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!

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

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

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

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

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

Be More!

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

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

Sunbird Hotels and Resorts in the Limelight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Other remarks

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

[end of questionnaire]

So What Does that Mean to You?

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

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

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

What about service Providers?

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

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

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

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

And me?

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

Be More and catch us on June 9, 2018 !

A Weekend on Senga Hills Of Salima

The Hill Climbing Club Open Invitation

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

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

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

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

My Preparations for the Day

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

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

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

Idyllic Drive to Salima

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The long awaited hike on Senga Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Towards the Trig Point, the highest of Senga Hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trig Point on Senga Hills
Trig Point on Senga Hills

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

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

Interview with the Commanding Officer Major Mabvuto Chimbayo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your message to the public?

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

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

Thank you, sir.

Thank you.

A Bit About the Hill Climbing Club

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

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

Thank you for coming to be with us today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have a club president?

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

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

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

Tell me about the membership.

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

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

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

No problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any last words?

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

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

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

Thank you.

Thanks. [End of interview]

So what do you think?

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

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

See you at the next HCC major event.

Rolling Senga Hills
Rolling Senga Hills

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!

Let’s Keep The Environment Clean

Twisted Beauty

One day Cathy, my beloved wife and I were following behind my dream car. As I was in the midst of admiring the marvel of exquisite engineering, one of its windows lowered down and out flew a banana peel. Before we could recover from the shock, another peel followed, then another, then another! I have never felt so conflicted. Such a disregard to other road users and the environment coming from such a beautiful machine.

In 2016, I went to Blantyre to attempt the summit of one of the most beautiful mountains that form a ring around Malawi’s commercial city. A certain company had arranged a day out for its employees, which was an impressive gesture. On my way up, the amount of fresh litter was disappointing. Empty plastic bottles, plastic bags for snacks, wrappers for biscuits and so on. Instead of enjoying the view, I spent some time picking after our eager friends.

Mind the Environment

Whenever I lead a group of friends for a hike, apart from safety, I emphasize a lot about keeping the environment clean. As much as possible it is best to leave the wild the way we found it. One good way to manage the litter is to remember to bring along an empty plastic bag that can act as a litter bag.

Imagine if no one was picking after our litter, the nature trails would be an eyesore. I know of one little hill in Lilongwe that has small blue plastic bags all over the trail. Little boys from the local neighborhood sometimes help clean them up. Or the rains wash them down during the rainy season. Surely, we could do better than this.

Keep the Environment Clean
Keep the Environment Clean

Small Change Big Impact

If there’s one thing I would love to see adopted across the country, it would be this: let’s keep the environment clean. Not throwing empty beer bottles on the road on Friday night will help joggers on Saturday morning to enjoy their run instead of dodging broken glass. And keeping empty wrappers under wrap will help maintain pristine natural trails in forests, hills and mountains.

Such a small change could bring about a huge positive impact on our environment. Let’s keep our environment clean. It starts with me.

My Running Mate is Back

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

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

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

 

Running In the Dark

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

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

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

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

 

The First Three Kilometers

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

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

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

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

 

Tragedy Strikes

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

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

What a hero.

 

The Outcome

The Running Stats
The Running Stats

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

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Birds of Childhood

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

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

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

THE GOOD

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

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

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

THE BAD

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

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

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

THE UGLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put Your Literary Cap On

Standard Bank has dangled a carrot to poets out there to write a Love Letter to Malawi. The closing date is 22 May 2018.

So basically use the weekend to take out a paper and pencil and start scribbling something. Reach deep into your heart and bring out the inspiration. Share your thoughts with the world.

Send your works of wonder to:

Maria Bauleni

Maria.Bauleni@standardbank.co.mw

0997 054 569

Wait no further. Please, give it a go.

By the way, the winner will get a cool K100,000.00. Not bad for a Love Letter!