Running Tales

Ndeiya & Spring Valley: A Study in Contrast

Lower kabete1Among the many refreshing things about Swara runs is the sheer variety of different places where the runs are staged. In fact, no run is ever like another even when set in the same locality and so for the most part when you line up at the start you really have no idea what to expect. And perhaps the best way to prepare for any run is to first do away with any preconceived ideas of what the run may turn out to be…

Saturday’s run from the Total station on Lower Kabete road was no different. Having done a few runs in the locality, I was fairly confident that it would be on a familiar route and didn’t give much thought to any preparations or provisions to make for the run. But no, the route-meisters had other ideas chief among them to show you some hitherto unexplored parts of this beautiful country as if to shame you for claiming to know the city you live in.

The first part of the run took us through residential areas of Spring Valley, Peponi, Thigiri Ridge, Nyari, etc. After that section, if you were going the long run, you got to? go as far as Lower Kabete, Vet Labs, Loresho, Kyuna and back to the start. In between these inhabited areas were quite a number of interesting places that would make one wonder if they are still within city limits. These included some forested areas, some two streams with crossings over some makeshift bridges, up some steep climbs complete with concrete steps, coffee plantations and even a swamp!

And this is really what reminded me of the Ndeiya run which we did a couple of weeks ago. Apart from the minor challenge of arriving there on time (and not getting lost on the way!), the rest of it was really easy and quite enjoyable too. Just as described by Chairman, this was one run not to miss that delivered as promised: a little off the highway, the first part of the run takes you through a cedar/eucalyptus forest, then a rocky climb with a quarry at the top, before you reach some scrubland that runs along the edge of the escarpment that affords beautiful views of the Rift Valley below, with the Longonot and Suswa calderas visible on the valley floor in the distance. [see pictures courtesy of Erastus Ngatia]longonot & suswa

The thing is that whereas one may naturally expect the countryside run to be a whole lot tougher than the one in the city, the reverse was actually the case. OK, at least that was what I experienced. Granted, I neglected to take the usual precautions of carrying water, energy drink &/or gels for the town run since the longest distance was to be 25km. Little wonder that I was suitably chastised by the relentlessly hot weather and the support that arrived rather late on the last stretch of the run by which point I had resorted to looking for the shaded side of the road to run on! ????

Without a doubt the lesson learnt for me is to always be prepared for any eventuality regardless of where the run is staged. And so until the next one, keep running!

Running Tales

What I think About When I think About Running

(Plagiarism alert: Today’s piece is stolen from better writers than I, including: Rudyard Kipling, Haruki Murakami, Chris McDougall, Raoul Kamadjieu, Jack London and others. Can you tell what is stolen from whom?)

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If you can take the worst that Otora can throw at you
The hills of Kajiado, the mountains of Iten and the marshes of Kikuyu
It you can do a 40K run, and wake up next morning to do a 10K recovery
If you can run long after your mind has said your body will die (it’s a lie)
If you can do this early on a Saturday morn, when normal humans are asleep
And suffer and still come back next week and do it all over again
Then yours is the craziness of the trail and the glory of the run
And, what is more, you’ll be a true Urban Swara, my friend.

(A shameless heist from Rudyard Kipling’s great poem ‘If’)

The call of the trail
The call of the trail

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I believe it was Christopher McDougall in his famous classic, ‘Born to Run’ who first made the following powerful case, at least to me. The body of a human being is built to run. The body on its own does not recognize distance or fatigue and normal human beings can run almost any distance. It is the mind that acts as a brake, warning you to stop when, according to it, you go ‘too far’ and playing all sorts of tricks when you refuse to listen. Remove the mind’s interference and a normal, healthy, human can run almost indefinitely.

McDougall illustrated this point by narrating the story of the Tarahumara Indians of the mountainous Sierra Madre region of North West Mexico and the late, mad Mzungu, Crazy Horse, who once lived among them and learned to run like them. The Tarahumara (or Raramuri as they call themselves) run crazy distances, 100 Km is fairly common, with none of the modern comforts we take for granted. According to McDougall, they essentially run in akala (open shoes) covering long distances over mountains and valleys, sometimes for days. The only time they seem to stop is to have a smoke.

I had reason and time, plenty of it, to think about MacDougall and the Raramuri during the Tigoni run last Saturday. I have done the run before. But there is no way you can prepare for a Tigoni run. Not physically anyway. The run starts innocently enough. A 7K downhill which, according to Raoul, ‘tempts one to let go and fly.’ But then, as he bluntly warns, “Don’t.” Not that anyone listens, including him, he had to be shipped home on a Boda Boda, and not the first time either. Soon the trail turns and at 10K, becomes a gentle climb. Easily doable, for veterans of Magadi, Kajiado et al, right? Wrong? What no one tells you is that you will be climbing for the next 9Km, until you reach the tarmac road.

From here you will see the ‘finishing point’ the cars parked next to the Gulf petrol station where you left them. Now if you have signed up for a 20K plus distance, you have a hard choice to make, for Otora is not done with you yet. Do you quietly creep in to the finish line and hope no one sees you? But how could you live with yourself after that? So you give a last, wistful look, at the short distance runners, already relaxing in the sun, profusely curse Otora and his lineage one more time and turn sharply left, on to the road that climbs past Brackenhurst. The real run has just began.

This is where the second monster of distance running takes over. Altitude. If I recall James Taylor’s instructions, from the days when I used to do the ‘Farmers choice chase,’ the altitude difference from the bottom of Redhill to the top of Brackenhurst is almost 1000 meters. When you have just done 20K, 10 of them uphill, that counts. It counts a lot.

This where your mind begins to play games with you. “Surely I can’t do this any more or I will die,” it says. Your other half mind, the ego insists, ‘yes you can.’ Or rather; “Imagine the shame, if you stopped now. All the women will laugh at you.” Then you notice that you are running all alone and your silly mind gets going again. “What would happen if I collapsed here, in these tea bushes? Would they ever even find my body? What would my wife say?” After she warned me for years to ‘grow up and start acting your age.’ “Serves you right,” you can hear her voice even now. “Why don’t you go ahead and die again then, maybe that will teach you a lesson.” What if I broke my leg? How would I ever get back down there?

The only mitigation is the scenery. Some parts of the trail are so beautiful that your mind, briefly forgetting its running stream of self pity, simply exclaims: “Wow! Our country surely is beautiful.” I wish I could bring more Kenyans here. Then perhaps they would realize what a blessed lot we are and stop their incessant whining.

You have reached the top of the mountain. Some sections are simply not runable and you confine yourself to a walk. You are way past embarrassment by now. Some of the walks are so painful they become a rather ungainly shuffle, prompting a bunch of kids to ask innocently; “How come none of you are running?”

To which your mind responds in some rather unholy glee. “Ha! So I am not the only one.” The semi elites who came past here must have been suffering too. But a few minutes later, Waliaula will overtake you on a downhill stretch. He shouts that he is on the business end of a 50K. He is doing such an intense pace that you are forced to revise your earlier conclusion. No sign of suffering there.

