Running Tales

YOU SHOW ME YOURS I’LL SHOW YOU MINE

(AN ACCOUNT OF THE 2016 STOCKHOLM MARATHON)

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

Hector: Mine is bigger

Ndungu: Mine is longer

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

Ndungu: Oh, yes! Says who?

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

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

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

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

One of the games Hector was playing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaten by a beer (well, almost)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Stanley Koech powers his way to a new course record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Running Tales

A Good Cause Deserves a Good Course: 2 Oceans, (again?)

At first it seemed like the weather would not cooperate. It had rained most of the night before and the cold drizzle persisted into the early morning. For a minute I feared we would start in pouring rain, a terrible way to begin a long run. But then at some point mother nature looked down upon the shivering runners, many of whom had come to lend their talent by running for a good cause, and relented. A few minutes before the run started, the rain stopped.

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This is an accurate description of the start of two early morning Saturday runs that happened over 5000 kilometers apart, one on March 26 in Capetown and the other one on April 2nd in Karen, Nairobi. One was a good course, the other one was for a good cause.

First about the good cause: the Karen run was dedicated to supporting Kevin Mwachiro, one of our most dedicated and friendly Swaras. Kevin is waging the battle of his life against cancer and Swaras would not be Swaras if we did not stand by him in his time of need. In case you have not offered your support and would like to do so, please join #teamKevin on facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=kevin%20mwachiro or Mpesa your donation to Lucy Thuo.

#TeamKevins run: Avani, Kevin, Susan and a shy Swara
#TeamKevins run: Avani, Kevin, Susan and a shy Swara

As for the Two Oceans Marathon, what is there to say that has not been said? The most beautiful, painful, fun, humbling, crazy, lunatic, long, marathon/weekend…take your pick. The 56K ultra was all these and more. More than 12 Swaras took part, a record I believe and they all acquitted themselves extremely well. The pre-run support was wonderful (thank you Tata), although none of our training plans seemed to go exactly according to plan. But we were all agreed, we would run the damn thing, come hell or high weather. Others like James (Wahome and Waliula) were less profane, if more philosophical.

“We are going to Capetown for a holiday. But if a 56K happens to stand in the way, then we’ll just have to run it.”

Such casual disrespect for distance, effort and pain can only come from Urban Swaras. It reminds me of the following ancient story told about the Spartans as they marched to fight the Persians at Thermopylae.

Along the way, the Spartans met a Merchant and asked him about the Persian army.

“The Persians are so fierce and their archers are so many that their arrows darken the sun,” they were told.

“All the better” quoth an old Spartan soldier. “The Spartans fight best under the shade.”

From what I am hearing, I expect there will be an even bigger group of Swaras attempting the Two Oceans Ultra next year. So maybe the best I can do is to contribute by sharing some tips from my experience this year. Here goes:

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“You want to wear a what?” The nice lady at the Parliament Hotel, where I stayed, was trying but she could not hide her incredulity. “A garbage bag? Why?”

“Well, er, um, it’s a runners thing, you know. In case it rains….” I was not doing a very good job of explaining myself. For once I could see the craziness of what we do from a non runners eyes. We like to see ourselves in macho terms but I can assure you, the non running public often sees a bunch of pending citizens of a mental asylum instead. Especially when we try to explain some of the ‘crazy’ things we do; wearing garbage bags is not even the worst of them. How about: taping our nipples; waking up at 4.00 am in the rain to run; flying thousands of miles to a beautiful coastal town, not to lie on the beach but to suffer; applying Vaseline to the ‘you know what’….

Long story short. I didn’t get my garbage bag. The lady told me she had to consult the hotel management team, who were set to meet later that afternoon. I suspect they politely pretended to listen to her request and then flatly voted her down.

Lesson #1: Pack a garbage bag. Better still, carry a hoodie, or at least an old tshirt, something you can afford to throw away. Capetown weather can turn on a dime and the minutes before the run starts can get really miserable. Ask Timothy who showed up in a Swaras singlet.

