Easy Friday on Nkhoma Hill with Cathy

In mid-June there was a public holiday in Malawi, and Cathy and I decided to take advantage of it. We were looking for an easy getaway, and two choices presented themselves. There was Bunda hill, small, bare, chewable. And there was Nkhoma, a bit bigger, with more vegetation and right on the fringes of Lilongwe, the Capital City. So after a quick open invitation failed to yield any positive response, my wife Cathy and I took off for Nkhoma Hill.

Nkhoma Hill is beautiful throughout the year. I have covered it before on this blog. In fact, it was the first hill which I hiked this year. The views are incredible, the air fresh and the interaction with nature, magnificent. However, Cathy has always hesitated to go there on the account of one misadventure that took place in 2016. That time, I was preparing to go to Kilimanjaro, and Nkhoma was one of the hills I was trying to explore for the first time. I wanted to gain experience by visiting different hills and mountains. It was an excellent strategy.

Cathy on top of Nkhoma Hill.
Cathy on top of Nkhoma Hill.

When I got to Nkhoma for the first or second time, some insect sprayed venom on my neck. It created a ring of burning torture, and peeled off the skin. I was in pain for over a week, and it took months before my skin could return to normal. That spooked my better half, and since that time she has always skirted around any invitation to the hill. So on this particular day, it was exciting to see that she had finally overcome her fear for the mysterious sprayer. She happily and bravely accompanyed me to this scenic hill.

Sugar and Salt for Mountain Hut Guards

Our initial pace was aggressive. We wanted to reduce the time on the trial and spend more time at the peak. On the way up we came across the mountain hut that belongs to Nkhoma Hospital. The guards that look after the camping facility have lovely stories to tell. My favorite guard is Mr. Viremu. And on this day we had brought him sugar and salt. Unfortunately, he had left a shift earlier. Instead we met Mr. Enos Kalichero, who turned 73 in July. He’s still energetic, and was able to recall our previous meeting. We left him with the sugar, but asked to keep one packet for Mr. Viremu.

Then we took time to inspect the facility. There are two rooms each fitted with two single beds. There’s also extra mattresses in case you have brought in a large group. The rooms are at each end of the hut, and the mid section contains an open lounge with a fireplace. A pantry sits at one of the corners, and it has enough utensils for a group of ten, and perhaps even more.

It has been on our radar to bring up the little ones here for a night of camping. It will be their treat and the first taste of cabin camping. Anytime outside the rainy or cold seasons will perfect.

The Peak and Its Obstacle Course

Nkhoma Hill is small in terms of altitude. What it misses in height it doesn’t lack in character. The trail has pleasant twists and turns. However, the section going towards the peak is something else. It packs a punch and guarantees a sweat. There are boulders that must be negotiated. Thick shrubs line up the trail and offer a shade of sorts.

This is the section that makes hiking the hill worthwhile. Variety is key in keeping return visits to a hill fresh and interesting. In the case of Nkhoma, the pieces of rock that stand in your way offer a fresh perspective on each new visit. I truly wish there were many places that could hold your attention like the way this section does.

On our way up, we met a pair of foreigners making their way down. And other than the pleasantries that we exchanged, the only other thing that was expressed by one of them was how difficult this part of the hill was. We certainly appreciated sharing mutual respect for the terrain.

And as usual the peak was a beautiful reward. Cathy was beaming like a little girl who has just been given a bar of exotic chocolate. She took it all in one sweeping glance, and settled in by the trig pillar to enjoy the incredible view. The air is always fresh regardless of the time of the year. And on this day, it was no different,

German Shoes vs African Thorns

One special attention on this hike was a set of hiking shoes we had just ordered from Germany. My foot companion that I have used since 2016 is now showing signs of aging. It has faithfully stood by my feet, but now effects of the African sun, wind, and dust have taken their toil. The same story was happening to Cathy’s hiking shoes.

The new pairs were rather pretty, light and came with a fantastic grip. My pair was everything I would look for in a hiking shoe. And I was happily gliding along the trail until a sharp pain from my foot woke me from my blissful state. I let out a shriek and limped to a halt. What could have possibly pierced through both skin and flesh with such intensity?

The Angry African Thorn
The Angry African Thorn

My eyes followed down my leg that was painfully suspended in the air only to find a troop of thorns hugging the sole of the new shoe. One member had managed to pierce through what I had assumed to be the rugged base of the shoe. Its menacing tip was now lodged deep in my foot. I could not believe it. For all the great praise we shower on German engineering, the African thorn had just proved itself untamable.

Being non-discriminatory, the thorn had easily defeated the first world engineering marvel and sent an alert to me at the same time. The message was loud and clear. Despite all the advances in science and technology, the wild still remains aloof above man’s achievements. At a moment’s notice, it is able to demonstrate, rather cruelly, just how much still needs to be done to guarantee man’s safety and comfort.

I pulled it out. I examined the damage and proceeded with the hike, a bit more cautiously of course. And after a while, the pain subsided, the beauty of surroundings took over, and soon I was back into my blissful state again.

Wrapping Up First Half in Style and Looking Ahead

Come to think of it, this was our last adventure in the first half of the year. It had started with a visit to Nkhoma Hill, and ended up with a return to the same hill. The third quarter of the year has been planned to be a resting period. And once the body has taken care of all aches, burns and tears, it will be time to resume a return to the wild.

Malawi, just like most parts of the world, has a lot to offer. And in the second half, we intend to explore the northern parts of the country. There is the Elephant Rock in Mzuzu, Hola mountain in Mzimba, Misuku Hills in Chitipa and the escarpment in Karonga.

There are also a few interesting places in Ntcheu in the Centre and Machinga in the South. So let’s see how many we will be able to visit in the coming three months.

In the meantime, I’m extremely proud of Cathy for overcoming her fears, and at the same time I have my respects to the thorn that cheapened the superior German engineering.

This is the tale of Nkhoma Hill, whose turns and twists will never cease to evolve as long at the Earth stands on its orbit, and the sun continues to give us light and warmth.

Cheers!

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!

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!

An Easy Weekend

My Recorded Performance

This Saturday was about taking it easy after a hectic week at the office. So what better way to unwind that waking up at 4 in the morning and heading out for a run. Cathy, my lovely wife, was by my side as a companion and cheerleader number one. She knows how to nurse back my bruised ego to perfect health.

Sampling The Goods

I’ve been following the preparations to the Standard Bank Be More Race slated for 9 June in Lilongwe. The routes for the three categories are out. So I thought of sampling the main route and experience it for ourselves.

Since the main dish has not been served yet, I’ll reserve the detailed narration for later. Suffice to say whosoever settled for the route has a taste for finer things in life.

Walking parts of it, and running the rest of it, the experience was awesome.

The Recording Glitch

I had wanted to record every inch of the way. I set up the running app and got going. After playing the first power song, everything went quiet. Nearly two kilometers later, the system went back online.

Fortunately, Cathy’s app worked smoothly. So we have a perfect record of the distance covered, thanks to her alertness.

Cathy’s Perfect Record

The Verdict

I intend to sample out the remaining routes in the days to come. But for the main route all I can say is it is JUICY, ENGAGING and totally SUCCULENT!

You cannot afford to miss the day. So keep the date: 9 June 2018.

See you there.

Childhood City Adventures: Kunkha (gleaning the harvest)

Some things we do as kids later on tend to be seeds of greatness or phenomenal success. However, there are other things whose intricate value is difficult to ascertain, other than that they were moments of pleasure. One such thing was the practice of gleaning. Whenever the sweet potatoes would be harvested in the fields just outside our neighborhood, we would go and glean after what was left. Usually, these would be little tubers too small to be worth the effort of getting them off the ground. We would glean with pieces of sticks, instead of the usual hoes. Nonetheless, from time to time, one would stumble upon a sizeable tuber.

Occassionally, we would be given a chase by owners of adjacent fields whose harvest was still full, and who would mistake us for thieves. At one point, a field owner who had a sugarcane field nearby gave us a chase while wielding a sharp panga knife. We later made peace when it became apparent to him that we were not after the sweet grass. In a way, this was fun – dangerous fun , if there’s such a thing.

After the exercise, we would put all our “harvest” together and head back home for a night of feasting. As indicated in the previous article, we would set up bon fires at the Lisimbas, who happened to be my next door neighbours in Nkolokosa, a high density location in Blantyre. We called our sweet potatoes kunkha, which simply means gleaning after the harvest. And it’s an expression not restricted to sweet potatoes. It can apply to anything that is picked up after the harvest.

Gathering around the fire, we would put the kunkha on the hot ashes, and wait for the sweet aroma to signify the roasting was complete. The potatoes would become soft to the touch and when poked with a piece of grass or wire, it would easily pierce through the skin. Again, ash was always nearby, so the face would become painted in strokes of grey and black, while we indulged.

As I recall, this was the practice year in, year out until one day the Lisimbas came up with a brilliant innovation. Instead of throwing the tubers on the direct fire, they put them in a tin and sealed it with a thick plastic cover. Our prized harvest suddenly became a steamed affair, and the improvement on taste was through the roof! No more ash on the face, no more burnt skin, and there was much consistent texture all around the tubers.

Come to think of it, years later, Kondwani Lisimba went into food production and is now a renowned chef, food production manager and owner of a food production company. So maybe after all, everything we do as little ones serves as tributaries that come together to form one gushing river further down in the stream of life.

Kunkha, both the old and new ways, gave us a first glimpse of camp cooking while in the comfort of our homes.

Childhood City Adventures: M’bulitso (grain popping)

The series on childhood adventures continues.Something inside each one of us wants to do more than merely just existing. This is best illustrated when we are young. And this could be because at that age there are no constraints yet on one’s thinking. Reality has not turned into an inhibitor, which is commonly the case when we grow up.

As parents were busy buying what they assumed to be quality food to keep us at bay, and jerseys for cold evenings after the maize harvest, our minds were drawn to something else. This was the season of open bon fires made from piling up dried maize stalks, twigs and dried grass.

Sometimes we could make the fire at the Luphales, where Chifundo and Henry lived, or across the street at the Mkorongos where Gloria, late Joseph, Nebiot and Yotam domiciled. But the “baddest” ones were built at my next door neighbours. The Lisimbas had natural leaders in Chikondi, Fred and Kondwani.

One day we made one big fire whose flames overtook the power lines. When someone suggested that this could cause a huge electric fire, we all took off to our houses leaving Kondwani and Fred to sort out the mess. Fortunately nothing happened and one by one, soot covered faces reappeared to continue with the pleasures of the evening.

Amidst the dying embers, with wild stories making rounds, the highlight of the evening unfolded. The Lisimbas threw maize grains on the ashes and eager faces gazed intently on the fire. As soon as a popping sound was heard, someone would pounce on the pop, rake it off the fire, pick it up quickly, blow off the ash and toss into his/her mouth.

Since it was still hot, the pop would be chewed with the mouth open, pumping the cheeks at the same time to fan cool air into the mouth’s chamber. All this would be done in a fraction of a second, too fast for any outsider to comprehend the sophistication involved in eating local popcorn.

Put this on endless repeat. For whatever reasons the reflex of the big boys was as fast as lightening. After a few futile attempts, as the faces of the younger ones showed despair mercy would come with a pop extended to you on dancing palms. Holding it still would burn the hand of the benefactor. As soon as the transfer was made, the dancing of palms would switch to you before popping the food gem into one’s grateful mouth. Fanning the pop while smiling at the same time cemented the deal.

One pop at a time, with story after story while warming ourselves on the open fire, soot all over our faces, we passed many a pleasant evening. We used to call the pops, and the popping process, m’bulitso in the vernacular. A transliteration would be popping. No amount of modern popcorn purchased from the grocery could replace this fun.

