Running Tales

Flourspar Marathon: An Odyssey Against Gravity

After a week of recovery during which I did not know what to say about the Fluorspar run, I finally have the courage to recount what was an odyssey against gravity.

First of all, I would have you know that I belong to a special club of Swaras who have done the tarmac-to-tarmac at the Fluorspar run. This means a winding snake of a road that takes you from the peaceful base of the pan at the Kabarnet-Iten road to the patronizing heights at Nyaru on the Eldama Ravine-Eldoret road, gaining an unbelievable elevation of about 1800m. The club seems to be dominated by silver-haired men and ladies (with the occasional young man or woman) who have been toughened by years of running, gaining the staying power that comes with age and experience. Indeed, in a light-hearted banter but in an as-a-matter-of-fact tone, one of the seniors would brag that we, the young people, have nothing on the older men when it comes to ‘the game’: the same way the older men have the staying power when running, the performance is not different when it comes to some other game. I shall not elaborate.

So, I felt like a young man who has been honoured to be invited to sit with the elders at the high table when having finished the race, Wahome told me, “you look like you can run with me, for you employ the same strategy as me! Not bolting and using all your energy but running at a measured constant pace.”

The Start

The race day begun early for all the Swaras. Breakfast was served at 5am. I was in a small group of about 8 that set to do the 42 kilometres. At about 5.55am, we were swiftly whisked from our safe haven that is Sego Safari Lodge to a distance of 8km away from where our self-visited torture would begin. In fact, we left in a group of 12 and I was under the impression that I was in the company of many. The number reduced by a third when we realized some of us in the team were just chauffer’s and the others support team. After taking a few photos under the dark morning cover, at 6.15 am, we were left to indulge ourselves in the running madness. After all, the chairman had hinted that the mission of the run is to ‘finish’ us when he wrote, “Runners choose distances or simply run until they drop dead. The longest and most recommended distance is 43km.” Not only was he explicit on his desired outcome (“drop dead” were the operative words), but also went ahead to recommend how to achieve that, running 43kms. Talk of someone giving you a rope to hang yourself.

Kerio sunriseThe first thirteen or so kilometres were pleasant to run. The terrain was generally flat but gradually rising. I found time to take some photos of the Eastern horizon as it ripened into a beautiful mix of yellow and orange and prepared to eject the sun from its bowels. The outline of the hills as against the blue skies reminded me of the graphic representation of the elevation on my Garmin interphase. Of the group of 8, I had left three behind. I was told not to get excited about this as one Wahome who was last in the team, was surely going to catch up with me somewhere after 30kms.

The sandy soil below was friendly to the feet. After the body had warmed, I found my pace increasing. I took advantage of the occasional slope to ‘fly’ with a hope that this was to have a bearing at my average pace.

Defying Gravity

When we entered the fluorspar mines, I accelerated like a new car and overtook those we were together with. Little did I know that this was the last time I would be doing this kind of thing. The party came to an abrupt end at kilometre 20 when the gradient suddenly became steep. The road all of a sudden started meandering and became tortuous.’ At every bend, I was hopeful that there would be some slope but this remained a pipe dream.

kerio scenery
Image Courtesy of Davis Munene

The road turned into a long, winding snake that started from here to Timbuktu. Then from Timbuktu to eternity. Never ending. I have never seen such a long road. I started feeling like Moses going round the Sinai desert. Canaan was so close, so confirmed the locals who offered to show us a direct ‘short cut”, yet so far. At every sharp bend I was convinced that there was no more road ahead or above only for me to find a road cutting through the imposing hill.

Being a musician, I started counting beats and loudly singing to myself some rhythmic motifs of songs. This kept me going as it helped me divide the journey into small bits. This was really not a run, it was an odyssey against gravity. It was a relative of a hike.

Occasionally, the locals greeted and cheered me. There were some that asked questions, just like those in Kikuyuland who normally ask, “you are running so that what happens?” These ones seemed familiar with running so the questions they were asking were like, “you are running up to where?” One asked me if there was money involved and whether he could join right away for the money. Others were compassionate and offered to show me a short cut of 3km instead of 8km at some point.

On the move in Kerio
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

The Drink of Life

What made the run bearable was the beautiful scenery all through. Kerio Valley, Sego and Kimwarer village are beautiful. One crosses uncountable rivers that cascade from the hills above, cutting across the road. Many times, I found myself tempted to take a dip in the paddles and the fords. The sound of rapids by the roadside in the bushes and the undergrowth sounded like cheers by multitudes in an Olympic stadium.

My secret desire to drink from the rivers and cool my head under the cold waters from the streams materialized when at about 6 kilometres to the finish I came across a pipe jutting from the wall-like roadside and pouring clean beautiful water. It was irresistible to interact with the water.

For about two minutes I let the water flow over my head and neck then proceeded to drink to my fill. How pleasant and refreshing the water was. I then filled my bottle and proceeded with my run-walk-run.

At some point, and true to what I had been told, I saw a luminous green t-shirt on some man, moving to a familiar sway. Since the other people we were with had already been ‘evacuated’ by the rescue team, this could only be Wahome.

