Running Tales

Reactions to the Ilovoto Run

Ilovoto waterfall cartoon1. Rebecca Miller
At 5km:
“I will come back to Kenya just to view this trail again.”

At 15km:
“Where is Otora, I wanna kill him.”

2. Nancy Gakii
“That I have overtaken Chairman is not a good sign. He must know something about this route that I don’t. “

At the 20km split:
“I am going home.”

3. Patron to Otora
“I intend to do 30km”

Otora: “Patron, it is a bit challenging. “

Patron downgraded to 20km and walked the last 6km.


4. Victor Wesonga, returning after one year
“Patron, I will not listen to your advise on this run. The last time I did so, I got injured for a year.”

I thought that I saw him walking up the forest.

5. Macharia Kungu
At the start
“I will do the 40km.”

Downgraded to 35km and at the base of the waterfall, when asked where Raoul was:

“He chose to die, turned right for the 40km.”

On being told by Otora that the shortest route home that he sought is actually the marked trail, 8.5km

“Please inform my people of my death if I die here”, as he slumped to his butt and for a long time could not stand up.

6. Ferrah Etyang
At 14km,
“I need sugar” and I reply, “You have about 25km to go, how much sugar will you need to finish the run?”

500meters later, she bought mandazi and soda.

7. Loise Mbarire
As I was going up the steep bend at about 22km, I saw her, about 50 meters as the crow flies but about more than 1.5km trail wise.
I blow the Swara whistle and she asks,
“Where are you?”,

“Here, keep running.”

“I am dead”, she retorts.

I leave her for dead but she arrived home at 6:22, just 17 minutes after me, alive.

8. Me 
As I climb the steepest hill, three ladies in Mothers Guild uniform ask me where I was from and where I was running to.

I said, “Western Kenya, to Nunguni.”

“Take a short cut”, they advise me.

I said that it is not allowed.

“Then take the main road right turn because it is shorter”, I am advised.

When I turned left following the marks, they screamed in unison,
“woooi!!!, you came here all the way from western Kenya, to die.”

I attempted a smile and trudged on.

9. Me
At about 29km when I was halfway up a punishing 6km hill from the sandy river, an old lady asks me,
“Why are you walking so fast?”

I look at my watch and I was doing 13minutes per km at that time. Totally famished,
I could not spend my last breath and energy to tell her that I was actually running.

10. Raoul
Up the 2km hill to the waterfalls and as I passed him, doing 14mins per k ;

“Men, I have lost control of my legs.”

“Find it”, I replied and passed him.

Then,  as if to console himself and detract his mind from the ritual of pain, he stops,looks down the marvellous country and says,

“This is like my village in Cameroon. “

“Let us first complete this Kenya village run” I tell him.

At the waterfalls, Raoul and I find Otora sadistically smiling and clicking away at his camera and he says,

“5km more to go.”

It turned out to be about 7.5km.

We take pictures and rest for about 5minutes.

“This run is wicked”, he laments as I slowly pull away.

10. Me
On the course I ate three scones, four bananas, and drank two Lucozades and eight bottles of water.

My body got battered and I am down with a fatigue induced flu.

Running Tales

A Promise the Chairman Cannot Keep

Swara Ilovoto runI’m constantly enchanted by the beauty of our country, and the adventures of the Urban Swaras that keep unveiling this splendor.

It was a bit of a road trip from Nairobi to Salama, 100km plus of unwinding road towards Nunguni centre. And as we were heading there, you could tell at a glance that the place is hilly and at the same time has beautiful scenery.

We got to Nunguni and as usual the chairman explained the distances, noting that on this run there was no 10km. If you were new, it was baptismal by fire, the longest distance being 42Km. I had already decided I would do 20km together with my running buddy Marion; a distance that turned out to be almost 22km.

Off we started at 8:30am on the dot along the main road with a downhill which was good for warming up the muscles, but a killer when we were finishing. The rubber met the road or vice versa by a gentle climb before branching to the real deal, a downhill section where one guy kept saying when you go down down…. And true to his words it was followed by a climb. At the tip of this hill was a breathtaking scenery of the houses and terraces covered with vegetation for breaking soil erosion. The climb took us through a cool forest, one of the features I enjoy any day on a run.

We ran through streams of fresh water and coffee plantations, which was a surprise. I never thought coffee was grown in this part of the country. Other things I noted were different types of fruits; a very productive place, not to forget the locals who were curious about us. With friendly smiles, they greeted us and inquired where we were from.

More than 2 hours into the run, there was this climb where Marion, Ashok and I were walking, and had no idea what was awaiting ahead. Lo and behold, a beautiful waterfall unfolded, with brown smooth rocks and green carpet of vegetation in layers too real to believe. I forgot my tired legs and enjoyed the scenery.

After the view, we realized that we were in a valley that we must climb out of. And thus a steep ascent followed, burning most of our stored energy, and leaving us with sore muscles  well into the next day. The run back to Nunguni Centre was for the most part uphill, which makes me conclude that the only promise the chairman will never keep is, there will be no hills.

Kudos to the trail fox and the scouting team for a most beautiful run.

Running Tales

The Ilovoto Run

Swara Ilovoto runThe Swara out of town runs are usually to look forward to; a Swara is invariably a running tourist. So the llovoto run was a go by this Swara both for the tourism reason, and serious running business as a chance to build up mileage in preparation for the next marathon.

As we zigged and zagged through the Mombasa road traffic, I was anticipating a run right up my alley, the circulated pre-run info had indicated the terrain as ‘undulating’, but who were they fooling, probably someone wanted to use a catchy word. No matter, Kambaland is well known to be flatland all the way from Syokimau as far as the eye can see, with only a few wannabe hills here and there.

