Hurdling the wall


I’ve been stuck at the 15 mile mark in my marathon training having unsuccessfully attempted to move up to 17 miles a few times over the last couple of weeks. Either I had eaten too much and gotten a stitch, was suffering from an ulcerated throat from too many malaria tablets (yes, gross) or my legs just felt unreasonably weak.

But this morning I set off with fresh determination.

After a poor start (despite getting up two hours early to eat breakfast, I had a stitch by the end of mile one), my legs found themselves going into automatic pilot. Three and half hours later I found myself back at home having not only hurdled the 17 mile wall but having gone over 19 miles!! Four and half miles further than I’d ever been before.

All of a sudden my confidence in being able to make the marathon has shot up. Good job too as my running buddies attended the pre-race briefing in London this week and the advice they received has made me all the more excited:

  • People regret focusing on their time rather than the giraffe running beside them. Focus on the giraffe.
  • There are misting stations :).
  • We should all get white running caps with black on the underside. To reflect heat as well as look super snazzy.
  • There are 3 hard hills and we should expect to walk up at least one.
  • The temperature gets to an average of 28C (not as bad as I thought).
  • Breathe in before you drink water.
  • We should consider staying for the party afterwards.
  • We will definitely get lapped by many barefooted sinewy Kenyans.

Check out my running team buddy’s blog on how training for a marathon on the equator, in Stockholm during the winter, is going…

A moving meditation

So, as I might have mentioned, once or twice, I’m training for a marathon. Today my training schedule told me I needed to run a half marathon. You know. Just a casual half marathon.

I can’t say I was overly looking forward to it. Back home what gets me through the long training runs is not peppy disco tunes. No. I like podcasts. But here, going out in Nairobi with your headphones plugged into an iPod wouldn’t be the brightest idea you’ve ever had. Yeah, you might be unfortunate and stumble into the path of a thief. But I’d be more worried about not being able to hear the motorbike which is roaring up the pavement behind you.

Anyway, without my podcasts I find these long runs mentally a LOT tougher having only my own thoughts to distract me from the underlying mantra of “this hurts, I can’t go any further, this hurts!”.

So I’m gradually trying to learn some distraction tactics and as a result am finding a whole new set of benefits to running way beyond endorphins, a sense of achievement and not feeling horrendously unfit when I walk up the stairs to my flat!

In short, I find that there seems to be virtually no problem that can’t be solved or – at the least – put into a deep sense of perspective by a run. It never ceases to amaze me. Maybe I have sat at my desk an entire day unable to work out how to present an issue to my colleagues. Thirty minutes of running and I’m struck by a whole host of potential solutions. Feeling homesick… 13miles later I feel able to handle whatever Nairobi throws at me!

So while I do sometimes I do wonder what the point of running a tedious number of miles every week is (for an excellent intro to this musing: Bored Humans Running to the Point of Exhaustion), I can honestly say there’s nothing else I’ve found that gives that occasionally much needed hit of perspective so reliably.

Going the extra mile

When I first found out I was coming to Kenya pretty much the first thing I did was buy the guidebook. I was reading it in bed one night when I stumbled across a description of a marathon on Lewa conservancy, a private reserve just north of Mount Kenya. Being a bit into running after completing my first half marathon in 2013 I read with mild interest until I came to the bit that said that elephants, zebra and giraffes decorate the route as you ran! At this point I jumped out of bed and ran up to my flatmate, Morven’s, room. As my main running buddy I was pretty sure this was just the ticket to convince her she needed to come for a visit…

Now, with just over 3 months to go until race day I sometimes slightly rue my early enthusiasm. But not much!

Training in Nairobi for my first marathon – and a marathon at an altitude of 1750m where temperatures soar to mid-thirties by late morning – has been no mean feat. When I first arrived I couldn’t even run 5k without being exhausted! Battling the broken pavements, chaotic traffic (that frequently drives on aforementioned pavements), heavy fumes and children laughing at me I gradually increased the distance I could run to something resembling that of a beginner. But I simply couldn’t work out how I was going to manage to cover the distances a training regime would require.

Luckily I have some rather excellent colleagues including one who organises a small running club a few times a week before work. So a couple of months ago I started a gruelling regime of getting up at 5.30am (again, my flatmate’s can attest that I am NOT a morning person), travelling the hour it takes to get to work on the bus, then going on a run with a group of Kenyan men far fitter than me.

At first, it was all I could do to stay awake during the day after these morning sessions. But now, I positively love them. In fact, I now skip the bus journey and run all the way from home to running club dodging traffic and the rather terrifying Marabou Storks as I go.


While running in the UK might have been easier, nothing compares to when we are running through the Arboretum, a little oasis of green just north of the CBD, and a troop of monkeys will bound past us. I’m even sort of growing to enjoy the “body work” sessions one of the group forces us to do, including lugging truck tyres across fields and an excessive amount of sit-ups.

There’s still a way to go before I can imagine I’ll possibly be able to manage 26miles at the end of June. But at least now the training has become a unique and constantly surprising way to explore the city – rather than a dreaded chore!