Wahome in Kerio
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

At about two kilometres to the finish, he passed me in his run-walk-run style. At this point I was so finished and decided to walk the last 1.5km. About 400m to the finish line and when I was wondering if someone had moved the finishing point, I saw a kaleidoscope of t-shirts of luminous green, pink, white and other colours. The Swaras were doing the final stretching. Had they forgotten one of them was still trotting on?

Bolting like Usain

One of my friends shouted my name. I do not know from where I got the strength. Amidst the loud cheering by the Swaras, I bolted faster than Usain. I was about to slow down and finish when they said, ‘touch the tarmac, touch the tarmac!” I did run until the tarmac, and then collapsed on the grass to catch some breath.

It is at this point that I found people telling tales about the run. I was elated to learn that I was one of the five out of the eight that finished the 43km tarmac-to-tarmac distance. Others had found the going tough and gotten a lift from the support team or boda bodas.

Later, on our way down the valley back to our haven, we would all have the opportunity to take a dip in the cold waters of the river at (Kimwarer??). Of course we had a great evening and a great journey back to Nairobi, arriving back on Sunday at about 6pm.

Capable Support Team

I cannot finish this story without passing loads of gratitude to the support team of the beautiful Ella (Elsa?), her friend and the rest of the crew. Several times, they went to and fro on the road offering us water (I am told there were fruits too though I saw none!) Every time I saw the black car they were in, and then their beautiful faces beaming out of the windows after which they would ask, “Water? Soda? Are you ok?” I felt like I did not want to let them down and kept going. Yea, the same way a guy pumps a heavier weight in the gym when there is a damsel around. Thanks for your work.

Kerio Conqueror
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

So, I went, I defied gravity and conquered fluorspar.

Will I return to Fluorspar in 2017 to defy gravity a second time? Well, the jury is still out on that.

Running Tales

The Fluorspar Run- Take two

Seems like there’s a lynch mob baying for the blood of the 2016 Fluorspar Swaras as a result of their post run hush-hush… slow down, here is one account…

Kerio 2016The fluorspar run is ideally a 3 day odyssey. For lack of a better explanation, look at it like a sandwich…the run practically being the stuff between your to and fro road trips.

Day 1

This will be your 319 odd kilometer drive from the capital to Sego Safari lodge. As said by many before, it is recommended that you leave Nairobi in the morning. Handy Google will say without blinking that it will take you 5 hrs 11 mins. Now, if like this Swara you are the regular guy for whom 319 km drives are generally uninterrupted sessions behind the wheel, then Google is talking to you.

But Google is clearly not a guy in a carpool outfit that includes two determined Swaras of the female species, so you need to make allowances for a few stops, sorry that’s a lie – you’ll make a few stops then 5 more (don’t ask questions)… From impromptu purchases of valley floor honey (and volumes of groceries on the return leg), to irresistible wow stops for the countless great views. And we will not mention the OMG stops for the Swara who is crossing the equator on terra firma for the first time.

You’ll also pause along the scenic hairpin bends as you climb up towards Kabarnet and lastly at Chebloch Gorge…where you’ll be sure to find another Swara crew, with Timo predictably Carbo loading on a barley product.

As you leave Kabarnet, you face the intimidating view of the climb you are set to conquer the following day. It looks like a wall. One Swara conveniently draws a sore parallel between this wall and some ominous wall in a certain popular TV series; GOT (Game of Thrones) for those in the know…

The trip shames Google by taking 7 leisurely hours.

Wiser Swaras would add a bit of Lake Bogoria in their itinerary. Our heart goes out to those unfortunate Swaras who got to the lodge at close to midnight having left Nairobi late, tied down by their day engagements.

So yeah, leave early if you can.

The wall sighting makes your evening a frenetic carbo loading session that goes like this; you eat, you get full, image of the wall flashes in your mind; you go for a second helping, you eat, you get fuller, memories of last year’s hardships on the wall visits you; time for a third helping….

The pre-run briefing is delivered by Wahome and James Waliaula, whose attempt at trying to hearten the ‘folks’ gathered is… let’s put it this way… picture a sermon. The goal is to make your flock look forward to going up above; there are two angles you can go about it. Preach about the goodies up above to make the flock feel all dreamy and longing to partake of those excesses, or preach about the horrors of damnation down below to scare the, well, hell out of your flock and make them single-mindedly determined to keep out of the darn place… you get the idea…

Day 2

This is d-day, a day that will without doubt be imprinted in memory. Your only role is to step aside and hand the day over to your feet, lungs, willpower and stars (hoping you are in good terms with your stars).

Not surprisingly, a sizeable number have done this run before. For this Swara, 2015 ended in a fit of breathlessness at Kilometer 36 so there were amends to be made. This is the kind of run to do again and again and maybe only stop at umpteen.

It is reasonably agreed that Fluorspar is not the toughest run in the Swara calendar, just by closing your eyes you can visualize one or two more murderous runs in the circuit. A good number of Swaras put it at position 3 or 4 in the torture pecking order…some place it in position 1 or 2 but it would seem these have not yet been privileged guests of the other Swara ‘torture chambers’… or torture trails if you may. An overwhelming consensus though is that Fluorspar is way up on the favourite list.

So the run starts at 6.30 for the tarmac to tarmac distance of 42.7 kms. Logic, common sense, the normal distribution curve or whatever you call it would dictate that the least number of Swaras would attempt the full distance, more numbers taking the ‘safer’ distances of 30 k and below. In defiance, 10 swaras (close to 50%) take the plunge for the 42.7km; making this the most popular distance!!

