Toby Tanser

Toby Tanser with step-daughter Lindi and wife Chelimo.

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Fortuitously, I stumble upon greatest distance running group on the globe

What you need to know:

  • ‘I’d have scooted back to the hotel. But two days of inactivity meant significant dent in weekly mileage’
  • On Friday, Toby Tanser, an athlete, humanitarian and founder of the Shoe4Africa charity, will organise a relay race from the Equator to Eldoret with elite and legendary runners to break ground for a new children’s cancer hospital. Over the next few days, we follow Tanser’s charity mission through excerpts from his latest book: Running with Destiny – An odyssey of mistakes, machetes and miracles.

Frowning, fretting, and whining under her breath regarding tardiness and manners, she gave no hope or encouragement.

How disappointing, did the taxi man fib, and this off-beat hotel was a cousin’s joint where he snaffled a commission? Why exactly did I travel to Africa? I should never have boarded the plane.

Noel’s cancelation was the hint—why did I not follow suit?

My quarters stood separately from the main building block—another ominous sign. The accommodation resembled a hut, but not like the quaint safari cabins I had admired in National Geographic visits the Mara. The hovel matched the type of structure purposed for gardening tools—dingy and dark. Opening the door, I spied an uncomfortable-looking junior bed vaulted knee-high over a barely swept concrete floor.

Against the back wall, I spied a stained sink and a porcelain toilet lacking a seat. I noted a piped showerhead protruding above from a cracked wall at eye level. Was this to body wash or to clean the lavatory? Perchance both! To the side of the potty lay a large rusty iron grate; I could just imagine the bugs and odors ruining my stay.

"Self-contained suite!" Dorcas beamed, passing over a door key attached to a key fob the size of a house brick. Her other hand groped ominously inside her nose. Basic accommodations, but for 10 dollars, breakfast included, I could not complain.

When Dorcas left, and after bolting the door, I tore off my clothes and stood under the shower nozzle, desperate to scrape off the grime accumulated after the last day’s travel.

Thin foam mattress

Despite turning and turning the brass tap, unbelievably, no water flowed. Instead, measly cold droplets dripped from the rusty spout. I thought of calling grumpy Dorcas, but with no telephone in the room and her despondent attitude, perhaps not.

Completely wiped, I collapsed on the thin foam mattress. At least I would be secure with Mr. Munster outside.  An attacking mosquito zipping inside the room stirred the morning sleep. Panic! Why did I not purchase the anti-malaria tablets that a friend had insisted would safeguard a person’s life?

I presumed mosquitoes buzzed around swamps and jungles — not hotel rooms. Leaping out of bed to dress, I noticed I was too late. Three puffy welts punctured my hand.
Goodness, how big was the tiny geezer’s stomach?

Did this mean I had already contracted a fatal tropical disease? Was I now a blackwater fever carrier? That is the last straw — I decided to fly home.

No luggage, no runners, no water, no shoes, and now infected with the bubonic plague?
A plethora of problems suggested adios Africa.

After revamping the gear in Sweden, I could jet to our club’s traditional Spanish training camp near the charming coastal town of Marbella.

Functioning power-showers inside a luxurious beachfront condominium, a change of clothes, no toxic insects, and running shoes?

That sounded like a prudent upgrade to adopt.

However, before taxiing to the airport, I wanted to go for a run. No, I needed to go running — that is my routine, and I missed yesterday’s session due to journeying. Despite lacking a change of clothes, I could purchase a T-shirt and underwear from a roadside store following the exercise.

Fortunately, I always traveled in old running shoes. Outdoors, the sweltering heat promised a challenging run. Cripes, it was muggy. My mind drifted to breakfast and putting the flight plans in motion.

I dreamt of Spain and looked forward to joining the Stockholm boys.

As I departed, I had a choice—left or right.

Years ago, I learned a little play-on-words, ‘Go right, you don’t go wrong.’

Hence, a tad superstitious, I hung a right onto a heavily trafficked road.

I pressed the stopwatch to ensure I did not exercise a second over forty minutes, which I considered the minimal amount for a diary entry. Had I turned left, then I may have flown home that afternoon. Running on the dirt by the edge of the tarmac, a matatu (passenger minibus) decelerated to match my pace.

The conductor, hanging from the side door of the vehicle, yelled to solicit trade, "Where to bwana (mister)?" I ignored him, having no wish to stop jogging. He laughed at my behavior, "Hey man, are you too stingy to dole out five shillings (5-US cents) for a ride?"

How the commuters inside the brightly colored bus screamed and whooped at his daft humor. "Mzungu, (foreigner) spend your pennies," he cried, "Yes, we have vehicles in Africa!"

The bus refused to leave and lagged at my tempo, so hoping to defuse the situation, I explained, "Actually, I’m a runner, an athlete."

"He is a runner?" Now the conductor and his passengers burst out in a chorus of hysterical laughter.

Every man of this trade I would find is well-versed at jiving with the customers. As the van finally pulled away, smothering me in a cloak of dust and clouds of choking diesel fumes, I ran on, pretending the ribbing fell like water off a duck’s back. In a jiff, another vehicle slotted into place, and the next comedian struck up his spiel.

Plentiful on the roads, these privately owned public transport vehicles spoiled the day.

The ones I encountered were gaudy ancient minibuses and crammed to the gills with passengers, patrolling the streets like a bevy of bugs around a month-old corpse.

Far from the tourist trails, I must have looked an odd sight. Not every day do you see a thin white man dressed in jeans clomping up the road, beetroot-faced, and wheezing in the elevated altitude.

Woefully, this route was the commuter’s congested direct line in and out of Nairobi. What awful luck — had I not missed yesterday’s training, I would have scooted back to the hotel. But two days of inactivity meant a significant dent in the weekly mileage.

Focus Toby, I set my head down as yet another matatu driver slowed to poke fun and mock the alien. Peeking at my stopwatch and convincing myself the constant jeering did not bother me, I aimed to run back to the hotel and end this pity party.

That was it. The African adventure could be over — nothing but sour experiences.
Then, on the 19th minute, when I scanned for a suitable swing-round marker, I almost screamed aloud with joy.

One hundred metres ahead were 20, feasibly 30, of the legendary Kenyan runners. Like prancing stallions, they paraded across the road, obstructing the traffic, and then galloped down a bushy path.

Whoa, for real, is this a chance to join the Kenyans on my first run? What a random stroke of luck. Dashing forward, I raced to latch onto the group.

Saturday: Talk about a runner’s high — world and Olympic stars wandered to the left and right, as common as books in a library. An Odyssey of Mistakes, Machetes and Miracles is available at: