Running Tales



This one started as a typical schoolyard fight between Hector and I. You know the type, where boys will fight each other to defend important things, like the following:

Hector: Mine is bigger

Ndungu: Mine is longer

Hector: Really? But I bet mine is more popular with the ladies

Ndungu: Oh, yes! Says who?

The upshot of all this was a truce, the famous school yard peace treaty:

Hector: I’ll show you mine if you will show me yours

Ndungu: Deal! (Imagine an electronic ‘pinky swear’ here)

And then we all went back to whatever games we were playing before the interruption

One of the games Hector was playing

Which is how I found myself registering for the Stockholm Marathon, where I would go to check out Hectors boast that his is bigger. It is: over 16,500 people took part in the Marathon, which is several orders of magnitude beyond our annual Mt Kenya Ultra Marathon. I understand the number is usually capped at 18,000 and would have easily been made this year. However, according to Jael, who run Stockholm last year, the weather was not very good then and this could have kept some people away.

If so, they missed a fantastic day, weather-wise and everything in between. I arrived in Stockholm on the Thursday before the run expecting the famous Swedish cold weather. Instead the temperature was 29 degrees Celsius, which held for all of Friday too. On Saturday, just in time for the run, it came down to a comfortable 19 degrees Celsius, or as Hector described it ‘Nairobi weather, minus the high altitude.”

The weather was fantastic. And the sights? Wacha tu.

Stockholm is a beautiful  city and the organization of the run demonstrates the best of Swedish precision and hospitality. Everything starts on time. There are water points, soda points, power juice points and even banana points, exactly where the organizers said they would be. It seems like half of Stockholm is out cheering. Which all should have made for a perfect run and possibly a new PB for me, right? Haha, I got you there. Of course this would also have to imply that everything in my preparations had gone according to plan, which would be asking for a bit too much. Where Marathons and I are concerned, things never seem to go quite according to plan.

Hector was right – his is definitely bigger and seems more popular with the ladies

I had adhered to a ‘rigid’ training regimen until a month before the run. Then duty called. I was suddenly required to travel to California and then fly back two days later from Sacramento through LA, spend a night in London to arrive in Stockholm, thoroughly jet lagged and so disoriented that I had to ask people on the street what day of the week it was. Neither my phone nor my Garmin watch was working by this time. Somewhere in this process, my training had gone out of the airplane window, together with any hopes of a PB.

You can guess then that by the time I arrived I was desperate for something to go right for once. Several things did: starting with the weather, a tour of Stockholm city and (once we had figured out the starting arrangements) the impeccable organization on run day. The local fans were simply out of this world, what with cheering, music and even dancing.

Beaten by a beer (well, almost)

They were even cheering for me. “Kenya, Kenya, Kenya!” I had worn my Swaras shirt and the bib design included a flag of Kenya, I assumed that is how they could tell I was Kenyan.

“Finally,” I thought to myself. “I had to come all the way to Stockholm for my overflowing talent to be recognized.” Surely the good book got it right: A mad man is never appreciated in his village.

By this time I was grinning like a crazy man and throwing kisses at any Swedish girl who even looked in my direction. Then I saw a hand printed sign that said ‘Heja Mia!’ Which I assume in Swedish means, ‘Go Mia?.’ Later another one that said ‘Heja David’ which is when I realized the crowd were not shouting “Kenya!” but “Heja” (pronounced Heya).

I was a bit deflated by this. But I consoled myself: “I am sure some where I will find a sign saying ‘Heja Ndungu.’ I didn’t, but I am convinced this was due to a (rare) slip up in Swedish efficiency. In any case it gave me a brad new excuse for not running a sub 4 as I had hoped. No Heja’s.


Thank you girls. Of course I am not Lotta but, ‘close enough’

The marathon had started at 12.00 noon, another first for me, so we were finishing around 4.00 pm . The northern sun would be out and shining for another 6 hours. The final stretch was around the track of the Stockholm Olympic stadium which was completely full. The cheering made me feel like a conquering Olympian, an honor only matched by hearing that Stanley Koech had clocked 2:10:58, breaking a 33 year course record. As for me, I limped in at 4.05.

The most painful part of the run came at the very end, after we had finished. We were required to hand back our timing chips and collect our finishers T-shirts at the sports ground next door, which (just) happened to be down two flights of stairs. I tell you Swedes have a secret sadistic streak, which they hide behind that friendliness which seems to be standard wear everywhere you meet them. That was not all, for, once you had navigated the stairs, the real pain was yet to come.

Stanley Koech powers his way to a new course record

This is how I ended up having this rather strange conversation.

“Hey, you! Come here,” I was addressing a young boy, one of the many young volunteers, who were helping with the run. “I will pay you ten dollars if you will untie my left shoe.”

“You will, what?” I could almost read his mind, as he nervously backed away from me. “My God. Did Harambe, the Gorilla, reincarnate in Stockholm?”,

“Sorry, forget it.” I had remembered I didn’t even have any money on me.

How I managed to untie my shoe and remove the timing chip, all without having to bend any part of my ambulatory anatomy, is an ugly story that I am not prepared to tell just now. You will have to get me thoroughly drunk to hear it.

Friends again 'David, Hector and Ndungu'
Friends again ‘David, Hector and Ndungu’

But the ending was the most beautiful one could have wished for. Drinking beer on the patio with Hector and his family. His son David had just completed his first Marathon, a commendable 3.27. I predict great marathon times in this young man’s future. I came to learn that Hector’s family are orienteering enthusiasts and very good at it too. In fact Hector runs marathons to prepare for orienteering events, which he claims are much tougher. Clearly he has not been around Otora long enough.

If you get a chance to do the Stockholm marathon, please do. It is well worth it.

And then there was the music. Good enough to make a (tone) deaf man dance

Note to Hector: OK, you showed me yours and I must say it is quite impressive. But I still insist mine is longer and tougher. See you on the mountain. Saturday September 24th.  Be there or be chicken.


Running Tales

How I Hit Two Kili’s with One Stone

Swaras at Kili 2016Some things usually look impossible, but the more you think about achieving them the more they get vague and then clearer as the days get nearer. It’s true, all dreams are valid. Here is my dream and how it became valid. Here is how not to set limits but go beyond them.

It started just after the Stanchart Marathon, when clinching a PB goal of 3:30 came so close with only 6 mins off (for some elite runners 6 mins is a long time). My resolve was to avenge with another run soon after. The nearest run was MTN Uganda, but that was too soon (one month a part). Not impossible but I was 50-50 since the date coincided with Ndungu’s Mt. Kenya Ultra Marathon, which I did not want to miss. After consultation with some of my mentors M.K, and Ajaa I was totally sold out to the Mt. Kenya Ultra run. And what a run it was. I’m not sure what words can best express the run, but it was one of my best and longest runs (7hrs). As I deliberately digress, for those who have not done this run, it’s A MUST DO! My thoughts for the Kilimanjaro Marathon must have become clearer during this run and the training had just begun.

Talks of climbing Mt. Kenya came up during one of the Swara runs with one Ken and Shem. A follow up on when we can do this led me to getting contacts for some guy who organizes such expeditions. The contacts revealed Mt. Kilimanjaro climb was the first during in his calendar and this was slated in February while Mt. Kenya was second in April. I was totally sold out for both. However, there was one problem, Mt Kilimanjaro climb was one week apart (15th to 21st Feb) from the Kilimanjaro marathon (28th Feb). In my mind, I was not sure if this was even doable. A quick check with my close Swara friends (they know themselves) to get some encouragement and company did not yield any interest. I remember Joshua warning me it’s dangerous to stop running for one week before a full marathon. “Your legs can forget to run again” he warned. I chuckled not knowing if he was joking or serious. It seemed I was all alone in this and finally I decided to give it a shot, after all “what’s the worst that can happen”.

