- They are in their mid-life stages, well past the prime of their youth. But do not be fooled by the years.
- Kenya’s growing army of tourism marathoners is going places, touring the world for both the fleeting kicks and charity.
- The odd thing about most of them is that they were never into athletics before, but your regular couch-potatoes hogging the TV remote control unit and, as one of them puts it, riding elevators to the first floor.
If you live along Lang’ata Road or use it frequently, especially in the morning, you may have seen a lean woman jogging on a regular basis near Bomas of Kenya.
Sweat literally pouring from her forehead, she cuts the image of a professional athlete in action. But looks can be deceiving, for this woman, as we discovered last week, is a study in the unexpected.
Her name in Joyce Nduku, a mother of two and a nutrition field officer with the Kenya Medical Research Institute.
Running is her other life, and, watching her heave and pant on Lang’ata Road, there is no mistaking that this is her other love as well. She has run in almost every major marathon in the world, not as a competitor, but as a participant. Or, if you may like, a sports tourist.
She started active running at the “tender age” of 53 in 2007, and for her 56th birthday she completed the 56-kilometre Ocean-to-Ocean ultra-marathon in South Africa. She runs 15 kilometres every day in preparation for world majors, and for her nothing beats the high of the wind on her face as her feet pound the earth.
Joyce may seem misplaced in the midst of the heavy Lang’ata traffic jam, but she is just one among a growing number of middle-aged Kenyans who have taken up marathon tourism as a pastime, and who regularly sponsor themselves to the world’s major running events.
A good number of them have never set foot on a racing track, having spent the better part of their lives chasing careers and watching over their families.
And now, most of them in their 40s and 50s, they, all of a sudden, have found a common interest in ‘running the world’... and having a great deal of fun while at it.
Joyce, for instance, has run two major global marathons since 2009. Her last race was the Nairobi Standard Chartered Marathon last month, which she completed despite a nagging tendon injury. Before then, she had been to Ndakaini, ran the Mater Heart Run, conquered the MTN Marathon in Uganda, raced on the foot of Africa’s tallest mountain in the Kilimanjaro Marathon, and sampled the delights of the US in the Chicago Marathon.
“At around 2007 when I started running I had a recurrent knee problem,” she says. “I thought the problem would blow up into something major like arthritis, but a medical colleague suggested running as a remedy for the ailment. And it worked!” That, to her, was the beginning of a journey that would take her around the world. She has never looked back, or slowed down, since.
Another recreational marathoner is Joseph Wang’endo, the executive director of Bloodlink Foundation.
About 10 years ago, he was a “regular Nairobi guy, stuck in traffic just like everyone else, eating nyama choma just like everyone else, taking elevators to first floor like everyone else, and worrying about lifestyle diseases just like everyone else”.
HIT THE ROAD
Then he decided to reorganise himself, and that reorganisation led him to the marathons of the world. In 2005, at the age of 44, Wang’endo decided to go for the 42-kilometre Standard Chartered full marathon but gave up at the 30-kilometre mark, too exhausted to continue.
He was unfit, he concluded, and so he hit the road like crazy, running between 12 and 15 kilometres every weekday morning and 21 kilometres on Saturday. The dedication worked, and a year later he crossed the finish line of the Nairobi marathon.
Now aged 52, Wang’endo splits his time between his office, his family and his jogs. His friends, most of whom play golf, cannot understand why a man his age would be testing his body on 42-kilometre courses, but he says the bug has bitten deep.