Running Tales

Fluorspar 2017, My Little Experiment

The run took place on 29th July. Third time for me. First was back in 2015 as a newbie swara still cutting teeth in matters running. Fluorspar humbled me then. I went back in 2016, wiser this time and managed to conquer the tarmac to tarmac.

My plan for 2017 was to re-conquer tarmac to tarmac faster than in 2016; for comfort that I was improving as a runner and as a training run for a marathon I have in September. Then injury happened.

Before you throw any sympathy my way, I have to own up that I’m pretty hopeless at following advice, which I’ve received quite a lot, solicited and unsolicited. So I probably set myself up for injury by not getting enough physio, sudden exponential changes in mileage, cross training apathy…the list of sins is endless. But in life, you have to be your own cheerleader, so to justify my case I typically seek solace in the fact that even elite athletes succumb to injuries; more depressing because they do this for a living…look at the likes of Rudisha unfortunately having to miss out this year’s world championships…

Extensive research and professional opinion indicates that my injury has to be rested. Not good, not with my September marathon. Still I wasn’t going to miss Fluorspar, so I simply changed my plan for the run and decided that this time I’d run a little experiment, after all I was now ‘freelance running’, my neat marathon training schedule already scattered to the four winds. I therefore packed up and took off to Fluorspar.

Defining Fluorspar, the Run

fluorspar hill viewFluorspar holds sacred status among runners. Kenyan and visiting elites regularly train on the hill. For an increasing number of Swaras tuning up for the Majors and international ultras, it has become a pilgrimage, making at least one visit to the hill before their races. You’d think some ‘running god’ sits up there and runners pay homage by running the hill, whereby getting to the top earns them a ’go ye forth and conquer’.

But why Fluorspar? Nyaru, the end point of the run sits smugly at 2740 plus altitude. One of the highest points in the entire region. Compare this with Iten topping out at slightly under 2400 m. but that’s not the magic of fluorspar, the magic is in the climb to Nyaru, a relentless 21km climb from an elevation of 1349 m to 2740 m asl.

My little experiment

It was quite simple. To run in the dark… reason behind it is another story.

My alarm went off at 3.20am. Like any self-respecting human, I snoozed it all the way to 3.40am. Showered, chewed on a few chapo pieces (which the nice lady at the restaurant had discreetly set aside for me the yester-evening) washed down with coke, geared up; jacket, headlamp, bag on my back with a 2L hydration bladder, two bananas, coke…

Got out of the door at 3.50 in the AM, the little gate leading to the restaurant is locked- for a split second this looks like a perfect excuse to reunite with my warm blanket… I look around, maneuver through some flower bushes, find an alternate gate, good… this one isn’t locked, I’d probably have scaled it if it was.

view from sego lodgeI get to the main gate and the guard dog has no love lost for me, it bays for my blood like I was the devil himself. The ruckus wakes the guard who comes to my rescue and opens the gate.

Once outside, the first 10 kms is due south (read downhill), running jackets and bags are clearly not built for stealth, the racket generated by the jacket and ‘not-so-compact’ bag possibly woke the dead- but they probably decided to give me pass this time… no such luck with the dogs- all dogs far and wide were having a barking field day… the light from my headlamp bobbing up and down, picking out luminous eyes of hounds inquisitively checking on me by the roadside, one or two brave ones made to come too close making my heart pump rather urgently….anyways, I tried as much as possible to ‘ignore’ them. Twice my lights picked out a pair luminous eyes in the bushes not accompanied by barks, I reassured myself that they MUST be cats-no room for alarming alternatives.

In just three kms, I was fed up with the dang riot on my back and pretty much life in general. I soldiered on. The 8 kms from the Lodge to the tarmac was soon over. The tarmac was infinitely more peaceful. I took the road leading to Kabarnet, went past the chebloch gorgeKerio River and up that steep hill. I hadn’t expected to meet any humans that early given the rural setting, but surprisingly I in total met 4 souls (with bodies wrapped around them) between 4 and 5.30am. I turned around on hitting 16km… my run back down to the river can accurately be described as ‘lepers gait’. The painful knee not allowing any form of fluid movement.