I have never trained so hard in my life. I normally rest in December with few or no runs during the month, but this December was different, I only rested for about 5 days during the Christmas break. When the first Swara run in January was announced with a maximum distance of 20km I thought that was too short. I needed to do 30km as the dates for the two events were less than two months away. I therefore came up with my own route, though I did not get to 30km but I ended up doing 25km -not bad, huh! With only a month to the climb, I did not get an opportunity to hike any Mountains or hills as most Saturdays were full of exciting Swara runs. A last minute organization to hike Mt. Longonot with some guys on a Sunday did not materialize. However, I managed to squeeze in 36km run in Tigoni and two 30km in Ngong hills. The two areas being of high altitude should work for the climb and run, at least that’s what I convinced myself.

The day of travel to Mt. Kilimanjaro climb I squeezed my last 5km run and I was hopeful I could do this. The next 6 days events are documented separately. However, in short I successfully summited on 20th Feb albeit with a struggle to turn back at 5,000m. The Highest point of Mt. Kilimanjaro is 5,895m.

kili climbTwo days later (one day to descend and the other day to travel back), I was back running. It was those runs where you are guilty of missing 6 days of runs knowing the challenge ahead of you in 5 days’ time. So with all the guilt and some little caution not to get an injury, I did 20km on Monday and 15km the following day. There was something peculiar about these runs, I noticed my pace was naturally faster but my breathing was heavier, could this be a good or bad sign? I’m not a person who focuses on the negative so I chose to remain positive telling myself this is a good thing. I did a few other runs before I left for the Kilimanjaro Marathon on Friday afternoon.

The Marathon day was finally here, and a feeling of nostalgia crept in me as we headed to the start point with Joshua. This distance from the hotel to the stadium was approximately 2.5km and we covered it as a warm up as we exchanged what times we were looking for. I must say, I was not being modest when I told Joshua I had no time in mind and my aim was to do it below 4 hours due to the fear of my performance after the Mt. Kilimanjaro climb. As we got closer to the Stadium, we came across other swaras and one could tell this is one well attended Full Marathon far from home. With such a good number of swaras I should have some company from the beginning to the end, I told myself.

Shortly without much warming and after our official Paparazi AKA Tata Nduku took some lovely photos, we were flagged off. The route leaves Moshi Stadium and heads downwards towards the town and then along the main road to Dar-Es-Salaam for approximately 8-9km before turning back to the direction of the stadium.

As we exited from the Stadium within the first kilometer stretch, we met participants of the 21km heading to the start point and shouts from Swaras ranted the air as we passed them. There is no such good feeling to hear cheers from fellow Swaras even when one has done less than 1km, it’s an awesome feeling. The next 4-5 Kilometers I was pacing with kili marathon pic2Emily, Elvis and Victor, I told you -good company right there. It’s also at this point I noticed Tim pull a first one to settle ahead of us with Joshua approximately 30-40m ahead. Victor is one special one, when some of us are running with as little items to carry as possible; the guy decides to wipe out his phone and take photos. Who does this? Anyway, I admired this act and I want to thank him for the memorable photos he took during the run.

I think it was at 7-8km when I realized I could not see Joshua and Tim. Elvis had also pulled ahead of me while Victor and Emily were on my tail (not sure how far behind). Since I am so used to running off-tarmac, I did just that where I could get some soft ground cushioning. This continued for a while both on and off tarmac. I’m not sure if it really helped but the soft landing on non-tarmac was a good feeling.

As I approached 11km where one makes the turning back to the Stadium, we exchanged glances with Tim and Joshua who were neck to neck. Shouts of STRONG! STRONG! ranted in the air again. I noticed they might have been close to 200m ahead of me. Once beaten twice shy, I can’t risk the thought to catch up with them. My pace was excellent and I was actually doing better than what I had envisaged. We were now neck to neck with Elvis who by now had reduced his pace. I don’t remember talking much with him but the thought that we were doing this together was all that mattered. It’s until at 20km I noticed Elvis had fallen behind me, it must be the gradual hill which would take us another 10 to 11km that must have started punishing him. This is where the marathon begins, I told myself. Having read the previous year’s articles about this stretch and having attempted it last year when I made my debut on the half marathon, I had an idea of what was ahead of me. All the same, I did not think it was such a challenge. I covered each kilometer slowly but strong with the aim to get to 30km without stopping or walking. However, I obeyed all water points quenching my thirst moderately and cooling my head by pouring at least a cup of water over my head at every stop.

The temperatures were quite high for everyone. As I struggled up the hill I noticed Tim cooling himself at some water point up ahead. By the time I got there he was gone. I cooled myself as I continued with the uphill task and it was at the 25km mark where I managed to catch up with Tim and I could see he was really struggling on the hill. We exchanged our usual “strong strong!” phrases before passing him. I guess it was after a kilometer later, when I caught up with Joshua and just like Tim he was struggling with the hill not that I wasn’t, but the struggle must have been more difficult for the two champs. I am not sure if the Kilimanjaro climb had done something to my legs or it was the acclimatization which did the trick but whatever it was, I don’t mind “smoking” it again. Joshua is one person who does not easily give in. Despite the struggle on the hill, we ran together for another 4km until the hill was done. At 31km downhill we were still neck to neck with Joshua, we exchanged a few words here and there not much probably to conserve the little energy we had.

We continued together for another 10km not too fast and not too slow. One guy tried to destabilize our pace before we regained it at the last water point where we quickly hydrated and continued leaving the unknown guy behind. We must have been remaining with 4km towards the finish and we continued together for another 2km when I could not match Joshua’s pace. I could see some sense of remorse as he told me “tuende” which in French means Let’s Go! But I could not match the pace of this guy from Nandi Hills. I told him not worry and he could go on and it’s like he was waiting for those words. The guy just took off like a Car with a V8 engine kili marathon pic3on a freeway. The last 1.5 Kilometer seemed the longest. They all seem to be the longest in every marathon I have ever run. Anyway, I finally get to the finish point clocking 3hrs 25mins 58 Sec –a new PB. Joshua clocked 3hrs 25mins 24Sec. Congrats Joshua! And to all those who inspired, challenged and motivated me to achieve this rare fete…. A BIG THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS!


Running Tales

Kilimanjaro: A Beautiful Run Aptly Named!

Kilimanjaro marathon 2016How to describe the just concluded Kilimanjaro Marathon? Two words come to mind: nasty, long and brutal. OK, I’m sure some will have figured out where that is stolen from even if corrupted, and yes I know those are not two words either but my brain is fried and I can’t quite count properly just now…

One can think of a few more words too: punishing, unforgiving, searing heat, hot sweaty affair, intractably exhausting, difficult terrain, testing the limits of one’s endurance, pure unadulterated insanity, so on and so forth. But all those are mere negatives that do not even take away from what is otherwise a wonderful run.

Enjoyable? Yes, you can say that once you get over the shock to the system that it certainly delivers in very high voltages! Even beautiful actually in hindsight once the arduous run is done and you look back with a well-earned sense of accomplishment. Yet another testimony of what the body can do when pushed to extreme levels of endurance.

Anyway, for a run that is named after Africa’s tallest mountain whose name actually derives from a corruption of “difficult/impossible mountain”, the Kilimanjaro run is indeed at a so much higher difficulty level than many runs and it certainly lived up to its billing once more.

It wasn’t my first run in Moshi having done it last year, but back then I only did the half which is itself already challenging enough indeed. So this year, buoyed by a false sense of confidence, I decided to go for the full marathon returning a time of 4:36 and thus improved on my previous PB of 5:05 in a competitive run. And I have with me my hard-earned medal though it can hardly testify to the experience here today.

