on the way back you raided that Mango tree, yet you had been introduced as dignitaries when the driver radioed ahead for your lunch!! Is there a fruit deficiency in the club?

Congrats to Tata, Wahome, Raoul and Katwa for the 42k well finished. Congrats too to all of you who did your personal bests, Courage to all who really tried, and comfort to those of us whose legs disowned us at a very critical moment. There is still the rest of the year left to leaner, faster, better.

Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy:


Running Tales


“The Eagle has landed”

On the morning of the day of the marathon (18/2/2012), I woke up at 5.00a.m., took a quick cup of tea and bread and left.  The MC had emphasized that the Swara Van would leave at exactly 6.00a.m.

When I turned on my phone, the sms from Francesca, sent the previous night came in.  She reminded me to pick Patyan the boy from Samburu from her gate.  Some five minutes after take off, I found Patyan at her gate, lightly dressed and shivering in the morning cold.  Onto the car, he hoped and within four minutes, we were on the University Way round about.  He exclaimed in excitement as he asked “Ala hii ndiyo town?” when I answered in the affirmative, Patyan told me that he had never been to the city centre.  On seeing the many tall buildings, he wondered aloud, “mkubwa si ndovu anaweza angusha hii nyumba?” I laughed and told him that there are no elephants in the city centre.  On seeing lit shop displays, Patyan thought that the businesses were opened so early in the morning.

At the assembly point opposite the Laico Regency, our van was already packed and most runners were in.  MK, Alice the nutritionist and Ferrah were the only runners yet to arrive.  The later two entered the van at 6.03a.m. MK as usual, cancelled the last minute by sms to MC.  At 6.13a.m., the driver started the journey and soon got onto Forest road.

Most of the Thika road super highway is now open to motorists.  The Chinese are yet to teach Kenyan drivers how to use the road.  Our driver, a man from Tata Nduku’s county, lost his way on getting onto where the Forest/Murang’a roads round about used to be.  We found ourselves at the Pangani Police Station.  The driver did an illegal U-turn on the super highway to get back onto the right road. Luckily, there was no oncoming vehicle.

At Karatina in Wahome’s county, we stopped to have tea and ‘mandazi’ and for the MC and Tata to buy water for the eighteen runners.

At a town called Chaka on Nanyuki road, we turned right towards Sagana state lodge and  I km later, we turned onto an earth road and rode for 2 km to the Graceland Girls’ School.  155km after takeoff, we arrived at 9:15am.

The last 490metres to the school are a steep descent to the banks of river Thegu.  The school straddles the river.  One hardly sees the buildings because 75% of the compound is filled with trees, most of which are indigenous.  The school looks more of a five star holiday resort than a school. There is no typical block of buildings.  Rather, every building is a bungalow set out on its own and far apart from the others like huge Beverley Hills homes.  Some bungalows are patched on rocky cliffs and others are by the river and yet others are across the river.  The tennis pavilion (Mrs Wachira, a petite flat stomach, young looking grandmother, has played tennis for decades) and the amphitheatre are across the river.  There are three or so foot bridges for crossing the river.  The ceremony and the start and finish of the run were held on one side of the river and lunch was served on the other side.  Mr. Wachira’s home (he lives in the school) is tacked at the farthest eastern end of the school. It is a three floor behemoth sitting on a cliff overlooking the river and the golf course.  Seated in his hanging patio which is some thirty or so meters above the ground, one watches the snow capped Mt. Kenya in the horizon and listens to the rambles of river Thegu down below. The eagle (Nderitu Wachira) has landed. Graceland school is full of beauty and grace.

After taking a tour of the school, I got into the mood of holidaying, not running.  Run I had come to do, so I had to.  Quickly, the Swaras registered.  The gesture of the V neck T-shirts was great but the Swaras are used to their branded breathables.  Apart from Patyan and I, all the other Swaras opted to remain in their T-shirts.  The master of ceremony, a man called Mad Cow by the Hashers, announced on the powerful public address system that all the runners must wear “Mr. Wachira’s T-shirts”. The Swaras reluctantly obliged.

Before the commencement of the run, all those gathered were treated to dee jay music and entertainment by Chaka Mwomboko traditional dancers, a troupe of five women  and one man who is the leader.  He introduced his troupe to us and begged to “represent” his songs and dances to the runners and guests. Jokingly, he told me that he is the only man in Nyeri county who beats five women.

The clubs in attendance were Nairobi Hash, Nairobi Sunday Hash, Karura Recreational Runners, Kobo and The Urban Swaras.

The distances to run were 24km and 13km.  Only Petyan, Otora, Mollys’ Ethiopian friend called Daniel and I opted for the long. The other Swara’s were on the tapper because of the imminent Kilimanjaro marathon in Moshi.

Off the long were flagged. We took the steep ascent for 490m, turned right and descended for about 500meters.  I was the last upto this point.  Then a pushing 2km climb begun.  The two Hash girls dropped off without a fight.  Daniel’s breathing became shallow and labored.  About a quarter way up, he predictably begun to “walk run”.  At the top of the Hill, primary school children were lined on both sides of the road singing in Kiswahili “ni Baraka kukimbia” meaning that it is a blessing to run.  At this point, I actually thought that at times, it is a curse.

