Are there times when you find yourself constantly pumping into your mind negative thoughts that dampen your spirits? This internal war was raging in me when I parked the Growler at the usual spot in Karura Forest’s parking lot. This spot is a mere inches away from the calm forest. During the drive to the forest, thoughts of a failed romance from the past kept raiding my mind. Why couldn’t I just kick them out? I tried, but it was like kicking a river in an attempt to get rid of the flowing water.
The secret of countering this is to nurture a constant flow of positive thoughts that will be equally unstoppable. Nature – forests, ocean and rivers – has a way of washing away negative thoughts and replacing them not just with new, positive thoughts, but also positive energy.
After parking, she walked with me to the washrooms. I fished out my Samsung phone and glanced at it. 6.25AM.
“I can’t believe that there are people who are still sleeping at this moment, missing out on these blissful sights and sounds of a forest at dawn,” I told her.
“Listen to those birds,” she said, craning her ears, smiling in her eyes.
“But I suspect that those who are sleeping would counter that we are also missing out on blissful sleep.”
She shook her head, “you can’t compare sleep and nature.”
I totally agreed. We share a deep passion for nature. That’s why I love going with her to Karura Forest.
What would be even better is to sleep right in the arms of nature! I thought. That’s why I still dream (I should start planning) of owning a tree house. Like the one I love visiting at Eagle Camp in Mida Creek, Kilifi County. It’s like a human nest that is etched up there in the trees.
Fifteen minutes later after she was done drinking a hot cup of tea, I was on my bike and she was on her feet. I was cycling slowly so that she could keep pace. But at the beginning of the Middle Track, it was time to part ways. I was chasing an average speed of 13km/h over a distance of 50km. My best speed over that distance was 11.5 km/h. I wasn’t happy with this personal record and felt that this particular day, Tuesday 04 August, was the day that I was going to up my game.
I sped off. Oh my, that sweet feeling is coming soon. I thought. Indeed, barely five minutes later, it landed with a bang. Whoooooa!
I was cycling really fast. A few months earlier, I would press on the brakes during this gentle, lengthy descent along the Middle Track. But not any more. These days, my fingers keep off from the brakes so that the bike can simply roll down and gather speed. At junction 20, I turned right and rolled on.
Meanwhile, she was walking briskly along the Middle Track. She walks very fast, even faster than my sister Nashibe, who is quite a very fast-walker.
That sound isn’t from a bird. It must be a monkey’s chatter. I wish I could see it. The monkey. And some birds too. I also wish that I could see those little gazelles that David likes a lot. These thoughts are rotating in her mind like a conveyor belt. There was a time when she used to call me Champion. But these days am David. Plain old David. Well, even leaves of trees form, grow, sparkle, dry up and drop to the ground. But on the other hand, the river keeps flowing. The morning breeze keeps blowing. Whether you will go the way of the leaf or the river and breeze is up to you.
I overtook her at another point along the Middle Track. Earlier on when I turned right at junction 20, I had taken a detour that took me further back the Middle Track.
Almost one hour later, my bike started creaking and groaning. I ignored it and instead just peddled it. Crrrr….kakakak…. I ignored those sounds and instead focused on the ever fresh, ever melodious chirps of birds and the sweet rustle of Ruaka River. But alas, this rustle couldn’t stop the bike from becoming wobbly and breaking down. I braked and jumped off. The peddle’s crank had broken apart from the chain wheel. I could no longer ride the bike and had to walk it back to the Parking, which was almost five kilometers away.
In the words of Bwak, the Bantu Poet, “in the journey of life, don’t ignore unpleasant noises because they will grind you to a halt.
Before the bike broke down, I had cycled for 25 kilometers, at an average speed of 13km/h. Even better, there were portions of the ride when I cycled my fastest speed ever. 44.3km/h.
Crrr…. Kakaka… Don’t ignore these sounds when they crop up in your spiritual life, relationships or workplace. Whenever and wherever your hear them, pay attention, and deal with their root cause.
‘If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.’
I wrote this Benjamin Franklin quote in the book that I was writing. I wanted the quote to set the stage for a paragraph that was going to dig deeper into the vast power of strategizing.
As my fingers continued punching my laptop’s silver keyboard, I paused.
I had a nagging feeling that someone was watching me. Which was strange, because it was 2.45AM and I was alone in the house. August 3rd, Monday. I looked up into the wall-size mirror in front of me and caught my reflection. My brown eyes were gazing at me deeply.
‘Do you usually craft clear plans or you often fail to plan?’
These words flowed into my spirit like a silent mountain spring.
Aaaaah! It wasn’t that someone was watching me. Rather, those words that I had just typed – If you fail to plan, you plan to fail – had flown from the screen like a bird and were now perched in the branches of my mind. They were demanding my immediate attention.
I paid attention and immediately started crafting a plan for my morning run, which was due in about two and a half hours’ time at 4.20AM. I opened an Excel sheet and keyed in the speeds that I intended to run for each kilometer so that I could match either my personal record of 5:38 or improve on it.
Aaaaah! I exclaimed loudly, realizing that in planning properly for that run, I had actually empowered myself with clear goals that I could pursue deliberately, not stumble into accidentally. It was a liberating feeling.
At exactly 4.20AM I walked out of my door into the sweet embrace of the cold pre-dawn breeze. The sky was smiling brightly because of the full moon that was crawling across it. I stood for a few moments and tilted my head further upward to admire that full moon. In about two hours’ time, it was going to make way for the sun.
Will my right hip behave? I wondered as I began my run at Kamuti’s Butchery. For two weeks, this hip had been in a lousy mood.
Let’s hope for the best.
After running for about twenty steps, a smile formed on my lips. My body was telling me to relax, that everything would be just fine. I did exactly that and felt more wind in my legs, more subtle speed. As a result, I ran the entire first kilometer without slowing down for a few seconds, as I normally did. I covered this first kilometer in 5:25 minutes, thirteen seconds faster than the target in my plan. Interesting, I thought as I gazed up at the full moon and winked at it. I felt like it was cheering me on.
Those five ladies who normally run together in a group emerged from the shadow of a bus into the soft glare of a streetlight. I smiled at them as our paths crossed. I liked their discipline and the way they usually ran together, cheering each other on.
Although you should always be your own biggest cheerleader, it helps a lot to have friends who cheer you on towards the finish line instead of dragging you back or simply not caring how and when you will cross the finish line.
I crossed the second kilometer’s finish line 5:22 minutes, seven seconds faster than the speed that I had planned for. However, for the third kilometer, I was sixteen seconds slower than the 5:20 minutes speed that I had planned for. This slower speed was caused by sewer rivulets that were flowing along Moi Drive. It looks like there was a burst sewer pipe somewhere in the vicinity. This being Nairobi, people were simply going to adapt to the flowing sewer instead of demanding immediate action from Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company.
I had to hop and skip in order to avoid splashing into the sewer. Because I knew that I had fallen short of my goal by sixteen seconds, I knew that I had to run the next kilometer at a faster speed. With that refined goal in mind, I ran this fourth kilometer faster by fourteen seconds.
After a time of 1:04:39, I completed my 11.58 kilometer run in an average speed of 05:34 minutes. This was a personal record. But it didn’t just happen. It has resulted from many morning runs that have been both exhilarating and agonizing in equal measure.
In the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, ‘small steps generate big power and achieve big results. Find your small steps then keep walking in them.’
I hope that today's run will be a good one. This thought flashed through my mind the moment my eyes flicked open. I lumbered like a rhino to my home office, winked at my laptop as I switched it on, shuffled to the washroom (why do most of us do this first thing when we wake up?), shuffled back to my desk and furiously punched my laptops keyboard as I began the writing marathon of 1st August 2020. I intend to write 90,000 words this month. So help me God.
‘The full moon has a complicated relationship with the forest…’ I wrote, ‘on one hand, it casts a soft light on millions of leaves on thousands of trees...’ For one hour, I had to literally drag words from my mind. It's as if they were not eager to descend into my laptop's blank page. After one hour, I shifted from writing to researching. I delved into an intense research on Kereita Forest. But just like the words that refused to depart from the warm recess of my mind, cogent facts on Kereita Forest declined to depart from the warm labyrinth of google. I couldn’t even find the name of a single tree in Kereita forest. Man! I leapt from my tattered maroon chair (I have been sitting on it for seven years now) and sank into the welcoming arms of my bed. Thirty minutes later, I emerged from that bed into my purple, long-sleeved Umbro sports jacket. Within two minutes, I stepped out of my door into the sweet embrace of the 5AM breeze.
I hope that today's run will be a good one. I thought again as I said a cheerful good morning to Kemboi. His usually jolly face was downcast. It must be because of money. Corona virus and money are not friends at all. They are like oil and water.
My Nile Tulips Nike running shoes were not smashing into the potholed tarmac since I was running slowly. Although I wanted to take it easy for the first kilomter, my pace was slower than it should have been.I was running like a weary rhino, not a lithe leopard.
