Standard Bank’s Be More Race half marathon 2018 edition took place on Saturday, 9 June in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It was a great race that more than lived up to its name. To say that Standard Bank and its partners went out of their way to make this event probably one of the best, if not the best city race in Malawi, would be making an understatement. It was simply awesome! It was a great success. On Saturday, Standard Bank moved forward.
People from all walks of life converged at Standard Bank Head Office early in the morning. Everyone was there – professional athletes, club runners, wellness enthusiasts, dignitaries and the curious. It was a congregation of achievers, fighters and hopefuls. It was interesting to see the super fit mix with couch potatoes. One great thing was that all faces were wearing looks of confidence. No one was going to drop out of the race.
I was in the company of my lovely wife, Cathy. This time she was not coming to cheerlead me but to participate in the race. We both registered for the longest hit. The appeal for 21 km was too alluring to resist. We decided to challenge ourselves to the limit. It was both our first time to participate in such a big race. But one thing was for sure, we were ready for it. It had to be done. This was one item off the bucket list.
The race offered three great choices – 21 km, 10 km and 5 km categories. Each category had a different route. The starting off point was the same, but the start off times were different. Those in the 21 km hit were allowed to start first, followed by the 10 km category and lastly the 5 km hit. This was a race for everyone. Families, clubs, groups and friends were encouraged to run together. Little ones were there too.
The Main Circuit of the Race
The Start Line was placed strategically between Independence Drive and Convention Drive. I did not lose the double meaning, being that we were all preparing to move forward. The Guest of Honour, the State Vice President Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima joined the race just in time before start-off. He took part in the warm up aerobics. This was followed by the National Anthem. Then he had the honour of signalling the start time for the main event. Exactly at 6:00 am, he shot into the air twice and we all took off. Other than this singular honour, he decided to participate in the event by running too. He had done the same last year at the inaugural Be More Race.
As a blogger (ahem!) I spied on his physique and I could tell he enjoyed doing this. He is in great shape. Surely, I must be able to do something about my physical fitness too. A busy desk job or tight deadlines are not an excuse for not getting fit, and maintaining it by participating in various exercises. The list is endless to choose from, and the frequency is set at daily, with preset rests to allow the body to cope and adjust. Our Vice President joins presidents in the SADC region that are promoting an active health lifestyle, starting from our neighbor in the west, Zambia to further down in South Africa.
The fresh first trimester
Before I was at the head of the road from the Start Line, top athletes were already battling for the front line on the Convention Drive. They were thundering down the road as if they were a head of buffaloes. The spirit of competition was palpable. And excitement was in the air too. Today, I was not going to be the last one. Whatever happened, I would make sure that I could use the energy all around me to propel me forward. I had to be more.
By the time I turned into the Convention Drive, I could see that the group had split into two. The first group was out of sight, and I would not see it again till the end of the race. The second group was ahead of me, increasing the gap furiously. I was being overtaken, left, right, centre. Okay, perhaps not centre, unless one would have to jump over me, a thing I hoped would not happen. This was not a gender and age sensitive acceleration. Women, old, and a few young ones were bent on emerging winners in the main race. I could only silently admire them all.
We went up the first slope then dropped down in a descent. It was a gentle slope, as if it was an appetiser of what was to come. Just to be sure, I looked back and I could see that there was still a large crowd behind me. The colorful Standard Bank branded Be More t-shirts were shimmering in the morning light. The competition numbers, most pinned in front, and some pinned at the back, reminded everyone that we were in a serious competition. This was a day to prove one’s mettle.
Just ahead of the road, Umodzi Park greeted runners as the five-star hotel stood majestically within the park. Just below it, and in front of Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) stood the finish line. Here was a truth in the saying that so close yet so far away. To get back to this spot, we would have to go round the city before returning from the opposite direction, drenched in sweat.
