Running Tales

Flourspar Marathon: An Odyssey Against Gravity

After a week of recovery during which I did not know what to say about the Fluorspar run, I finally have the courage to recount what was an odyssey against gravity.

First of all, I would have you know that I belong to a special club of Swaras who have done the tarmac-to-tarmac at the Fluorspar run. This means a winding snake of a road that takes you from the peaceful base of the pan at the Kabarnet-Iten road to the patronizing heights at Nyaru on the Eldama Ravine-Eldoret road, gaining an unbelievable elevation of about 1800m. The club seems to be dominated by silver-haired men and ladies (with the occasional young man or woman) who have been toughened by years of running, gaining the staying power that comes with age and experience. Indeed, in a light-hearted banter but in an as-a-matter-of-fact tone, one of the seniors would brag that we, the young people, have nothing on the older men when it comes to ‘the game’: the same way the older men have the staying power when running, the performance is not different when it comes to some other game. I shall not elaborate.

So, I felt like a young man who has been honoured to be invited to sit with the elders at the high table when having finished the race, Wahome told me, “you look like you can run with me, for you employ the same strategy as me! Not bolting and using all your energy but running at a measured constant pace.”

The Start

The race day begun early for all the Swaras. Breakfast was served at 5am. I was in a small group of about 8 that set to do the 42 kilometres. At about 5.55am, we were swiftly whisked from our safe haven that is Sego Safari Lodge to a distance of 8km away from where our self-visited torture would begin. In fact, we left in a group of 12 and I was under the impression that I was in the company of many. The number reduced by a third when we realized some of us in the team were just chauffer’s and the others support team. After taking a few photos under the dark morning cover, at 6.15 am, we were left to indulge ourselves in the running madness. After all, the chairman had hinted that the mission of the run is to ‘finish’ us when he wrote, “Runners choose distances or simply run until they drop dead. The longest and most recommended distance is 43km.” Not only was he explicit on his desired outcome (“drop dead” were the operative words), but also went ahead to recommend how to achieve that, running 43kms. Talk of someone giving you a rope to hang yourself.

Kerio sunriseThe first thirteen or so kilometres were pleasant to run. The terrain was generally flat but gradually rising. I found time to take some photos of the Eastern horizon as it ripened into a beautiful mix of yellow and orange and prepared to eject the sun from its bowels. The outline of the hills as against the blue skies reminded me of the graphic representation of the elevation on my Garmin interphase. Of the group of 8, I had left three behind. I was told not to get excited about this as one Wahome who was last in the team, was surely going to catch up with me somewhere after 30kms.

The sandy soil below was friendly to the feet. After the body had warmed, I found my pace increasing. I took advantage of the occasional slope to ‘fly’ with a hope that this was to have a bearing at my average pace.

Defying Gravity

When we entered the fluorspar mines, I accelerated like a new car and overtook those we were together with. Little did I know that this was the last time I would be doing this kind of thing. The party came to an abrupt end at kilometre 20 when the gradient suddenly became steep. The road all of a sudden started meandering and became tortuous.’ At every bend, I was hopeful that there would be some slope but this remained a pipe dream.

kerio scenery
Image Courtesy of Davis Munene

The road turned into a long, winding snake that started from here to Timbuktu. Then from Timbuktu to eternity. Never ending. I have never seen such a long road. I started feeling like Moses going round the Sinai desert. Canaan was so close, so confirmed the locals who offered to show us a direct ‘short cut”, yet so far. At every sharp bend I was convinced that there was no more road ahead or above only for me to find a road cutting through the imposing hill.

Being a musician, I started counting beats and loudly singing to myself some rhythmic motifs of songs. This kept me going as it helped me divide the journey into small bits. This was really not a run, it was an odyssey against gravity. It was a relative of a hike.

Occasionally, the locals greeted and cheered me. There were some that asked questions, just like those in Kikuyuland who normally ask, “you are running so that what happens?” These ones seemed familiar with running so the questions they were asking were like, “you are running up to where?” One asked me if there was money involved and whether he could join right away for the money. Others were compassionate and offered to show me a short cut of 3km instead of 8km at some point.

On the move in Kerio
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

The Drink of Life

What made the run bearable was the beautiful scenery all through. Kerio Valley, Sego and Kimwarer village are beautiful. One crosses uncountable rivers that cascade from the hills above, cutting across the road. Many times, I found myself tempted to take a dip in the paddles and the fords. The sound of rapids by the roadside in the bushes and the undergrowth sounded like cheers by multitudes in an Olympic stadium.

My secret desire to drink from the rivers and cool my head under the cold waters from the streams materialized when at about 6 kilometres to the finish I came across a pipe jutting from the wall-like roadside and pouring clean beautiful water. It was irresistible to interact with the water.

For about two minutes I let the water flow over my head and neck then proceeded to drink to my fill. How pleasant and refreshing the water was. I then filled my bottle and proceeded with my run-walk-run.

At some point, and true to what I had been told, I saw a luminous green t-shirt on some man, moving to a familiar sway. Since the other people we were with had already been ‘evacuated’ by the rescue team, this could only be Wahome.

Wahome in Kerio
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

At about two kilometres to the finish, he passed me in his run-walk-run style. At this point I was so finished and decided to walk the last 1.5km. About 400m to the finish line and when I was wondering if someone had moved the finishing point, I saw a kaleidoscope of t-shirts of luminous green, pink, white and other colours. The Swaras were doing the final stretching. Had they forgotten one of them was still trotting on?

Bolting like Usain

One of my friends shouted my name. I do not know from where I got the strength. Amidst the loud cheering by the Swaras, I bolted faster than Usain. I was about to slow down and finish when they said, ‘touch the tarmac, touch the tarmac!” I did run until the tarmac, and then collapsed on the grass to catch some breath.

It is at this point that I found people telling tales about the run. I was elated to learn that I was one of the five out of the eight that finished the 43km tarmac-to-tarmac distance. Others had found the going tough and gotten a lift from the support team or boda bodas.

Later, on our way down the valley back to our haven, we would all have the opportunity to take a dip in the cold waters of the river at (Kimwarer??). Of course we had a great evening and a great journey back to Nairobi, arriving back on Sunday at about 6pm.

Capable Support Team

I cannot finish this story without passing loads of gratitude to the support team of the beautiful Ella (Elsa?), her friend and the rest of the crew. Several times, they went to and fro on the road offering us water (I am told there were fruits too though I saw none!) Every time I saw the black car they were in, and then their beautiful faces beaming out of the windows after which they would ask, “Water? Soda? Are you ok?” I felt like I did not want to let them down and kept going. Yea, the same way a guy pumps a heavier weight in the gym when there is a damsel around. Thanks for your work.

Kerio Conqueror
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

So, I went, I defied gravity and conquered fluorspar.

Will I return to Fluorspar in 2017 to defy gravity a second time? Well, the jury is still out on that.