Oh by the way, to the m’bulitso connoisseurs, they always knew the maize grain was about to pop when it would start hissing then whistle. Seconds later, there would be the familiar popping sound not unlike the sound of the opening of a champagne bottle. And within that second, the pop would be in the mouth. Any delay in retrieving the pop from the fire would burn it, sucking up its succulence.

Now, I look back at the bon fire on many nights, having forgotten all the stories that were shared. However, I can still see the reflection of the dying embers in the eyes of my friends, and watch in my mind once again the joys of m’bulitso.

Go ahead. Try it around a campfire with family and friends. It may offer a native alternative to roasting marshmallows.

Lilongwe City Race Is Tomorrow

If you happen to be in Lilongwe over the weekend, look up the calendar and you’ll see you had put a small cross on 12 May. That’s because that was a day reserved for Be More City Run/Walk.

Come and join the athletes ,families and fitness enthusiasts who will breeze through 10 km as an appetizer for the main race in June. The rest of us will run – at our pace or even walk. Some will run a little bit, and walk some more. Whatever the strategy, it will be important to participate.

The race will start promptly at 6:00. These races are known for time keeping. So it is best to show up early. You can register online or via Whatsapp for free . Check the details on the poster below. If you are busy, you can also register tomorrow. Just make sure you give yourself enough time for the registration.

To all of us, remember to have plenty of sleep and hydrate ahead of the race. Dehydration is a show-stopper. So drink lots of water and other fluids. And as usual, stay away from the hard stuff.

See you at the start line. And remember the main race is coming on June 9, 2018 in its inaugural city, Lilongwe.

Be More!

The Last Of the Triad

Be More Race has introduced interim runs this year as a way to raise awareness of the main race on 9 June that will take place in the scenic Lilongwe City. This triad has targeted the three main cities, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. Each hit has been aptly named City Race and it covers 10 km. The races for Blantyre and Mzuzu have already taken place. The first one was in south on 14 April and in the north on 21 April.

Now it’s a golden chance for Lilongwe to have a taste of this sumptuous race. 10 km is just enough to get you sweating and give you pointers for the main race to come next month. The Be More Lilongwe City Race will take place this coming Saturday on 12 May 2018. It will start at exactly 6 in the morning. It will start from Standard Bank Capital City Branch at City Centre. Admission is free of charge. I guess it doesn’t get any better than that.

I’m planning to attend and see how far my preparations have been. It will also be an opportunity to learn from other runners and pick up a technique or two. If you happen to be in town please plan to attend.

Be More!

The Three Peaks and other extreme sports in Malawi

We may not have an ultra marathon yet but as far as extreme sports is concerned Malawi is not far behind. We have the Yacht Race on Lake Malawi, we have the Porters’ Race on Mulanje Mountain, we have the Be More Race in Lilongwe. And we also have the Three Peaks walk in Blantyre. These are all annual events.

I have been covering the Be More Race, and I’m planning on attempting the 21 km race. I expect nothing but fireworks and fun. I’m not so sure about the Porters’ Race. Perhaps that could be sampled next year. But I’m having an irresistible temptation to try the Three Peaks walk this year as well.

The Three Peaks walk covers 48 km in a day and that includes hiking three mountains in Blantyre and reaching each summit. The mountains involved are Michiru, Ndirande and finally Soche, in that order. To say this is very challenging would be making an understatement.

One family friend of ours gave it a try last year. Esnat Chilije completed all the three mountains. It’s no wonder that this year she attempted the City Race in Blantyre organized by Standard Bank as a runner up to the Be More Race. It took place on 14 April. We were inspired by her accomplishments and are planning to follow suit.

In the meantime, I’m reaching for the straws and trying desperately to assure myself I can do this. The only comfort is that I did several long walks in Cape Town back in 2012. I could take almost the whole day to walk 34 km from the end of the train line in Simon’s Town to Mowbray.

And in 2016 (I’m not so sure about 2015) in Lilongwe I walked several times from Bunda Hill to Area 47 covering a distance between 34 and 36 km. That included reaching the summit of Bunda Hill. Besides that I have also done Three Peaks in Lilongwe, but drove in-between instead of walking.

Not much compared to what is to come, but somehow that should count a little bit. No? Cathy my sweet wife is eager to participate in the Three Peaks walk and I can only reflect the enthusiasm. Ahem!

So keep June clear and start preparing for the Three Peaks in Blantyre and/or the Porters Race in Mulanje. The City Race for Lilongwe will be on 12 May at 6:00 am at Standard City Centre and the one for Mzuzu already took place on 21 April and the main Be More Race, again in Lilongwe, will be on 9th June.

I haven’t had time to research about the Yacht Race in Mangochi, but keep an eye on it too. (I only hope it hasn’t taken place yet! 🙈)

To all those that love outdoors, extreme sports and nature, now is the time to get active. Get started!

The Breathtaking Lake Chilwa Basin

Did you know that Malawi has a salt water lake? It is situated in Zomba and it is called Lake Chilwa. That’s a strange name and I’m clueless of its origin. The lake is part of a basin that goes as far as Phalombe, a district that is adjacent to Zomba towards the rising of the sun. As a basin, there’s a marshland that is home to wild ducks and many more species of birds, some of which have become protected by the country’s laws.

I first visited the lake when I was very young. I could have been 12 years old or younger. There was one dirty road that led straight to the only jetty. The rest of the area was covered in reeds. It was very hot and the air tasted salty. Or that could have been my imagination playing tricks on me. I was told the water was not suitable for drinking, but added a special flavour to the fish caught from the lake.

The fishermen were still using primitive fishing methods. I found it colorful. One would take a circular net and flash it in the air before it landed in the water. Or so I think. (This fragment of flashback has to be checked with facts on the ground – and there’s your trip to this circular shaped lake.) The lake was not deep, as a result people were using canoes to cross it to the biggest island some kilometers away. The canoes had two large holes on their side. One was near the front, and the other near the rear. Instead of paddles, they were using long bamboos for propelling the canoes forward.

The boatman would sink the bamboo until it touched the seabed and then heave it backwards. Then he would proceed to pull it out of the water and cast it in front of him and repeat the process. The canoes would move forward very slowly. Everything was in a slow motion. Then someone would take a bucket and empty the water that was sipping into the canoe through the two holes.

No one could explain the function of the two holes. And no one seemed particularly concerned that the water was deliberately let into the canoe in the first place. This was a game of neither efficiency nor speed. Fortunately, it looked idyllic and artistic. There was no need to rush – the lake was not going anywhere. Incidentally, this is the only lake in Malawi without an outlet, so truly it was not going anywhere.

We bought bags of sun dried fish and headed back to Blantyre where my mum cut it open in the middle, opened it up, cleaned it, dipped it in a dough and fried it in cooking oil. This was a favorite snack, a fish finger of sorts, for those with melancholic attachment to village life. I ate my fill especially the one that was spiced with the hot peri-peri pepper powder. That was my romantic connection to the lake of salty waters.

But like many good things that must come to an end, the bags slowly disappeared and with it my crunchy snack. By the way, this was the only time my mum let me near this snack. Buying it elsewhere was a no, no! “Dirty, dingy kitchens and unhygienic preparation process”, she’d constantly warn me. My great uncle Mr Gwembere, an adventurer with fishing boats on Lake Malawi, who taught me fly fishing from our front lawn, broke the rules once and bought me a massive local fish finger under strict instructions not to share the secret with mum. I ate it with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, waiting at any moment to break into sweat, my tummy churning into a storm. It’s a good thing it never happened, and after some time the secret bubbled into a confession to mum.

I never returned to Lake Chilwa until after college. I was with a friend looking for rice paddies where an aromatic rice variety is grown in the rice schemes dotted around the lake. But that is a story for another day.

The Lake Chilwa basin is now under threat from low rainfall, invensive farming methods, siltation and effects of climate change. With a history of drying up during acute drought spells, one only prays that conservation efforts from various players will be able to mitigate against the destructive forces bent on decimating this precious ecosystem.