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Cruising up Chapman's peak
Cruising up Chapman’s peak

The Congolese taxi driver had arrived fifteen minutes ahead of time, for which I was to be very grateful. When he heard I was going to run 56Km, he at first got very excited. Then I told him I was Kenyan and he gave me that look. You know, the one that seems to say ‘of course, what else would you expect from crazy Kenyans.” But then he was more polite when he verbalized the look.

“Oh, so are you going to win?”

“I am not that kind of Kenyan.”  He looked disappointed.

The traffic to the start was terrible and soon we got stuck. Good that he came early otherwise it would have been a disaster. We whiled away the time by talking. At some point I found myself trying to explain to him why Kenyans are such good runners.

“We have the advantage of altitude,” I say. “We breathe less air where I come from. So when we come to sea level, like Capetown, we suddenly have more air.”

He still doesn’t get the logic. Then I hit on a bright idea:

“It is like a car, you see; a car with a turbo engine. When you want it to go faster, you turn on the turbo right? A Kenyan running at sea level is like turning on a turbo engine.”

“A turbo engine, oh yes” And then I sat there and watched his face suddenly light up in understanding. It made me feel like Socrates.

Lesson #2:  Plan to leave early for the start so as to avoid the traffic. If you can find a hotel near the starting point the better.  In any case you might have to jog to the start at some point. Think of it as a warm up. Next remember that when you run abroad, you carry more than the flag of our country. You carry the World’s expectations from our illustrious running past. To most of the people you meet, all Kenya’s can run and they will expect you to do no less, even if you are limping. Better yet, it will make their day if they can beat you. Just remember to take it all with good humor.

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“Hello, is this room service? Can I have two cold beers delivered to my room please?” I was talking to the same lady of the hotel.

“What kind of beer would you like, Mr Ndungu?” She is very polite. “We have very many. In fact I suggest you can come down so that you can chose for yourself.”

“Sorry I am having trouble going down stairs. Just send me whatever you have.”

I got the beers. By then I had come to the conclusion that choosing a 5th floor room, one with a wonderful view of the Table mountains, and then having the lift break down the day after running an ultra marathon, may not have been such a brilliant idea after all. If you think running up hills during a marathon is tough, trying walking down stairs the day after.

Lesson #3: Running an ultra marathon will do strange things to your body. If you can, accept the chance for a massage offered at the finish line or arrange for one soon after. If you feel like sleeping for hours, do so. The day after the run you will barely be able to walk properly. Don’t pretend to be a hero about it. Everyone knows you are hurting. Even the Hotel Manager, who could not understand your  request for a garbage bag the day before, is now full of sympathy. He even orders that the lift should be repaired during the night so that you don’t have to walk down the stairs the next morning.

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My first trip to Capetown was in November 2015. I made friends with a friendly South African tour guide and spent two full days being shown the best tourist spots in the area. When he heard that I planned to run the Two Oceans Marathon some day he got very excited. Even offered to drive me along the entire route so that I could get an idea. The only problem was he drove the route in reverse and I left thinking that those hills they talk about were nothing. Imagine my shock on race day when I hit Chapmans hill and realized we were doing the ‘long-end-up’ first.

Lesson #4: Don’t take advice from a slightly overweight South African who admits he has never run any real distance in his life. In fact don’t take any advice, period. Instead do what Lillian did and study the videos of the route that the organizers had helpfully provided on their website, and which I ignored. Remember also that, while the famous Chapmans peak is long and tough, the real killer is Constantia Nek, much shorter but steeper and it shows up when you are long past the 42K mark. You must leave something in the tank.

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Suffering past Constantia Nek
Suffering past Constantia Nek

The run ends on a small down hill. But, before that, there is an up hill, now named Chets Hill, in honor of a recently departed Two Oceans founder. On a normal Swaras running  day, Chets hill is nothing. But on this day, coming as it does at 55K, you will probably remember every painful inch. Then you will hear the roar of the crowd, hidden just around the corner and the sound will lift you up. This is when you learn the true meaning of a second wind. You want to finish strong, or at least within the 7 hour cut off mark. Somehow, from somewhere, you will find that extra kick.

Lesson #5: Enjoy yourself. The crowds are simply fantastic, as are the thousands of friendly local runners who will happily share tips with you if you ask them. The bag collection process at the end is a bit of a pain, so if you can, travel light to the starting point and avoid the long pick up queue at the end altogether. Whatever you do, have fun!

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

That Boston Hill, Yawa!

ACCOUNT OF THE ‘Run2Gether’ RUN – KIJABE
———————————————————————

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.”

Running Tales

OTORAS REVENGE (CRITIQUE OF THE KIAMBU RUN)

Hit the road Jack
Hit the road Jack

It was billed as a scenic run, with hills, rivers and pipeline. Marked by a professional. It was certainly the first, but not the second. The area where we run, near Kiambu town, is truly scenic. But the marking left something to be desired. It was patchy and in some cases down right Hashy. In fact I began to suspect that, by being away from duty, this was Otora’s way of revenging for all the unchristian things I have thought, or written about him in the past. But who hasn’t?

The felling of Goliath

So, you will not be surprised to learn that I easily managed to get lost a number of times. The first time was around the 3K mark. I came across an arrow that someone had unsuccessfully tried to rub out.

“Damn kids, being a nuisance as usual,” I thought and run past. There were a few Hash-type dots ahead to encourage me. These lasted until I arrived at Kigutha Estate. Now, Kigutha means sling-shot. Yes, the same one that David used to fell mighty Goliath.

Quite appropriate to my situation as it turned out.

Here the track divides into three. I run through each fork, getting increasingly unhappy with the hares handiwork. No marks. I decide to do something men are supposedly not able to do. I stop and ask for directions.

“I have seen no marks,” the young man I accost doing his morning ablutions tells me. “But there can’t be any, because the management of the farm did not permit your group to run through here.”

The kids are not blame

I turn back. I am so discouraged that I intend to go back to the first proper mark and plot an-own run from there. Two Strange Swaras, a man and a lady, are lost too and they join me. I am sure we are all rehearsing some choice words to share with the hare when we get back or see him next, whichever comes first.

Back past the faded arrow; it turns out the kids were innocent after all. Because, just a few meters away, is a big arrow plastered on a rock and pointing the right way. Right at this corner, a bunch of kids are cheering the runners on. They helpfully point me in the right direction. I thank them. I make a mental note to forgive the hare and kick myself for my stupidity.

Alas, I thought too soon (about the hare, not my stupidity). After the 20/25K split the marks start to fade again. Soon I am in the famous Mbo-i-Kamiti farm and the marks have disappeared. I am beginning to feel unjoyful with the hare all over again. By this time I have retracted every harsh word I have ever thought or written about Otora. His crazy trails are a breeze compared to this puzzle of a run.

Mwa?ra the hare
Mwaura the hare

The straight and arrow

I come to a river and find an arrow. It points straight ahead. Unfortunately ‘ahead’ the roads splits into three. No indication which of the three forks I should take. I gnash my teeth, take the middle passage and pray.

“Any time you are lost,” a friend once told me,” take the most used path you can find. It is most likely to lead you back to civilization.” Wise words, them.

A kilometer ahead I come to a village. I hear the cheering children yell out: “i uyu ungi – muthungu” – here comes another one, a Mzungu/white man – (according to them only Bazungu are crazy enough to go running around without a reason, even when no one is chasing them). But at least from this I know I am not the only one who is lost.

The Swara from Hamelin

I soon find out who else is lost with me. Down a valley, through some well managed shambas; I have reacquired the marks now. I begin to put on some speed, trying to make up for the time I lost at Kigutha farm. I whip round a curve and come across a scene straight out of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

Here comes Leif, running back. He is trailing a line of excited kids, one so long that it disappears around the bend. The only thing missing is a funny cap on his head and a flute (I assume that is what the pied piper played). I almost burst out laughing – too bad I am completely out of breath.

We quickly stop to confer. Leif has followed the marks as far as they could go but they disappeared on him. I suggest a solution.

“Let us take a short cut up the hill and see if we can cut across the 20K trail further head. In case we fail, I know a way back home.”

