Running Tales

42: A Virgin No More!

beatrice-at-nairobi-marathon-2016Like many Swaras who attempted their first 42KMs, I am elated. I am still walking awkwardly but there is a bounce to that awkwardness and a smile; once in a while a wince when I forget and the pain jolts me back to reality! It’s the most rewarding and humbling experience to do the full marathon and finish, especially in the punishing heat, for yesterday, the mighty sun summoned all its off springs to ‘rain’ down on Nairobi!

My journey to 42 started as a joke really. I was beginning to slack off in my running and starting to hate it. Waking up in the morning to lace up while previously was a challenging but doable affair, began to feel more arduous, and I couldn’t master any energy however much I tried. I began to resent running and myself for not running. That is when I panicked, because if you have loved doing something for a while and then you start to feel like it’s a burden, that relationship is doomed. I had to mend my relationship with the trail. So this year after I did the Victoria Falls half marathon (which was a struggle to prepare for) I decided I needed a new challenge if I was to mend this relationship. So I set myself a 42K target, and immediately began broadcasting it loudly to my friends and anyone who cared to listen. Because once it’s out of the closet, there is no going back!

At Vic Falls, I got encouragement from Suzy Wendot who despite having painful muscles from having white water rafted the previous day (we did warn them!), powered through the heat and finished strong. If it was hot in Nairobi yesterday, Vic Falls heat was double that. The only difference is the good event organisation where you get rain showers along the way and other drinks and fruits other than water. When I saw Suzy finish so strong despite the challenges, I knew I could do it. And then Eugene, another veteran Swara also encouraged me that if you are to attempt a first marathon, better do it on home ground where you will get the generous support of the Swaras.

So armed with those words of encouragements and my loud mouth broadcasts of how I was going to run a 42 come October, I started to train. And boy did I train. I remember the many Saturday runs where I was mostly on my own from kilometre 15 or 20 after most runners have taken the turn towards home. To train for a long run, you have to be prepared to run alone for most of the Swara runs, because sometimes you will be the only one doing a long run. So most of the time, it was me, my music and my fuelling belt. And once in a while I would gladly bump into Otora after I had long given up hope of getting any support. And the after run breakfast became a dream every day, gobbled up by the short distance runners!

I had been told by my good friend Molly that for you to finish a 42, you need mileage on your legs so I did as many long runs as possible on the weekends. In the end, what you put in the body is what you get out of it! I was so lucky to have put in a lot of mileage during the training without acquiring any injury, at least not before last minute. And so as fate would have it, the last semi-long Saturday’s run at Ambo garden, as I set out to do my 20Km (I had started to taper), I felt an injury sneaking up slowly with every kilometre. I finally had to abandon the run at 16kms when my left heel could no longer step on the ground anymore. And I was emotional. I couldn’t believe I had trained this hard to miss the main event! I was inconsolable. So I humbly visited Kariakim and ordered him to make sure he does everything in his power to heal the injury within the week! And that was the end of my training. I sat tight and crossed my fingers that come Sunday, that foot would behave.

The good thing about missing a run for a week is the anticipation and the feeling of guilt that makes you raring to go. Come race day, I was perhaps the most eager competitor to get on the road. So eager was I that I managed to convince all the cops (and bouncers) manning the various road blocks from Westlands to Nyayo stadium to let me drive through because I was going to run a full marathon (see my race number says full marathon!) and was able to park right outside the Swara tent!

The marathon itself was tough, mostly due to the heat. And my injury nagged me from the very first kilometre to the end. I was very strong until 30kms when began to slowly fade away and cramping set in. At some point it was like electricity was zapping through my body! Like my fellow full marathoners, I got incredible support from the Swara support team. A big thank you to Otora, Benja and the crew on Mombasa road. Not to forget Leif who together with his wife were handing out water and bananas as well as cheering Swaras loudly. Every time I saw a Swara, I made an effort to add a little bit more energy to my tired limbs and pretend I was still strong! And thanks to Molly who came to run with me the last 2kms, I finished strong. I would have just faded and limped home but she made sure I had a strong finish; so strong that I surprised some beaten up Ugandans when I passed them sprinting the last 500 meters! Thank you everyone, I am officially in club 42!

