Towering cliffs drop down into crystal blue mountain lakes. That’s Chogoria, the most stunning traverse up Mt.Kenya, if not one of the most beautiful mountain hiking routes in the world. Enda Elite athletes recently set out on their next Fastest Known Time attempt up Lenana summit via Chogoria route. But the beauty of the route certainly didn’t mean it was going to be any easy day.
For most runners locally including our in-house athletes, their primary source of income is race prize money. In the wake of race cancellations we set up the Mt. Kenya FKT challenges to help ease financial burden among our elite athletes. We’ve partnered with Janji, Coros, and UltrAspire to kit out the athletes and support them as they set out to set new records running up Kenya’s tallest mountain.
Right now, athletic competitions have started making watchful comebacks from the pandemic, Sussy Chebet who set the record on the first ever FKT attempt was away this time. On this adventure, we had Detroit marathon champion, Joan Cherop. Kenneth Kemboi who set the men’s fastest time on Sirimon-Lenana summit route, and Alfred Moindi.
Here is the Chogoria-Lenana summit attempt experience as told by the athletes themselves:
“I hit a rough patch but glad I still set the record” - Joan Cherop
Joan Cherop Massah set off determined to set the record, but things started to go amiss early. On the way up, Joan took the longer route up the mountain, via Lake Ellis. Certainly the more scenic way to go, but not the easiest. Still, even with the detour, we believe she set the record for the fastest known time unsupported ascending Mt.Kenya from the Chogoria to Point Lenana summit. Joan’s ascent was run in a time of time of 4:17:25
Having missed the first attempt on the Sirimon-Lenana summit route, Joan was back with excessive enthusiasm to compensate for the missed dance. Knowing she’d got off track, didn’t turn back, but persevered to her goal.
Then coming off the summit, Joan took a wrong turn and had to turn around, and climb back up 300m (1000 ft) to get on the trail headed back to Chogoria gate. Once she was back on track, she got flying and ran a total of 44.39KM with 2,780m (9120 feet) climbing in 8 hours, 50minutes and 23 seconds.The actual distance up and back is normally 40KM.
Before the first attempt, we had done a reconnaissance visit of all the three routes. Joan seemed to have had the most trouble with the terrain and altitude. But this time, things were different. Perhaps the suffering from that visit had powered some kind of an obsession. Simply put, Joan came back fierce!
Congratulations, Joan Cherop!
Devastated but not out - Kenneth Kemboi
In all likelihood, you might have experienced this. You start out on a race day all well and strong, but somewhere along the race, something unexpected and yet so drastic happens and you have to make the painful decision.
Last year, Kemboi made history by setting the record for the fastest known time up and down Mt.Kenya unsupported. This time, he barely made it halfway to the summit. “I did not see my legs feeling all stiff and tight that early in the run.” says Kemboi. “They say, some days your body will only take you as far as your mind allows. I pushed my body, but it could not quite keep up with my mind.” According to Kemboi, he might have underestimated how good he felt in terms of recovery from the first run.
With a maximum elevation of 3 323m, Kemboi ran a total of 13.1KM ascent and descent in a time of 1 hour 47 minutes and 3 seconds.
We can’t wait to see Kemboi bringing back the same energy from the first attempt for an even stellar performance on the final and third route attempt.
I will now save the big push for when it counts - Alfred Moindi
Alfred finished second after Kembi on the first FKT run on the Sirimon route. Though he knew he was behind and wouldn’t get the record, he kept on and ran the full route. So certainly he’s an athlete with resolve and determination.
However, on this attempt, he did not make it to Point Lenana summit. Just a few metres from the summit he made a U-turn and descended back. With a maximum elevation of 4,640m, Alfred did a total of 37.4KM with 2030m (6660 feet) in 7hours, 7 seconds and 21 minutes.
That evening after the run, sitting around the fire, Alfred was unusually quiet. Having not made it to the summit, he was obviously disappointed. He slipped into some form of emotional numbness as he shared what it felt like to make a U-turn back and what drove him to turn around short of the summit.
Alfed pointed out that starting off the trails very hard uphill did cost him later in the run. He said, “I am always the strongest runner on my best days, but today, I am not happy with how things turned out. It hurts, it really does. But it happened like it did.”
He explained: “Yaani, nilfika pale Lake Simba tan, nikatapika na nikaketi chini. Nakuambia, ndio hii naona summit like 2KM lakini mwili iligoma bana.” Imagine, I got to Lake Simba Tan, started throwing up then I sat down. I could see the summit was like 2 KMs away but my body was done.
He continued, “Hata nikiamka kurudi, akili nayo ilibaki ikielekea summit. Leo sijui bana!” Even on my way back, my mind was stuck, it was still approaching the summit, I just didn't get it man.
All said and done, Alfred believes he has learned a critical lesson he will be carrying forward to the final attempt on the Naro Moru route. The lesson: to run quickly - and effortlessly downhill but more slowly and steadily uphill to ensure his early hill-pace is the same as his late hill-pace.
In all their shared stories of vulnerability, and personal experiences, we see humble warriors and quiet heroes. Theirs are stories true to many of us, some days we triumph, some days are challenging. When they return for the final summit attempt on the Naro Moru - Point Lenana route, we are excited to see them make history once again.