At the traffic lights, the route joined Presidential Way heading towards the roundabout near the Malawi Parliament building. On our right was the Masoleum, where the body of the founder of Malawi, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda lies in state.
Past the roundabout the road continues towards Area 18 roundabout. This section is currently under construction. The two single lanes are in the process of being expanded to a dual carriage way. But for now, cars are being forced to utilize one and half lanes, the rest having being taken up by construction barricades.
We added to the traffic pressure by running on the road. Others preferred using the pedestrian track that has seen the best of days. On this section the road goes up twice and down once. The first ascent goes past the Lilongwe Baptist Church on the left and the descent skirts around the Seventh Day Adventist campus.
As we were negotiating the first slope, my friend Patrick Machika appeared from behind. He’s the Deputy IT Director at Accountant General’s Department, under Ministry of Finance. I know he was recently nursing a swollen, and painful knee. And that he was contemplating on not attending this year’s Be More Race.
But here he was galloping in the wind like a stallion. He overtook me, gave me a word of encouragement and disappeared ahead. I greatly admired his tenacity. His wife, Lisnet was somewhere close by with Cathy, my wife. Cathy now had an important duty to stay ahead of Lisnet for my sake.
After the Area 18 roundabout, we joined Gomani Road. Fortunately, it starts with a downhill slope, giving you a chance to demonstrate your ability to control your pace. But to those that don’t know that this is a race to run with patience, sprint down the road with consequences further down the route.
There’s also construction on this road with two places having physical constrictions. At both sites, we found cars that had left the road and got catapulted into adjacent ditches. I only hope there was no loss to life.
On this road there are about three undulating slopes. I had clocked my best running time in the first trimester. Unofficially, I took the whole route and divided it into three segments of seven kilometers each. And each segment, I called it a trimester for evaluation purposes.
My best time was six minutes and 25 seconds per kilometer. I sustained it up to the first six kilometers. But my best was not good enough. At this pace, I was still being overtaken by other runners.
I suspect that in order to have a decent run, one should run around five minutes per kilometer. Getting yourself to run below that limit will most likely graduate you into the winners circle.
I was not dejected by my performance. On the contrary, I was happy to get to experience first hand how a marathon works. It was also impressive to note that the spirit of outdoors is very much alive in the country.
Every human race was here, and performance is definitely colour blind. To the one who is committed, focused and prepared, the podium of success awaits.
Though I was doing this for fun, it wouldn’t hurt to be among the top three. I will test my ambition in the future Be More races. It will be all about similar routes, same legs and heart but a different approach. It will be about moving forward with a winner’s approach.
The second traditional trimester
The second trimester started on the same Gomani road. As we were going up the last slope, the first station came into view. A certain Caucasian lady who had just overtaken me raised up her hands and screamed, “water!”.
I affirmed. She said she was getting worried but now was clearly happy. She gladly took a bottle of water from one of the crew members and took off with renewed energy.
Immediately after the water point, the route turned into the road towards Ntandire, probably the most popular slum in this area.
The magnificent Bingu Sports Stadium dominated all structures here. And the road went downhill.
We had practiced running on this section with Cathy. By that time, she had to break into a walk just before the last slope on Gomani Road. This time around she completed the first trimester without effort, and shot down the road towards Ntandire. That is called self improvement.
At the bottom of the slope, Lingadzi River crosses the road. Beyond that, Ntandire is on the right and the low density, Area 47, on the left. This river has recently caused havoc to both areas with seasonal flooding.
A recent case that caught the nation’s eye involved a military rescue operation that airlifted two boys from Ntandire that were marooned on a makeshift river island caused by surging waters. The State Vice President was in charge of the successful rescue operation.
Just up ahead spectators lined up on both sides of the road. There was a water point too. On the left, women in colorful traditional wear were dancing to Gule wa Nkulu drums. Gule wa Nkulu is a traditional dance practiced by the Chewas, the dominant ethnic group of the central region of Malawi with historical roots from Uganda.
