To many a woman, the thought of competing in a marathon during the second pregnancy trimester is laughable. Yet, Immaculate Wanjira has done that, posting an impressive 2 hours and 6 minutes in a 21-kilometre race.
That’s just her way of doing things. She is obsessive about pushing her limit, which explains why she is many things: a homeschool teacher, wife, mother of four, a nutritionist student, and a gym rat. But over the last seven years, one obsession has remained constant: running.
She is gearing up for the upcoming Frankfurt Marathon in Germany slated for October 29.
“I just got my visa,” she shares the news gleefully.
At 41, she has already put down more than 3,000 kilometres competing in more than 100, 21, and 42-kilometer races, locally and beyond Kenya’s borders.
“I have been a recreational runner since 2016. It’s now an obsession. I can’t see myself not running. My mind and soul won’t allow me,” she tells the BD Life as she engages in a cross-body shoulder stretch on a small field.
The health scare
Wanjira says it took a health scare to suck her into this obsession.
“It’s unfortunate that I was called out by the doctor. Back then, I weighed 120 kilos and developed severe heel pain that I couldn’t walk. The ‘doc’ told me I had developed plantar fasciitis caused by my weight. I needed to significantly shed my weight,” Wanjira narrates, standing at 5 feet and 5 inches.
Whenever the orthopedist or anyone else sought to know how she got herself to 120 kilos despite only being 167 centimetres, Wanjira always blamed her twins.
“I always blamed my weight on the children. You know, the usual blame by moms about baby fat. Of course, that weight comes with carrying a child, but the truth is my mouth was running faster than my metabolism. I had twins, so I rode on this narrative that I needed to eat a lot to satisfy the twins’ milk needs,” she says.
But the problem wasn’t eating much, but what she ate.
“I ate a lot of crap food. As a nutritionist student now, I describe crap food as any deep-fried food. It adds no nutrients to your body.”
Gazing at her now, she spots a lean body, has defined muscles, an athletic physique, and tilts the scale at 58 kilos.
Wanjira was initially hesitant about beginning an exercise programme to reduce her weight.
But the doctor’s second option was scary. “The doctor gave me some painful heel injections and advised that I start working out or I would require another injection to cure the inflammation. You risk developing adenoids if you have two of those injections in a year,” she explains.
So she joined the gym. But after a few months, the weight was still stuck with her. “Yes, I felt lighter. I had the endurance to do aerobics for an hour, but the weight was still with me. I guess I hadn’t figured out that it was because I was still eating poorly,” she says.
One of the friends she made at the gym then advised her to cut wheat from her diet and invited her to some running sessions she was part of.
“I gassed out and collapsed after just 700 metres and decided to never run again. But that became a spark because I hate losing. I said, ‘I will give it another shot, but now on my terms.”
Her terms were simple: do her gym session garnished with a three-kilometre run after that. The plan somehow worked.
The alarming weight cut
“With wheat out and my self-designed workout programme, my kilos started coming down at an alarming rate. I lost five kilos in 21 days. Well, at first, I didn’t know (the 5 Kgs) was water weight, but it was enough motivation to keep going,” she recalls.
Water weight or fluid retention is a type of weight loss or gain that is often temporary and unrelated to fat loss. It occurs due to various factors, including high sodium intake, hormonal changes, or weather conditions.
“As I kept up with the trends, I met with communities of re-creation runners on social media. It wasn’t long before I did my first marathon in Mt Meru, Tanzania, in April 2017. I did 21 kilometres, finishing in 2 hours and 16 minutes.”
She weighed 85 kilos at this point, but that wasn’t enough motivation. What pushed her on was that she completed the race way ahead of several recreation runners who had begun their running journey long before her.
“I was motivated enough to keep going. I was now crazy about running, then pap! I conceived again. But I wasn’t about to stop running. That same year, I participated in the Stanchart Marathon 21-kilometre race, finishing in 2 hours and 6 minutes. Do you understand what 2:06 means for someone who started running barely one year ago when she weighed 120 kilos?” She poses.
Even with another baby on the way, Wanjira never quit the gym. She still pushed her body to lift as heavy as she could.
“I continued strength training until the day before I went to deliver. This ensured I never lost my shape, even after giving birth,” she states matter-of-factly.
At the time of her delivery, she weighed 87 kilos, having added only two kilos.
Even before she could wean the baby, Wanjira was back on the track doing Mt Kilimanjaro Marathon, which she has participated in four times.
“I was on the podium, finishing at position 10. I received about Sh30,000 in prize money. It felt good. Before that, I had done the Mt Ngorongoro Marathon in Tanzania and finished fifth.”
Of her most memorable races, the Dubai Marathon this year stands out.
“I did 42 kilometres and was in the podium position. Being Dubai, you can imagine the prize,” she teases.
Wanjira has also done Sanlam and Stanchart marathons in South Africa. After Frankfurt, her next move will be to take a stab at the Berlin marathon in 2024.