There was no one ahead of me and no one behind me. Just me, DJ Bwakali and the long stretch of a road that I refer to as Rhino Road. What if I actually meet a rhino on this road on one of my morning runs? I thought and smiled in the darkness. By the way, white rhinos are the second largest land mammal in the world. Only elephants are bigger than them. They are referred to as white not in reference to their color but after ‘wyd’ an Afrikaans word that means wide. They have wide mouths. Early English settlers in South Africa simply misinterpreted wyd for white, and voila! They became white rhinos.
I made a conscious decision to slow down the overall pace of my run and gauge the state of my right hip, which had been misbehaving lately. As a result of this decision, I completed the first kilometer in 6:19 minutes, a whole minute slower than my Saturday 25th run. On that run, I raced through this first kilometer in less than 5:20 minutes. No worries, its an easy run today. The second kilometer was nine seconds faster at 6:10 min/km while the third kilometer was even faster at 5.55 min/km. I had lots of fun in the final fifty meters of this third kilometer when I allowed a runner behind me to keep pace. Just when he was about to overtake me, I sped ahead and left him panting miserably. It felt good. Is that how Eliud Kipchoge, Mo Farah and Kenenisa Bekele feel when they switch on the speed and simply sprint like cheetahs in the final hundred meters of close races?
Again, rhino vibes caught up with me on Kangundo road. I was ambling along the road’s sidewalk. You would think that I was carrying an invisible sack of potatoes on my famously big head (I take after my papa’s big head). I miss my fast runs on this road, I thought as I frowned at the darkness as if it was responsible for my slow run. The author Craig D. Lounsbrough once wrote that, ‘The darkness makes everything disappear but it makes nothing go away.’ Not even the darkness could spur my weary body into a faster run.
Despite my slow pace, I did manage to complete the fourth kilometer in six minutes flat. But things started going haywire after that. At the fifth kilometer mark, I realized that my GPS had stopped working so the distance was stuck at 4.09 kilometers. My running app had malfunctioned because it can only work when the GPS is working. To make matters worse, my recently troublesome right hip also decided to malfunction. I began feeling some numbing discomfort in that right hip and immediately slowed down my pace.
For the rest of the run, I slowed down even further but kept going. I didn’t want to overwork my hip but I also didn’t want to give up on the run altogether. It’s only at the ten kilometer mark that I realized that sometimes, you have to give up the fight so that you can live to fight another day sooner rather than later. Tactical retreat is better than forging on, only to collapse in utter defeat.
In the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, ‘real progress unfolds in a zigzag line, not a straight line. In the long arc of progress, the bad days are even more important than the good days because they build in you resilience and position you for eventual triumph.’
When the Growler rumbled into Karura Forest that morning of Monday 28th July 2020, the sun was still hiding beneath the eastern horizon. My car’s flashlights were piercing the semi-darkness as I drove slowly along the earthen road that snakes into the forest. I parked at a new spot that my friend Uwineza had suggested. A spot where the forest sits pretty, right in front of you, a mere inches away. You can simply lean back in your car seat and converse with the trees before joining them for a walk, run or cycling.
My Nile Tulip shoes (they are in their final days and need replacement) smashed into the right peddle and I began cycling. The time was 6.45AM and the sunlight was finally seeping through the tree canopies above me. But the semi-darkness was still hanging in the moist atmosphere and I loved that. It felt like constantly sniffing an intensely fresh aroma.
A sudden burst of morning wind blew into from the thousands of leaves around me, causing a raucous rustle. What a beautiful sound, I thought. This same thought trickled into my mind when I descended to the banks of Karura River and heard the roar of the baby waterfall. The only reason this baby waterfall exists is because the river overran the bridge. These days, cyclists like myself have to use the pedestrian footpath a few meters away from the bridge that has now become a riverbed.
I wish I could ride up this steep ascent. I thought as I pushed my bike up the track that ascends from the river to join Wangari Maathai Track. But my bike gears were not changing smoothly, so I didn’t want to risk messing up the bike and having to walk it back to the parking. That would be a shame because bikes are created to be rode, not walked.
A bird chirped. I barely registered the chirp since at that moment I was hurtling down Wangari Maathai Track. The whoooooa! Was filling my ears and charging my spirit. But despite that, the soft chirp still managed to fly into my ears. I wish I could know exactly which bird that is, I thought. I once met an avid birder in Watamu, Kilifi County, who spits out birds names as soon as he hears their chirps. How does one even differentiate between these chirps! I wondered as I jumped off my bike at junction 33.
There is a little tree at junction 33 that I usually lean on to catch my breath and just soak in the nature around me. I blew a kiss at the tree as I sank into the ground and leaned against its slender trunk. Aaaah, it felt good. A breeze crawled through the hundreds of trees in front of me and brushed against my eyebrows. I took a deep breath. My chest danced in joy.
The breeze changed into a wind and some leaves broke free from the trees. They started flying around, unsure whether to aim for the sky or fall to the ground. They were just there - suspended in a gentle salsa. Another chirp penetrated the wind’s loud howl. This particular chirp was deeper and louder. It was soon followed by an even deeper one, then a softer one. But I couldn’t see any of the birds. They were walking in the footsteps of the wind - they could only be felt and heard, not seen. I closed my brown eyes and took another deep breath as I listened to the beautiful forest sounds - rustling leaves, singing birds and a howling wind.
These sounds kept me going for the fifty kilometers that I cycled in the forest that morning.
What are the soundtrack of your life? Whatever they are, be sure to click 'play' on the sounds of nature, from time to time. In the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, 'nature's music flows from God's bosom. It stirs the spirit and engraves a smile into your heart.'
On the morning of Sunday 26th July 2020, Francis Busula, whose nickname was Flash, woke up in his usual cheerful spirit.
Like a real Luhya man, he drank two cups of tea during breakfast. Two big cups. Tea and bread. He ate together with his wife Jane, son Lenny and twin daughters.
The previous night, he had convened and chaired a meeting for residents of the Umoja 1 Court where he had been staying for thirteen years. The meeting was occasioned after the passing on of a female neighbor. She died of Covid-19.
“Exercise extreme caution and be very careful because as we have seen from the tragic loss of our neighbor, Corona is real,” Flash had informed the attentive meeting.
That’s the kind of man he was. A leader. He was the Chairman of the residents association in that locality. He was the first born in a family of five brothers. He was also their surrogate father and mother since their parents had already crossed over into eternity. He was a part owner of a security company into which he had invested a lot of his resources and passion. Most important, he was father of five children and a husband to his loving wife Jane.
On that morning of Sunday 26th July after breakfast, Flash sat in the balcony of his first floor house with his wife. They basked in the warm Sunday sunshine, a rare gift in the cold month of July.
The previous day, before he chaired the residents’ association meeting, Flash had visited his wife’s kibanda (temporary wooden shed for business), something that he rarely did. Usually, he would just pass by, say a quick cheerful hello and proceed to wherever he was going. But that evening of Saturday 25th, he had sat there and engaged her in a deep conversation.
“You need to expand this business,” he had told her, “apart from the duvets and attire that you are selling, you can also start selling groceries.”
“Have faith that such an expansion is possible,” he had told her.
As they were talking, two customers stopped by and asked about the price of some items.
She engaged them cheerfully as he watched with a silent smile. They bargained and she smiled as she nudged them to ‘ongeza kidogo’ add a little more, to the amount they were offering. They obliged and handed her two thousand shillings.
“You see!” he told her with a big smile after the customers left, “this business can grow. Just have faith!”
He added with a cheeky glint in his brown eyes, “It looks like I have brought luck to your business today.”
“You should be coming more often,” she said.
That was yesterday. But today as he sat with her in the balcony, they just soaked in the sun and engaged in the kind of cheery conversations that they both usually sank into from time to time. You see, they are both jovial souls. Laughter comes easily for both of them. They are the kind of people that drive conversation in a room. The kind that switches easily between deep conversation and casual conversation.
After the balcony moments, she groomed his hair. Yes, she does that on a regular basis. Her hands delved into his hair, massaged his head.
“Buy some eggs for your father and make them for his lunch.” She instructed the kids. Eggs and ugali. Then she left for her kibanda to start her hustle. Yesterday had ended well with that Ksh2,000 sale and she was hoping that today would also be a good business day.
During lunch, Flash told his kids not to buy the eggs and just serve him the Sukuma wiki (kales) that they had cooked.
“Mmezipika poa sana,” you have cooked the vegetables very well. He told them.
Father and kids enjoyed a typical Kenyan meal of ugali and Sukuma wiki for lunch. After drinking water and relaxing a bit, he decided to go for a walk. He descended the narrow staircase, opened the gate, turned right and walked towards the main road. A short while later, he arrived at his usual barbershop. He wasn’t there for a shave, but just to say hello. That’s the kind of guy he was. Mtu wa watu. A people’s person.
After some laughter and banter, he left with one of the barbers and they walked for a short distance to his wife’s kibanda.
She offered him a seat as the barber excused himself and left.
“Go and get for me my phone from the house,” she told their nineteen-year old son Lenny, who sometimes deputized her in the kibanda.
“Do you know that you can just get twenty thousand and expand this business,” Flash told his wife Jane.
“Twenty thousand from where?” She asked him.
“Usikuwe na imani ndogo,” Don’t be of little faith. He told her.
About two minutes later, there was a pause in the conversation. She looked at him and noticed that he had tilted his head to the left, as if he had dozed off. But his eyes were open, so she thought he was joking.
She walked over to him and shook him. His hands stretched out before him. She knew then that all was not well. Because he was mtu wa watu, people flocked to her kibanda within moments.
Jane called Oscar, her husband’s brother and informed him hysterically that Flash had collapsed. When he received Jane’s call, Oscar was with Allan, their younger brother. They set off immediately from Donholm estate to Umoja 1.
As the brothers were speeding towards their brother, Jane and a section of the crowd that had gathered applied all the first aid that they could but Flash remained unresponsive. They commandeered a passing car to take him to a hospital that was about five hundred meters away. His son Lenny had rushed back to the kibanda when he saw people running towards it. He cradled his father’s head in the back seat of the car as it sped to hospital.
He was declared dead on arrival. It was about 5PM.
Jane called Allan.
“What is Jane is saying?” Oscar asked Allan.
“Flash has died.”
The two brothers never got a chance to see their beloved big brother alive again.
When Flash sat on that seat in his wife’s kibanda barely one hour earlier, he was about to engage in the final conversation of his life on earth.
When he enjoyed ugali and Sukuma wiki with his three kids during lunch, that was his final lunch on earth.
When he drank two big cups of tea with bread during breakfast, that was his final breakfast on earth.
When he sat in the balcony with his wife Jane to bask, converse and laugh, that were their final balcony moments.
Later that day, at about 4.30PM, Flash simply tilted his head and departed the world.
Let us remember the words that he spoke in the final five minutes of his life.
“Usikuwe na imani ndogo.” Don’t be of little faith.
At exactly 6.37 AM on July 7th 2020, I jumped onto Moja my beloved Bike, waved bye to The Growler, my equally beloved Subaru Forrester, car and started cycling. A minute later, I remembered that I hadn’t tucked in my sports pants, so I alighted and tucked them into my socks. I know that I look rather goofy when I do so but I on several occasions, I almost tumbled off the bike when the lower edges of my sports pants became entangled in the bike’s pedals. And as we have learned from Will Smith’s wife Jada Pinkett, entanglement ain’t a pretty thing! That’s why they invented cycling pants, which are more like tights and hence have no wide bottom edges that can become entangled with the pedals.
When my bike’s joyous wheels rolled into the Middle Track, I adjusted my seating and readied to start fast and furious peddling. The kind of cycling where the forest’s howling slapsyour ears and sinks into your mind as you keep hearing whoooooa… whooooooa… whoooooa! Man, its a sweet feeling. Almost as sweet as that ultimate sweet feeling - when you are worshiping God and you feel like heaven is beginning to seep into your spirit. To put it differently, the whoooooooa! Feeling is almost like ecstasy but pure and pristine with zero physical or emotional mess after the deed. Haha.
Today I will finish a full marathon distance of 42 kilometers. I told myself with a smile as I peddled even more furiously, chasing the whooooaaaa! For the four decades that I have been on planet earth, I have never walked, run or cycled a full marathon distance of 42 kilometers. Yet Eliud Kipchoge, the Greatest Of All Time marathoner has probably lost count of the number of times he has covered 42 kilometers on his legendary two legs. The thought of Eliud spurred me on and set my feet ablaze. Whooooa! Ah, that delicious howl was finally in my grateful head. The wind was slapping my ears, flowing through my mind and massaging my heart.
I completed the first kilometer in an average speed of 13 kilometers per hour, which was actually very slow for Yves, my Cameroonian friend who cycles like he is racing with the wind.
In the middle of the second kilometer, a Suni antelope leaped across the track so fast that I would have missed it if I had blinked. Before my eyes could feast on its petite, lithe body, it had vanished into the forest’s undergrowth. God, I love the Suni antelope. It is cuteness personified. If you have never seen it, go to Karura Forest very early, before 8AM and the God who created this Suni might just decide to bless you with its sighting.
