The Long Road to 6:15

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Will I make it? Will I beat my record of 6:18 minutes per kilometer, which I set on Monday May 25? These questions were racing through my mind as I raced along Rhino Stretch, Tena Estate’s longest road.

I nudged myself to run a little bit faster, feeling that my pace was too slow. It must be all that tumbukiza meat that I ate yesterday. I thought with a frown as my feet continued tapping the hard tarmac. The previous day on May 31st, I had visited my big brother Hannington at his maisonette in Kitengela for a Post-Birthday meal. Donning big brown shorts and a while golf shirt, he had cooked for me Tumbukiza, the only meal under God’s heaven that he can cook well. Tumbukiza is Swahili for ‘immerse into.’ As the name suggests, this beef delicacy entails boiling the beef and immersing into it whatever you want to. For my brother, this always means tomatoes, garlic, onions, green pepper and potatoes.

A few meters before the Moi Drive roundabout, I slowed to a walk, counted to 20 then started hurtling along Moi Drive, eager to hit a sub-10 minute speed by the time I reached the second electricity pole after the Kifaru Primary School junction.

9 minutes, 43 seconds. Yes!! I high-fived the cold air when MapmyWalk app informed me that I had covered that distance in less than ten minutes. This is a great start! I thought with a smile. This was just the third or fourth time that I had covered this distance in a sub-10 speed.

After counting to twenty again, I fled from my walk and resumed my run. There were two ladies in front of me. In less than half a minute, my feet hurled me in front of them, and just behind another lady whose braids were dancing left-right with every step she took. Her pace was just like mine, so I switched gears a notch higher. In less than a minute, my feet spattered abreast her, then ahead. Let’s just say that I was cruising like Lewis Hamilton, the six-time world champion. A quick glance behind me and I crossed the road, turned right and started racing towards the last bump before Umoja 2 matatu terminus. I overtook two other ladies and caught whiffs of their conversation. It was in Kikuyu, so I couldn’t understand a word.

One week earlier, on Monday 25th, I had overtaken these same ladies. One is short and plump. She is the more talkative one. The taller one can also be described as plump but her height makes her appear slimmer than her friend. I love their dedication not just to running but doing so together. I still prefer to run alone, where my pants are just as private as my thoughts.

On that Monday 25th, I had hurtled down Usain stretch with the strides of a cheetah. I can usually tell how first am running by glancing at my shadow. If my pace is slow, then the shadow will appear to be barely moving. That Monday 25th, my shadow was soaring like an eagle’s shadow. There was a guy in front of me with a red cap, almost like my red Honda cap. He was taller, with long strides almost twice the size of mine. But at that spot directly opposite the Administration Police station, I overtook him.

When I finally made it back to Whitehouse along Outering Road and stopped, I wasn’t surprised when MapmyWalk informed me that I had averaged a speed of 6:18 minutes per kilometer. This was a new personal best, outside Jaffery Sports Club where running around a 440 metre track is a lot easier.

A few days after this personal best, I came across a YouTube video about Abby Levene, a young American lady from Boulder Colorado. In the video, she had just run 18 kilometers at an average speed of 4:25 minutes per kilometer. Hmmm… Interesting. That girl is fast! Even faster than Yves, my Cameroonian friend who regularly averages speeds of 4:30 minutes per kilometer, but always for 10-kilometer runs, not double that distance like Abby.

In my defense, both Abbie and Yves are younger and lighter than me.

On Wednesday May 27, I was determined to break my personal best time record from two days earlier. But I was aware of the zigzag nature of running time. Improvement doesn’t come in a straight line. Still, I knew that if I could just slash 30 seconds from Monday’s overall time of 1:12:40, I would smile all the way to a new record.

Well, that didn’t happen. My overall time was 1:13:16, which means that the average time was 06:20 minutes per kilometer. I shook my head in disappointment as I approached our Court’s main gate and waved at that security guard who never smiles.

Friday the 29th arrived with the usual deep silence of nighttime. When I woke up just a few minutes after 2AM, I smiled in the darkness. I love at this hour because it affords me a couple of hours to do some writing before my run. Back in High School, I read a book by Emmanuel Eni, a Nigeria Writer who claimed that 2AM is the most evil hour of the night. I think it’s the most peaceful hour. In addition, I believe that all time emanates from God’s bosom.

On Friday 29th when my eyes flicked open and my feet hit the warm tiles of my bedroom, my legs felt fine and happy. There wasn’t a creaking muscle anywhere in them. My legs are signaling that I will have a good run. I thought happily, as I gulped the customary tumbler of water from the blue tumbler that Aunt Millie gave me a couple of years ago.

