After our epic journey out here, we were happy to be booked in as guests at the luxurious Muthaiga Country Club. The famous Nairobi members club, replete with manicured lawns, neatly pressed shirts and colonial swagger, was where Karen Blixen stayed when she first arrived in Nairobi in 1914.
I did attempt to locate some other runners in Nairobi, but there were none to be found. I was told some people ran somewhere on the other side of the city. It would take three hours to get there because of the Nairobi’s chaotic traffic. But there was a gym at the club, with running machines. At least I could start getting used to the altitude.
I put on my running shoes, set the treadmill at a nice slow pace (8-minute miles) and started to jog. As it turned out, it was lucky that I hadn’t journeyed across the city to run with a team of crack Kenyans, as I lasted barely a mile. I was just increasing the pace slightly, beeping the machine up to 7.6-minute miles, when I felt a sharp tightening in my calf. I stopped straight away. After a bit of stretching, I tried jogging again at a slower pace, but it was too sore. I causally backtracked out of the gym, smiling pathetically at the resident fitness instructor. It wasn’t a very impressive start.
Later that evening, someone told me it was probably the altitude. I hoped that was all it was. I really couldn’t afford to be injured already.
A few days later, out in the bush, on a ranch owned by some of my sister-in-law’s relatives, I set off on my second run. This was more like it, I thought, as the plains stretched out before me, a few isolated mountains dotted on the distant horizon.
I followed a dirt road for about a half a mile until I came to some sort of guardhouse at the gate to the ranch. Two men in uniform came out to watch me run by, calling to me in Swahili. I had no idea what they were saying, so I just called back: “Jambo.”
Then my calf went again. I stopped at the side of the road, feeling suddenly vulnerable. Up ahead a man with a cow was stopped, staring at me. Behind, the two guards were still standing there watching. I had no option but to start walking back.
Was it the barefoot running technique that was causing the problems? I really hope not. Yesterday I saw a Samburu tribesman running past – as you do – in full traditional costume. He wore sandals and was clearly landing forefoot first. He was the first Kenyan runner I’ve seen. If they do it, surely I can too?
Next week I’ll be in Iten, the epicentre of Kenyan running. Hopefully they’ll be a few decent physios around.