So this is what we do. We slowly shuffle our way to the top of the hill.

“Otora is much better at marking runs,” Leif huffs behind me, lost somewhere among the maize crop.

I could not agree more.

Leif's other profession
Leif’s other profession

The ‘Hare from hell,’ epiphany

In fact we come to a kind of epiphany, two to be precise. Considering the patchiness of the marking, maybe there were two hares. One of them knew his business and the other did not. Or maybe there was just one, schizophrenic hare. So the bad patches were done when his “hare from hell” personality was in ascendance. Whatever it is, the good hare is in charge now. Once we hit the pipeline the run is professionally marked all the way home.

From the top of the hill I pull away from Leif. I come across another bunch of excited kids. ‘How are you?’ High fives and fist bumps all-round. I am beginning to enjoy this.

I stop to gulp down some water. My second epiphany hits me. Do you know why Otora uses so many arrows to mark a run?

Think of this scenario: you are lost. You come out of the bundu, upon what you think may be the right track. You know this because, siting right ahead of you is a lonely chalk mark, a dot. Nothing else as far as the eye can see. How the hell can you tell which way the dot points?

We hit the tarmac, miss Riabai village by a whisker, turn sharply right and rise on an endless hill, past Gichocho church almost touching Ndumberi town. Here we turn left to avoid the tarmac and the rest is smooth sailing all the way back to Kiambu town.

How we felt about the hare
How we felt about the hare

With tea all is forgiven

I am still debating whether I should remain angry with the hare. I decide to reserve judgement, until I see who it is. Then I discover that it is no other than my good friend Mwaura. How can one stay angry with the friendly, ever smiling, Mwaura? One can’t.

I find most Swaras have arrived and are loudly critiquing the run over mugs of hot tea and mandazi. I join them. Three mugs later, all is forgiven.

This run has all the makings of a classic. We should keep it on the calendar but next time rope in Otora to provide technical advice on the route and marking.

Thank you Swaras. It was a great outing all told.

Running Tales

RUNNING FOR A REASON (TATA’S BIRTHDAY RUN)

If one day Kenyans decide to vote for the mother of Kenyan distance running, the winner will not be Mrs Uhuru, impressive as her recent London Marathon outing was.

It will very likely be our very own Joyce Nduku. Fondly known as Tata or ‘The road runner’ in the Swaras/Hash running fraternity, Nduku has redefined the meaning of the word determination and in the process inspired countless other people to join the running movement in Kenya.

You probably know her story by now. She picked up running in 2004 in an effort to overcome arthritis. At 50 she run and finished the Chicago Marathon. At fifty six she decided to celebrate by running the 56Km ‘Two Oceans’ ultra marathon in South Africa. This amazing woman has taken part in more races than people half her age will ever dream of. In the process she has become a mentor for hundreds of people who fear that running is not for people like them.

“It is good that you have started running at a young age. Imagine how fast you will run at my age,” she was recently heard to encourage a group of young runners.

Joyce Nduku completed her 60th lap around the Sun in March this year. Last year she sustained an injury and had to undergo surgery. This means she has not been able to run for all of 2014. If you think that any of this was going to slow down this amazing grandmother, then you don’t know Tata. For her, an event that would have stopped many a running career was an inspiration to do more.

So for her 60th birthday she decided to organise a charity run or, as she puts it, ‘to bless someone else with my gift of running.’ This was the Saturday run at Legends in Karen.

Organised to raise money to pay for specialist surgery for Master Terry Mutuku, it was one of the best attended runs in recent days. In the process it became a celebration of a unique human being, a beloved member of our running fraternity and a chance for all of us to run for someone else for a change.

At the time of this writing, the target amount required to pay for the operation had been reached.

Happy birthday Tata! May you have many more. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many.

The run starts
The run starts

 

Breakfast at 'Legends - Karen'
Breakfast at ‘Legends – Karen’

 

Master Terry Mutuku, for whom we all run
Master Terry Mutuku, for whom we all run

 

The birthday girl and the Chairman
The birthday girl and the Chairman

 

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.