The rest of the run will not interest you. In summary by the time my distance was in mid-thirties I was having a perfectly imperfect day and decided I would stop at 40k. On hitting 40k that proverbial little voice urged me to better my distances for 2015 (43k) and 2016 (46k)…little fella’s argument made sense so I kept going.

43kms found me at the base of Fluorspar hill proper, 21 km of pure uphill nirvana. It’s a hill you take on with reverence, submitting to its every whim and demand, hakuna ujanja. Well, this time I wasn’t worthy to run in its presence and after a brief 7 kms of the hill, at exactly 50k by my watch, I stopped and embarked on a leisurely walk, waiting for the support car.

Conclusion: I am not in any particular hurry to repeat such a run, thank you.

Life as a support assistant

The support and ambulance duties was under the command of one Eddah, a maverick behind the wheel… she stops, Otora the trail fox is riding shotgun- shooting out water and related aid items… I say my run is done as I attempt to get on board, the ‘commander’ says no, I insist, she doesn’t budge… I’m in no mood to take a ‘no’ so I hastily let myself into the car before she zooms off- the same treatment is extended to other runners flirting with the idea to quit- end result being that only one more swara forced himself into the car… and regretted soon after.

I take over Otora’s duties and he takes off running in my shoes- literally.

two swarasThe Fluorspar hill predictably makes Swaras a particularly needy lot. You have to anticipate and be ready for their specific demands as you pull up alongside (kinda like those Formula 1 pit stops with no seconds to lose). The irony of their urgency was that they were all running a shuffle. So I was kept busy opening the water bottles, having sodas, bananas and watermelons on the ready. What I thought would be a siesta on the backseat became an ‘emergency room’ situation. I still expected to have a little peace in between the runners, but the ‘rally driver’ behind the wheel had other ideas, making sure we were hanging onto that ka what’s-its-name thing on top of the door as she navigated the hairpin bends hooting a warning to whoever and whatever lay on the other side of the bend.

So two hours was spent shuttling to and fro between the front and back of the Swara pack, our driver looking to take the shortest time possible between the two extremities…

My first time in support was therefore anything but dull.

It’s a wrap

Swaras seemed to have cracked Fluorspar this time. All the starters completed their distances except for one (who I will not call out for the love of my skin), but it was as well he DNF’ed as he turned out to be a rare target for all manner of jibes later in the evening (never let people have high expectations of you). Of course I also technically DNF’ed as the spirit of Fluorspar is to get to the end point at Nyaru regardless of your start point. So one who sets out to do a 15k and ends up at the Tarmac at Nyaru is a finisher as opposed to one who completes a 50k but doesn’t get to the end tarmac. Still, I successfully hid behind my 50… I don’t know where to classify the lady behind the wheel…

The evening was, as is in all the out-of-town runs, quite an evening. I’ll however not go into details seeing as I’m running out of paper…

Come Sunday morning and its Nairobi time. My carpool mate was keen to see Iten, so we make a short foray into the still sleepy town, visiting the world famous Lorna Kiplagat’s High Altitude Training Camp (HATC). This camp regularly hosts distance runners from around the globe, running tourists and curious persons trying to solve the mystery of ‘Kenyan running’. Not having any mysteries of our own to solve, we had a brief look around and headed back to good old Nairobi.

 

(I’ve used DNF in the past and someone asked me the meaning, so for the benefit of anyone else not in the know…)

DNF;‘Did Not Finish’…can be cloned to DNF’er, DNF’ed, DNF’ing, etc. (they all make no grammatical sense but no one seems to care)

Running Tales

The Expedition of Running in Kerio Valley

Kerio Valley runDate: Saturday August 31, 2013

After having seen the scenic photos of the Fluorspar Run, you do not have a complete re-cap story of the run. When we started the journey to Fluorspar, everyone was very excited and full of energy as it tells in the photos. I joined just for sightseeing because i was only going to run 10km only but ended up on a different mission altogether.

We stopped in Nakuru for lunch with Chairman crew team and Wahome’s team. We proceeded and stopped at Mogotio to cross the Equator, which cuts the country into North and South Hemspire. We continued and stopped at Lake Bogoria, the Hot Springs to tour the lake and for Ajaa and Wahome to scout for a future Run there, only to be advised that the park has Lions and Buffaloes and therefore its unsafe to bring a Run there. The rest you can see in the photos, some of us boiling and eating eggs from the Hot Springs from the Lake. The group in the 2nd car couldn’t reach the spring since the path to the springs was wet and treacherous. By that you see Wahome how he managed to reach the Hot Springs. Surinder, Katarina, Munyao and Chairman surrendered and turned back, taking photos of the Flamingoes instead.

