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 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 !

Second Run This Week

There are days when challenges come like giant waves in the ocean of life. Yesterday, was such a day. I resigned to my desk life and discounted any possibility for a run. I reasoned that I was not in the right mental state to focus where my feet would land. Oh la la! Poor me. Then my colleague and running mate showed up and asked if we were running after knocking off.

I initially declined. Then I mulled over the question and when I saw how he seemed eager for a second run this week, I changed my mind. Maybe this could be an opportunity to have a better run, having met against performance issues with the run on Tuesday.

Ready or Not Here Comes the Run
Ready or Not Here Comes the Run

Run In the Dark

So after the dark had settled in, we took off in earnest. We were determined to beat our previous record. This was very exciting. I reckoned that at the speed we were going, we were going to shave off some 10 minutes. This time we had a light, and we thought we could get into the grass trails a little bit away from the tarmac road.

We got into the grass trail, and missed the path. No, the plan was not working as planned. We ditched the idea and resorted to running along the main road.

After joining the main road, there was a slight incline. We tried to sprint it, but our bodies were stingy with liberal energy release. We got the message and throttled back to just above engine idling revs.

The voice from the running app declared that we were doing somewhere around 6 minutes and some seconds per kilometre. Yes! This was good.

Performance is Very Expensive

While my mind was busy chasing wild imaginations of great performances, seeing ourselves attending global competitions the terrain changed. The road was now flat, and we should now be able to increase our pace once again.

Yet that is not what brought me back to reality. It was my legs that were crying for attention. It felt like I had attached blocks of lead on either side of my lower limps. Andrew was close by, but he too was also failing to increase his pace. “C’mon heart, do something. Give us a push” I pleaded. No push came along.

So I decided to change my running technique. I decided to run on my toes. More specifically it was about shifting the weight of the body to the soles of the feet, and keeping the instep, arch and heel in the air.

I took off like a gazelle. This was awesome. My wild imaginations returned. I could now feel the cool breeze on my face. I was in paradise.

Then suddenly, I felt a sharp pain on my right calf muscle. It felt like it was caught in a mechanical vice with a vicious lockjaw. I wanted to cry out in excruciating agony. The thought of stopping terrified me. “What will happen to all the minutes we had shaved off already?” I caught myself thinking.

I switched back to being flat-footed, and limped for several metres. However, I couldn’t allow myself to take a break. At that point it occurred to me that great performance is very expensive. It is not easy at all to keep improving one’s speed and range.

Damaged but Happy!
Damaged but Happy!

Focus on the Finish Line

The next update from the running app confirmed that our speed had dropped significantly. We were still in the bracket of six minutes, but the seconds were fasting approaching the limit.

I pushed myself harder. I was openly groaning whenever there were no pedestrians nearby. Andrew, my running mate, was busy fighting his own devils. His old injury on his right knee resurfaced and it was giving him problems each time he tried to pick up speed.

A stumble, a skid and a turn later we were at the finish line. We covered 6.54 km in 6’58”. This was our best performance ever. And though the gains may not seem significant, the direction of improvement is definitely positive.

Not There Yet
Not There Yet

We will continue to push harder even if it means only shaving off a second at a time. So should you in whatever you do.

See you at the finish line!

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.

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.

Know Where You Are Going

Not long ago adventure meant stepping into the unknown, riddled with untold dangers. The possibility of not coming back alive heightened the feeling of the ultimate sacrifice but nowadays we take it differently. Yes, we cannot remove all dangers from an adventure but we take precautionary measures and prepare – a lot. One such preparation is taking mental pictures.

Take Be More Race for instance. Update after update has been shared with Standard Bank customers and members of the public to allow everyone adequate time to prepare. There’s no need to show up with muscles that are stiff and a chest that can hardly heave up and down. Hit the gym now. Hit the road every week in the morning or early evening.

And here is one more weapon in your sports arsenal. Standard Bank has shared the routes ahead of the race. Take time to go through them and relate routes to the road networks in Lilongwe. If you happen to be in the Capital City then take the time to drive through the route for your run category. Then get to walk through sections of it. And if possible get to jog portions of it.

This will allow you to build a mental picture for your route. It will help you on 9 June to deal with twists and turns of the race.