For a clearer perspective, running the shorter 23 kms would take you through all of the most scenic and rewarding parts of the run. But NO, this daft lot decides to warm up for about 20 kms before the run proper, the daftest of them even doing a further 4 kms after getting to the top of the escarpment, just for the experience of running at an altitude of 2740 m.

So as we were saying, the run starts at 6.30 am. Caution all round, before the fast ones speed ahead. The first 20 km is a breeze, you have to negotiate across a number of rivulets on the road. A clear sign that it’s rainy season; these streams were conspicuously missing in the run of 2015.

You start the ‘run proper’ after 2 hrs, hitting the steady incline with guarded resolve, knowing only too well the soon to be encountered toll on your feet and thinness of air up top. The climb is deceptively gradual, it doesn’t offer you the sudden steep climbs that would make you stop, neither does it flatten out to offer transient reliefs…

The support this time thoroughly outdid itself; there was Otora, the hired Motorbike guy, and ….wait for it… two ‘cheerleaders’, no less!! Thanks to Ndegwa. Talk about Otora being overshadowed in his role. It was hardly surprising that Otora and the other guy’s water provisions seemed to barely get depleted; go figure… The omnipresence of the support crew also meant that this is one run where you’d get to the end fully hydrated.

The Stats

kerio elev1kerio tarmac to tarmac statsFootnote stats for the tarmac to tarmac.

Quick summary;

Minimum Elevation         : 1,163 m asl

Maximum Elevation        : 2,745 m asl

Gross elevation gain      : 1,972 m (stats for the bugger who did 46.35 kms; appx. 1,900 m for 42.7 kms)

Net altitude gain             :1,577 m     

With those 3,000 words (1 picture equals 1,000 words, no?) there is nothing further to add about the run.

So the run ended, as usual the earlier finishers madly cheering on the weather-beaten, battle-weary, bone-tired Swaras lugging their dead weight up the last few metres, the goings on a clear amusement to the local populace who are used to lithe athletic figures sprinting up the hill… our sympathies to the early finishers though, they do not get to enjoy this carnival end to their runs.

The carnival mood extends to a river down below; where everyone realizes there should have been a memo to carry additional gear for messing with the water, and onwards to the lodge where testimonies are traded over lunch and infusions of the lethal and soft kind.

The day refuses to end before a Nyama Choma fellowship is held way into the night where a section of Swaras fall into vegetative state while the rest remarkably afford to shake a leg despite their daytime tribulations.

Day 3

Swaras Left.

Running Tales

My Memories of Fluorspar Run

Fluospar run 2016
Image courtesy of Davis Munene

It seems like everyone has gone quiet about the Fluorspar run. I wonder why? My experience is that it was a really eventful run, on and off the trail and one not to be missed. This was my first one.

In the first place I really needed this run to build training for my marathon in October. I broke all rules to be there, but I wouldn’t want to disclose those particular details!

at cheblock gorgeI was lucky to drive down in a group of five adventurous people, so we chose the scenic route. The views along the route are just unbelievably beautiful. There is Chebloch Gorge on Kerio River where we got to watch diving experts from the local community in action. The run itself was something special. Felicita at Kerio valleyThe term “gentle climb” took on a new meaning. It just went on an on. A “clever dude” whose name I will not disclose to protect my life decided to do a short cut. He shortened the distance but ended up doing a hike instead of a run. I am not sure how that makes it easier. I suspect he did it because of a bet he had with a “she”. I do not believe he will repeat the same mistake.

Although the run was not a walkover, I have to admit it will help me run a better Kerio valley viewsmarathon. I had to walk, run, walk at some point, but I certainly wasn’t the only one. The scenery was beautiful all though. Fortunately I drove through the same trail on the way back to Nairobi so I was able to see what my eyes had missed due to fatigue (including waterfalls!). I really appreciated the cheering squad at the end who insisted I had to “touch the tarmac” . Great team spirit there! For the first time since high school, I ate bread with a bottle of Fanta, I could not believe how tasty it was.

waterbreak at kerio valleyThe icing on the cake was the diversion to a river for some bare foot wading, and games of sorts with lots of photography taking place. I do not know where the energy came from but we had lots of fun. We then got back to the lodge. Most of us never bothered to shower before eating the late lunch that was provided. After a shower, many retreated to their rooms to rest. I went down to the pool to watch those who decided to take a dip. An evening party of sorts with our in-house deejay James went down really well after dinner.

What a beautiful run! Tough, but the beauty outshines all that at the end of the day. Don’t miss it next year; but it is best to leave Nairobi early in order to enjoy the outing.

Running Tales

Tales From The Bottom Of Kerio Valley; A Villager Goes On Tour

Kerio Run 2016
Image Courtesy of Davis Munene

Five days later, I finally have the courage to narrate my tormented story, from the bottom of Kerio Valley, amidst the fluorspar mines. It’s an annual event in Urban Swaras running calendar, billed as a relatively hard run and a must experience for every Urban Swara. We departed Nairobi and travelled to Sego Lodge on Friday, in dramatic fashion. A morning meeting in my office took longer than I’d expected, and I was the designated driver. Rather than leave before 11am, I was still shuffling papers at my desk at 2pm. Thereafter, a traveling companion wasn’t at his pick up point as agreed, and despite waiting on the roadside for a further 10 minutes, I had to leave without him. He’d later hail a ‘boda boda’, catching up minutes later, as I was picking others at Gitaru. The Gitaru group had been waiting by the road since 11am.

