In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Victory.”
I am not a runner. I am not a physical fitness enthusiast. I have never even had a gym membership. But a few years ago I realised that playing in the backyard with the young ‘uns was leaving me winded. So I started walking. Then I picked up the pace and threw in a little jogging. Then without really understanding when it had happened I realized one day I was running more than I was walking on my walking route.
Soon I was scoffing at others as I felt they were walking too slowly and needed to get out of my way as I pounded the road. Amazingly, the focus of my wardrobe upgrades shifted to the search for the perfect dri-fit running shirt. But I am not a runner.
Fast forward three years and I took part in my first road race. 10 kilometers and an amalgamation of people, the road, and the playlist. Bliss.
I promised myself I would keep at it. But I didn’t. Somehow it became a constant struggle to wake up early enough, get out of bed, into the gear and onto the road at least three times a week. So that became me. The non-runner who had tasted sweet nirvana and was constantly struggling to get back on it so I could experience it again.
In 2014 I promised myself that no matter what, I would run the 10k hosted in my fathers hometown this year. Set at the foot of the Nyandarua range, Ndakaini is a tea growing area, beautiful, serene, the very definition of Gods own country. To boot its rural roads are fantastic running trails and there is an amazing 21k route. One catch though. The course, though ridiculously scenic, also happens to be at an elevation of roughly 2000m above sea level and its all about the hills. Those of the heartbreak variety.
Was it tough you ask?
The start was beautiful, surrounded by the green fields of tea and thousands of people out to embrace cool weather, natures beauty and miles on a cool Saturday morning. Along tree lined winding roads, I sailed downwards. Loved it. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t trained, or that I had barely run in the last few weeks. I mistakenly believed muscle memory was my back pocket friend. Turns out the pal was gravity.
Then came kilometer four and the beginning of heartbreak number one. By this time the crowds aren’t really running anymore. Kenyans may be known as a nation of runners, but those were the folks up ahead. The ones who were at work while the rest of us were at play.
Slowly the walkers began to outnumber the runners. On I went, pace is crucial and the halfway mark hadn’t been reached. And besides, though not a runner, I came to run this race not walk it.
You know that feeling when your chest rules the run? It happened halfway up that hill. I joined the walkers. Just getting up that hill became my new goal. I made it, turned the corner and there was this long gentle slope…sloping upwards. Does this hill never end? The slog continued. I stopped timing myself, just staying in the game was all that mattered now.
Onward, upward, water, counting steps, counting breaths. Finally a downward slope to the left but having learnt the reality of every downhill having an equal and opposite uphill, I wasn’t sailing or smiling anymore. Just moving, almost afraid of looking up to see what was ahead of me.
Now this race takes place against the backdrop of the Ndakaini dam, a reservoir that supplies Nairobi’s water needs. Beautiful location. But here comes the humdinger. That second heartbreak hill? The wall of the dam. The walkers now have it. Heaving themselves up, hands on knees to steady themselves through the steep incline. It’s kilometre eight I tell myself, you can do it. Now it’s both chest and knees screaming. Wondering what they did to brain to deserve this. In fits and starts I suffer up the winding track that leads up the side of the dam wall. It’s brutal but must be done. I want to cry. Up, up, farther, slower, still moving, not running though. We left that behind a long time ago. Now it’s a crazed loping gait. Up to the top, past those who have abandoned any thought of a race and were now seeking sweetness from the louquard trees.
Water – handed to me in a bottle and suddenly all around me. I am at the top and can see the dam so I know it’s the final stretch. One more click to go. I’m sweating so much I don’t want to encounter anyone I know. My reputation could never recover. There is nothing redeeming about the 9km and 100m variation look, dri-fit or not. Past the trees, past the shell of my grandparents house that was sacrificed for the dam. Onto the End.
I don’t care that no one is calling out my name, or welcoming me as the first one through the tape. It doesn’t matter that I am running towards the finish line as so many are streaming back to their cars in the opposite direction, their races run. I see nothing but the banner in front of me and hold in my mind nothing but the fact that I’m almost there and I didn’t give up. I kept going. I may not yet be a runner but as I cross the shadow of the banner I know I am victorious.