Energised #GainTheEdge Client Nikki Chamberlain has written a guest blog for us on her journey to Kenya to take part in the marathon, and to raise funds for the charity Five Talents, have a read and let us know what you think……
“Thank you so much to every single person who sponsored and supported me – every single penny raised makes a real difference in helping the incredible people of Kenya take steps towards changing their lives for the better and provides them with opportunities that in many cases we take for granted.
I’m delighted to say that my final fundraising total was £1521 which smashed my original target of £1000 and which I am incredibly proud of – so thank you.
Overall, as a group we raised in excess of £40,000 for Five Talents, which is a fantastic sum of money for a small charity but very worthwhile charity such as them. This will enable them to support around 2,000 households next year in rural communities like the ones we visited together; so they are delighted.
So, I promised to share details with you about my trip. Please accept my apologies that it has taken some time to pull this together but as is often the case, life overtook me a little on my return so I wasn’t able to write up my thoughts as quickly as I would have liked. However, better late than never I hope!
It was a truly incredible experience – eye-opening, inspirational, humbling, grounding, reality-checking….all those words and more could be used to describe it.
There was a group of 50 of us who made the trip to Kenya, it was a very mixed group of ages and backgrounds but all were there to really immerse themselves in a potentially life-changing experience and to challenge themselves with an incredibly tough run albeit in a very beautiful environment.
It was a full-on, non-stop whirl of activities visiting 5 different places in just 10 days, packing up and moving on every few days and punctuated by lots of LONG road journeys by bus, mostly each of them between 3 and 6 hours!! And whilst it definitely wasn’t luxury travel it was certainly a great way to see the ‘real’ Kenya.
Hours and hours spent looking out of the bus window revealed a contrasting lush and green (but constantly changing) landscape set against rich red/brown soft dirt trails. As we approached the location of each remote rural settlement with its colourful but ramshackle mostly wooden and corrugated iron buildings, the road was lined with fruit and veg stalls made of sticks and branches
where the women sat roadside for hours on end with their buckets of potatoes, onions, tomatoes, cabbages and range of other vegetables piled high.
It became a familiar sight through the whole of the trip and one that made you realise that this was how the majority of the Kenyan population lived!
There were so many activities to keep us busy on the trip, including a visit to a giraffe sanctuary and an elephant orphanage, a half day safari, a walk through an incredible gorge and a boat trip on a lake in a National Park but the two focal points of the trip were definitely the visit to a local Trust Group project supported by the charity Five Talents and the marathon!
The main base for our trip was Kericho, a tea-growing region in western Kenya which we reached via a 5 hour plus bumpy bus journey from Nairobi!!! It was a lush, green environment with tea plantations stretching as far as the eye could see!
From this base we would visit one of the Trust Groups in the Kericho Community Development Trust (KCDT) – one of the newest regions involved in the Five Talents programme – whose development our donations would support. The KCDT is led by local co-ordinator Emmy. Emmy became a real star of our visit who spends her days travelling far and wide across the county of Kericho, helping to establish new Trust Groups and supporting their development with training and education in savings and credit processes, basic business skills, financial literacy, financial planning, book-keeping, diversification and marketing. During the first 12 months of each Trust Group, members undertake this training whilst saving what small amounts they can to build up the pot of funds. When the Trust Group is mature enough for members to take out a small loan, each client must draw up an individual business plan with support from Five Talents partner staff but it is the village Trust Group itself which decides which projects qualify for loans. Over the course of the loan repayment clients are provided with business mentoring, encouragement and ongoing training from the Development Trust team.
We visited the Trust Group in Kipsirichet in Londiani Parish. After a 1.5 hour bus ride from our hotel we approached the village down a washed away soft dirt track… we were actually amazed at how the bus driver actually got us there. We arrived to the most incredible welcome, a group of women from the village stood to sing in Swahili to the beating of a drum.
After a few minutes they turned, still singing, and beckoned us to follow them through the maize fields which hid the corrugated buildings of the village, down to the church, a wooden building with a corrugated iron roof and the only building in the village large enough to hold a reception for so many people.
They packed us into the church, mostly on plastic garden chairs, until every seat was taken and then several wooden benches were carried in and placed down the central aisle until everyone had a seat. We were joined by some of the Trust Group members and the committee whilst it seemed the rest of the village was gathered in the small churchyard outside, straining to hear what was going on and desperate to be a part of this quite unbelievable visit from this group of foreigners.
It was a unique and incredible experience as we all congregated in the church with the rain pelting down on the corrugated iron roof, almost drowning out the speeches being made!
There were many speeches, with the main themes being:
1. The immense gratitude for the micro finance platform
2. The immense gratitude for us visiting their small village
3. And for the elderly population that this was the most important day of their lives – this was incredibly humbling.
This Trust Group is only 10 months old, so they are still building their savings to enable them to take out loans but we heard how they were learning through the business training, how the committee had been established as deliberately gender diverse – so of the 6 members they must have 3 men and 3 women – and we heard from each of them.
