It has been four days since I last ran. My body is rusty. My running shoes are clean. I think about them as I hit the rhino stretch. Just after Tumaini Primary school, I see the first rat. In the course of six kilometers between Umoja estate and Komaroch estate, I see four more. Big rats. The kind that would make some cats think twice before pouncing. Talking of cats, at the Usain Stretch, a cat runs in front of me for about one hundred meters. It becomes my pace setter. In parts of Kenya it is considered to be a bad omen for a cat to cross your path first thing in the morning. In this case, it is running ahead of me, not crossing my path. So we shall assign that phenomena to a good omen. Remember that. Next time a cat runs in front of you, as if leading you, its a good omen. It means that you are about to purr into something really sweet.
As I hurtle along Kangundo road, I begin to feel a bouncing ball in my stomach. Evidently, my stomach is full of gas, which is now making running to be rather uncomfortable. I don’t like this. It pretty much marks the end of my proper running today. It means that for the remaining part of the race, I will have to walk briskly most of the time and only steal a few runs. Which means that I am not going to improve at all on my time today. Sad. But c’est la vie.
Keep running. And if you can’t run, then walk. Keep moving forward.
Could you walk a bit slower please? The plump lady requested me. A beige shawl was draped over her shoulders. Seconds earlier, she had looked sideways at me and given me a smiling look. I wondered if I knew her from somewhere. Turns out she was afraid of the guy behind her. A tall fellow with an unkind face. It was 5.20AM and there were only a handful of people on the road. The Rhino Stretch. I had paused my run to catch a breather when she requested me to slow down. I walked with her to the police post a about half a kilometer away.
Slightly more than one hour earlier at 4AM sharp, I was outside my gate ready to start the morning run. Minutes later at Kamuti’s Butchery, I met with a handcart puller. He had a black cap that he was putting on backwards. He was being trailed by two dogs. They were brown in color, which seems to be the most popular dog-color this way. A few meters behind, two other larger dogs were barking menacingly at the dogs that had just passed. I was about to speed past them when I felt a tingle in my right ankle and decided to take it easy. I slowed down into a slow jog, which was disheartening because I had been hoping to improve on my average speed that morning.
Thirty minutes and five kilometers later, that eighteen year old guy that I had seen the previous day overtook me. He was running so fast that I envied him. Something stirred within me and I bolted. He had slowed down and was walking. I sped past him. He will not catch up, I vowed, knowing full well that I just had to run really fast for one hundred meters then I would turn left and he would proceed straight on. I knew his route. He didn’t catch up. When I turned left, I glanced behind me and saw him looking at me in puzzlement. He was probably wondering how I had run that fast. One of the advantages of running with others is that you keep pace setting for each other.
Two kilometers later at Usain Stretch, something awesome happened. I discovered a relaxed yet fast way of running! Three years earlier when I used to run every weekday at Jaffery Sports club in Lavington, this tall, middle-aged guy would occasionally show up. I would be running really decent speeds of less than five minutes per kilometer, then he would just overtake me. Yet he appeared to be merely running casually. Zero-strain runs. And there I was running my fastest speeds but straining like hell. I would stare at him and wonder how on earth he could do that. Well, on that Thursday run, I stumbled into his secret. It boils down to internalizing running, which comes with consistency.
Three days later on 26th April, it was just me and the sweet 4AM breeze again. My pacing was great. So I finished the first kilometer in decent time. I felt a light twitch in my right ankle but I ran on, as I listened carefully to my ankle. The second kilometer’s time sucked because I had to pee so I lost momentum and some valuable ten seconds. I ran well in the third kilometer. Then my body gifted me with a pleasant surprise. My sole target had been to try run for the entire km without stopping. Two matatus at the matatu stage threatened to derail this goal but I ran on. I was feeling good. I finished km 4 then decided to run on up to the potholed road. I was feeling good so I ran on until I finished km 5. The lady on ‘mapmywalk,’ my running app told me that I had run five kilometers in 30 mins… great! Even greater, I had achieved a 2021 milestone of running two kms without resting at all. Awesome stuff. I ended up finishing the entire 11.5 km run in my best average speed in more than a year - 6.19mins/km. Two days later on 29th, I improved on this speed by one second and was thrilled that I was making steady progress towards my previous speeds of sub-6 minutes. It is better to take consistent, small steps forward than large, inconsistent steps.
Running requires consistency, which results in incremental steps forward. Before you know it, you will be running speeds that you could never have imagined, and it will all appear so natural.
Beads of sweat broke through the left side of my head and trickled gently down my left forehead. I could feel the sweat. I smiled at it because it meant that my running was gaining momentum. I also smiled at the sight in front of me. I liked what I was seeing. This was going to help me run faster. There was no matatu at the matatu stop that was two hundred meters ahead of me. There would usually be a matatu or two parked there, waiting for pre-dawn passengers to town.
Great! I thought with a smile. Another trickle of perspiration formed at the right side of my forehead. With no matatus parked in front of me, it will be easier to run right through that stop! That thought triggered a faster speed in my legs. Soon, within half a minute, I was speeding by the matatu stop along Kangundo Road. I skipped across several baby bumps that were scattered across the pedestrian pathway and sped on. Then I saw yet another sight that caught my attention. But this time, it elicited a frown, not a smile.
Why? I wondered. Why is she appearing wobbly? Why does she appear unsure, whether she wants to sit on the cold, tarmac pathway or to cross the road? And who is the other lady a few feet behind her? The one talking with the boda boda rider who stopped abruptly before the two ladies jumped off? All these questions took away attention from my legs which left them free to run faster. Within moments I was running past the wobbly lady. I caught snippets of conversation between the boda boda rider and the other lady. He must have been ferrying the two ladies to hospital - probably Mama Lucy because it was less than a kilometer ahead of them - and then his motor bike broke down.
The wobbly lady is on her way to have a baby. This thought triggered memories of Remy, my sister Charity’s five-day old baby. I had seen him just the previous day. He was yanked out of her stomach by caesarean section at about 6.45 AM, last Tuesday 13th April. His older brother Raul had also been born in April four years earlier. I forget which month his other brother Ravy was born. But he is two years and a couple of months older older than the new baby. My sister is now the proud mother of three boys. She's got her own brood of three wise men.
By the time I was done reminiscing about the three boys, I was already hurtling down Malewa Road 2 in Komarock Estate. Those reminisces had occupied my mind for nearly five minutes. I ran up, up and up until I turned round at the fuel station and walked for a few seconds to catch my breath. Then I broke into a run again. After two minutes of fast, steady running, a thought parachuted into my mind. I hadn't invited it. It just landed. One second I was running with a relatively blank mind, and the next second, an alien negative thought was right there in the very center of my mind.
You can’t run all the way to your house. You still have six kilometers to go! That’s too far and you are already tired. You better save yourself all this hustle and walk back instead of running. These words didn’t trickle into my mind one by one. They fused into a singular thought that just dropped straight into my mind. I didn’t invite it, but I served it tea and mandazi. I gave it audience, entertained it and listened attentively. Then I walked back home.
Your mind is super powerful. It will make or break you. Your mind belongs to you so control what goes in there. If a negative thought drops in unannounced, DON’T entertain it. Eject it before it starts dictating not just your moods but your actions too. One effective way of ejecting negative thoughts is to deliberately introduce positive thoughts into your mind as soon as that negative thought makes its entry.
You can’t run all the way to your house. You still have six kilometers to go!
I can run back home and I will run back home. Didn’t Eliud Kipchoge run 42 kilometers in less than two hours?! I will run back home. Didn’t Usain Bolt run 100 meters in 9.58 seconds?! I will run back home. Didn’t my sister give birth to three bouncing baby boys within a span of four years?! I will run back home.
My target this morning - an average speed of 6.30 per kilometer. Since I resumed running a couple of weeks ago, I had been running twice a week during the week days. But from this week, I will be running every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. My target is to slash off 10 seconds every time I run. So far so good. Will I make it today though? On Monday I ran an average of 6.33 which slashed a whopping 20 seconds of my previous average. That’s why today I am still allowed to run in the 6.30s range. My previous faster run gives me this luxury. Besides, I have learned to improve my speeds incrementally, not exponentially.
