I now know first hand why the Kenyans are world-class runners. Anybody who can run at 5,300 feet elevation on the equator, along dirt trails with intense sunlight and hilly terrain has to be tough!

We were told before the run to expect at least a half-hour longer than our usual marathon time.

My wife, Bernadette, and I had the privilege of traveling to Kenya in June to participate in the 2002 Safaricom Marathon.

We spent approximately one week on big-game drives and in tent camps. On June 29, following a pasta feed, we drove back to camp along the run route in the dark, and we went around a curve and there were six lionesses laying in the road, which gave a few of us a little pause to reflect on the next day’s activities.

The next day we drove to the race site early for a 7 a.m. start. It took about a mile for me to realize I was not perspiring, and that at that altitude and heat that it was imperative to keep as much water in as possible. At the first-aid station, I grabbed a couple of bottles of water and downed those and drank profusely the rest of the way.

In the course of the race, they had a small, light plane and a helicopter patrolling the course in order to keep the animals off of the course. At about 24 miles, I was entering an area of tree cover and the helicopter came up out of the trees, not far from me. I could see it was chasing two huge bull elephants off of the course, their white tusks gleaming and ears were straight out, and they were obviously not happy to be intruded upon.

I also saw zebras, wildebeests and giraffes along the way and groups of monkeys along the road and gazelles running across the course. When I finished the run, I still felt good.

I went to see some of my other colleagues to find out how everyone was doing and went to the tent where they were doing aid, and it looked like a M.A.S.H. unit.

The worst situation of all was a woman who along with her husband we had had some very enjoyable times during the previous week. She also collapsed at the finish and was in the aid tent. I went in there with her and her husband, and they tried to cool her down. I asked her how she was doing, and though she was not very coherent, she clutched her medal and said, “I got my medal.”

She stopped breathing that night, and they started CPR and brought the helicopter from Nairobi to take her there. We received word that she had died two days later. Obviously a terrible tragedy, especially for someone who was so full of life and so young.

There is a lesson for all of us who run in warm country and at high altitudes that hydrating and electrolyte balance are critical, no matter how far you are running.

At the end of the day, that little piece of metal is not all that important.

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