Be More Race 2018 Awesome! Moving Forward!

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.

Leading by example. William and Debbie le Roux in action.
Leading by example. William and Debbie le Roux in action.

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.

Guest of Honour in action. State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima (middle).
Guest of Honour in action. State Vice President, Right Honourable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima (middle).

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.

Presidential Way

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.

Gomani Road

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.

Traditional Touch

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.

Mzimba Road

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.

My Hero

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]

Robert Kapanda at the finish line (left). Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka (right).
Robert Kapanda at the finish line (left). Dr. Matthews Mtumbuka (right).

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.

Dr Rex Harawa (right), Cathy (middle) & myself (left) after the race.
Dr Rex Harawa (right), Cathy (middle) & myself (left) after the race.

The Winners’ List

Women

  1. Too Mercy Telimo, KENYA, 1:22.33
  2. Cecilia Mhango, MALAWI, 1:24:55
  3. Telezisa Master, MALAWI, 1:26:36

Men

  1. Kafasi Kasten, MALAWI, 1:08:51
  2. Kipkogey Shadrack, KENYA, 1:09:02
  3. 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]

Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.
Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.

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!

Message from the State Vice President on tomorrow’s Be More Race

I have a friend who says the best can get better. It’s a beautiful conceptual model of continuous improvement. Whatever we think is great today, we can make it greater tomorrow.

Be More Race just got that kind of better. When I thought all had been said about the race, today we got an important message. The State Vice President, Right Honorable Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima of the Republic of Malawi has added his timely support to Be More Race.

He is championing togetherness that different teams have shown during the preparation process. And he believes that the same spirit will help build up the nation.

Wonderful words of wisdom. Pay heed and enjoy the video below:

Be More!

Be More Race 2018 Edition is Finally Here

The day we have been waiting for is finally here. The first announcement on this blog about the Be More Race 2018 Edition was nearly 100 days ago. Standard Bank invited its customers, business community, diplomatic corps and the general public to the bank’s flagship half marathon.

The date is Saturday, 9 June 2018. It will take place in Lilongwe, and the start point will be at Standard Bank Head Office in City Centre.

Registration Details and Race Start Times

You can register for Be More Race in several ways.

You can send an email to Bemorerace@standardbank.co.mw. Indicate your name and type of race.

You can also register online at www.standardbank.co.mw/bemorerace.

There are three categories of the race. The first one is 21 km, it starts at 6:00 am and entry fee is K17,000.00.

The second one is 10 km, it starts at 6:10 am and the entry fee is K11,000.00.

The last one is 5 km, it starts at 6:20 am and the entry fee is K6,000.00.

The last day of registration is this Friday at 20:00.

Let’s Keep the Environment Clean

Standard Bank has declared Be More Race environmentally friend. Every runner, every spectator, every member of the general public is being encouraged to keep the city clean.

Do not litter!
Do not litter!

Please, do not litter.

Special Message from the Chief Executive

The Chief Executive for Standard Bank, William le Roux, has a special message to Malawi.

“Why do we exercise? Exercise is a way of keeping the weight off, keeping the doctor’s bill down and generally being more alert and happy.”

Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.
Special Message from Standard Bank’s Chief Executive, William le Roux.

He has summed it up very well.

Global Running Day

On 6 June the world celebrated Global Running Day. “Be More” race hopes we used the day to warm up for the main event this Saturday.

Global Running Day.
Global Running Day.

The Main Route Video

Be More Race has released a video tracing the route for 21 km hit. If you have registered under this category, please, take time to watch and understand every inch of the route.

Make sure you reinforce your mental picture.

Some Goodie Goodies from “Be More” partner, Airtel

Mobile service provider, Airtel Malawi has promised some goodie goodies at the finish line. Spoiler alert – there will be free WiFi and other terrific offers from one of the dominant mobile network operators in the country with a presence across Africa.

Surprises from Airtel await at the Finish Line!
Surprises from Airtel await at the Finish Line!

Get Ready!

So when all is said and done, the D-Day awaits this Saturday. Please, consider the following:

Make sure if you have medical preconditions to get clearance first from your doctor.

Make sure you are properly rested.

Be sufficiently hydrated by tomorrow.

Stay away from liquor.

Register before the deadline.

Come to have fun with family and friends.

See you at the Start Line!

Be More!

Sleepover on Sapitwa, the highest peak on the tallest mountain in Malawi

A Great Mountain Sleepover Invitation

Few weeks ago Mountain Club of Malawi (MCM) sent out an invitation to its members for a sleepover on Mulanje mountain. This is the highest massif in Malawi and it is famous for beautiful trails, crystal-clear waters and amazing views.

The highest peak on Mulanje mountain is set in stone, standing at 3,002 m amsl. It is traditionally believed to be inaccessible and its name says the same in the vernacular. Explorers have nonetheless, created a trail to the peak but the environment at the top remains hostile.

The invitation was however focusing on a different aspect of the peak. This was an opportunity to view the most amazing sunset and sunrise in the country, if not on the continent. And the best way to enjoy both is to spend the night on the peak, and hope for the best.

Sapitwa Sleepover Adventure. Ngamise Gumbo (top), Chinga Miteche (left) and myself (right).
Sapitwa Sleepover Adventure. Ngamise Gumbo (top), Chinga Miteche (left) and myself (right).

The Preparation for the Sleepover

Having visited Sapitwa earlier this year with my brother and friend, Daniel Dunga, I already had an idea of what I was getting myself into. When we were there in January, it was cold, wet and windy. The environment was not friendly at all. But then what would you expect of the highest point from Mozambique in the East and Namibia in the West?

Therefore, it meant that preparation for the sleepover would be in two aspects: physical and mental. The former was a straight forward affair while the latter was in a different league altogether.

For physical fitness, I went to Senga Hills last week. Before that I took a 21 km run, which I’m also using to prepare for the Be More Race this coming Saturday. There was a shorter run with a running mate. And I thought this was adequate.

As for mental preparedness, first of all I removed all fear. I also used the reputation of our Mountain Leader to calm my nerves. In addition, I committed the whole trip into the Hands of God. When He created these extreme environments, He also knew His curious children would come exploring.

The History Of Sapitwa Sleepover

Maggie O’toole and Brian Lewis, the pioneers of the extreme Sapitwa Sleepover

I’ve covered the story of Maggie O’toole and her husband Brian Lewis in a different article. She’s the current president of Mountain Club of Malawi. She’s a veteran hiker with a hiking CV that spans across all the major mountains of Malawi. What I love about this power couple is that they are both unassuming, humble, very approachable, and highly skilled in organizing mountain events.

Back in 1997, she decided to spend a night on top of Sapitwa Peak. It had not been done before that. When she pulled off this jaw-dropping stunt, it became institutionalized. Now the sleepover attracts participants from across the world. It is an annual event and takes place in the month of June, which incidentally is the beginning of the cold season in Malawi.

When I once asked her about why they decided to attempt this impossible feat, she dismissed it with a brush of her hand as if it was not a remarkable moment in the history of hiking in the country. Maggie and Brian will forever be remembered for a legacy that will never fade away as long as Mulanje mountain stands.

Gordon Benbow, the Irreplaceable Iron Man and Mountain Leader for Sapitwa Sleepover

Gordon Benbow is the custodian of all things extreme in Malawi. Somewhere between 2002 and 2004, he took over from Maggie on organizing the Sapitwa sleepover. He has been to Sapitwa Peak a record 25 times and has overseen the sleepover 14 times.

At 62, he’s as sharp, focused, strong and agile as ever before and looks set to watch the sunsets and sunrises from the bare slab at the top of the mountain for another one thousand years.

