Running Tales

From Old House to Old Moses; A Tale of a Trail Unyielding!

Happy smiles at the start… the lull before the storm.

Drawing from the experience of last year’s inaugural Old Moses Classic, the organizers, Mt. Kenya Blazers, resolved to set a sub 2hr target for both Swaras and Blazers to conquer the 21km trail. The challenge was widely broadcasted with yours truly pledging a 15yr old John Walker Gold Reserve to the first sub 2 arrival at Old Moses.

At exactly 8.00 am on 30th June, 51 Swaras and Blazers congregated outside the Old House, a serene and exclusive riverside hotel by the bank of Nanyuki River on your way to the Fairmount. A 51 seater yellow bus was revving nearby waiting to ferry the runners to the starting point, about 13kms away from Old House.

At 9.15, the organizer, Wanjohi Macharia announced that all was ready – the game rangers were ready, the wildlife along the trail were ready and more importantly Old Moses was ready to receive us. Two MPs, the Hon. Kiai of Mukurweini and the Hon. Mariru of Laikipia West were also ready. So were the Swaras best hope to subdue Old Moses at sub 2; Jackson Ndegwa, Victor Kamau, Daniel, Sara Wawa and Claire Baker. And so was the vertical elevation of 1300m!

Route profile

My best bet Joshua Cheruiyot was in the group, this time as an observer since he was nursing an injury.

The takeoff was smooth, a gradual uphill of 3km before hitting the Sirimon route turnoff. Victor and Ndegwa slowly created a gap and I lost the yellow t-shirts 5km later.

George Kamunya from blazers chased the two, carefully though. Having been the winner last year at 2.47, he knew what lay ahead. Daniel and Masika built the chase at 7km with no intention of chasing sub 2.

Chairman Ajaa was ahead by a Km, leisurely admiring the pedigree ahead, which Urban Swaras have nurtured under his watch.

Among the ladies, the fast pacing Sara Wawa lead the onslaught, followed closely by Monica Gichuhi and Claire Baker. Wanjira pursued the trio with an eye at the prize. Sara was later to abandon the chase in favour of a musical walk in the park.

From a warm equatorial sunshine, the weather started cooling at 13km just as the gradient picked.

By this time, Victor and Jackson were kms away. I glanced at my Garmin and it was exactly 2hrs from the start, the now famous sub-2 threshold set by Nike for Eliud Kipchoge to conquer the full marathon. Considering the gradient uphill, I had my doubts whether any Swara can break Sub 2, doubts that were confirmed by the 2.09 achieved by Jackson Ndegwa. Victor was behind him at 2.19

As I approached the 3km stretch to the finish, I spotted Wanjira at the winding as she negotiated the last corner. The view of Old Moses from my point of despair was magnificent, made more beautiful by three Swara shirts I could spot from this distance. Suddenly, I reached for my phone to capture the moment. As I was about to click the camera, soft clouds descended upon Old Moses, covering him from any view. It was like a pack of nuns rushing to protect Mother Superior from rape. No photo taken and next thing I was fighting hailstones, thrust upon the trail by a furious Old Moses who felt disturbed by the running activity.

After 3.11, i arrived at Old Moses, same time as last year, No haircut but at a respectable 12th position. Claire was the top lady finisher at 2.39 followed by Monica Gichuhi and Wanjira, both at sub 3.

The fun was at the finish point. Ice cold rain showers welcomed the late comers as the heavens opened. Live cooking of tea progressed. With no one to claim the whiskies, Saxo and Hon. Kiai bid for the double black at the top and it was widely shared among the group.

Back to the Old House at 5:20pm after the yellow bus got stuck in the mud at the Sirimon gate. Dinner was served at 6:15pm and it was a very lovely evening spiced by both Ronaldo’s and Messi’s exit from the World Cup. Hon. Kiai sponsored a happy hour with a 10K contribution, thanking God that he survived the vagaries of Old Moses.

Whereas next year’s men’s target remains at sub 2, it was felt that the ladies target be adjusted to sub 2.30 for them to have a realistic stab at the prize. Next year’s prize will be reloaded to excite the Swaras and Blazers.

