Runner blogger Wanja from Nairobi, Kenya has been running on and off since 2013 and has participated in several races including four Half Marathons. Having run in Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon and Mauritius, she’s experienced some of the rich culture and diversity of Africa. Her favourite distance is 10km as it’s enough not to require multiple pit stops whilst still allowing her to explore a new place. Aside from running, she enjoys kickboxing, swimming and yoga. In today’s blog, let’s join Wanja for a run in Nairobi – Kenya’s dynamic and modern capital city!
When and how did you start running? Running is something I always had at the back of my mind that I’d like to try. Then in 2013 I ended a relationship and I started running. I found that it helped me heal. I enjoyed it and it gave me focus. It was also kind of proving to the ex that I was more and could do more than he said I could. So I ran for three years, then took a four year break because I moved to Libreville in Gabon where it was too hot and humid to sustain my running. I got migraines. I didn’t feel like I was taking in enough air and was constantly trying to take deeper and deeper breaths. And the temperatures were 30˚C at 6.30am, way higher than the 20-something I was used to. But I’m now back to running!
What has it been like returning to running after a long break? Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how hard it has been for me to get back to running. It seems like my legs have turned to stone. Some days it feels like turning a stiff joint without oil!
What has running taught you about yourself? How has your life changed because of running? Through running, I have found that I am so much more capable than I give myself credit for. When I started running, I didn’t know anything about fartleks or speed training or strategies such as running for 2 minutes and walking for 1 minute. I did it all by feel. I listened to my body. Lots of trial and lots of errors but listening to my body usually worked. One time I got shin splints and had to take a 6-week break! That was tough… I used running as an excuse to get the Sunday paper or do mail runs. This way my body learned to tell the distance and I now know how far any point is in km… because I know I can run it! Because of running, my life has a stable routine and discipline. My friends know to ask if I have a long run or race over the weekend. My meals are a lot more disciplined too. More complex carbs like sweet potatoes and ugali (stiff maize porridge) feature in my meals. My body is stronger and leaner. My mind sharper.
I love exploring places through others’ eyes! So let’s talk about running in Nairobi! What do you love? Mmm… I love that I have some forests l can run in like Oloolua Forest, Karura Forest and Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary. The closest forest to me is about 2km away. If I want to go in I just pay a small fee. I can do whatever distance I like on well-marked trails. I also get to meet other runners and people walking their dogs and kids. Also, seeing local wildlife like dik-dik and other small antelope is exciting! I am also lucky my neighbourhood is safe and the Police regularly patrol the area so I also do lots of road runs. The routes are well shaded and hilly! Being at high altitude it is great for running and building endurance. However, it can take some getting used to if you’re from a place with a lower altitude.
I didn’t realise Nairobi had so many green forests! If I was to rock up in Nairobi one day, where would you take me running? Ooooh… I’d take you to Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary for a run of a distance of your choosing. It’s safe and patrolled by forest officials. You can do a 21k and I can do 10k and afterwards we get in the car for a meal at the mall!
What are some of the challenges? I am not always able to get to the forest so I make do with road runs. These are usually safe but petty crime is a real thing as well as bad drivers.
What are some of the most memorable races you have done and why? Memorable races *taps chin*…..my first Stanchart Nairobi Half Marathon! We started and finished at Nyayo National Stadium. The route took us through the Central Business District and Uhuru Park.
Capital City Dodoma (Tanzania) was great because it was my first time travelling specifically for a race. Also, Mauritius… running by the beach was such a vibe and it was a cool day. Friends of Karura Forest race was a lovely run and the medal is my absolute best because it is made of recycled glass and leather strap. It looks very different from my other medals (which I love) and I often wear it as an accessory.
Having raced in so many different countries – what would you say the similarities are? And the differences? Tanzania is similar to Kenya in terms of language, food and countryside. They have a huge recreational running community that is very supportive of everyone. Mauritius is super clean with welcoming and helpful people. Seeing as Tanzania, Kenya and Mauritius are in East Africa, there are more similarities than differences. Gabon was the most different. The language is different, they speak French. The food is different. But I loved it. A few times I saw police or military groups running but there are also many other people out walking or running. I loved walking by the beach when my body eventually acclimated.
What’s on your Bucket List of races? I’ve always wanted to do the Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania since I first heard about it 10 years ago. I registered for it and travelled to Moshi for the event this past weekend. I even made my way to the Start Line. But I was feeling so unwell that I made the difficult decision not to start. Turns out, I had food poisoning. I was so excited to be there on the 20th anniversary of the run. But I had to listen to my body. One day I will go back and try again. [To read her full account, go here].
So sorry as I know how excited you were. But you’ll definitely do it one day. What are some other goals you’d like to accomplish this year? I’d like to work more consistently on my fitness and be fitter than I was at the beginning of the year. I also want to do a half marathon a month, just because I can and well, to complete that particular Strava challenge!
I’m sure you will! And before we close, you’re a blogger too! How and why did you start blogging? When I started it in 2013, I was looking for a place to write down thoughts I felt were bouncing around in my head.
What’s the significance of the blog’s name and some of the topics you share on this platform? The names I wanted were taken or didn’t sound right. This is when I landed on Elbows and Tongue and I liked it. I have shared different things on there like fitness, running and hair… But I also talk about my challenges, my wins as well as my struggles.
Thank you Wanja for taking time to share your story and where you run in Nairobi! One day I will run with you in Ngong Road Forest! If you’d like to connect with Wanja, check out her Instagram Page. To read her blog, go to Elbows and Tongue.
I’m joining the Runner’s Roundup with Mile By Mile, Coach Debbie Runs, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, and Laura Norris Running! Be sure to read their blogs and catch up with other runners from around the world.