I am on rhino stretch, so named because one year ago when I was still weighing 95 kilos, I used to resemble a rhino whenever I ran along this stretch. Actually, ‘ran’ is a misleading word. I used to teeter along, sort of running but more like walking very fast. My generous pot belly back then simply wouldn’t allow me to break free from that no-man’s land between fast walking and slow jogging.
I am supposed to stop at this junction and walk for a few meters to catch my breath. It’s the half-way point of the first kilometer. But am feeling good so I run on. I attribute this to my even breathing. To run optimally, your breath must be in consonance with your steps. Those two must be in agreement.
Since running is a strenuous activity, it pushes your respiratory system into overdrive, thus causing your body to demand for more oxygen. Consequently, you start ejecting the carbon dioxide buildup in your system. All this causes your breathing to be more difficult.
Back to our run, I end up running for the entire first kilometer in 5.59 minutes. Not bad. Of course this is still way slower than my good 2020 runs but its the first time I have run a sub-6 kilometer since resuming running this year. One step at a time.
Think about the touch of the morning or evening breeze as you run. It usually feels as if the breeze accompanies you for the entire run. If you acknowledge its presence and give it a high-five from time to time, the breeze will power you on. It did that for me this morning. When I arrived back at White House 1 hour and 14 minutes later, I had finished my run in an average speed of 6.26 mins/km. Hmmm… I exceeded my target.
It is always better to set realistic goals and exceed them than to set unrealistic goals and keep falling short. Once you gain momentum, go for that crazy ambitious target and throw everything in you at it. This is true for running and for all other endeavors in life.
Decision. Incremental. Consistency. Go back to the beginning and read those three words again.
Now pause, close your eyes and imagine that you are writing those three words on the blackboard of your mind. Let them sink in because they can catapult you into a powerful present that births an equally powerful tomorrow. In short, those three words can change your life for the better.
Decision. A decision ignites decisive action. Will I turn left or will I turn right? Will I go faster or slower? Will I take this one or that one? Will I go here or there?
Every morning or the night before, you have to make a decision about what clothes you will wear. The black top or the green one? The striped shirt or checked one? However long you remain undecided about what to wear, you eventually have to make that decision. Unfortunately, critical life decisions are often left unmade because of fear, procrastination and complacency. For instance, we often delay making a decision on healthy eating until a disease forces us to finally do so. Such forced decisions are in some respects like a car that is being pulled by a tow truck as opposed to one that you are driving yourself.
Incremental. I have struggled with this word a lot, especially when am pursuing my passions.
In mid-August 2020, I made a decision to go for 12k runs four times a week and for 40 kilometer cycling once a week. That would leave only two days for rest and recovery. It was quite a tall order since I usually ran twice a week and cycled once.
On the second Monday of August, I dashed out of the house and ran for 12k. My legs were in good shape and I notched a good average speed. I rested on Tuesday, then ran another 12k on Wednesday. On Thursday, I cycled for 43 kilometers in Karura Forest. The following day on Friday, I arose early as usual and matched out of the house ready to run.
As always, I had switched on my running app at Kamuti’s butchery and started running. It took exactly one minute for my body to remind me of that vital word - incremental. Essentially, incremental means ‘one step at a time.’ Come to think of it, that’s how we all walk. Nobody can walk two steps at a time. The stride length may vary, but it’s always one step at a time. Even if you skip and hop, you still have to take one step at a time. Not even Usain Bolt, the fastest man ever, is exempted from this principle. He also had to run one step at a time.
That Friday morning after running for barely a minute, my legs seemed to turn into both sponge and steel. They became rigid, yet mushy. I stopped running, took a U-turn and walked back home. It had been my shortest run ever. I should have increased the frequencies of my runs incrementally, not just made a radical shift from two runs to four runs.
Arrogance and impatience are sworn enemies of incremental. Arrogance whispers in our ears that ‘rules of gradual progress don’t apply to you.’ Impatience whispers in the other ear that, ‘why take one step at a time when you can simply cut corners?’ I had listened to these whispers and assumed that my muscles didn’t need to recover at all. After all, five years ago, I used to run every weekday. I told myself. Well, that was five years ago. That’s where the third word - consistency - comes in.