The rest of the journey took us to Sego Safari Lodge arriving after 6.30pm where we found most of the other Swaras had arrived. It took Allan and Lillian another 3 hrs (after 9pm) before they arrived since they had gotten lost at Kabarnet. They took a wrong turn and drove on a dusty road close to 60kms. Eventually they did arrive and we had dinner. The chairman briefed the team about the route and I remember Leif, Waliaula and others asking whether the route was tougher than Magadi Run, to which the Chairman replied that its just slightly more difficult. We had to have backup vehicles for the run, so the Chairman requested Monica and I to drive and support the team, although Monica would run later and give the car to Lucy for backup.

Monica and the HummerBoth Lucy and Monica were very excited to drive Ameet’s car, a Hummer. I drove the Chairman’s car and I want to appreciate Ameet and Ajaa for giving out their vehicles. It would have been impossible to run for more than 6 hrs without a support car. Initially we thought it was just like any other normal Saturday run where we only had Bananas and Water, but later it proved to be the most difficult run that i have ever witnessed since i started running way back in 2004.

Breakfast was served at 5.30am and we assembled for the run at 6.30am for drop points. Before dropping i saw Lucy enquiring about the route from the Hotel Manager who didn’t believe what we wanted to attempt and what was awaiting us when we told him we planned to run from Tarmac to Tarmac. I picked up my first group of the tough Runners, Ajaa, Wahome, Leif, Otora, Ferrah, and Loise to the starting point, which was estimated to be about 42 kms. The run started at 7.05am. Monica took the others Like Ameet, Waliaula and Munyao who were doing 35kms. We then went back to pick up the other team members, i.e. Peter doing 30kms, Allan & Lillian 25kms, Suriender, Liz, Pauline, Nancy, Linus, and Christine who had come from the U.S. running for the 1st time doing 20kms, while the rest of the team members doing 15kms were Lucy, Monica, Pamela, Katarina, Anna, Ann and Andreas. I finished dropping at 10am, while the 1st team was at nearly 19kms mark without water. By then the sun was too hot and they were getting mad with me, wondering where i had disappeared. At this point Wahome was shouting at me that Ferrah is dying and they are not interested with the photo shoot out. They took water and bananas and a little while later Ferrah emerged, tired & emaciated, she took up water and banana and off i started chasing the other runners. Monica had already parked her car and started running. I soon caught up with Leif walking at nearly 20kms mark and wondered whether he would finish this run since the hill run was 28kms of hills. A little while later i met Lucy who decided to run downhill after covering 6kms of uphill and we went to pick up the other car, only to find Monica breathless after covering 4kms, so we asked her to get into the car. Every one by this time was running and walking alone except Ann, Anna and Andreas who kept together cos they were walking. Pamela Gordon knew the terrain since she works at the Kerio Valley. She had chosen 15kms and ran her distance very strong.  When i met Lillian, she was asking me for Coca Cola since she was completely worn out. I asked her to get into the car, but she declined; it seems nobody wanted to be seen in the car as having stopped running, so we quickly went to get them energy booster drinks like Coke and Chocolate Sweets which we got and distributed. By the time i went to check on the 42kms team, i found Leif and Loise seated on stones and having given up. They got into the car, then we went to look for Ferrah whom we found seated on the roadside and picked her up. Lucy continued driving and providing services to the other team when he found Munyao who had completed running his distance seated on the roadside having a nap. I was left behind to check on Wahome and Chairman. A few metres ahead, i found them and this time Wahome was running and power walking. He thought loudly, “sometimes you ask yourself why are you doing this to your self?” All this time i was seeing everyone to be crazy, they are just walking alone (see photos). When i caught up with Chairman, he was walking with a painful muscle full. When we asked him this is how it feels when we talk of an injury or any pain, he has never experienced it before, but that day he came face to face with what we go through when we tell him about our injuries. He could neither walk, nor get into the car. You will witness this in two of the photos. We assisted him after sometime to get into the car and that was the end of the run for him, something that does not happen with him.  As for James Waliaula and Otora, at some point nearer to end approximately 5kms to the finish, i found them walking. I salute Pauline as the most improved runner cos even though she was walking, she finished. The chairman and i got out of the car to assist Wahome with the remaining 5kms and by this time Otora came back and we pushed Wahome to the end, Tarmac to Tarmac, 42kms in a time of 6hrs 09mins.