At some point you are forced to knock on a strangers door and beg for water. The pretty Woman of the house takes a look at you and quickly runs into the kitchen. She looks like she has seen a ghost. More likely she sees a potential death on her doorstep, and imagines the ordeal of having to explain such an event to the police, or her husband. She brings you a jug of water, one so big that you have enough to drink two rounds, fill your running belt and wash your face. You thank her politely and run out of the compound.

You notice that everyone has stopped to look at you. It is the same look you would give to a mad man, newly escaped from Mathare. You know the one who keeps insisting that he is not mad, even as he tries to fashion a suit from a bunch of newspapers? That one.

Soon you hit a downhill section. But now the sadistic phenomenon of ‘reverse terrain pain’ hits home. You see, your muscles have become molded into the process of running uphill. Forcing them to go downhill demands a whole new, muscular, re-education. A painful one too. You reach the river and see the steep hill towards home. You let off an explosive sigh of relief. Who would ever have imagined that a hill on this run would come as a godsend?

You arrive back home, 32K later and the first person you see is Wahome. He is all smiles, fresh from having done a paltry 20K. He looks at you and cracks a joke. But you are not laughing. You have just remembered that he is the one who invented the Tigoni run. You want to give him a large piece of your mind, the stinky half too. But you look at his fresh condition and realize that, in your half dead state, he could easily snap you into two. So instead you walk away and try to find an easier target to bully. Maybe Ameet. After all, he is the MC, aka the Swaras punching bag, right? But he doesn’t look bullyable either.  So instead you content yourself with a cup of tea.

Then you hobble back to the car. You are in such a dizzy that you even forget your running belt, which Ameet retrieves for you. Aren’t you glad you resisted the temptation to bully him?

Later you will philosophically reexamine the events of the morning and come to a conclusion. Losing your running belt was your silly mind getting back at you, after ignoring it for 32K and nearly destroying its bodily vehicle.

Some of the strange things you think about when you do a Swaras run.

Running Tales

Running Through History (An account of the Osotua run)

There are many good reasons to take part in the annual Osotua run. Let us start with the scenery. It is simply to die for. If you have not been, may I suggest you stop reading this and check out the photos that Roul posted on the Swaras facebook page. Or, if you like Victor more, here you go.

Go on and look. I’ll wait.

Here is one of them. Beautiful, no?
Here is one of them. Beautiful, no?

Then there was the run itself. In case you are like me and can’t help confusing Osotua with Ololua, that other classic that happens in Karen and the nation of Ongata Rongai, here is a quick tip: for Ololua – think Monkeys. For Osotua – think killer hills, for that is what the run, starting as it does on the edge of the great Rift Valley escarpment portends.

But there was nothing like killer hills this time. At least not many. Otora must have found religion during the holiday season. He avoided the temptation of routing us up the vertical escarpment against which the Osotua camp nests. Instead we went left of the escarpment wall, aiming straight at Mai Mahiu town and Mount Longonot beyond it. Then we gently curved left again, using Mt Margaret as the beacon this time, just missing the Longonot satellite Earth station until we arrived at the Kenya Pipe Line depot, which sits at the end of an ancient tarmac road that I am told used to form the Nairobi Nakuru cattle track, way back in Colonial times.

Speaking of Colonial times, history alone could be a good reason to do Osotua , assuming Masai cuisine and herbal goat soup are not your cup of tea. Osotua sits on the northern boundary of official Masai land, an artificial border demarcated by power of Colonial fiat and treaty chicanery. It is thus a symbol of the greatest land grab ever perpetrated in Kenyan history, a historical injustice of gargantuan proportions if you want one. This crime, committed more than 100 years ago, is part of a long story. So let me tell you the short version.

The lay of the land. El nino has turned it all green
The lay of the land. El nino has turned it all green

The Colonial British were a rather practical, if devious lot. I guess you had to be when, hailing from a small Island with terrible weather, you found yourself the owner of an empire that stretched half way round the World. How would you rule such a massive empire? There are not enough of you and despite the prowess of your army and navy, the expanse of your dominions are simply too vast to control by force. You can’t always rely on bribing the natives. Many of them cannot be trusted to stay bribed and in any case, there are only so many beads and trinkets to go round. So they invented the doctrine of divide and rule, or rather they perfected a doctrine that the Romans had invented more a thousand years earlier.

In a nutshell the doctrine goes like this: to rule the natives and keep them subdued you need to do two things first and foremost: (a) identify their weaknesses so that you exploit them and (b) identify their strengths and either align yourself with them or do everything you can to turn these strengths into weaknesses. Together these principles formed the key pillars of what became known as the theory and practice of indirect rule.

Back to Osotua.

Before the British showed up on our shores, the Masai used to graze their cattle on the land stretching from near Arusha in Tanzania, past Kiajado, Nairobi, Nyeri, Nanyuki, Eldoret to Kitale. This vast stretch, almost 1000 kilometers long, formed the nomadic tribes summer and winter (high land pasture and lowland pasture) grazing grounds. The right to ownership was reinforced by history, mythology (Engai (God) gave the land to us and all cattle on earth besides) as well the fierceness of the Moran warrior class. These Masai Moran’s had for hundreds of years kept any strangers away from the Kenyan hinterland, single handedly shielding the tribes of Central and Western Kenya from the ravages of slave raiders, colonial explorers and the missionaries who followed them.

On the run. Negotiating some of the treacherous terrain
On the run. Negotiating some of the treacherous terrain

I am sure the Masai could have continued doing exactly that, but for a perfect storm of disasters that struck around the 1820 to 1890. First an epidemic of smallpox that decimated many populations in the East African region, causing forced migrations that changed the ethnographic landscape permanently. Next and even worse for the Masai, a series of cattle epidemics, mainly Riderpest, that killed many of their animals, threatening to destroy the basis of their economic and cultural existence as a people.

It was around this time that Joseph Thomson showed up courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society (mother of the present day National Geographic that you see on TV) to explore the East African hinterland. Thomson boasts in his memoirs of his prowess in traversing the previously impenetrable Masailand, “…a sheaf of green grass in one hand (a Maa symbol of peace) and a rifle in the other” (a British symbol of deceit?). But the truth is he and his servants were traipsing through largely empty savanah grassland. The disasters had reduced the feared Masai into a shell of themselves and the stresses caused powerful internal tensions, especially following the death of respected leader, elder and prophet, Batian, when his two sons Lenana and Sedeyo turned on each other and split the tribe into two.  The resulting Morijo civil war was to cause a permanent rift, creating the tribe now known as Samburu and giving the colonialists the weak point they needed to exploit in order to steal the Masai’s land.