Commitment (decision) gets you started, incremental keeps you going one step at a time and consistency gets you there. Inconsistency robs us of our progress and takes us back to square one. Inconsistency always engages the reverse gear. It pulls you back, then you have to start again, then it pulls you back, then you have to get started again. Tragically, most people become entangled in this back and forth dance for their entire lives. Don’t be one of those people.
Consistency is the wind that keeps blowing momentum into your sails. That momentum generates even more momentum. Whatever you do, don’t lose this momentum.
There is a twitch in my left ankle but am hopeful that it’s nothing serious. At Kamuti’s Butchery, the usual starting line of my morning run, I fish out my black Samsung phone and click on mapmywalk, my running app. In my mind, I hear the starting gun and start running at a mid-pace. I feel good. I almost wave at three ladies who are standing at the roadside, conversing in low tones. One of them has a kikoi tied around her waist. It reminds me of the seven kikoi fabrics that I bought a few days ago from It’s Kadzo’s Line in Malindi. They are for Charlotte, our Sasafrica.Shop agent in Namibia.
These thoughts meander through my mind as I keep running at mid-pace. I am controlling my breathing and not just breathing haphazardly. Apart from the sound of my breath and the patter of my footsteps, there isn’t a single sound to be heard.
The time is 4.57AM, August 29th, Saturday. At the first junction on this Rhino stretch, I increase my pace slightly, aware that I can’t just sprint in the final two hundred meters of the first kilometer and expect to notch a good speed. After a minute, I increase the pace even more. I can see the finish line of the first kilometer. I resist a temptation to run faster and save my fastest pace in this kilometer, for the final one hundred meters. My running app informs me that I ran this kilometer in 5.19 minutes. Great! My target today is to run the first three kilometers in an average speed of below 5.20 minutes per kilometer.
My breathing is great. Even and steady. My stride is also longer. Thank God for the Yoga that I have been doing every day. It has greatly helped my hip flexor muscles that had been misbehaving a couple of weeks ago.
I feel like peeing. But there is no way I will stop to do so. That will mess up my momentum. I can now see the finish line of the second kilometer. So just like Eliud Kipchoge did when he saw the finish line at Vienna, I increase my pace drastically. There is a guy in front of me who is running fast but I catch up with him and overtake him at the second kilometer’s invisible finish line. Interestingly, I have run this second kilometer in exactly the same time as the first kilometer. 5.19 kilometers. So far so good.
This third kilometer is my favorite part of the race. Partly because it takes me right through Umoja 2, where we lived for many years. I run past the matatu terminus. Today, I can’t hear the booming voice of Owish, the former newspaper-vendor-turned-matatu-tout. I run on and increase my pace as soon as Kayole Spine Road comes into full view. I can hardly wait to reach the footpath that runs adjacent to this road. I christened it Usain Stretch because it has the feel of a stadium track - straight and bereft of any bumps or potholes.
This is it. I tell myself once my worn out running shoes hit the Usain Stretch. This is the time to run a consistently faster pace. Time to step up the gear. And so, unlike previous occasions when I usually hit high gears in the mid-section of the stretch, I increase my pace from the get go. Keep going man! I silently cheer myself on. Faster! Faster! I smile at this particular cheer, as it reminds me of stuff. Sweet stuff. When I cross the third kilometer’s finish line, I am informed that I ran this third kilometer in 5.13 minutes. Great! Looks like that sweet memory came in handy.
I can now see Kangundo Road. After a ten-second walking rest, I begin running at a medium pace. Once I hit Kangundo Road shortly, I will increase my pace. I tell myself, and proceed to do exactly that. Due to the success I had with the silent cheering words - faster! Faster! - I repeat them to myself and smile again. Interestingly, my legs respond and move faster. My heart rate also follows suit as does my breathing.
When I realize that my breathing is becoming uneven, I slow down slightly as my arms swing gently, next to my chest. I can now see the finish line of the fourth kilometer, so I run faster. I complete this third kilometer in 5.19 minutes. What! I smile into the darkness. That’s awesome! I had expected something like 5.28 minutes but obviously, the consistently faster pace plus those sweet memories are paying dividends. I punch my fist into the increasingly cold air and fist-bump an imaginary running guardian angel.
Time for the fifth kilometer now. This one is usually rather tricky. The road linking Kangundo Road and Kangaru Road in Komarock has too many potholes. The road’s footpath is even worse, with many rocks and mounds of sand. So I usually run slower here and with much more caution. That’s exactly what I do today.
But as soon as my feet land on Kangaru Road, I discard my Nissan car for an Alfa Romeo sports car. There was now a need for speed. Enter Malewa Road 2, which slopes downward. This is one of three sections where I run my fastest speeds. This particular section is the sweetest of the three because of its gently downward incline that stretches out for about three hundred meters. Today, the leopard in me emerges fully in this section. My strides are long, fast and confident. Just like Eliud Kipchoge’s. Of course the main difference between us is that he maintains those strides for 42 kilometers! I take my cap off for you bro. You are the G.O.A.T marathon runner.
I complete the fifth kilometer in 5.18 minutes. Unbelievable! I smile happily as I shake my head. Never have I run this section in such fast time. However, I don’t have much time to congratulate myself since I am now in the sixth kilometer, the hardest. It is the longest uphill incline in the route, so most of my worst times are usually in this kilometer. But I want today to be different. I will not allow the sixth kilometer to drag down my overall time. I will not. I narrow my eyes in determination and start running up at a moderate pace. My plan is to drastically increase the pace once the land levels out. This happens after three hundred meters and I instantly recall the leopard from the depths that it had recoiled into. It pounces back and hits the cold tarmac with a get-out-of-my-way growl.
I glance into the glass walls of a restaurant that sits in the final one hundred meters of Malewa Road 2. Those glass walls usually provide me with a clear reflection of my running frame. Good, I think with a faint smile. Watching myself run always gives me a clear indication whether I am running like a leopard or a warthog. If I notice that my shoulders are drooping and that my upper body is leaning forward too much, I know that the warthog is in the house. Thankfully, today the warthog is nowhere to be seen. I take full advantage of the downward incline and run faster.
The air is thick with intense hope that I will finally conquer this sixth kilometer. I turn left into the Kenol Petrol Station then right, then take another right that brings me back to Malewa Road 2. It is time to run back to Highbury apartment, home sweet home, following the same route.
I cannot allow this sixth kilometer to steal from my overall speed. I think and hasten my pace. The beauty of this return trip along Malewa Road 2 is that the same uphill incline that makes life difficult when you are running upward is now an extended downward incline, which now makes life easy. I throw everything into the run and hurtle down. Picture a lean rhino hurtling down a hill and you will see how I was running that cold morning. 5.31 minutes. Yes! I clench my fist and punch the air, fist bumping my running guardian angel. Yes! I have conquered this sixth kilometer. Never before have I run it this fast. My sixth-kilometer time is always upward of 5.4 minutes.
In life, conquering one challenge often paves the way for yet another challenge. You complete secondary school with unbridled joy, especially if you were in a boarding high school like me, only for college to sneer at you. You walk down the aisle and celebrate the conquering of singlehood, only for marital life to chuckle at you with a low growl, ‘if only you knew what you have gotten yourself into?!’
I only had about five seconds to celebrate the conquest of the sixth kilometer. Staring at me, was a gentle uphill climb of about 300 meters, the toughest part of this seventh kilometer. The gentle upward incline of these 300 meters makes the section, in some ways, to be trickier than the steeper incline whose descent I had just concluded. When you can see a clearly steep ascent, you prepare psychologically and tackle it accordingly. In similar fashion, if the source of a conflict with your loved one is clearly evident, you will address it in a very definite and hopefully decisive fashion. But when little things have piled up over time to create a conflict, you don’t even know exactly what you are addressing.
Those initial 300 meters of the seventh kilometer are like little things that had piled up. For the first fifty meters, I run it like it as if its flat land. This slows me down substantially, so I inject more energy into my strides just to restore my pace. About twenty meters before Kangaru Road, I try to run even faster but decide against it, afraid that I will run out of energy and mess up an otherwise good run.