Seeing that Suni fired me up so much that I cycled the second kilometer in 18.4 kilometers per hour. That is Yves’ warm up speed, but hey, am just a year old in cycling and was weighing 95 kilos just four months ago in February. I was so heavy that my artist friend Mr. Green once said that a WhatsApp profile photo of me cycling reminded him of Papa Shirandula. I was offended then, but am honored now. Papa Shirandula, the great thespian who now dines with angels left indelible acting and inspirational footprints in this world before he tragically departed it on July 18 2020.
Are your own footprints the best that you have to offer to yourself and to the world? Are you leaving excellence and inspiration in your trail? Never forget that nobody compares to you, so you owe it to your Creator, to yourself and to the world to be very best that you can be.
Thanks to the whoooooa! and the fire in my legs, I cycled the fifth kilometer at 22 kilometers per hour. I was finally in Yves’ territory. However, the problem was not only maintaining that kind of speed but also increasing it. The average speed of the Tour de France riders is 40.58kph. But in my defense, they are professional cyclists who live, eat, breath and dream cycling.
What do you live, eat, breath and dream?
Apart from the whoooooa!, Karura Forest’s lush nature was setting me ablaze with energy. I even decided to ride up a steep track from Karura River to Wangari Maathai Track. To my utter surprise, I managed that steep ride without hopping off the bike, as most cyclists usually do. Indeed, it is critical to create a goal and throw your all at that goal.
If you forget everything in this story, don’t forget these six words - throw your all at a goal.
About eight kilometers later, just a few meters before Tara Path, I saw a colony of safari ants crossing the path. Their sighting unlocked a flood of memories from my childhood when I was forever entranced by the millions of safari ants that I saw back then with my brothers and sisters.
Although I wanted to take photos and a video of these ants in Karura, I decided against it since I was on a roll and wanted to keep the momentum going. Besides, nobody can stop the wind once it starts blowing ferociously, right? It only stops because it wants to, not because of the voices of haters – or ants for that matter.
Once you get going, (doing the right stuff!) keep going. Just keep going baby.
Back to Karura that morning, there was a rather sharp corner into Tara Path that always intimidated me into alighting and turning the corner on my feet, not the bike. But this time, I was determined to maneuver the corner while still riding. Which is exactly what I did successfully. Indeed, you can’t stop the wind from blowing.
Four hours later, when I rode into the presence of a tall, slender tree that goes by the Swahili name of Mnyasa and the scientific name of Newtonia buchananii, my feet were completely weary. By then, I had already covered more than forty kilometers. But the sight of this tree energized me and caused me to jump off my bike so that I could walk closer to it and hug it. Trying hugging a tree one of these fine days. I promise you that it will leave a smile on your face. And if you are tuned in, you might just hear the voice of God (or feel His presence) seeping through that tree.
I ended up finishing 45.69 kilometers in 4 hours, 17 minutes, which translated into an average speed of 10.7 kilometers per hour. Yves would probably have completed the same distance in an average speed of twenty-something kph! But give me a break, I was weighing 95 kilos just four months ago. What matters is that my cycling wind has started blowing and if I remain consistent, it will keep getting stronger. Whooooa! Oh, what a sweet feeling. One that can flow into others aspects of your life, if consistency remains the name of the game.
I selected three small arrowroots from the white container and warmed them. I need some energy for today’s run. I thought as I began munching them a few minutes later. It was Monday 27 July, 2.45 AM. I wanted to avoid previous problems of eating too close to a run and ending up belching too frequently during the run.
I had rested well the previous day on Sunday, so I was all set for the run. After finalizing my day’s target of the ‘Fallen Tree’ book that I was writing, I retreated back to bed for a brief rest before the run.
At 4.20AM, I sank into the reed armchair in my corridor, slipped into my Nile Tulips running shoes and walked out of the house. The cold breeze extracted from me an instant smile.
When I started running a few minutes later, I was not too happy with my pace. It was rather slow. Even when I hastened it after a 10-second break, I still felt that I was running too slowly. I was even expecting that I would end up covering this first kilometer in some lousy time of 5:40 seconds and above. But to my surprise, I managed a much better time of 5:19 seconds.
The target for the second kilometer was sub-5:30. I broke into an easy run until Moi Drive then increased my pace. My right hip creaked in protest so I slowed down a bit. Thankfully, the resultant pace of 5:27 minutes was well within my target. On to the third kilometer.
At the Umoja 2 matatu terminus, Owino, a newspaper vendor-turned-matatu-tout was already shouting for people to board the next matatu.