Gordon also organizes and leads in the annual Three Peaks Walk. This a grueling 48 km walk around Blantyre that includes summitting three mountains – Michiru, Ndirande and Soche, all in a single day.

Gordon is the face of Sapitwa Sleepover and the Three Peaks Walk.

Gordon Benbow, the Mountain Leader (middle). Myself (left) and Charles Nembele (right)
Gordon Benbow, the Mountain Leader (middle). Myself (left) and Charles Nembele (right)

Premium Packing and Five-Star Accommodation

Two things that are usually grossed over when recounting adventures are packing and accommodation when the hiking destination is out of town. When packing is done haphazardly, it can mean a difference between a comfortable hike or not. And in some cases, it can also mean the difference between life and death.

Cathy, my beloved wife and premier organiser

For that reason, I will not tire praising the crucial role Cathy, my wife, plays in getting ready for my hikes. For the Sapitwa Sleepover, she methodically ran over the checklist and packed every essential piece of clothing and equipment. She packed my food, which for this expedition, was outside the usual.

Just like the hike on Senga, I wanted to avoid processed food, sugar and meat. Instead, I opted for fruit, nuts and water. I wasn’t very sure how far I would go with that diet, but it was worth giving it a shot. Cathy got all that ready.

On Thursday afternoon I said goodbye to my extremely excited boys and kissed Cathy. Then I jumped into a bus from Lilongwe to Blantyre. There was no looking back.

I sat next to Frank Maele in the Axa bus. He is one of the pioneers in the ICT industry in Malawi. He is the founder and owner of CompuByte. He’s also the owner of Byte Lodges in Lilongwe, both a going concern that have weathered the harsh economic climate facing the private sector. He’s a fountain of business wisdom and I learned a lot in the 4.5 hour ride between the cities.

Uncle Gustave, my gracious host

Gustave Kaliwo, or Uncle Gustave, as I love to call him is an uncle, brother and mentor all rolled into one. He’s a veteran lawyer, just like my father, George, and both very patriotic to the core about this country and its various systems.

Uncle Gustave picked me up for the night and fixed me more fresh fruits and macadamia nuts. However, by the time I was starting off for Mulanje the next day, I had nearly cleaned off the box of macadamia nuts and munched a significant amount of bananas and some tangerines. I guess it was a smarter way of packing food for the hike.

On Friday, 1 June 2018, I woke up fresh and energized. I was eager and ready for this epic adventure in every sense of that word.

Ride to Mulanje

As previously arranged, I got dropped at the pick up point. I made sure to be at the Midima Roundabout in Limbe way before 12:45. This was using the event to improve my time-management skills. Again, I wanted to make a good impression on Gordon.

Like clock work, Gordon’s car arrived first. He had left someone behind who was five minutes late. She had to catch up with him within a 10 minute window or risk being left behind.

I jumped in the second car with Jan van der Velde . He had just moved from Lilongwe to Blantyre and he had just reported for a new job in the commercial city of Malawi. We took off to Mulanje in a convoy of three cars. The rest would catch up with us later. But few had already left before us.

It’s one hour drive from Midima turn-off in Limbe to Chitakale in Mulanje. You can do less than that when the road conditions are better. Other than the broken bridge at Nkando, the rest of the road was in excellent condition. The broken bridge was a patchy affair, which needs urgent and proper repairs.

Likhubula Start-off Point

Our start off point for the sleepover was Likhubula Forest Office. We would be spending the night on Chisepo Hut, 6 hours away. Starting off at 14:00 meant we would be at the hut by 8 in the evening.

Those that did not have an appetite for walking in the dark had started off in the morning instead. That included Barbara Swarthout-tenKate, a medical doctor, Chinga Miteche and Ngamise Gumbo, a power hiking pair, one as an IT Consultant with an international company and the other a product manager at TNM, the biggest local mobile company in Malawi.

I met Charles Nembele, a friend and my personal trainer for many years; Racheal Mijiga, a director at Airtel Malawi, the other big mobile company in the country; and Humphreys Gerald, a networks engineer with Airtel, and cyclist who enjoys covering 80 km in a day between Blantyre and Liwonde.

The rest of the hikers were from different countries across the world – UK, Germany, Netherlands, Canada, USA and so on. About 22 hikers had confirmed the invitation and had booked a seat.

A Smooth Take-off

Exactly at 14:15 we started off for Chisepo Hut. Gordon had introduced us to the guide Frank, his assistant guide Stanford Duncan and the porters. Each one was assigned a porter according to the number of bags. I opted for two porters to carry my tent, sleeping bag, clothes, food and water. In addition, I brought along a backpack too for my torch, headlamp, knife, phone, power bank, raincoat – just in case, and a warm coat.

I caught up with Racheal’s team and convinced them to slow down. Humpreys decided to join Gordon instead. This towering giant was later to recount the hard task of keeping up with Gordon. Gordon left us the assistant guide to help with the navigation. Then he took off as if he was powered by nuclear energy. I expected no less than that from him.

Chapaluka Trail to Chisepo Hut

Mulanje Mountain is gorgeous beyond words. It has 62 peaks in all shapes and sizes. The biggest peak is Sapitwa, which is not visible from the western face of the mountain. To get to Chisepo Hut from the Likhubula Forest Office, one is presented with two choices.

There is Skyline and Chapaluka trails. Skyline is shorter, steep and a delight to veteran hikers. Chapaluka is gentler, has a river running alongside it, with a double crossing. It has pools that you can swim in. It is a tourist’s choice. For this trip we all picked the Chapaluka trail.

Once at the plateau, the two trails join together and take you to the hut via the knife edge, a trail that teases your senses.

The Beauty Of Chapaluka Trail

This was my first time going up Chapaluka. The previous time was back in January when returning from Chambe hut. That time we were descending from the top. The trail did not disappoint. The air was fresh, the canopy was green with mountain flowers here and there. Some protea had a small bloom. I’m not sure if these were early or later bloomers.

Our assistant guide kept us entertained with folklore. He has also been trained not to leave any piece of litter behind. So at some point, when I was failing to open up a packet of groundnuts, I bit off a corner of the packet with my teeth and spat out a tiny piece of plastic. He immediately reached down for it and put it in his bag. I was humbled especially considering how I promote for clean hiking environments.

A Lick of the Cold and a Touch of Mountain Pools

Our focus was to make sure to complete the first ascent before sunset. We managed to do that. And just before reaching the western plateau, we went through a rainforest section. It like walking through a cold room. I felt my fingers burn with cold. Here was a foretaste of what was to come. I said nothing to the team about it.

When we reached the top, we saw stars coming out and sun bowing out of stage. We descended into a valley where the Chapulaka trail connects with a trail from Skyline. We crossed a make shift bridge composed of a loose tree plank. There is a series of pools here, and everything just looks out of this world. This is the last major watering point until Chisepo Hut.

On the other side of valley, the trail sharply rises up. The grinding started right here. Further up the trail, there’s also another steep section similar to this one.

The Night View

Darkness set in and the moon came out. The pretty little purple flowers were radiant under the bluish LED light from the torch. The silhouettes made beautiful illusions of animal shapes. Nameless peaks glowed under the moonlight.

The Milky Way, which looks absolutely exquisite here, spanning across the sky from the eastern side, slicing away towards western south, finally gave way to the luminance from the moon. The lunar charm was in full force.

Directly in front of us Scorpion menacingly glared at us with its red star. The Dipper was to our North, apparently not bothered by the presence of this stinger. A few more constellations kept us company.

A little more walk, frequent rests and careful, measured sips later and we were over the last incline. We were greeted by flashing light from the hut. When we got there it was around 22:00, 2 hours later than the scheduled period. In any case, the relief was immense. Those that we found awake gave us comforting words of solidarity.