Running Tales

The Tale of Two Marathons in 28 Days

urban swaras imageLet me start by pointing that no one “fixed” me to do two marathons in less than one month. I had set a target of three marathons in this calendar year. After debuting in Kilimanjaro Marathon in March, I missed a sequence of marathons mid-year because of business and pleasure; that target was reduced to two. I settled for MTN Kampala for my second marathon. But on learning that there was a 4 weeks gap between Stanchart and MTN I decided to attempt both. I knew this was a near death wish but what the hell, I decided to go for it.

I started serious preparation in September and built up the mileage as the days wore, peaking in early October when I clocked around 150 km in one week when I was on leave. The biggest challenge for an amateur recreational runner is getting time for running especially for the 8 to 5 employees since you neither run for money nor because of money. That is a tag line used by a running mate we run with in Karura who opines that there only two groups of runners, the run for money group for whom running is a profession and run because of money type for those seeking to extend their shelf life (who when they ask for their bank balance in the bank the teller scribbles the digits for not less than 3 minutes instead of whispering on your ear before calling the security guys because you are a walking financial tragedy waiting to happen.) I don’t fit into any of the two groups. I don’t know why you all run, but for me, the reason I run so hard is to make sure that I can have my beer. I am dead serious on this! When a marathon gets to the 35 plus km, all those who have been there can attest that it’s more of a psychological battle than a physical one. When noble people would be thinking of things like life after death, global warming and such like life changing ideologies, my mind is always fixed on the cold Tusker Malt waiting for me on the other side of the finish line. That’s what keeps me running after 30 km. Too much story telling.

Stanchart 2015 was an almost perfect marathon for me; I was feeling great before the marathon and preparation was good enough bar for the last stretch on Mombasa road when I started getting stitches and had to significantly reduce the speed and affect my overall time, but I knew that I had attained the target of 3:30 so it was a no worry situation. Each marathon run gives a runner a new running experience, and after the hill in Kilimanjaro gave me a thorough thrashing on the backside and dehydration wore me down like a fresh tomato plant in the Sahara, I came here armed with “loads” of experience. I started hydrating on the Museum hill climb and as a result, Davies whom I had run with for like 6km left me behind, but once bitten twice shy. I was never going to run on an empty. Another golden rule for any long run is always “run your run” never get carried away by the crowd else you will run to regret it. I hit the 21 km in 1.35 and started the solitary Mombasa road stretch on a very clear road. I met the elites just past the South C fly over and before I got to the turning point, they sped past me. You only appreciate how good the elite runners are when you meet them on the course, and especially on the second leg of the marathon; they are so easy but remember why they are running “they run for money”. I don’t, so they have to earn It. Otora and Nyingi were always on the opposite side of the road ahead. I meet with majority of the Swaras on my way up the first time and as I head down the final time and as always “strong” echoes are all over. The final stretch for me is a bit of a struggle, but I run it and as I get to the stadium, majority of the 21km runners are coming in. The support on the second half was on point and tons of thank you for all who were in the support team. I came home in now officially 3:22:03, well below my target of 3:30 (I need to reduce the running and have more beer). It could have been lower but I would take that all day long.