A big thank you to Mt. Kenya Blazers and their captain Wanjohi Macharia for organizing what in my view was a run to die for. Why lie, when some of us almost died!!

 

Running Tales

Old Moses Classic Run: Anyone for sub 2 Next Year?

mt kenya blazersThe 50 seater bus ferrying the Mount Kenya blazers and their Swara guests left the Nanyuki Simba Lodge at 8.00am towards the starting point of the 21 Km super half.

At 8.40am, the timers signaled the start from an altitude of 2079 M above sea level. The finishing point Old Moses is 3381 M above sea level creating an elevation gain of 1.302 M

From the starting point Mt. Kenya was clearly visible in all it’s grandeur, and one could guess where the elevation of 1,302 M would be. Below is the elevated route to Old Moses as captured by Swara alias Masika.

old moses route profileOut of the 44 runners who dared the Old Moses, the fastest clocked 2.47hrs with the majority registering 3.5hrs plus

A very well organized event by all standards, thanks to the Mt. Kenya Blazers who provided water, hot beverages and an excellent buffet and entertainment. Having struggled to register 3.11 together with three of Swaras best, I challenge any Swara to do a sub 2 next year for a bottle of John Walker Gold Label as the prize. Kudos to Claire Baker who was 3rd after 3hrs 2mins

With no entry hussles, reasonable entry fee and the comfort of staying in Nanyuki town, well endowed with classy restaurants, this run will definitely be the runner’s choice for those who will have exhausted Lewa Marathon. It will be scheduled to coincide with Lewa next year.

Thanks again to Mt. Kenya Blazers through their very able captain Wanjohi Macharia. A finish photo below.

old moses classic finishers

Running Tales

Kimunye Mt Kenya Run

Date: 18th of March 2017

Venue: Castle Mountain lodge, Mt. Kenya

Getting there

Nairobi to Kutus 120 kms, Kutus to Rukenya 4 kms. At Rukenya, you’ll get onto a comely traffic shy road for a steady upward 16kms drive from an altitude of around 1300 metres to the Castle Station gate and a further 4 kms of forest dirt road to the Castle Mountain Lodge sitting at 2057 m asl.

At the lodge there will be quite a number of runners, some spent the night either camping or in the Lodge. Kick off time for the run is 9am, having arrived 40 mins early there is good time to take a tour around the lodge, the mountain looks stunning from here, the forest too, and there is a waterfall a few metres away tucked in thick forest… there are signs warning you to ‘Beware of Wild Animals’.

KimunyeThe Run… or Hike; Your Preference

Approximately 30 runners gather around for the routine chairman’s pre-race sermon and the run is on. Shortest distance will be 14 kms and longest 40 kms. Deviating from tradition, you’ll carry your phone to capture the sights… and the odd chance of being chased by a wild animal. The photos appearing here are of course amateurish and a little underwhelming, but one Davis has clearly refused to share his superior ones…

Run starts up, through the forest straight towards the mountain. 4 kms and two rivers later there is a wide road, freshly dug with thick dust. Turning right leads up the mountain, left leads down. A pack of six runners take the left turning and head down the mountain. As you run down, you are puzzled at the need of such a road in the forest.

Kimunye2You’d expect a run starting at 9 am to be one hot run; not this one. The cool mountain air will freshen you up and the kilometers will drift by such that before you know it, 8 kms have flown past and you get to a gate and exit the forest. From here the run is along the electric fence marking the forest boundaries.

Running along the forest edge will take you through some steep descents and ascents with the runners quenching their thirst from the cool, clear mountain waters at the bottom of each descent before embarking on the uphill tasks.

You’ll now be running sandwiched between the forest on your one side and tea plantations on your other. You’ll notice that the tea plantations are largely Nyayo tea zones forming a buffer between the forest and human habitation. The run briefly ventures into human habitation where you run through intense small scale farming of coffee, more tea etc… and of course Nduma (Arrow Roots). You soon get back to the forest edge and work your way back to the Castle gate, the run is 19kms thus far.