At Kangaru road, I turn right, slow to a brief five-second walk then resume the run. This is usually a bittersweet stage of the run. On one hand, it’s thrilling that the distance I have covered by this point is now marginally more than the distance remaining. On the other hand, am usually acutely aware that despite my decreasing energy, I must maintain or even improve on the pace so that I can finish in decent time. Interestingly, this realization can be rather unnerving as it places onto your shoulders a huge load of responsibility. I push on and turn left into the potholed-road connecting Kangaru Road and Kangundo road. I decide not to rest at all and run on, eager to finish this seventh kilometer in a time below 5.4 minutes. I must hit that target. I must. Twenty seconds later, my weary shoes land on Kangundo road and I turn left.
This is it. I think with a faint smile. This final 300 meters will determine if I finish this seventh kilometer in a decent time. Because I am now running on a flat footpath that goes in a straight line for the entire Kangundo Road stretch, I hasten my pace drastically and sustain it with gritted teeth. I engage a higher gear and increase my stride length. A minute later, I finished the seventh kilometer in one of my best times for that kilometer - 5.31 minutes.
This time, I don’t shout, ‘yes!’ or punch the air. I am panting like a bulldog, so I just smile into the darkness. There are moments in life when you work so hard for something that when you finally get it, you don’t even have the energy to celebrate. But make sure you revel in the moment and later on, be sure to acknowledge and celebrate that triumph.
Now there is trouble ahead. The eighth kilometer. This is one of my three slowest kilometers. It has a stretch of about fifty meters with footpath bumps that usually slow me down, and a matatu stage that also forces me to slow down because there are usually two or three matatus right in front of me, waiting for passengers. With that in mind, I make a determination to run the fast half of this eighth kilometer before that matatu stage, in a consistently fast pace. But after about half a minute, I feel a slight twitch in my front, right thigh. Quadriceps muscles live in that section. I don’t want to antagonize, them, so I slow down a bit. The quadriceps return the favor and the twitch disappears. I complete the kilometer in 5.32 minutes. Great! I fist-bump my guardian angel and walk for ten seconds to catch my breath.
I sniff the cold air, smelling victory. I have run eight kilometers in superb, historic speed. Am determined to ensure that the remaining three and a half kilometers will not let me down. Because the upcoming tenth kilometer is usually my slowest kilometer, I purpose to run this current ninth kilometer as fast as possible.
It is time to switch on the Eliud gear. And so I engage my mind and imagine Eliud running the final kilometer of the historic INEOS 1:59 marathon. I imagine him beckoning to his pacemakers to make way for him. He bursts forth. The finish line is in sight. The arms of history are outstretched, ready to embrace him.
As I imagine Eliud Kipchoge racing down the final four hundred meters of his historic marathon, I realize to my surprise that I am also racing past Naivas supermarket on Kayole Spine Road. Ordinarily, I would have slowed down here for another ten-second rest. But not this time. Momentum is on my side. So I race on in long strides. I see from the corner of my left eyes that I have just overtaken a cyclist across the road. I smile, wishing that one of my friends would see me at this moment overtaking a cyclist!
I am now in the final 100 meters of the ninth kilometer, so I switch on the Usain gear and pull out of my legs their best possible sprint. 5.22min. Yes! Another fist bump to my guardian angel. I can’t recall having run this ninth kilometer this fast. Now for the tenth kilometer.
I do not like this tenth kilometer at all. Just as I don’t like the Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana) in Yoga. The thing with this tenth kilometer is that: Firstly, at this stage, my body is screaming for some rest since I have already been running for nine kilometers; then secondly, it is the stage of the run with the most human traffic. Most of the tenth kilometer is run on a footpath that is sandwiched between the busy Manyanja road and the populous Umoja 2 estate. So even though the time is 5.25AM, there are already people striding down the footpath and I have to maneuver between them as I run.
Since I already summoned Eliud Kipchoge to get me through the ninth kilometer, this time I summon David Rudisha. I instruct my mind to recall his historic 800 meter run in the 2012 London Olympics. In that epic run, he had led the pack for 600 of the 800 meters. In the final 300 meters, he simply rocketed ahead of everyone and smashed the World Record. He finished the race in 1:40.91 minutes. I finished the tenth kilometer in my fastest ever time for the tenth kilometer. 5.36 minutes. Another fist bump to my guardian angel. Now for the eleventh kilometer.
