Running Tales

Maiden Marathon at Lewa

I was all set for my maiden marathon at Lewa. Running kit –check, running number placed on shirt at just the right place – check, sunscreen – check, hat – check, nutrition – check, early night – check.

I left most of the Swaras by the campfire on Friday night and went to bed early. I slept like a log until 2:00am after which I was awoken by sounds of the outdoors and was unable to go back to sleep. I heard the chefs get up at 4:00am and after a while crept out in search of an early cup of tea and found Waliaula by the chef’s jiko thawing from the night’s frost.

After a hearty breakfast I crawled back into my tent and sure enough just as daylight came so did sleep. My cousin Mbuthia, my support for all my Laikipia endurance events to date, woke me at 6:30 and by 7:00 I was on my way to the start line. I didn’t see most of the Swaras and I assumed that they were all in front of the crowd at the start in an attempt to beat the mad scramble to get a spot on the jeep track. The race started on time and I waited for the crowd to leave before starting with an easy jog. It was an amazing sight from right at the back—hundreds of people formed a human snake of runners that was partly enveloped by dust as far as the eye could see in the wide open plains.

Despite the heat the first loop was relatively effortless. It was nice to pass the Friday party people who were armed with 2 water bottles and after 2km were sweating profusely and breathing with sound. I was slow enough that I could eavesdrop on the conversations of other slower paced runners psyching themselves up with “we can do it” “we are going at the right pace”, “do you know how far we have to go?”. I just smiled.

I met a couple of Swaras who encouraged me with good wishes. The heat was doing its work and just before the turn off for the 21k, I met a Swara who looked at me with a pitying smile “are you still going to do 42?”. All I could say was “I’ll try”. I finished the first loop in 2:40 hours and I had this image of the fleeter footed Swaras back at the campsite enjoying themselves while I still had another loop to go.

For runners who do not run with a CamelBak, be warned. The distance between the last water point for the 21k and the first water point for the 42k is not 2.5k. You should carry a bottle of water from the last 21k water point. I did not and although I was told the distance between those 2 water points is about 5k in the Lewa sun it felt like 10k. I was worried that I was getting dehydrated and became quite anxious thinking of how far I still had to go. Luckily the Lewa support system for the second loop is amazing. A guy on a quad bike came up behind me and enquired whether I was okay. I told him I needed water. After another km or so I saw a Red Cross guy running towards me with water and isotonic drinks. He gave me what I needed, ensured I was okay and even said he would run with me to the next water point to make sure I was okay which he did. I met my cousin at the water point, stocked up on nutrition stuff and left with a water bottle in tow.

The day before during lunch, Jael, Susan and I were talking about how we don’t like misting stations. Jael had said they “cramp her style” and I’m a bit of a fair weather runner. I don’t like running when wet and particularly don’t like running in squishy shoes. True to form during the first loop I avoided the misting stations, sponges, and any other external factors that would make me wet. At 25k all that changed. I was so hot I felt as though my brain was in a slow steam. At the next water station as they approached me with all the Lewa goodies -bottles of water, isotonic drinks, sponges, bananas, oranges I took a bottle of water and poured it over my head, I asked the support crew to take another bottle of water and pour it down my back, I took an isotonic drink and then slowly squished my way onwards. Yup…I was that inadvertent wet swim suit model I never thought I would become pre-Lewa.

After 25k I did not see any runners for what felt like ages, it was me, the clear blue African sky without a cloud in sight, wide open savannah plains, and a ball of hot fire up above for km after km after km.

At the next water point: “What can I get you?”. “Some shade please”.

At 35k I was still feeling strong and told my cousin he needn’t follow me anymore, I would meet him at the finish line. At 38k I met the Swara cheering squad, Jael, Ameet, Francesca, Waliula who ran out to meet me, and Ashok who ran with me for a bit. It was soooo good to see you all. Thank you so much for coming out to cheer for us.

At the next water point: “What can I get you?”. “Can I have that Tusker please?”. Caveat -I don’t particularly like the taste of Tusker and don’t drink it but they were all sitting there in the shade holding Tuskers with some on the table and I guess this is how marketing works. All I wanted at that moment was Tusker baridi!

At 40k I felt some soreness around my ankles and started counting down the distance. Then it was done.

For me, this Lewa experience was amazing. The second lap was special. Thank you Swaras for helping me make this happen. I got so much encouragement from so many people, I knew I could do it. Special thanks to my weekday running mates Linus, Susan, Gakii and even the elusive Leonard. Thanks to my cousin Mbuthia for following me along the second half and who when recounting the day’s events to the rest of the family started by saying “ I have never seen so many people in so much pain”. It was an amazing journey thanks to this running bug we all have.