Saturday, 11 November 2017

Kenya - day 6 - Race and election day

And so the day came but not after the last minute headache for the organiser’s (Nick and team) who were told the intended public race route was a no-go as the tea pickers were striking against Unilever seeking a pay increase. Apparently it was getting ugly with rioters on sections of the course with Unilever’s offer to meet half way squarely rejected. This coupled with the today’s election meant pulling out all the stops in order to still hold a race.

The timing of the strikes seemed opportunistic to me given today’s re-election date. It’s a massive week for Kenya full stop. On that, on our drive to the new course the polling stations were decidedly quiet. Elisha our guide reckoned there would usually be queues as far as one could see. The opposition party still think that skullduggery is rife in so far as the voting platform is not fair and is being corrupted the by incumbent Kenyatta and team. I note this is Kenyatta heart land but still the quiet scenes on the public voting holiday.

The organising team though at Team Marathon Seies pulled off a master stroke in finding an alternative, a private tea plantation to host the event. The scenery was simply astonishing. The pictures do not do it justice and will not begin to describe the lush green blanketed tea fields, the lake and the surrounding mountains which we were all set to run up and over 4 times.  

I think it was meant to be and am increasingly coming round to that view. There have been numerous occasions of late where stuff has played out that way which in hinsight was a good thing but at the time it seemed anything but. 

Back to the race. The marathoners including me set off at 8 AM and settled into an easy pace with the 2.10 man Leonard, Alex, Arno and Benjamin. The first section was more uphill trails after starting at 2,000 meters. The terrain was tricky too with the ground underfoot a foot-path at best. In fact I could already see that Alex (a very decent marathoner himself) was struggling, rolling his ankle on a few occasions in the first 30 minutes. 

Then came the wobbly wooden planks across the stream followed by more uphill sections before the hill down towards the lake where the start was but now on the other side. The downhill quickly changed to another uphill slog up to 2,150 meters and we were greeted with a majestic vista over looking the Great Rift Valley. The blue sky and dramatic scenery was something to behold. At the top there were several kids out to cheers us on, children of the tea pickers who live in the traditional huts on the plantation. It was nice seeing them atop. 

All of us were running well at this stage as we headed back onto the road for the undulating 2k before the left hand turn which took us back along the 2k plantation driveway towards the finish to complete the first lap where we received a warm reception from all the respective support teams. Given the toughness of the course and the altitude there were medical teams situated in 4 spots:

- Doctor Tree
- Doctor Notary (No Tree)
- Doctor Road
- Doctor (at the finish)

This was brilliant as at each station they had water and the local sweet bananas. Those bananas were a god send and pretty sure the reason which saw me through, as they also did for the recent Berlin marathon. 

Back onto the first section of the 2nd 10.8km lap we looked behind and Alex was nowhere to be seen - struggling with his stomach and ankle issues he wisely decided to call it quits. 

Back onto the summit it was then Benedict’s time to drop off as we started the downhill section. He ran splendidly though keeping a good pace to finish and in doing so managing to pull out a thorn that went straight through the sole of his shoe and into his foot.

The road section was now beginning to feel very hot caused by the drop in altitude and coupled with the mid morning sunshine. At this time it was Arno’s time to drop off. Only in his twenties and running his first marathon it was hardly surprising having never ran further than 25ks previously.

Lots more cheers as Leonard and I went though the finish line to start the 3rd last. I remember thinking ‘Christ we have already been running 2 hours and 9 minutes!’. Usually I would be thinking another 40 or so minutes but here we were with at least another 2 hours to go. Alreday then I started to feel my calf’s and hammies. I forgot to bring my salt tablets with me from London and usually they are my saving grace to ward of any cramping to get my 80kg frame through a marathon. This though was even worse given how long we would be on our feet. I tried to put the cramping to the back of mind enjoying the conversation with Leonard.

We covered everything from each other’s families, running goals, politics to his competitors and a whole lot more. He kept telling me that he will cherish our run together which was heart warming. Always smiling and always lending support I will also cherish our time together on that course.  Now back at the top and running decidedly quicker we reached the summit section with a cloud cover now approaching. ‘Rain’ I said to which he responded ‘no chance, trust me the rain will only come later this afternoon’.  

The conversation went on and so asked him how he got from Kericho to the start line? ‘I ran of course’ he replied. WTF -I remember thinking ‘so let me get this straight, so you ran here, are now running the marathon with me and then you will run home?, ‘ yes’ he replied with a look to suggest how else am I going to get home. 

All jokes aside about dodgy substances this shows exactly why Kenyans are so good at what they do because they do so bloody much of it.  There are no (NO) UK athletes which would do anything close to that daily mileage.  

Shock horror now on the 3rd lap there were no bananas left at one of the Doctor stations which had all been stolen by the marauding monkies.  A first for me. Leonard and I though put our heads down and persevered. 

Back onto the road and through the finish having ran a 62 minute lap easy. Seeing Alex there I asked if he had any salt tablets and thankfully he had a High-5 electrolyte tab spare which I stuck straight into my mouth without any water. 

By this time though the cramps were in full effect. The calf’s were going badly and on the downhill section the quads (which I worried about pre race) were also beginning to go. 

There was one funny moment going up to the summit where the left leg seized up and for a split second thought it would be race over. I almost fell flat on my face but Leonard came to the rescue. ‘I’m sorry’ he kept saying as if somehow inferring it was his fault. Back moving again I told him to plot the path up and just followed in his footsteps. 

Just before the summit I spotted Tommy running with Georgie. That was special to see him there at the summit with the best views and wish I had a photo with us 4. We quickly stopped and introduced Leonard to Tommy. A conincidence too as on the 3rd lap we had met Macca (Andrew McNamra) in the same place. Macca is a legend. From Sydney and knows a lot of HuRt Squad (he trained with Chris Triscott a lot back in the day)and a mutilple 2.30 runner but capable of much more. Same age as me, born a month later and a diamond geaser - as soon as we met we really hit of off.

At the summit a few of the local kids joined in. I remember the old man there shouting stuff out too. I asked Leonard what he said and he sheepishly admitted that the old man had said that he did not think that I would finish. In fairness that was probably not too far from the truth. I admitted then to Leonard that I was feeling it and asked if we would finish? ‘Kapsa’ he said again and again which means ‘for sure’ in Swahili.

Back to cramps. Oh boy did it hurt and had to walk small sections but I found that a quick 10 seconds of walking gave me another 2 minutes of running.  

Now back onto the drive way and then the final bend where we could see the finish. The funny thing was that one of the 10 y/old boys was still running with us. Fair enough ,but he was wearing a full on duffel jacket and crocks!  He had basically ran half of the last lap with us.

Leonard suggested we hold hands as we crossed the line which again was another moment to cherish as the support teams gave us a loud cheer. So happy to have finished and absolutely mullered.

Thank goodness for the bananas and thank goodness for Leonard. The second half was slightly slower as we finished in 4 hours and 24 minutes, officially my longest run timwise. The course was long, well over 43ks not to mention the 1,100 of vertical climbing and the greater than 2,000m of altitude.

Pleased to report that everyone including the half marathoners and 10kers all ran well with Alex going back onto the course to do another lap. Some were on their feet for gone 7 hours today. 

A quick note on Tommy; not a runner he battled through to finish the 10k - I love this boy and very proud that he gutsed it out. He suffers with his biomechanics plus those brutal conditions. Special thanks to Georgie too for being his side kick and keeping an eye on him. Very thankful indeed.

At the finish Leonard and I exchanged pleasantries and discussed his upcoming race in Mexico City in December where he is hoping to run 2.10. By now a lot of the Kericho elite had gathered at the finish with Coach Gabriel and Leonard pointed out 2 fast guys, yet another 2.06 man and another who had just ran 2.05 in Johannesburg. absolutely bonkers.

Slowly but surely we watched as the other runners coming in with all getting the star treatment and then finally it was Tommy’s and Georgie’s turn. Fantastic. 

Stewart Pepper ran very well as did his wife Ali. There were loads of great performances notwithstanding quite a few falls and grazes such as Manchester Helen whose arm was covered in blood. Tommy’s shin was now swollen having been hit the week prior by a hockey ball.

Another majestic day and experience thanks to the IMS team and Kim Martin the owner (it was meant to be).

Interview with Leonard:

Tommy and Georgie:

T with the kids:

The famous 85 year old who ran the Half!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Leonard 'Kapsa' / '2.10' Cheruiyot:

T and Georgie:


Stewart Pepper:

Stew and Ali P

Martin and the lovely Sue:

More hang time with 2.02 Jo:

Benedikt S:

Tommy with the ladies:

Elisa - the happiest man in Kenya - love this dude:

The owners, the Martins:

The second happiest man in Kenya - Vincent:

Tim, who did the noble act of bringing up the rear to ensure that everyone got round safe and sound

Abby finish:

David Irwin, M.Y., Tim....

The Macca Man - diamond geaser:

Photo form Benedict as we crested the first summit - Rift valley vista:

Racing the Kenyans in the 400ms:

L and I finishing:

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