Ndakaini is one of those places that has managed to build a reputation of being something of a giant killer. This fearsome attribute has become such stuff of legend with reports of an impossibly hilly terrain guaranteed to squeeze out the last ounce of strength left in any runner’s reserves…
And so it goes that yours truly having heard all the horror stories about it, and being an intrepid Swara to boot, didn’t need much encouragement to give it a go this year. And he wasn’t alone judging from the response to the sign-up call from Susan earlier in the week that ensured that there were many yellow (mostly) and pink-shirted Swaras to add colour to the event.
Now, getting there early enough on a Saturday morning proved to be a bit of a challenge, and I’m sure there were a few violations to the traffic laws. I plead the 5th on that and will not admit to any wrong-doing, but suffice it to say that the earlier one got there the better. Forewarned is forearmed and those who heeded the advice to arrive by 7am reaped the reward of a good parking spot.
But I digress so back to the run; after walking like 1.5km (which should surely count!) to the start, but having unwisely dilly-dallied in the parking area with last minute visits to the conveniences, barely arrived in time for the start (actually met the lead police escort vehicle setting off with lights on and had to run to the starting arch!)
The first like 5km was tame stuff and mostly downhill, which can fool you that it will be smooth sailing all the way. In fact, the only unsettling thing was passing the finish line some 500m or so after the start and wondering if at all it was really that short!
Anyhow, after that false alarm and the easy bit, we come to a series of climbs which though mostly longish were still fairly gentle and manageable at a steady if slow pace. This takes us through nice scenic areas with gentle slopes covered with tea mostly and trees in some places. At some point it is even possible to see the dam from some nice vantage points. We pass a tea factory where the pleasant aroma of tea being processed pervades the air and sets the juices flowing…
Anyway, so at this point when one is on cruise mode, you start wondering where the infamous killer hills are. And that is where you’ve got to hand it to the ones who marked the course, for just when you start thinking that maybe it was all a myth, you get to them in the last 5km! In fact, the first one is bang at 16.5km then quickly followed by the mother of them all at 17km or so.
Now, I must confess that up to that point I had nursed the unrealistic (as it turned out) ambition of surmounting them? all on my first try. However, having had no prior acquaintance with the route, those two major ascents really took it of me and I was reduced to trudging up the hills with all weary runners. It was only after that I could resume running somewhere around the 18-19km mark.
Fortunately, the rest was all downhill and fairly manageable. But boy, did those hills knock the wind out of me! In fact, truth be said, I’m still smarting from the ignominy of being mugged in that manner just when my reserves were at their lowest. I am sure that I am not the only one who had to suffer that unhappy fate…
Not to worry though, I guess that calls for a rematch same time next year, and this time round I will be well prepared for whatever they cook up next time. Even then, there is no guarantee that the hills will not come out tops, but one must try all the same!