The commentators voice cracked through the speakers announcing the names of the elite men runners who were lined up on the start line..Abel Kirui,MoFarah…
I was standing right behind these big names. The day 7th October 2018.This happened to be my birthday month falling in about 2 weeks time on 20th October aka Mashujaa day. A special one since I was turning 42 years-the equivalent numerical number to the complete kilometers in a full marathon.(Runners are used to running kilometers equivalent to their age or factor of their age on their birthdays so for me each kilometer in this race was dedicated to each year of my life).
My mind flashed back to the last marathon I had done which was on April 2018-Boston Marathon-about four and a half months from the day.Rainy and partially snowing.The worst marathon weather in recent times.
A hypothermia attack had made my body start feeling tired at 15 kms, my lips were all numb and heavy -the feeling you get when a dentist injects you with anesthesia to pull out teeth. With every kilometer I felt weaker and I wondered if it had something to so with my heavy lips. Eventually my body shut down at 30 kms weak and dizzy and I had to check into a huge medical tent. I spent almost half an hour around heaters taking soup to regain body heat together with many other runners who were shaking like a leaf, some even passing out. The dreams shifted from a better sub 3 to staying alive after barely making it in London (2:59:47) and New York marathons (2:59:38).When I got warm in the tent, I made a resolve to carry on and try finish the race,the guys in the tent thought I was mad..one even said he would never go out there to meet with the devil again..I managed to finish the race many medical tents and soups later and all wrapped up in plastic bags.
That finish line had ushered a journey to this start line. A start to a race I hoped would be different, to redeem the Boston experience.
The roadmap to this day had been very deliberate. I knew I needed to make a come back in a big way.Many friends had expressed how my photo finish sub 3s had kept them on the edge till the last second each time . I needed to change that. I was alive to the fact that to do this and overcome the psychological pressure from Boston was going to take something out of the ordinary. Some harder training, something special. With the goals in mind, I set out to achieve it. Right from the first week in May when I started training, I had this day in clear focus. This plus all measures I would need to put in place to avoid a hypothermia repeat. I had learnt that the head was one of the greatest sources of heat loss in adverse conditions. I bought head gear and started training in them. (Amazing how we can adapt when required to.I always got migraines if I tried to run with anything around my head..this time because it was a necessity, the migraines came and eventually after a few runs disappeared.
My training build up in May went well , peaking in the months of July and August. In this months I consistently put in total weekly mileage of between 110 and 120 kms with a high of 135 in one week. The training ranged from tempos,speed training and weekly long runs of 30-40kms (15 of them) mostly in Ngong,Karen, and one in Kerio and Iten.We had pooled together all the people who were to run in Chicago and set out to train together.We were 25 of us which made it the largest group of Kenyan recreational runners in a world Marathon.The runs were organized by my running club RunFit club,Fit Revolution gym,Kitengela Mbuni runners ,Team Jasho,Enda and Urban Swaras amongst others in different areas including the ones in high altitude Iten and Kerio .
Together with my training partners Davis and Ndegwa we put in lots of hard training with some extremely fast runs.
We had all done sub 3 hours with the fastest time having been posted by Davis at 2.52 in New York Marathon 2017.Sub 3 was no longer the bar.We knew that this was the time to work towards.
Every training run I did I knew would contribute to achieving that result and I took each more seriously than before. I monitored my speeds and set out to keep improving them, monitored my food and weight almost daily together with my recovery and physio sessions. Each long run was a rehearsal of the upcoming marathon. From the clothes, I wore, what I ate and drank day before, how I hydrated before and in the race, pacing, when I took the gels and even how hard I pushed. Everything that was in my control I took charge of. All these efforts bore fruits when I managed to do a sub 3 (2.57.53) full marathon in my last long run in Iten (high altitude) a month to the race. The fastest I had ever run.This was all the confidence I required. But there was one monster that stood in the way of that confidence. Something that was out of my control.. the weather..
The architecture was amazing.This is home to some of the tallest buildings in the world amongst many other amazing structures.We had an easy run on the same day and settled.Our Runfit club members had secured an apartment and carried lots of home cooking ingredients, ugali,choice pasta etc and lots of chapatis to fuel the days before the race.The camaraderie of the team was excellent. We took turns to shop,cook, and wash dishes.
