Running Tales

Fluorspar 2017, My Little Experiment

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 hill viewFluorspar 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.

view from sego lodgeI get to the main gate and the guard dog has no love lost for me, it bays for my blood like I was the devil himself. The ruckus wakes the guard who comes to my rescue and opens the gate.

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 chebloch gorgeKerio 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.

two swarasThe 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)