At 65, Joyce Nduku is running for the health of little children

Sunday June 16 2019

Joyce Tata Nduku

Joyce Tata Nduku taking part in the 94th Comrades Marathon on June 09, 2019 in Durban, South Africa. PHOTO | HOWARD CLELAND 

By JOYCE TATA NDUKU

The biggest challenge facing mankind today is sedentary lifestyles, but I have decided to take it on. I live to encourage people to get out of their comfort zones and live a fit, strong and engaged life.

I am 65 years old and have been running for the past 15 years. I recently participated in the Comrades’ Race in Durban, South Africa, where I ran for 87 kilometres.

RECREATION

The race is about fundraising and recreation running while building a movement of fit people across the world. If you do not run the 87 kilometres within 12 hours, you are disqualified. Kenya has 13 runners in the race despite it being a powerhouse in Athletics.

Last year, I ran the same distance in the 60 and above category.

Before you crucify me for running 87km while aged 65, I will tell you the passion behind my running.

I once woke up from sleep to find my limbs not moving, I was 50. My mind could not understand what was happening.

Getting out of bed was a nightmare. You can imagine what was going on in my mind when I first experienced this new dawn.

PAINFUL LIMBS

My limbs were becoming painful and I had difficulty in moving my legs. After a short while, I braved up, and with intense pain, stumbled out of bed. Scared of the future, I embarked on trying to figure out what was wrong with my legs and what I could do about the situation.

Initially, I feared I had arthritis, the disease that plagues people as they begin to age.

This was a very scary thought. It lingered in my mind for a while. All the time, trying to figure out a solution since the pain was not abating.

In my fear for contracting arthritis, I slowly pushed myself. I started with simple morning jogs or walks to find out if this could help my legs.

This was the genesis of an inspiring and rewarding journey that I continue to pursue. I call it a journey because, I am still running and aiming towards my goal of reaching as many people as possible with the message of hope and support for the less fortunate in the society.

COMRADES

This is the reason why this year, I was again invited to Durban for the Comrades race. As I prepared to tackle the 87 KM route which is an upward run from Durban to Piertermaritzburg, my mind went back and forth the route since I had experienced it in 2018.

This time it was an upward run. I had to prepare hard, my physiotherapy, hydration and mental preparation had to be on point.

Luckily, I have a team of supporters and recreational runners who give me that much needed encouragement to break sweat.

However, following years of running, I came to realise that every sweat drop that drips from me must have an impact in someone else’s life.

As I ran my recreational races across the world chasing the fear of arthritis, I came across fellow recreational runners who run and fundraised for charitable causes around the world. I mean, this is a huge movement, and there I found my purpose for running.

RAISE FUNDS

Through running friends, I happened to meet the Shoe4Africa Hospital founder Toby Tanser who graciously gave me the opportunity to help his team fundraise for the construction of the hospital.

What is exciting me about this initiative is that we are constructing a 100 bed wing for kids affected by cancer and a 50 bed wing for kids affected by burns. It will be the biggest children referral hospital in the region.

And so, as I strode through the Kenyan terrain preparing for the Comrades race, my energy and concentration was glued at the knowledge that I am doing this for children who will one day need quality medical care.

In Kenya, we had two preparatory races that culminated in attracting support from a major partner, Keringet bottled water under Coca-Cola heard about what I was doing and opted to support my run as the hydration sponsors.

HYDRATION

Purely to ensure that, in Kenya, and anywhere else, I run, my hydration will be sufficient and just to remind me of the importance of consistent hydration. There is a water bottle that Keringet team gave me which I always carry with me as a reminder to hydrate.

One day ahead of the race, I was ushered to the Comrades village. Here, sports equipment, sports merchandise companies, and other sports aspects are all in display in this gigantic village. It’s a beehive of activities with comrades representing 82 countries who chat and catchup with each other.

I had to go through a drill in readiness for the race. I'll say it's like preparing going to War in Afghanistan, Iraq or in our neighbouring Somalia.

I have to do a checklist of everything that I need and what could go wrong or right. I don't leave anything to chance.

For instance, I have to pack fuel gels. The energy or fuel gels are designed to top up your glycogen stores that get depleted during long-distance running. These gels are 12 for the entire race. I assume that I will take a gel for every hour of running.

MUSCLE CRAMPS

I also have energy bars, chews and something for muscle cramps. I also pack oranges and bananas.

“Nkosi sikelel' Afrika. Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo, Yizwa imithandazo”,

The sound of comrade runners singing the South African National anthem is amazing. It fills me with energy, I get goosebumps listening to comrades pound the ground as they sing this empowering song.

It is the D-Day and I am determined to tackle one of the hardest challenges of my life.

On this D-Day I was awake by 3am and left the hotel by 4am to allow for ample time to get ready and start the race by 5:30am.

The weather was calm and good for running. I had trained for several months and this was the countdown to the 12 hours cut off time. If you do not run the 87 kilometres within 12 hours, you are disqualified.

EMOTIONAL

It was very emotional to see runners taking it all in before the gun went off. There were more than 22,000 runners taking the race in various categories. The gun went off at 5:30am and off I was on my way to a gruelling 11 hours run, walk, crawl or anything to finish the race.

When they call it the toughest race for human endurance, indeed it is. The true spirit of comrades.

I saw many fall by, comrades helping others who were unable to take another step. Runners being dragged to the finish line and many couldn’t make it to the finish line.

In my race, I confronted numerous challenges, I fell twice, went to the medical twice for my hamstring.

But there is awesome support along the route. There are also 43 water refreshment stations and Coca-Cola carbonated beverage available at all stations. Potatoes, orange segments, bananas, chocolates and biscuits available in some stations.

STRETCHER

I even had to take plain salt to supplement my energy levels. The race was hills and hills all along.

At the end of the day I had serious muscle cramps. I was actually carried on stretcher to medical station for the first time in my running career. They even gave me my back to back medal while lying in the stretcher en route for further attention.

The race was rough, I took a recovery drink after the race which helped to correct the electrolyte imbalance and repair the soreness of the torn muscles. I also had to do a two kilometres morning recovery run to stabilise my entire body.

These are challenges I face happily, I stay fit, and focused. Join me as we fundraise for our children’s quality medical care.

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