This eleventh kilometer should be one of my fastest. After all, it is the final full kilometer, a sure sign that am about to complete the morning run. So I should be able to run quite fast at this stage knowing that I will soon be in my beloved Highbury apartment. Highbury is the name of Arsenal Football Club’s old stadium. When they moved out of it in 2006, I decided to name my house Highbury, in honor of all those great Arsenal moments at Highbury.
Despite the thoughts of my warm house and its cordial delicious aura, the eleventh kilometer has remained a pain in my side. I suspect that because of bad pacing, am usually completely worn out by the time I hit this eleventh kilometer. As a result, since July, my time for this kilometer has consistently ranked amongst the third worst.
This Saturday morning, am so tired as I set off on the eleventh kilometer that I can’t even summon another great athlete to spur me on. So I lean back on my on dogged determination. I urge my legs forward. You are on the verge of setting your own personal history. Don’t screw it up at this stage. I tell myself and inject a little more pace into my legs. My heart rate has drastically increased. Come on Bwak! Am now panting too much. Am aware that since my breathing is all over the place, my pace is being affected. But I can’t help it. Sometimes in life, you just have to keep pushing yourself even when every ounce of strength in you is pulling you down. That’s what am doing at this stage. 5:39min. Yes! But am too tired to fist bump my guardian angel.
This is it. I just have to run the remaining half a kilometer at a faster pace. I tell myself. You are almost there Bwak. You are almost breaking your personal record. Give it your best shot. That’s exactly what am doing now. Firing from all cylinders. I break into a sprint that delivers me to the Whitehouse finish line in an average speed of 5.33min/km. When I skid to a stop, I feel a joyous anticipation as I fish out my phone, confident that I am about to glance at history. 05:25 min/km. Yes!! This is my new fastest ever speed on this morning run.
One of the best things about setting goals and pursuing them diligently is that when you do achieve them, the joy that floods your soul lifts you to heights of deep satisfaction and unbridled inspiration.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein
Grace’s soapy hands reached for one of the two glasses that she was about to wash. She grasped it then gasped when it slipped right through her fingers. Her attempt to rescue it only hastened its descent. A second later, it shattered into a million pieces. A broken glass.
A few days later, Grace saw her cycling dreams also fall with a resounding thud and shatter. She had been saving for a couple of months to buy a bike and start cycling to work. Then tragedy struck. Muchilwa, a beloved mutual friend of Grace and her then fiancé Pius was hit by a car while cycling along Naivasha Road in Nairobi. He was such a great guy. Gone too soon.
"You have to shelve that plan of cycling to work." Pius told her.
So she diverted the bike funds to other projects. She forgot about cycling to work and cycling as a whole. That was in 2014.
Five years later in 2019, her big brother Bwak bought a bike and started cycling consistently in Karura forest. At first, he cycled for only five kilometers, then 10, then 15, then 25. Then 50 kilometers. Before buying that bike, he didn't even know how to cycle. She used to tease him that he was the forty-year old cycling virgin. Now he was pedalling away like Usain Bolt on two wheels.
“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” He would tell her. She loved this equation. It reminded her not just of her earlier cycling dreams, but also of her childhood, when she learned to cycle at the age of ten.
Back then, Grace’s main motivation for cycling was so that she could run mama’s errands on a bike. Her mama is an amazing no-nonsense lady.
During holidays when Grace was in the village together with her siblings, her mama would give them all a myriad of daily duties: delivering milk to a dairy distributor that was five kilometers away; fetching water from the river; ferrying twenty kilos of maize to the posho mill for grinding; tilling grumpy, unresponsive land; and many more.
Some of these errands could be run more efficiently with a bike, which is what her brother Jemo and other male cousins used to do. Grace decided that if they could do it, so could she. Her grit pushed her push her short legs all the way to the pedals of a black mamba bike as she learnt how to cycle. Within days, she was also running errands on a bike, the tenacious black mamba, known in Europe and US as Roadster. This bike should receive a Nobel prize for the significant role it has played in rural Africa!
