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!

Bunda Hill, A Convenience Stop

Last Easter, the just ended one, was a near perfect break, what with the plans to scale a number of hills within Malawi. On one extreme end I was toying with a plan to hike at least five hills within four days, and on the other end of the pendulum, there was a modest ambition to attempt at least two hills within my home city. When all was said and done, I humbled myself and settled for a hill and a mountain.

I returned to Bunda Hill for the first time this year. This is a small hill on the south west of Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi. It is a dynamite in a small package, so to speak. With an elevation gain of a mere 284 metres, it does not boast of any worldly fame. However, this bare rock is not barren at all, and at the summit, it offers a smashing view of the city from a nature’s beauty point of view.

So on Saturday morning, equipped with just a bottle of water, two energy bars and a walking stick I started off to meet my small friend. The bottom of the hill was lush with greenery, mostly from the maize fields from the surrounding villages. Being on the outskirts of the city, the dwellings are informal and belong to the locals. Here and there, dotted across the land are the inroads of modern structures. As one approaches the hill, one is met with a dormant quarry mine. This should be an eye sore, especially with the mining hole that has not been refilled. But on this day, the water that has accumulated at the base of the gaping hole looked serene. Unfortunately, soon this will be a breeding ground, if not already, of the deadly mosquito, the vector that carries the malaria-causing parasite.

 

On the surface, the pool looked exotic, what with the jagged edges that flanked it on all sides. The hill, serving as a backdrop hinted a bit of color around the areas that are simply bare rock. It was not a bad sight. In fact, I could feel a deep beckoning to continue with my small adventure. The small village at the base of the hill was not active at this time of the day. Small children, who have developed skills as local guides, swarmed and offered to take me to the top. I recognized one or two familiar faces, and noted how the passage of time had transformed them into pre-teens. I politely declined their offers and proceeded to start my hike. Today, it was going to be a solitary effort.

Immediately, I could see I had made a good choice. The hill was in a blossom of a kind, but being economical with rich soil layers, the plants, shrubs and a bit of trees were all diminutive. The flowers were small in stature, but nevertheless, brilliantly displayed. The microscope has shown that beauty does exist even at a tiny scale too small for the naked eye to pick. These flowers were many magnitudes larger than other small natural structures. There was plenty of variations of yellow, and a tiny sprinkling of purple. White was rare except right at the summit. Red came in a rather dull form. The shine had been compromised by dust, and other negative factors. Considering how barren this rock dome is supposed to be, the ensemble of colour on this day was breathtaking.

 

The hill boasted a presence of little animals too. A curious lizard here, a multi-coloured one there. And one particularly obese lizard near the top caught my attention. At this height I would have expected a reduction in food, yet here was one guy happily imbibing more calories than his shiny body could spend. Abundance, it seems, is nature’s currency even in areas where conditions are expected to be harsh.

At the summit I was greeted by a chorus of people holding charismatic prayers. This is a haven for Christians from all walks of life. Others bring their families here, and it is not uncommon to see mothers with their little tots dotting the land. The temporary rock shelters speak of overnight vigils. Prayer camps for a day or two are a favorite to most dedicated pilgrims. Despite the presence of many people at the top, there was no interference in my quest. No one paid much attention to a grown up man trying to capture photos of a wild fly searching for nectar from a flower with tantalizing petals.

Beyond the summit, the dome recedes into some kind of a saddle, and a second peak emerges beyond that. This second section is less crowded, and it is my personal favorite spot on this hill. At this height the entire campus of LUANAR, the leading agricultural university in Malawi, is visible to the west. The woodlot with a centre full of indigenous trees surrounded by a brim of eucalyptus breaks the view between the campus and the hill. On the opposite end, there lies a grazing ground called dambo in the vernacular, composed mostly of thick clay soil, and short thick grass that stays green throughout the year. Small herds of cattle and donkeys could be seen sprawled across the land, hardly making any visible movement. Docility and tranquility rolled into a harmonious continuum.

 

My eyes then got drawn to a pair falcons precariously rising in strong winds that had suddenly come from the south. They gingerly balanced themselves, as if being borne by thermal currents coming from the bottom of the hill, oblivious to the pounding forces that were buffeting against their aerodynamic bodies. Then just as they had shown up unexpectedly they darted out of sight, accelerating against the wind like rockets. I knew it was time to take leave of the goodies. Few minutes later I was down at the bottom and just avoided getting drenched by a heavy downpour.