On branching onto the road to Kilome at Salama junction, the road soon starts a steady and determined ascension and with each hairpin bend my dream of a ’rolling plains’ run steadily dies, I seemed not to have learnt from experience, clearly optimism has no place in Swaraland. By the time we get to the start point at Nunguni, a decent town at the top of one of the hills, its clear that this is to be a hilly affair.

This narration will have two angles, the run itself as an independent event and my personal experience;

I have since learnt not to generalize my experiences. You’d be huffing and puffing and generally having the worst day of your life during a run whereas the random Swara alongside you is on a ‘slow run’, taking it easy. Therefore if it seems that Ilovoto though handed it to me, it could as well have been a picnic for some Swaras.

Down to business

The run setting was on point geographically and therefore aesthetically. You can always count on the routes crew to deliver a memorable run, especially the out-of-town ones. But the same crew seemingly also took an oath to uphold the doctrine of ‘nothing good comes easy’, so you generally have to sweat as you soak in the experience.

The start point was a spectacle; attracting the townspeople in no little numbers, it was a pity there were no politicians at hand to take advantage of the ready crowd…

On a personal account, a little history will be appropriate; I am lately building up mileage in prep for my next marathon, coming up on the third of July. I had been stuck at 20 kms for two weeks. Last week at Ngong, I ventured further, attempting a twenty-five, which you guessed it, turned out to be twenty-eight. It wasn’t an easy run. But a man has got to be a man and I had this crazy idea that a thirty at Ilovoto was going to be a piece of cake.

The run is flagged off at 8:30, the distances are indicated as 16 kms all the way to 40. The first 3 kms is all downhill.

Now this is how the run was structure. You go to the lowest point of the first hill, run up the facing hill ever so slowly as you appreciate the maker’s creation and Man’s modifications thereof…in this case the modifications are concentric terraces running round the hills to allow for farming on the steep slopes. A forest up top cools your heels and wipes your sweat.

You then find a higher and steeper hill, look for its ‘ground zero’, go up the hill, in this case the hill is less farmed. As you go up, the soil turns whiter and whiter and you soon think you are running on one of those sandy beaches. You get the impression that Otora’s chalk marks could be camouflaged on these bleached soils, and your corrupted mind conceives a brilliant idea how this would work as a Jik advert; normal black cotton soil on one hand and the white soil after washing with Jik…

Halfway up the second hill you get to the 30kms turnoff. The longer route points straight up, while the 30 one takes you downhill. In a moment of dimwittedness, you take the longer route. You’ve just made a split second decision to do 35kms. I don’t know if that rash move was a subconscious decision to tour an extra hill…

The ground zero of the last hill offers a refreshing run along a sandy river with neatly striated rocks and a view of a clearly seasonal waterfall on the face of one of the surrounding hills… at the river crossing you feel like sitting down on the rocks and dip your feet into the cool waters, you immediately rebuke the thought…

Soon after, all hell breaks loose. This is the steepest and longest hill yet, in your level of fitness you should have hung your boots long ago. The hill starts from 29kms all the way to 35… thankfully, the heavens smile on you and Otora shows up at 30kms with all the goodies you could wish for, all except a ride back. On seeing your state, he candidly discloses that the 35 will actually be a 38, talk about a morale boost…

Thanks to Otora, I am on life support for an additional few kms, and then I start teetering on sanity’s edge at close to 34 kms. I nonetheless continue inching up the hill. Mercifully the Ilovoto falls reveals itself and offers a brief distraction. There is a Swara at the falls. We chat a bit. She is also at her tethers end and says she doesn’t think she can handle the remaining 2 km. I think to myself, “lord a’ mercy”, if only she knew it was no less than 4 kms… but I don’t tell her, we don’t want anyone taking a jump down the falls.

Swara Ilovoto run2I had hitherto not really walked, but you should have see the hill after the falls, how do I put it; the steepness is the kind that if you stretched your hand out in front you’d probably touch the ‘ground’ or better still, looking straight ahead would be looking directly at the ground. Absorb that!

So we walk up the hill with the 2 km swara and I resume my run upon reaching regular ground. But I’m soon at my wits end. Something snaps deep inside. My feet feel like they’ve been clamped; I lose the will to live and give up the ghost (OK, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but I maintain something snapped)…my run is therefore over at 34.35 kms.

The rest of the distance is covered by Grace. How long did I take? Many hours, five I think…

On reflection, my level of fitness was suited only for 25 kms max. As I celebrate getting off easy, my body clearly took the brunt of the ordeal, I hope it bears no hard feelings…

I join a retinue of Swaras who are reminiscing the run and MK, Le Patron himself, makes a timely prophetic statement; apparently it has been asked why Swara runs begin so early. In all his wisdom, the Patron concludes that it must be so that by the time the Swara minds are fully awake, they are already done with the run or are in too thick to pull out’…how true.

Lunch is oh so great… MK asks for the beloved Swara mixed tea, the fellow serving looks at his century old beard and says to himself, ‘this one looks exotic, we’ll serve him tea the proper way in spare parts; milk, water, teabag’…the price for not looking local…

As we leave to dance in and out of the Mombasa road traffic, some brave Swaras; Loise, Ferrah, Chairman and Raoul are still in the wilderness on tour. As I write this Sunday evening, we hope they have finally finished their run…at least Raoul has confirmed he has.

And so to Ilovoto, we have some catching up to do in a year’s time…

In other news, I hear the Magadi run is checking in soon. That’s where this swara got baptized last year, both literally and figuratively. But that’s another story.