The challenge now was how you prepare for a marathon in one month after running one; you need a minimum of one week for recovery, and another for tapering down. That left me with two weeks! I planned to have two 35km runs by all means. All this planning and you have other ills to contend with. The devil is a giant liar. And he comes in all forms and faces. I don’t know if it’s only me but I always have these friends who always have very good “plans” and “plots” on Friday afternoons on eve of Saturday when you want to do a long run. There is a limit to the number of times you can say no and I fell for these evil ways on one of these Fridays when I had planned to do a long run and couldn’t make it. I had to run on a Sunday to make up. I have lost count the number of times that I have had to make unannounced exits from social places to avoid questions like “kwani wewe hulipwa kukimbia, kwani ulirogwa na hizi mbio zako”. And sometimes since it’s the Tusker doing all the talking, I won’t quote some of those funny questions I get. I always take beer sabbaticals when preparing for a marathon for a minimum of two weeks, so when I enter my locals and I ask for water, you always get that weird look. One waitress actually this time round had the audacity to ask me “kwani umesota?” (That’s Chinese for a malnourished wallet).

MTN was here, November 22. I would be lying if I said I was cocky for this one. I had done my two 35 kms on tarmac in a space of 3 days, one of which was an el-nino soaked Wednesday morning, for the better of first 20 km. I only bought the air ticket after the second run, which I had decided would determine whether I will run or not. Despite cost implications (I don’t run because of money), I had resisted the temptation of taking a bus ride to Kampala. My calf had been aching and two visits to Kariakim’s soothed it a bit and I was ready. I left on Saturday afternoon and was in Kampala by 5.30 pm. Registration had been facilitated by Ashok (thanks a lot for that; a bucket of biryani or whatever poison you partake on me when we meet), and an Olubayi in Kampala. I meet with Peter Njuguna and pitch tent in the heart of Kampala. Peter Macharia passes by later to pick his kit but I don’t see him because am watching a Chelsea football game (hoping they lose). We have supper with Njuguna over a well prepared fish and Ugali as we witness the massacre at the Bernabeu (Real being thrashed by Barcelona in the El-classico), and Man city being annihilated by Liverpool. Peter throws in the towel before the matches are over citing the long ride to Kampala, by the way traffic in Kampala makes Mombasa road look like a free way, it’s terribly bad. The running kit for this run is almost perfect with a fancy singlet, labeled water bottle, a hand band, a cap and a timing chip. But that’s the only positive about this run.

This was a crappy marathon in terms of organization. It was excellently poorly organized. Period. And I hope the other participants can give their accounts confirming this observation. Let me not waste a lot of space writing about it. It’s not worth the name. Let me summarize it like this. Despite our efforts to get the start time for the marathon, it proved unfruitful and we decided to get to the stadia at 6.30am. By the time we get there, aerobics are on and we join in, not knowing the marathon had started on the other end. Kololo independence ground is the Uhuru Park there. When we get to know about it, its 6.40am and we are a minimum 10 minutes late. We start running and not surprising we are not alone; a lot of people didn’t know about the start time. After a km, I let Peter know that I didn’t bring him to Kampala and so he has to run his run… ha ha! I leave him.

At around 3 km, one Simamisha is on the back of a motorbike heading to the start point; he is taking the 21km. At around 8km, a Swara t-shirt is up ahead, its one Peter Macharia and we run-talk for like 50 meters before he politely puts it across that it’s as if am running for money, and as I leave him, we wish each other a fruitful run.

Ugandans don’t close roads for marathons. Runners simply decide what is more important, their lives or running; you give way to cars as you are running. There are more motorbikes in Kampala than the population of the city. Don’t ask me who rides the extra motorbikes; I guess its ghosts! One section of the run was so bad that you had to literally stop running to give way to boda bodas. Some sections of the roads were half closed, meaning you have half a lane to run and matatus being matatus even in Uganda, your guess is as good as mine on what takes priority, a spoilt “rich” runner trying to burn calories or them picking passengers. This run is so bad! There were stewards along the way showing you where to turn but it only worked until the first 25km, then I think they decided whatever they were being paid was not worth waiting for laggards who laze on the trails for more than 3 hours. They went missing and we had to stop to ask for directions.

The course is far much tougher than Stanchart, with heart breaker Hills at around 16 kms and 30 kms. As the run gets back to the city, another big blunder; the 10km and 21 routes join the full marathon. No problem if the distance remaining is the same and the marks are clear, but for this, each run has its turns. For me what followed is total chaos, I get lost twice between km 34 and 38 and the problem is that you are just circling the finish point as I can hear the music blaring from the PA system in the grounds. I finally find my way and I’m feeling abnormally tired and I guess I added a Km or more. Peter Njuguna gave himself a bonus of plus 2 Km in the melee of getting lost and found.

I finally came home in 3:48 having lost not less than 15 minutes in the late start and confusion on the trails. As I cross the finish line, I just curse and mutter; it was never worth the trouble. One consolation though, beer in a normal Ugandan bar is KShs.125. Yeah? I asked that last night to prepare psychologically. Now here we will have revenge.

The Kampala Hashers have set up tent just after the finish line, 100% percent are in the running gear but I can bet 70% of them ran last in 2014. Ugandans can’t organize a run to save their lives but you have to give it to them when it comes to partying. I know a few faces here and one Simamisha is running the show; he always does J. They laugh at me when I complain about the organization. One guy asks me why I think they flock the Stanchart marathon; it’s an open secret that MTN is the joke of Marathons.

I get one “hydrating” drink and head back to the finish line with a few bottles of water and wait for the other swaras. It’s a long wait, but eventually Peter Njuguna comes and when he confirms he never saw Peter Macharia on the trail, we conclude that he may have lost his way and he may be stuck at the immigration in Busia border point headed back to Nairobi. The organization of this marathon is total chaos and in as much as I won’t discourage anyone from participating, I would urge one to seriously try other options. For me, its not worth it. The less I write about it the better.

This has been an epic running year for me and as I sign off, kudos to the CRE for the excellent routes we have covered this year. For me marathons aside, Fluorspar “tarmac to tarmac” and the Magadi ”death run” stands out as runs that pushed me beyond the limits. Kajiado is a must do in 2016 as I complete the swara “pilgrimage”.  I can imagine the huge amount of work and effort that goes on behind the scenes to make sure we have these runs. Keep up the good work. I am taking a well deserved break for a few weeks before embarking on new targets next year because as the chairman always says, those PBs no longer mean personal best rather they are previous best. Perhaps a sub 3 marathon is in the offing in 2016.

If we don’t meet before then, to you all and yours its Merry Christmas and Happy Running new year 2016.

Time for me now to enjoy the sweet things in life and maybe I can also learn how to take selfies and creating a collage like those instagram babes who run for two kms or walk from the kitchen to balcony of their half bed-roomed (read the same room) “apartment” in Muthiga (no pun intended) and sweat, creating all manner of clueless hash tags like #fitnesstingz#runningmanenos#godspeed#healthyliving.

Did I just write that, no, now it’s the waragi doing the talking and the writing of course.

I am out.

Running Tales

I am Legend; My First Full Marathon, 42km @42yrs!

The 3 MusketeersThe simple picture message sent by Ashok on Saturday read: “A marathon is an event where everyone is equal and ordinary at the start line… but a legend is born at the finish?.” And sure enough a number of legends were born at yesterday’s Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon.

I was? privileged to be among the Swaras who were making their full marathon debut, together with my training partners Lawrence Kibet, Kenneth Muchina and Karanu Waweru. Other debutants include Marrion Kimani, Anthony Mwai, and I believe MK and Brendan too. I am not sure who else from the Swaras team, but feel free to add to the list. So there we were lined up at the start, set and ready to make history even if only at a personal level for most of us.

Now, a bit of a background: for the longest time since we started road running with my mates, we kept telling ourselves that one of these fine days -when we grow up 🙂 !- we’d do the full marathon. Easier said than done I’m afraid as distance & endurance running is not for the fainthearted, something that we know all too well from the many Swara runs where Otora has worked his magic again and 25km turns out to be 30km, or the no-hills easy run promised by the Chairman turns up some surprisingly steep sections just when you had run out of juice, so on and so forth… So, in the run-up to this year’s Nairobi Marathon, the question top on our minds was, “To grow up or not to grow up?”