We drove to Nakuru in heavy traffic, with no chance of recovering lost time, though we still managed a shopping stop. One or two items were foremost on my shopping list, and none had any relation to running. In Nakuru, there was a ‘super grand mega’ healing crusade by ‘the mightiest’ prophet, one Owuor, and traffic was heavy getting into and out of town. In spots along the highway, anxious followers waited for the prophet to pass by and bless them. I mildly remembered the caution by the good book that a society gets lost for lack of knowledge. I felt that the prophet was perhaps lifted higher than his ‘Lord’.

After Nakuru, we tried to beat the approaching darkness. The mild showers around Kabarak helped none. I hit a pothole somewhere before Marigat, and was to loose that tyre. The mechanic mentioned something to do with low profile tyres. It was now dark, and I’d never driven this far out of my backyard. Descending into the valley, a sharp turn sneaked up to us, and I nearly lost control of the vehicle. This experience totally freaked me out. We took our time driving on, finally arriving at the lodge around 10pm.
The following morning saw us start at 6:30am. Breakfast was uneasy, with words like ‘carbo loading’ and ‘hydrate’ being thrown around. In the village, you don’t plan to run. See, no lion warns you to eat carbohydrates three days before it breaks into your compound. A cow on estrous doesn’t care if you drank beer or water the previous evening, before running off to look for outside help. On the other hand, Swaras don’t care if you’re a villager, before throwing technical jargon in their talk.

Whereas I’d prepared to run 25k at the most, there were not many Swara running the ‘shorter’ distances, and peer pressure saw me start at the 34k mark. I immediately knew it would be a long and hard day. At the starting line, my friends Jack Ndegwa and Davis Gitari encouraged me, though to be honest, if these two gentlemen run, mine is a crawl and hop affair. Knowing that I’d be running solo shortly, I set my music to Pure Trance, and shut out the world. The first 11k was a good affair. The valley is beautiful at sunrise, with protective sheer cliffs all around. At various streams crossing our paths, villagers were filling their water jerricans, probably to go and prepare breakfast. You could tell that most hadn’t bathed that day, and possibly the whole week. I felt at home, and even quickened my stride. Some streams were wide enough to deny you a clear jump, and what better place to fancy running a steeplechase that the valley of ‘jambions’.

I managed to stick to a group of runners who told childhood stories as they ran, laughing along heartily. I was out of breath just trying to keep up with the lot, and they were laughing! One even had the energy to run backwards, like all this was child play. Once or twice, it crossed my mind to pick up a couple of rocks and stone someone. I could blame it on an unexplained natural phenomenon, and worst case scenario, pretend I was loosing my nuts. The latter wouldn’t have taken much acting. Saying a prayer, I stuck to my music, and plodded on. As the morning sun struck the westerly cliffs, we were rewarded with some of the most breathtaking views I’d ever laid my eyes on.

Kerio Run - NgatiaAll hell broke loose at the 11.6k mark. I’d earlier realized that we were running at the floor of a pan, completely surrounded by towering cliffs. A couple of streams cut through the tops of the cliffs, in a white splash of a waterfall. Casually, I’d mentioned it to my companions, and one of them observed that at some point, we may need to climb out of the pan. This I did for the next 22 kilometres, in about 4hrs 30minutes, in what was the most torturous road run I’d ever had. Not once did the hills level out, and I immediately found myself running alone, in a ‘runner’s wilderness’ where you’re so lonely you loose all sense of position and time. I passed other ‘walkers’ who’d since given up running, and though there was a little comfort knowing I am headed the correct direction, the beating continued, and it came in hard.

With my pace now well below 10mins per kilometre, my walk home started after I’d run 25k. After a while, solitude, trance and hiking played well to allow me a good walk, eventually dragging myself to the finish line after five and a half hours on my feet. A motley crew of beaten but cheerful Swaras received every finisher cheerfully, one of the ngatia fluosparbest experiences of the day. It’s a while since I ate bread with juice, but on Saturday, I was certain ‘maana’ couldn’t have tasted better.
The whole morning, a dedicated group of Swaras drove or rode up and down the valley, dishing out bread, oranges and bottles of water. After my sixth bottle, I’d lost count of how much water I’d consumed. These volunteers saved the day for many runners.
The afternoon and evening were less boisterous but cheerful, every runner to his poison, alcoholic in many cases. The battles fought that morning were told again and again, and compared with previous wars fought in other arena. While most runners had indicated that they’d never run in this valley again, a few now discussed how they’d run the following morning, to ‘recover’. I’ve never understood how you recover from a harsh run by running some more, and these weren’t the right people to seek an answer from.
I came back to my village from a beautiful run, carrying with me memories as beautiful. Given another opportunity, Fluorspar Run is worth a repeat.

Running Tales

Fluorspar Tested My Mettle – and I Passed!

At Fluospar RunI have long shied away from participating in the flagship endurance runs (Magadi and Fluorspar) because I simply didn’t believe I had the mettle for it yet – and I was probably right. In 2014, I went along to Magadi, but only to drive route support on the day.

