Of Bananas, Coconuts, & Oreos (Part II)

It is the quirky things like jogging that mark me out as strange. In truth, I discovered long distance running way before I ever traveled out of Kenya. At the Aga Khan Academy, we’d have one day a year dedicated to “torture by running” in the form of a marathon. In retrospect, the distance couldn’t have been more than 5-10km but pounding on pavement with the wrong kind of shoes, under a hot and dusty sun, it certainly felt a lot farther.

In the long run (pun intended), this annual shock therapy got me hooked and during the “off season” I’d do long jogs every Sunday afternoon. It turned out to be a great way for clearing my mind, reflecting on the past seven days, and planning for the week ahead. It was part of a ritual I looked forward to. Sunday morning involved going to mass, and on the way back I’d buy a copy of the Sunday Nation. Once I got home, this would promptly be shared out between my parents, my sisters, my cousin, and I. However, as long as I got to read “Whispers”by Wahome Mutahi and Philip Ochieng’s opinion column, I was good. After lunch, and possibly a movie on one of the national TV stations, NTV, KTN, or KBC, I’d don my neon blue track pants, sneakers, a t-shirt, and head out.

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At the United World College of South East Asia, Singapore, I finally benefited from having a running coach. I trained at Singapore Polytechnic with their track and field team. Our coach, a former member of Singapore’s national running team was great. His skill at encouraging and nurturing the budding runner within me was demonstrated by the meets I competed at, even placing in the top three several times. In 2003, at the end of my first year at UWCSEA I was awarded the “Best Male Athlete” award. That was sweet of the athletics department, to note and encourage my participation in sports, but it was also hilarious. On the one hand, I didn’t think I’d been that awesome on the track. I’d certainly gotten my ass kicked multiple times, but I was approaching the sport as an amateur; I had no plans to go professional. Just training next to future champions was exhilarating enough for me. On the other hand, my award seemed to piss off at least one other runner, personally. Jaffery just could not stomach the idea that I’d received the “Best Athlete” commendation. After the fact, he repeatedly challenged me to a race, or at least to tell him my personal record for a 5K or 10K. He was a sprinter; I was into long distances, the comparison seemed absurd to me. But seeing the teenage envy in his face made the accolade twice as savory.

running

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Since then, my running has morphed severally. As an assistant teacher at Friends’ Kigama Secondary School in Western Kenya, I was a track and field coach. I would take a group of approximately 10 seventeen to nineteen-year-olds through practice. We’d always begin with some stretching before hitting the road. Those guys were good! I’d have them going uphill, down a valley and then uphill once more and they’d hand it to me, every time. But it was a lot of fun.

In the first two years at college, running took a back burner. I remember going to see the athletics running coach during the first week or so of school and asking how the team conducted practice. When he mentioned time commitment to the tune of 3 hours a day, I ran, not walked, ran out without ever looking back. I certainly spent time pumping iron at the gym (#beachbody), but in the end I’d inevitably return to running. Easton, Pa had several trails around town and those were always fun to explore. When I studied abroad in Sydney for a semester, running by the beach and on the cliff tops made for a great time. Back at Lafayette, I could work out on the new track/football field during the fall, and if the weather was really nice trails by the Delaware river beckoned me into the woods.

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Moving to Miami for my doctoral program, running became a game changer. Writing, a major component of my doctoral work, involved mental gymnastics and a lot of sedentary time at the library or my work desk at home. That was the yin. Running proved to be the yang. Gym shorts, a t-shirt, and my sneakers were all I needed to hit the sidewalks of area code 305. In the beginning I ran mostly in shady, secluded neighborhoods such as Bird Road and South West 57th Ave. Where pavements lacked, I could venture out onto the street because traffic was usually light by the time I went for a run. When I moved apartments and relocated to the much shadier Overtown, I began running to the beach at Virginia Key more often. This meant crossing the Miami CBD and financial district before hitting the Rickenbacker Causeway. A great attraction to this route was that it featured 2 elevated bridges – a welcome addition to the flatland that is Miami.

After not having ran competitively for almost 7 years, I finally signed up for a sprint triathlon in Sebring, Florida. I was so excited for the trip. I looked at various options on how to get there , including renting a car, but I eventually settled for Amtrack. Getting to the train station was a walk and bus ride away. Getting the bike onto the train ended up being a bit of a hassle. It turned out that I should have brought along tools for removing the bike pedals. That had not occurred to me so I hadn’t brought any with me. I forget how the conductor and I eventually got the bike onto the train. I think I ended up having it next to me in the compartment, rather than keeping it in the designated bike carriage. In any case, I made it to Sebring, alighted, and rode to the pre-race sign-in location. After checking in and receiving my gear – bib, t-shirt, and hooks – I indulged in the free pasta meal that was being offered. Nothing fancy; these folks were not out to master Italian cuisine. They simply offered you a nice big chunk of free carbs. On the evening before a 0.3 mile swim, a 14mile bike route, and a 3 mile run, I was not being especially choosy.

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