By this time you will have realized something is amiss, you took the wrong turn on the mountain road. You were to first go up the mountain before turning back down to the gate. Knowing that you are unlikely to forgive yourself for missing what the run had in store further up the mountain, you make up your mind to run all the way back up the mountain and explore the missed section of the run. One problem; with 19 kms done, your energies will be running low, not to mention that the next section is an uphill affair. Buying a 500ml Fanta from a nearby shop solves the problem.

Kimunye3From the gate to the camp was 4 kms while driving, it is now 4 uphill kms while running. There is one sure way to handle the run up, start slow then go slower. The forest is good company, plus the odd waterfall and dam with pipes ferrying water to humanity downstream.

At the camp you go on up. There are a number of runners (hikers is more accurate) walking leisurely down the last stretch of their 14kms. On reaching the mountain road, you take the ‘up’ turn.

You’ll run through more forest, the dust soon giving way to muddy patches. Rain clouds congregate up above. The mountain has since retreated into the clouds; you can now tell you are in mountain zone proper. You will hardly be struggling at this point, partly because the mountain air efficiently cools your engines and partly because of your pedestrian pace and photo stops.

A large expanse of clearing comes up. This would be a horror scene to a hardcore conservationist. The so called ‘sustainable’ logging is going on in earnest, the kind where top dollar trees are grown in degraded forest sections for harvesting at maturity. This is also where the mystery of the road is solved -a conduit for the gigantic felled pine trees. If you were to ask that hardcore conservationist to name the road they’d look you in the eye and say ‘highway of sin’… but you have your more pressing conservation efforts directed towards your fast depleting levels of Fanta.

The highway of sin gives way to a ‘Mountain boulevard’, a cozy little lane leading further up. You now have the forest all to yourself. The tree line comes up soon after and the forest gives way to random shrubs and lush vegetation, the bamboo zone a little farther up. If you’ve hang around the mountain climbing types, you probably have heard this phrase ‘the mountains are calling’ whenever they get the itch to scale yet another peak…the call of the mountain can be heard from here.

Just when you start thinking it’s about time to turn back, what with the dark pregnant clouds hanging low and falling energy levels, you get to an old forest house, a little farther is a mountain cabin complete with a lounging terrace overlooking the world below and two seats just asking to be sat on (which you do). The run this far is 31 kms.

The lane comes to a dead end at the cabin and therefore turning point for the run. Farther on is bamboo and more bamboo. This is a Mt. Kenya climbing route-‘Kamweti’ route- climbers have to beat a track through thick Bamboo from here.

At this point, you are plotting how you’d attempt to venture a little further up the mountain in the next edition of this run, through bamboo and whatever else… but those are dreams. The sane immediate action would be to turn back and make your way down to the lodge, 7 kms of downhill… easy-peasy… the rain just manages not to fall denying you a more complete experience. The run ends, 37.92 kms, decent mileage.

Kimunye4Kimunye5Lunch is taken at the lodge. If you are in a hurry to travel back to your origin, don’t sit, take your lunch standing up, or else you risk being seduced by the surroundings and interesting tete a’ tete going on as you lounge on the Castle’s raised wooden patio overlooking the Forest. By the time you drag yourself to your feet, its two hours later…

Running Tales

Graceland Upcountry Run, 6th Edition

Some Intro

Graceland girls’ school opened doors to its pioneer class in 2007 and had its first candidate class in 2010, it is a one stream close knit school in which out of 30 students per class, an average of 5 are fully sponsored. A total of 50 students have so far been beneficiaries of the annual run proceeds… The school is neatly tucked away by a river in Chaka, Nyeri County, at the foot of the ever watchful Mt. Kenya.

Graceland is also the upcountry digs of one Wachira Nderitu’s family, a Swara himself, and founder of the school.

Lots of things make a run; the biomechanical leg pushing and lung pumping bits counts for only a little part. So this recollection will attempt to cover the associated events before, during, and after the run.