This year, emboldened by a combination of completing the 63-day Insanity Challenge and embarking on training for my maiden full marathon, when the Fluorspar run came about, I thought it was time I upped my ante and tested my newly-accomplished fitness and endurance levels. In the week (perhaps two) preceding Fluorspar, Ajaa began sending through Swaras’ accounts of the previous years’ Fluorspar runs. I read each one as it came, and was horrified and entertained in equal measure. I wasn’t sufficiently horrified to be scared off it though; still, when Susan sent through the payment details to kick off confirmation I had to dig deep to be sure that I really did intend on attempting this run. Without giving myself time to talk myself out of it, I made my payment within less than 5 minutes of Susan’s email. Bullet=Bitten.

If I said I was excited about Fluorspar, I would be telling a lie. I spent the days in the run-up to the event contemplating all the horrible things that could happen. Foremost on my mind was the fact that I’m in physio for an injury and while I’m making definite progress, it’s rather slow and I didn’t know whether I could run more than 21km before the injury called time-of-death on my effort. I wanted to attempt 30km at Fluorspar. Eventually, I arrived at the place where I knew the worst that could happen is that I would end up sitting heat of the day, waiting for rescue. I could live with that. I didn’t stop contemplating horror, but my sense of dread was far less stifling.

I’ll skip to the venue now, but first: my appreciation to Ameet and Surinder for the rides there and back.

The Accommodation

At Sego Safari LodgeWe arrived at Sego and I had no grand expectations of a welcome drink and a cold towel; it made a rather delightful first impression. Later, I would discover my resident spider, deafening crickets, broken toilet flusher, trickling shower and non-functioning instant heater. None of this took away from a pleasant experience, though. The spider lived in the bathroom and I just made sure I always located it first so that it wouldn’t scare me when it scampered (I kept reminding myself it was more afraid of me than I was of it). The screeching crickets…well, what to do, right? The broken toilet flusher – a bucket from ‘housekeeping’ took care of that easily. The trickling shower…45 minutes per shower – well, it’s not like I had to be anywhere in a hurry, right?

The Night Before the Run

I still dreaded it, but in the company of the Swaras, I began to catch their enthusiasm. I enjoyed hanging out the evening before, getting to know Swaras whom I only heard about or read from on email and put faces to names. It was a pleasant evening and after Ajaa’s briefing, most of us called it a night to go to bed early. I was serenaded first by my singing neighbour (I remembered to compliment him on his singing voice the following day) and then harassed by screeching crickets. I did fall asleep, eventually, and slept rather well, all things considered.

Run Day

I had set my alarm for 5am, but my singing neighbour’s equally melodious alarm roused me half an hour early (did I mention that Sego has very thin walls?) I didn’t mind – it gave me a head-start on my pre-run panic – yes, the dread was back.

I don’t usually eat before a morning run and all the literature, and seasoned opinions advise against anything different before an important run. I decided to take risk and eat a light breakfast, particularly because I was set to run longer than I ever had before, so I figured this merited breaking my habit. If there had to be consequences, I would rather deal with the consequences of having eaten than of a run hampered by hunger.

I joined the Swaras (including Nduku, Mercy, Jael, Ndinda and Maurice) who had decided to start their run at the lodge. In hindsight, that was my best decision of the day. The first 10.5km was an easy stretch of gently undulating hills, that allowed me to warm up and find my pace for the remainder of the run, as well as boosted my confidence for the climb that was subject of the dreadful stories. It also let me test my knee and get a sense of how it would hold up, and by the time I started the climb, I felt confident that I would make it to at least 25km.

At 10.5km, I reached the foot of the hill and began the climb at a steady pace and with confidence. I had Jael in my sight and she seemed as light-footed as a gazelle. She suddenly picked up her pace – because I’m pretty sure it was not me that slowed down – and before I knew it she was around several bends and far out of sight. The hill was gentler than I anticipated and I actually enjoyed it. Every so often, I would realize that I was enjoying this run and I’d get a silly smile on my face – I expected many things on this run, but enjoying it was not one of them!

At about 17km, my knee began to feel weird – not painful, but uncomfortable – so I slowed down and eventually decided to walk 0.5km of every 2km stretch. That alternation worked pretty well to keep me moving while keeping my knee well below a pain threshold.

Every so often, I’d come upon a small group of children walking downhill and they were hilariously splendid motivators. At one point a little girl ran at me clapping her hands and shouting (in Swahili), “Stop walking! Run! There are others ahead and they’ve left you far behind! Run!” With a laugh, I broke into a jog and she called out after me, “Yes! Like that!”

Otora caught up to me at about 20km and I still had enough water, as I was wearing my hydration belt, but I gratefully took a banana from him. At about 25km, as he went back downhill, he gave me two watermelon slices and took my picture. I was approaching burnout by this point and considered jumping into the vehicle, but decided to keep going until I simply couldn’t.

That didn’t take too long. At 27.5km, I was done. Just like that. It was like someone pressed ‘EMERGENCY STOP’ on a treadmill. I paused my Garmin, ended my run, walked a few metres to a shady spot under a tree and sat down to finish my water and wait for the next rescue vehicle. David soon came round the bend behind me and it seems he was looking for encouragement to stop too. He joined me in the shade and we introduced ourselves and struck up conversation. Before long, blessed rescue came with Mercy at the wheel accompanied by Jael…I was so wasted, I cannot remember who else was in the vehicle. They were like trail angels, offering refreshment, encouragement or rescue, depending on what was needed.

