There are clubs you can belong to, neighbourhoods you can’t live in, schools you can’t get into, but the roads are always open.” - Nike
Running is one of those habits, if you ever pick up, is hard to stop. The inroads at Karura Forest are always open, as long as the sun is overhead. The ground is firm, the weather is cool, the air is fresh and crisp, the terrain is the right amount of rough and hardly the type that can cause you to snap a knee.
A middle class young mother rocks a trendy luminous green track suit, complete with branded sneakers and knee pads. Alongside her is her son who’s having the time of his life cycling. As they approach a small hill, the mother pants laboriously, she starts to slow down her legs and hips feeling heavier than normal.
“Mum, don’t stop…you promised!” With her son’s cajoling, be sure she will finish the intended five kilometre run. The thought to stop would not have come were it not for the nice cozy benches at every juncture.
The benches courtesy of a Seoul based Phone Company are perfect for lovers out to bond and relax; however, they are disruptive to runners who start entertaining thoughts of sitting down which is a no-no when on a running mission.
Apart from the runners and the cyclists there are the lovers and futuristic honeymooners who pick a spot in the green and spread out a picnic blanket on a random Tuesday afternoon defying the Nairobi fast life week after week.
It’s an amalgamation of cultures; from the lean Kipchoge Kienos, the Singh Patels and the Allan-Smiths. Here they settle on a common north, some straight from work, others on their off-day and a few directly from home.
I’ve known about Karura Forest all my life, before I ever read Prof. Wangari Maathai’s autobiography 'Unbowed'. I however started going out there for runs courtesy of my estate gym in November 2016, I still have a lot to discover; the infamous 20-metre Karura falls, the caves that are said to have been hiding places for Mau Mau freedom fighters, Lily Lake among others, I’m saving those expeditions for 2018, in the lovers category.
Early last year some joker wanted to grab Karura forest and build a skycrapper. I’m sure the Prof turned in her grave when she heard that. Unfortunately, land grabbing attempts by brave men with deep pockets has been recurrent over the years.
As I run deeper into the forest, every mile I meet different couples. One set is drinking larger than life tubs of yoghurt; another couple is taking selfies on one of the footpaths as two dik dik antelopes come out of the bushes and another chasing each other in the forest laughing hysterically. In total I count over nine couples in the ten kilometres.
A lone bush baby sleeps across the running path unencumbered. I want to take a picture then I remember reading recently of how animals are distressed by photos.
My favourite spot is the heart of the forest zone where the trees form a surround system where you could do a great action packed – thriller - horror film that will win awards for days. Getting to this place is the highlight of my run, the air is fresh, in the mornings it’s foggy and there’s dew. It’s a spot right out of heavenly alleys. It’s also around the 8km mark, the end of the run is nigh, one last leg.
Having come for today’s run straight from work, I’m tempted to wait for the sunset but there’s nothing cool about losing your bearing in a forest at dusk. The former Karura Forest in a few decades past was notorious for murders and unmarked graves. Those were also the days that saw greedy politicians try to have this gem as part of their personal property but not on the late Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai’s watch, who with the Green Belt Movement has restored Karura to a new glory, it’s safe to say that running in Karura is a secure affair. There are uniformed guards every kilometre.
At the end of the run, I always look forward to the swings. I get to relive my childhood memories. Soaring higher and higher I watch some guys playing football at the pitch close by, good idea for a sundowner. There’s a mixed race couple with kids on a maasai blanket and a now empty kiondo which probably had sandwiches, they chat lazily as they drink sodas, one of their kids comes over to the swings and I smile at her goofily.