Joseph Thomson. When I was young we were taught that he was the 'first man to cross Masailand' which made wonder what had happened to the Masai. Had they all gone blind?
Joseph Thomson. When I was young we were taught that he was the ‘first man to cross Masailand’ which made wonder whether the Masai had all gone blind

The British needed land and other natural resources to support the home country and the expansive empire, and later to settle white veterans from World War 1. They discovered the fertile valleys and slopes of the Abadares and the expansive well drained plains of the Laikipia and Uasin Gishu plateaus. Good land, well watered, plenty of native labour nearby, and weather like the Yorkshire Dales in permanent summer. What was not to like? So they liked. In fact they liked so much that they promptly renamed it ‘The White Highlands.’ One small problem, the Maasai and to a smaller extent the Nandi and Kipsigis to the West claimed to own most of it.

What to do? Start a land war? Not a very efficient idea, especially as you would still need the same native owners to provide cheap labour or serve as hired mercenaries to subdue restless tribes that could threaten the settler project.  In any case, even though the Masai were weakened by then, no one wanted to test the theory that they could not fight, or give them a reason to unite their warring clans against a common enemy. Otherwise the Colonial project in Kenya could have ended before it began.

The road to Mai Mahiu. Getting there can be tougher than doing the run
The road to Mai Mahiu. Getting there can be tougher than doing the run

Enter a chap called Frederick John Dealtry Lugard – (marches in, stage right): fresh from a stint in subduing the restless natives of West Africa, who insisted on opposing the creation of modern day Nigeria. Born in Madras (present day Chennai) India, Lord Lugard was one of the greatest proponents of the policy of indirect rule. You could say he wrote the manual on the philosophy and practice of divide and rule. He believes the British can convince the Masai to vacate their land without having to fight them.

Enter Lenana ole Batian – (sits quietly stage left) – the brash but rather humbled Maasai war leader from Kiserian, recently enthroned as Oloibon Kitok and soon to be Paramount Chief of all of Masailand. Brave and well versed in the ways of warrior hood and the culture and beliefs of his people, but Lenana was clearly ignorant in the dark arts of politics and diplomatic sleight of hand. He has recently emerged from a devastating struggle for power against his brother. All he desires now is peace and he thinks the British are his friends.

The meeting of the two people and opposed visions was to be a disaster for the Maasai and indirectly for Kenya. Through a series of tricks, the Maasai were somehow convinced to give up the fertile upper plateau lands of Nyandarua, Nakuru,  Nanyuki  and beyond and move to the dry and marginal Kajiado/Namanga plains to the south while their Samburu cousins were pushed to the dry Laikipia plateau north of Nanyuki and Isiolo. You can read one of the colonial agreements here. No I’ll not wait.

Further afield, the project of colonizing Uganda, for which the Uganda railway had been built, was largely abandoned and Kenya colony became the new center of British settler attention. The rest as they say is history.

The deed is done. Chief Lenana shortly after signing away most of Masai grazing land
The deed is done. Chief Lenana shortly after signing away most of Masai grazing land

The Mai Mahiu road that passes just next to Osotua forms the utmost northern edge of this historical injustice perpetrated on the Masai people. An injustice that every post independence Kenya government has continued, either by default or by design. In fact the genesis of land tensions that have existed here between the Maasai and the Kikuyu, which flare up in regular, so called ‘tribal clashes’ can be traced this far back. The people of Maa have never recovered.

But let us get back to the running trail.

The flat section of the run lasted exactly 27K. Shortly past the KPL depot, the trail turned left, then right and bang into the face of a massive rock strewn cliff. Clearly Otora had saved the best for last. Somewhere near here the SGR will soon be passing, emerging from one of the longest tunnels to be constructed in East Africa. But for now it is all volcanic rock and scrubby bushes, mute witnesses to the suffering of the Urban Swaras.

The morning mist makes the land look a scene in fantasy movie
The morning mist makes the land look a scene in fantasy movie

At the top of the cliff we emerge onto a narrow flat plain abutting the real escarpment. The sharp hill curves gently to include the Mai Mahiu road and the old railway line. Both hug the escarpment closely, tracing ancient elephant trails, an Engineer friend once told me, to traverse the famous Williams hill to Mai Mahiu town. Somewhere near the bottom is a small Chapel, built by the Italian prisoners of war in memory of their comrades who died building this road. Nothing marks the, even greater, suffering of the Indian natives who built the railway line.

My grandfather told me that watching the Italians being forced into near slave labour by their British jailers was one of the incidences that broke the myth of white invincibility and contributed to the rise of the Mau Mau. To the Kikuyu, a white man was a white man (gutiri muthungu na mubia). If the Italians could be beaten, so could the British. A story for another day.

The long run ended at 34K, as confirmed to me by Roul and my running mate Waweru, although Timothy somehow was able to scratch out a 39K (some people are insatiable, I tell you). The food was very good as were the cold showers. The views were even better, once the pain was behind us.

I vote that we do this again.

On a previous visit, Swaras posing with the locals
On a previous visit, Swaras posing with the locals
Running Tales

Waithaka CSR Run – Nairobi Support Services

waithaka clinicEvery Saturday with the Swaras is an experience to remember, but an unfortunately small number of the runs really leave a lasting impact on the communities we, affectionately, trounce upon; well, aside from the carelessly discarded water bottles and plastic wrappers (you know who you are, people 🙂 ). December 19th finally brought real opportunity to benefit the less fortunate, but first things first… the run!

Waithaka is tucked behind Kangemi, Dagoretti, Kwangware, and lots of other places that are much easier to find. The Chairman’s late Friday supplemental directions, coupled with a sixth-sense familiarity due to many adjacent past Swaras’ routes, thankfully got nearly all of us there on time. Jael was in an accommodating mood for the few stragglers, however, as nearly everyone had a tale of turmoil from the night/early morning before. A whistle-less (another nod to those who may have been more hungover than they’d admit) start had us heading off just after 7:00, and easing in to a mostly downhill course through classic Swara-run features: villages, markets, muddy rocks (of course) and dense trees. Each kilometer passed with surprising ease, and seemingly everyone was scoffing at the first “10” mark and hanging a right for “L.”

I paused at this moment of truth, probably hoping subconsciously that a familiar face would meet me and convince me that 10 KM was a great pre-Christmas outing. Instead I was summoned over by a friendly Matatu driver stopped at the same point, who proceeded to trade 100 words of Swahili for my three. This was followed by a curious pinch on the cheek, which I took to be this man’s equivalent of a pat on the backside by a sports coach—I was off for 20 KM!

The next few kilometers proceeded without incident, though the turn for 15 KM came entirely too soon for someone who had barely before decided to extend beyond 10 KM, especially considering the monster hill in between. That psychological hurdle was overcome by the sudden sighting of Anthony and Yasin just ahead on the path towards 20 KM glory; two inspiring Swaras who could provide ample motivation to the finish. Just as I caught them, however, we agreed on a necessary detour. Not for water, bananas, or a choo, but for a closer look at something that only lives in movies and clichés; an actual train wreck.