Of course, everyone has their own reason(s) for running, something that the organizers never fail to remind us. For some, it is to prove their mettle, others to improve on their PBs and yet others to push the boundaries of what they have a42@42 College-mateschieved before. Now, I cannot speak for my mates as to why they felt it was about time to do their first full 42km [they are of age and can speak for themselves!], but I had one compelling reason myself: you see, having turned 42yr old in September, I thought it an apt way of marking that milestone by doing one km for every year I have walked this earth. I was joined in this quest by a classmate from college who had the same idea too…

D-day was finally here, and since we had prepared in the usual manner with increasing intensity and then tapered down in the last 2 weeks or so, we were fairly confident that we’d manage it. I couldn’t help noticing though that the crowd that had turned up this time was a little thinner than last year’s and that the usual fanfare before the off was also lacking. There was no warm-up session, the sound system was a little suspect, not much music to get us psyched and I don’t even recall hearing any starter pistol being fired before we took off! May be it is just me, but methinks the organization this year was a little below par as they could certainly have done better…

And so we set off and were soon doing the usual loops in the CBD before heading out to Forest Road via Museum hill. It was at around this point that we encountered the elite field already returning from that loop on the other side of the road. It was smooth going at this point in the run and I remember us discussing whether the police chopper that was hovering overhead was part of the event or it was patrolling the area for security reasons. On the return loop from Pangani we encountered the half-marathon elite pack near the Limuru Road overpass and I was mildly surprised that they had narrowed down our head start in such a short time!

Anyhow, we breezed through the first half of the marathon that had no surprises really as it was the same as last year’s route. We kept telling ourselves [my team & I] that the first part was only a warm-up and appetizer for the main course that would be served on Mombasa Road. Now, the second part is a different ball game altogether. This is definitely the bit where the men are separated from the boys, and some of us who had hitherto thought we had come of age were rudely reminded that we still had some growing up to do! Those four loops on the section of road between Nyayo Stadium and Sameer Business Park really take it out on you. Well, there was nothing else for it but to try to leg it even when the going got tough.

Suffice it to say that even on a relatively flat course a full marathon run is not an easy undertaking and can be quite brutal. Although the conditions yesterday were perfect with cool weather and overcast skies for the most part, I still found the going hard from around the 36km mark when both my legs seized up and I had to take it easy from that point on. I had already fallen off the pace with my mates and was basically now struggling and straggling on my own. Eventually I just had to walk-run-walk until the finish, but was grateful for the company of Loice Mbogo who had caught up with me at that point and we psyched each other up to the finish.

Many thanks to the support team who were strategically positioned to hand out some much needed supplies to the runners. They were such a godsend and were also pressed into service to massage my tired legs after they rebelled and refused to take orders from my command and control center! The mobile team on bikes and the paparazzi also Proud finishers showing off their medals & cutting cakedeserve a special mention. The breakfast at the Swara tent was simply to die for. Oh, and there was even a cake to be cut in honour of the full marathon finishers and to add to the celebrations!

All in all it was a memorable outing and the arduous experience of a first marathon was well worth every minute. While it is highly unlikely that my time of 5hrs 5 minutes will have caused any ripples in the world of distance running, that tiny step of running a full 42km marathon is indeed a giant leap for yours truly. It may also be safe to say that the likes of Dennis Kimetto, Eliud Kipchoge and Wilson Kipsang will not be losing sleep on account of my entry into their domain, but perhaps some day in the not too distant future they may have reason to watch their backs!