“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” her brother Bwak told her again in her living room, his wide grin splashed all over his face. He seemed happier about his new-found cycling passion than the rice and beef stew that she had prepared for him.
“You should meet Ben, the guy I bought my bike from!” he said as he added more beef stew, “he is so passionate about bikes and cycling! He is one of those rare people who is literally earning a decent living from his passion.”
That’s the moment Grace decided to buy a bike. But since she never, ever buys anything that hasn't passed through the rigorous conveyor belt of her budget, she decided that she would buy the bike from her Mhasibu sacco dividends, which were due months later. That’s how in April 2020, her dividends came with the tag ‘bike’ attached to them. She then trooped to Ben’s bike place with her husband Pius and bought a bike. She named it Diamond. That way, a girl’s best friend would be a diamond on two wheels.
When Grace rode that bike for the first time the following day, memories of Muchilwa flooded her mind. He was such a great guy. A lover of the outdoors and of people. Gone too soon.
She felt that cycling was also a way of honoring him plus all the thousands of cyclists who ride along Kenya’s roads, tracks and rugged pathways. How she wished that all Kenyan roads especially in Nairobi would have clearly designated cycling lanes. How awesome that would be! President Kenyatta, there is still time to make this part of your legacy...
Two months later, Pius also got his bike from Ben. Something interesting happened after that.
Pius and Grace started cycling together every Saturday, all the way from Muthiga their home to Ndunyu in Dagoretti. There is a section along this route that consists of four steep hills.
The second time when they went for their joint rides was so exhilarating and emotional for Grace. She was riding down the second hill when she started reflecting on her life. Those sweet childhood memories of running errands on a bike; her days in Buru Buru 1 Primary school where her precious papa taught her Music; those fun-filled teenage years at St. George’s Girls’ Secondary School in Nairobi; her young-adult days at Strathmore where she studied accounts; hiking Mt. Kenya to celebrate her 30th birthday; her wedding to Pius when she had said I do. All these memories trickled into her mind as she pedaled away, up and down those four hills.
As she rode up the final hill, the smiling face of her one-year old baby Adde O.K descended into her mind, as if straight from heaven. Tears started streaming down Grace’s face. That boy was her life. Her very heartbeat. Her dream come true. Her everything. The tears streaming down her face were an overflow of the deep gratitude in her heart. Gratitude to God for holding her hand as she rode through the bumps, valleys, hills and highways of life.
On the third joint ride a week later, Grace and Pius alighted from their bikes at one point to cool off and buy sugarcane from a jovial lady who sold them by the dusty roadside. They realized that this sugarcane was a natural energizer! Besides, the break gave them time to talk about their marriage, their dreams, their kids, the twists and turns of their lives. And so the sugarcane break became a highlight of their rides. Interestingly, those conversations were relaxing and nourishing, not dry and bitter.
It’s almost impossible to snipe at your spouse when you have just finished panting across four steep hills and are about to repeat that all over again on the ride back! At that sugarcane point, you are celebrating a recent triumph over the hills and anticipating an imminent conquest of those same hills. Your immediate goals are so focused that they leave no room for trivialities to sneak into your mind.
After the sugarcane break, they both mount their bikes and resume the ride. She feels safe with him riding with her. He feels happy when he looks up and sees her two wheels churning in front of him although he doesn’t like how she waves at every cyclist! But that’s his wife. If she could, she would greet every human being that she meets every day.
This couple knows that joint recreational activities create sparks of love and replenish relationships.
As they ride down the fourth hill, on the ride back home, Grace looks back at her husband and flashes her 1000-watt smile. He smiles back. Their eyes interlock for a moment. Their four wheels witness a moment of intense love that leaves their marriage a little more nourished.
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 negative thoughts 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! The sweet feeling of riding through a forest at top speed as you feel the delicious sound and touch of the breeze.
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 fast-walker herself.
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 John 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 just David or John. Plain old David. Or simply John. 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 on. 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 in your spirit 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 career. Whenever and wherever your hear them, pay attention, and deal with their root cause.