As we approached the scene, I remember (foolishly) reviewing Google maps the night before in hopes of navigating to our start, and focusing on what seemed like an oddity; “there’s a train station in Dagoretti?” Well, not anymore. We stood under a massive, twisted shell of what had once been a passenger train car, and faced a thoroughly smashed freight train engine that had clearly gotten the best of this brawl.waithaka train wreck

Thankfully, and miraculously, we were informed by one of the salvaging crew members that not a single person had been hurt, a product of the Nairobi-bound passenger train being empty on a Friday evening. That bit of good news had us in good enough spirits to hit the home stretch of the run, as we had important matters to return to at the finish.

In all the adventure of the run, it was easy to lose sight of this day being the Swaras’ signature CSR event of the year. The few folks who turned towards their cars can be forgiven for forgetting that the day’s most special moment was still ahead. Nairobi Support Services was there to welcome us with hot chai and an amazing group of children and their mothers. These were the beneficiaries of the Swaras’ generosity who we had read about in previous emails, but meeting them in person was something else completely. We were given an overview of the program and its many successes; seating and walking aids had allowed dozens of developmentally disabled children to attend school with their peers, but also its limitations; one of the boys the Swaras had recently sponsored for surgery was unable to attend, as his mother couldn’t afford the transport fare for the day. Being here and offering emotional, and of course modest financial support to the mothers was incredibly rewarding, and timed perfectly with the Christmas holidays. It also sparked enthusiastic dialogue among the Swaras, with a recurring refrain of “why don’t we do this more often?”.

We’re all drawn to this club Saturday after Saturday for the 100% guarantee of a gorgeous running route, great company, and real sense of achievement that comes from tackling 10-35 KMs while the rest of Nairobi is just waking up. This one, topped off by interacting with a charity that drew even more attention from the Swaras’ than a real-life train wreck, had us all craving more. Not only for runs such as these, but for opportunities to leave more than muddy footprints as legacies in the communities we run through each weekend.

 

Running Tales

Eburu Scouting Run – A Documentary

Eburu ReccingOn this year’s Jamhuri Day, fifteen Swaras headed to Eburu for a Scouting run.

What is Scouting?

Most swaras have wondered how the memorable trails they run every Saturday are discovered. Others have posed the question to Chairman. Therefore the ‘Scout masters’ decided to drag along a few of the curious ones on one such engagement.

So scouting is, ‘agreeing on a geographical area to be scouted, run around it looking for trails, getting lost, hitting dead ends, and if lucky getting back to where you started from. At the end of it, a run route is born (loosely chairman’s words)’. In retrospect, it is a ‘dark art’ as a Swara (Shem) had correctly speculated.

The Cast

Swaras at Eburu

The fifteen Scouts were composed of two steely ladies Loise and Ferrah, some next generation elites Victor, Davis, Elvis, Shem and Yasin, the old guard Chairman and Wahome, the crowd pullers Ashok and Ameet, an undefined Joshua, and finally the elites Ben, Otora (support role), and the host Lopua. Some fit into more than one category.

The Scouts met for a heavy breakfast at the Delamere place in Naivasha to load up for the task ahead.

Location

Distant views from Eburu

Eburu is about 20 kms off Naivasha Nakuru road, branching off into the road leading to ‘The Great Rift Valley Lodge, approximately 4 kms from the Delamere Petrol station. Scouting started 30 kms from this turnoff at Lopua’s front yard.

Driving to the start point was in itself a scenic and rewarding side-show. Driving in rugged terrain most of the way to the top of the hill, and another 10 kms downhill to the start point. One would be forgiven for thinking this was an off-road driving expedition in the Swara calendar. The Swara convoy of 7 cars drew lots of attention in the reserved and detached neighborhoods.

The Scouting

Not to miss a thing, roles are assigned; Paparazzi, support, observers etc. At 10 am, scouting begins with a steady hill run of 5kms to the Songiroi Township uniquely built almost exclusively with reeds. The Scouts regroup here as they take in the views below and wait for the ones behind.

Another 3 kms beautiful incline ensues, followed by running through some undulating terrain of farmland and along the edge of the forest on the outside of the electric fence. This section of the run offered one of those rare steep climbs that Swaras would die for, and a subsequent steep ‘downhill’ that requires quite a bit of manoeuvring.

The Scouts regroup at a vantage point that offers unrivalled views of Lake Elemetaita below and an outline of Lake Nakuru way yonder. On the other side you can see the top of Longonot rising higher than the Scouts’ location, in a clear affirmation that she is still the giant of the Rift Valley. You can also make out the Mau ranges.

water harvesting at EburuThe run then veers from the forest edge towards humanity who, it is soon discovered, live amidst pockets of steam wells. Now, these steam wells are actually sources of water, with the residents employing ingenious ways of trapping the steam, which then condenses and flows down some pipes as real liquid water and collected in containers.

Swaras get distracted a great deal by the geysers, some wanting to take a sauna there and then, some trying out the condensed water in the hope of a ‘loliondo’ effect (medicinal), some marveling at the ‘bubbling’ ‘gushing’ sounds coming from below the ground.

The next attraction soon comes up in the form of three mammoth water tanks at supposedly the highest point on the hill (citation required). Word is that they hold water from Lake Naivasha, which supplies the towns below. More work for the Paparazzi.

Downhill a ‘lil bit, then another steady climb, and what is this here if not a crater! What we are trying to say is that the Scouts find a crater, they take in the view lustily; it has one of those seductive mermaid/Delilah effects. You want to go down but know it’s dangerous. The Scouts are convinced that the crater is undiscovered and a few names are hazarded. But there is another angle. Once you turn your back on the crater, you take in the breathtaking view of Lake Naivasha down below, the various flower farms hugging her shores, and in the poor visibility you can still make out shadows of the Aberdares slightly to your left, and the Mau ranges to your right.

You’ll notice that the Scouts have been kind of skirting the hilltop, starting from the Elementaita side all the way round to the Naivasha side. From the crater, the scouting goes inside Eburu Forest. Another distraction; just inside the gate is a watchtower rising to great height. Davis and Ashok want to go up the tower.

The forest starts with shrubbery and lush greenery of the grass kind. A few false starts and the Scouts get to a trail that runs through the forest. There is a break here. The Scouts exchange stories, crack jokes, gang up against Chairman who apparently painted too rosy a picture of scouting. Something like a hike with picnics, the good trappings of life, and round tables over a map with every one giving an opinion of what direction to take. Food becomes a topic.

The Scouts have so far covered 16 kms in a time of 3 hrs 36. Some in this herd would have dispensed of a full marathon by then. After 1 km into the forest, Otora shows up with goodies. The picnic dream could come true after all. There is a big steel contraption at our picnic site. No one knows what it is.