The day before the marathon,we took part in a 5 km charity run.We doned traditional Kenyan community attires and took on Avanis challenge to take it easy in a run.We carried our phones, were the last ones on the start line,took selfies along the way, and stopped to dance with the bands on the route. Because of Kenya’s fame in marathons,all the runners wanted photos with us.This was the case everywhere we went,the Expos,malls,restaurants etc.(Something that brand Kenya needs to take up.)
As I prepared to head for the race start line early Sunday morning, It was raining which created a bit of anxiety for me.Luckily by the time I set out to the start area it had subsided though there was still possibilities of more.We warmed up from 7 am then got into our coral at about 7:15 am.15 minutes to the start and the commentator continued going through the list of the elite runners. Galen Rupp,Dickson Chumba, he carried on. At exactly 7.30 am we set out. The GPS signal was erratic due to the tall buildings. We had been warned about this so most of the time I ran by feel but monitored each and every lap. I had mismanaged my pace in previous runs over pacing in some kilometers and ended up with disastrous results at some points walking some parts of the race. I was determined to ensure that race management was not going to be on my list of the items that could go wrong in the race. That was in my control. I had set out to maintain a pace of about 4 minutes per kilometer and not to get overly ambitious.
By the 3rd km I was already feeling hot. I was apprehensive about removing the jacket incase the weather changed but by the 5th km,the body was too hot and I decided to dispose it hoping that all would be well. Everything went well until there were some light showers and the temperatures dropped at around 10 kms.The breeze blowing from Lake Michigan was very strong making the cold even worse. My heart rate right from the first km was high and my alert kept beeping. This was unusual, the norm being that the beeping if any would come late in the run when the body was tired and the heart was doing too much work to maintain pace. At one point due to the cold, I thought I was starting to slide into Boston issues but kept going. Somewhere past the halfway mark the heart rate settled. The run progressed well and I was able to maintain my set target pace of slightly under 4 minutes per km.
At around 35 kms my right hamstring began cramping and I had to slow down to get out of the cramp.Fortunately the slowing down helped and by the 37th km I was able to resume to near my target pace.The cheering crowds helped to keep the legs moving. Finally there was an 800 meters to go mark and a final turn that led to the finish line at Grant park.There was a very gentle incline which felt like Mt Everest because of the point it came at in the race.When I got to the stretch that had the finish line,I saw a 2.48 on the clock from a distance and increased pace to ensure that it didnt get to 2.49. crossed the line at an official time of 2.48.29..
A new PB 11 minutes faster than my last one of 2:59:38 in New York 2018.It was a joyous moment for me..The persistence,hard work,discipline,focus on goals,belief in self,ambition,learning from failures and mistakes had help overcome the Boston experience in a big way.A confirmation that we can dream,work and achieve great things.
Within a few minutes,my training mate Davis crossed the line and we later on linked up with our other training mate Jack had set a serious record of 2.42.28 adding to the excitement of future races as he completed his 6th and final World Marathon majors.
Eventually all our runners crossed the finish line..A success rate of 100 percent. This was the greatest highlight and joy of the day..The joy of achieving with a team that we shared so much together to get to this point.A dinner in the evening with some Kenyans living in Chicago crowned the day.Congratulations Davis Munene Jack Ndegwa Douglas Njiraini Aine Nick Muteti Rachael Gitonga Sarah Mwala Avani Patel John Terer Cheruiyot AK Tony,Hellen,Wangendo, Daisy, Jon Lenchner Nyokabi Kamotho Barbara Napoli Sehmi Ridhwan Hussein Wangendo,Kiogora,Rebecca,Wambui,Alex,mercy,Mwai, Kaimenyi Humphrey and all other runners.
Grateful as always to God for the good health that allows us to go out there and run and his protection especially on the roads in the wee hours of the morning plus,My wife Ann Thuo and our 3 Children for support in countless areas, family,team mates including my awesome students who encourage me as much as I encourage them,friends,colleagues at work and all people that in one way or the other contribute to my being.
The next challenge is beckoning as always ..That’s the beauty of life.We always have something to work towards.Lets take on the next challenge.