The Night at Chisepo Hut

Chisepo Hut is the Base Camp for hikers attempting to summit Sapitwa. It proudly seats at 2,229 m amsl. At this altitude, it is further up than the highest peak on Dedza Mountain, the second tallest mountain in Malawi.

The hut is square, with a roofed veranda and a chimney that juts out from the middle of its pyramid hip roof. It has one entrance facing north. And there are two wooden bathrooms at the back. There is a big rock in front of the hut, from which you can catch a glimpse of the rock formations that tail off Sapitwa Peak.

There was adequate space inside the beautiful wooden hut, but I decided to sleep outside. I joined a few brave souls that were wrapped in their sleeping bags on thin mattresses along the veranda. I kept my body shielded against the wind, and slightly exposed the head to get a vantage point of the following day’s sunrise.

Sunrise At Chisepo Hut

On Saturday morning, we woke up early to bright clear skies. The sunrise was soothing. The color play offered rich hues of red, orange and purple on the fringes. The moon was behind the hut. It complimented the sunrise.

The pains of the previous day vanished. The air was fresh, and the wind went away with the night. Phalombe, the next district to Mulanje lay quietly below us in the direction of the sun.

Today, was the day we would be spending the night on Sapitwa. While I was busy giving myself some pep talk, Marc Henrion took off from the hut. He was wearing, in the cold of the morning, a thin t-shirt and a whimsical shot. He went for a 7 km trail run in preparation of this year’s Porters Race. A little bird told me that he’s the top performer among the foreigners’ category. By the way, this race is an annual half marathon across Mulanje Mountain, and this year it will take place on 14 July.

To go beyond extreme, he went and took a bath in the cold stream next to the hut. At such a sight, I knew I had nothing to worry about. I was surrounded by hardcore characters and that Sapitwa was going down.

A Walk to Sapitwa

After breakfast, we all set off for Sapitwa. Those that had the intentions to return to the hut on the same day left earlier than the rest of us. The wind of the previous night had convinced a few souls that it was better spending a cosy evening around the fire in the hut than having a sleepover on bare rock above us.

I joined Gordon to have a sweet taste of super performance. With tremendous effort I stayed just ahead of Gordon until the first major break. But alas, I should have known better. At that point, I felt like the heart was in my mouth. I dropped to the rear and continued at my comfortable pace. For the record, I had already told Gordon that he was a Martian straight from Mars. I got better and told him that he was powered by nuclear energy. That didn’t daunt the Mountain Leader as he scaled up the peak.

A Glider on the Obstacle Course

The trail to Sapitwa is the most twisted and savage route I have ever seen on the few mountains I have visited in Africa. It is an obstacle course that can easily stand tall in the world. Steep slopes, sharp bends, huge steps are framed with precipices in strategic sections that could claim lives.

And at some point, after we had squeezed ourselves through a thin gap between towering boulders, we saw someone approaching us at lightning speed. It was a lady and a porter. When she caught up with us, she introduced herself as Pilirani Chuma. She had started off at 4:30 am that morning from Likhubula Forest Office. She reached Chisepo Hut at 9:30 am, 15 minutes after we had started off for Sapitwa. And here she was. She overtook us and disappeared towards the peak.

I have never seen anything like that. We didn’t see her again until we reached the peak. A small bird (another one) told me that she runs 15 km daily in less than an hour and never takes second position. I was among giants of perseverance, determination and focus.

Sapitwa Peak

Later in the afternoon we got to the top. Just like last time, the view was amazing. But it was also cold and windy. The guides and the porters dropped our bags and left us to our own devices. I overheard a few porters wondering what got into our heads to decide spending a night there in such weather conditions.

I found a sweet spot between Chinga’s and Barbara’s tents. It was like the bottom of a shallow trench, with a vertical stone wall on the southern face no more than one meter tall providing some shelter. The northern side gently slanted towards it like a grand entrance. The trig pillar on the highest point was visible from the open ended enclave.

A Gourmet Meal after Checking-in

I quickly set up my tent, unpacked and changed into warm clothes. Pilirani offered me bottled water to quench my thirsty throat and Ngamise gave me chapatti (pitta bread) and beans. That served both as my lunch and dinner. The fresh bananas that I had struggled to carry were mashed and not fit to be consumed. What a waste. But the tangerines were still in good shape.

When we all got set, we gathered on the western end of the peak for social interaction. There was laughter, anecdotes and tales of adventure between clenched teeth and rubbing hands. This was a point of no return. Sleepover mode was activated.

Sunset on Sapitwa on Saturday Afternoon

After about an hour of chatting, I excused myself and retired to my tent. At that point, I was tired and cold, which made me fall asleep easily. When I woke up around 5 pm I found the peak covered in mist. The sun was going down and was casting beautiful shades of red and orange. The mist was wispy, just enough to make the sunset look mysterious.

Then it lured me to the western ledge and captivated me with its melancholic tones. It felt like immersing in a giant, invisible bowl of whipped cream that soothed the heart and brought tears to my eyes. Something seemed to say that there’s hope to life. For even if there’s a sunset in your life, there will be a sunrise the following day. Life doesn’t just fade away. It comes back. The Bible says the same thing.

Standing alone, oblivious to Marc Henrion behind me who was leaning against a rock in a sitting yoga pose and was staring into the sunset, I went into deep mediation. Pure thoughts infused my mind, and I worshipped silently. I felt connected to the best of nature. The cold, the wind and the mist disappeared. I was reaching out. Calm beyond description engulfed me. I was grateful to be alive.

Sunset on Sapitwa. Photo taken by Marc Henrion.
Sunset on Sapitwa. Photo taken by Marc Henrion.

I watched as the sun started to sink into the western horizon. Strangely enough, instead of sitting on the brim of the sliced globe, it was somewhat inside the ring of fire. It looked like the red and orange ring behind it had nothing to do with the giant deep orange and crimson red ball.

It hesitated for a moment, then vanished out of sight. The red ring on the horizon disappeared, and dark came rolling in. I woke up from my meditative state and hurried back to the tent. This was clearly my best sunset this year. Thank you Dear Lord for such moments.

The Night on Sapitwa Peak

Then the night came. Everyone resigned to their own tents. Some slept alone, and others in groups. I was a lone wolf in a tiny, two-person domed bubble. This was the only thing protecting me from the elements. The wind went incessant and raged on furiously throughout the night. More than once it felt like the tent would be pulled off its four pins and be sent hurtling over the edge of the peak. I could hear the wind slapping the tents next to mine too.

The tent kept on shaking like exaggerated effects of old Hollywood movies. Someone had left some pots outside, and the tinkling sound of metal became the unwilling percussion section of this grand concert with powerful acoustics. I slipped in and out of sleep. I added another layer of clothing and wore thermal gloves above my normal pair of gloves. My thermal pants joined my hiking pants. I had already worn my balaclava but felt cold air caressing my neck. I rummaged in one of the hiking bags and fished out a scarf. Ah yes! Thoughtful Cathy had packed this sweet little gift for me. I wrapped it around my neck and fell in love once again with my wife from the highest peak in Malawi. A special kiss was awaiting her on my return. A kiss of love and gratitude.

Nocturnal Events

I slept comfortably on the super thin mattress against undulating rock surface. The hard bed was shaped like one of those posh chairs you see on photos of first class cabins on luxury airlines. After a while, I could feel a spongy layer from less than an inch of shallow soil and bare traces of grass thinly absorbing my weight. This comfort was only available on the southern side of my bed, while the northern side gently sloped away into a hard base. The trick here was to keep on alternating between the extreme luxuries. Truly, they don’t make beds like this anymore. Hehehe!