“Hamsini beba, hamsini beba!” Fifty shillings! Fifty shillings! He shouted in his deep, loud voice.
I half expected two other matatu conductors there to throw at me some cheeky remarks about running this early but thankfully, they minded their own business. I will not pause midway this third kilometer to rest. I decided and ran on, finishing the kilometer in 5:25 minutes. On to the fourth kilometer.
Things began to unravel one minute into the fourth kilometer. My right hip wasn’t behaving. It’s as if it needed some greasing. But I soldiered on, hopeful that maybe it just needed some more warming up. But just before I reached Mama junction, after the midway point of the fourth kilometer, sharp pain in my right hip brought me to a halt. I paused the running app, stopped it altogether and sighed in disappointment. This run was over. There would be no new record today; no sweat gathering on my forehead and chest as the soles of my shoes kept smashing into the ground.
But I didn’t want to turn back, so I decided to translate the morning run into a morning walk.
If someone had taken a photo of me as I walked alongside Kangundo Road at 4.50AM, that photo would have been used to showcase despondency. I just couldn’t believe that instead of racing down this road with a grin in my heart, I was half-limping in dejection. I tried to run again but only lasted for a few steps. My right hip was on strike.
Am I paying the price for Saturday’s fast run? I wondered. In a sense, yes. That fast run had strained my hip flexors muscles. It was therefore important for me to strengthen and stretch these muscles through regular, relevant muscles.
According to webMD, hip flexors are a ‘group of muscles near the top of your thighs that are key players in moving your lower body. They let you to walk, kick, bend, and swivel your hips. But if your muscles are too tight or if you make a sudden movement, your hip flexors can stretch or tear.’ In addition, overuse or overreach of these muscles can result in the pain and discomfort like the one that transformed my run that Monday morning into a dejected walk.
The good news is that I now know what to do in order to strengthen my hip flexors and enhance their flexibility. Strength and flexibility are the two ingredients that make for healthy muscles. That’s how later that Monday, I found myself doing the bridge pose.
This yoga pose entails lying on the back with knees bent and hands and feet on the mat. Once you have done that, lift your lower back off the ground as high as possible (but don’t overdo it!) and hold on for about 10 - 60 seconds.
Such workouts that strengthen and stretch the hip flexors should become a staple of your exercises.
Let’s go running, walking or dancing now! (or simply engage in any physical activity that will break some sweat). And let’s not forget the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, “open the door to more health by wiping some sweat from your forehead regularly.”
I wasn’t supposed to go for my morning run on the morning of Saturday July 25th. When my eyes slammed shut the previous night, I had closed the door to a morning run. I never go for this morning run during weekends because I have always been convinced that there are fewer people out that early, meaning that it’s not safe.
When my eyes flicked open at 1.30AM to start writing, the morning run was still out of question. Its only when I retreated back to bed at about 3.30 for some brief relaxation that a thought occurred to me - Saturday mornings are not as deserted as Sunday mornings, so maybe I could go for my run today. Hot on the heels of this thought was the feeling that this one run could make a world of a difference to my overall running and fitness progress.
Just like that, the morning run would now take place for the first time, on a Saturday morning. I felt good. Even as I sat at my desk and typed away ‘Green Decisions,’ a book that am currently writing, there was some confidence both in my body and heart, that this would be a good run.
At 5:01AM, I stepped out of my living room into the sweet embrace of the morning breeze. As I walked, my thighs felt rather tense, as if running would be a problem. The quadriceps muscles at the front of my thighs were in a lousy mood and rather tense. Maybe I should just go back to the house. I pushed away this thought and decided that I would know the real state of my body once I began running.
As usual, I began running at Kamuti’s Butchery. It took me only seven steps to know that my body was just fine. But out of caution, I ran at a slower pace than the usual one. Little did I know that this caution was going to usher me into a sweet, fast run. My slower pace inadvertently pushed me into the controlled, even breathing that is advisable while running. I had once watched a YouTube video on this, in the ‘Run Experience’ YouTube channel.
“Breathing is a muscular and mechanical thing that can be trained and improved,” Coach Nate had said in the video.
I covered the first kilometer in 5:27 minutes. This was more than 10 seconds slower than my fastest speed over this first kilometer - 5:15 minutes. But I felt good and so I decided to continue running with this even pace and breathing evenly. I completed the second kilometer in 5:20 minutes; the third kilometer in 5:22 minutes; the fourth kilometer in 5:37 minutes and the fifth kilometer in 5:27 minutes.
