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Health & Fitness

‘Marathon is my drug’

Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Edward Mungai is the CEO Kenya Climate Innovation Center. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Listening to Edward Mungai is to be given a lesson in emotional intelligence, alertness, organisational skills and discipline. The climate change champion and CEO of Kenya Climate Change Innovation Center (KCClC) believes that time management is purpose management.

Foremost, Edward lives in a dream body, fitter than a mannequin: trim, toned and athletic to the last sinew, the flattering result of eight years of drowning miles in marathons and the gym.

To say that he likes to stay in shape is to understate his passion for fitness. For half an hour at 4.30am every day, he is on the treadmill and cross trainer “to jump-start my brain” and works out for an hour twice every week.

Wellness features higher than his career in second and fifth place respectively in his life goals condensed into nine bullets topped by spirituality.

Expecting denial, I ask him if he ever obsesses over his body.

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“I do,” he admits without being fussy. “It feels good to be in this body. I want to be the fittest person in every room I walk into,” he says with the supreme confidence he wears with nearly as much effortlessness as casualness.

That goal is not a long shot by his standards. The Copenhagen Business School graduate lives by a strict rule book of long-range goals. Targets for his days look like notes of a tough thesis project.

Edward, 42, started his career at KPMG in 2004 before moving to the Danish International Investment Fund as an investment manager. In two years, he was the head of East Africa regional office.

By 2am, he up to journal. Later at work, he holds 10 meetings, attends a church mass in-between and still is home by 5.30pm ready for his evening run.

That is half his story. Edward is a business lecturer at Strathmore University, a marathoner, an author and a philanthropist.

Compact as it is, Edward’s life reads like a thriller not as a chore. He returns from his daily 10 kilometre-run by 6.45pm to have dinner with his family at 7.15pm. Saying the rosary follows at 8pm, again with his family, and by 8.30pm, lights in the household are out.

At his home just outside Kiambu town, Edward has a gallery where medals from all the marathons he has run are displayed.

Among these is a bronze medal with six rings that is his most hallowed treasure: the Six Star Finisher Medal.

“This souvenir is given to athletes who have completed all the six marathon majors namely Tokyo, Berlin, New York, London, Boston and Chicago,” he explains.

Globally, only 3,786 men and women had attained the milestone by 2018. Edward’s only the fifth Kenyan to cross this off his list.

So, why does he run?

“Above all else, desire for physical fitness is what takes me to the starting line of every marathon,” he says with eager cool.

“Marathon is my drug. After a run, I’m able to function optimally. I also run to fundraise for charities that I support.”

In the last editions of London and New York marathons, Edward raised a total of Sh7 million for charity.

He notes that running alongside more than 35,000 people is exciting too. A marathon, he says, is like life. How so?

“No one can run your race,” Edward explains. “The idea is to maintain your pace and to push your limits. You’d burn out if you tried to chase someone.”

Participating in world marathons is an extensive investment, even bigger when one participates with such zealous frequency like Edward.

“Running is cheap,” Edward observes, “only at the beginning. When you become serious about it, you have to spend more.” Running shoes, he says, cost about Sh20,000 while a good running T-shirt, shorts and socks cost Sh8,000. Add to that a sports massage “to release lactic acid stored in your legs” every fortnight for Sh2,000 per session. “To run a marathon, you need a digital watch to determine your heart rate, calories and speed. TomTom, for instance, goes for about Sh30,000. I’m using an Apple Watch, which costs more,” he says.

But it is participation fee that’s the biggest expenditure. Boston Marathon, for instance, charges up to Sh1.5 million, Edward says.

How, for someone with an organisation to run, is he able to balance his demanding career with running?

Planning business meetings outside the country to coincide with the marathons has been Edward’s best strategy so far.

“Running for me isn’t a downtime but gain-time. I work and plan while running, by dividing the race into 20-minute parts.”

In every part, he deals with a different subject. “It could be about the next launch that we’ll have, about my wife or about a member of staff in my organisation.”

The question of whether he has imagined himself not running excites an eruption of gusto in him, but also fright.

“No!” he exclaims. “I want to run 50 marathons in my lifetime. I’ve 20 down and 30 to go.”

With an average of two marathons annually, Edward hopes to tick this all-important box in the next 15 years. He will be 57 then.

His immediate goal though is to complete the Ironman Triathlon before he is 45. This monster race involves a 3.86km swim, 180km bicycle ride and a full marathon (42.2km) in that order.

How does he prepare for marathons? Does he get to tour the cities he visits? Edward says he isn’t excited about places anymore, having trotted the globe half his life.

“With 10 kilometres every day and 21 kms during the weekend, I don’t have to prepare for a marathon. I only travel to the host city two days earlier to acclimatise,” he says.

Every month, he runs 250 kilometres, averaging 3,000 kilometres in a year, marathons excluded.

In addition to shooting marathons down, Edward has four children aged between 23 and four, and a raft of climate change presentations to make all over the world. So, when in a room full of other dads, does he consider himself a special father in any way?

“Definitely. I hope to give my children the best possible education. Mostly though, I want to be their role model,” he says.

How is it like to have a firstborn daughter in her early 20s and a 16-year-old son both right smack right in the middle of the tumult of early adulthood? Does this unsettle him?

“Not in the least,” he says quickly, admitting, “but we’re living in very rebellious times where bad behaviour is nearly acceptable. The only hope for families is spirituality. Their mother and I hope that they’ll make the right choices in life since we raised them in Christianity.’’

I engage him on the talk I’d reserved for the end of this interview: gastroporn. Edward reveals he does not take milk and is vegetarian from last year, a move he admits was drastic. His family has been the first casualty.

“They love meat. Sometimes I’m tempted to have some. It’s particularly not easy with my 10-year-old daughter Lex, who likes to feed me. She insists I must have some chicken, and having to explain to her why I can’t is awkward,” Edward says.

That his children go to an Indian school where vegetarianism is emphasised has done little to influence preferences at the family dinner table.

“I don’t want to convert my family. I’d be happy though if they chose to quit meat,” he says.

Before his epiphany though, Edward liked to indulge, often to the astonishment of his buddies.

“I’d have more scoops of ice cream and beers than everyone else at the party,” he recounts. For eight years now, he has led a teetotal life. “Alcohol doesn’t tempt me anymore. If you can’t take care of yourself, what else can you take care of?”

The price has been lost friendships “but on only those I don’t need.”

He now keeps what he calls “circle of genius,” which is a small group of friends to keep him grounded.

When he is no longer running for fitness, Edward wants to run for social impact. His target is to impact 50 million lives. For him, the race has just begun.

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