Floating buoy

The rules said it was a deep water start, but how was my fledgling swim mind meant to translate that to something meaningful? All I knew from my swim classes was that you jump into water and off you go!

Over Friday drinks in office, a friend looking to put a team of triathletes together for an event walked over to me and asked if I’d be interested to join his team. He knew I had been doing cycling and running races. I was immediately enlivened. Yes I said. Deep inside I knew I shouldn’t be saying yes but my adventure seeking mind and my mouth were in sync. I had never swam before, well except for the times I jump into a shallow pool and acted like a  dying fish trying to swim. So I took up lessons. They were going fine until my instructor asked why i was learning how to swim. I lost my instructor weeks later, after I told him the reason for learning was because I had a 1km swimming to do in a triathlon 3 months away. I came in one day and I was told he had resigned. I can’t say for a fact it had anything to do with me and my ambitions but I don’t know of another reason either.

Race day came. It was a very cold morning. My skin receptors immediately sent signals to my brain to initiate its warming tricks. Shivering, I walked towards the lake to see where I was going to be taking this death attempt. I looked to my side and  saw a very enthusiastic triathlete, so I asked him to show me the swim path because all I could see was a massive body of open water. As I was shown where the buoys we are supposed to swim towards where, it occurred to me that the safety of touching a wall  every 50m wasn’t here and the buoys seemed to be shifting away. My heart began racing immediately even before the race started. I talked courage to myself, beating my chest like an adult male gorilla who won’t back down from a challenge from an immature young gorilla.

When it was start time for my race category, we moved towards the platform next to the water. Athletes began jumping in, threading and moving forward. I thought to myself, this is it! Jump in and kick some ass. I jumped in and started swimming forward; But no one else is moving so I bump into scores of floating swim caps in the water. It then occurred to me that the race hasn’t begun yet; we have to wait here till the whistle goes off. Oh well, I’ll just stand in water then and wait for the start signal, I thought. Jesus! I screamed. Where is the bottom of this lake? My legs can’t touch anything, I am sinking! Guys around me ask if I am alright…hell no I am not. I need to stand! Then I remembered the FAQ of the race – if in trouble, raise your hand. I immediately raised my hand high up and a kayaking gentleman comes around. Are you alright? he asks….again I say hell no! Get me out of here! Do my eyeballs look OK to you? I thought to myself as I hung to the Kayak,  being towed away like a dead fish.That was the premature end of my first triathlon attempt. I ended up doing a duathlon instead. The officials felt sorry for me and let me do the other two disciplines.

With a couple of successful races now, I laugh about that first experience everytime I have a race coming up. You get told how insane you are, when you tell people you are a triathlete, but no I am not. I have seen more insane things like a triathlete doing 30 consecutive Ironman 70.3 triathlons back-to-back in 30 days. I think it is like someone rightly put it: “It’s not about finding your limits. It’s about finding out what lies just beyond them.”

Follow the journey in pictures on instagram @sleen_

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Flying into a habūb

I had never heard of it before nor did I even know what haboob or habūb meant until the plane I was flying in on my way to Khartoum, Sudan encountered it. That flight for me takes the position of the scariest flight I have been in till date, especially considering that, in previous years, there had been two incidents involving an airbus with one claiming twenty-eight lives in Khartoum.

A haboob or habūb is a violent dust/sandstorm especially common in Sudan but generally occurs in arid areas. I understand dust storms pose a significant hazard to aviation and not only do they reduce visibility, they can seriously affect an aircraft in flight and engines can be damaged when the dust is ingested. Also interesting is the fact that they sometimes cannot be forecast. But of course, I didn’t know this as I sat in that plane. I only realized the seriousness of the situation when I could visibly see the aircraft struggling through the wind and when the pilot’s announcement came through the in-flight announcement system.

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An approaching haboob in Khartoum. Courtesy Flikr

 

We took off from Nairobi without any drama, our destination Khartoum, the city where both the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers confluent to form the great Nile river that empties into the Mediterranean sea in Egypt. Everything, flight-wise was going well until we started our approach to Khartoum airport. I noticed we didn’t make the first approach, like we were going in circles, that was odd. I looked out the windows but couldn’t even see the clouds. Then the announcement came, “there is a sandstorm at the airport and the landing conditions are very bad”. I couldn’t help wonder what sort of sandstorm would prevent a thing as big as an airbus from landing? Very naive I know!

