Its been almost a week since the W+K team completed the Maasai Mara half marathon and I apologise for the lateness of this report – after the run I headed across to Mt Kenya to complete the second leg of my trifecta of fundraising challenges and I have only just resurfaced.
I have mentioned to anyone who would listen that the Maasai Mara half marathon was going to be unlike any other half marathon I have completed – the uneven terrain, altitude and temperatures of around 28 degrees. Whilst I knew the race would be tough, nothing I had done prepared me for the run I was about to undertake.
I came across to Kenya with a race plan in mind – a nice slow run, take some photos along the way and really enjoy the experience. Once I got here, I started to get some confidence in how I would fare. I did some practice runs in Nakuru, including the amazing training run with Ken, the cook (and elite athlete!) from So They Can. I could comfortably run 8kms in the altitude and heat. I was feeling good and I adjusted my race plan, deciding to aim for a faster overall pace and see if I could get round the course between 2 hours and 2 hours 15 mins
Race day arrived and the whole W+K team were excited and ready. The team had been training for this day for almost 8 months. Today was the culmination of a huge amount of effort from a group who (apart from me) had never run a half marathon before.
We jumped in our safari trucks to make the journey to the race start. Slightly disconcertingly, about 100m from Race HQ we saw a hyena and 2 jackals. A helicopter had started clearing the course of the animals and we were in the direct path of their escape route. Thankfully they passed us by without much interest and we arrived at HQ.
This is by far the most unique and exciting race start I’ve ever encountered. A few hundred people standing in the middle of the Maasai Mara – nothing around us apart from the wide expanse of the reserve. The vast majority of runners were locals with a handful of overseas entrants, many running for charity – including these guys who were heading to Nakuru after the run to build chicken pens (hence the outfits…)
The most exciting part for me was seeing so many of the local Maasai tribesmen and women at the race. It made it abundantly clear that we were actually here, in the Maasai Mara, about to run.
After some waiting around and a group warm up, it was go time. The Kenyan elites strode into the distance and it was truly amazing to see. The speed they were running, the colourful running gear quickly disappearing from sight. I was and still am awestruck at their talent. It was a real privilege to run with them (albeit briefly!).
My uni friend Simon (who had travelled over from the UK to join me for the run and Mt Kenya hike) and I started out at our goal pace and we were feeling pretty good. For about 5kms… After that, I had to slow down – I had quickly realised that my race plan was flawed. There was no way I could maintain my goal pace over 21kms. So I sent Simon ahead and I slowed down. Really slowed down. The next 5kms went surprisingly well. I got into a grove and started to really enjoy the race. I could breathe, I was enjoying the views, and the terrain was so novel – I was completely distracted looking out for any animals left on the course. I reached the 10km mark feeling confident – so confident I got snap happy with the guys manning the water station.
I maintained my pace and my enthusiasm for another 3kms. And then something happened. This indescribable fatigue hit me. I started feeling dizzy. My vision wasn’t quite right (not what you want when the terrain is rocky and you really need to watch where you’re going!). I started walking, taking in deep breathes and trying to pull myself together so I could run again. At that moment I serendipitously got mobile reception and a message came through from my mum wishing me well. From that moment on, my connection with my family in the UK became my saving grace. I felt awful and it sadly didn’t improve over the next 8kms. However, I was determined to finish and so I set out running the next km. And then sending my mum a message to let her know I was still standing. And then another km – and another message. And that’s how I got through the next 8kms. Running for a while, letting my family know I hadn’t collapsed on the course and been eaten by a lion (apparently there were 7 on the course!)
I finished the race in 2 hours 24 mins. Not my best! However, all of our running watches clocked over 22kms for the course, so I probably came in on the half marathon in under 2 hours 20 mins which wasn’t too far off the range I was aiming for. Saying that, this race was not about time. It was about the experience, and what an experience it was. It was one of the toughest races I have ever completed, and because of that I am extremely proud to have got round the course in one piece. More than that though, I am incredibly proud of the rest of the team – Emily, Karen, Mica, Hope and Robert (Hope’s husband). This was their first half marathon and they all completed it – in better shape than me!
We all completed this run as part of our fundraising efforts for So They Can. I can tell each of you who sponsored and supported us in undertaking this challenge that it was exactly that – a challenge. It took every ounce of grit to get through the run. It took months of training and dedication from the team. This team has done W+K proud – because of their significant efforts, we have raised close to $100k for So They Can (and I’m still hopeful we’ll make it across the $100k mark). We’ve spent the last week witnessing the great work that So They Can is doing here – and the need for them to be present here in Kenya and providing opportunity to the communities in Nakuru. Every bit of training, and pain during the run itself, has been absolutely worth it. Through these efforts and your support, we are making a difference here. And if that isn’t motivation to get out for another run, then I don’t know what is.
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