Fluorspar: Running with the Kenyans

My #keepingupwiththekenyans weekend was 72 hours I will never forget. By far the most picturesque, scenic, and horrifyingly difficult run of my life. Some flew through the 42.7km “tarmac-to-tarmac” run while others (yours truly) succumbed to the allure of motorbikes when your legs just didn’t seem yours anymore. I wasn’t sure writing would do the weekend justice, so I turned towards video to showcase my trip with the Urban Swaras to the land of the champions.

Note that the video does begin to capture the beauty but neglects the endless tricks and games you play with your mind throughout the run.

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First view of Kerio Valley

Kerio Valley is a magical place that somehow consistently produces world class athletes. Typically a 5-hour drive from Nairobi, my car made a few shopping stops, ran into traffic from crowds gathering for the infamous Prophet Owuor, and detoured for gas and lunch – had to fuel the car and our bodies for the upcoming trip! After 7 hours in the car, we broke out past Kabernet Town into a view I will never forget.

Arriving just around sunset, the valley was took my breath away. But the tricky thing about valleys is that it’s a lowland area. Meaning that what comes down must come up. As we were driving down the winding road from Kabernet Town, I was informed that the other side was our run tomorrow morning… the other side looking as formidable as the wall in Game of Thrones.

We got to Sego Safari Lodge right before nightfall. That night, we gorged ourselves on beef stew, chicken, ugali, rice, chapati (oh and that chapati was soooo good), and vegetables. Due to our lack of drivers, my original 30km run, the last 20km of which was all uphill, got pushed to a 34.7km run. I would be one of the ones starting from the lodge while some more impressive, incredible people would try for the 42.7km “tarmac-to-tarmac” run. Our pep talk after dinner only made me more nervous, excited, and terrified.

“Tomorrow, you may think that you will conquer the hill when in fact, the hill will conquer you.”

Low light infiltration and a cloudless sky meant that you could see all the stars. But in the back of my mind, I had an ever sinking feeling of the looming mountain in the darkness. Would I finish tomorrow? How long was too long? I could barely run hills when I first landed in Kenya a month ago, and now I was about to run the mother of all hills. Going to bed that night proved slightly difficult as I was a bundle of nervous excitement.

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At 5:15am, my alarm clock went off. I bounded out of bed. It was still dark out, but you could hear the murmur of excitement as everyone got ready and began exiting their doors. Breakfast was simple – toast, banana, and a couple cups of chai. In the blink of an eye, the 42’s were whisked off to be dropped by car at the tarmac, and us 35’s were stretching outside. When the 20’s left, the butterflies in my stomach were at an all-time high.

img_6269At 6:30am, we took off from the Lodge. Armed with my bottle of water and the knowledge that the hills and incline wouldn’t really start until I was 15km into the run, I felt incredible. The air was crisp. The sun was starting to rise. It was the makings of a beautiful, glorious day for running. And the first 12km felt incredible. I could stretch my legs. I was in my rhythm despite losing my 35’km wolfpack due to constantly stopping to take pictures.

img_6300And then the heat set in as the sun rose. It climbed to a sweltering 88 degrees that day. As I began to sweat, I realized I wouldn’t last the 34.7km unless I went back and changed into my tights. For three whole kilometers, arguably the most painful of the run, I charged on ahead until I was able to find a motorbike to take me back. With instructions to take me back, let me change, and drop me at the exact point I stopped, I hopped on the back of my first boda boda and zipped back.

I cursed myself for wearing shorts to begin with. The break did me in. My previous momentum was gone when I started running again as my legs tightened up in the 40-minute break. Not to mention, my feet started cramping in the awkward position they were in while sitting behind my boda driver.

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Not even at the top yet…

Kids chased me and took shortcuts to continue watching me run up the hill. It was mindless, both in the physical feat and the natural beauty. There is no bigger mind game than seeing yet another hill in front of you after four hours of running uphill. And at 29.7km in, my legs gave out and wouldn’t move as if they were lead pipes instead of functional parts of my body. Hopping on my second boda boda (of the day and of my life), I sped towards the other tarmac at the top of the hill so reminiscent of the Game of Thrones wall. Upon reaching the top, I was informed that we had started at 1100m and ascended to 2700m through this run, a number I’m still attempting to grasp!

The following rush of endorphins was the craziest rush I’ve ever had. The smiles on everyone’s faces; bonds forged through the misery of the trail; the music and nyama choma that night… I’ve absolutely fallen in love with running here in the beautiful Kenyan countryside, thanks to this amazing Swara family. They’re exactly my type of crazy.

I may not have run the entire way (#runningthewongway afterall) but managing that run in that heat, at that altitude… its stuff that champions are made of, and I’m glad to have experienced it! Mark my words, I’ll be back, and next time, I’ll be conquering the hill.

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