As we left Moshi, I just hung back, content to let Bill and Craig run ahead. All I really wanted to do was finish and have a good time doing it, with no heart problems, and in that vein, I struck up conversations with fellow runners who at this far back were mostly stout white tourist types, with the exception of one elderly African with whom I started to settle in. His name is Makoi Bonaventura, a surgeon born in Moshi who had returned home to run in his third marathon ever. He seemed to have some type of magical affinity for the people along the roadside. He was always getting the crowd revved up (I’m sure he knew many of the onlookers). The kids were calling him Ba-Bu, which means grandpa in Swahili.
I settled into his pace, which was ten to eleven minutes per mile. We quickly became friends, and then I decided to stay with him the entire race—which in the end was a wise, wise move. He was going very slowly, and if I took a medical turn for the worse, well, I had a physician in him to look after me.
We engaged in small talk as we ran. It turns out that this physician Makoi was educated in Germany. Upon returning to Africa (Moshi) to practice, the government had dictated to him where he was to go and what field of medicine they wanted him for (not surgery, but public health administration). However, he opted to stay in Germany to practice medicine in his specialization and raise a family. He ran his first marathon in Berlin. We both quite enjoyed each other’s company, and I found myself having great fun calling out to the crowds too, practicing my Swahili. I think the most remarkable thing of the conversation in running alongside this man was that it was really so unremarkable. Not that he wasn’t a most interesting man! It was more the tone of it all, the relaxed feeling that floated between us.
The water stops were frequent, with ample bottled water and Coke (not electrolyte drinks, however). The first loop came back ten kilometers into Moshi, climbing uphill through the town, which was now starting to awaken. Not a really fancy (politely said) part of Moshi, but as I passed through the streets, all of a sudden I spotted Joseph, one of our cooks from the mountain. He had come to cheer us on! I slowed down and we had a passing hug, and he shouted out in excitement, which gave me a well-needed boost. Then soon after this I saw our safari driver, Dousan, sitting inside his Rover (which we had push-started several times) off to the side of the road. No, he wasn’t broken down this time. He too was there for our support. How special it was to see him as well and realize that these two guys had taken the time to come and see us run. My new friend Makoiwas very impressed.
As we ran through some rural sections of Moshi, we turned back towards the college and the well-to-do neighborhood where we had started. Makoi and I kept chatting. As you can imagine, we had hours to talk together. He was pleased with my diction and told me I spoke like a native. Perhaps he was just being kind. Over my years I have always tried to learn the language of the country where I was (Mexico, Korea). I had kept a small notebook during my trip with some common phrases in Swahili to practice. Most Africans spoke a little English, but the language barrier was ever present, unless you had a guide, or in my case a marathon friend, who could tell you what the folks along the side were saying or yelling about. They were still smiling great big, beautiful smiles and chanting “Ba-Bu, Ba-Bu, Ba-Bu!” as we shuffled along, making a bond with each other, yet poignantly realizing that we would probably never meet each other ever again.
Gazelles, and Mr. Price Too
The marathon course took us back past the starting area and climbed up towards Kilimanjaro and the Mweka route that we had come down several days before. The landscape looked familiar. Although I was way behind and still had about twelve kilometers to go, because of the looping of the course, here is where we saw the faster runners coming down to the exciting last stages of the race. They were still on their toes like the gazelles they were and looking strong and graceful, finishing at around only three hours. Quite a few women were in this pack. The winner had come in earlier, at 2:18.
The other observation I made then is that the marathoners and the half-marathoners were mixed together. At this point we got an idea of how many half-marathoners there were in the race. I was guesstimating maybe twice the number of marathoners. The half-marathoners we saw were very much like what I would deem as the “first-timer” kind of American runners. Many looked very inexperienced. As you can see, there was a wide spectrum of running ability in this race.
The last section was a killer, because it kept rising, along with the temps of the day. It was oppressively hot and hazy by this time. In this last part were water stops sponsored by local businesses, appearing with advertisements like a water stop you might see stateside. One sponsor which seemed especially well organized was Tanzanite Mining. They are the only exporters of a gem found there exclusively, near the airport in Moshi. This is a stunning, precious stone, competing in price per carat with diamonds.
The other big water stop sponsor which stole the show was Mr. Price, a big grocery store chain which had staked out the premier location of turn-around at the highest elevation. After that, we would then be going downhill for ten kilometers to the finish line (if you had the legs for it). But our legs were jello. We were running on fumes. Did I say this was a taxing course? Absolutely!
So, the actual Mr. Price, the owner, the mogul, was up front, all his employees behind him dressed in red tees and hats with their logos, the station very well staffed. Mr. Price’s is their local Wegman’s, or if you come from the north country of New York, the Big M, so we knew they’d have something good to offer. We had a tip that they had ice-water sponges and cold water. Being that it was a scorcher, we were looking for any advantage to survive the day. But it was to be even better than our expectations. As I approached the turn, I saw this worker with a Kili beer. I jokingly asked him if it was some kind of a beer stop; he replied seriously, “Want a cold one?” Oh, man! I told him I’d appreciate that (for this rare time). He reached into an ice-bath bucket and pulled out a can of Kili for me. Another photo-op was had there as I got my picture taken on my single break of this sweltering marathon.
All Good From Here
The elevation where we were was four thousand feet, but the race was all gently downhill from here. After my delay taking the beer photo, as I caught up with Makoi (Ba-Bu), who was slowing down but still moving forward downhill, we could see only a couple of runners behind us, so I knew we were the real “back of the pack” runners. I didn’t care one bit! We were still chatting enjoyably away along the hot, dusty road, knowing that Bill and Craig were well ahead.
About the 30K mark on the course we came upon a lazy herd of cattle moving towards us on the road. Another Kodak moment! Did they think they were in the race? Maybe somebody should have pointed them in the right direction! Then it wasn’t long before we were approaching the stadium again, still followed by troops of little kids skipping down the road, having some sort of conversation with Makoi, the town celebrity and magnetic Pied Piper. Some were running in flip-flops and others barefoot.
Coming into the stadium, Makoi and I crossed the finish line together. It was like a dream. Everyone was loving on us. I could tell my elderly friend was spent, wasted, although I was fine—minus the hammered quads and raw nipples that had constantly scratched against my shirt. (The latter of these and painful blisters on the heels happen if you forget to put Band-Aids over them before you race). Although I know I looked the worse for wear, I was just so very, very happy that I didn’t really care about anything that was not part of the positive feeling. Our clock time? it really didn't matter.
It had been a “vintage” race.