The forest is now the real thing with grown up trees. There are a respectable number of hikers doing their thing, accompanied by armed rangers. Curiously, Chairman never mentioned the forest could harbor any dangers. The forest trail is not to be missed; peaceful, serene, beautiful, and runs through sections of thick carpets of fallen leaves and a long stretch of elephant grass so tall that we the short types may have to learn running on stilts. It is said the Ndorobo inhabit this forest.

The forest then thins out into shrubbery, signifying a change of climactic zones, and the Scouts got out of the forest 10 kms later. The forest run is basically a one-way slice right through the jungle. Outside the gate, the Scouts are able to espy their starting point way down the valley. Their homing instincts take charge and the nearest route possible is soon charted. The route down takes them through an eroded landscape, a picturesque gorge, Lake on Eburuand little lakes of dirt colored water. The author is yet to find out what these are, and why they are ‘colored’. There were quite a number. One was clearly a Crater Lake up top where we veered off the forest edge.

The scouting has clearly taken a toll on some of the scouts. Case in point, close to the end, there are some healthy looking goats. Instead of goats, Davis sees meat and calls the boy herding them to negotiate a purchase. The boy takes off like he’s seen a ghost. Davis is taken aback; he thought people like him. It has to be the scouting…

Yasin, having been a perennial laggard, gets his energy and after coming from way back, zooms past everyone at the last stretch. The Scouts conclude the day out after discovering what is bound to be one spectacular run in a hotbed of geographical phenomena, should it make it into the swara calendar.

The End

6 hours 50 minutes is the time the scouting took; 34.8 kms is the distance covered as per Ferrah.

After feeding, Ashok, who probably comes from the long line of Beans (descendants of R Atkinson aka Mr. Bean; they clearly look and act the same), offers a befitting and moving ‘thank you’ to our hostess, with Lopua translating. The Scouts then drive off through a different route, and sadly the darkness makes them miss a scenic drive that passes through the neighborhood of Ugali Hill and Lake Elementaita.

Over to the Calendar crew… their lines are now open for bribes… eh proposals 🙂

Running Tales

An Account of the KEFRI Run

Urban Swaras LogoLast Saturday took the Swaras to the KEFRI Institute off of the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway. The email had specifically mentioned that it was going to be a run that was reletively flat by “swara standards,” something which newbies, one of whom was travelling with Jimmy and I called James, might have been wondering what that meant, although for some reason i’m thinking Swara Runs may already have developed a certain reputation outside Swara circles. For whatever reason, James’ wife had decided overnight against coming.

I had been under the impression that we might have been the first ones there seeing as though we were already there by 6.30 or thereabouts, but as we drove into the parking area, a few other cars were already there. It wasn’t long before as always happens, there was suddenly bumper to bumper movement of cars carrying Swaras to their running venue. That never fails to put a smile on my face.

In attendance amongst others was Raoul, whom I’d bumped into the evening before and who upon being asked whether he would be joining us had shared that he had only recently returned from the States and was jet-lagged and looked tired too. He had been non-committal about joining us the following morning, but alas had made it; great energy and will power Raoul.

As the display of hands went up for who was doing what distance as a safety exercise, it had struck me that we were looking at a rather large group of Swaras who were preparing for a full marathon in the near future; StanChart perhaps? Part of those who were setting for the longer distances was M.K who, Ashok later shared with me, is thinking its now or never as far as doing a full marathon is concerned. Behind you all the way MK. Others also possibly preparing for an upcoming full were Jael, Ajaa, Leif, Ferrah etc.

I had found myself in front as we set off on the opening climb, which by the way Jimmy and i had pointed out to our new Swara sitting in the back as we were driving there, who had not sounded very impressed upon hearing that, perhaps felt cheated even.

Anyway back to the run, perhaps it was the sun in my eyes or the early morning adrenaline but i would find out later on that i had missed an arrow to our right and had continued running straight, inadvertently leading one or two others down the same path. It was only an effective whistle that had checked me as i ran back up to the arrow turning.

The early part of the run for me had been mainly running alongside Village structures as well as village folk, with the usual smiling faces and waving hands of little children all as king how we were. Always a nice experience. I had been wary of tumbling as i run as i had unfortunately done so less than a week ago and was still tender in parts from the fall. A fall that day might have made for gruesome viewing. There was also a forest we ran through which was extemely pleasant and cooling to the body.

The run had ended just as it had begun with a climb to finish under shade. All in all it was a great run. The breakfast too was extremely delectable and great value.

I recommend this run be done at least on an annual basis.

Thank you to the organizers.

Running Tales

Stay with Swaras …

Ndakaini 2015 - SwarasMy Ndakaini moment …

Reading Ndungu’s stories has led me to be a spectator of runs and enjoying the Monday stories after the hilly runs… runs I always thank God I didn’t attend. I read it once, then read it again, and at times reserve the story for after lunch when I am easing away. The herbs, the number of trees and bars only make me long to hear more. So Ndungu, please know you have me as your ardent follower.

For some reason my registered distance as I trained for this race was a ‘comfortable 10kms’. So receiving my t-shirt and race details, Race no 1234, registered for 21km, a week before the race, dawned on me and I now think I will forever will be indebted to God for allowing this to happen to me, when least prepared. Lesson learnt, be ready always for anything /challenge/lessons.

Captain Zack announces pick up time 5am; I had hoped he would not be too early, but shall I say he admitted later that ‘I have surprised myself on time’. All the while as we drove down, no stories could take away the fear that I had heard about the hilly Ndakaini. I only got to hear when arriving in Ndakaini that it had spread to Rosemary and Marion, and now Peter and Zack were doing the hard work of convincing us it shall be well. Talk of Osmosis…

Reaching Ndakaini by about 6:15am , I was still wondering 10km or 21kms. To the one that booked, ‘downgrade’ and I asked ’in which Swara constitution can you do that’. Race no 1234; either lead the swaras from the end, or be the 2nd from the back, or 3 or 4 ,whichever would happen I would never ask for more; ni sawa. After all its never that serious, but dressed in Swara tee-shirt, no options for motor bike or Horse ride as a “Queen” ha ha ha; I had to finish even if it was by hoping on one leg J… or crawling.

As I walked to the start, it was a more energetic walk with short strides to save my energy and I was right on time; 5 mins to start time, clad in my sunglasses and backpack, with my refreshments and my music wired up, raring to go. The beats of “follow the leader, leader, follow the leader’. Sure enough I was following the leading Swara pack in no time as the race began. Enough pleads to MC to stay with me a bit fell on deaf ears…it was God for us all.

At 4.5 kms, the lady who reads Ndungu’s write up, was about to start writing on the road… at 5.5km I meet Mercy Onyango doing her loop of 10kms… Sounded familiar but then my music is Madonna “when you call my name, it’s like a little prayer’, I soldier on and chuck my Fanta; can hardly drink, am choking because the air and Fanta don’t mix. “Lyma”, the AAR ambulance is stopping by and my AAR friend waves and ask if am well. I cough and acknowledge with all fingers up, I salute.