At the top of the hill, we joined other tired, exhilarated Swaras and the celebratory mood of accomplishment was simply fantastic. With Jael leading us, we stretched, then hung around chatting, snacking, hydrating and cheering on other Swaras as they completed their runs. Nduku and Katwa were among the Swara’s who came in to a victorious finish while we waited there.

Not long after, on the drive back down to the lodge, we took in the full measure of the distance we had covered. I was so tired that I kept on nodding off – literally – hitting my head, a few times, on the headrest in front of me.

I set out to run 30km, I expected to achieve 25km and I achieved 27.5km. I felt so proud. I think can say, “I am an endurance runner.” I’m not done with Fluorspar, yet – I will return. For now, though, I’ll hang onto these bragging rights until October 25th when, God-willing, I will be able to say, “I am a marathoner.”

Swaras rock! I’m proud to be one.

Running Tales

You Ain’t Run Nowhere Yet!

Swaras after completing Fluospar run
(Reader Advisory…this is a long read)

It’s now 48 hrs after this misadventure and as I write this critique, the word experience keeps coming back to me.

Experience; (Dictionary.Com)

  • Involvement in, participation in, contact with, acquaintance with, exposure to, observation of, awareness of, insight into …a thing

Many of you Swaras experienced this run or chose to in view of /despite the warnings issued last week by Tata’s writings that the great General Ajaa, fell in battle in 2013. This is why I chose not to. But being 50+ and looking to do a respectable sub-4 (Swara Lingo for under 4 hrs) in the up-coming Stanchart marathon I decided last minute (Jael would agree that I paid last) to throw all caution to the air and experience it. I told many, it’s a death wish but I’ll take it. For the first time in many years of running for free, Stanchart is willing to reward me with a 15% interest on Savings account -that 15% thing was the clincher for me. Normally I wake up 5:00am Mon-Fri. So this Friday was no different. But believe you me, I had no idea what to carry or leave behind. So I just packed a small sports bag with ‘He-things’ and a pair of trainers. Other things I would re-use and re-cycle in the countryside’s hot open air!

My ‘boss’ was least bothered by such suicidal tendencies to self-destruct somewhere deep inside the belly floor of the Rift Valley. But before I left we knelt and said a prayer for the Almighty to remember me, and them, ‘the left behind’. Soon we were hurtling down the highway to Nakuru having dropped Tata somewhere along the way and detoured to Karen to pick up two Swara newbies, Duncan and Francis. Then Kinale forest, Soko Mjinga, Kenol-Kobil and the turn-off to Run-Together camp. We relived ‘Boston Hill’ like it was just yesterday! At Naivasha someone said they hadn’t had breakfast so we branched off to Delamare. Personally I never buy anything at Delamare. I always feel cheated on the price. So I simply hung around the car, made some unnecessary phone calls and basked in the morning sun waiting for these coffee tourists to be fleeced of their kwachas.

Towards Gilgil, it was a bit too early for the baboons to start their roadside entertainment for drive-by viewers. So we entertained ourselves by admiring the green carpet of vegetables and flowers of Naivasha orchards and got busy spotting and counting the zebras and antelopes in Cholmondeley’s (the serial homo-sapien hunter) ranches. Someone muttered that racial clashes might someday drive Lord Egerton’s grandchild away from his priced property at Elementaita but we quickly discounted that.

Lunch? Would it be Nakuru’s donkey meat or Mogotio-roasted goat or Marigat’s sisal-smoked-obambla or Kabarnet-koriema? We settled on Kabarnet. We had a high quality and high value passenger who wouldn’t touch any roadside anything. So after a brief stopover in Nakuru to purchase juices, sodas and water, we headed off to Kabarnet.

Duncan’s GPS was accurate to the last ten meters, mostly contradicting my prior rusted knowledge of the route. We went along with it thankfully. Somewhere past Moi’s famed Kabarak, and after the turn-off to Eldama-Ravine, where Baringo county begins, we arrived at the Equator monument. I had been there sometime back and never noticed anything like a monument. But we stopped and even bought some soap-stone-globe held by three hands, between several clicks of selfies. A mama selling the globe-thing indicated that one of the hands holding the earth is Satan himself. The women were lankier around the equator area, reminded me of Karanja Road in Kibera. And this soap-stone artistry? Yet there were no signs of Kisiis or Kambas anywhere near! So I bought that one because it showed Satan outnumbered two to one.

Off again to Marigat, through rows upon rows of sisal plantations. If you thought sisal bags were outdated, think again, so says our high value passenger. Coffee and other high quality foods cannot be transported in plastics. Up there in the Acacia trees, I counted a dozen different Acacias, were hung some beehives. So this is beehive, sisal, goat and sheep territory. And it was 33-35 degrees outside. So hot, one could see goat sheltering under trees. Once in a while you could spot the infamous mathenge tree. Deceptively green, beautiful, good on outside, bad on the inside. There’s plenty of charcoal on the roadside and one hopes that it’s being made from the mathenge, otherwise this is purely an environmental disaster in the making.

