Running Tales

Kigali Marathon 2018

The titled marathon happened on the 20th day of May. Based on the info queued up for offloading on this paper, the actual run may take like 20% of the word count here. So in case you are pressed for time, you may take a by-pass to the relevant sub section. For the time-rich ones, here goes the meat and bone version…

The Going: Nairobi to Kigali

Kigali is one of the marathons I’ve done for next to nothing in terms of travel and accommodation preps. This was courtesy of some great souls over at a running outfit by the name of Medal hunters, an energetic pack of runners of whom the general idea in my mind is like this; Sentinels’ noses are always up in the air, on the ground, everywhere. They sniff out a run, run should have medals, howl howl, pack gathers, hunts down Medals, victory howlulation, pack disbands, next Medal sniffed, repeat. Wolf pack incarnate. A good number of medal hungry Swaras moonlight over there to benefit from the medal sightings and hunting.

We travelled by bus. 17th May, the travel date. 5pm, the time bus left. 24hrs, the expected trip duration. Kigali, the name of the destination in case you skipped the title up there.

The bussers were: Four runners of the Swara species (five if you include this one), many Hunters, and naturally the bus had an overwhelming minority of regular travelers.

Nairobi>>Nakuru>>Kisumu>>Busia. Border business. Into land of Wakanda >>Kampala. Between Nairobi and Kampala the bus windows were heavily tinted, could hardly see anything outside, or maybe that’s because it was nighttime. Daylight met us at Kampala. Kampala >>Mbarara. After Kampala they removed the tint, or night. Either way outside was now visible, and it was like watching a Banana documentary. Bananas here, bananas there, bananas everywhere interspersed with endless swamps.

Mbarara>>Kabale>> Katuna Border. The landscape from Mbarara to the Rwandan border could give Otora a fever. What with the tasty, scenic, mostly clean shaven rolling hills…of course Otora would turn them into torture chambers, and you Swaras would love him for it.

Into Rwanda. Suddenly the driver loses it and drives on the wrong side of the road. Soon enough I realize it’s an epidemic, all drivers, everywhere in Rwanda, same ailment, drive on the wrong side of the road. We hope they get well. Here in Kenya we, of course, drive on the right side of the road, which is left. Left is right, right is wrong, something like that.

So yeah into Rwanda. The hills! Every crazed, hill-seeking, pain-loving, runner’s dream. at one point we were sandwiched deep in the bosom of two tall proud hills and I couldn’t help thinking what would happen if they suddenly got an irresistible urge to hug (shudder), well that didn’t happen and that’s why, in a little more than 24hrs since boarding in Nairobi, we got to get to Kigali unburied.


Most of the bus runners were staying in the same hotel, we were to be joined by a second group of runners who were travelling by bird.

We’re well aware that this is not a travelogue, but just a lil more patience, we will get to the run. So in the company of two hunters I had a little preview of what Kigali has to offer under blanket of night, you shall

be spared of the details (before you get imaginative the said details are rated GE). As tired and responsible citizens, mostly tired, we were back in the hotel soon after midnight.

Next day was spent visiting the somber Genocide Memorial. What strikes you is that man can turn against man in such cold-bloodedness, that we can allow ourselves to be used as weapons against neighbors, ‘friends’, kin, people who have done absolutely nothing against us, that we also do not learn from history. Going through the memorial is hardly a touristic exercise, the gory of it all will grip you, the sadness too real, evidence in form of the bony remains of victims, their clothes, photos all there for your eyes…by the time you get to the end you realize only too well that you can’t even get close to understanding how the people who got through it, who saw their families murdered, who lost their relatives en total, you cannot begin to understand their pain. With the sobering experience that the memorial was, we’ll skip the other happenings of the day.

Life has to go on… so evening comes, the general rule is that after evening, night follows, so night followed. With night came a plan to again see another little bit of dark Kigali, this time with a Swara and her friend, an almost-Swara. We boarded boda bodas, had some round about rides, ended at a scene of nightlife in downtown. Everything was normal until we spotted some supersized mattresses being taken into the club (we were seated at the terrace), as expected, we had all kinds of imaginations what they were for; were they for revelers to take a nap when tired? Did the nightclub later turn into a communal dormitory? Etc. etc. Doors to the club were closed soon after the mattress sighting… to short the story, the said mattresses were for sound proofing, lining the insides of the club. Maybe to conform to the city’s noise regulations?

Marathon day

About the marathon: Kigali marathon is special, half marathon begins before full marathon, full marathon is double loop of the half marathon, organizers are allergic to flat sections, they therefore had the city turned hilly to satisfy their sadistic genes. For good measure, they also have the marathon start at 8 am just to make sure runners experience the glare of the fully awake tropical sun.

About this person: My legs had been resisting lately, but I’m still the boss of them. So I had registered for full marathon, and had hauled myself all the way to Kigali, and may have picked the medal infection from the hunters in the bus, so I stopped flirting with thoughts to downgrade to half-marathon or less, maybe I should just complete the marathon. Key to me finishing the run would be shoes, I needed comfortable, roomy shoes, airy also, and how do you get airy? By having the foot ‘outside’. Therefore the shoes had to be sandaly, and I had sandals. I would run in them.

About the run: It went well (we already know about the hills and sun), spotting familiar faces on the out and back sections. At some point I was busy overtaking a Swara, Lyma is her name, she seemed to like my ‘shoes’, she offered to trade, mine for hers, I declined the barter. I met her later on an out-and-back section, I had already done 22kms. This time she offered more forcefully, I relented and the exchange of running shoes for cool sandals happened. And I ran in her colorful shoes and she flippy flopped in my sandaly ones.

Three Swaras did very well for themselves in the full marathon. Elvis (who arrived in Kigali that morning, also he had his shirt on), Bond (the Tom one, not James), and the top finisher Swara, K.W., we’ll not use her name, (you’ll soon know why) she came in as the 6th female, a position attracting a cool 800,000 RWF prize money. Now you know see why we can’t use her name, not with such truckloads of cash, also not

with the lot of you with manager and coach ambitions. Many Swaras also did very well in the half marathon.

Season’s greetings (a mis-title but in my head it sounds just right for this section)

Congratulations to the full marathon finishers, the two loops needed grace. To the half marathoners too, you ended up running 24 kms instead of the prescribed 21.0975, you then very stoically and graciously took the accidental excess distance as a post-race cool down, any grunts or grumbles was because society expects it, and why disappoint society?

End of congratulations. Start of thanks. To the faithful ‘followers’ (they’d rather not be called stalkers)…to the faithful followers back home who kept refreshing their Strava and Garmin apps, waiting to ‘kudos’ and write congratulatory messages to those with exceptional times, or, for us with lackluster times, give condolences messages like ‘great effort considering the hills’. Thank you, our souls have found peace.

Wrap it up

Marathon done. Everyone happy (not sure about this). Evening. Bus stage. Same route back. 25hrs later. Nairobi. End