The Be More Race crew on the right was offering water and an energy snack. The snack was peeled sugarcane sticks wrapped in a plastic bag. I was flattered. My recent outdoors have involved experiments with local foods including bananas, roasted local maize and tangerines. Be More Race moved forward with the traditional touch.
The Ntandire Slope
Then came the first true test on the runners. The road went up a significantly steep incline. Other than this spot, there was perhaps only one more section with a similar challenge.
Mariam Matola or Mimitola in short, owner of The Sweat Factory, the famous female-only gym in Lilongwe, had overtaken me while going down the slope before crossing the Lingadzi river. Now, she had slowed down a little bit and I happily overtook her. I did the same to a few more runners but when I got to the top of the slope I tanked.
Then appeared from behind, a lanky runner and encouraged me not to stop. Micheal Baza is a lawyer by profession and he’s no stranger to half-marathons. While in Blantyre he had participated in half-marathons that were organized by an IT company called Burco between 2010 and 2013.
After a little chit-chat, and after the sting of the slope was gone, he took off gracefully. His athletic body made it look easy. He put a decent 200 meters gap between us.
African Bible College, Gateway Mall and beyond
The road flattened and traffic was on the increase. This road is part of the western bypass for road users traveling on the national road connecting the cities. Heavy goods trucks use this road to avoid getting slowed down by the inner city roads.
These heavy truckers had no respect to the tiny runners in blue Standard Bank colours. This forced us to run on the rough dirty tracks while avoiding oncoming cyclists.
There is a big campus on the left for African Bible College, which offers education, a Christian radio and both a community and top of the range hospital services. Next to it is the newly constructed Gateway Mall, famous for modern supermarkets, electronics shops, upmarket saloons and decent banking halls.
Further down the road, we reached Mchinji roundabout and turned left into Queen’s Road. Here the road is gentle, with a a slow uphill like an upturned trampoline.
Mimitola took this terrain to her advantage and overtook me again. Though, I returned the favour down the road, she maintained her lead and finished ahead of me. She has gotten herself into marathon trouble. Next year, all she will see will be my victorious back disappearing in front of her.
Down the road, Queen’s emptied into City Mall roundabout. During practice, the route was supposed to turn into M1 on the left. Instead it continued straight ahead into Mzimba Road, which separates the low density Area 6 on the left, and the semi-industrial Area 5 on the right.
This is probably the most beautiful road segment of the entire route. It is a modern road, with light traffic and plenty of tarmac running track. And as a bonus the road was gently slipping downhill. Standard Bank scored twice for this touch.
Just after the roundabout, the countdown began. There was a poster showing 9 km, meaning that was the distance remaining to the finish line. Later on, there was another sign for 6 km then 3 km.
At the bottom of the road, the route reached Amina House roundabout and turned into Chilambula Drive on the left. There was a water point there.
The grinding third trimester
Chilambula Drive offered the last comfort before going uphill. Here the effects of long distance started kicking in. I caught up with a few runners that had charged forward before.
This included Michael Baza. He had stopped to adjust his shoe laces, and I was sure he would be overtaking me soon afterwards. It never happened, and I cannot hide my glee about it. I will be rubbing it in for the next 12 months. Hehehe!
At this point I started contemplating on consistency. Consistency is a currency for all aspects of life. If you are able to do something consistently, regardless of speed of execution, your performance will be somewhat great. But if you could consistently do something with great speed, then you will performing like a superstar.
At the head of the road, the route turned into M1 and slopped towards Lingadzi bridge. Then it turned uphill. Just when the route crossed Area 18 roundabout for the second time, I stopped. My fuel tank was empty and I was running on fumes.
I broke into a brisk, power walk keeping in mind that Michael was catching up.
M1, Chayamba Drive and Chilembwe Road
This was the next tough uphill slope. Botanic gardens were on the right and high density but very popular Area 18 on the left.