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The point where the Blue and white Nile rivers confluent

Well, the pilot then decided to fly to and land his aircraft in Cairo, Egypt instead. Where we waited for about 4 hours at the airport I think, for the weather conditions to be better in Khartoum. It felt like eternity especially because all we could be offered as impromptu guests at the Cairo airport was the hard tiled floor to sit on. We finally took off and when we got to Khartoum, the storm was gone but the city had this yellowish grey look, almost like I were looking at the city through a stained glass. The air too was still sand-filled, I could taste sand each time I opened my mouth.

Apart from the flight, I loved it in Khartoum though. The food, sweets and hospitality of the people was outstanding. One particular experience stood out for me. A hilarious yet creepy incident where I was offered to be provided any whisky of my choice by some Arab workers at my hotel, in a country with a sharia law system of zero-tolerance to alcohol. I couldn’t believe what my new ‘friends’ were offering. All I was thinking of was the sharia consequence of being caught drinking whisky at the hotel, which happens to be public flogging.But what if I wasn’t caught, I thought. The temptation was strong, I hadn’t seen a drink for days but then I couldn’t help wonder how they made the whiskey, and if they didn’t make it, how did they get it into the country? I’ll pass, I told them.

The Talking Rock

I saw a video today of someone doing a guided park tour on a motorbike and it reminded me of my trip to Iringa – The stone city, Tanzania. Beautiful place! The reason the video brought back memories of this adventure is because I did something similar, went for a self guided tour game drive in the Ruaha national park against the advice of the park rangers. The only difference was that I was driving. Quite an experience. During the tour, I saw two species of antelopes, the lesser kudu and roan, and some buffalos. I also saw many animals around the waterholes. But this is not the crazy part, it was when we were leaving the park.  I decided to drive the approximately 120 Km  back to Iringa town. Halfway into the journey, I realized I had forgotten my driving license back in my hotel room. That is the problem of carrying a fat Kenyan driving license that can’t fit in your wallet. So, I was wondering how I’d drive past the frequent adhoc Tanzanian police checks on the highway towards Malawi. As fate would have it, I met the cops. But for some reason they didn’t ask me for my license. Perhaps it was because I nodded my head to everything they said, considering I didn’t understand more than half of what they were saying because of my very little knowledge of Swahili even though I had been trying to learn the language for four  years. Yeah I know, I am that slow! But most importantly, I kept nodding because I didn’t want to give myself away by speaking with a foreign accent.

But before the park safari drive, I was taken by my local friends to see the stone sites at Iringa. Of particular interest to me was the Gangilonga Rock, the ‘talking rock’. They say the Hehe chief, chief of the Wahehe people at the time would meet the senior Hehe tribesmen on this rock to mediate how to fight the Germans.

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Gangilonga rock

We took a walk from the Ruaha University, where I was meeting my friends to the Gangilonga rock. From the top of the rock, you can see the whole town and was even more beautiful towards sunset. 

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I also made a visit to the Isimila stone age site. Quite a scenic one with a lovely reddish earth tint. Many archaeological finds of tools used by hominids and fossils dating back 70,000 to years old were discovered at the site. The area used to be a lake but it has now, with the help of erosion turned into a big canyon with more erosion resistant rocks standing as tall as 30m.

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The Isimilia stone age site

 

And then there was the experience of flying from Dar Es Salaam to Iringa in a 6 man commercial plane. It was my first time flying in a very small commercial aircraft. Though it wasn’t as scary as I had imagined or hadn’t, it felt like a taxi except it was flying in the air and it seemed to me that the pilot knew many of his passengers.