Bunda Hill and I got on the right footing this year. And I will be returning soon, especially when I’m searching for convenience, a quick bite of adventure and a place to say a short prayer within a stone throw distance from home.

Be More Race – 79 Days to Go!

79 Days To Go!
79 Days To Go!

 

The countdown for the Be More Race is in full swing. Already we are now down to 79 days, left. Have you started your preparations? The race is for the swift to win like that adage an early bird catches the worm. So if you haven’t taken to the tracks yet, now is the time.

Later on in this series, we are going to talk to the winners of last year’s race in order to obtain useful insights for you as you prepare. For now, we can start with the basics:

 

  1. Run, my brother run. Run, my sister run.

The best advice I ever got on anything was when I was preparing to hike Kilimanjaro was that practice is the best teacher. If you will hike, the best you can do is hike often. So it goes that if you are going to run a half marathon, the best you can do is run a couple of half marathons. That is 21.2 km of fun and grit in the administration capital, Lilongwe.

Give it a try as soon as possible, and then collect the data to analyse. Are you generally weak? Are you having problems breathing? Are you too heavy? Or perhaps too light? Though I doubt if that would be a problem, but then you never know. Are you too slow? This one will be important if you want to finish among the top 10 or top 50, whichever is comfortable to you.

 

  1. Watch for general fitness

Some skills are required for specific type of sports, but fortunately, some are generally generic across the board. One such skill is the ability to be in a state of general fitness. This means you can be able to run, walk, jump, swim, bend, stretch, twist without attracting any groans. Whatever your plans for the race may be, I would suggest you start working towards gaining this level of fitness. A visit to the gym at least twice a week, or a walk three times a week, or a run over the weekend, will push you towards this state.

It’s time to give up a bit of couch potato rights and start getting active. It doesn’t have to be excessive for now. Just a little bit every day will give you some decent results. After all, when you are generally fit, it is easier to avoid physical injuries.

 

  1. Visualise the challenge

Maybe this one should have been the first thing to do. Do you have an idea how long is 5 km, 10km or 21 km? Get on a familiar road and measure this distance. These days it is not difficult to achieve this. You can use a number of apps on iPhone or any Android phone. You can also use the odometer in your car. Drive the distance, then walk the distance. You can even run the distance later. Have a mental picture of the distance you will cover on the day of the race. That will help you build stamina against the challenge.

 

  1. Hydrate

Gone are the days when it was a macho thing to walk for a month without taking a glass of water. You need to train yourself to take water regularly. Start doing that now, so that by the time to race comes, you’d have conditioned yourself to maintain healthy levels of hydration. You’ll need it.

So forget about studying the camel for now. On that day, you’ll be like the hippo. Not, the shape of course, but the love for water. You will have taken a lot of water the previous day, and on the day of the race, there will be more bottles waiting for you.

 

  1. Sleep, and sleep some more

How much do you sleep these days? To be a great athlete you must learn to rest the body. And sleep, in large quantities, achieves that better than any other method of resting. Start working towards sleeping normal hours so that by the date of the race, you would have trained your body to rest, relax and be in primal condition for a day of fun and endurance.

I wonder if sleep could be adopted as a hobby. I know most of us could use more sleep everyday.

 

  1. Take it easy

This will seem to contradict the first point. As much as it is important to jog often, it doesn’t have to be a daily activity. You will have to pace yourself. Listen to your body and give yourself frequent breaks. Maybe between the long runs, you could have days for sprinting very short distances. You might also push between the runs, a visit to the gym or a walk in the park.

The point is that don’t try to be gazelle, cheetah, and elephant all rolled into one within 79 days. Take it easy.  Do the best you can, and avoid injury.

 

  1. Tell a friend

It’s great to win. It’s even greater to win among friends. Anyone who will participate will gain something because with Be More Race, everyone is a winner. Build a local team by inviting friends to join the race. And this is the best time to gel with your team members. Plan to do weekly runs together. The more the merrier.

Well, now that you have basic tools, it’s time for you to put them to use. Wishing you great preparations as we are all looking forward to that great race, which is among Malawi’s greatest races. Remember, it is 79 days to go.

See you soon!

 

 

Be More Race – 100 Days to Go!

