My experience at Kigali last weekend was Just like the city of many hills – up and down. The city is built in a hilly country, sprawling across about four ridges and the valleys in between. The city center is located on one of these ridges, with the main government area on another. The tops of the ridges have an average elevation of 1,600 meters, while the valleys around 1,300 m. The city is ringed most of the way round by higher hills, with some suburban sprawl rising up these. The highest of these is Mt. Kigali, with an elevation of 1,850 m above sea level (this is equivalent to Nairobi).
When I made by debut last year for the half-marathon in Kigali, I clocked a time of 1hr: 40 mins (I surprised myself as well). I was therefore confident to up the stakes this time by attempting a full marathon. My aim was to use this run as my last long run training towards the Lewa Marathon (slated for 25th June). Having ran 30km in Eburu (another hilly run) three weeks prior to the event and with only two weekends remaining, my plan was to taper to 25km and then to 20km.
The Saturday I was to run 25km, I chose a fairly flat course (not by Swara standards). However, things did not go well as I approached my 20km mark. A sharp pain on the side of my knee made me hobble towards the finish of my 25km. A visit to the Physio confirmed my worst fear -ITB (Illiotibial band Syndrome). ITB is a common injury to the knee general associated to running, cycling, hiking or weight-lifting (squats). Reassurances from the Physiotherapist urging me to continue training did not alter my plans. Bavaria run came up, and I stuck to my program of 20km. I’m not sure who I was trying to impress, but at 15km the ITB flared up and instead of taking the shortest route back to the restaurant, I pushed to finish Otora’s unending marks which seemed to get nearer but further away from the restaurant. A Second visit to the Physiotherapist to manage the ITB left me with mixed feelings on whether I should continue with my planned full marathon in Kigali.
Having not done any run for the last 5 days prior to the day of the event, (as per the Physio’s recommendation), and without any pain, my conscious was clear I can run a full marathon. I was upbeat and the only thing I needed to do is run the 21km course I did last year twice (the full marathon is a loop of the 21km course).
The full marathon in Kigali was schedule to start at 8:30am while the half marathon at 7:15am (not sure who came up with this “bright idea”). We arrive at the stadium at 7:00am accompanied by Judy (a newbie Swara –no pun intended) and immediately spot other Swaras (Nduku, Leif, Ngatia, Anthony and Yasin). You cannot miss to identify a Swara 10km away when donning the conspicuous Swara Tees. The Safaricom running team is also here with a representation of over 30 (we met some of them, the previous evening at a Kenyan owned nyama choma base called Car Wash). After a few photo shoots the half marathoners assembled and were flagged off at exactly 7:15am. The small crowd of half marathoners at Kigali made the Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon look like a London Marathon. It was equally surprising when the full marathon participants were asked to assemble at the start point. We must have been less than 35 from my quick calculation. Most participants were elite runners going by their dressing and long legs. The amateur runners could have been between 10-15 who included Leif and I.
Somebody must have told the organizers the weather conditions were not getting favorable as the temperatures were building up by the minute. So at 7:45am we were flagged off and oh boy! This was my first time to start so close to elite runners; within seconds they had disappeared. I could see organizers equally amazed. When you start a run with a pack of elite runners, you naturally tend to run faster like there is this magnetic pull towards them. Due to this, my first 1km was at a pace of 4mins:34sec (not my pace for a full marathon, not even close to my training pace).
The beauty of the marathon manifests itself as the run takes you to the city with clean roads, well-manicured pavements and the views from the top of the hills. It’s magical, until you get to the first water station and you find out you cannot hydrate from large water bottles (20-30 litres) due to lack of cups. All the empty cups are littered on the road because the half marathon participants used the few cups made available. I make a pass on the water station but with a sticky dilemma on how to cover the remaining 37km if all the water stations are like the first one. I am not an owner of a running belt, but thoughts of owning one after this run clouded my mind. At 6km we approached a steep hill which slowed everyone down. By this time, I had caught up with a few half marathoners who were struggling on the hill. After about 1.5km from the steep hill, I got to the second water point. The situation was no different from the first water station, a big water bottle full of water with a tap at the bottom stared at us with no cups. I’m forced to hydrate by clenching my hands at the bottom of the tap to make a cup like container where I drank from my hands. I left the water station in fury with thoughts on how to solve my dilemma.
Training with the swaras makes one adapt to different challenges when running. One of the challenges was when you get limited or no support and you have to figure out what to do. Within minutes, after the second water station I see some shops which could be selling water. However, I had not carried any Rwandan Franc with me. I even thought of purchasing water on credit, but I knew I had no chance negotiating with the Rwandese shop keeper. As we passed through this estate with lovely homes, well-groomed fences and dogs walked around by their owners, I knew this was my only chance to get a bottle of water which I could use to refill at each water station. I approached this kind looking couple who were baby-sitting two of their kids as they watched the runners. I quickly explained to the gentleman my dilemma and he immediately ran to his house and came out with the small 500ml bottle. He had even topped the bottle with water and just like that, my problem was solved. Hey buddy if one day you read this story….. You are my hero!
The next 5 km was uneventful, save for a lady who had fallen on the side walk and was being helped into an ambulance –I’m not sure if it was due to dehydration. As I got to the road that turns right towards the direction of parliament, a small irritation starts on the side of my knee. For one to finish a full marathon, one needs to be positive at all times. On one of the Swara runs, Victor shared to me how he builds his confidence when he sees hills, -“this is an opportunity, go for it”. I needed this kind of positive attitude, therefore thoughts such as; “Keep going, the pain will soon disappear” went through my mind. I was so confident I focused on other things other than the pain to keep me going. The environment played a big role to boost my confidence level; from the clean roads, beautiful building and well-manicured grass on the roundabouts.
As I took the turn to head back to the stadium, the irritation turned to a sharp pain behind my knee at the 15km mark. My decision changed from running a full marathon to half a marathon. I slowed down and with a slight limp I pushed on reassuring myself I could finish the last 6kms. On the other side of the road, I noticed Leif not in his usual speed and complaining he was not feeling well. At 16km I caught up with one Swara who was running the half marathon (not bad). However, my joy was short lived when at 17km, another sharper pain immobilized my right leg. I sat down in pain and I declared the race over for me. Luckily, after a few minutes the pain subsided and I could walk normally. I used a shorter route to get back to the stadium to cheer on the Swaras as they finished.
Despite my mishap and lack of proper hydrating station, The Kigali Peace Marathon is a great run which I would recommend to any person. Bus arrangement can be made, where air ticket cost is far from the reach of many. It will be worthwhile to take time and visit the Memorial museum while in Kigali. I hope to share more of my running accounts (the good, the bad, the ugly) to enable us improve on our runs.