Despite all this comfort, I only dreamt once. It was a disturbing dream. I dreamt that I had visited a shop and the person I found in the shop dropped a bomb. He told me that my current CEO at my work place had just resigned. I have worked for NITEL for 16 years, but my CEO and Managing Director Andrew Kamkwalala joined the company a year earlier than me. He’s the bulwark of the company, and has unstoppable passion for the company and all it represents. I woke up startled, searching for meaning.

More than once, I would unzip the tent’s side window and peep outside. The view of the sky was surreal. It was clear without any trace of clouds. The moon was out, casting tantalizing lays on the peaks. I was tempted to step outside, but the cold kept my enthusiasm in check.

A clear night sky with the moon up, taken from inside my tent.
A clear night sky with the moon up, taken from inside my tent.

A Quiet, Quality Time

Having much time between the sleeps, I seized the opportunity to sing and pray. I prayed for my family, friends, church, nation, children of God, everyone on Sapitwa and myself. I was grateful that such a weakling like I could find the courage to spend the night in such a harsh environment.

Lately, it has occurred to me that I had spent my life praying to God to remove obstacles in my life. Yet the Bible does not teach that. I should have been praying to God to see me through the challenges. Let the challenges come. Let the obstacles show up. So what? As long you overcome them in the end in whatever way it really doesn’t matter how your life is shaped up right now.

The prayers on this night took that form. “God, don’t let me be a coward. Don’t let circumstances cower me into submission. Don’t let negative events quench the fire in me. I’m a child of God. I have faith, and I want to live a fulfilled life. Help your children today to know what they are, so that they can stop listening to the devil, and believe the Truth that you have given us an abundant Life.” I rejoiced my victory in Christ.

Sapitwa Sunrise, the icing on the cake

Now came the crux of the matter. The reason we were on the peak was not the sleepover. Although that was lovely in its own way. We were here for the sunrise. We had all come loaded with expectations. I had heard from Maggie O’toole that this time of the year was the best time to enjoy the sunrise because the skies were crystal clear. The only variable out of control for anyone was the weather. The weather on Mulanje is unpredictable, and during the onset of cold season, it is very easy to have showers, cloud cover or fog. So we came hoping for the best.

I woke up at 5:00 and peeped outside. There was a faint line across the eastern horizon already. I got out of my tent, woke up Chinga to my left then Barbara to my right, and Gordon to my second right. I went to two more tents beyond Chinga’s and then rushed to claim a seat on the trig pillar. It wasn’t a wise move as this was too exposed. But it was the view I was after, and not any shelter.

Within minutes I couldn’t feel my lips and nose. So I made a makeshift face cover from the scarf and settled to watch the most spectacular sunrise in the country on this particular day.

The Sunrise on Sapitwa

What I experienced about the sunrise here was my first encounter, ever. I had always assumed that during the sunrise the sun reaches across the entire visible arch of the horizon. However, that is not the case. Instead of a ring of light, there was a slit of light on the eastern horizon. The rest of the world was still covered in darkness. You could actually see how far the light had penetrated the dark.

I watched as the slice of light increased in height when viewed as a profile. It seemed to have a centre where the intensity of light concentrated. On the left of that centre, the light was more diffused as if there was a giant cotton ball that was floating in a mist of yellowish red. On the right of the phantom centre, the light was sharper and was mostly bright yellow with a subtle hint of red.

I could see that most parts of Zomba and Phalombe on my left, Mulanje on my right and Blantyre, Thyolo and Chiradzulu behind my back were still in darkness. Security and street lights were still on. This was a bizarre phenomenon.

The Magic of The Sunrise

Then came visual transformations. The right side of the slice took less prominence. The centre shifted towards the left, which became brighter than before. I was confused. Could the point of ascension shift? It shouldn’t be, but in this case it looked like it moved away from the central point.

Between the peak and the horizon, there were seven layers of silhouettes, showcasing the jagged edges of the mountain peaks. Each silhouette had a different depth of its shadow. Beyond the seventh peak, clouds simulated a similar shape pattern, making it an eighth layer. It was picturesque.

In the meantime, the ring of light on the horizon started elongating. And what had looked like land meeting the sky became a floating bed of flat clouds. Up until this moment, I had not realized that sunrise was such a complex process. It was so mesmerizing.

Then fire reappeared on the centre of the original ring. The sky lit up in colors of reds, orange, yellow, purple and blue. This is the stage I’m most familiar with. Then out came a shimmering globe resplendent with celestial beauty.

The jury was out. The verdict on the sleepover was that this was by far the best sunrise I have ever seen. The last time I saw something close to this was the sunrise on Kilimanjaro back in 2016 following the summit night.

This was a day to remember.

Group photo on Sapitwa Peak after the Sleepover. Photo taken by Chinga.
Group photo on Sapitwa Peak after the Sleepover. Photo taken by Chinga.

The Sleepover over

With a deep sense of gratitude and satisfaction we wrapped up our affairs and left the mountain. I joined Chinga and Ngamise for the descent. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t keep up with their pace. Chinga slowed down for me, and Ngamise would take breaks to allow me to catch up.

It was a clear day and the mountain was radiant as usual. I drank as much of the mountain water as possible. We took the Chapaluka trail and met a few tourists going to Dziwe La Nkhalamba, an amazing natural pool set below a beautiful waterfall.

They dropped me at the Axa bus terminal in Blantyre. We said our goodbyes and I left for Lilongwe.

My biggest lesson in all this was that fresh bananas are difficult to carry to Sapitwa unless if they are placed in a special container. So next time I’ll go for dried fruit.

No, seriously, this was not the biggest lesson.

The biggest lesson is that in life challenges will not go away or get any less. We should strive therefore to get better at facing these challenges. Truly, for every cold, windy sleepover on your Sapitwa Peak, there’s a beautiful sunrise waiting.

The Expedition List

Likhubula Forest Office Start-offs

(A brave attempt on the mountain)

  1. Jan van der Velde

Sapitwa Day Excursionists

(Summiting Sapitwa but no sleepover)

  1. Rachael Mijiga
  2. Charles Nembele
  3. Humphreys Gerald

Sapitwa Sleepover Hiking Fiends

(Spending a sleepover on Sapitwa Peak)

  1. Gordon Benbow
  2. Gordon’s son
  3. Gordon’s son’s friend
  4. Barbara Swarthout-tenKate
  5. Marc Henrion
  6. Ngamise Gumbo
  7. Pilirani Chuma
  8. Donna
  9. Donna’s tent besties
  10. Donna’s female friend
  11. Donna’s male friend
  12. Chinga Miteche
  13. Kondaine Kaliwo
  14. Sarah
  15. Sarah’s friend
  16. Sarah’s friend
  17. Chris
  18. And the quiet guy

(The list will be updated once the names become available.)

 

 

“Be More Comfortable” with Sunbird As We Countdown to the race.

The African setting for any thriving village is highlighted in its interactive communal life. Standard Bank as a true African business hub has attracted various partners to its Be More Race slated for 9 June 2018. One such partner is Sunbird Hotel Group, which has produced the catchy phrase “Be More Comfortable “.

Sunbird Hotels and Resorts in the Limelight

I caught up with Alex Kachepa, Sunbird’s Marketing Executive to understand more about the partnership. According to a questionnaire that was prepared by the Communications team at Standard Bank, here is what the Sunbird Chief Executive, Yusuf Olela, had to say about their association with Be More Race.

