Illimitable Eliud went Ultra in a 100KM Marathon
Imagine being so daring as to run over 62 miles from 4.40 am until around 7.50 pm, through the cold of the dreaded Limuru environs, the Nairobi Northern Bypass searing heat, the steep hills and valleys past Ruiru, the fast highway life of Nairobi’s Southern Bypass, and the strong, triumphant ingress into Strathmore’s Keri Campus way past dusk.
In the dramatic words of Jon Mulkeen of the IAAF, “it’s enough to give you a cramp just thinking about it”.
This is the monumental feat achieved by Strathmore’s latest hero – Eliud Chemweno, on Sunday, 4th October 2020. Eliud, an MBA alumnus and former staff member at Strathmore University Business School (SBS), alongside four others: Jabez Magomere, Linda Omondi, Samuel Ndungu, and James Ndiang’ui, ran 100KM in support of the Strathmore University COVID-19 Educational Relief Fund. The Ultramarathon was a joint venture between the Strathmore University Foundation and the Office of the Vice Chancellor, geared towards raising funds to help a Stratizen #keeplearning.
Against the morning chill
It is 4.30am and still nearly pitch dark. Eliud and the rest of the runners, a group of more than 15, make their way to Shell filling station along Mombasa Road just past Nyayo National Stadium – the starting point, and assemble for the most testing run of their lives…yet. Very few words are spoken, but as the team and support crew approach Cabanas, there is a real buzz in the air. What’s more, the Vice-Chancellor Designate, Dr. Vincent Ogutu, is pacing for his running buddy and really encouraging these running men and women.
Despite the fact that the sun is yet to rise, the Nairobi traffic is one real musing we love to marvel at. Matatus and Bodas are trying their best to edge and overtake the runners, until they realise there is a police escort motorbike (the presidential kind), two extra police officers in one of the service vehicles, and a fleet of other vehicles protecting Eliud and team.
Gains big and small
At 46 minutes past 5.00 a.m., the team crosses the 10KM mark, clocking an average pace of 6.1/km. The runners, eager to catch the eye by proving they can keep pace, increase speed and catch momentum. No one has fallen off yet but there is a growing gap between the team as the morning sun shines brightly over the Eastern Bypass horizon. Temperatures are rising and the altitude is peaking. The service vehicles are working to keep these athletes hydrated and their energy levels up through water, cabs, and cheers.
Jabez and Tuzo are in a frenzy, cracking jokes and making light of the fact that they have downed 25KM already. Chemweno’s face is jovial yet stern, a picture of concentration and commitment, when he passes a few minutes later in the company of James and Samuel. In no time, they are miles ahead of the pack.
My watch reads 7.37 a.m. We are at little known Kamakis, en route to Thika Road as we try to convert miles into kilometres. We are in awe as we realise this incredible team has just managed a 30KM stretch. This is the first pit-stop as the entire group streams in and panting athletes congratulate each other, amid licks of cabs and gulps of water. Eliud goes through a short medical check-up and a much needed massage. The rest stretch before embarking on what is later to be referred to as the Heartbreak section – coupled with high temperatures and a rise in altitude.
A mother of three strongly finishes this first section. She is among the pace-setters who started the run with Eliud at dawn. The wow! effect is really felt when she later brings her husband and two daughters to do the final 15KM with Eliud.
A carnival of events
There is so much excitement going around as we approach the 50KM mark. By now, members of the support crew have somehow become elite photographers. Michael Babu from the Strathmore Community Service Centre has even made a really interesting slow motion reel of Eliud and Dr. Ogutu as they cross atop the Kiambu Road bypass at Four Ways junction. Our main photographer for the day, Victor Anyura, expertly manages to half-walk half-run with camera in hand switching from rocky vintage points to bike steered shots on the pedestal walks.
