Many people in the valley are aware that I run. To live in Kenya and be a runner is quite an honor as well as quite humbling.
This is where the roots of running burrow deep, where incredible decorated athletes are born, where people not only dream they become. For many Kenyans, running is a way out of poverty and conflict — an opportunity to step out of the village and into a world where there are possibilities for a better future. To say a Kenyan is fast is an understatement — to run with Kenyans is an experience like no other.
Each morning my day begins in the breathtaking stillness that surrounds Daraja. The birds greet me as I leave the Banda just as the sun is rising. Jayna, still sleeping, knows the routine and will wake soon, dress herself and meet the girls for breakfast.
With Mount Kenya as my backdrop I set off on a dirt road that snakes its way north into the hills of Laikipia. It’s quiet this time of day. The occasional matattu or bodaboda (motorcycle) will pass, but other than that the air is still. As I leave the confines of campus and set out into the surrounding hills I take a deep breath of the fresh air and give thanks for this gift of life I have been given.
As I head up the first of my many hills I am spotted by the schoolchildren making their way up to the local primary school. They shoot me a smile and without skipping a beat match my tempo. In one hand they carry a piece of firewood to give the school and in the other a small sack that carries water and their lesson book. Despite this extra baggage they have no difficulty keeping pace and do so with great pride and confidence.
Running in these hills with children whose predecessors are decorated with medals and running fame is quite amazing. There is a secret to running that only Kenyans possess. I am in awe of the talent and the beauty that defines running here. My clumsy gait and my lack of grace seem so out of place in this country of speed, agility and poise.
I will never run like a Kenyan, but running with Kenyans is mystical and so being the mazungu picking up the rear is perfectly OK with me.
It has been a year since I first came to Kenya and ran the 75K Amazing Maasai ultra for girls’ education. That experience was so transformative that I have returned for another year.
Of course I would not be at Daraja if I had not participated as that opened the door to this amazing opportunity.
This year on Sept. 28 I was honored to run the 21K or half-marathon with 10 strong and driven girls from Daraja.
This past month in addition to my own training I spent time with the girls during their free time preparing for the race. This would be the farthest distance that any of the girls had run. They were nervous, excited and overwhelmed with joy.
I tried to think back on my first race and it is hard to determine I have had the privilege to participate in so many. For these girls the cost of a race entry is completely out of reach it’s just another detail that I have taken for granted.
To know these facts makes seeing the results that much more inspiring. All the girls completed the half marathon on a tough course in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes.
It’s a beautiful thing to be living in this magnificent country where the passion and the gift for running is so evidently organic. This is the land of running and I am a runner.
Wenatchee native Jane Davis and her daughter Jayna are spending the fall in Kenya, where Jane will be teaching at a girl’s school. She can be reached at email@example.com