RW website member Ashley Smith ran the Safaricom Marathon in Kenya on July 2, 2005. Here's his story.
Last December my friend David – who lives in Kenya – asked me to come out and join him in running the Safaricom marathon, rated as one of the world’s 10 toughest marathons. The course is 1650m above sea level, and it’s in a game reserve. I told him he was mad.
He kept badgering me, until eventually I was converted to his way of thinking, much to my wife’s disapproval.
Altitude was certainly going to be a problem, so I embarked on a course of hypoxic treatment with The London Altitude Centre 12 weeks before I flew out. Another consideration was heat; being a few miles north of the equator, temperatures can easily exceed 30°C even in winter. I invested in a treadmill and embarked on an acclimatisation programme with the aid of a 2kW heater and lots of water.
I flew overnight to Nairobi, and after resting on my first day did a 10K acclimatisation run, which went well. David had taken a couple of days off work and arranged for us to drive to the Sambura National Reserve for some game spotting before returning to the Lewa Reserve for the marathon the following day.
The journey involved a six-hour drive on the worst roads I have ever experienced – definitely a case of shaken and not stirred. Whilst you can fly, the advantage of driving is that you get to see the country’s people, their homes and their towns; this was especially poignant as the G8 conference and Live8 was being held back in the UK to highlight world poverty the same week.
We followed the main route over the equator towards Ethiopia, along a road of compressed hardcore which had so many holes we often had to leave the road and drive through the surrounding scrub land. Many people were walking along the side of the road, often barefoot, some carrying their wares to market and others herding their goats cattle, or, as we headed further north, camels.
All entrants have to stay the night before the race in the Lewa Reserve, either supplying their own tent, or staying in one provided. We took the five-star, option which proved to be both spacious and very comfortable.
A pasta party is held the night before the race and this was a great way to meet some of the other competitors. Among them was a Kenyan who had just been invited to join the national squad. He was a great guy who had come from humble beginnings but who had set himself the target of setting a world record for the marathon distance. With a PB of 2:06, set in Kenya, he said it was his aim to enter either London or Chicago next yea. If his current form is anything to go by I certainly hope it will be London so that I can see him achieve his goal.
An early rise was required as the race start was at 7am and with 400 to feed, the queues for breakfast, and the loos, were very long. With a full English buffet on offer there was still plenty left over for those of us who decided to have an extra hour in bed.
At 7am (and not marred by previous year's delays, when some cheetahs were found to be warming up at the start line), the klaxon was sounded and the race commenced.
Having been ill the day before the race I was doing the half-marathon, while David stuck with the full marathon. Marathoners had to complete two laps, while walkers and half-marathoners completed one. This was great, as it meant that there was always someone on the course you could walk - er... run - with! It was especially good for the slower runners and those needing some inspiration given the harshness of the terrain. The scenery was so breathtaking that I repeatedly stopped to take out my camera to record the magnificent curves as the mountains descended into the plains below.