The New Year comes with new runners in branded outfits, chasing flirtatious resolutions. Running is a labour of love. David Thuo, an aircraft engineer, has been running for 19 years for recreation. What started as a hobby has now morphed into an intense passion for the 42-year-old, an unbridled need to push the body and attain optimum physical condition.
He has ran in most of the famed marathons around the world; Comrades, Two Oceans in South Africa, London, New York, Chicago, Boston, Standard Chartered and Lewa. Last year, he ran a total distance of 3,840 kilometres, averaging 74 kilometres weekly and burning 239,770 calories. [He has an app that does this math].
He met JACKSON BIKO at Heron Court Portico in Nairobi to talk about fitness and running.
I’ve seen you run and you don’t run with music. What do you normally think about during a run?
Running offers me the most intimate space with myself. While the first few kilometres may be mentally consumed with the running, eventually I get lost in thought and this is the only time of my day when my mind is at its clearest. I'm able to focus on issues, remember some forgotten tasks, plan for the day or month, come up with solutions to problems and also take time to appreciate things around me, like God’s blessings, family, friends, good health, nature etc. I call this the therapeutic part of running and it ensures that my being busy does not lead to stress-related ailments.
What kind of advice would you give someone who is on the big side of the weighing scale and wants to start running?
Running is a journey. That weight didn't come overnight so it won’t go overnight and so you must not look at running as a short-term project. Commit to a schedule. Choose the right and convenient time of the day to run. I prefer mornings, because things normally crop up in the evening. Losing weight is a good thing, maintaining the new weight is even a better and much harder thing.
What has been your worst running experience?
Last year’s Boston marathon. I finished it wrapped in plastic bags after temporarily pulling out at the 30 kms due to hypothermia. Have you ever had hypothermia?
No, never had the pleasure
(Chuckle) It’s when it is so cold that your body is unable to generate enough heat to sustain your organs. I got so tired I couldn’t see properly and I started staggering. I also had a migraine and when I realised I was going to collapse and die I stopped and got into a heated medical tent. We have a rule as runners after we had one of us collapse and die; stay alive. The time you get to your destination is important but not so if you die and not make it. Second rule is to finish. So I went back to the race and finished.
Has running impacted on other aspects of your life?
There is no way you're going to achieve much without commitment and a plan. Every time I have a race, I start looking at things from the race backwards. For example, this year I know I’m doing Kilimanjaro marathon, I'm also doing Berlin instead of Tokyo, because I need to do at least two marathons if not three. Last year, I did three major marathons. Running has taught me to plan and envision the desired result.
Then there is discipline. If I say I’m waking up tomorrow I will wake up come rain or sun. Together with a partner of mine we run a business — Aero Atlas Technologies — which overhauls aircraft components for airlines in Kenya, Uganda Tanzania and Ethiopia and also carries out calibration of precision tools and equipment. Running a business is challenging and I find that it requires the exact work ethic like running.
When you see people running in the same shoes they use for going to church in, does it make you sad?
(Laughs) Attire is very important and if you are going to improve your life by running, there has to be some level of sacrifice and investment. One of the key things in running is a shoe. And they can be expensive. I do know we start off at mtumba but try and get a new shoe. It might be expensive but it will protect and serve you well.
You can start with spending Sh 10,000 on a shoe that will last you 10,000 kms because you don't want to be getting fit in your cardiovascular system and you're destroying your other parts like knees ligaments and back. The problem with used shoes is that they finish the cushion and they leave you unprotected.
What's your preferred brand for shoes?
Nike. I've used Nike, a brand called Pegasus. I started with Pegasus 29, then I went to 30, now I’m at 35 Turbo. I have bought most of them if not all because at the level I am in. I move quite fast and I try to keep abreast with some of the best shoes. But for the actual marathon race we have specific shoes; the Nike Zoom Vaporfly 4%, which was what Eliud Kipchoge used for the Nike Breaking2.
Vaporfly 4%, Jesus, how much is that and what can that shoe do?
(Laughs) It’s like around Sh25,000. There's a time there was a shortage so some people were auctioning them on eBay for Sh60,000. The technology is insane. At that level of running to save even one minute of your time takes a lot of effort so the shoe has to be right.
Running makes you lose weight and as a married man, when you go to the village are people worried that perhaps the wife isn’t taking good care of you?
(Laughs) My wife is a runner too. We started together 19 years ago when she needed to lose weight. She lost weight but we never stopped running. Running is addictive; you want to get better at it. My friends and I have a running club called Runfit. Obviously, I don't want to look like a skeleton and my core business is not running, I'm just running for fitness and personal gratification. (Chuckles) And yes you are right, the perception is that when you lose weight you're doing badly. They ask if my wife is not cooking for me. (Laughs)
How much have you ever paid to run these big international marathons?
That must have been London Marathon; around Sh200,000 plus, just to get a slot. Factor in flights and accommodation and it could easily come to half a million shillings.
What kind of satisfaction do you gain from running a major marathon?
London, for instance, is part of the six major world marathons; London, Tokyo, Berlin, Chicago, New York and Boston. So when you do all six you get one big medal that has all six stars. I have ran four of those marathons and I intend to get that medal. In Kenya, we only have three people who have done all six. So it’s a big prestigious thing. It’s about the fulfilment of achievement.