Somewhere along the way our GPS stopped working or succumbed to the heat. Being in the downstream marketing business I couldn’t help noticing one or two retail service stations cropping up here and there. We are now headed North and the twists and turns begin. Vegetation also gets greener, signifying that we are probably into Marakwet territory. Don’t ask me who those souls living on sisal, charcoal, goats and beehives are. Maybe Tugen, Ndorobo, Ogieks, Njemps or even Pokot. A lot of place names have ‘Kap’ and some ‘Os’, and no telltale suffix ‘er’ at the end. Made us think that Baringo County is a hotbed of the wildest of the wild. Aaah, Koriama! We were yet to decipher the full meaning of that word a few hours later.

2:30 pm: We are the final twists and turns to Kabarnet and we are being hit from all sides of the road by pebbles, pebbles and more pebbles. Apparently someone seriously Kenyan is busy doing the unneeded road carpeting and making a damn poor job of it! Then Kabarnet. Even dere is now too tired to fidget with his mobile phone as he is driving. We will have coach him on road safety some time soon! Sissler African Dishes announce our arrival and we turn right thinking we are heading into town. But we have all read the arrow signs wrong! As we pass Kabarnet Hotel, formerly a power base of the Kiplagats, the Cheboiwos and the Barngetunys, our high quality high value passenger says this is where he is going to have his lunch. Realising we are on the wrong road we turn back into into town. If you ever want to know you are in town center, look for a bank. Aha, Equity, Family bank and the ever dead or dying KWFT. But no Hotel that meets our new standards, just some roadside eyesores. Turn back again to Kabarnet Hotel, passing Sissler African Dishes for the second time. I am sure Davies is cursing one us because he and Alfred, who has been reserved most of the journey, suddenly quote from a book they have read recently about gut feeling and instincts. I mumble to myself that it must be instinct for goat meat driven by a burning stomach. I tell them what I have learnt; that instinct is just a sub-conscious process that regularly bursts out into the conscious when the stimulus is right. Thank God! Kabarnet Hotel turns out to be a ghost hotel. No car in the parking, no one at the reception. I announce to all that “I ain’t eating here even if the food is free” and so for the safety of my pocket we turn into Sissler. Here we meet koriama again. Koriama-chips, koriama-chapo, koriama-ugali, koriama stew. What on earth is this koriama? So, in order to die together, like all foolish homo-sapiens do, we all order koriama. It’s delicious, it’s goat meat after all. Bye bye Kabarnet and bye-bye Koriama.

We head out and down the hairpin bends to Iten. It is so steep we hardly want to imagine if someone might be mad enough to make us run this. We pass some gorge with rocks the colour of coffee, which look like a million years old. “Tourist attraction”, say many banners. Later we learn that this is where for a small fee you can send someone to his maker. They dive 50 meters headlong into the gorge. So 100 years after Conan the Barbarian, our brains are still reptilian enough to make us subject human beings to such gruesome display! The nice tall Marakwet girl in Sisslers said the junction is 10km away. We’ll soon know that those hairpin bends and corners reminiscent of a road through the Swiss alps are not counted as distance. It’s actually 16Kms and about 20 minutes later we make out turn-off. The descent was so spectacular, breathless and fast that we failed to notice. Ajaa’s laugh looming over the table mountains. When we see it, we freeze! “OMG, we are going to run this?” Are the mumbles you could hear from us all. Newbies like me could only pray that the human side of Ajaa take precedence. After a few minutes through brick makers masonry, mangoes, sorghum and failed maize harvest, just before 4:00pm we check in at Sego Safari Lodge. We notice it’s actually called Sergon, but someone savvy enough removed the ethnic sounding from the name and put a “Maina” in charge.

Swaras at Kerio ValleyMaina insists on checking us in on a sharing basis! Yes we paid for sharing. In this heat and those granary looking mabati roof cottages? No way! So we go through the list, 32 so far and there’s 41 rooms. Give us a room each, we demand! So by the time Jael came, she must have found anarchy and all her plans ruined. After the long drive, we try and catch up on sleep but that posho mill thing keeps snorting up every two minutes. By 6:00 pm, I have given up all attempts to sleep. Get some ice. Davies got some in Nakuru and our drinks are all ice-cold. Then Dinner. Then some camaraderie, some before-the-run braggadocio and chest thumping. “I am doing 30km!” declares one senior citizen who walked most of the 25km previous week at KEFRI. “Tarmac to Tarmac”, declares some delicate young sweet thing. A week ago at KEFRI, I saw her walking and cursing unprintables over only 30kms. After the final briefing it was bedtime. I saw a lot of runners disappointed that everything starts from 20km. No 10km. No 15km. Some of the runners will have to do it backwards, Lillian tells me she has a plan.

The Run| The Challenge| The Slaughter

Its morning. There’s apprehension on what waits us but it’s subdued. Veterans know but are rather quite. I don’t see Ferrah smiling and that bothers me. My fellow tough runner Munyao has full gear of scientifically researched and prepared Camel Pak. He says he has 2litres of special purpose water and additives in there. He is doing 30km. That is my first source of worry. I am not as good as he is, and I am mad enough to attempt 35km. Eleven of us get to the tarmac. Munyao is driving and will drop me at the 35km mark (turns out to be 37km). We drive ahead at the white board and start mine too. If you ever wanted to do 40km next year, start at the first white board sign post for some primary school and AIC. It’s a struggle to run with one litre of water, half in each hand, like some Slim-Possible participant running with weights; but the alternative is suicide. So I take it slowly. Tough climbs gentle descent. But those dogs out early morning, they scare the hell out of me. I have been bitten twice by my own dogs, so the sight of a strange stray dog puts me on breaks. Every time I saw one of two I slowed to a walk.