Relaxing at a river crossingAfter finishing and having taken tea at the Kiosk as usual, we embarked on the journey back to the hotel while some people took a Matatu back where we stopped at the river just to dip our tired legs into the water (see photos). We rested and took showers. When dinner came, we sat around a fire place, each one with their favourite kany’uaji (drink) and started postmortem of the run, I was shocked to hear people talking about how the run was great and their experiences because i saw it all, from every one who did it and how they accomplished their distances. For those who have run the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon (56kms) in Cape Town, they will agree with me that the last 10kms looked like the Table Mountains near the finishing point at the University of Cape Town.

To sum it up, it was not a bed of roses, but it’s a beautiful experience and those who have not done it, just look forward when the Chairman announces it next. You have seen the photos. Sorry it’s a long write up, but i hardly write. I may have missed some important comments, but when we meet next time for a get together, we shall revisit the story with everyone there.

My photos of the run

Ann’s photos of the run

Running Tales

In the Footsteps of Kenyan Elite Runners

Fluospar run - 42km startDate: Saturday August 31, 2013

Ever since Wilson Kiprugut won the first Olympic medal for Kenya in 1964, Kenyan elite runners have gone on to dominate world athletics, consistently bagging medals in middle and long distance races around the world year after year. As part of their training, a number of these runners periodically test their mettle at Kerio Valley where they run from near the Kenya Fluorspar Mining Company premises to Nyaru on Eldoret–Eldama Ravine Road, in the process climbing a staggering 1800m. Last weekend, the Urban Swaras set out to follow in the footsteps of these elite runners and get a first hand experience of this formidable trail.

As always, some chose to run 40km, while others set out to do 35km, 30km, 25km, 20km and 15km. The first few kilometers were relatively flat with minor inclines and dips, several river crossings with only stones to step on, and great views of the green hilly surrounding countryside. Some waterfalls could be seen cascading down the slopes in the distance. This part of the trail felt like a walk in the Garden of Eden, encircled by the landscape’s natural beauty. Little did we know what awaited us further on.

As the morning sun rose higher, it started taking its toll. The gradient got steeper by the minute. This was the turning point in the run, the real run had just began. The trail became a series of sharp twists and turns, snaking its way gradually towards the elusive end at the top. Each step became a struggle as we started questioning our sanity. It wasn’t all gloom and doom though, as the occasional sideways glance was rewarded with stunning views of the distant valley below. The activities of the Fluorspar Mining Company were now evident from this vantage point, as dug up ground stood out like open wounds amidst the green surroundings. 

Fluospar run profile
Courtesy of James Waliaula

As the run progressed, it soon started claiming casualties. With the exception of those doing 15km, the rest began falling like dominoes.  Some succumbed to muscle crumbs, others to exhaustion in the face of the relentless climb. It was gruesome, it was merciless, it appeared all was lost and no one would be left standing. Finally, here was a trail that the indomitable Urban Swaras could not surmount, and it seemed their well-earned reputation was crumbling … well, not so fast. Like the mythological Phoenix, the Urban Swaras’ saving grace came from Otoro and Wahome who gave it their all and rose above this challenge, both finishing what turned out to be 42km from tarmac to tarmac (from Kabarnet-Item Rd to Eldoret-Eldama Ravine Rd) with an elevation gain of over 1800m. Waliaula also finished his target 35km in a very respectable 3hrs 42minutes.I don’t know how they did it, but well done to the three heroes of the day.

And so the Urbans Swaras lived to run another day with a renewed respect for our elite runners , having come face to face with the type of obstacles they overcome in their march towards Olympic and World Athletics Medals and accolades. As always, without the lifesaving selfless support from Tata, Monica and MC, this run could have been a total nightmare. They ensured runners got water, bananas, sodas, chocolate and the much needed moral support to come through this experience in one piece. We cannot thank them enough for the role they played.

Fluorspar Run Photos