I take this opportunity to also offer my hearty congratulations to all those who achieved some personal target whether big or small in yesterday’s run. I believe that we did ourselves proud and flew the club’s flag high with our own individual efforts. I remember Anthony asking me after we finished if I’d ever do it again, and my considered reply was that if anyone had asked the same during the run especially between 30-40km, I would have forsworn ever doing a run that is longer than 30km! Of course you can bet that I’ll be out there sooner than later pushing the envelope on endurance running, so see you soon on the Swara trail 🙂

 

 

Running Tales

Stanchart Nairobi Marathon 2012 – My Take

Date: October 28, 2012

Post marathon, I am nursing a flu that was steadily creeping up pre-marathon, and which saw me run with a jacket throughout in order to forestall the effects- it didn’t work. I am therefore a sneezy, nose blowing, coughing mess, and not many people want to hang around me. Left alone with my thoughts, reflections and lemon mixed with ginger-garlic-honey-vodka-turmeric-cardamom, and whatever else anyone suggests, I have a chance to reflect on the Stanchart Nairobi Marathon.

Every once in a while, something happens that defines a turning point of sorts, that gives an indication of greater things. I believe that the Stanchart Nairobi Marathon 2012 marks such a point for the Urban Swaras, in more ways than one. First, I was amazed at how the club has grown, to a point that I no longer know everyone’s name, and few remember mine. Second, the number of Swaras that made their full marathon debut was astounding, and lastly, the coordination that saw to it that we had food, refreshments and cheer at Abdi’s (with a banner to boot!) was laudable.

In the year God knows what (Need to ask Jael and Co. for the exact dates and facts), Urban Swaras, as a club, did not even exist. What existed were just a few fitness-loving Kenyans whose idea of fun was to tire their calf muscles and injure hamstrings by running long distances. These individuals attracted other individuals with inclination to similar madness, and soon, a size-able group could be identified.  The group then decided to take a name, emails flew around, some names were floated, and the name Urban Swaras garnered the most votes. Then there was the logo, then the T-shirts, then the membership fee and subscription, the constitution, then the elections, then the more seriously organized runs with the fruit and water, then the celebratory goats and music and other kinds of water. Then the mailing list and the website and google group, and finally me standing at Abdi’s on Sunday and looking at faces and wondering: how come I don’t know everybody? And I know several Swaras were asked by other runners along the Marathon route: “Where can we find your club? How do we join?”

Our own members; Fran, Eleanor, Kimmie, Ferrah, Loise, Nancy, Leif, Ajaa, Amai, James, Patrick, Ndichu and Raoul put themselves out there for 42Km. And we cheered them like crazy, and jumped up and down even though our legs were not quite steady after trying to chase personal bests in the 21Km league. Some of us mastered the art of escaping several attempts by Tata to dispatch us to the round about to fetch yet another full marathoner who had been sighted heading for the finish. I was rather comfortable in the camp that waited for them to round the bend before cheering them hoarse and running the little bit I could with some.  Meanwhile, my heart was bursting with pride. We were united in common joy and everyone’s achievement felt in every bit as though it was mine. Most of these guys’ faces at the last kilometre had an array of emotions which I tried to decipher without success. I leave each of them to describe in their own words (over a drink) what they felt in their hearts, minds, bodies, and especially, their legs in the last kilometres.

Then there was the coordination.  For most of us, when we pay up amounts we are asked to, we have done our part. Rarely do the behind-the-scenes activities cross our minds. But take time today to think of madam coordinator, a person whose terms of reference get expanded arbitrarily without any commensurate increase to her time. She is also adept at sniffing around for all kinds of opportunities for Swaras, and then goes ahead to make sure they happen, even at minimal notice (recall Naivasha Relay 2012?).  When I saw MC and Mercy  at Total in South C with (what was that? Juice or Gatorade?) whatever they gave me, I saw dedication personified, and I drank whatever it was, just out of sheer gratitude.

Today, take time to appreciate how far we have come both as individuals, and as a club in piling up our miles and kilometres, and also appreciate how far we still have to go. Take time to also appreciate the team at the helm, which really does a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure that things happen. Then take time to appreciate yourself. Each day you run, you increase your mileage, and you become better. So to all of you: I am proud to be part of this team. Let’ continue to up our game! ….And let’s have yet another introductory session.