"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own"   Sri Chinmoy

Friends of Karura Forest 10k Trail Run - 12 October 2019

I was in Nairobi for the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run - my first time in Africa and quite an eye-opener as you'd expect. Our main reason for visiting Karura - a lovely forest park on the edge of the city - was to take part in a tree planting ceremony but the day of our visit coincided with a 10k race so it seemed the obvious thing to take part in that at the same time. While the rest of the team headed into the forest to plant the seedlings, I jogged up to the race start and got there just in time for the briefing by George from Run Beyond. I thought I had loads of time but the briefing revealed that the 20k was cancelled and the 20k runners would now join the 10k instead, which was starting in 5 minutes! Luckily I'd warmed up getting to the start so no probs.

I'd been feeling the heat in Bujumbura the previous week but because of the altitude, and the rainy season, it was cool and damp in Nairobi. In fact torrential rain overnight had been the cause of the 20k cancellation, and that meant the trails were muddy and slippery too. I was carrying the Peace Run flag, so I went to the front at the start to get in some photos and also asked an onlooker to grab one of me. I downed my tetra-pak of lucozade and got ready to run.

From the start I ran off stupidly fast then throttled back as we climbed on a wide muddy road into the rain-soaked forest. The runners were a real mix, with plenty of foreign nationals as well as hundreds of Kenyans. I tried to grab selfies with the Peace Run flag and managed something vaguely in focus plus a shot of the trail. It soon narrowed as runners overtook me (when you start too fast you know that's going to happen) and  settled into a pace I thought I could keep up.

A guy in front of me had music playing (on a phone speaker, not headphones!) and it was linked to some kind of GPS or FitBit so I heard the pace readout when we clocked 1km - 5:18! That's super slow even on hills and muddy trail, so I am guessing the altitude was enough to affect me. I set myself the target of 50 minutes which was probably unrealistic as I'd started fast, but I can't seem to run without a goal in terms of time, pace or position. It's an essential part of racing for me...

The course was all hills, not steep but enough to kill my pace pretty effectively, and the scenery varied from dense forest to serried rows of pines in what was clearly an old plantation (I say old because the park is now a managed environment with the emphasis on native species) and then came the area George had referred to as the swamp in his briefing. Apart from hills and altitude and the slightly awkward task of running carrying a flag, the other main hassle was the thick clay soil. I'd opted for trail shoes with good studs and these were awesome on the downhill and when  had to go to the edge of the trail to overtake, but I picked up quite a tonnage of clay on each shoe which is never a fun way to run. I tried kicking it off but it wasn't going anywhere so I soldiered on with heavy feet - a good resistance workout maybe, like running with ankle weights?

The 5k runners joined us and then peeled off again and at one point the 2k runners came towards us on a wide trail and it was two-way traffic. The race was marked with chalk/powder arrows and as I was in the top 30 or so (that's a guess) these were still pretty intact and taking the right turns was no problem. I came past the rest of the Peace Run crew who were coming to the start/finish from the planting ceremony and they gave me a great cheer that helped me pick up the pace slightly. A couple of photographers snapped me and I dutifully wrapped myself in the flag to get the Peace Run name and logo in shot, then I found myself coming through the start area, round the meadow I'd warmed up on, and eventually on the wide and decent trail to the finish. 51:20 ish by my watch and not bad in the conditions!

Next came various Peace Run fun with the torch, passing it to runners and taking photos with them, but after that came something truly momentous - watching Eliud Kipchoge's 1:59:48 attempt on the big screen with hundreds of passionate Kenyan runners supporting him. The atmosphere was incredible, totally charged with enthusiasm and a total belief from everyone that he was going to do it. Whenever the split times came up and showed him on target there were huge cheers and the last KM was a frenzy - I took a video of the crowd and at one point I can see a guy falling to his knees in front of the screen and beating the earth with excitement. Eliud did it, with seconds to spare, and made history. What a breakthrough for the world. I was in tears. It was a special moment and I feel really privileged to have watched it live in Kenya with Kenyan runners and seen how much they love him and how much they understand what he did. Hope the reception is the same around the world, it really deserves to be celebrated like the 4 minute mile or the first channel swim.

Sacred Steps Home