I started closing in on the runner in front of me.  He was short and arched forward at the back like a sumo wrestler only that he was all muscle.  Not wanting to be overtaken, he increased his pace and opened a gap of about 500 meters between us.

6.3 km after take off, we hit the state lodge tarmac road and turned left to head towards Nanyuki road.  The first water point was here.  The Graceland girls cheered us in melodious  innocent voices  and offered us water and sweets.  I had never before taken a sweet while running but I could not resist the offer.

This road was undulating, ever gently descending and rising.  The dense and beautiful natural forest was on both sides of the road.  Birds chirped and the residents cheered us. I felt happy and strong and enjoyed the run.

We came to a steep climb at 10km. The Sumo man slackened his pace while I maintained mine.  When I caught up with him at the end of the climb, he increased his speed and again put some distance between us.  I smiled and asked him in ateso (my mother tongue) english, “can you run with me?” to which he responded “let us go”. Watching his lack of stride, body size and uneconomical running, I knew that it was a matter of time before I chopped off his neck.

The second water point was at the 14km mark.  The girls gave me a water bottle without a lid but I insisted on one so that I could sip the water for a long time because I could not be sure of the next water point.

I caught up with the runner at this point.  When my watch beeped, he asked me what time it was.  I told him that we had been running for 1hr 27minutes, had covered 14km and had 10 km remaining.  His engine must have been over heating because as I sipped my water, he gulped his, 300ml, bottoms up.  As his body gathered weight, I told him “strong” and left him for dead.

Some five minutes later, I was all alone and that is how I ran through out.  The elite and semi-elite were way ahead of me and the others were way behind.

The trail was awesome.  Soon I was running on huge hay farms demarcated by electric fences.  This county is rich. The trail took us round a brand new exquisite building sitting in the middle of the savannah and I was sure that it was a holiday resort but was told at the end of the race that it is actually a home of a prominent media personality.

The trail never ceased being sweet but challenging.  I rolled down some valley while dogging and enduring pricks from thorns on the thorn trees abounding.  As I begun the ferocious climb after crossing the fourth and last river, my watch beeped 22km.  I held on and even increased my pace because I knew that only 2km remained.

All along, I did not know where I was but I was sure that I had followed the clear markings of Antelope. Suddenly, I got onto a town called Kiganjo which I thought was another Kiganjo because the only Kiganjo town that I knew was about 7km from Graceland Girls’ School.

After running round the town, I came onto a very busy highway and wondered where I was because the ran was in the country side.  I turned right on the highway and was told by the Graceland Girls that I was on the Nyeri – Nanyuki road.

Then it occurred to me that I had somehow missed a turn for the long run and followed the marks for the short.  When my watch “said” 24km, there was another 7 or so km to go.  I had no energy left.  I had run only five times in the three weeks preceding this run and the longest of them was 14km in Tigoni.

The Graceland Girls School strugglers van drove by. I stopped it and hitched a ride back to Graceland.  I had bowed out of the race, gracefully.

Not many Swaras may have seen the chairman beaten before and so when I lighted from the van on reaching the school, Wahome rushed to me, thinking that I may have suffered injury but I told him that I lost my way and the route became longer.  After explaining the route to him and to other runners, I was assured that I never got lost.  Rather, Antelope had understated or is it overmarked the route by about 7km.  Those who ran the 13km said that it was actually about 19km. No course defeats me for long. I shall return next year to finish this run.

Mr. Sumo and Daniel the Ethiopian finished the race after some four and five hours respectively.

The Swaras took ice cold showers which refreshed , at the end.  We sat through the prize giving ceremony, ate the three star lunch taken care of by outside caterers and begged to take leave because 155km awaited us.  Wachira obliged and requested us to go through his house.  Therein, the contributions and pledges of the Swaras were given and made to the Wachira’s.

While at Tigoni, the previous weekend, on 11/2/2012, I had joked to Wachira by making him to promise boiled chicken if I attended the marathon.  The man had taken me seriously.  Before long, chicken was served to all the Swaras.  Wachira called it “the chairman’s chicken.”  Because the chicken was in my honour, I ought to have eaten the gizzards as per the tradition of communities of Western Kenya. But someone ate my gizzards. I suspect Vivien Akinyi because she seemed to enjoy the chicken most.

I look forward to more chicken next year.

Running Tales

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Last Saturday run from Ivangara ended with me screaming in the shower. And it is not what you think. Rather, it was the pain of water touching my raw wounds; while still on the first kilometer, right after crossing the road at James Gichuru, and waving thankfully to the driver who stopped to let us cross, I kissed the ground. Practically. I must have tripped on the protruding root of a tree, or something- I may never know. It seemed that everything went in slow motion and the next thing I knew was Avani et al helping me get up from the ground, serious concern written all over their faces.

There and then, I was faced with a momentous decision; to proceed, or to turn back: I hardly had time to think, for when I looked at my hands and saw blood, my mind told me to run. And so I did.