Be More Race
Be More Race

Malawi’s flagship road race is back!!

Standard Bank’s Be More Race returns in June in the city of its birth, Lilongwe. Finer details are still being worked on, but the most important news is the excitement of the second edition taking place in Malawi’s Administrative Capital.

Malawi is part of Africa’s largest banking family by assets that the Standard Bank group is.

I’m excited to cover the event as it falls under outdoors and adventure, two key attributes of this blog. It also includes family, running and walking. Last year, the turnout was around 1500, and this year, numbers are expected to increase. I will do my little part to motivate others to join the race. I intend to participate for the fun part of it, and will be sharing my experiences along key phases of the race.

Be More Race is more than just running the distance. It offers several categories to accommodate children, casual runners and competitive athletes.

The Be More Race takes the format of a half marathon, which starts from Standard Bank’s imposing Head Office compound in the heart of Lilongwe’s City Center. For those with a keen eye, Lilongwe is a city that is green with trees and well manicured gardens as you drive around it.

Be More Race is fun. It has a category for casual runners, which covers the first 5 km. This is best suitable for families that want to develop an outdoors lifestyle. The children love it, and get to see athletes in action. At the finish line, there are games for the little ones, to keep on engaging their young minds.

Be More Race is five-star entertainment. All participants are treated to live modern music performances. Sumptuous food bites are served along with drinks.

Be More Race is tough. The duelling distance of 21 km under the blazing African sun requires ruggedness, persistence and a resolute mind. Those that set their mind to finish the entire course are made out of tough – nothing else.

Be More Race is very competitive. The race is open to professional athletes that gun for the top positions. There is an award and a podium moment for the first three athletes (3 Men and 3 Women). Runners pour out their souls as they fight to be the very best. After all, such an accolade will last for an entire year, and it is worth fighting for.

Be More Race is a prestigious occasion. Last year, the Guest of Honour, was the State Vice President Dr. Saulos Klaus Chilima and accompanying him was the Minister of Labour,Youth, Sports and Manpower Development Honourable Francis Lazalo Kasaila. Both the opening and closing ceremonies were graced by dignitaries from all walks of life and different levels of society. Most even attempted to cover some respectable distance.

Be More Race is one of the biggest corporate racing event in Malawi. The private sector, customers, leaders of Government, and diplomatic corps converge together to be part of this rallying call. Others choose to be partners by providing specific services and products.

Be More Race is forward looking. It is simply the one of best, toughest, yet all-inclusive and family friendly events in Malawi. While being fun all the way. Keep the date. Be More!

Read It Again: I Change Not

Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It only has four chapters but contains a powerful end-time message. It closes off with a prophesy on the First Coming and the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It also prophesies about each coming being preceded by Elijah the prophet.

But today’s reflection is on the passage that is found in Chapter 3. God declares that He’s the Lord and He changes not. What does that mean? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Modern thinking says that if someone does not change, he or she would be regarded as being rigid, perhaps old-fashioned, unreasonable and so on and so forth.

In the case of our Lord, is that statement restricting or liberating? Well, let’s consider the following:

  • What if I presented a battery that changes not? It would run forever.
  • What if you packed food that never changes? It would never go bad. There would be no expiry date on it.
  • What if you had a bank account that changed not? It would never run out of funds.

Do you now get the idea?

So read again Malachi 3: 6.

And the God that changes not?

  1. He will always be All-Powerful (Omnipotent).
  2. He will always be All-Knowing (Omniscient).
  3. He will always be Ever-Present (Omnipresent).
  4. He will always be the Only Healer (Jehovah-Rapha).
  5. He will always be The Only Provider (Jehovah-Jireh).
  6. He will always be Our Peace (Jehovah-Shalom).
  7. He will always be Our Shepherd (Jehovah-Raah).
  8. He will always be Our Guide (The Holy Spirit).
  9. He will always be Our Teacher (The Holy Spirit).
  10. He will always be The Prophet (The Son of Man).
  11. He will always be The Way (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  12. He will always be The Truth (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  13. He will always be The Life (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  14. He will always be The Light of Men (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  15. He will always be The Lamb of God (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  16. He will always be The High Priest (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  17. He will always be The Author and Finisher of Our Faith (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  18. He will always be The Christ (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  19. He will always be The Eternal, Immortal, Invisible King (Our Lord Jesus Christ).
  20. He will always be The Creator (Our Lord Jesus Christ).