1. Why your institution is is joining the 2018 Be More Race?

Sunbird Hotels & Resorts believes in promoting health and well-being throughout our organization. From the employees to our guests, we encourage a healthy and active lifestyle that results in more productive and happier people. We offer free gym use to our in house guests at Sunbird Capital, Sunbird Mount Soche, Sunbird Mzuzu and Sunbird Livingstonia, Sunbird Nkopola. The Be More race captures the spirit of health and exercise which Sunbird identifies with and hence would like to be a part of. Our staff is encouraged to stay healthy and active through our social sports program which includes football and netball teams made up of staff from across the group. Both resorts have invested in modern high tech equipment for waters sports for all our clients to enjoy on their visit to our lake resorts.

2. In what role are you joining the Race i.e. co-sponsors, sending team or partners?

Sunbird Hotels & Resorts is a proud partner of the Be More race.

3. What kind of services will your institution provide during the event?

Sunbird Hotels & Resorts will be providing water to participants of the Be More race as well as offering special accommodation rates to participants of the Be More race at our 2 Lilongwe properties, Sunbird Capital & Sunbird Lilongwe.

4. What Message do you have to other participants (runners) and the general public?

The Be More race is an opportunity to practice a healthy lifestyle as well as an entertaining day for all participants. Sunbird Hotels and Resorts encourage the general public to come from far and wide to participate in the Be More race. Sunbird Hotels & Resorts will support participants by sponsoring the water for runners as well as offering comfortable city accommodation to all participants.

5. Other remarks

I would like to thank standard bank for their support and promotion of wellness through Be More Race.

[end of questionnaire]

So What Does that Mean to You?

I think this should wake up the tourist in you and I. If you happen to live outside Lilongwe, next week will be an opportunity for you to come and explore the city. Book yourself comfortable nights, and discover what this place has to offer.

And then of course, make sure you are part of history by attending the race in any of the three categories n

(5 KM, 10 KM ,21) and  bring along family and friends, and have fun on 9 June 2019.

What about service Providers?

Again this is just my opinion, but Be More Race is a giant web attracting members of the business community, the diplomatic corps, Standard Bank customers and the general public.

If a service provider wishes to gain visibility, this would be that chance. Use your creativity and see how best you could use the race to promote your business, talent or offering.

Do not sleep on such a golden opportunity. As they say, opportunity favours the prepared.

After all, that is what any good bank is about – connecting you to your dreams. Standard Bank is one such a good bank in Malawi, and beyond.

And me?

I’m excited to the moon and back. This will be my first half-marathon, and I see a huge door opening beyond Be More Race. Truly, it’s great to stand on the shoulders of a giant.

Be More and catch us on June 9, 2018 !

A Weekend on Senga Hills Of Salima

The Hill Climbing Club Open Invitation

Two weeks ago, my bosom friend Chikondi Kachinjika or CK in short sent me an open invitation from the Hill Climbing Club for a weekend hike on the famous Senga Hills of Salima. The date for the event was 26 May 2018, the last Saturday of the month. Later on, another friend Alick Bwanali alias Onyamata AKB sent me the detailed program for the day.

I quickly marked the date on my calendar. This was not an opportunity to miss, for I had been trying for the last two years to find myself there. Senga Hills rise up from Senga Bay, a beautiful corner of Lake Malawi as it transverses the lakeshore district of Salima.

The program for the day promised some goodies. Admission was free. The rendezvous was the Parachute Battalion of the Malawi Defence Force. The main trail would be the same one that soldiers use for training.

Invitation from HCC to Senga Hills Hike
Invitation from HCC to Senga Hills Hike

My Preparations for the Day

I took two runs of about 7 km each in the week of the hike. I had plenty of rest, and were properly hydrated the day before the event. My supplies were simple – bottled water, one apple and some dried dates.

Unfortunately, I also picked a slight injury. What started as muscle cramps on the second run persisted for two days. I got advice from one of my trainers on how to speed track the recovery. It was very important for me not to miss the hike.

On Friday, just after lunch, in a moment of inspiration, I decided to stock up on calories the native way. I asked Cathy, my beloved wife, to prepare roasted local maize. It has never been my favourite but I thought I’d get a kick from it. Big mistake! The flinty grains destroyed my jaws and smashed my digestion. That evening was spent hunting for anti-acids in a few pharmacies in town. So much for beefing up on energy reserves the native way.

Idyllic Drive to Salima

For some reason, I could not go to bed and sustain a long sleep. I kept waking up due to excitement. At four in the morning, I got out of bed. I decided to skip my morning shower. I convinced myself that my evening bath was adequate. Ah! This was a weak line of reasoning. I gave up on it and took my hot bath – by the way, which I find relaxes the muscles much better than cold water.

I packed my essentials and started for Salima just after five in the morning. This is usually a one hour ride in a good car, but having destroyed the engine firing sequence with my recent adventure in Mangochi, I needed to take it easy. It was still dark when I left home, it was cold and as I was leaving the city boundary, it got foggy. I switched on my faulty air conditioning unit and settled in for the ride. The road was virtually empty except for very few cyclist and a lonely pedestrian here and there. At one point, a local dog, which was busy twisting its tail for the owner, lost focus and took the dance to the road. Fortunately, my speed was slow and it managed to get off the lane with a soft honk.

After a while, the fog cleared, and a soft light appeared towards the east. There was a single blueish-white star directly ahead of me. A few more stars were to my right, towards the south. Salima is a hilly district, and the road follows the contour of the area. Going up and down, curving to the left then right, the ride was getting sweet.

About half way from my destination, I could make out a flat line on the horizon. This is where the lake was located. A thin line of clouds had formed above it. It was flat at the bottom, with cotton puffs at the top. I could see a faint sky blue sipping around the clouds, with hints of light purple towards the far end on my right side.

Watching Sunrise on the way to Senga Hills
Watching Sunrise on the way to Senga Hills

Then as if on a cue, an infusion of orange started intensifying on my left side, and the cloud started getting bigger at the top. The bottom remained relatively flat. Then all at once a bright orange ball pierced through the clouds, and cast a diffused light into the morning atmosphere. I stopped the car to take it all in. This was beyond gorgeous. This was a special gift to those that were awake at that hour. It was so serene.

By the time I hit Salima Boma (the local district government centre) the rest of neighbourhood was awake. There was a concentration of bikes, people and cars. I asked for directions once or twice and finally found myself at the Parachute Battalion. I was the first to arrive, and not surprisingly, having left Lilongwe rather too early.

The long awaited hike on Senga Hills

Bit by bit, hikers arrived from all corners of the country. Some arrived from Nkhotakota, some from Lilongwe and others from within Salima. It was a good mix of seasoned hikers and rookies. We had both civilian and military officers.

We got a briefing from Captain Soko, who is second in command at the Battalion. The Chief Special Forces Instructor, Corporal Joseph Lipande, towering above everyone, and packing muscle everywhere on his super chiselled body, was introduced. Cpl Lipande gave us a detailed plan for the day. Senga hills is a collection of 12 to 15 hills. And the day’s hike would focus on the three main hills, culminating at the trig station on the highest hill. We would then descend down to the beach.

We were then introduced to the team of medics. We had an ambulance on standby that would be following us on the road parallel to the hills. And the military hospital was on alert to handle any cases of injury and exhaustion. We were immediately put at ease that we were in good hands.

Major Chimbayo, who is the Commanding Officer for the Battalion, gave us a battle cry for the Airborne Division and led us into battle – a battle with the rolling hills.

We trekked out from the Senior Officers Mess, which was our hosting station, to the starting point. The little walk warmed up our muscles as anticipation grew in the air. When we got there, ladies were asked to join the leading guides and then men came next. The medics were spread across the group, and the rear was brought up with medics and those doing Admin. Whistles were blown and then we took off.