Going by the tea factory I have increased my pace; Fanta running…. And next the third hill, am at the energy drink, if anybody remembers speedo ball pen advert, I zoom, ok its never that serious when you find at 15km, there is no water…so no drink, no water, a guy on the roadside starts to cheer, I reward with him with my sweaty gliding sunglasses; cant handle them. I feel the knees are now hot, my back is sweaty and I can’t handle the hit on the backpack, I see the next bunch of women cheering me down hill and at that I really showed off my prowess.

To the two or three I passed on the way, “strong” was my word to them. At 17.5km, I was now totally out, depleted and my soul music was the only consolation in performance over the hills. For some reason I couldn’t spot even the Swara lady I suspect is Maureen who had muttered a Swara ‘strong’; to make it even worse the ones I muttered ‘strong’ came and overtook me on the last two killer hills. I was now only hopeful for water or finish line, taking each step with lots of courage and paiiiin. And the beat went on “I have been thinking about you“ London beats…I presume some Swaras were starting to worry/think about me (no names yet) may be as they had feared for me from the beginning of the race. I finished the race and immediately jogged to the tent and it was bliss; all hills forgotten.

I have learnt my big lessons; as Maureen put it, stay with Swaras; I dare Ndakaini next year. I can do all half and full  marathons through Swaras. I will stay put and await the next challenge.

My big thank you to Mr Peter Macharia, Capt Zack (Ferrari), Rosemary and Marion for the beautiful ride and the conversations that ensued, i.e. ‘six thirty’ (with a heavy West Virginia accent ) to the watchman and sounding ‘githeri’ , to the Chairman & organizers; the big cheer that awaited me at the tent breathed so much energy in me. Marion & Nancy for that help in even holding my breakfast was totally a blessing. It shall remain my Swara moment.

 

Running Tales

Ndakaini’s Bark is Worse Than its Bite!

urban swaras at Ndakaini 2015Ndakaini is one of those places that has managed to build a reputation of being something of a giant killer. This fearsome attribute has become such stuff of legend with reports of an impossibly hilly terrain guaranteed to squeeze out the last ounce of strength left in any runner’s reserves…

And so it goes that yours truly having heard all the horror stories about it, and being an intrepid Swara to boot, didn’t need much encouragement to give it a go this year. And he wasn’t alone judging from the response to the sign-up call from Susan earlier in the week that ensured that there were many yellow (mostly) and pink-shirted Swaras to add colour to the event.

Now, getting there early enough on a Saturday morning proved to be a bit of a challenge, and I’m sure there were a few violations to the traffic laws. I plead the 5th on that and will not admit to any wrong-doing, but suffice it to say that the earlier one got there the better. Forewarned is forearmed and those who heeded the advice to arrive by 7am reaped the reward of a good parking spot.

But I digress so back to the run; after walking like 1.5km (which should surely count!) to the start, but having unwisely dilly-dallied in the parking area with last minute visits to the conveniences, barely arrived in time for the start (actually met the lead police escort vehicle setting off with lights on and had to run to the starting arch!)

The first like 5km was tame stuff and mostly downhill, which can fool you that it will be smooth sailing all the way. In fact, the only unsettling thing was passing the finish line some 500m or so after the start and wondering if at all it was really that short!

Anyhow, after that false alarm and the easy bit, we come to a series of climbs which though mostly longish were still fairly gentle and manageable at a steady if slow pace. This takes us through nice scenic areas with gentle slopes covered with tea mostly and trees in some places. At some point it is even possible to see the dam from some nice vantage points. We pass a tea factory where the pleasant aroma of tea being processed pervades the air and sets the juices flowing…

Anyway, so at this point when one is on cruise mode, you start wondering where the infamous killer hills are. And that is where you’ve got to hand it to the ones who marked the course, for just when you start thinking that maybe it was all a myth, you get to them in the last 5km! In fact, the first one is bang at 16.5km then quickly followed by the mother of them all at 17km or so.

Now, I must confess that up to that point I had nursed the unrealistic (as it turned out) ambition of surmounting them? all on my first try. However, having had no prior acquaintance with the route, those two major ascents really took it of me and I was reduced to trudging up the hills with all weary runners. It was only after that I could resume running somewhere around the 18-19km mark.

Fortunately, the rest was all downhill and fairly manageable. But boy, did those hills knock the wind out of me! In fact, truth be said, I’m still smarting from the ignominy of being mugged in that manner just when my reserves were at their lowest. I am sure that I am not the only one who had to suffer that unhappy fate…

Not to worry though, I guess that calls for a rematch same time next year, and this time round I will be well prepared for whatever they cook up next time. Even then, there is no guarantee that the hills will not come out tops, but one must try all the same!

Running Tales

My Ordeal in Kajiado

kajiadoWhat happened on August 29th 2015 in the simmering hot weather in the hills of Kajiado is something that has taken me one whole week to comprehend and attempt to explain. When the Kajiado run came up, there was little talk on how tough it was. Probably I might have listened to those who talked about how scenic it was than how tough it would be. What follows is my ordeal in Kajiado while attempting to run 30km which changed to 20km.

When I set out for Kajiado with my son, I was cool calm and collected with no expectation of a difficult run. My aim was to complete 30km in approximately 3 hours and dip myself in the pool. A few minutes upon arriving at the lodge, I notice Raoul with the family reversing out of the car park and he mentions how he has to miss the run because the son is not feeling well. (I hope he has fully recovered). The Chairman blows the whistle to signify the “run” is about to begin, but a few latecomers (no pun intended) delay the start of the run as the chairman needed to sort out their accommodation (a true leader he is). The delay helps, as we take this opportunity to do some last minute stretching and pick as much water as one could carry.

When the run finally begins, the first 2 kilometers is on tarmac before we are directed off tarmac to a dusty road with a slightly steep but long climb. I catch up with Amai who by this time I notice he is sweating profusely, thanks to the scorching sun, which was out with its brothers, sisters and cousins (simply put, it was hot). Never mind, I was also sweating like him and the three bottles of water that I had struggled to carry were now down to two as I cooled my head with the already warm water. Amai points to a hill on the left, which he mentions we are going to climb. What he does not explain to me is how we shall get to the top (my thinking was will go round it). We suddenly divert to the left at the bottom of the hill and the long vertical climb begins. This was the start of a climb that never seemed to end. I walked, stopped, tried to “run”, walked, stopped, and nothing I did seemed to signify I was getting closer to the top. “What was this”? I asked myself.

I finally got to the top. By this time I felt like I had done 15km. Getting to the top felt good as I met with two other swaras who had slowed down to a halt maybe to cool off or just to enjoy the scenery from the top. We did not enjoy for too long before we started to take the downhill which was equally challenging, due to the rocky terrain and the thorny bushes. This slowed us down to a walking pace as we dodged the thorny bushes and the loose rocks. The bushes were that of Acacia and other thorny types of which Ndungu would have explained better in their scientific names if he was around. I had to stop at one point to remove a thorn which had gone through my shoe. Luckily it had not caused any injury to my foot. So thorny and rough was the terrain, while back at the camp I noticed Ajaa return with a torn t-shirt and a few swaras had some scratches on their hands and legs.