I must mention that every 15 minutes or so Avani kept asking me if I wanted to go back, or to shorten our distance. At one time it crossed my mind that Avani is the one who wanted to shorten the distance:-)

So, we ran, through a superbly marked route, sometimes downhill, but mostly uphill, as though we were training for a Mt.Kilimanjaro summit, instead of the Moshi marathon. As I zoomed through some section with long grass, feeling quite energized and whistling a tune in my mind, I was sobered up as soon as I came across a river to cross. Well, I may have
crossed many rivers in my rural Africa life, but never have I been faced with walking over a sewage pipe, with murky waters lurking sinisterly below, and absolutely no indication of how deep I might be sucked in.

In a matter of seconds, we found ourselves, a bunch of fine ladies, in great distress, by the rivers of ….(What is the name of that river?). We could have sat down and wailed, when we remembered several other routes antelope could have marked, were it not for the timely help of two valiant gentlemen.

Swaras, if anyone ever tells you that chivalry  is dead, please quote to them this story of the rescue that was done by Steve and Linus. I might mention here that we saw MK running high along the wall while looking down to the ladies steeped in the valley…..(That’s another story)

Anyway, Linus and Steve, who had already crossed and run ahead turned back when they heard our cries of anguish and patiently made sure that all the ladies were safely across. And it was no easy feat since they sometimes literally had to carry some people from halfway the pipe (I am not naming names). Thank you Linus and Steve, but chairman, could we avoid the pipe next time?

Then there was that section of the by-pass with a hill that looked like Calvary because seriously, it was like crucifixion getting to the top. I had such a muscle pull at the top, and crossing over soon into the familiar territory that is Waiyaki way looked like we had just entered the promised land.

Thanks to chairman and the team for a grueling but fun run, though I am already starting to re-think the wisdom of trying 42km this year. I was so humbled on Saturday! More so when I witnessed the pain with which veterans like Ameet, MK, Ndichu et al arrived.

Thanks too to my partner (running partner) Avani for giving me the psyche.Finally my wounds have softened enough to allow me to document my experiences. A few people I have met the past few days think that my injuries are from battering and have politely and skilfully given me the address to FIDA. Maybe I should take chairman there.

Have a great week.

Running Tales

What really happened in Magadi on Saturday 1st Oct? My side of the story

Date: October 1, 2011

I could not tell which part of my body was most inconvenienced. I could still breath, but those short and heavy gaps were not enough to provide for the most needed oxygen; my muscles were aching and trembling, a big cramp was just around the corner; my feet and toes were on fire making me wonder if I had the correct running shoes. Ahead of me was Kimi, attacking Kona Baridi hill.  At that moment I was thinking loudly “What the $%^&*@ a Cameroonian doing in this road trying to run like a Kenya..?”. The Hummer slowed down besides me; the driver (I did not get his name); who has been nice throughout, yelled “umechoka??” (Are you tired?)  Without giving it a second thought, I opened the door and jumped inside the Hummer; I felt a cramp in my muscle thigh..!

Rewind… How did I get there?

I was the last to arrive at Eureka that Saturday morning. I noticed, without giving it too much thought that the group was abnormally thin: Mzee Kijana was nowhere to be found. Our elites James, Mutua, Nadine, our Francesca were missing in action. Nduku and Mrs Coordinator were off.  This should have rang a bell, but I was fully loaded to take on Magadi.

At around 7:45, the Chairman blew his whistle.  The small group of still indomitable Swaras congregated around him. Ajaa popped the usual question: “Who is doing what?”.

30K? Just two hands, Pinky (sorry still don’t have the name) and her friend.

25K? I enthusiastically raised my hand, looked around and notice that I was running in the league of Ameet and Amai. Niawera, in a last minute burst of wisdom, downgraded to 20K, contrary to the public claim she made on an earlier email. She blamed it on Amai. I will not interfere with this domestic affair.

The group allocation completed, the chairman, in his well established gentleman attitude, sent all the ladies to ride in the Hummer. I and the other guys (including few tough ladies) climbed on the back of the pick-up truck driven by Ajaa.

The ride to the dropping points provided an opportunity to enjoy the scenery, the cold wind and most of all, to experience the matatu driver skills of Ajaa.  After a distance that seemed unusually long for 30K, we dropped the first group. Pinky, with her camel bag full of water I presume (a lesson from her previous run with the Swaras “Don’t trust anyone to carry your water for you”) and her friend took off. I could not restrain my admiration for these two very tough ladies…!

Back in the truck and hummer again for the 25K dropping point. Ameet, in what I now see as a blink of wisdom, suggested that maybe he should do the 20K instead… I shouted: “Come on man…!”

25K dropping point: I, Amai and Ameet jumped off the back of the pickup truck. I looked around and notice immediately that this was not a good place to start a run, right at the foot of what looks like a very punishing  hill..! Too late for a second thought now.  Ajaa tries to give us some suicidal advices like “Maybe you should end at Eureka, adding around 6K to your 25K”; then blew his whistle. The small group took off, the others cheered. The two cars then zoomed for the next dropping point.

I usually have my most intellectually productive moments when I run; this time however, I could not stopped thinking about the hills waiting ahead. Ameet, maintaining a good pace, was already zooming ahead. Soon, his black long sleeves running shirt will just be a dot, disappearing on the hilly horizon.