We took a roll call, and we were 63 strong. The military is unbelievably organised and efficient to the core. The medics at the rear broke into seedy military songs. We had frequent stops to allow people to catch a breath. Everyone was encouraged to be sipping water regularly but in small portions. Not that the instruction was heeded very well as some hikers who were by now feeling very hot wished they were carrying gallons of the cool, crystal stuff. The cruel twist however was that at this point, anything heavier than a shirt would feel like it was weighing a tonne.

When we took the first major break at the top of the first hill, and were told this was the easy part, admiration mixed with deep respect spread across the faces. These hills, though, not as tall as mountains, had a serious punch. The trail was somewhat steep and the military pace, though, slowed down a million times for us, was still significantly challenging. By the way, from the beginning of the trail, to the end, the best of the MDF officers are on record to have completed it under 30 minutes. On our part, we were planning to cover the same distance in 3 hours. As a result, the military officers with us hardly broke sweat.

We started the first hill, and got to the second major hill. The trail twisted up, went up rocks, threw in a cruel practical joke here and there. By the time we reached the top, it was clear this was an obstacle course. Our guides, made sure to mix and match the trail. We got some soft parts, with a few points that required all our strength. The group started breaking up into three parts. The super fit were upfront, the majority were in the middle, and some brought up the rear. But no one was left alone. Even the slowest among us, dictated the final pace of the group. Whenever we took a major stop, we would not start again until the last hiker had shown up, flanked by medics and other military officials.

The view at the top was amazing. On the first hill, we could see the lake on the southern part of Senga Bay. The waters were a calm blue, hardly disturbed on the surface. When we got to the second hill, we could see some parts of the farthest parts of the bay on the northern side. However, the front, in the eastern direction was still hidden by the hills we were yet to conquer. Being a forest reserve used for training military personnel, the hills were well covered in green canopy. The density of trees was impressive, and in some parts almost impassable.

The descent from the second hill was the steepest. This is called Khwekhwerere or Mchombo Lende in the vernacular, and loosely translates to slippery, sliding trail and topless (you are guaranteed to take off your shirt) respectively. The slope went all the way down almost to the same level as at the beginning of the trail. Brake pads on people’s legs were smoking, and a few here and there took a slide. We were told to be five metres apart so that a falling bundle of human flesh would not take down the entire team with it. Members were openly groaning, and the guides were busy whipping up morale, by running up and down the slope. I have never seen such a display of bravado!

When we got to the bottom, we were made to rest. We took our snacks, water and listened to some music. When we were all back together, we were told that this was the last way out point. Anyone going beyond this point would be expected to complete the hike. We lost 25 members, who opted to terminate the hike. I admired their tenacity. This was a difficult trail, and they had all done very well.

Towards the Trig Point, the highest of Senga Hills

The rest of us continued towards the third hill. But in between there was a small matter of dealing with the steepest incline in the hill collection. My heart popped into my mouth, and I felt like all my energy had been sucked out of me. And with my current no-sugar diet, the body was tested to the limit to dynamically generate sugars on request. The guides in the meantime were going up and down as if they were running on a plain ground.

I remember at one point, one of the soldiers offered to pull some of the ladies. How I wished I could be offered a hand too. But my male ego stood in the way, and I forced myself forward, inch by inch. Fortunately, the temperature was alright. It was just warm enough with a lot of cool breeze trying its best to prevent our bodies from overheating. The air was fresh, and we were surrounded by sounds of the wild. Of course, at this point the singing at the back had ebbed into a grinding silence, and the DJ had broken into Gospel tunes. The timing couldn’t have been better.

We had to take a major stop before reaching the summit of this small hill. This was perhaps the most difficult section of the entire trail. Water was dangerously running low. Fortunately, those that had carried theirs in camel bags generously offered the few drops they had. Coincidentally, it was only the military that still had water on them. The civilians had emptied theirs on the way up. I was a participating student on discipline and endurance here.

When we reached the top, there was a sense of accomplishment. Although, there was still one more hill to conquer, it was clear we had persevered a hard course, and the end was nigh. One military officer told me that a victory is not sweet unless the battle is long and hard. I got the meaning immediately. In order for us to enjoy conquering the Senga Hills, it was important for us to tackle the hard parts first. I couldn’t agree more, though I doubt if my feet saw the amusement in that small talk.

Soon it was time to aim for the trig point. When we got there, we were greeted by the best view in all of Salima. The entire Senga Bay below was in view. We could see where the islands were, a few kilometres from the sandy beaches. We could see where the rice paddies were. There was a beautiful tributary feeding into the lake. In contradiction, as always, we were told it had the highest number of crocodiles in that part of the lake. So it made sense to admire it from a safe distance up in the hills.

Our pains disappeared. All that effort to get here melted into folds of satisfaction, liberally mixed with waves of accomplishment. This was worth fighting for. This was worth the pushing, shoving, towing and everything in-between. This was a great moment. If there was a technology out there to freeze moments, this would be the one place to put it into action. We took photos. We smiled. We laughed. We cheered our guides. We thanked the medics, and the rest of the military officers. There was nothing to compare this moment with anything else.

Trig Point on Senga Hills
Trig Point on Senga Hills

But like all good things, it had to come to an end. We descended and finally connected to the road leading back to the base. Others immediately jumped into the cars that were following us. Some of us, hanged back a little bit, and squeezed in a little stroll before the next pick-up.

In total, we had covered approximately 10 km of rolling hills, in about 3 hours of active walking. The rest was spent on well-deserved breaks, and view watching.

Interview with the Commanding Officer Major Mabvuto Chimbayo

I later caught up with the Commanding Officer Major Mabvuto Chimbayo. He is the officer in charge of the Parachute Battalion and leader of the Airborne Division.  I wanted to get his view of the hiking expedition. Here is an excerpt of our chat:

Please, sir, tell me about your role in the hike today.

Well, today, I was your host and facilitator for the hike. We had to provide access to the training arena for our military officers, and provide health personnel and facilities for all the members that came to participate in the hike. We had to arrange for guides, medics, ambulances and put our military hospital on alert.

We also had to make sure you had a comfortable station to start from, that is why we opened the Senior Officers’ Mess to the HCC members. This was for your refreshments, braai and relaxation.

More importantly, I also had to coordinate on the request from the Hill Climbing Club to the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for permission to access our military base.

Lastly, for the hike to be successful, we had to provide a brief about the difficulty of the terrain, and take charge of the walks so that it would be enjoyable to the club members as you have seen for yourself.

That took a lot of arrangement and coordination. Thanks very much for that. Now tell me a bit about the trail we took today.

The trail we took today was a mixed route. Some parts were difficult, and some parts were easy. We have three main trails, and today, we sampled from each one of those. As you could see, there were moments where you had to challenge yourself. You had to push yourself. I believe this is better than going to the gym.

The most difficult routine is a hill run. We did not do this one today as it requires you to be very fit. Our officers are able to complete the trail we took today in about 25 minutes.

We also had to pick a trail that would allow you to enjoy the scenic view of Senga Bay. You can see islands to the south, and the rice paddies to the north. The trail allowed you to see the best of Salima.

What is your message to the public?

As you know, non-communicable diseases (NCD) are ravaging our communities. NCDs can be prevented or managed if one is to adopt an active lifestyle. Lack of exercises contributes to the development of these diseases like types of diabetes and blood hypertension. So we advise the public to adopt exercises. It can be fun as you saw today.

Our training facilities are open to the public upon making proper arrangements. And we are there to help support the nation to get fit, lead a healthy lifestyle and contribute to the wellness of all the citizens of our country, Malawi.

Thank you, sir.

Thank you.

A Bit About the Hill Climbing Club

Then I caught up with organising members of the Hill Climbing Club to learn more about its origin, the hike, and about planned events in the year. I had a chat with Mr M’theto Lungu and Major Lameck Kalenga.

Thanks for inviting me to participate in the hike today. It was awesome.

Thank you for coming to be with us today.

Tell me about the club. Who started it and when was it started?

Well, before we start with the history of the club, let me first of all thank the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for granting permission to our request to come today to the Parachute Battalion with members of the club for a hiking day on Senga Hills.

This is part of Civil Military Relations, which the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri is promoting to enhance the relationship between the military and the public. As you might be aware, Malawi Defence Force(MDF) has been promoting public health by encouraging the citizens of the Malawi nation to adopt an active lifestyle.

We cannot thank the General enough for such a great consideration. We are looking forward to building a special relationship with the military, and will continue to engage MDF for support in granting access to training facilities for our club members.

Now, to go back to your question, this started as a discussion between Captain Bright Chanika and I (M’theto Lungu). We wanted to encourage people to adopt an active lifestyle. This was back in December 2017. We arranged for people to take walks on weekends in Lilongwe between Kaunda Filling Station and Bunda Turn Off. We also encouraged people to share on social media details of any physical activities that they had undertaken.

The original plan was to attempt a hill monthly. Unfortunately, weather and other factors got in a way.

Do you have a club president?

No, not at the moment. We have an organising committee. At the moment the members for the commitee are as follows:

Organising/ Coordinating Team are:
1. Major Lameck Kalenga – Technical Coordinator/ Advisor
Vice: Francis Muwalo
2. Capt. Kelvin Ezron Soko – Strategic Coordinator/ Advisor
Vice: Mimi
3. Major Bright Chakanika – Fitness Advisor
Vice: Capt. Henry Tembwe
4. M’theto Lungu – PR Coordinator
Vice: Fatsani Menyani
4. Lipenga – Associate Coordinator (Salima Fitness Club)
Vice: Andrew
5. Lt. Tiya – Gender Affairs
6. Major Gilbert Mittawa – Legal Instructor

But in the future, we will need to elect members to various positions. Especially since we are planning on involving companies to sponsor our activities. As you heard, today’s hike was sponsored by various companies. We are thanking them profusely. Such sponsorship has to be accounted for in a transparent manner. Hence the need to have elected members to take up leadership positions in the club.

Tell me about the membership.

The club has an open membership. The current members come from Malawi Defence Force and also from the public. We have members across the world. The majority are in Malawi, but we have some members across Africa and beyond.

At the moment, membership is free. And anyone can join our group on WhatsApp and on Facebook. If a member has a question on fitness, others will come in and assist. It is a dynamic group meant at encouraging one another to adopt an active lifestyle and remain fit.

Sorry to ask an obvious question. What is the club about?

No problem.

As you might already be aware, NCDs (non-communicable diseases) are killing more people in Malawi than even AIDS. This is a shocking state of affairs for the country. We want to encourage people to adopt regular exercising as part of their lifestyle to help prevent conditions such as heart attacks, types of diabetes, fatigue, obesity and so on.

Living a healthy lifestyle allows one to live longer. And it involves three aspects: exercising, nutrition, good health habits. All these depend on personal choices. We are here to encourage people to make those good choices in order to allow them live long happy lives. We strongly recommend that people should start exercising before doctor’s orders. Do it while it is still your choice, that way it will be fun, and cost effective. When you have to do the same as remedial, you will have to deal with heavy medical bills.

We also want to promote bonding with family members. Our activities involve all family members including children. If people had brought children today, we would have kept them entertained outside the Senior Officers’ Mess.

Finally, we want to promote local tourism. Why should it take only foreigners to come from the end of the world to appreciate the beauty around us? It should start with us. When we take hiking to different parts of the country, it will allow members to appreciate the many beautiful sceneries and views. We are going to achieve this by partnering with various companies.

We are asking companies to come forward and support us. Just like we have received the support from the companies that made the event today possible. We received support from Zambezia Health Drinks, McWise Prints, Skyline International, NaMEDIA and AutoBoiz of Kemstc Group of Companies.

We also partnered with different clubs including Salima Fitness Club, Nkhotakota Gym Centre, and Makawa Fitness Centre. Such is the partnership we are looking for, and are open to all fitness groups across the country.

What have been the activities so far this year and do you have any plans for the rest of the year?

This was the biggest event so far this year. We had over 60 hikers who participated today. Men and women. But this was our second trip to Senga Hills. The first one was in February.

We are planning to have quarterly events. The next big event will be a walk and run on the Khwekhwelere section of the Lakeshore Golomoti Road in Ntcheu. It will be in two categories – one will be 10 km and the other 20 km. We will start from the bottom of the road and climb up the famous Khwekhwerere escarpment. We will announce the dates, and we ask companies to come forward and support us.

In the meantime, we will continue having weekend walks and runs in Lilongwe, and members are asked to continue participating in physical activities wherever they may be in the world, and share the moments with fellow members on our social media groups.

Any last words?

Yes. We are a non-partisan group. We don’t have political or religious affiliations. We are inviting all members of the public to pick up an active health lifestyle regardless of age, profession or social status.

Not only will this be beneficial to individuals, but this will help the nation to reduce its national budget on health on remedial interventions and instead use the resources for national development.

Remember, exercise is difficult to start and exercise is difficult to stop. So get started. Lastly, once again, we are very grateful to the Commander of Malawi Defence Force General Griffin Supuni-Phiri for granting us the opportunity to have the hike today on Senga Hills. This was a very successful event.

Thank you.

Thanks. [End of interview]

So what do you think?

So dear reader, what do you think? Has your appetite for outdoors been whetted up? Nature is ours to enjoy, and when we undertake such an outing, we get to enjoy, relax and praise the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ for all the good things He has given us.

I thank the Hill Climbing Club for organising such a great event.

See you at the next HCC major event.

Rolling Senga Hills
Rolling Senga Hills

Get Ready! Two Weeks to the Fantastic Be More Race

Standard Bank has been sharing wellness info on its website and other social media platforms to help runners get ready for the Be More Race slated for 9 June 2018 in Lilongwe. The Bank has been also motivating the general public to embrace outdoors lifestyle.

Lilongwe City Run Winner

This year the bank introduced City races in the three major cities of the country. I, myself, participated in the final leg of the city runs/walk which was hosted in Lilongwe and it was covered on this blog.

All the top winners covered 10 km under an hour. Such was the passion and dedication to the sport. This takes countless hours of training throughout the year. And more and more runners are being encouraged to turn professional. You can have a career in athletics.

In  Lilongwe, John Kayange came first after finishing the 10 km distance in less than 40 minutes. Kayange is a professional runner. He will be one of those athletes to watch in the main event in two weeks time.

John confidently says “I can and I’m good at it too. It is also my source of money”. He’s challenging other runners to get good at it and consider it as a career.

John Kayange, Winner of Lilongwe City Run
John Kayange, Winner of Lilongwe City Run

Getting Ready

To you and I, who have never done a run before, it would seem counterintuitive to be told to slow down and start incorporating big breaks. Thoko Unyolo, Head of Marketing  Communications at Standard Bank personally advised me to cut down on the distance if I’m preparing to do the 21 km hit.

She should know having interacted with health professionals and athletic consultants during her organisation of 2017 and then 2018 Be More Race and having participated in this year’s The Two Oceans ultra-marathon in Cape Town, South Africa.

Two aspects of training involve muscle memory and recovery. The first one happens when we attend the range we desire. The second one is now essential to allow the muscles to rebuild after a strenuous exercise session.

