Saturday, 27 October 2007

Standard Chartered Nairobi marathon- 5th Edition

Funny how time flies! 4 years ago, the City of Nairobi got its first edition of a fully fledged race in the form of a marathon. This came at a time when the only other major marathon in the country was suffering from lack of support from both sponsors and competitors alike. This was Mombasa Marathon. Given the lack of proper logistical work, humidity and high temperatures the race had seen a slow death. But Kenya’s status as an athletics’ powerhouse, it badly needed a marathon race to showcase both local and international talent.
Thanks to Standard Chartered, the Nairobi Marathon was born. Coming to the City for the first time, there was bound to be a change on the activities of the city residents. The organizers have always had it held on a Sunday to avoid logistical problems such as traffic jams(what with a resurgent economy, it would only aggravate an already precarious situation) due to closure of the roads, fans’ areas, start & finish location. To make it symbolic the organizers decided to have the start right at one of the best and well-maintained street Harambee Avenue and finish at the City’s Seat-City Hall (home of Nairobi City Council) and KICC (Kenyatta International Conference Centre).
Of course, if you’re a strict church-goer, this was not your fun event. True to form, for the next 2 editions, the church leaders complained insisting that the event was not affording their ‘flock’ time to make it for their weekly experience. Some even went to the extent of claiming that the collection (alms) was not good at all, thus it didn’t aid ‘God’s work’. Others complained that the coverage of major roads in the City, from Waiyaki Way, James Gichuru, Ngong Road, Langata Road all the way to Mombasa Road and Uhuru Highway was too much to persevere for a day. Hence last year, the event was radically changed to cover only 1 major road (Mombasa Road) from Nyayo National Stadium with the start outside the stadium and the finish inside. This meant less interference with the city activities for their Sunday outings and also reduced logistical problems since it would be concentrated in one area.
Well my sentiments are that given the event comes once every year; it would have stuck to its original route. For all races the route was scenic and quite trying, especially for the 21km half-marathon and the full marathon. What we have now is a marathon modeled around a circuit race (like Formula One), with competitors and enthusiasts alike running around a stretch, 2 or 3 times, what boredom! It always felt good running (more or less jogging or walking for majority of the participants) on the roads which are normally a preserve of crazy Nairobians. It also did a lot of good to those who would be running from foreign countries since it meant knowing a bit of geography of the City. Alas the church and majority of the city dwellers had their way.
Having run the new route last year, I couldn’t help see the disappointment of other enthusiasts as they felt cheated. To make it worse, all 3 major races ( 10 km,21 half-marathon and 42 km marathon) were run at a few minutes difference making it crazy for some of those slow runners to be asked to give way to the ‘elite runners’.
This year the sponsors, StanChart found it within themselves to raise the entry fee 100% to KShs. 1000 (approx. US $) per entry for the major races. It has not gone down well with most of the devotees and though they might record at least 15000 people, the number would have definitely been higher if they maintained the fee at KShs. 500 (US$8). Presidential & parliamentary elections to be held later on this year have also diverted some attention from the race but I’m sure some of the aspiring candidates will make mileage from making special appearances.
For the 5th year again, the money raised will be going to a charitable organization that deals with eye and sight problems within the city’s proximity. My projection is that in the next few years, the event must be self-sustaining as indicated from the increase in the event’s fees and also attract a regular flow of sponsorship from logistical support, PR, advertising, media coverage to entertainment and refreshment provision.
All the best to all participants, and watch out I might be the guy who sprints past you in some spirited run!

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