Amai was maintaining a steady pace ahead of me, sometimes looking to see how I was coping; he too was soon to disappear on the hilly horizon. I was in no mood to try to maintain a faster pace. I just wanted to finish my 25K, dead or alive.

I ran and ran, gasping, breathing heavily, drinking as much as I could, and eating bananas. The top of one hill was just the beginning of another one. I listen to my body and pushed the limits, at 20K, I spotted Kimi ahead of me. Far ahead were Alix and Eugenie; I decided to catch up with Kimi, but my feet failed to respond; I could not run faster.  The Hummer was a relief, I jumped in; just to get off around 500 meters ahead, to walk with Alix who was struggling to take on Kona Baridi hill. The first thing she told me…”I saw Amai walking; I saw Ameet walking”.

We reached the top of the hill, feet on fire, generalized muscle pain, waiting for the sweeper.  Few minutes after, Pinki and her friend showed-up, still running; these ladies are iron..! Pinky asked “Where is the finish line”. I replied, tiredly: “Somewhere here…”

The scene at Eureka was devastating, the Swaras were in total disarray:  Amai was limping seriously, went to his car, folded the front seat and lied down, flat, defeated.  Niawera proposed later to resuscitate him with a coke. I don’t know if she succeeded. Niawera and Mulenge were conversing, quietly; I could sense that the conversation had to do with whether they should ever come back to Magadi. Ameet was having a philosophical conversation on what is the appropriate strategy in situation like Magadi; walk long strides or run short strides? I don’t think he got an answer.

It was a wonderful run. I would like to extend my thanks to the Chairman for the organization, Ameet and his driver for the sweeping, and all the other Swaras for the company.

Magadi is a tough run for sure, mentally and physically. I have just one last question to the Chairman and Mrs Coordinator: When is the next Magadi run?

Have a great week. Hoping for a rejuvenated Swaras next Saturday.

Running Tales

Another eventful Run

Date: September 24, 2011

This Saturday’s run took place at the A.P Camp in Kibiko.

We assembled at 7.30 with a new member on board, welcome Kimmie. Linda made a rare appearance, we need to see her more often. Avaani, Susan & Mercy; where are you? So on to the run…

Amai & myself were part of the group that did 25 k’s. Minutes  into our run, we came across a stray dog, who followed us all the way back to Kibiko. Efforts to get it’s email address wer’e unsuccessful though.

On her run, Fran was charged at by a Cow! It had developed an apparent liking for her Red Pants. Upon realising this, she broke into a song and dance. Then, with the help of a Herds- Man, she managed to fend it off.

Surinder also gave us something to talk about. At a point on our route, Surinder was seen approaching from our left. He asked about directions for those doing 20k’s. Looking down and towards him, i saw the 20k’s arrow pointing the opposite direction! You couldn’t make it up!

In all, everyone finished well with compliments about the route.

Have a great week all.

Running Tales


Date: September 24, 2011

By the calendar, the 24th September 2011 run was to be held at the A.P Station, some 3 Km from the Kedong Valley, the valley that is loved and dreaded by the runners in equal measure depending on their level of fitness and on whether they are running it up or down.

The MC was not going to be around for the whole week and Tata is in the fields of Tala in the Machakos County.  It therefore fell upon me to send mail to the members reminding them of the run and giving directions to the A.P camp.  The trail was on the dry side of Ngong hills, deep in the country, the intention being that the runners get to soak in some sun in the valley as they get rested from hills because the next run will be on Magadi Road which will be one long hilly run regardless of the distance that one will opt for.

Because of the location of the run, it was impossible to Google map or describe the route in writing.

Eight days before the run, Antelope and I worked on the route and the distances and he agreed to mark it the Friday before. It never crossed my mind to plan for water, an omission that would later cause a runner intending to join the club anger and frustration.

This runner was the first to arrive in a taxi with bottles of water which she handed over to Antelope to be given to the hired boda boda waterman who was to give it out on the trail.  No sooner had the runner told me her name than I forgot it.  She was in a pink breathable singlet, so I shall call her Pinky for the purpose of this write up.

The runners assembled at 7.40am and Antelope and I gave the distances and described the route.  Pinky elected to do the 32Km.  After the watches were adjusted and the whistle was blown (the whistle is the starter gun for the Swaras), Pinky charged and surged forward ahead of every runner, ahead of even the seasoned Nadine Citta.

Soon, the runners broke up in two packs depending on energy levels, pace and distances intended.  Ameet, that consummate gentleman and last bastion of civility and Amai were in the second pack, going for the 25 Km.  MK, ever cautious, slower but sure, brought up the rear as he intended to take out the 18Km.  I lay somewhere in between but nearer MK.  My distance was 18Km, a treat for my legs after they set PB’s on 3rd, 10th and 17th September in Mt. Kenya, Mwea and Ndakaini.  I was later to regret my decision because my run was so short that it ended before I had warmed up.