So now that we have been training for 86 days, it is time to allow the bodies to rest, and give them a chance to perform wonders on the race day.

In a way, use these weeks to confirm your category based on your current performance. Remember the reason for the race is to have fun with family and friends, and not to pick up injury.

To the professionals, it is important to treat your bodies as long time investment accounts. Avoid injuries that could negatively affect your careers.

Let’s get ready! The main day is just 14 days away.

Read It Again: Lead Me to the Rock

Lead Me to a Rock That is Higher Than I

One of the toughest activities in the wild is rock climbing. At first sight, a rock may seem bare with no place for a foothold. Upon careful study a path appears and a pattern will reveal itself to take you to the top.

This is one craft I want to master. It will take years to perfect my skill but in the end it will be worth it. Which brings us to the topic of the day. In Psalms 61: 1 – 2, King David is in deep trouble. His heart is overwhelmed and he’s crying to God and he’s praying to God.

Then he asks for an impossible request. Instead of asking God to remove his problems, or to be taken to a soft bed of roses, he asks for a bigger challenge. He tells God “lead me to a Rock that is higher than I”. Neither does he ask God, fly me to the Rock, nor pull me to the Rock. Lead me he says. It means he’s ready to FOLLOW.

When he gets to the Rock, there will be the part of climbing it to get to the top. That is not a small matter. If this is a solution to solving problems when our hearts have been overwhelmed then help me Dear Lord.

So read it again. God wants to toughen us through the challenges we face. When we face problems God does not help us escape by running in the opposite direction. No, he leads us to a Rock that is higher than us. I want to learn from such a God. Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.

My Running Mate is Back

Running Feels Great! Andrew (right) and I (left)
Running Feels Great! Andrew (right) and I (left)

My colleague and friend from the office is back. Andrew Khoko has been swamped with work lately often knocking off in the night. As a running partner we haven’t hit the asphalt together for sometime now. Until yesterday.

Cathy, my lovely wife, came to fetch our laptop bags and office attire. We slipped into sportswear, said our goodbyes and fixed our eyes on the road.

 

Running In the Dark

I’m trying to motivate Andrew to tackle one of the routes for Be More Race. He looks to be in a better shape than I am. I’m sure he can easily end up in the top ten if he put his mind to it.Yesterday, we started off from our office in Area 43, a quiet low density suburb in Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi.

The streets were deserted except for a dog and someone who was busy playing with his phone. The lights of an approaching car made it difficult to see the road. Shielding our eyes, it became obvious that this was going to be an interesting run.

Soon enough we reached the main road and decided to run next to it. When the sun is not set yet, we sometimes take the little trails a few meters away from the road. We brush against grass, and the trail offers a few of off-road sections that are a delight to the coordination algorithms inside our brains.

But last night, we could not take those trails on account of the darkness. Perhaps, in hindsight, we should have brought along headlamps. In any case, we settled in and easily avoided trucks that were hogging their lanes and shooing us away with aggressive honking.

 

The First Three Kilometers

We took a comfortable pace to allow Andrew to warm-up and also to be gentle to my legs due to subdued aching left after last Saturday’s 21 km run with Cathy. Andrew’s chest was on fire, as expected and my Achilles’ tendon was protesting loudly.

From previous experience we knew we just had to endure the first three kilometers. After that, once the body figures out that you are ignoring the message to stop, it resigns to its fate and gives you what you want – mileage.

My estimation was that we would take about roughly an hour and ten minutes to get home. And that was alright, after all running in the dark should not be done in haste. Andrew took the lead, and the running elephant followed. (By the way, I got that title from one of the guides on Kilimanjaro some two years ago.)

There was not much to see but the air was fresh. Nature was doing an excellent job cleaning up the fumes coming out from the cars on the road.

 

Tragedy Strikes

After five kilometers Andrew dropped the pace drastically. I thought he was getting tired. I overtook him and urged him to spring back to action. Then I took off. We didn’t see each other again until after the run.

It turns out his right knee had given in. He was in pain but managed to mask his limp. Instead of stopping and canceling the run, he decided to persevere to the end. And he knew that if he had indicated his predicament that would have halted the run.

What a hero.

 

The Outcome

The Running Stats
The Running Stats

In the end, the run finished at 54 minutes 22 seconds, covering a distance of 6.99 meters. Certainly, not a record breaker in any way. But the point is to get out there and do your part. Even with a busy day, one can squeeze in a work out or two. We did it, so can you.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Birds of Childhood

Birds are probably the most fascinating group of animals outside fish. The colours, the sounds, the feeding habits, the locomotion all hold sway in our endless fascination with them.

When we were young we did not treat all birds equally. Some were good, some bad and others ugly. It had to take books, magazines, wildlife movies and talks to persuade us to regard them differently.

Here’s the list with an example from each category, not exhaustive for the sake of brevity:

THE GOOD

The good included the mighty fish eagle, the versatile kingfisher, the dashing falcon, the dainty sisisi, the feminine phingo, the ruthless mpheta, succulent pumbwa, the powerful tchete, the mysterious mwiyo.

If I’m not wrong, the biggest eagle in Malawi is nkhwazi the fish eagle. It adorns the official emblem for Malawi Police Service. It is majestic, has a sharp eye and its white plumage puts it in a class of its own. I first saw it at Blantyre Zoo then in the wild in Mangochi.

Urban legend raised its status even further. “It never misses a catch!” So we would often be told in our childhood circles. And when we learnt about refraction at school and realised that the eagle has to adjust the position of the prey on the account of bent light rays, it established itself as the ultimate predator of the skies.

THE BAD

Way before I could mention a dozen names, one bird had already stood out for being bad. Owls have very bad reputation among the locals in Malawi. They are connected to witchcraft and superstitions.

Its position of the eyes – in front instead of being on the sides – did not help its cause. And we were told it can twist the neck round and round, following your every movement. One time there was a big owl on the street light two houses away from ours. I shooed it, and it dove straight at me. I had to duck before it pulled back and flew away.

That fixed it as a bad bird. Only to be boarded by literature from the west that calls it wise. Old wise owl? I’m not so sure about that. Give me an eagle any time. Admittedly, owls have fascinating facts top of which is their ability to remain quiet while in flight. The feathers on their wings act as silencers.

THE UGLY

I hesitated coming up with this category least I may be misunderstood. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, so the saying goes. It is indeed true. However, looks or habits might contribute to the beholder thinking otherwise. For example, bats may be interesting birds however the looks department is highly compromised. Their flight pattern makes it worse, and perching on a tree trunk upside down seals it.

Then there was this bird that loves to feed on tadpoles. It likes to stand in muddy or swampy waters. It has a dull brown for a coat. Its neck assumes a terrible posture. Then it decides to have the ugliest nest ever built by a bird. That is not helping the cause Mr Natchengwa. It’s called hamerkop in English.

Here is the thing, in life we cannot all be eagles soaring in the skies above storms and worries of life. Some may very well be the other birds. Don’t feel bad, just praise God for what you are. Don’t try to stick in feathers that don’t belong to you. If you are a hamerkop, build the best ugliest nest you can manage regardless of what one child who grew up in Blantyre thinks of you.

But more importantly, if you are an eagle don’t try to blend in. Reach out for the skies. Let out your scream and hunt for fresh food. Don’t try to please brother hamerkop by scooping out a few tadpoles – they will give you serious indigestion. Don’t dye your wonderful plumage dull brown to fit in.

Let’s remember to stay humble, for the mighty eagle might fly very high but he cannot twist his neck like an owl, or fly quietly.

Life, seen in the beauty of birds, is fascinating.