We heard from Joseph; Joseph was a softly spoken man who runs a café in the village and has big plans for his business. When he is able to take a loan out he wants to paint his café and improve the facilities and furniture, as well as extending his menu with new dishes to create more choice for customers and greater revenue opportunities for himself. But Joseph isn’t the only entrepreneur in the family, Joseph’s wife also has big plans of her own! She wants to take a loan out to set up a small business manufacturing soap. She wants to sell the soap to the local schools as well as being able to sell it in Joseph’s café! This is just one example of an incredible family whose life and future will be immeasurably changed through the great work and support of Five Talents. And is an example of the type of opportunity that your donation helps enable.
The visit was concluded with a social reception – flasks of tea and tea cups were produced along with cakes, biscuits and ‘husks’ of boiled maize (a local delicacy I understand!). This was an opportunity to mingle with the villagers and to see some of the children who stood shyly by as photos were taken only to excitedly crowd round the camera in fits of giggles to see themselves in the picture and then demand another one and then another one be taken! It was incredibly humbling to see the simplicity of the lives of these people yet to see how genuinely happy and enthusiastic about life they seemed!
When it came time to leave, we weren’t allowed to go without the obligatory group photo – they wanted a reminder of the day the big group from the UK came to visit – so we all stood alongside the villagers for the farewell photo.
And then we were played back out of the village and up to our bus for our journey back to the hotel.
It really was an incredibly inspirational morning and a fantastic way to bring to life the work that Five Talents does.
So having completed one of the key objectives of the trip, the next one to tackle was the marathon – but it wasn’t without its challenges before we even got started!!
Our marathon day was planned for Wednesday. Months had been spent identifying and planning a course, getting all the necessary local permissions, planning where all the water stations would be as well as the start and finish line not to mention getting lots of the local athletes signed up to run with us. It was all sorted, we had a big start line on the road outside the hotel and after about half a mile we would turn onto the Unilever estate and run around the tea plantations. However, the day before our marathon the Unilever workers went on strike…but this was no peaceful protest! The people marking out our course knew little of what they were going to face until they suddenly came across rioters on parts of the course brandishing the stakes they had used as course markers against them as weapons!
The decision was made that it was too dangerous to allow us to run in that environment….so it was back to the drawing board as we had no marathon to run! Fortunately we had the most hardworking, amazing, resourceful support team who, on Tuesday evening, promised us that we would have no more than one day’s delay and that we would have a new marathon course to run on Thursday morning!
And so it proved – albeit with a much more challenging route!!
But what an unbelievable route it proved to be!
We were able to secure use of a privately owned tea plantation. Unfortunately for us it was situated on a hillside which made for a very challenging run but the bonus was the breath-taking scenery…4 times!!! (as it was a 10k loop so those of us doing the marathon had to climb the hill 4 times!!).
Just in case you were wondering, this was the map of the route!!
Race day dawned with a very early breakfast (5.30am) for which the advice (as every good marathon runner knows!!) is not to try anything new on race day! Well that might have seemed a little challenging when the hotel served up yams and boiled maize!!!
Fortunately there was Weetabix and plenty of bread rolls and marmalade to ‘carb up’ on as well!
We all had to be ready for 6.30am to load into the bus for the 45 minute drive to the marathon – and so we were all eager but slightly nervous of what we were about to face! And this was really brought home when we found out that the bus could only get us so far! The last ½ mile or so to the race start was very ‘off-road’ and so we had to walk the last bit.
But what a sight awaited us when we got there – lush green tea plantations stretching out across the hillside, a huge lake and a beautiful pagoda and pier, it was definitely THE most beautiful race setting I have ever been in and I suspect one that will be hard to beat!
And they were really getting the race day feeling going – the music was pumping, getting us all in the mood as we milled around and took some pre-race photos waiting for the 8am start time.
Adam Dickens / Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
And then it was time, our starter Nick called us all to the start line. There were 24 of us running the marathon (with some others running a half marathon and some a 10k) – we were a mixed bunch of male and female, ages ranging from early 20’s to mid-50’s, some first time marathoners and some of us had been there and done it many times before (this was to be my 10th marathon!) but none of us had done a marathon quite like this one! Also, alongside us, were some of the local Elite Kenyan runners; this was their backyard for training and they definitely showed us how it was done!
And so at 8am sharp the starting gun was fired and we were off!
For me this was never going to be a race, it was always planned to be a run in an amazing place – part of the whole adventure – so I started steadily! And it didn’t take long for the hills to kick in as almost immediately we started to climb. It also didn’t take long for the group to break up, some headed off into the distance keen to attack the challenge head on whilst some fell behind me, realising they were settling themselves in for a very long day out! And so before long I found myself running in my own space, sometimes focusing on the amazing sights and scenery around and sometimes focusing on the terrain beneath my feet, whether that was just getting up the hills or not stumbling on the uneven, rutted and rocky tracks.
