A friend if mine, George, put up a picture on Facebook, showing the race number assigned to him for the Nairobi Marathon. From what I could gather from his statements elsewhere, he had not been practicing much. I decided to sign up for the half marathon as well, though I had not been practising as such. I signed up for three reasons:
One, I wanted to take on the challenge of covering 21km
Two, I wanted to evaluate how I would perform, seeing that sprint sessions are supposed to result in greater fitness than lower intensity, longer workouts.
Three, I wanted to (see if I could) beat my friend George.
I signed up on the last day of registration, and instead of the adult sized t-shirt that others got, I was given a green children’s t-shirt.
The run was set for Sunday. It was raining on Saturday night as I went to bed. I woke up at some point during the night and heard the rain. I thought of maybe just skipping the run.
I set my alarm for 5:40 a.m. I did not quite fall asleep. After a while, I thought surely 5:40 has passed. I got up and it was around 5:56. The phone was still on the Alarms screen, so I guess that is why the alarm did not go off.
Anyway, my wife woke up, made me breakfast, and we set off. She dropped me as near the stadium as she could and went to look for parking. There were quite a number of people walking about in and around the stadium compound. I made my way to a tent where they were giving out pins for pinning our race numbers to our t-shirts. I noticed that the vast majority of the runners had white t-shirts, meaning that my green one would stand out. It was also rather fitting, having been meant for a child. So I kept my jacket zipped for a while.
I kept trying to call George but his phone was unreachable or off. I also called another friend, Eve, who I knew was taking part in the run, and we tried to meet.
After a number of phone calls between my wife and myself, I found my wife, who had apparently crossed to an area meant for those running and officials. We took photos, together with my cousin, Tom. Tom said he hoped to complete the 21km in two hours.
The race started at 7:30a.m. I ran a while at a slow pace. The street was rather crowded. As I neared Uhuru Park, I called Eve, she said she was already in the Park. I said she should not let me slow her down.
The run was interesting. I was surprised that I could not run for very long at a time. So I alternated between walking and running briefly. I naturally looked around as I walked or jogged. I saw a lady who looked familiar. My mind took a few moments to place her. It was one of the ladies from Slimpossible. There were some people on wheelchairs. At least one had the sort of three-wheeled wheelchair that you operate by using your hands to rotate some sort of pedals that are similar to those of a bicycle. These are part of a mechanism that rotates the front wheel. I thought it was unfair to have these compete against those who propelled themselves by turning the actual wheels of their wheelchair using their hands, without any intervening mechanism. It was later that I realised that the race organisers made a distinction between tricycles and wheelchairs.
There were various water points along the way. I thought they were a bit far apart, but not too bad. Not quite surprisingly, many people simply threw their used plastic bottles on the ground, despite there being bins provided for this very purpose. That meant that the areas around the water points were like mini obstacle courses. There were people whose work was to pick up these bottles.
I saw a tall white guy and another guy running barefoot. My wife later told me there were a number of barefoot runners.
Some motorbikes and vehicles came from behind us. We were told to make way. The elite runners doing the full marathon were passing. Their route required repeating a section of the route, which is why they were passing us. They were running much faster than most of us. It was interesting to note that most of them were wearing vests and small shorts, as opposed to the more casual runners who were wearing more. One would get the impression that the more serious a runner you were, the less you wore. That may be true, considering that I was wearing a jacket.
There was also a bit of advertising going on. One runner had a vest written Team Kanu. (KANU is the oldest political party in Kenya). Others had matching t-shirts advertising this organisation or another. I remembered reading an article that said something like a group people were either barred from entering a stadium or thrown out, during the Olympics or maybe World Cup, because they had t-shirts that were advertising something. Sorry I can’t remember the details. (See related article here). Evidently, no such restrictions applied here.
I found my wife at Nyayo Stadium as she had said she would be. She was literally at the roundabout, having been assumed to be an official or part of the press. She took photos, and told me that a friend of hours, Sydney, had passed some minutes before. Passing opposite our church, I saw a guy I knew by face. I was walking at the time. Run, he urged, so I started running again. There were some boys in the Highway Secondary School compound cheering guys, cracking jokes and generally making noise. I went on. Tom called out to me from the side of the road that was heading to town. It was around 9:22a.m, so there was no way he was going to meet his 2-hour goal.
When I reached the turning point, I was told there were 5km to go. I felt hope rising. I could complete this race in under 3 hours. I saw the lady from Slimpossible still heading towards the turn. Passing our church again, I again saw the familiar guy, he again urged us to run. When I reached the Nyayo Stadium roundabout, I was a bit taken aback to realise that the route first led us a bit away from the stadium, to a roundabout then back to the stadium. That meant more minutes. I kept going. When I reached the final turn, there were many people walking. Some had finished their run, and others were walking to the finish. Franklin, I saw Sydney. I urged him to run with me but he did not. I left him behind. I decided that the final stretch may actually make a difference, so I decided to run as much as I could. Nearing the actual stadium entrance, I saw a car with a huge timer, saying 2:47. I was delighted. I was going to manage less than 3 hours. I ran on. I reached a guy who was walking and urged him to run. He did. On the last bend, I saw my wife next to the track! (How did she get there?) She took pictures. The guy I had asked to run asked me to photograph him with his camera. I ran ahead, turned at snapped him. I had finished!
21km is actually tough. But I did it. It would probably have been significantly easier if I had trained for it. Now I understand why people get addicted to running. I want to do better next time.
My official time was 2:50:07. I beat George by about 4 minutes. Eve and Tom took about 2hrs 34 minutes.