Our attention shifts to two ladies who have kept with Eliud since that kick-off at Mombasa road. This greatly challenges me and I am tempted to join them on the road. It is inspiring how they have pushed on despite the muscle pains and the overbearing presence of men pace-setters. You sit back and appreciate the mental resilience of these two. They have done this with an endearing grin all through.
In this last 20KM of the first half of the ultramarathon, more pace-setters have joined in as they set out to help Eliud to the finish line. It is a few minutes past 10.00 a.m. and the team has started trickling in at the 50KM mark. A befitting English breakfast awaits them. The medics are working round the clock to ease off the muscle tension of these runners. The service crew is cheering them on as they come in. Dr. Ogutu is jogging on the shoulder of Eliud with that constant pep-talk and encouragement.
The runners have to savour this short rest and replenish their energy banks. The next stretch will not be forgiving. Eliud stretches, takes a quick shower, and changes into new running gear. The team braces for the second half of the Ultramarathon.
The mid-day heat is taking a toll on the drenched runners and they have to constantly pour water over their heads to cool off. Some like Jabez opt to run shirtless. The roads and landscape leading up to the Southern Bypass from Ruaka are awkward. There is multiple ongoing roadworks and snaking roads with dangerous bends and heights.
The bright orange dust roads that canvas this section are bumpy and rutted. It is the toughest test yet. It is a particularly difficult stretch because of high elevation and hot weather. Eliud’s muscles are giving in and the physio-therapist has to come in twice to tend to him. He asks for a water melon sprinkled with salt. I am amazed that it works like magic in restoring the body salt and sugar levels. This man is resilient!
A classmate of Eliud comes along to cheer him on as he sees him pass-by. The pace-setters have gathered up extra energy and are encouraging him to carry on. The team downs another 25KM and takes one last pit-stop at Kikuyu.
Ut Omnes Unum Sint
In the true spirit of the Strathmore motto, more pace-setters come in to support Eliud’s noble cause in the homestretch. Prof. Izael Da Silva, DVC – Research and Innovation, leads the team for a while from Kikuyu towards Lang’ata Road. Recall the lady who paced for Eliud for the first 30KM? She rejoins the pack with her husband and her two little girls, at the Karen Southern Bypass, until the finish line.
It is 6.42 p.m. and the team is approaching Lang’ata Road. Muscles are stiff, breaths are short and slow, running gears are drenched in sweat, the dark is kicking in, and the Nairobi traffic is building up. Still, the mental gains by this resilient team are evident as they begin picking up pace and bursting into song and dance down Lang’ata Road, just past Uhuru Gardens. Motorists are cheering us on and giving us right of way. The end is in sight at T-Mall Round-about and my heart is thumping. You can tell the adrenaline and excitement is rising as Dr. Madowo of the Strathmore University Medical Centre (SUMC) leads the Eliud praise chants.
The triumphant entry
As the team branches into Ole-Sangale Road, the Madaraka residents are out on their balconies shouting joyously and urging them on. The atmosphere as we turn past the barriers to Keri Campus builds up to a mixture of tension, pride, and disbelief. The team even does a tease by passing the finish line tape, confusing the waiting party, and doing an extra lap around Ole-Sangale Road – via the Madaraka Primary bend. Eliud’s final sprint is one that belongs to the history books. He cuts the tape and collapses to the ground breathing heavily under his palms. He cannot believe it. A 100KM in just a day. We cannot fathom it either! It is an incredible achievement by the Club 100, who promise bigger things in future.
The jubilations continue in the cake-cutting and vote of thanks ceremony after a short stretching session with the physio-therapist, Coach Nelson.
However torturous this run has been, it is not Eliud’s swansong. He intends to continue pushing his limits. He has already diffused inspiration on young protégés like Jabez and Tuzo who intend to run a similar 100KM later in the year. The run, like a fire ignited, is still full ablaze in our hearts and we continue pledging to help keep a Strathmore Student learning.
Maybe make it an annual half-marathon? Maybe.
This article was written by Francis Kabutu.
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