So far, I notice the markings have been done with a close spread, which was helpful as the rocks/terrain camouflaged the chalk marks. However, this posed a new challenge for me as I am short sighted and it was difficult to differentiate the chalk marks from the white stones. As I continued with my run (half walking, half running), I got to a homestead where they had poured ash around. I literally stopped as the ash confused the direction I was to go. After a few minutes of trying to locate Otora’s marks, one swara who was behind notices my dilemma and quickly points to an arrow up ahead which leads me out of the maze. I decide its best I stayed with him at this rate. However, this did not last for long as I was too slow for him.

By this time, I have no recollection of how many Kilometers I had done and what time it was, if this is the idea of “running Zen” according to Ndungu, not a good idea in such a harsh environment. My energy levels had been depleted and I was down to the last bottle of water. The tough terrain made it difficult for use of a motor bike to pace up and down to distribute water. So the remaining water had to be taken sparingly. As I continue to attempt to push my beaten body, I arrive at a remote village where I am touched with the abject poverty all around the surrounding. I come across kids smiling and saying hi! (I guess the joy of seeing foreigners around brings joy to their hearts). I notice a group of kids seated just next to the trail and they offer me water. I am tempted to reject as I do not know the source, but I quickly learn they are in the same packaging as the water we picked at the lodge. I pick the water as I wave asante! and disappear to the nearby bushes which leads to another steep hill. “That was clever of Otora, to leave the water with the kids”, I tell myself. As I climb the already exhausting hill, my thoughts turn to the organizers of this run as I question, why would one want to punish someone like this. The hill was another killer, never ending and as steep as a “wall”. Who comes up with such a course?

Finally, I get to the top where two donkeys are grazing. I know of some swaras who use motor bikes to get back to the finish point when the run gets tough. With no motorbikes on sight, my thoughts were on the donkeys. I quickly dismiss the idea when the donkey gives me a mean and hungry look and I continue with my struggling “run”. After a few minutes (2-3 mins I guess), I am elated to see the 20km split and without much thought I knew I would be back to the lodge soon. I later learnt this was a detour for many swaras who were attempting a longer run.

I might have used another one hour to get back to the tarmac. I struggle to the tarmac walking and running with my last drop of water (warm) getting finished. As I get to the tarmac, I was sure one could see the sign post to the lodge from the dirt road where we branched off at the beginning. This time one cannot see it and I’m thinking am I in the right direction? Should I have taken a left and not a right? “The markings were clear, let me continue and ask the boys seated ahead” I muttered to myself. The boys confirmed it’s up ahead not too far.

I finally get to the finish point at the Lodge where I meet up with Ameet who notices my anger and frustrations. He politely asks “how was it?” I retort back “what was that!” It takes a while before a few more swaras arrive back. At 7:07pm, we witness a beautiful full moon just before James Walialula arrives looking like he was in a fight. He can’t talk for a while as he tries to catch his breath. He finally asks, “what time is it?”. Ameet responds and asks him how many Kms he had done, which he responds by saying he estimates 45Km but he was not sure as his Garmin went off. Other swaras arrive and the reaction is the same; “What was that!`

Running Tales

That Boston Hill, Yawa!

ACCOUNT OF THE ‘Run2Gether’ RUN – KIJABE
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The track
The running  track

Why our Chairman is like a prophet

The Man had set his phone to beep at 5.45 am, heeding the Chairman’s warning to leave early as the road to Kijabe was likely to be covered in fog. But it was not until 6:30 am that he managed to drag himself out of bed, another sign of his gradual slide to sloppiness, a process that had began three months back.

So it was a mad dash to throw in assorted running kit into the car, grab some sugar water (another recommendation by the Chairman, more on this later) and drive off.

Living in Ruiru County has few benefits, but this morning was one of them. He did not have to drive through town as the Northern bypass, the shortest route to Naivasha by far, passes just nearby. On hitting Limuru the fog started, exactly as the Chairman had ordained.

So did a series of maddening traffic jams which he later learned were caused by an overenthusiastic road construction crew that was doing repairs near Kimende. (Kimende means ‘big cockroach’ in Kikuswa).

Driving like a Kenyan

The Man was glad to note he was not the only one running late. From his rear view mirror he could espy Godec, a few cars back, who was trying his best to beat the clock by weaving in and out of the glacial traffic. Despite totting a chase car and a ride that looked like the half brother to ‘the Beast’ he was not getting much respect from the early morning Matatu drivers. Clearly it is not enough to run like a Kenyan. Sometimes you have to also drive like one.

The Man made it to the venue with three minutes to spare. He has been here before, during the opening of the ‘Run2Gether’ track and club house a year back. But he has never run these trails.

As promised, the Chairman started the run at 8.00 am on the dot. The trail started with a gentle slope towards Mai Mahiu (hot water) road, then turned left just before the tarmac and became a flat stretch that seemed to go on forever before suddenly curving left again and morphing into a long hill that ended somewhere near an abandoned railway station.

The Run2Gether club house
The Run2Gether club house

Run2gether – a fount of youth talent

Since Nyingi found his running mojo, and the Man lost his, they are no longer able to run together. Their interactions these days are limited to a brief Jambo and a quick Kwaheri before Nyingi sprints off and puts some serious daylight between them. The Man misses those long running-chat-fests they used to have, some which used to go on for 15Km. But he has no one to blame for the loss but himself.

This morning would have been especially apt as he wanted to talk about the young people who have created ‘Run2gether’. Especially their discipline, hospitality and organizational talent – the trail was impeccably marked; the food was tasteful and in plenty and their training schedule, which the Man found posted on a wall, was a sign of a team that seems to have a real purpose.

“What would it take to seed the whole country with many such groups?’ he thinks as he recalls again the amazing talent he has observed from years of traveling and interacting with youth across the continent of Africa. Much of that talent is to be found right here in Kenya. Unfortunately it is often expressed in negative ways.

The Man was recently the unwilling guest at an attempted robbery, a carjacking ordeal that lasted over four hours. From this experience, he was able to observe the high level of planning and organization that it takes to put together such a mission. The four young thugs seem to have thought of everything, from getaway cars, to dimly lit ATM booths where they could draw money, to multiple disguises and escape routes. They had even rehearsed the mission. The only mistake they made was in abducting the Man and two other fellows on the brokest night of their lives. The three happened to have less than 3000 shillings between them. But the point is this; the youth of this country are brimming with talent. Run2gether is a good example of how such talent can be channeled positively.

Boston lite

But let us get back on the trail. The runners crossed the railway line for the second and last time just before the start of the escarpment. This was at the top of a gentle slope which the Man thought was the famous Boston hill. He even stopped to quiz two Swaras who had over taken him just before the end.