Eve of the Run

With the host having pre-sourced for accommodation and offered dinner complete with wine accompaniments, all you had to do was complete your 8 to 5 routine in Nairobi and make your way to the school. You arrive at 9ish pm to find dinner underway, around 40 runners are already making little work of the sumptuous dinner from Mrs. Wachira’s Kitchen. Wine flows aplenty.

The dance floor is opened. Dance moves are on display, the Deejay lays them all out; from the golden oldies- where the moves executed by the older citizenry betray their younger days’ escapades- to regional representations including some Mugithi tune, a kanungo session, the easterners’ fundamentals…

Everyone has a talent, you are famous for your spectacular inability to move in rhythm to any tune. So you sit tight and enjoy the show. But not so fast, it soon transpires that the ticket to leave the dinner venue for slumber venue would be a dance; no dance, no leaving. So you all throw in a jig and off to campsite…

graceland1

D-day

D-day starts with a spirited wailing around the campsite by members of the female species led by the very able lungs of Nduku- they attribute the wailing to an electric malfunction resulting in some cracking fireworks; you don’t buy it, they are warming up their lungs in prep for the run. Anyway, your sleep is aborted, you lazily crawl out of the tent, have a semi-heavy breakfast by the River and decamp to Graceland. This is also the best opportunity to take in the imposing Mt. Kenya views before the cloud curtains are drawn.

The school teems with activity; school kids from the neighboring schools, Swaras from Nairobi, Swaras from Nyeri, friends of the school and more runners.

The run is flagged off at 09:45hrs. The start is a steep hill packed with humanity forcing you to weave in and out, not that you’d go substantially faster, that steep is really hill – sorry, hill is really steep….

graceland2At the top of the hill, 25k parts way with 15k. You are left in a 4 Swara mean running pack; Victor Kamau, Sam Nyingi and Dylan the Johnson. You feel a sense of belonging.

Dylan keeps chatting you up but you are soon out of breath, responding in between laborious gasps… its probable he’s testing you, you earlier had to vehemently defend your place in the ‘recreational runners’ category seeing that your name originates from the elite backyards…

You get to the tarmac, 6 km done, end of hill. Your three running mates crank up speed, you can’t keep up, your sense of belonging ebbs and your three erstwhile companions effortlessly dump you. You look at your watch to confirm your pace and realize you are doing 4 min 40 sec to the km, decent speed, the three are clearly on flight mode.

The tarmac makes for some good running, with the forest to your right and the Aberdares making the horizon up front, not to mention that it’s all downhill except for one jolt of a hill. You find regular water points and some very welcome cheer from the girls.

Tarmac ends at 15k. The transition to uneven terrain kills your speed, you soon come up to about 6 ladies who have a nice story telling session going, not a care in the world, maybe because they have hijacked the sweeper ambulance crawling slowly behind them.

The 6 ambulance ladies are a doorway to the 15km masses. There’s usually a kind of energy boost associated with overtaking other runners, apparently it doesn’t work when you are going past walking ‘runners’. You are tempted to walk but rebuke the temptation.

At 18km you are in the precincts of Chaka Ranch where there are more 15km walking masses, a merciless hill in the coffee plantation, a supersize bull determined to grow into an elephant (anyone took a photo of the bull??). At 20km your legs protest, you walk for 100 metres, but the thought of walking the remaining distance is depressing so you dig in and squeeze a run.

Chaka ranch ends at around 22km and the 3km you have left seems like a life sentence. By this time you just want to be back under the cool shades of the more than ample trees at Graceland. You come up on a Swara Lyma, and soon after Chirie; another Swara appears from a random road, she had apparently felt that the 15k she was signed up for was too short and decided to take a detour topping it up to 20k. You run with Chirie until she decides to put in a slight kick, you can’t respond, and for once in her life she speeds on ahead of you. With such an achievement, you expect she’ll hold a press conference soon after to broadcast the feat…

graceland3The long awaited Graceland gate at last, you roll down, by this time you are doing a rare 7 mins to the KM and hit the finish line. You can at last lay claim to your Red Rose and your heart is at peace. 2 Hrs 15 minutes on your clock, 7 minutes slower than 2016. Not good.