To say I was knackered at the finish would be a major understatement. It is no exaggeration to say that I nearly swore by all that is holy never to attempt a full marathon again, but you all know that we’ll be looking forward to the next one too. Suffice it to say that I am right pleased with my performance even if I say so myself.

I salute all Swaras who showed up for this year’s run in sizable numbers and would like to congratulate each one of them for their various achievements whether in terms of improving on their previous times for Kilimanjaro, setting PBs or even just finishing strong. You deserve all the plaudits for a job well done.

To all I say onwards and upwards, keep running!

Running Tales

My Account of Kilimanjaro Marathon 2013

kilimanjaro marathonDate: March 3, 2013

On the morning of departure, I personally made my way to Silver Springs with Jimmy, (who barely a month into his Swara Association), was determined to, and did make his first trip with us.

Once at Silver Springs we settled down for a Pot of Tea (Me), and a Cappuccino (Jimmy) when Wahome walked in, with Kellen, who both got a take away. On the way out Wahome mentioned to us that time was tight, and we might miss the Transport. I smiled back, and took another relaxed sip.

Its only when we got back out into the parking lot that i realised, one Swara Shuttle was almost occupied and ready to go. Luckily, there was another one going to Moshi, so i could still afford to have happy memories of my morning Chai.

I think we had occupied two seats booked by others on this Shuttle, so Lucy and Jael kindly gave theirs up to look for more Transport, which they found.

Personally it was a peaceful drive to our pit stop close to the border (what is its name,? i may remember before this account ends).

The first shuttle had already gotten there, its occupants having eaten and were almost ready to depart when we arrived.

On our way to eat, Surinder mentioned that some food was still remaining on the table, so my footsteps quickened.

Leonard, myself and May found two Chapos, still hot and which disappeared quickly. I’m not sure whether May wasn’t very hungry, or perhaps she couldn’t see the plate beneath our fingers, because she didn’t eat much of that.

Lucy and Jael arrived a little later, and went to fuel up too.

With there being no issues at Border Control, we set off into Tanzania.

I was fortunate to have a great view, as i was sitting right in front, a view which included the fabulous Mount Meru and instances of lone herds of cattle, blah, blah, blah,…., crossing the main highway. Luckily, our Driver had seen this before and navigated them smoothly.

Our next stop was Impala Hotel, where once again passengers of the first shuttle had already arrived, with some having taken a brief tour of the Poolside and were ready to go again.

Leonard, May and I waited at the Reception, with me at least, struggling to resist the aroma of Tandoori Chicken being prepared or eaten. I was successful in resisting it, and we left shortly for Moshi with and in, Lucy’s and Jael’s original shuttle, but not before Leonard’s keenness in sensing its impending departure. I was playing it close.

Shortly before getting to Moshi, Lucy got on her mobile blower (why do some people call it that?), and requested that the first group proceed to the Stadium’s environs and get us the Race essentials.

They did and we got to the Hotel at about the same time. Once there, and whilst the rest waited in the lobby, Susan, Jael, Lucy and Surinder got things moving as quickly as possible. Katwa was going through the Hotel Brochure, and trying to match its content with what was around us, we found some resemblance.

We were given our Key cards as they were prepared, and it was announced that Dinner would be served at 7.30.

Dinner included Pasta, Spaghetti, Mince and a wide variety of drinks, both soft and hard, with Hamish and Sarah going for Kilimanjaro Beer (how apt).

After a relaxed dinner, we retired to our rooms at leisure.

Personally i had a good sleep, was fully awake before the preset alarm, and due to the town lights creating some light in the room, i managed to eat my pre run food without having to flick on the light switch,  thereby hopefully causing as little disturbance to Jimmy as possible..

Some chose to be driven to the Stadium which was at least 2 1/2 Kms. from the Hotel. (Thanks to the Swara Organizers for that). I personally chose to walk there, as did Hamish and Sarah. On my way there the Full Marathon had already begun and I managed to see Patrick who looked just as fresh as he did when I saw him later during my Run.