After about 2Km, I lost site of Pinky.  Nadine remarked that either she is too good or she does not know what she is doing.  Whichever of the two, “she does not know that there is Kedong coming”, I answered.  The first water point was at the second split where those doing the 18Km turned left and those doing 25Km and 32Km turned right.  I was later to gather that Pinky missed the water at this point because, guess – she was ahead of the waterman who was in a ‘piki piki’.

When I turned left, Francesca was so sure that I had taken the wrong turn but I told her that it was her and not my turn that was wrong.  I kicked in some speed in order to catch up with Linus Makhulo and Gerald Mutua.  From their body language, I knew that the former might be easy prey but the later will be a tough call.  For sure, I passed Makhulo but Mutua beat me.

After taking a second left turn and hitting a gentle straight rise, I saw a pink shimmer some 700 meters ahead.  Neither Mutua who was still within my reach nor I could make out the Silhoutte which seamed to be running.  I concluded that it was one of the many Ngong runners doing a solo run.

When Gerald Mutua neared the runner, she stopped to talk to him.  Then I made her out.  She was Pinky.  What the running hell was she doing on the 18km route?  She turned left to head somewhere unknown even to her and I blew my whistle to draw her attention to me and sprinted towards her.  I asked her if she had revised her plans downwards because I have known runners, most notably Eugenie in the past and Violet Kageha to do so.  No. She had simply lost her way.  By the way, violet has been missing in action since oxygen refused to enter her brain at the Mwea Classic causing her to fall down and speak in tongues. I am hereby volunteering to teach her how to breathe on the trail and in competition. Francesca and Nadine are some of my more successful students in this regard.

Pinky told me that she intended to do the 25km route even though she had raised her hand at the starting point in response to my question “who will do the 32km?”  She was determined to go back and retrace the route but I told her that she will end up doing six extra Km because she was already about 3Km away from the 25Km split.  Besides, she could get lost again.  I promised to give her a loop in Kedong that would help her make up for the lost distance.

Mutua must have been grateful for my presence because he took off immediately I started talking to Pinky.  Makhulo simply ran past as if he did not know me.  I do not remember seeing Francesca overtake me or seeing Makhulo ahead of me but somehow, they both finished our course before me.  Is it they or me who missed the route?  Not me because I had run the route before and had plotted it with Antelope, remember?

Pinky and I ran down together past some slum structures called a primary school, through beautiful acacia trees, cattle ruts and dry water pans as we hattled down towards the base of the Kedong valley.

It got markedly hotter and I started sipping my water.  She had none but I relaxed when she told told me that she runs ultra distances and had infact organized one in Laikipia in July this year. 76Km.  When I told her that I was a Two Oceans Old Mutual Ultra Marathon veteran, we bonded immediately.  She even promised to invite our club to the second edition of the local ultra next July.  In turn, I promised to introduce her to Nderitu Wachira, the able chair of the Mwea Classic because she was looking for sponsorship.

The ultra distances runner loved the trail and even gasped in owe when she visualized the windmills in the horizon.  Then I knew why she had lost her route.  She could not balance enjoying the countryside scenaries with looking out for the route marks.

As we approached the Kedong-Kibiko road which was the point at which we were to turn left and tackle the 3Km section of the Kedong hill back to A.P camp, I figured out that we were doing about 6mpk (minutes per kilometer).  At the main road, I told her to turn right and ran for 20 minutes and then turn back and run straight up, one way to base.  This way, she would put in additional 7Ks if she maintained 6mpk, only that the first 20 minutes will be all down and as a runner, you know what that means.

There was a little problem though.  Pinky had no watch! As painful as it was and struggling to lead by example as chairman, I surrendered my old reliable casio watch to her.  Together, we saw that it was at 1:18:58 and agreed that she would turn back at 1:40:00.  Before she took it, she asked me “why the watch’? and I wondered aloud to her how she intended to know when to turn back without a watch.

As she turned right, I turned left, just in time to see Gerald Mutua for the last time on the trail disappearing on top of the hill, agonizingly pulling away from me.

Damn it! Pinky had cost me the opportunity to try and catch up with Mutua.  I saw him look back and knew that he must have smiled to himself because even though I am stronger than him on the hills, he was too far for me to catch up.

I drank my water for the last as my engine begun overheating on the up and then littered the valley with the bottle.  When I got to where I had last sited Gerald Mutua, he was nowhere to be seen.  For some stupid reason, I had expected to find him there. May be it was the effect of running the hill, watch-less.

Up the hill I trotted looking out for the water man who never showed up.  From the knowledge of the route, I knew that there was about two kilometers to the finish.  When I looked at my left wrist to work out the minutes left and my ETA (estimated time of arrival), there was no watch! You could not imagine the pain that I felt.

Then on the last straight, some 400 meters to the finish, I saw Francesca ahead of me sprinting to the finish, obviously racing against time.  I did not even attempt to “kick it” because what time would I have done without a watch?

At the end, I saw Gerald full of smiles and licking his lips like an old cat that had just  eaten a fat rat to its fill.  Why not?  He had beaten the chairman for the second time in his five or so short months of running, the first time being at Arboretum two weeks ago.  I was the fat rat.

JT, Mrs JT, Steve and the new runners, they of the 8.7Km and 13.3Km, were already rehydrated, changed and fresh, exchanging the pleasantries of the route.

Soon, Eugenie the Cameroonian Kenyan, arrived with a spring in her ran true to her vow never to do less than 15Km any more.  What time did she do?  I don’t know.

I gathered all those that were present and willing and led them through some stretches.  Mrs JT came out the worst here and Francesca for some reason was fairly stiff this time round.

Then Ameet, Amai and Raoul arrived in that order in quick succession.  After they had rested, Ameet graciously offered to do a write up.  At this point, I wanted to dash to Ngong town for a quick cup of tea but decided to wait for my watch, my only running watch because Amai is yet to return the other one two long running years after borrowing it.  Some forty minutes after Raoul, Nyawira arrived, walk running, having proudly done 25km.  Yesterday when I met her in her house, she could hardly walk down the stairs.

Three runners to go. The tenacious Nadine, the unknown Kimie and Pinky, the ones training for the Soweto full, New York full (both in November 2011) and the Comrades in May next year, respectively. MK, do you know the Comrades?

After 2hrs 35minutes Pinky arrived. I blew the Swara whistle to welcome her but she did not respond.  She stormed to the camp justifiably ranting mad.  “My water, what happened to my water, they took my water but never brought it to me on the trail, who drank my water?”  Pinky was screaming using the last ounces of energy spared her by the merciless Kedong valley.

Knowing that water or lack of it can be fatal to a runner, I dashed to my car to get water for Pinky.  She shoved my watch at me (this is when I knew that she had done 2:35), turned around and headed for her hired car.  There, her driver opened a 1 litre bottle of water for her and she bottomed it up.  As I laughed ferociously, she got so angry, got into her car, put on a visibly expensive pair of shades and ordered her driver to speed off.

Ameet the scheduled writer approached her for her name but she retorted that she does not wish to be in the running group any more.

When I walked towards her car to thank her for bringing back my watch and to invite her for the Magadi road, she made as if to wave me bye as her driver drove away.  All the while, I could not help laughing.

Mr. Waterman, you may have cost the club an opportunity to run a local ultra marathon next year.

For the thirty two, Kimie clocked 4:05:30, every minute and second of it.  By her side riding slowly and urging her on was her personal outrider of the moment, the Piki Piki Waterman. He was carrying Pinky’s water! If I knew her well, I would have been tempted to declare her not so ready for the New York in early November. All that you need Kimie is three more long runs with the Swaras. She was full of smiles but lamented the altitude. She responded to the whistle by dashing to the end, the outrider obediently in tow.  In her appreciation for the run and club, she formally joined us by paying up for two months (how many runners are payment compliant?) and promised to join us next weekend for the Magadi road but begged that she should be given a shorter distance.  Well, 20km she has earned. The gallant Ferrah will pace her.

Such is the nature of (running) life, you win some and lose some. Pinky out (please come back) and Kimie in.

Pinky, I know that you are reading this mail. I hereby solemnly promise to (a) know and remember your name however difficult it might be to pronounce and (b) mobilize the senior Swaras to train you for the Comrades as they train for your local Ultra if you come back to the Club and promise to invite the members to your Laikipia ultra marathon.

Running Tales

My First 21 km Run at Ndakaini

Date: September 17, 2011

We left Nairobi at around 6.20 to Ndakaini. We stopped at Ngara to pick one of the Swaras who was late at the meeting point and he was obliged to catch a taxi to join us, we also stopped at Thika to pick another member and at that stage I took some pictures. After spending 10 min, without seeing anybody, the chairman gave the go ahead to the driver and we left without her. While travelling, we of course felt the absence of MK. The only movement in the car was some of us standing to go to take some bananas or oranges. Fortunately, around 30 minutes before reaching Ndakaini, Tata stood in front of the bus and entertained us a little bit. Amai was very impressed to see her standing while travelling.

At about 5 min to reach Ndakaini, the chairman asked us to be ready for the run because we were exactly on time. We found many people still registering for the marathon and we were a bit worried to know at what time the run will start. We found a good place to ease ourselves and after that, the chairman disappeared. We couldn’t even know where Tata was. Caroline, Ze (please she asked me to call her like this) and I decided to start the run at 9.00, but because we didn’t know the route we must look for someone who knew the way. Ze went to look for Consolata and while waiting for her, we decided to walk slowly to the starting point. Fortunately when reaching the starting point, the run was about to start.

The run started at 09.05. After 15 min, I was still seeing some runners far away but after the first turn left, they disappeared. Nice because we were going down at that point. But when climbing, I couldn’t even breathe, my legs were painful. I was asking myself if I could finish 5 km and I heard behind a voice asking me to keep on going, it was Caroline. She met me, asked me to stretch my back and breathe so that I will not feel the pain in my legs. I tried for few second and gave up. She left me and we met again after the second water point, she was suffering because of her knees. I asked her to go slowly to avoid the damages due to the fact that she is preparing for the Standard Chartered marathon. But I knew that she will meet me when climbing; no way; the run was very tough.

At the third water point, I was sure that the marathon was over, because I met some runners before who were saying that we only had 4 km to go. I didn’t know that toughest hill was still in front of me. I happily went down as usual, but at that point, I stopped to admire the hill I was about to climb. I climbed it and when reaching the top, the game was not over; the torture was still ahead even to go down was another bitter trial. I had no choice, the only one I had, was to go till the end. I tried my best and reached at 11.45 min.

It was challenging, painful, tough but I was very happy at the end.

Nadine usually shared with us her own experience about these runs. I remember when preparing for Mount Kenya, she told us that, that run is to do once in our life and for Ndakaini she also told us that  the place is very nice but it’s too hilly. Thanks Nadine.

Running Tales

How not to underestimate the role of the sweeper

Date: September 17, 2011

So the Swara’s who didn’t face the hills of Ndakaine, 4 of us, gathered at Ocean pub for a morning run. Lena, Ginette, Rau and I.

As one of the more experienced runners (read, Marathoner!ha ha! ) for the small group I stepped boldy forward and suggested a route which we all agreed on.

The beauty about the Karen, Miotoni, Windy Ridge route is that you can make it as long or as short as you want, which we thought would be good for our group that morning.

Oh I have to mention that the Swara who rounded us all up and got us to commit to the ocean pub run, Amai, unfortunately could not make it. Ameet was also expected but when Lena rang him at 7.30 saying “we are waiting for you” he must have wondered! He was asleep… in Uganda!

So off we go. Now let me tell you, don’t ever underestimate taking responsibility for a run and being sweeper etc. Antelope, Ajaa (and others) .. my hat off to you. So when we get round Nandi road back to Karen roundabout, Rao goes back for Ginette to explain how she can go in to windy ridge and then take the Link road to loop back to Karen and back to Ocean pub. I said I’d slow up and sweep back so that Rao and I could take the path through the wood and come out further up daghoreti road. At Karen roundabout I can see Lena in her bright pink Urban Swara T-shirt, fine I think, I’ll run to the end of Windy Ridge and then run back , meet up with Rau and then we can go through the path.

So I do my “sweep” and run back, and back and back, looking out for my fellow runners. All the way back to the beginning of Windy Ridge and still, there is no one in sight.

Oh Dear, my first opportunity to sweep and I failed miserably, I lost the entire flock! All 3 of them!!

So if I ever offer to help out, say in Kedong, please take your GPS phones with you, because Fran will definitely loose you!

Gladly we all made it back to ocean pub safely and within 15-20mins of each other.

Have a great week all.

Running Tales

Crossing Over to Triathlon

Date: September 4, 2011

There was one other Swara event that took place at the weekend, courtesy of our Ausie Swara, Josephine.

Josephine is a Triathlon athlete and last year introduced the Swara’s to this gruelling and challenging event. Last Sunday was the first triathlon event of this year and although a small turn out went extremely well.

Having had a 3 week rest from running I resumed last week Wednesday with a short run, a visit to the gym, Thursday and Friday and a 14k run on Saturday. So I was up and ready at 6am for a further variety to my comeback training. And of course it being Triathlon, Brian and Alexander were up, filled with excitement and ready, with me. Ever supportive of young athletes Josephine organises a junior triathlon as well.

So we kicked off, or rather swam off at about 8am with the three junior competitors, Brian, Alexander and Mercy’s nephew Sean. 4 widths of the pool, one ¾ km lap on the bike and then a further lap running. Coming out of the pool, they were all even and on to their bikes. Going up the thin, bumpy  path was challenging and Sean and Brian stretched out from Alexander who, on meeting his Mum at the corner, picked up a new energy and not to be defeated, sped off in hot pursuit! As I waited for the third leg, I caught sight of Sean and Brian running up the path, panting for dear life. Brian took the lead off the corner as Sean struggled to find his legs. I ran alongside him for a few yards encouraging him to take small even steps until he could get his breath and find his legs. When I ran back to see him at the finish he was looking really good and much stronger with an even pace. But his legs weren’t enough for young Brian who came in, a very proud winner. Alexander had a very strong bike lap and then decided he wasn’t up for the run!! (well, we always say, .listen to your body! ) He figured enough is enough!!

So moving on to the adult event, which is a quarter Triathlon. That is 300metre swim, 10K bike and then 2.5 Km run.

As we don’t all do all disciplines we had three teams:

Team 1. Lucy swimming, Mercy on the Bike, Lucy Running.

Team 2. Amai’s daughter swimming, Amai on the bike, Nyawera Running

Team 3. Francesca.

Now how crazy is that!

Anyway so off we go. In to the freezing cold pool which takes your breath away. But as the kids had already done it we had to look tough and go for it. Anyway 24 lengths later we splutter out, struggle into our running leggings, as no way am I going to run around Kilimani with my little swimming gear on! Trying to get dressed whilst soaking wet and shivering is ridiculous but we managed and off to get our bikes from the “transition area”. You have to walk/run with the bike until you get to the gate and then off you go. Riding the bike is quite good fun and once I got going and used to the gears I was whizzing along! Four laps of the loop which is Dennis Pritt, up to Lenana road, round at Casablanca and back to Dennis Pritt. Still being competitive in my old age, I put all my energy in to tearing down the road in top gear and at the change over to the run I was still in the lead. But oh deary me, when you get off the bike and try and run, strange things happen! You absolutely have no legs!!