The 3 Swaras that had no patience with you are standing around chatting like they’re just from a lazy morning jog. Sadistic lot.

Victor finished in 1 hr 45, followed closely by Dylan 2 minutes later…

Runners stream in and the run eventually winds down with a few leisurely 25 km runners like Ajaa and Felicita finishing about a week later, and, saving the best for last, Le Patron checks in after approximately a year, his 25kms safely in the bag.

The Spoils

Entertainment, prize awards to the fast footed, tokens of appreciation to triumphant Swaras of different categories and the ceremony is over. Just one little outstanding matter…the lunch…

At last, long long last, lunch is served. Where? Across the river, that river that runs through the school, the one with a neat little dam, complete with two boats bobbing idly on it. You don’t want to picture that here is a school where students could actually row and probably fish on a random Saturday afternoon, you’re too hungry.

So over the bridge and into the clearing where you partake of the very welcome lunch treat. You can hardly blame your eyes when immediately after they beg for a nap. But sorry sir, Nairobi beckons.

And so, again, we await Graceland the 7th Edition.

Running Tales

The Nomadic Urban Swara-KENYA- Mt Kenya Ultra Marathon

 

Mt Kenya ultra marathon 2015As always, it was a hair brained, not thoroughly thought through idea. I was going to run the Mt Kenya ultra marathon. My objective was simple; I wanted  to kill two birds with one stone, join club 42 and if I survive it, join the exclusive ultra marathon club and  pull in bragging rights like Loise, Mitch and Raoul and  thump my chest with pride and say I am an Ultra marathoner, and just annoy my friends  every time I say it. Guess what! I did it! And I am such an annoying muppet!

It started with Ndungu’s emails and one caught my eye. We will need rangers to chase away elephants. My first reaction was, “ELEPHANTS”! Ndungu was quick to respond, “ they are tame …honest!” and I  retorted, “the only tame elephant I know is Dumbo. He flies  and he is cute. The last time I checked , Kenyan  elephants do not fit the bill!”

Ok for exercise. I must say the 10 kms runs I do every other day regardless of where I am in the world really helped. Investing in a personal trainer last year to focus on strength training was helpful. The trainer turned me into a small Popeye with the ability to bench press up to 60 kgs and the strength built in my muscles was evident in the run. So for practice, I ran 20 kms on Sunday in Diani, but I was so chaffed that my plans to run during the course of the week in hilly Kigali (yes I was still travelling) was thrown out of the window. I got back on Thursday night, and on Friday drove down with Martin Boelle to Karatina. Now that was the only smart choice I made!

Saturday morning, we are having breakfast and I declare boldly, “I will run 56kms!”. There was silence followed by the following statements, “write a will,” “hmmm, let’s see how you will survive with the rain!”, then followed by a rather sage question, “What is the longest you have run?” “21kms at the Ndakaini run in September!” I chuffed with pride. “What about for exercise?”  I responded “Well, I did 20 kms in Diani on Sunday, doesn’t that count?”  Silence and everyone focused on their breakfast, then one last reminder, “make sure you write a will!” Honestly who needs enemies if you have friends like these?

But I was so excited. This was green Mount Kenya; we were going to pass through forests, with the possibility of evading angry pachyderms. I had hiked through the same forest in March, ran through it in September and it was a beautiful day. I just knew I’d do the run, plus on hind sight I was on an adrenaline rush.

We drove 10 kms to a small village called Kagochi, and we started running. What was my plan? What plan! I had no idea except drum into my head to save energy, put one foot in front of the other and make sure I finished the run. And in Ashok’s words, if you can’t fight the hill, you can as well enjoy the view. And what a view we had as we ran passing through runpotato  and coffee farms, until when we reached a river and I debated on whether I should remove my shoes or not; Martin threw me a stick from across and shouted, “You will need it for support as you cross.”! I gave up and removed my shoes and started crossing. Susan was ahead of me and she happily chirped, “my shoes are water proof so I do not need to remove my shoes,” “Oh Susan….” I grouched.