“Is this Boston hill?’

“I don’t know, but it had better be” the Swara replied with a determined glint in his eye. “I am sure it can’t get worse than this” he added as he took off. If only he knew.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” the Man was left speaking to himself, as he spied the wall of mountains a hundred meters to his right.

The railway line hugged the side of these mountains and for a moment, it seemed like the run would go along along it, which would have been another flat cruise back to the start. But then Otora has never seen a mountain that he did not want the Swaras to climb. Thus, barely fifty meters ahead, the trail turned right. Giant arrows (double ones for emphasis), pointed straight up and, the Man was sure, at the steepest slope that Otora could find.

The flora
The flora

Lessons in flora, fauna and topology

The Man gave up running and started walking. It was a painful thirty minute trudge to the top, mitigated only by the sheer beauty, which for once he was able to enjoy at some sort of leisure, thanks to his more sedentary pace. Too bad he had left his camera back home.

This mountain, an escarpment actually, forms part of the northern edge of the south-eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley. It rises almost 2000 meters from the valley floor and although much of the land is settled, some of it is too marginal to farm and has retained much of the original vegetation. This has formed a giant carpet of green covering every valley, down which the morning fog was rolling slowly, billowing like incense in a giant Cathedral. It was simply beautiful.

The Man amused himself by trying to see how many plants he could remember by name and use. Here were maigoya (prectranthus barbatus) used as a hedge, for ripening bananas, and sometimes as toilet paper. Mirichu bushes (of the acocanthera family) whose roots make potent arrow poison, yet the fruits (ndicu) are edible and indeed were a favorite of the Man and his peers when they were growing up. Then there was the rare mukandu (ocimum gratissimum), menthol plants used for curing toothache and common cold and the macuna bushes (pavonia urens) used for making traditional soap and for treating hives to attract bees. Finally the deadly datura stramonium, magurukia, so feared that even today the Man will not shelter under this plant for fear of going mad.

There were many other plants he recognized but he could no longer remember their names. “My late grandfather would be unhappy about this,”the man thought.

Having been raised by a medicine man grandfather, there was a time the Man used to know every plant and its uses. But the White man’s education had interfered and now he knew… what? He looked down in some embarrassment; even though there was no one but the birds to see his shame.

Then his eye was drawn to a grey snake lying across the path. But, on close attention, it turned out to be a line of army worms. They are so called because they march in military single file, their metal grey color making them look a little bit like Nairobi City Council Askaris.

There were quite a few army worm squads out on parade this morning, but not enough, the Man hoped, to create a swarm. He remembered, years back when he was a small boy, his mother telling him that, when they swarm, army worms can be more destructive than locusts.

“They will eat everything that grows. But, unlike locusts, even birds don’t like to eat army worms” she had said.

The fauna
The fauna

What a SOB, story

Not that the man had ever seen locusts, but his young imagination could easily fill in the blanks. For many years dreams of spiny skinned crawly army worms and clouds of blood thirsty locusts that darkened the sun, were a staple of his childhood nightmares. Luckily those nightmares had ended, unlike the night of this never ending mountain. At some point Davis caught up with him, briefly interrupting his reveries.

“What happened to you?” He asked. Translation: “what the hell went wrong with you man! We used to run together?”

The Man trots out his tattered sob story.

“It was like this, you see. I went traveling for two months and I could not run. That is why I am so badly out of shape.”

The story sounds so lame that the man dare not look Davis in the eye. But Davis is a real gentleman, however and he has the politeness to pretend that he believes it. Up to a point of course, as he then says a brief good bye and quickly runs away.

“Was that a smirk I just saw on his face?” The man was left wondering, and berating himself.

“What a liar you are! So you traveled and you couldn’t run. Was it to a country in the sky, one that has no ground on which you could run? Or was it a dictatorial regime where running is a punishable offense?”

“The truth is, Man, since you missed that chance to run the Two Oceans Marathon you have become a no good slob, more wedded to junk food and beer than the bracing morning runs that the Swaras are known for. You are no better than a….”

The hills
The hills

And the real run begins

Luckily at this point his self flagellation was interrupted by the end of the steep mountain slope. The trail turned flat and then started going down hill, to join a much bigger road where he met Godec’s detail waiting for their boss. They waved a cheerful good morning and he waved back.

“That is a good spot to wait,” the Man thought. “In case he is too knackered from climbing that Boston hill, he can take a ride home.” Boston hill, ha! If only he knew.

Five hundred meters further on, the trail turned right and started a gentle, innocent looking climb. Electricity power cables had been strung up on the left side, stretching arrow-straight, up a mean looking escarpment to what seemed like heaven and beyond. But much of the slope was obscured by trees and hedges, so the Man could not tell whether the trail followed the power lines. It did. Welcome to Boston hill.

“If this is a hill, then these Run2gether fellows must have a real gift for practical jokes or understatement”, the Man grumbled to himself. “For a start, this is not a hill.”

Newton has nothing on this

In another life, when the Man used to do serious running, he run the Boston marathon. He can confirm that the steepest part of the Boston marathon trail, the Newton hills, have nothing on this monster of a mountain. In fact, the man could bet, there is nothing like it in all of New England. When the Chairman warned the Swaras to bring running supplements and drinks, it turns out; this was what he was he trying to prepare them for. But, if you think that the Man listened, think again. His sugared drinks and simsim snack were left back in his car, quite safe as it turned out, but where they could do him absolutely no good.

Then again it is impossible to prepare anyone for the experience of Boston hill. Not even a photograph can do it justice. Nothing can capture the difficulty, the dizziness, the shortness of breath and pain in every muscle that attend the first time one attempts it. So how do you explain it to someone if you must? Here is a poor attempt:

Think of the Ngong hills. The steepest slope of the biggest Ngong hill is about a 200 meter climb. Take ten of those stretches and string them together to form a 2 kilometer ladder. Find a nice spot and lean this ladder against the sky. Now to try to run up the damn thing!

You would think it is not doable. Even walking up is an almost impossible challenge as some Swaras, including the Man, found out. But this is where the Run2gether crew come to train. Watching some Swaras like Nyingi, Dennis and Benson fly up this mountain as if it did not exist was an awesome sight.

The view
The view

A glorious finish

One good thing about surviving Boston hill is that nothing more that the run organizers can throw at you comes even close. The rest was a fairly gentle slope and some minimal climbs. The Man estimated he had about 5K left to get home. Not that he was absolutely sure, ever since those punks stole his Garmin watch; he has learned to run Zen. He is liking the experience so much that he might delay buying another running toy.

The trail ended with a glorious view of the blue Mt Longonot straight ahead, just as the Chairman had prophesied. This view alone made it all worthwhile.

But, the challenge and especially the beating that they took from the trail, is something that will keep many Swaras coming back. The Man plans to be among the number. Hopefully he will be back in running shape by then.

“Hiyo Boston hill itakiona.”