By my timing standards that weekend, I got there relatively early, (10 minutes before the start).

I don’t think the adrenaline moment of a Marathon that’s just begun, will ever escape my body. There were the unsurprising quirky remarks during the early stages of the Run, with one person loudly enquiring who amongst us had injected ourselves that morning. No replies. Some silent looks followed. Hmmmm….

As a half marathoner, i found it impressive that each Kilometre covered was marked, not so Full Marathoner Wahome, as I later discovered. The run also gives me a cosy feeling, the scenery is beautiful, crowd support is close, enthusiastic support staff, great music at the Water Points and it having an active appeal abroad.

It was heartening to see Surinder tackle the course, including the first part that is generally uphill.

Back at the finish, despite having taken water when needed, i was nevertheless relieved to see more water  in the goody bag, which also included a Medal and T-Shirt.

Congratulations to Wahome for completing his umpteenth Full Marathon, the soft-spoken enigma that is Katwa, ever fresh Patrick, Munyao who did the Full in 3hrs 44 mins and Gakii, for all completing the Full (my apologies if anyone was left out.)

Jael maintained her previous time of 1hr 55 mins, despite not having done up-hill training as much as she would have liked, Linus and perhaps others, as they were only able to get to the Stadium after the Half had started, and therefore had to quickly focus.

The way back was lively, livened up for some by Wahome, who produced bottles of his merchandise, for us to indulge.

After another meal back at that place close to the border, we made our way back to Nairobi, safely having arrived at Silver Springs.

Amongst others, we missed Nadine, a multiple participant in numerous Marathons, including Kili.


Running Tales

Kilimanjaro Marathon 2012

This is Monday, and as promised, follow the link at the bottom to view photos; right from departure on flight TPG something, something, something, piloted by the very interesting pilot Cockar, with whom Ndinda made a good acquaintance (I have no idea how the other flight was piloted); to the various stops on the way to Moshi where at one stop a good number of you disappeared into the bushes in a bid to reduce body weight ahead of the run, and at another some of you went behind the curios and ate and I had no idea people were eating!!! (though I identified myself with the Cameroonian contingent and had very sweet mandazis to show for it)

The photos will also have you reminisce on how you (am not naming names) hid from the nutritionist and ate ice-cream, only to regret it at the 8th Kilometer the next day. It is a pity I was not able to take photos at that spot because most of your ice-cream smiles were wiped out, and instead I saw painful, courageous smiles. (Listen to the nutritionist next time!)

Then there was this place where we stopped over for lunch and soon realized that you had to go to the kitchen and fetch your food. This is where I made a clear distinction between the well-mannered Swaras who waited patiently to be served, and the rest of you who took over the kitchen. Again, no naming names, though I took mug shots of all of you, and we can tell from your photo whether you were patient or giving the waiter those eyes….

It is evidenced here that we all picked our race numbers, though some were heard to demand for the goodies of the 42km that were reserved for Wahome, Raoul, Tata, and Katwa. The moral of the story: If you want a cap, run the full marathon next year.

At dinner that day, most of you were quite humbled, and only Raoul and Tata showed any real signs of life by going for an evening jog. Most went to greet Nakumatt and use their smart card points. The next morning all I saw were sleepy people, bracing for the run, rain and all. At this point the camera went to rest, though in retrospect, I should have just carried it and continued taking photos during the race because what I did at Moshi cannot be considered as running.

However, all is well that ends well because no matter where Swaras go, they find their own dessert. First you raided the tree with those fruits will small red sweetness(I forget the name), and the very next day on the way back you raided that Mango tree, yet you had been introduced as dignitaries when the driver radioed ahead for your lunch!! Is there a fruit deficiency in the club?

Congrats to Tata, Wahome, Raoul and Katwa for the 42k well finished. Congrats too to all of you who did your personal bests, Courage to all who really tried, and comfort to those of us whose legs disowned us at a very critical moment. There is still the rest of the year left to leaner, faster, better.

Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy: