Running Tales


Hit the road Jack
Hit the road Jack

It was billed as a scenic run, with hills, rivers and pipeline. Marked by a professional. It was certainly the first, but not the second. The area where we run, near Kiambu town, is truly scenic. But the marking left something to be desired. It was patchy and in some cases down right Hashy. In fact I began to suspect that, by being away from duty, this was Otora’s way of revenging for all the unchristian things I have thought, or written about him in the past. But who hasn’t?

The felling of Goliath

So, you will not be surprised to learn that I easily managed to get lost a number of times. The first time was around the 3K mark. I came across an arrow that someone had unsuccessfully tried to rub out.

“Damn kids, being a nuisance as usual,” I thought and run past. There were a few Hash-type dots ahead to encourage me. These lasted until I arrived at Kigutha Estate. Now, Kigutha means sling-shot. Yes, the same one that David used to fell mighty Goliath.

Quite appropriate to my situation as it turned out.

Here the track divides into three. I run through each fork, getting increasingly unhappy with the hares handiwork. No marks. I decide to do something men are supposedly not able to do. I stop and ask for directions.

“I have seen no marks,” the young man I accost doing his morning ablutions tells me. “But there can’t be any, because the management of the farm did not permit your group to run through here.”

The kids are not blame

I turn back. I am so discouraged that I intend to go back to the first proper mark and plot an-own run from there. Two Strange Swaras, a man and a lady, are lost too and they join me. I am sure we are all rehearsing some choice words to share with the hare when we get back or see him next, whichever comes first.

Back past the faded arrow; it turns out the kids were innocent after all. Because, just a few meters away, is a big arrow plastered on a rock and pointing the right way. Right at this corner, a bunch of kids are cheering the runners on. They helpfully point me in the right direction. I thank them. I make a mental note to forgive the hare and kick myself for my stupidity.

Alas, I thought too soon (about the hare, not my stupidity). After the 20/25K split the marks start to fade again. Soon I am in the famous Mbo-i-Kamiti farm and the marks have disappeared. I am beginning to feel unjoyful with the hare all over again. By this time I have retracted every harsh word I have ever thought or written about Otora. His crazy trails are a breeze compared to this puzzle of a run.

Mwa?ra the hare
Mwaura the hare

The straight and arrow

I come to a river and find an arrow. It points straight ahead. Unfortunately ‘ahead’ the roads splits into three. No indication which of the three forks I should take. I gnash my teeth, take the middle passage and pray.

“Any time you are lost,” a friend once told me,” take the most used path you can find. It is most likely to lead you back to civilization.” Wise words, them.

A kilometer ahead I come to a village. I hear the cheering children yell out: “i uyu ungi – muthungu” – here comes another one, a Mzungu/white man – (according to them only Bazungu are crazy enough to go running around without a reason, even when no one is chasing them). But at least from this I know I am not the only one who is lost.

The Swara from Hamelin

I soon find out who else is lost with me. Down a valley, through some well managed shambas; I have reacquired the marks now. I begin to put on some speed, trying to make up for the time I lost at Kigutha farm. I whip round a curve and come across a scene straight out of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

Here comes Leif, running back. He is trailing a line of excited kids, one so long that it disappears around the bend. The only thing missing is a funny cap on his head and a flute (I assume that is what the pied piper played). I almost burst out laughing – too bad I am completely out of breath.

We quickly stop to confer. Leif has followed the marks as far as they could go but they disappeared on him. I suggest a solution.

“Let us take a short cut up the hill and see if we can cut across the 20K trail further head. In case we fail, I know a way back home.”

So this is what we do. We slowly shuffle our way to the top of the hill.

“Otora is much better at marking runs,” Leif huffs behind me, lost somewhere among the maize crop.

I could not agree more.

Leif's other profession
Leif’s other profession

The ‘Hare from hell,’ epiphany

In fact we come to a kind of epiphany, two to be precise. Considering the patchiness of the marking, maybe there were two hares. One of them knew his business and the other did not. Or maybe there was just one, schizophrenic hare. So the bad patches were done when his “hare from hell” personality was in ascendance. Whatever it is, the good hare is in charge now. Once we hit the pipeline the run is professionally marked all the way home.

From the top of the hill I pull away from Leif. I come across another bunch of excited kids. ‘How are you?’ High fives and fist bumps all-round. I am beginning to enjoy this.

I stop to gulp down some water. My second epiphany hits me. Do you know why Otora uses so many arrows to mark a run?

Think of this scenario: you are lost. You come out of the bundu, upon what you think may be the right track. You know this because, siting right ahead of you is a lonely chalk mark, a dot. Nothing else as far as the eye can see. How the hell can you tell which way the dot points?

We hit the tarmac, miss Riabai village by a whisker, turn sharply right and rise on an endless hill, past Gichocho church almost touching Ndumberi town. Here we turn left to avoid the tarmac and the rest is smooth sailing all the way back to Kiambu town.

How we felt about the hare
How we felt about the hare

With tea all is forgiven

I am still debating whether I should remain angry with the hare. I decide to reserve judgement, until I see who it is. Then I discover that it is no other than my good friend Mwaura. How can one stay angry with the friendly, ever smiling, Mwaura? One can’t.

I find most Swaras have arrived and are loudly critiquing the run over mugs of hot tea and mandazi. I join them. Three mugs later, all is forgiven.

This run has all the makings of a classic. We should keep it on the calendar but next time rope in Otora to provide technical advice on the route and marking.

Thank you Swaras. It was a great outing all told.