In The Long Run

the Magunga
When I wake up on Tuesday mornings the world is black. It is also ten minutes to 5am, so that explains a lot. On some Tuesday mornings like these, I am only awake because I do not want to let my brother down. On such days, the moment the alarm from my phone starts chasing sleep from my eyes, what I really want to do is dip it in a jug of water, pull the duvet over my head and then roll over. I do not feel like running, but I force myself to get up. I curse and grumble as I put on a hoodie over two Tshirts, running pants and red sneakers. On such days I am so clumsy; I trip over things in the bedroom and the noise I make wakes her up. She asks what is wrong, but I do not answer. I figure she already knows that I am not a morning person. On other days, the days when I look forward to a good morning run, I welcome the sound of my alarm the way you welcome a long lost friend into your arms for a hug.

Either way, a quarter past 5 finds me stretching on the dew-drenched car park, waiting for my brother to show up. The world is without colour. It takes time for my eyes to get used to this blackness.  Before my brother shows up, the watchman spots me and walks over. He tells me that there were some vagabonds who were lurking around jaber’s car. Everyone is trying to get themselves a good Christmas – so that means that grand theft auto is beginning to thrive. He says there was an incident a few days back when a band of low lifes attacked the watchie from Block 2 and left him with a nasty head wound. I thank him for his gallantry the moment Deogratias arrives and then we hit the road.

I started running less than a month ago. When people ask me why, I lie to them with the story about how a machine in town gave me a wakeup call. How Jaber and I were walking out of Kaldis, stuffed with sirloin steaks, chips and vanilla shakes. On the street, just before Nation Centre, was a man jingling coins next to one of those speaking machines that shout your weight to everyone within a twelve mile radius. ‘Twende tupime weight,” I said to Jaber.

‘It is not a good idea to measure your weight just after you have eaten,” she said.

“Oh please, it’s just meat and chips and milkshake. Surely, how much weight could those have possibly added to you?”

She does not like arguing when she is full, so she obliged. She went first. Then I followed. A man with his wife and child lined up after me just as I climbed on top of that machine. I watched as the numbers moved so fast from zero. I was hoping that they would stop at seventy something, but it went on. I looked away.

The woman trapped in that machine spoke. I did not believe the figure.  Even as she said it, she sounded like she was straining to speak. I wasn’t sure whether she was uncertain of what she was saying, or whether she had a headache, or whether someone was standing on her stomach.

I laughed and told the attendant, “If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that that woman thinks ati I am 83.3 kgs.”

“Chief, hiyo ndio weight yako,” he said, handing me this square piece of paper;

“What does this B.M.I. mean?” I asked the chap.

“It means you are overweight,” he said. Jaber laughed so loudly she started coughing and tears filled her eyes. It did not bother me that she was laughing. It was actually ironic because she has a stomach of her own. It was just a matter of the hippo calling the elephant fat.

The couple that were standing behind me craned their necks as if in disbelief and asked, “Ati who is overweight? This one?” pointing at me. Then they walked away. Surely they must have also suspected something was wrong with that machine.

Overweight? Me? I had questions, so I turned to the weight vendor, “Did this thing consider the weight of my wallet? I am a jang’o, surely this reading must be wrong. What about the added weight of my ego? Is that part of the 83.3 kilos? Who is that woman you have in there anyway? Are you even allowed to do that? To keep women in a machine for people to step on? Have you read about the 1926 United Nations Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slave Trade? Do you have a permit to operate in the CBD? I am calling the kanjo.”

The man and Jaber just guffawed. “Si you try again?”

I did.

“You weigh 83.3 kilograms!” the machine shouted. This time louder as if I had insulted it. It was so loud that the passers by looked in our direction.

I paid the twenty bob and left in a huff. Overweight my ass.


To be honest however, this is not how I realized that I was gaining weight. I have always known that my calories have been sneaking up on me. I just chose to ignore it. Everyone knows when they are starting to add weight. You cannot miss it. The changes that extra fat makes to your body are as obvious as the ones adolescence did. Surely, you did not wake up one day, walked into the loo to pee and found a bush on your crotch. You must have noticed the bristles. You must have noticed (for chicks) that your chest had started lifting your clothes.