I could go on extolling His Wonderful Name. But you get the idea.

With all these great attributes, why should He ever change? This is our Assurance. This is our Comfort.

The fact that He changes not, it’s the best thing that ever happened to us. And being such a versatile Creator (just look around), He is not rigid at all. On the contrary, He is simply Amazing.

Now, that’s a God I can freely worship with all my heart, all my strength, and all soul!

Heavy and flat-footed third run

Third run, done!
Third run, done!

Yesterday’s run was both interesting and very challenging. Last week was no action in terms of jogging because I had given myself a week to recover from the hiking adventure on Mulanje Mountain from 13 to 15 January. By Thursday, I could feel that my body was ready to hit the road, but I thought there was no need to be too eager to resume the workouts.

So yesterday came with a feeling of rest and complete recovery. I was feeling invigorated and motivated to hit the rubber (the sole of my shoes) on the asphalt. I searched for the theme of the run. Was it just a casual trot, a speed session or a range session? I thought I could settle for the speed session. I wanted to cover the same distance I had covered during my second run over a week ago in less time.

My first run covered a distance of 5.41 km in 39:54 minutes at an average pace of 7′ 23”/km. My second run covered a distance of 6.91 km in 57:22 minutes at an average pace of 8′ 18”/km. So could I push it to say 5′ 30”/km? I could see myself bathed in the glory of great performance. This was reinforced by the images I saw over the weekend when I was watching the Paris Marathon. Those athletes were running with grace at a pace that looked like a gazelle in motion. They were flying over the trail and covered 42 km in just 2 hours and a few minutes.

Soon after knocking off from the office, I changed into my sports kit and hit the road. I was alone as Andrew Khoko, my running partner, was away on a short break. My legs felt heavy and my chest refused to rise and fall in the expected rhythmic pattern. My mind screamed against me and advised me to stop. How could I stop when I had just started the run? This did not make sense. This is not what I was expecting. I was fresh, eager, motivated and focused. I had my game plan ready and had considered my approach. Yet, my body refused to kick in.

What to do? I went into brute force mode. I pushed the body and told myself things will improve once the body warms up. I covered the first kilometre very miserably. I heard from my running app that I had covered the kilometre at an average speed within 6 minutes. Oh? Really? So I was going marginally faster than the last run. It did not feel like it. Well, if only I could maintain the momentum. By the second kilometre my body was warmed up but I was still feeling heavy on my feet.

Then I was hit with a nasty smell. I thought to myself, “Am I turning into a sniffing dog?” My senses seemed to be heightened with the jog. I then traced the offending smell from an informal, and perhaps illegal refuse damp, just few metres away from the road but hidden out of sight. This did not improve my situation.

I kept running but I needed help. My condition was worsening by the minute. I raised my voice to God and cried for help. I prayed while my legs were pumping. “Dear Lord, please, help me. I want to get lighter on my feet and find the motivation to complete this run.” I prayed along those lines but I kept running.

Just after completing 3 kilometres I was engulfed in another foul smell. I recognised it immediately. It was coming from a roadkill. Someone had run over a dog, which probably had hobbled into the bush and miserably died from its wounds. The city council garbage collectors had missed its presence and failed to remove the decaying carcass.

After four kilometres, I chased out of my mind any lingering thoughts about quitting this run. This was going to be done. My pace had somewhat slowed down, but kept on pushing. “Hey! Am I getting lighter on my feet?” Wow! This was exciting. My prayer had been answered. I was not super light, yet most definitely I was not heavy anymore. I felt energy infusing my body. A kilometre later, I started my countdown.

When I reached Bwandilo, a trading turf at the entrance of Area 47, a low-density residential area in Lilongwe, I was greeted by a welcome aroma of roasted beef. Hmmm… I think that beef came from cattle that was feeding on alfalfa. “Ha! That must be chicken. Organic, local, hybrid?” My mind was having a nice time, and when I woke up from my fantasies, the run was nearly over.

I clocked 6.88 km on my running app, which was covered in 49:14 minutes at an average pace of 7′ 09”. Not bad. It was not the envisioned speed of a cheetah, but I noticed an improvement of 1′ 09”. I reached home relieved and happy that it was all over. Well, at least for now.

A bit of stats.
A bit of stats.