Running Tales



Running with the Swaras after three months away is a bit like coming home to family (both the good and the not so good). There are the welcoming smiles and ‘good-to-see-you-backs.’ But also the faintly accusing half looks, ‘where have you been all this time?’ and the subtle guilt trips ‘you must have been running wherever you went’ (even though your body is practically falling apart from poor shape and it shows). Why do we call it, getting in shape, by the way? Do we start from a state of no shape?

Back to the Swaras. It was that weekend when Obama came to town. So a wise Swaras management chose this time organize a run out of the city, away from all the, er, madness (ok from all the enthusiastic Obamamania). This was to Camp Malta, to be precise, which is a hidden gem located right next to the Sagana power station.

The Chairmans, shared, tent
The Chairman’s, shared, tent

There was a good crowd who had shown up on this afternoon run, led by many of the usual suspects: Nyingi and Davis, fresh from new Lewa Marathon PB’s; the five musketeers, Loise, Fera, Wahome, Chairman and Amai; the one (tall) musketeer, aka, Mureithi Njagi, accompanied by his philosophical one liners; Abdi, Fran, the two cosmic twins – Susan squared (Amoko and Okoma) – one more Loise and many others. Some Swaras had brought their families with them. The children clearly beat the adults at having fun. We should do more family runs more often.

But some faces were missing too: Godec (whose boss was in town), Tata, James and Ashok, who were probably helping to welcome Godec’s boss (I was really looking forward to Ashok’s retell of that mad caper to Vic Falls), Avani and Ameet (am I the only one who confuses the two names?) among many others.

But the run has to go on.

On the road to Malta. But do I say?
On the road to Malta. But do I say?

‘It is an endurance run,’ the Chairman intoned, ‘the trail is flat but we expect it to be hot. So take your time and enjoy the countryside.’ This time he did not lie.

‘There are distances from 15, 25, 30 and 35K,’ added MC. ‘There is no need to drive all the way from Nairobi to run a mere 10K’

‘Exactly what is wrong with driving all the way from Nairobi and running a 10K?’ That was Njagi. I didn’t hear the answer as I was already heading out the gate.

I was in bad shape (ok round shape) so I planned to do no more than 25K. Unusually for Otora, he had organized a perfect watering regime, or maybe I was lucky to hit all the right watering points. I recall seeing Amai miss a water point by 10 seconds – serves him right for overtaking me.

At some point I came across a mark that said 25K to the left and 30K to the right. I went left. By this point I was completely done and was shamefacedly doing what I convicted myself was a run-walk, but which was more walk than run.

Benjamin caught up with me somewhere across a bridge (a place called Matithi) and he tried to encourage me. It was not working. We came to another split. For 30K go straight on, it said and (what the heck is this?) for 30K go left. Benjamin and I mill around the two marks in some confusion (can 2 people mill around? What is to mill anyway?).

Then we decide to toss a mental coin. It comes up ‘left’, straight up a hill to Maragua Ridge shopping center. A big mistake as this turns out to be the route to 35K. Benjamin does not look bothered as he pulls away and disappears into the distance. I decide to conserve my energy by walking up the hill.

I am now way past Maragua Ridge shopping center. My Garmin proclaims that I have done 26K of my intended 25K distance. Yet there is no end in sight. By this time I have given up all pretense at run-walk. Only walk. Nyingi catches up with me and tries to psyche me up.

‘Let us go, Ndungu! No walking!’ He shouts, then realizes he is flogging a half dead horse and quickly changes tack.

‘This is beautiful running country. The Swaras should buy land here and build a training camp. Start thinking about that as you walk’, he orders, before he zooms past and disappears. To this I can only nod weakly. I am too tired to speak, let alone think.

Maragua ridge – the beautiful sunset made up for the pain
Maragua ridge – the beautiful sunset made up for the pain

Finally I acquire the 25K trail at a small town called Machagara. I am just in time to see Njagi hop on a Boda Boda and head home. I try to throw him a dirty look but I am too far away to aim properly. He has the courtesy to wave a quick good bye and smile. I am extremely tempted to copy him. There are even two brad new Bodas with their bored drivers staring at me, just waiting for me to call.

But no one has ever accused of being too clever. So, in typical fashion, I decide that I will finish the remaining 2K, no matter whether I have to run, walk or crawl. They turn out to be 6K, and I nearly end up crawling home. By this time it is too late to change my mind. My feet are hurting terribly (wrong shoes) as is my left shoulder, perhaps from taking all those left turns? I am limping with every limb I own.

I decide to occupy myself by counting the number of Churches along this 6K stretch. There are more than eight, as opposed to 3 schools. One thing I don’t see is any sign of a drunken youth staggering along the road (an otherwise common sight in Central Province). Either the many Churches have put the fear of God in drinkers or the Uhuru anti alcohol campaign is working.

Finally I arrive at Camp Malta, 3 hours and forty five minutes since the start. Lissette and her team have organized for tea, coffee, fruits and plenty of sugary bitings. I take so many of cups of tea that Lissette begins to look concerned. So I ease off a bit and decide to go for a shower.

I can hardly walk up the steps to our tent. I am tempted to just lie down and sleep but Abdi is watching me with some concern as well. He must be wondering whether he might have to call an ambulance or a mortician before this day is over. So I pretend to be as fit as a fiddle and nonchalantly hobble slowly to the cold showers. I am sure I don’t fool him even one bit.

Dinner is soon served. This is followed by a sit around campfire style. Once the kids have retired to bed, the drinks and snacks came out and the real party starts. This is when I realize that the Swaras can party as hard as they run, maybe harder. Editors note: this part has been censored by public demand, to protect the guilty you see.

Chairman leads the post 'hair of the dog' dance
Chairman leads the post ‘hair of the dog’ dance

I had secretly planned to skip the scent of the Swara run the next morning. Unfortunately I picked the Chairman’s tent to sleep in. At 7.30 on the dot, that infernal whistle goes. I try to pretend that I am fast asleep but he has already seen me. So it is out and onto the trail, a 4K recovery run that leaves me more dead than recovered. But a quick shower and breakfast follow and this helps to revive me.

Then I head back to Nairobi, where I have a date with the Nairobi Sunday Hash and another painful 13K. Clearly wisdom is not my strong suit.

Thank you Swaras for a great weekend.