The Mt. Kenya run is organized annually by the Nairobi Hash House Harriers.
For the Swaras, this run had been in the cards since early July when the Swaras calendar for weekend runs for the period July to early October 2011 was rolled out. It is one of the more adventurous and difficult runs. It was my fourth Mt. Kenya run.
The runners who decided to have their debut this year are Avani, Violet, Eugenie, Alix, Ferrah, Mulinge and the indefatigable MK.In the two to three weeks leading up to this run, MK had trained so hard, ever doing the long runs on weekends and sweating it out twice every week in Arboretum.
Unfortunately, fate decided to postpone his debut. His wife was taken ill the night before and he had to be by her beside in the hospital.
When I broke the news of his inevitable absence to the participating Swaras, the sadness with which the news was received was palpable. Avani wondered who will do the weekly write up and I promptly requested her to try and fill the big shoes of MK. This write up is meant to supplement her efforts. Ferrah noted that the journey would be less interesting without the jokes of MK.
The point of assembly was City Hall. By 7:50am, all the runners had arrived, all dressed in sports gear. We therefore departed the City at 8:14am – destination Mt. Kenya.
Because of keeping time, I decided to throw in a treat for the runners. When we got to Thika at 9.30am, I drove into the Blue Post Hotel so that we could refresh, stretch and have some tea. I also decided to show our “foreign” legion the waterfalls sandwiching the hotel. All of us loved the falls and Avani and Alix took many pictures of the runners with the falls forming the background.
At 10.00am, it was time to hit the road but not before the all-important matter of fuelling and carbo-loading had been attended to. I had carried only 1 bottle of water.
For the first time since we embarked on the journey, I counted my blessings for carrying a trailer load of lasses. My! They unleashed all manner of food, some of which was boiled eggs, broccoli, tomatoes, tuna, bread, ham, bananas, avocado, assorted vegetables water and juice. So much was the food that it took us a whole thirty minutes to fuel and load to capacity. Mulinge and I who had brought nothing ate the most.
We began the second leg of the journey at 10.33am and drove through Sagana and Karatina towns turning right to head towards Nanyuki some 10Km after Karatina. At Naro Moru, we turned right to head to the starting point 9Km away. The ran was scheduled to begin at 1.00pm, we arrived at 12.44pm.
The Mt. Kenya trail is one way, all up hill, getting steeper as one nears the foot hills of the mountain. The long is 17Km and the short is 13Km. The short distance runners begin at the KWS gate, some 4Km ahead of those doing the long. The end is so steep that runners congregate some two kilometers before the end, to change and take tea. The problem with this is that some runners get to the tea place and refuse to tackle the last 2Km, whoever does this “disqualifies” himself or herself because the times and names of runners are recorded at the end. For those who complete the distance, the 2Km roll down to the tea place offers some kind of recovery run because these 2Km are the only down hill in the entire course.
The Swaras peeled off their track suits in preparation for the start of the run. To our pleasant surprise, no Swara wanted to do the short. We wore our Swara T-shirts.
The run began at 1.25pm when Chilli Sauce (nickname) flagged us off. There were four clubs, the Nairobi Hashers, the Original Hash, the Karura runners and the Swaras.
I ran from the back and slowly overtook the other runners.
At the 4Km mark (the starting point for the short), I was number three. Not so far behind, I could make out the green and pink colours of the other Swaras. One kilometer later, I caught up with number two and told him “On, on”, the Hash rallying call. The man was so tired that it took him some five seconds to respond.
One by one, the runners doing the short fell by the trail side. Most of them found the running uphill so tough that they opted to run and walk and run and walk.
I caught up with the number one exactly one hour into the run. I could see that he was a fast runner who did not have enough endurance and hill training, (the Swaras need to introduce him to Kona Baridi, by-passes and Kahara). Not being one to be overtaken easily, he made feeble attempts at keeping in front of me. Six minutes later, he was down and almost out.
As I overtook the hashers, I could hear them say that those are the Swaras who ran every Saturday morning and their shortest is always 15Km.
Suddenly, I ran into cold weather and I started feeling cold as I ran. When I got to the tea point, cold wind was blowing, mist quickly descended and ice cold rain fell. I shivered as I tackled the last 2Km, energized by the shouts of “Swara” from the hashers who had travelled all the way to cheer the runners at the tea point.
I stopped the clock at 1:51:41. My last PB was 2:06:20. By then, my fingers and hands had almost lost sensation due to the biting cold and the lashing fridge cold rain.
To recover, I quickly descended to the gathering point, taking 9 minutes only to do so. Then I met Ferrah at the tea point and told her that she had only 17 minutes (2Km) to go. The lady could not talk. Then Mulinge flew by.
Changing took me more than five minutes because my fingers were numb and near frozen. I picked my umbrella from the car and headed for the tea. Two cups and handfuls of mandazi and samosa later, Alix arrived feeling strong. I blew the Swara whistle and encouraged her to take the last 2Km. She obliged. Hot on her hills was Avani Patel who was very nearly tempted to end it there. The whistle did the trick and she charged upwards to complete the race.
The whistle was not so lucky with Violet and Eugenie. Try as I did to get them to complete, they had no ounces of energy left. Mercifully, there was tea and snacks for them.
The Swara girls did the club proud. They claimed the 1-2-3 for the long on their debut. Ferrah did 2:16, Alix and Avani were not more than ten minutes behind her and each other. Mulinge was about number 7 and I was number 1 of the long and number 2 over all.
Driving down was quite an adventure. Our car got stuck twice. Avenger (nickname) from the Karura team and Mad Horse (nickname) from Rwanda helped us to steer it safely to the KWS gate where the other cars were packed.
All the Swaras were so happy with their performances and the experience. Alix said that “ever since I met the Swaras, I never want to go back home”.
The Swaras, you were well represented.