The Ilovoto Run

Swara Ilovoto runThe Swara out of town runs are usually to look forward to; a Swara is invariably a running tourist. So the llovoto run was a go by this Swara both for the tourism reason, and serious running business as a chance to build up mileage in preparation for the next marathon.

As we zigged and zagged through the Mombasa road traffic, I was anticipating a run right up my alley, the circulated pre-run info had indicated the terrain as ‘undulating’, but who were they fooling, probably someone wanted to use a catchy word. No matter, Kambaland is well known to be flatland all the way from Syokimau as far as the eye can see, with only a few wannabe hills here and there.

On branching onto the road to Kilome at Salama junction, the road soon starts a steady and determined ascension and with each hairpin bend my dream of a ’rolling plains’ run steadily dies, I seemed not to have learnt from experience, clearly optimism has no place in Swaraland. By the time we get to the start point at Nunguni, a decent town at the top of one of the hills, its clear that this is to be a hilly affair.

This narration will have two angles, the run itself as an independent event and my personal experience;

I have since learnt not to generalize my experiences. You’d be huffing and puffing and generally having the worst day of your life during a run whereas the random Swara alongside you is on a ‘slow run’, taking it easy. Therefore if it seems that Ilovoto though handed it to me, it could as well have been a picnic for some Swaras.

Down to business

The run setting was on point geographically and therefore aesthetically. You can always count on the routes crew to deliver a memorable run, especially the out-of-town ones. But the same crew seemingly also took an oath to uphold the doctrine of ‘nothing good comes easy’, so you generally have to sweat as you soak in the experience.

The start point was a spectacle; attracting the townspeople in no little numbers, it was a pity there were no politicians at hand to take advantage of the ready crowd…

On a personal account, a little history will be appropriate; I am lately building up mileage in prep for my next marathon, coming up on the third of July. I had been stuck at 20 kms for two weeks. Last week at Ngong, I ventured further, attempting a twenty-five, which you guessed it, turned out to be twenty-eight. It wasn’t an easy run. But a man has got to be a man and I had this crazy idea that a thirty at Ilovoto was going to be a piece of cake.

The run is flagged off at 8:30, the distances are indicated as 16 kms all the way to 40. The first 3 kms is all downhill.

Now this is how the run was structure. You go to the lowest point of the first hill, run up the facing hill ever so slowly as you appreciate the maker’s creation and Man’s modifications thereof…in this case the modifications are concentric terraces running round the hills to allow for farming on the steep slopes. A forest up top cools your heels and wipes your sweat.

You then find a higher and steeper hill, look for its ‘ground zero’, go up the hill, in this case the hill is less farmed. As you go up, the soil turns whiter and whiter and you soon think you are running on one of those sandy beaches. You get the impression that Otora’s chalk marks could be camouflaged on these bleached soils, and your corrupted mind conceives a brilliant idea how this would work as a Jik advert; normal black cotton soil on one hand and the white soil after washing with Jik…

Halfway up the second hill you get to the 30kms turnoff. The longer route points straight up, while the 30 one takes you downhill. In a moment of dimwittedness, you take the longer route. You’ve just made a split second decision to do 35kms. I don’t know if that rash move was a subconscious decision to tour an extra hill…

The ground zero of the last hill offers a refreshing run along a sandy river with neatly striated rocks and a view of a clearly seasonal waterfall on the face of one of the surrounding hills… at the river crossing you feel like sitting down on the rocks and dip your feet into the cool waters, you immediately rebuke the thought…

Soon after, all hell breaks loose. This is the steepest and longest hill yet, in your level of fitness you should have hung your boots long ago. The hill starts from 29kms all the way to 35… thankfully, the heavens smile on you and Otora shows up at 30kms with all the goodies you could wish for, all except a ride back. On seeing your state, he candidly discloses that the 35 will actually be a 38, talk about a morale boost…

Thanks to Otora, I am on life support for an additional few kms, and then I start teetering on sanity’s edge at close to 34 kms. I nonetheless continue inching up the hill. Mercifully the Ilovoto falls reveals itself and offers a brief distraction. There is a Swara at the falls. We chat a bit. She is also at her tethers end and says she doesn’t think she can handle the remaining 2 km. I think to myself, “lord a’ mercy”, if only she knew it was no less than 4 kms… but I don’t tell her, we don’t want anyone taking a jump down the falls.

Swara Ilovoto run2I had hitherto not really walked, but you should have see the hill after the falls, how do I put it; the steepness is the kind that if you stretched your hand out in front you’d probably touch the ‘ground’ or better still, looking straight ahead would be looking directly at the ground. Absorb that!

So we walk up the hill with the 2 km swara and I resume my run upon reaching regular ground. But I’m soon at my wits end. Something snaps deep inside. My feet feel like they’ve been clamped; I lose the will to live and give up the ghost (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I maintain something snapped)…my run is therefore over at 34.35 kms.

The rest of the distance is covered by Grace. How long did I take? Many hours, five I think…

On reflection, my level of fitness was suited only for 25 kms max. As I celebrate getting off easy, my body clearly took the brunt of the ordeal, I hope it bears no hard feelings…

I join a retinue of Swaras who are reminiscing the run and MK, Le Patron himself, makes a timely prophetic statement; apparently it has been asked why Swara runs begin so early. In all his wisdom, the Patron concludes that it must be so that by the time the Swara minds are fully awake, they are already done with the run or are in too thick to pull out’…how true.

Lunch is oh so great… MK asks for the beloved Swara mixed tea, the fellow serving looks at his century old beard and says to himself, ‘this one looks exotic, we’ll serve him tea the proper way in spare parts; milk, water, teabag’…the price for not looking local…

As we leave to dance in and out of the Mombasa road traffic, some brave Swaras; Loise, Ferrah, Chairman and Raoul are still in the wilderness on tour. As I write this Sunday evening, we hope they have finally finished their run…at least Raoul has confirmed he has.

And so to Ilovoto, we have some catching up to do in a year’s time…

In other news, I hear the Magadi run is checking in soon. That’s where this swara got baptized last year, both literally and figuratively. But that’s another story.

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