I won’t bore you with the actual times of the remaining seven kilometers. Suffice it to say that by the time I landed back at Whitehouse my usual finish line, my average speed was 05:38 min/km a brand new record. Five Thirty Eight Bliss. For the first time ever on this route, I had run below 5:40 minutes per kilometer. Oh Happy Day! Five Thirty Eight Bliss.
To think that this morning run wasn’t even supposed to happen because of a very convenient excuse! Indeed, in the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, “when you make excuses, you pave the way for failure.” He also added that, “the road of triumph is lined with slain excuses.”
Nike Free 3.0. This is the Nike Brand of running shoes that my feet slipped into that morning of 6th of July. I bought them in Gikomba flea market sometimes in 2018. I bought them alongside three other pairs. But these have always been my favorite, and there is a big reason for that. I even gave them a name - Nile Tulip, named after one of my favorite trees. John, the guy who sold them to me is from Coastal Kenya. A short, stout and light-skinned fellow, he is one of those semi-jovial people. In a one-minute conversation with him, he will come forth as both reserved and outgoing. It’s as if his personality can’t quite decide what it wants to be.
At exactly 4.40AM, the Nile Tulips hit the ground running. Within three steps, I knew that this would be an awesome run. The hamstring muscles at the back of my thighs were relaxed like a dawn ocean breeze. They were unleashing the power in my legs. The quadriceps muscles at the front of my thighs were also on a roll, as were the adductor muscles that live inside my thighs. With these trio of muscles smiling widely, my beloved shoes were springing ahead, faster and faster.
When I finished the first kilometer, my running app known as mapmywalk informed me that I had completed that first kilometer in 5:19 minutes. I smiled at the full moon. I had never run the first kilometer this fast. After saluting the moon, I excitedly gazed down at my Nile Tulips and silently thanked Phil Knight for founding Nike shoe company way back in 1964, when Barack Obama was three years old.
In 2018 when I bought the Nile Tulips, I was so impressed with them that I decided to read the entire story of Nike. Luckily for me, two years earlier, Phil Knight the founder of Nike had published ‘Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike.’ For one week, I devoured this book and drew immense inspiration from the story of Nike. I learnt how the ‘NIKE’ name was revealed in a dream to Jeff Johnson, an early employee of the company. Its the name of the Greek goddess of victory.
As I ran along Moi Drive and approached the Umoja 2 Junction, I looked down at my Nike shoes and felt like giving them a high-five. I felt energized by the knowledge that my Nike shoes had their origins in the business dreams of Phil Knight, his co-founder Bill Bowerman and their early employees. Thanks to those business dreams, I was able to wear these Nike sneakers that helped me to complete the second kilometer in 5:26 minutes. For the third kilometer along Usain Stretch, I ran even faster and finished it in 5:19 minutes.
This fast pace lingered on for the entire 11.5 kilometers, resulting in an average of 5.45 minutes per kilometer, my best ever time on this route.
When I entered my house all sweaty and weary, I removed my shoes and gave them a long, loving look.
“We did it!” I said jubilantly to them.
I will run the first kilometer in less than 5:20 minutes. I will then run the second kilometer in less than 5:40 minutes.
These two resolutions were ringing in my mind as I slipped on my purple running top and marched out of the house into the biting cold of a July morning. Bariki, our long-serving neighborhood shopkeeper was still asleep, as was evidenced by the darkness in his shop.
Four minutes later, I was at Kamuti’s butchery, the starting line of my morning run.
On your marks… I told myself… Set… Go! I sped off, eager to complete this first kilometer in less than 5:20 minutes. After the first few steps, I breathed a sigh relief. My hips, knees, thighs and ankles felt good so I gradually increased my speed.
I knew that this would be a good run when I ran effortlessly past a STOP sign where I normally pause to rest for a few seconds. When I finished this first kilometer, I was thrilled to learn that I had completed it in 5:10 minutes. Awesome! I fist-bumped the cold air.
I ended up finishing the second kilometer in 5:16 minutes and the third one in 5:15 minutes. Because I finished the fourth and fifth kilometers in 5:44 minutes and 5:23 minutes respectively, my total time for the first 5k was 26:48 minutes.
By my standards, this was a blistering pace that set the tone for the rest of the run. It took me 1 hour, 6 minutes and 8 seconds to complete the 11.57-kilometer run. This translated to an average pace of 5:42 minutes per kilometer – a new record that beat the old one of 5:46 min/km by a good 4 seconds.
In the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, ‘consistency delivers the sweet taste of victory.’