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Inside the craft seated behind the pilot

It must be the frequency he flies the route and the small number of regulars who fly rather than travel by road from Iringa to Dar Es Salaam. Interestingly, I had only booked a one-way flight from Dar Es Salaam to Iringa, so on my last day in Iringa, I was running around the town like a madman with my friends to book a seat on the plane when we got a call of an available seat on the small plane leaving the next day. The story is I was on a waiting list because when we went to book earlier in the week, the day I was scheduled to leave, the seats were all sold out.

In reminiscing about this experience, another flight story comes to mind. My scary flight to Khartoum, but that is for another post.

Turkana boy

The most complete human fossil of our ancient ancestors ever discovered is a skeleton of a young boy, about eight years old at time of death and whose bones were preserved in the sediments of lake Turkana in northern Kenya for 1.5 million years, from where it was found in 1984. A Homo erectus, the human species we are believed to have directly evolved from, Turkana boy is the first human fossil to reveal that his species walked and ran just like us today, centering his weight over his pelvis.

I wrote in an earlier post ‘Is running for everyone‘ about pronation related knee injuries and how I attempted to use shoe solutions to correct it.

Since after writing that post, I have been running with a shoe that was recommended to me by the shoe store after a gait analysis. I noticed that, even though the  pain was much less, there still would be some degree of pain after the 8km mark. Therefore, the longer I ran, the more the pain became intense mostly around my knee cap. With this new information, I decided to take my investigation into the problem a step further by visiting a physiotherapist.

After a thorough evaluation and assessment of my gait, lower extremity strength (including hip strength), and range of motion by the physical therapist, it was found that the cause of the pain was weakness in my hip muscles like the gluteus medius. Mainly the hip abductor and external rotators. This weakness allows your thighs to rotate and pull inwards abnormally which puts excessive strain and stress around your knee joint and kneecap. And apparently, after the 8km mark, when I begin getting tired, i tend not to keep a good running posture and hence unable to level my pelvis. A function controlled by the gluteus medius with the help of other hip muscles.

I was asked to perform some hip muscle strengthening exercises, to be conscious about my running posture when running and to stretch after every run (this was already part of my routine). I followed these and I haven’t experienced any pain in my knee when I run since then. Just like our ancestor, the ‘Turkana boy’, a leveled pelvis is key to our walking and running. Actually, research has found that, weakness in hip muscles is the cause of many running injuries.

If you are suffering from knee injuries when you run like athlete’s knee, you should consider seeing a physical therapist. But you could start working on your hip muscle strength today by doing these three common hip muscle exercises. They are the side leg lift, the “clam” leg lift, and the back bridge. A daily dose of 3 sets of 15 – 30 reps should do.

A blessing

I came across this poem ‘Testimonial’ by Rita Dove today, and I couldn’t help but reflect about my ending year. I specifically focused on this quote from the poem.

“I was pirouette and flourish, I was filigree and flame. How could I count my blessings when I didn’t know their names?”

I think we are sometimes unable to legitimately identify how we journeyed through a particular year. We find ourselves at the end of the year with tons of blessings, but which we are unable to count because we can’t name them as Rita Dove expresses in her poem.
As this year ends, I find myself in a very similar position. With so many blessings but most of which I can’t identify. I have chosen though to try, hard as it may be to remember the very simple ones of 2015.
To me it is the very simple things like being able to run on beautiful and peaceful places any day, any time I want to. When you read stories of children dying at sea in Syria and being washed to shore, stories about ghost boats, of hundreds of Eritrean refugees dying at sea as they are smuggled to Italy by Libyan human smugglers, stories of religious extremists on the prowl for easy targets all over the world, then you begin to appreciate and count simple things such as this.

In pictures are some of my blessings. Here are some of my best places I thought were jogging/running heaven in 2015.

First on the list is the Royal botanic gardens in Sydney.

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Sydney Royal Botanic gardens

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Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens

Next below is the new Barangaroo reserve. It is really refreshing to jog on this course.

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Barangaroo Reserve

The Pyrmont bay below also offered me quite a picturesque view during my lunch runs.

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A vintage tall ship along Pyrmont bay running route

And then there is the early morning jog on the beaches of Surfer’s Paradise. Most enchanting of routes.

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Surfers’ Paradise running path

 

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings”  -Eric Hoffer