“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.