Three weeks ago…
My jogging partner tells me we’ve been pounding the Nairobi streets for 26 minutes. Is that true? I think to myself. Not even half way to the hour-long mark. My thighs are burning, my calves are aching, and my jogging pace is incrementally slowing down, so now I am “jogging” in baby steps.
“How are you feeling, Wanda?”
“I’m a bit tired,” I manage to gasp out.
“Let’s walk then.”
We start to walk. I think back to the conversation at my apartment that got me into this exercise-induced walking coma in the first place. When I found out there was a World Champion runner in my building complex I was intrigued, to say the least. I never imagined I would actually be running trotting beside him. Abdi Bile, a Somali American, won the 1986 World Champions for the 1,500m. He also competed in the 1996 Olympics. I initially asked if Abdi knew any safe routes I could use on the weekends for my long run.
Long run? Short explanation: Coming to Nairobi, a fellow runner recommended I check out what running events are happening while I’m here. Scanning a marathon database website from my room in Toronto, I decided I wanted to run the half-marathon in Nairobi as soon as the event title popped up on my computer screen. The Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon 2010 meets Wanda and Her Pipedream of Running Half-Marathons Around the World. But come October 31, there is serious potential for this “pipedream” to come down to reality. Hence, why I needed a safe route for a long run.
I explained to Abdi that I was starting to train for a half-marathon. When Abdi asked how long I had been training for, I skirted around the question, and said I had done six weeks of serious training for the first half-marathon I ran in Mississauga and in Nairobi I would be training for seven. A whole extra week. I’d be fine, I rationalized.
“It’s different here,” Abdi said to me, “because of the altitude.” Oh. I hadn’t thought of that. But, Abdi continued, if I’m running for fun and health and exercise, then I can run and walk the course as I need to.
“I don’t like to walk,” I piped up, rather prematurely. You see, I enjoy the challenge of running and I enjoy going for walks. I don’t enjoy doing the two things together. If I’m going for a run, I don’t want to walk a quarter through, half-way through, whenever. I want to run continuously. My running guru heard me, but eyed me with scepticism.
However, 26 minutes into our run, legs burning, throat itching, arms heavy, I humbly took Abdi’s advice, slowed down and walked briskly, gulping in deep breaths of air, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Abdi had offered to do me one better than tell me a safe route (as I got a wee bit lost the last time someone explained a route to me) and he said he would show me. Hence the reason I was out under the blazing sun on Sunday afternoon in early September, the first really warm weekend since I arrived in Kenya, telling my arms to pump faster to signal to my legs that they need to take it up a notch.
“I’m sorry we’re going so slowly. I can’t thank you enough for running with me,” I’d say, gasping, and literally tripping over my feet (darn collapsible ankles!)
“Any time. It’s nice to go for a light jog,” he’d tell me, as I’m moving as quickly as I possibly can.
Abdi is a coach, professionally and personally. It was a pleasure to thread our way through the Nairobi streets together, and learn of how he became a runner, and moved from Somalia to the United States on a running scholarship. But that story is for another time. Because at this moment, Abdi and I have finished our run. But not my training session.
“Now, it’s time for strides.”
With matatus and cars zipping along the stretch of road, I dodge the pedestrians on the sidewalk waiting for a bus or strolling on Sunday afternoon, running flat out for 70 meters or so.
Breath. Walk. Turn around.
Go. Repeat. Once more. Final time.
Abdi gives me a head start. I take off, sprinting as fast I can sprint after an hour run at Nairobi’s altitude. I feel Abdi’s presence on my heels and pump my arms that much faster, smiling at the pedestrians now dodging out of my way, as my competitive spirit takes over in this final stride-down.
I pass the finish mark first, Abdi consistently just close enough behind me to make me continuously push myself.
“I’m impressed with your speed,” Abdi says to me as we start walking. My smile is no longer simply due to the adrenaline pumping through my body.
Abdi has recently departed Nairobi, returning to Somalia for the first time since he left in the early 1980s. He told me to keep in touch about my running progress. With the half-marathon date looming in just under five weeks (it was pushed back a week from when I originally thought thank goodness), I think I need to double the amount of strides I’m doing. But, I’m no longer walking after 26 minutes. I just needed to pace myself.