“He’s going to reach there before we do; we need to hurry up and catch up with him.” Our driver kept beckoning us as we sped off amidst a cloud of dust whilst trying to keep up with the runners.
That’s how I spent my weekend on the 23rd of July; out in the vast plains somewhere in Lewa, with the scorching sun mercilessly burning my skin, my hair and face all covered in dust, as I kept daydreaming of a nice cold shower.
Not just any shower, the kind of shower that makes you feel like you have been cleansed off your sins! But my beautiful daydream was interrupted unexpectedly when the driver urged us to get back to the car. Despite being worn out from the heat and dust, every time runners passed us by, I found myself whispering silently to them; “I don’t even know you, but I’m so proud of you!”
The drive to Isiolo County started off on a cold Friday morning at 6:30 am. Waking up early has never been an issue, but on this particular day, I kept asking my body whether it knew what it was about to get itself into. From the stories I had heard of Lewa before, I figured, if anything, the extreme hot weather during the day, and extreme cold weather at night, would be quite the challenge to put up with.
With a tour van full of bloggers and media personalities, we headed off to have breakfast somewhere in Thika. It’s really hard to find gluten free delicacies, especially while traveling, which left me wondering, how irritated Jesus would have been if he were to feed a crowd of people with bread and fish. I would probably be the one shouting; “If it has gluten, I’ll have to pass, Jesus!” Anyway, I digress: After finally settling on a meal(gluten free of course) we finally embarked on our journey to Lewa. With a few stops along the way, eventually we settled to have lunch in Nanyuki, but I wasn’t ready for what was about to happen next.
I ordered chicken for lunch, since well, my appetite was just being quite difficult that day, but I hadn’t fully prepared to be acquainted with a certain chicken, who we can safely call Cyprian; because from the plate it came in, it looked like a Cyprian, the kind of chicken that has been through so much trials and tribulations, while married to a demanding hen and fathered teenage broods, who just discovered they can escape from home. That chicken looked like it had given up on life, yet made sure no one would ever mess with it again. I tried using a knife, fork, my bare hands and teeth, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually I gave up on it and decided I could do without lunch, since it felt more less like a battlefield had ensued on my plate. Despite being tired, immersing oneself with the scenic beauty along the way was all one needed to appreciate the beautiful landscape our country has to offer.
As soon as we arrived in Lewa, the gust of dust and wind that welcomed us, was enough to make me realize how unprepared I was, in terms of extra warm outfits, to survive the cold, windy nights over the next few days. A little voice inside my head kept taunting me; I could hear it say, I wasn’t going to last a day out in the wild, but the wanderlust in me, had to prove it wrong. After all, there’s nothing like a new adventure; being out in the wild, sleeping in tents and singing Kumbaya songs, while surrounded by a bonfire! But first, I had to stop and take photos of the lovely sunset setting on the horizon.
One can never get quite satisfied of watching a sunset, especially when you’re out on the vast plains. Watching it’s orange hues seductively hug the trees in a nice dark silhouette, somehow captures you in its trance, and you can do is immerse yourself in that moment!
We finally got to the Safaricom village, dressed like Eskimos, ready to find a tent and get something to eat and drink. I had to keep reminding myself that Lewa was all about camping, not glamping; which meant any fantasies I had of long hot showers out in the wild, were just that; fantasies!
Eventually, my body got acquainted with the cold shower the next day, since we had a long day ahead of us, and I managed to live through that!
The race kicked off at 7am, first with the kids race, followed by the adults soon after; while we jumped on to the cars, to catch up with the runners on the vast terrains ahead. The scorching sun was bound to be a challenge for the runners, however their upbeat faces and excitement while crossing paths with zebras and other wild animals was enough motivation to see them enjoying every bit of the tough terrain in Lewa.
The Safaricom Lewa Marathon regarded as one of the toughest races in the world, helps raise funds to support the conservation and development initiatives in Lewa and across the country. The terrain can be quite challenging, but nothing comes close to the African plains, as you spot wildlife along the way, while the beautiful hills create an amazing African backdrop. Probably why it attracts runners from across the globe, to participate in this fun, yet worthy cause!
We took more photos, cheered more runners along the way, but eventually it was time to head back to the finish line to wait for the top three runners. The finish line was abuzz with excitement from both the young and old alike, as they eagerly waited for their loved ones to finish the race. A few minutes later, the winners started streaming in, led by Philemon Baaru who emerged winner, defending his title for the fifth time, while Lepakana Margaret finished first in the women’s race. But that wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye.
There’s this book I had coincidentally finished just a few days before heading to Lewa: It’s called the The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It was quite a good read, not just about the Vietnam War, but more than that; it was about the human heart and emotional baggage, loyalty and love. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with the Safaricom Lewa Marathon. Well, as soon as I saw the Lewa Conservancy Rangers heading to the finish line, armed in full gear, it brought that book to mind.
The resilience, the baggage they carried while running despite the scorching heat, the loyalty of finishing the race, somehow symbolized the dedication and efforts they put in responding to poachers and security issues at the conservancy. It was quite a sight to behold, considering a runner, always wants to run free without anything weighing them down, and here they were running in full gear, which must have been quite strenuous!
It was also quite a beautiful sight, to watch daughters and wives patiently waiting for their loved ones to finish the race. To see the determination, zeal and excitement in their eyes when they finished the race, no matter how long it took them to.
Capturing a few moments and getting a taste of the marathon, made me realize it is more than just a marathon. It is a community coming together, it is a test of will power, but all in all it’s all for a worthy cause. Hopefully next year, I’ll get to train and participate in the marathon ; key word here being hopefully!
Lewa Rangers photo courtesy of Steve, Check out more photos on his blog http://9thwonderpix.blogspot.co.ke/