In my mind, I was going to cruise past this segment. The reality was that my body was tired, my soles were burning and my right calf muscle was injured. I had endured pain from that muscle for over 10 kilometers and now, it was difficult to tolerate it anymore.
There was a watering hole ahead, and for my sake I decided to arrive there running. I forced a trot and a smile on my face. The crew was very encouraging as had been on all the previous rest points.
I grabbed my bottle of water, declined the sugarcane sticks, and proceeded on my run. As soon as I was past the point I dropped back into a walk. The rest of the way was a combination of walking and running.
Further up the road, the route turned right into Chayamba Drive and turned right again into Chilembwe Road. Low density Area 10 was on the left, and there was plenty of shade from the shadows cast by the mighty mbawa (mahogany) trees that line up both sides of the road.
I overtook a few runners and forced myself up the last slope on Chilembwe Road. Capital Hill, the main campus for government ministries was on the right.
The decision to walk, though seemingly convenient, had cost my key metrics. My average speed had dropped from the six minutes bracket to seven minutes. Hard as I tried to regain it, my tired body simply failed to cope with the strain.
I reached the bottom of the road with Capital Hotel on the left and BICC on the right. The route turned into the Independence Drive and gave the last short uphill stretch. I gave out my best, and dragged myself towards the end.
A race is about finishing it. It doesn’t matter how you started it. It’s all about crossing the finish line. That’s all. Everything else is just tantalizing details to an epic adventure. All eyes are fixed on that crossing line. So I did the same.
The Finish Line
I saw the Finish Line ahead. I looked behind to assess competition. I had been overtaken just when I was getting into Umodzi Park. I did not want a repeat.
I eased across the Finish Line with the best smile I could master, under the circumstances. An overwhelming sense of achievement washed over me. I had just completed successfully my first half marathon. 21 km of sheer pleasure, fun and effort were now under the belt.
I could only lift my eyes to Heaven and say, “Thank you, Lord!”.
I received a medal, my first one, and wore it proudly around the neck.
Cathy, completed her 21 km race and received her medal too.
The race attracted people from all walks of life, each one with a story that could inspire us all. But the one that caught my attention was the story of Robert Kapanda, a very close family friend. He was involved in a car accident in 2008, which left him with broken bones on his legs and arm. His beautiful wife, Linda, was left with a broken left arm, and their three months old daughter, at the time, had a broken femur on the left leg.
He underwent several surgeries, and now has pins, a metal plate and screws which are permanent. He can never bend one of his knees, and has to use a pair of clutches to support his mobility.
Against all odds, Robert and Linda decided to participate in the Be More Race. He managed to complete the 5 km hit in one hour 5 minutes. Kudos to Robert and Linda.
I asked him a few questions as follows:
Why did you decide to participate in Be More Race 2018?
I decided to participate in the Be More Race in order to push myself to the unexpected limits. We only limit ourselves in the mind. And I also did it for fun, just to be part of the team.
With my injuries I can comfortably do static exercises. So I wanted to do an outdoor challenge to conquer my fears. I also knew that I would be running my own race, at my own pace – not competing with anyone.
What’s the message to those that might be physically challenged?
Most people who are physically challenged like me limit themselves in the things that they do. It’s like we are afraid of what people will say if we fail to achieve what we want to do physically. We need to accept our disability positively and to participate in the unthinkable sports activities to keep fit as well as socialising. Let us get out of our cocoon as they say. Disability is not inability.
Any last words?
I’m happy that I managed to do 5 km. Many thanks to my dearest wife, Linda, who is always there to lift up my spirits when I’m down with challenges and the frequent arthritis I experience on my left knee. To you Kondaine Kaliwo aka KK, my brother for giving me the confidence that I could do it. To my asisi (sister) Mtendere Gidala, my cheerleader and all friends and family who support me during my daily hustles.