Same thing here.

I saw this kitambi grow calorie by calorie. I watched my stomach metamorphosise from flat to a tiny paunch that peeks a little bit past my belt, to what it is now. Now it is so big that America is planning on spreading its democracy to Langata District. Then my body started raising a few red flags. Getting to my house on the fourth floor became a chore. By the time I got to the top, I was gagging for breath. And the final straw was when Jaber made a joke about how fast I fall asleep after chudex these days– that, ladies and gentlemen, is all it takes for a man to get up and start working out.

So twice a week I wake up at 5am to hit the ground running. It has been almost one month, but no visible change has been seen on my midriff area. It is like I am trying to lose weight, but it keeps finding me.


The other day, someone asked me why I bother running when I will probably die in a road accident. “Why do you trouble yourself? Death is inevitable,” he said, “sote tutakufa tu. Go ahead and sleep. This running thing is useless.”

The truth of the matter is that I do not run so that I may live forever. Living healthy guarantees you neither a long life, nor an afterlife. If you want everlasting life, then perhaps you should talk to Jesus, not your gym instructor. Because in the long run, you can sweat your glands dry, you can eat vegetables until your blood is bleached green, but none of that will stop a blood clot from sneaking out of nowhere and travelling to your heart. None of that will prevent an undetected cancer from camping on your throat the way it did on my grandmother’s, such that she could not pass anything down, not even her own spit,  without feeling like she was swallowing a broken heart – poor lady simply died of starvation. And if these high maintenance illnesses invade your system, the one thing that will determine whether or not you get to see your next birthday, is not how many Tuesday mornings you woke up to run in the dark, but whether or not you have health insurance.

So I run because I want a quality life, not an eternal one.  It is not living as such that is important; but living right. If you wake up one day and decide that you do not like the person who looks back at you when you stand in front of a mirror, then change it. Your body is like your phone; if you do not like the default factory settings, then customize it. If you want to grow great kids, then smear some BlueBand on their bread. I hear the new ones from Unilever are made of a healthy kind of fats (Omega 3 and Omega 6) extracted from our own locally grown Kenyan Rapeseed.

*Don’t ask me what rapeseeds are, bwana, ask Google*

Nairobi Sunrise by Mwarv Photography

At first I started running so that I did not have to pant my way up the stairs to my room, or to fall asleep too soon after chudex. I wanted to be fit. I did not want to start running later in life when I am 40; because by then my body and my fat will have become inseparable best friends. So it is safe to say I started running out of vanity.

Lakini by and by I started enjoying my morning runs. It is the only time I get to spend with my brother. He finds me in the parking lot, stretching in the eerie darkness of early morning. At that time, there is not much to see other than his white jacket and my red running shoes. As we jog up Mbagathi Way, we meet people from the hamlets of Kibera, swiftly racing towards their workplaces in Industrial Area. There are very few cars at that time.

We run in silence.  No music. We are in a silent communion with Nairobi as it wakes up. Its morning breath changes. It is stale at T-Mall and it gets worse at Mbagathi Way flats where a river of sewage flows. Then there is the taste of death that hangs in the air when we get to City Mortuary. It is worse on Mondays when new corpses from the weekend are brought in.

We take a right down past Kenyatta Hospital then take another right into UpperHill towards KASNEB offices. By the time we get here, I am soaked in my own sweat, there is a pain in my chest, my knees are weak and my feet are so sore, they feel borrowed. The November sun has risen at this point, bringing colour to an earlier dull world, and with it, traffic noises, the smell of Nairobians making breakfast and others already checking into their hustle to turn the cogs of the city’s economy. The air is clear and fresh and long shadows pull us forward.

Spent, we walk most of the way home, talking about nothing too important.


Cover Image Credit

In The Long Run via @theMagunga

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