I literally hobbled up the path that cuts through to Lenana and round Casablanca and back to Dennis Pritt. It was a real struggle and I felt tired, wobbly, sick, wanted to give up etc etc! Anyway the second loop was slightly easier, I could feel my running legs coming back. As I started my 2nd leg I saw Lucy up ahead kicking off her run. Keeping my pace, I hobbled past her, uttered some inaudible words of encouragement and by the third and final lap I actually felt normal again. I was still very tired but it was so nice to be tired on “running” legs as opposed to those funny wobbly legs from the bike ride that I had started with!

Lucy came in nice and strong followed close on her heels by Nyawera who also had a great running lap. But it was a Mother and Son Triathlon day as I was the winner for the adults. However Josephine was wonderful as we ALL go prizes!  See what you missed out on Swaras! Even Ajaa got a prize for being the last to arrive, after we had all finished!! But it was great to have his support and hear the Mt Kenya story.

It was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning, we had a great time. Thanks Josephine!

So the next Triathlon is early October, Josephine will confirm the date. It will be in Karen and we will be trying for a half Triathlon, which will be 600metre swim, 20 km bike ride and then 5k run. This is another level of fitness guys! It is really tough and I have the utmost respect for Josephine and all the Triathlon athletes. But come on let’s go for it! We are trying to get a group of us to go for the half Triathlon in Mombasa in November. So if you have finished your long runs for this year, let’s do some cross training and develop our diversity as athletes.

Running Tales

Id-ul-Fitr Run

Date: August 31, 2011

What a day and what a run!

Who would have thought that in the middle of the week, when a new month is about to begin, when most of the Urban Swaras (URB) have lots of end month reports to write, that, these Urban Swaras would be able to wake up at the required hour and turn up for the run. But turn up they did. Running is truly addictive and runs deep in the URB blood.

I don’t know about the others but I had a difficult time waking up that day. I just wanted to sleep in and enjoy the holiday…and hopefully get some Id-ul-Fitr (IDD) treats from my Muslim friends but that was not to be. Somehow, and with supernatural strength I managed to be at the venue and well before time.

I was shocked at the turn out. We were at least 40 or more URB’s all bursting with energy and ready to tackle the well-known route. The chairman had made it abundantly clear on email that its important to listen to the route instructions to avoid getting lost as some are in the habit of doing. I must mention that its men that got lost last time and I do believe we have those of the male species who have challenges reading maps and following clearly marked paths – hic!

We all begun slowly talking on the way and generally unconcerned about the exertion the run would eventually have on us once our bodies warmed up. But, don’t be deceived some of those antelopes soon left us behind and we but caught a waft of their trail when bending corners.

Mention must be made of Tata who said she must have the URB whistle and determinedly set out to get it from the fast paced antelopes running ahead. And get it she did. And she thus set forth to guide the wayward antelopes with the whistle which acted as the shepherds rod. And to her credit no one got lost this time.

Having battled weeks of turbulent flights, flu, non stop coughs, bad sore throat, etc there was no way I was going to run more than 6km. Knowing this I was all set to complete the course in good time – sick or not. And I knew the best way to heal a blocked chest is to run.

Those were my dreams and aspirations but it was not to be. Half way through the trail when I was feeling good with myself and glad it was almost over I met a URB who told me to accompany someone who was doing the 12km run. Note that’s double the run I had intended to do. Ohhhhhhh mmmmmyyyy I wish I had listened to the stories people gave on how the run had been the previous time we run because I was so unprepared for what I encountered.

Dear Swara, please note that when the chairman says you are running 12kms and it’s a flat course with a few hills that you will end up running more than that and that’s for sure with proper hills and valleys. And this run was no different. I discovered parts of Nairobi that I never knew existed. Hills, valleys, forests, dark alleys & dirt roads.

That descent into the valley near upper/lower Kabete was treacherous. Not to mention the forest that was dark and foreboding.

We ended up doing about 15kms and by the end of it I was dead, and I mean D-E-A-D! Legs couldn’t move, arms hang limp, throat was dry coz remember I carried no water as I dint intend to run for that long and my head was throbbing. Nevertheless it was a good run and I was so glad I came for the company was fantastic. I wished for the umpteenth time that I had carried my camera for the scenery was breathtaking.

Most of the crowd of URB’s had arrived when I reached albeit half dead and I was happy to see a table laden with fruit and water and plus there was the normal mandazis and chai/ coffee.

I guess Avani and Niraj read our minds as they came with a free distribution of joint supplements for all the URB’s. Bravo! No excuses for the URB’s not to appear for the Mt Kenya run

Teatime was spent discussing the run and the effects it had on all of us. I was happy to see I was not the only one suffering from what the chairman called ‘an easy run.’ We also discussed other runs and the success this runs have when the URB’s go for competitions coz majority of them win their races. So, chairman I guess all that torture you advocate for is necessary.

It was an IDD holiday morning well spent.

Congratulations Urban Swaras for the discipline and total commitment to running.