I didn’t write at all because my mind was hooked to the economic empowerment concept that I was preparing for Mlilo Women Group. At 4.31AM, I slammed shut the laptop and started getting ready for my run. I slipped into my navy blue track suit pants, navy blue long-sleeved running top, happy cotton socks and Nike sneakers. Then I sank into the African armchair by the door and meditated briefly. At 4.57AM, I walked out of the door.

I ran. And ran. And ran. Along the Rhino Stretch; along Moi Drive and along Usain Stretch. At the first matatu stop along Kangundo Road, I stopped running and started sprinting. At Mama Stop (I named it as such so that mama’s stunning smile can keep me going when I reach there), I sprinted on. And on, until the Mandazi junction where a group of women normally sell tea, mandazi, chapati and fried eggs. I never see them these days because I always pass there before they arrive.

At this mandazi junction, I slowed down for a walk. After counting to twenty and stealing a few more seconds, I resumed sprinting. There is a guy in front of me - shorter and a lot lighter - who was running at a very fast pace. But I overtook him and sped on. Pace your run. These three words flashed in my mind so I slowed down and started walking after a few seconds. My heavy breathing could probably be heard from ten meters away. That short guy overtook me with a grunt, probably telling himself that he was having the last laugh. At this juncture, my run became tedious.

Maybe I should just slow to a walk for the rest of the time and live to fight another day. I told myself. I was now running rather slowly along Kangaru Road in Komarock. Even K-Mall on my right seemed to be urging me to give up the run. My body felt off.

Nope. Keep going. These words tumbled wearily into my mind. Just keep going. So I kept going, dragging my feet along and wishing that they could cooperate more. I slowed to a walk and threw up my hands, almost in surrender. I turned left into Malewa Road 2 and started the gentle descent. Whenever I am on this descent, I usually start running after about ten meters. But this time, I walked on for ten more meters. At this stage, I was sure that my average speed would be dismal. Just try and keep it sub-7! I told myself, not eager to have the blot of a 7-minute plus average speed on my record.

The sight of Kenol Fuel Station almost one kilometer later was a relief. At least I could walk a bit now. On the way back along Malewa Road 2, my energy was draining faster than a leaking water pipe. Just stop. So I stopped. Try your best and keep running, since this is the longest descent in this run. So I resumed running. Faster, faster. Oh boy, am so tired. My body is on a go slow. When I stumbled back into Kangaru Road, I slowed to a really slow walk. My breathing was so heavy I could feel my chest creaking.

When I resumed my run a few meters into Kangaru Road, something interesting happened. Although a heavy load was still weighing down my shoulders, I could feel that there was a new spring in my steps. It’s as if a force in the ground was pushing up my feet every time they slammed into it. This left me with a relaxed, faster pace that wasn’t labored. Still, I was certain that this would end up being one of my slowest speeds. But alas, nature had a surprise for me. At White House less than forty minutes later, MapMyWalk announced that I had averaged a speed of 06:23 minutes per kilometer. Wow! I thought things would be much worse. Evidently, my slow runs were slowly becoming faster than my previous fastest runs. Alhamdulillah.

Then came today, the 1st of June 2020. Madaraka Day, Kenya’s independence day. It’s also the day that my maternal grandmother Nashibe went to be with the Lord.

When I woke up earlier today at 3.30AM, I was doubtful if I was going to run faster than the 6:18 of one week earlier. Not only had I not done exercises of any kind for the entire weekend, I had also eaten a lot, because Saturday was my birthday. Then Sunday brought with it that post-birthday tumbukiza beef. Earlier on that Sunday, I had reveled in the angelic presence of my one-and-a-half year old nephew Juvi and three-year old niece Sultannah. God, I adore them. They are my brother Mpasua’s kids. Their mama fixed a delicious breakfast of fried arrow roots and smokies. I devoured it with gusto, as Juvi and Sultannah chatted with me. Juvi in his half-baby, half-human language, Sultannah in her impeccable English.

When I stepped out of the house this morning at 4.48AM, I thought of those two little angels. Their innocent laughter reverberated in my mind as my feet smashed into Rhino stretch. I think that their divine touch yesterday, plus my grandma’s celestial cheers, pushed me to a new record today. An average speed of 06:15 minutes per kilometer. The third kilometer was run in 05:46 minutes per kilometer, my fastest ever kilometer outside of Jaffery Sports Club. What a run!

As Abbie, that fast American runner said in the YouTube video, “I run because I love it and its fun.” It sure was fun.

Am looking forward to run with you one of these fine days. At Karura Forest. Or somewhere in the Great Rift Valley. Who knows, we might bump into Eliud Kipchoge, the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) marathoner.

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