Here are the routes:

The 5 km Route

The 10 km Route

The 21 km Route

Lilongwe City Race: Done and Dusted

Lilongwe City Run - Be More!
Lilongwe City Run – Be More!

It’s all a matter of perspective. 10 km passed in a modern plane at cruise speed will be fleetingly small. In a car, on the open roads 10 km is nothing. In busy cities like Lilongwe, it will be noticeable. But on your feet, pounding the hard asphalt to the rhythm of your heart, 10 km becomes 10, 000 metres!

PREAMBLE

As covered in previous articles, the city run was designed to bring Standard Bank customers, staff and the community together. It was a day where runners were encouraged to come along with their family and friends.

THE TURN OUT

The turn out was great. I made out a few familiar faces including Walter Nyamilandu, the current president of Football Association of Malawi (FAM). I couldn’t resist getting a photo opportunity with him. And his deep baritone voice helped set the mood for the race. I met Kelvin Mphonda, an old friend from college days. He’s an Assistant Director of Roads, Ministry of Transport and Public Works. There were peoples of all races, ages and gender. The youngest was 8 years old and the oldest perhaps was in his 70s.

THE START LINE

After signing the indemnity forms and getting the race number, we all gathered at the start line. This was a proper affair with the modern square arch marking the spot. There was an ambulance and lots of Police and race officials. Then a trainer appeared in front of the crowd and took us through a warm-up session. It was more like a dance-aerobic session. I felt the warmth of blood surging in all the four corners of my body. I was ready.

When it was 2 minutes to the starting time, Malawi National Anthem played on the loud, high-fidelity speakers. Some runners cheered, and others stood at attention of sorts. Exactly at 6:00 a whistle was blown and we all took off.

HERO OF THE DAY

I decided to take a comfortable pace and watched a sea of faces run past me. Steady and Easy was my strategy. What’s more, there was a high chance of catching up with some of these runners later on in the race. As I was busy fiddling with my phone, an athletic pulled up next to me. He looked like a smaller version of Bolt. We struck up conversation and got to learn that he was Ian Msampha. He was a survivor of a nasty car accident that left him with a broken leg – in three places, and a broken left hand. The accident occurred off Lilongwe City limits in September 2015. After surgery, where they inserted a metal bar to support his femur, the doctors said he would never walk again unassisted. The family then decided to involve a physiotherapist from Blantyre who had strict routines, some starting off as early as 4:00 am.

Bit by bit, he started going to the gym. He started bench pressing a 50 kg bar, and went as high as 140 kg. And here he was actively participating in the race. To me he was the hero of the race.

THE ROUTE

The route that was selected was very scenic. Starting off from the heart of New City Centre, the part of Lilongwe without dust, it went past the majestic Reserve Bank building, the only structure that is thin at the bottom, and wides out like an inverted stepped triangle. At the far end of that road, the route brushed shoulders with the boundary of Lilongwe Sanctuary, where wild animals are rehabilitated and released into the jungle, if they are still capable of fending for themselves. Then the route turned north and went past the American Embassy, the new South African High Commission complex and the DFID offices (Department For International Development). On the opposite side, there was a forest composed of indigenous trees. It was green everywhere.

At the Malawi Parliament roundabout it turned west. The Parliament buildings were in sight, and this architectural marvel does not disappoint. The route had been steady until this stage. It sloped down a little bit, and then started going up. Further down the road, it turned north again at Area 18 roundabout. This is where the first challenge emerged. The slope was considerably significant. In the mornings when going to work, it is not uncommon to see loaded trucks that have broken down on this section. People and machines alike find this section difficult to navigate. The road from the Parliament roundabout and this road bordering the popular Area 18 form two sides of a rectangle housing the Botanic Gardens. This is a favorite spot if one is looking to pray, study or reconnect with nature.

Further up the road, the route turned right into the low density Area 10. The road sloped down and offered some respite to the now tired runners. An undulating pattern led the road to a junction between Area 12 and Area 11, and the road turned right. This section, thankfully eased on the ankle, offering a gentle negative angle. In front of the road was The Golden Peacock Mall, and Golden Peacock Hotel in the background towering everything. The mall is one of the biggest in City Centre and boasts of shops, restaurants and office space.

