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

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!

Running Tales

The Annual Fluorspar Run Through My Eyes

Urban Swaras LogoNineteen of us, Ashok, Wahome, Faith Chepkwony, Noelle Keitany, Dr. Owuor, Okoma, Naibei, Otora, Ferrah, Waliaula, Peter (someone), Katwa, Marcel, Makhulo, Onduko, Mitch, Geraldine, Dwight and I made it to the Sego Safari Lodge in the Rift Valley for the 2014 Fluorspar run.

I decided to sight see en route to the venue. I stopped at the Kenol petrol station in Fly-Over market and enjoyed the view of lake Naivasha and Mt. Longonot while sipping good coffee and shooting pictures. In Nakuru we ate lunch and purchased products and fruits at the Nakumatt. Thereafter, we stopped somewhere up the hill near Kabarnet town and enjoyed the view of Lakes Baringo and Bogoria. Some 10km to the Lodge, we stopped at the Chebloch Gorge on river Kerio and watched youngsters dive some fifty meters into the river, at a fee from spectators.

Supper was served at 8pm after which all assembled were briefed about the run the following morning. By 9:30pm, every one, except Katwa who arrived at the Lodge at 11pm, had retired to bed in preparation for the grueling run in the morning.

After breakfast at 5am, I ferried those doing the long distances to their starting points. I dropped Waliaula, Ferrah, Marcel and Wahome at the 43km mark, shot pictures of them and whistled them off at 6:22am. Then I drove towards Iten town for 10km and dropped off Naibei and Mitch who embarked on 53km at 6:32am, with relish. After that, I drove back to the Lodge, 18km away, to flag off the rest of the runners. On the way, I took pictures of the long distance runners as they did their thing and WhatsApped the pictures to them right away even though I knew that they will only see them at night.

At exactly 7:05am, I whistled off the rest of the runners from the Lodge. Soon thereafter, Peter, a friend of Ashok arrived from Eldoret and I gave him directions, urging him to catch up with the rest.

Katwa and Dwight started their 35km at 5:30am.

Other than the fact that it was logistically difficult for me to start the 43km with the rest, I actually dreaded that distance because I failed to finish it last year, a rear occurrence for me. After fine tuning logistics with Otora and our motorbike rider for the day, I set off for the 35km, some fifteen minutes after the rest. 2.5km later, I caught up with Faith who was already run walking. Next was Dr. Owuor at 4km.

Ashok momentarily abandoned his run at about 5km and started urging on Noelle who was by then running and walking. He was oblivious of the task and pain awaiting him further on. He even peeled his energy bar and shared it with the girl who quickly chewed it. Ashok either had a lot of energy bars or was just tantalized by the lady. Why else would one boost energy 5km into a run, with 30km to go?

I maintained a slow pace of about 6:40 minutes per kilometer, being aware of the monster climb that would begin at 11km and caught up with Okoma and Makhulo at the start of the climb, told Okoma who was on her maiden run that the run had just began, wished her strength and slowly pulled away as the hill beckoned and challenged me. I later learnt that she managed 23km and Makhulo 27km.

I actually had forgotten about Peter from Eldoret until I later saw him ahead of me, in great pain. Edging past him at 8:43minutes per kilometer, I urged him to be strong as I let him know that there was just 15km of the monster hill to go. He muttered some unprintable words as he complained that he had no idea of what he had got into. When I looked down the road five minutes later, he was walking. The Fluorspar had claimed yet another runner.

The Trail Fox was always at hand, appearing whenever you needed water or sugar most, patrolling the whole route, turning back and forth at the head and tail of the now so spread out runners with the mastery and efficiency of a mountain potter. He read out to the runners in their various stages of death his menu of water, soda, bananas, water melon, potatoes, sausages, bread and samosa. Believe it or not, all that he offered was eaten.

Onduko joined Otora and did a splendid job seeing to the well being of all of us and ferrying the fallen runners to the end of the run for tea and mandazi. She ran 20km from and back to the Lodge in order to assume water girl duties. Thanks Onduko.

I was at 30km when the mighty Naibei caught up with me, eyes sunken deep into their sockets, lips dry, teeth gnarling and face ashen grey. He was at 48km, five to go. To me, he could die any minute, so I sacrified my red bull for him with a caution that he takes only half but I had to wrestle the bottle from his mouth and save a little of the drink for myself because he was downing it, bottoms up.

At 32km, I saw Dr. Owuor whom I had passed at 5km, walking ahead of me. Was I seeing a ghost?! She apparently hitched a ride from Onduko and hid inside the car as it was driven past me. “I am finnished”, is all that she could say in her Ugandan accent when I urged her to run and walk.

From about half a kilometer behind, I saw Naibei completing his 53km, one of the toughest ultra distances in the world. 4hours and 35minutes later, I wobbled to the finish line, happy to have conquered 34.5km non stop. Waliaula was long done with his 43km in about 3:20, in that terrain! Hail King Waliaula.

I felt so strong that I decided to round off my distance to a more decent number. Saw I added 5.5 km and completed 40km in 5:16, slowing but never breaking stride. I am dreaming of the 53km next year.

Mitch, more keen on six hours for training for his 160km run soon than distance, arrived last but strongest.

Wahome and Ferrah aside, would anyone believe that Marcel completed 42km? Well, he did so.

In the kiosk, I drank tea and ate a bowl of beans.

Naibei was by then both triumphant and delirious. He was mute, took tea and vomited, sat, woke up, lay down, walked around and moved stool. He recovered though. Having sacrified his run, Otora decided to run back to the Lodge and did 23km in 1:18minutess.

In the evening and after supper, tales were told, drinks were downed, roast meat was eaten, fire enjoyed and music listened to. None had the energy to dance. Every runner promised to go back next year and either conquer or improve distance or time.

The scent of the Swara was an easy 10km for which nine out of nineteen turned up, including Katwa who set off for it an hour earlier than the rest.

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