LIFE BY LOUIS: Anatomy of a marathon challenge in my village

Monday October 14 2019

Eliud Kipchoge's incredible feat reminded me of marathons in my village. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH


On Saturday, Eliud Kipchoge became the first man to run a sub-2-hour marathon and it reminded me of my first experience participating in marathons in the village.

Although the primary school I attended was not exactly 42 kilometres away from home, there are a few striking semblances of the distance that we travelled every day to a full marathon.

The first similarity was the strict timing required to cover the distance in the shortest time possible under duress. This was better amplified if you woke up late in the morning and the teacher on duty was known to unleash terror on all late comers.

There was one particular male teacher whose reign as the duty master was dreaded by every child in the school.

Although the reporting time was 7am, he would be in school by 6am laying a strategy on how to nab the late comers.

He was of heavy build and clearly running after errant pupils was not his forte. However, he had his detective game in shape and what he lacked in speed, he compensated for in tactful skill.  


Without the benefit of wake-up alarms and other technology to ensure that we were always up in time, waking up early was a game of chance.

Regardless, we managed to set up our body systems to wake us up early in time for the early morning school bell. Woe unto you if the bodily system was disrupted and you woke up late. With barely enough time to cut it for arrival time, going to school on such an unfortunate morning was a masterclass in world class marathon running.


I remember I was small in frame and always carrying a school bag the size of a sack of potatoes. I also had the misfortune of ensuring that my younger sister arrived in school safely and in tandem with the arrival time. That meant being her pace setter, and I would extend that service further by grabbing her tiny hand and literally dragging her up and down the hill to school.

Because our school was not located in a gated community with high concrete walls and self-closing steel gates, getting into the school compound was a test of nerves for both the late pupils and the teacher on duty.

There were multiple entry and exit points around the live perimeter fence. Because the teacher on duty did not possess omnipresence capabilities, there was always a chance to sneak into the classroom late without detection if you upped your running skills to another level.

I had mastered the art of sneaking in, thanks to my tiny frame. Because all the classrooms were structured into one row, it was all a matter of lurking in a corner and locating the presence of the teacher. The minute he made and turn and had my back to me, I would make a dash for it and slither into the classroom.

Once in a while he would turn in time to see a figure disappearing into a door. He would crash into the classroom like a world class crime detective.

The first signs he looked for was a pupil who was restless and panting from running. If that tactic did not work, he would use coercion and threats to have the class surrender the offender or face collective punishment.

The success of his second strategy depended on the whether everyone abided by the non-disclosure code that we all swore to. Half the time, the teacher would cane all of us thoroughly in frustration and still walk out without milking a confession.


There was a final catch though. Depending on the mood of the class prefect, and whether I had bribed him with enough pancakes from my mother’s pastry, he had the final powers to note the names of the late comers and submit them to the teacher I had just managed to dodge.

In order to mitigate this risk at the source, I had to keep the stream of pancakes and other delicacies coming to the prefect’s desk.

That way I was assured that apart from checking in late, he would look the other way when I made noise during study time, got engaged in a fight or other form of mischief.

There were several other instances where our running techniques were taken through destructive testing. Sometimes a teacher would send you to the shopping centre or to his home if there is something they had forgotten to bring to school.

Other times you would leave home in a hurry and forget something crucial at home that required you to make a quick dash during break time to fetch it.

When the next marathon runner is head hunting for pace setters for a major challenge, they should consider sending some of their scouts to my village. They will not be disappointed.