Life as we had known it for eleven days in Kenya stopped momentarily when I faced the opportunity a runner could only dream of – running with a marathon runner from Kenya.
Jono had told me the area surrounding the school was where local runners trained, and we had intended to join them every morning ourselves. Unfortunately, there was never time. For the first few days of this trip, I was also plagued with the remains of what had been the worst cold ever. Our first trip into town, I paid a visit to the chemist and spent the best $8 of my life on antibiotics and cough medicine. It had been two weeks since my last run.
The week progressed at the typical chaotic pace. On Tuesday, I hiked through the countryside to map all of the homes in the villages using our GPS device. Richard, a local elder, led the way as we bushwacked our way up, down and across the mountainside. We walked, climbed and crawled for an hour before we reached the first house and it was another 5 hours before we found the last house on our route.
By 8am on Thursday, the clinic was organized for the Community Health Day and the front porch was full of people. We began writing numbers on small squares of paper for the queue, and the numbers reached 80 before the end of the day.
People came from miles around for a check-up at the new clinic. We handed out Tylenol, cough syrup, bandaged ankles and knees, and checked the blood pressure and glucose levels of every adult. I performed my first fetal doppler on a pregnant woman who hadn’t felt her baby move in a few days. We heard the heartbeat right away and she left a little skeptical, but smiling.
Our hearts were torn when we saw the first child with full blown AIDS. We couldn’t tell the grandfather because to be diagnosed with AIDS here is a curse. It was the second child I had seen in the late stages of this horrible disease, and it leaves you feeling helpless. The stories of that day are endless and the memories, good and bad, will stay with me forever.
We didn’t eat all day because the stream of patients were non-stop. They sat in the grass, and on the benches we had built for the front porch, waiting their turn to get help for whatever ailed them. It was about 9pm when we had finally finished our soup, the only meal of the day, and were discussing the next day’s chores when David, the marathon runner, gently knocked on the door. He wanted to know if I would still join him for a run on Friday morning. My heart skipped a beat.
It was frightening to think I could possibly keep pace with a man who can finish a marathon in “two hours and a few minutes” as he said it. But, I accepted his invitation and by 6:30a the next morning he was standing by the guard’s house stretching.
We borrowed the MedicForce rental car and drove up the mountain to higher altitude as he explained that this is where the runners go to sprint. He kept a pace that was comfortably hard for me and I stopped twice by the road as he sprinted up a hill and back down. Just 100 meters to the end of the run he told me to sprint to the finish. I made it halfway before I finally ran out of air.
On the way home we saw his training partners – there must have been 20+ men running what would be a 42km run. Their path would take them on a dirt road that goes past the Osiligi school; a road that elite runners from all over the world use for their training because of its altitude and pleasant climate.
Who could have ever guessed the surprises that awaited me on this trip.