At the bottom of the road the fun abruptly vanished. The route turned right, and up, and up and up, towards the finish line. This was the last challenge meant to test the resolve of both the experienced and the uninitiated. Capital Hotel was to the right, and Mungo Park further up the road. The latter has the only five-star hotel in the country, and also has the prestigious Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC). All these are beautiful compounds, but at this point, it was likely that the runners were not noticing these, only focusing on completing the race at BICC.

There was three watering points along the way, and at each junction a race official would pair with police members showing directions and controlling traffic. The preparation that went into this must have been massive considering the attention that was given to the details.

THE TOP TEN

Then came matters of ranking. The first position went to John Waldron who clocked an impressive 47:22 minutes, and the second position went to Jochebed Mpanga who did 53:55 minutes, followed by Maya Kachenga with 54:29 minutes. Here’s a complete list of the first ten runners to hit the finish line:

Joni Waldron 47:22

Jochebed Mpanga 53:55

Maya Kachenga 54:29

Cynthia Mahata 57:49

Lindiwe Nkhambile 57:51

Rose Chapola 1:00:08

Iris Borsch 1:02:47

Orama Mwase 1:03:06

Racheal Shilup 1:03:29

Nyasha Vera 1:05:59

Other than the first three positions, the top ten list was dominated by valiant ladies who sailed through the route as if on the wings of swans. A big congratulations to the top ten. You did us all proud.

THE INTERVIEW

Between the first and second booths, as we were negotiating the slope of the Area 18 road, I spied a towering figure pumping up the slope without effort. He could easily be twice my size, and than fascinated me. He was accompanied by a companion, whom I assumed was a wife. When I got close, I decided to introduce myself. I assumed he was the CEO of Standard Bank. He was gracious enough to respond to my questions while we were still in stride. After introducing myself as the blogger for Be More, I reached deep within and tried to increase my pace. I mean, I thought it was important to make the right impression being our first meeting.

I took off and left them in the distance. But by the time I was negotiating the last slope towards BICC I spotted the pair approaching with strong intent to overtake. I reached for the dregs of any energy reserves that were left in the tank and took off awkwardly. I silently promised myself that the only thing left that mattered was to be ahead of them, even if it meant just a metre separating us. I crossed the finish line with a short distance between us. I don’t think he knew there was a competition at play here.

Later on, I got formally introduced by Thoko Unyolo, the Head of Marketing and Communications and the chief engineer behind the Be More Races. I was fortunate to be granted a short interview. William and Debbie le Roux are a power couple, having participated in the Mzuzu City Race already. Debbie is a kindred spirit having a passion to hiking. She has already been to Mulanje Mountain, our famous and tallest massif in Malawi.

Here’s an excerpt of the interview:

Kondaine: “What is your message today?”

William le Roux: “We want to see more interaction between our customers and the staff. We want to see our customers and staff spend more time outdoors than being in the banking hall. For that reason we have introduced Digital Channels, and with it a digital app that is best in its class. It is linked to Airtel Money. It is an App 247, that will allow you to easily access your account anytime, anywhere. Together with online banking, you can easily access the bank services from the comfort of your bedroom, or anywhere.”

He paused. After a brief reflection he continued.

“We believe that wellness is good for business. It is good for the community. We believe that wellness is good to our customers and to our staff. And we would like to encourage everyone to embrace the outdoors lifestyle by participating in the Be More Races. That’s the message today.”

We shook hands and parted our ways. I must say this was a classy appetizer. Time and opportunity willing, I’d wish for a more comprehensive interview that will tackle a wide range of issues concerning Standard Bank, the athletics and of course the Be More Races. But for now, this was a timely glimpse into the most powerful man at Standard Bank, participating, and engaging with customers and the business community.

William & Debbie le Roux (left & right), myself (middle)
William & Debbie le Roux (left & right), myself (middle)

 

THE STARS

The stars for the day were all those that showed up, without whose presence the City Race would not have been a success. This was fun, and to say that it was an achievement would be making an understatement. The run/walk has given us all an idea of the scope of the main race. Be More Race on 9 June will be twice the fun, twice the challenge, and twice as long.

Be More.

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!

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.