On the 1st lap, every now and again, a few shy-looking children would appear out of the surrounding fields and woods, looking quizzically at you before giggling and running back where they’d appeared from.
I took the lap steady, using the run/walk approach that I use for most of my ultra races and grateful that we had 3 fuel stations out on the course supplying much needed water and bananas for sustenance!
And have I mentioned the altitude? Kericho is at around 2200m altitude which added an additional element of challenge, making breathing….which is quite an important thing to do when you are running a marathon!!!…even more difficult!
Having completed lap 1 in 1¼ hours I knew I was in for at least 5 hours out there!
Adam Dickens / Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
At the end of each lap we collected a wristband so we knew how many we had done and I plodded on chasing the holy grail of 3 wristbands so I knew I would be nearly finished!
Laps 2 and 3 required me to be really mentally tough! – as I knew how challenging each lap was and how many times I still had to go back round the route! In addition I was actually carrying an injury which I had been struggling with since mid-August and had been trying to train through. I knew the route would soon take its toll and sure enough by lap 2 I was starting to feel it. Fortunately all those hours of training for and running ultra marathons meant I had lots of mental strength to call on – but I really had to dig deep!
Every now and again I would hear light footsteps approaching behind me and a small group of Kenyan runners would breeze past me, running easily and lightly and barely breathing it seemed as I puffed and panted my way round! It was truly amazing to see and run alongside them.
By lap 2 the children had become a bit braver and had started to congregate in small groups around the course – as you approached they would run alongside you, mostly in either wellies or flip flops, and yet were still able to out-run you!
Adam Dickens / Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
By lap 3 it was definitely getting hotter and we seemed to have every possible challenge that we could have for a run – hilly off-road terrain, over 2000m altitude and the Kenyan sunshine…plus of course my grumbling injury! It was getting tough but I ploughed on!
And eventually I collected my third wristband and knew I could head out on my glory lap, lap 4.
I had always planned lap 4 as my ‘photography lap’! I had decided to make sure that I really took in all the sights and sounds and take some photos along the way – and that was exactly what I did. I mean it’s not every day that you run a marathon and get to see sights like these along the route!
Let alone the beautiful scenery!
Mind you, you don’t often get to an aid station at a marathon to be told they don’t have any bananas left because the monkeys had stolen them all!!
As I got closer and closer to the finish line I marvelled more and more at how I had managed to negotiate such a rutted, rocky course and stay on my feet…and then it happened….the finish line was in sight, I could see the tape, I was so nearly there….just 30 metres to go…nearly there….a guy by the side of the road shouted out a cheery ‘well done’ and as I turned to wave my thanks (as speaking at this point was a little beyond me!) I took my eyes off the ground for just a couple of seconds and that was all it took, I tripped on a rock and ended up face down, flat out in the dirt…..aarrrgggghhhh, I was soooo annoyed with myself! And so I picked myself up and crossed the finish line complete with blood dripping from my knee!
Ah well, it had been the most truly amazing day! 5 hours and 26 minutes of tough, tough running, but still….I’d done it!
And to round off the day they had arranged for the hotel to set up a lunch station in the pagoda and we all refuelled on an amazing buffet of chicken, potatoes and vegetables! And I was ready for it! As well as band to entertain us all! Although no-one had the energy or the legs for dancing!
It had been a truly fantastic day and experience, the like of which I think it will be very hard to find again. And there was time for one more group shot before we all headed back to the hotel to recover!
Adam Dickens / Taking Pictures, Changing Lives
That wasn’t the end of my trip. The following day we headed off to Lake Nauru for a ½ day safari and then the morning after that we said our goodbyes to our new found friends and running mates as the group broke up and we all went our separate ways. Many had booked ‘add-ons’ to the main part of the trip as I had, so I went with two others for a 2 day visit to Iten – a small remote village at 2400m altitude where many of the Kenyan champions come from, or at least have spent a lot of
time training. It was an amazing place to visit for someone who loves their running as much as I do and was a fantastic experience to round off an unbelievable and hugely emotional trip.
So there you have it – the story of my Kenya trip in words and pictures.
I hope it helped give you a sense of everything I experienced.
So finally, thank you so much again for your amazing support and I would like to wish all of you a very happy and healthy 2018 and much luck with wherever your year takes you…why not plan an adventure of your own?
Nikki x ”
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If you are looking for a challenge with an added bonus of helping others we recommend Impact Marathon Series organisers of Nikki’s Kenyan marathon and Head Coach Kim’s recent Nepal Marathon (click here to read her blog)
4 photographs including our featured Image Courtesy of Adam Dickens / Taking Pictures, Changing Lives