Sam with Ferrah at NyaruSoon enough I pass Sego Lodge and Munyao & Co, 30km group seem to be waiting for transport or something. “On On” I tell myself. I reach Muskut and survey the environment for a mosque. Can’t see any, so why Muskut? “On On” I urge myself, I am the only one doing 35km. I see at a distance a swara, I wish her strong and move on.

At the valley I spot a junction that turns seductively right and am tempted to head that way. But some old man out of nowhere stops me. “Njia yako ni ile”. So I continue on njia yangu and reach a gate and a barrier in front. So this must be the 21km. I’m still strong and I’ve passed four mwenjoyos and I have only 21km to go. Maybe I can now start sipping the heavy water. The dust kicked up by these monster lorries is going to kill me soon! Then I remembered a nose cover I left behind in the city. I ran again some 2-3km to another manned gate! Damn! Did the chairman not talk of one barrier? Yes he did, but he also said the barrier to the left, and I cant’ see any barrier to left. Just before this gate, a river or waterfall or whatever overflows the road, there are three more mwenjoyos washing their faces. I wave and move on but notice that there are no more down hills or flats, just uphill. The battle has just began.

Before long, I meet Lillian thundering down. So was this was her plan? To run down?

I’ve got to keep the remaining sugar until I meet Otora. A really beautiful woman with an equally soft smile is manning this gate. Well, there were men there as well, but I didn’t notice them. I stopped. Removed my now hot head gear, smiled my best and asked her to tell me the truth about how far Nyaru is. “24km”, she says. No it’s 24km minus 3km.

I ask her jokingly, “Did you say you are 24 years old and Nyaru is only 21kms away?”

“Yote sawa” is all I get.

I move on. A young swara, zooms by. I wave him down.

“It’s a marathon boy!”

“This is my pace”, he says.

“It’s a pace to nowhere”, I mumble.

My mind races to hundreds of opportunities I lost in my life because of being young and stupid. Ahead, our Usain Bolt is bent over in a painful crouch position, the hill hit him and the gas went out of his legs, I assume. I catch up and we trot for some time. He picks speed and disappears in some corner as I check the temperature and quality of some water oozing off the rocks on the road. My 1litre of water and additives is now down to half a litre but I dare not touch it until Otora appears. Thank God for small mercies, here are Otora and Yusuf!

“Wasn’t Yusuf supposed to be pacing our Patron? Is the Patron already ‘dead’?”

Later I heard how some Swaras branched off to buy their own rescue sodas in the numerous shops dotting the hillsides. Then the corners! Every time I approach one, I hope for a flat or a descent after. None of that! ‘Usain Bolt’ & Co. are trudging ahead dying slowly. It’s my time show all that ‘old is not sold’.

“How far is Nyaru?” I ask again and again and I get the same answer. “Mbali!”

I may as well stop asking. Turning one corner I get the feeling that the trees above me are talking. If I am not running mad, how come trees are talking, chatting and even laughing.

Then ahead I spot a group of Swaras doing a slow hike in a zigzag pattern. They must have been the talking trees. I turn to look down the corner below me and spot the wind-assisted Nyingi flowing up! He easily zooms past. That is when I realize one of the “Tarmac to Tarmac” champions have caught up with me, yet I started 5kms ahead of them,which means I have lost 30 minutes already. So Ajaa must be nearby too. I told myself if Ajaa passes me at 38km that would be respectable enough. I can live with that. Ten minutes later, Macharia catches up with me. I try to keep up but his muscular frame and legs, which look like they are made of oak, is too powerful a kick for me to keep up. I let him go and let God! (seriously, I said let God). Another steep corner, Munyao shows up. We ran together for while. His Camel Pak looks lighter; its additives must be in his veins. Up hill is Otora mixing water and sodas. I ask Munyao who has a Garmin how far to go? “10km”. I am elated, 10km and I have so much kick in me! But it’s actually 13km. Because somewhere ahead I pass another Swara trying to kick the air with her legs for blood circulation and she tells she has belted 27km, must be 3km to go. Not so fast and thats when the trees start playing games on me. At the end of each row of trees I swear to myself that no one can build any road there. I reach the end of a tree line, see some blue sky, think I am done with the damn hills, then turn a corner, suddenly another set of trees appears above me!

These trees are making me hallucinate. And where is Ajaa? I am now at 40km, I am sure. Am I the only one passing one swara after another. It’s a heavenly feeling I can assure you. Then I notice the tree lines are getting narrower or tapering as they say. Before long, Lo and behold a farm with dairy to my right, the hills, one more corner and one more twist.

I’m now running on soil; happy and strong! I conquered it!

Time? I don’t know. I don’t care either.

Then I see vehicles. Tarmac. Tarmac. Tarmac!

I sprint to my Finish…I did it!

Other than Nyingi, Macharia and Munyao…No one else came close to this 50+

You ain’t ran nowhere if you ain’t ran the Flouspar!