I thank God for the gift of life, and for giving me a second chance in life. Glory and honour be unto Him.
[end of short interview]
Post Race Events
After this, it was all pomp and celebrations. There were moving speeches by William le Roux, the Standard Bank Chief Executive; Frank Chitembeya, Secretary General of Athletic Association of Malawi; Joseph Mwandidya, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Youth, Sports and Manpower Development; and the Guest of Honour, State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima.
I chanced a small opportunity to ask Dr. Chilima, if he had a message to the nation. He said:
“Keep healthy! Keep exercising.”
I must say, he looked every bit of his words.
The Standard Bank Chairman, Dr. Rex Harawa and Lilongwe City Council Chief Executive Moza Zeleza graced the occasion too. They joined in the award presentation ceremony. It was colourful.
The Winners’ List
- Too Mercy Telimo, KENYA, 1:22.33
- Cecilia Mhango, MALAWI, 1:24:55
- Telezisa Master, MALAWI, 1:26:36
- Kafasi Kasten, MALAWI, 1:08:51
- Kipkogey Shadrack, KENYA, 1:09:02
- Chancy Master, MALAWI, 1:09:44
The Interview with Bill
I managed to get an opportunity to talk to William le Roux, Standard Bank Chief Executive. He was clearly very happy with the event.
Here is an excerpt of our interview:
I already heard from the speech that this was a success. Did you participate?
Yes, I did the 10 km race. And I see that you did the 21 km, so you put me to shame.
(We both chuckled.)
I’m going to have to do 21 km next year.
In your view, do you think you are spreading the word across? Do you think the message is getting home?
I think so. You look around, and you can see we got a bigger field today than last year. And I expect that next year the race will even be bigger.
I don’t want to preempt anything, but I think we need to look at how we can expand this. We had a number of international athletes come in. We had Kenyans, but the Malawian athletes put up a good show, and really competed well.
We will make the race broader. I have a vision for Lilongwe City Marathon. But we’ll have to look at the logistics, and see if it is something we can put together.
That was going to be my next question. 21 km is not a small thing, but Standard Bank is about “Be More”. So could we say ultra-marathon?
Hahaha! I think let’s walk before we run.
What’s your message to Standard Bank customers, the business community and the diplomatic corps?
I would say specifically to Standard Bank customers, in respect of “Be More”, there’s a lot we are doing at the moment. Our customers are going to see a lot of changes in the service delivery channels in the course of a couple of weeks and months. And they will find our main banking hall de-congested and the service much quicker.
I invite them to use our apps on USSD platforms, etcetera. Everyday we are making improvements to our service delivery. And I believe that will make a massive difference.
To our customers, I would also like to invite them to participate. I have seen a lot of our customers at the event today. And as we build up to next year’s event, we’ll be encouraging everyone to come out and share with us.
And I would like to invite everybody to enjoy the day with us. And come and have a look at the services we are offering and the improvements to our customer service that we are making everyday.
So last words?
I think that sums it up. Just again, thank you to Thoko Unyolo and her very capable team. I wish I could name everybody that made this thing a success. All the volunteers, all the staff, the media, the media companies. Guys like yourself that helped to get the word out. We really, really appreciate it.
We can’t do that on our own. And Standard Bank wasn’t on its own. We have got numerous sponsors, some of which I mentioned up on the podium. And all of them contributed to make this a fantastic success.
Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.
Thanks a lot.
[end of interview]
The Take Home Lesson
When all is said and done, here’s the main lesson for me. Challenge yourself to achieve the impossible, and in the process of that, so many other opportunities will show up. I’ve never been a physically active person, but at this stage, it looks like my life after 40 is going to be much more active than when I was a teenager.
Be More Race 2018 Edition opened the door to a world of possibilities. I would like to challenge myself to move forward and attempt a marathon in the foreseeable future.
What about you? What’s the greatest challenge facing you right now? Don’t look away and move back. Move forward. Be More!