I am glad I removed my shoes and waded through the cold river as it cooled my hot feet. I resumed the run and after 30 minutes it started raining and once again Susan chirped, “Did I forget to mention that my shoes are water proof!” “Susan, I swear you will be mugged in Nairobi and they will only take your shoes!” I further grouched as we slogged in the mud.

It was at this point that I definitely made up my mind to do the 56 kms run as I kept on asking, “What is the worst that could happen, other than being rained on?”  and I swore, unless there were hailstones and earthquake and the actual possibility of snow, I would not stop and definitely finish the run.

To keep my mind busy and off the run, I started playing associative mind games. I started with the rainy, muddy forest and reminded myself that it was like running in Karura Forest. Then in some stretches  I reminded myself of when I was climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and it brought back memories of my preparations for the expedition and the actual run kidachievement of reaching Uhuru Peak, and of course I was already planning my diary, I had a lot of kilometers to cover and my entire week was planned ! But the most important thing I learned was that people love people. I greeted everyone on the way, asked people in kiosks if they had tea for a weary miserable runner, to which they enthusiastically responded and I encouraged children to run with me. Some held my hand as we ran together.

Then I started looking for life lines. Susie (Brendan Molloy’s fiancé), gave me her gel and she offered to give me money for a boda boda, which, I declined just in case I got tempted to hop onto a motorbike due to fatigue. Susan also gave me her gel, and then the vehicles started following me. The soft purring engine of Ajaa’s and Wahome’s vehicles reminded me that I was not alone and I slogged on, in the umpteenth wave of rain.

Vehicles and boda bodas pulled over to give me a lift and I politely declined and I continued running. At some point I was given an orange which boosted me, my Garmin watch had died after 30 kms and I resorted  to asking the friendly villagers how far I was  and I got colorful responses ranging from, Huogopi mvua? Aki uko mbali, Madam ingia tu kwa gari (Aren’t you worried about the rain. You are really far. Madam, please get into the car!). 3 kms to the finish, I had unexpected euphoric energy and ran nonstop to the end. The Swaras were waiting for me, followed by exhilarating high fives with incredulous comments, “Joy, you are crazy! My God you are stubborn!”. 9hours 20 minutes later, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am an Ultra Marathoner!”. Will I do this again? Oh yeah and I cannot wait for the Two Oceans Ultra Marathon in South Africa.

Running Tales

MMC Africa Mt Kenya Challenge – The Sirimon to Old Moses 18Km Run

Mt Kenya Challenge 2014 - Karura GroupLaikipia was busy in many ways last weekend. The Lewa Marathon was on, The KCB Safari Rally was in Nanyuki and a new born run, The MMC Africa Mt. Kenya Challenge, was inaugurated in Nanyuki.

The Urban Swaras were represented by Wachira, Macharia and on and off member; Mwaura aka Honi Ambassador. Twenty four seasoned runners, mostly drawn from Karura Runners, participated.

The run kicked off at 7.00a.m sharp on Saturday, 9km from the turnoff to the Sirimon Gate, and upto the Old Moses 18km away. One of the toughest but beautiful trails characterised by the rosewoods of Sirimon, East Africa redwoods, tree groundsels, scarlet flowers, the everlastings, Alpine buttercups, bamboo belt and the moorland grass, this run exceeded all expectations. To underscore how tough the trail is, Honi Ambassador who has recorded 1.10 in Stanchart Half Marathon was the first to report at Old Moses in 2.32. Yours truly was 3rd at 2.37.

To the organizers of the annual Lewa alternative, it is thumbs up. For only Ksh.7,500 p.p. which covered for 2 nights accommodation, dinners, a party at the top at Old Moses and an all night after-run party, this is quite a relief to those who miss Lewa next year, and those bold enough to challenge Mt. Kenya!

See the link below for some of the moments.

https://plus.google.com/photos/117859050543428010190/albums/6030633805512109425?authkey=CLuRyIu8oOWjQA