Racing The Karen Open Triathlon In Nairobi!

published by Bren

Last updated: May 6, 2024

I was first through the gate.

It was 7 a.m. and the air was dewey.

I headed for the registration desk – the first athlete of the day.

They handed me my race bib, wrote my race number on my calves and arms.

As I wheeled my bike into transition, I couldn’t help but smile. Race day always gives you that feeling. My first triathlon since 2021. It was good to be back.

I first heard of this race last year when I was in Kenya last year, and had kept it in the back of my mind. By pure stroke of luck it matched up with my travel schedule this year, and I registered with about four weeks until race day.

I was in Bali at the time, and without a bike or even a good place to run, training had consisted of daily sessions on the treadmill and spin bike at a scrappy gym by my apartment.

However, I felt reasonably well prepared considering the time frame. I knew my swim would be rusty, but I felt I had enough kilometres in the bank for a decent time on the run.

After arriving in Nairobi about a week before race day, the rain had been tumbling down. I had gotten in one ride and a few swims. Race day would be interesting.

Thankfully, on this day it hadn’t rained overnight. The sky was blue. Sun was already showing. It was a perfect day for racing.

After hanging my bike, I went to arrange my transition basket.

Race top. Sunglasses. Helmet. Socks. Shoes. Gloves.

I visualized the transition in my head, three, four times, ensuring I had the order right.

I did. I think.

Nothing left to do but sit and wait.

The first curveball of the race was the start time.

Even though the scheduled start was 8 a.m., when the clock hit 8 we were still finishing registrations.

Once that was done, a group warm up took place.

Then we had a bunch of speeches, race rules had to be explained, sponsors had to be thanked.

By the time we finally headed down to the pool, it was well past 9.

We were grouped in our expected swim times, and the start list ran from slowest to fastest.

The ladies went first, and the first wave alone took around 40 minutes.

Instead of starting at 8, it was likely my race would start around 11.

Unfortunately I had drunk a whole bunch of caffeine at 7:30 a.m. in anticipation of an 8 a.m. start. By the time 11 came around, I was starting to feel like an afternoon nap.

But, that’s all part of racing. The rest of us simply enjoyed the sunshine while we waited, cheered on the girls in the pool, and chatted with our fellow athletes.

I had another dose of caffeine just before my group was called to the swim.

The swim was 38 laps of a 21m pool.

I hadn’t had much time for swim training, but I had done three swims since arriving in Kenya two weeks earlier, and was clocking around 16 minutes for the distance.

I started well enough and didn’t feel like I was going too fast, but around 12 laps in I was breathing heavy for some reason.

I tried to push through but my lungs weren’t having it. Very strange. I couldn’t help but stop at 20 laps and give myself a ten second break and a few deep doses of oxygen.

The second half felt much better, and I managed to get through in my expected 16 minutes.

From there it was a sprint from the pools to the transition field around 200m away.

Since I was out of breath, transition took longer than expected. I tried to relax while getting my shoes on, knowing I was moving too slowly but also not really caring. I was exhausted! There was a guy next to me getting his kit on at the same time.

“Bro that so hard, what the heck!”

“I know!”

Well, at least it wasn’t just me.

After about three minutes, I was running my bike down the chute and onto the road.

It’s not a secret that I hate the bike. I hate how long it is, how dangerous it is, how many things can go wrong. And also I suck at it, that’s probably the main reason.

To make matters more challenging, this course was a mountain bike route, something I’ve never raced or barely even ridden before.

Even though the idea of a race to go fast, I knew I couldn’t go fast. All that would lead to is me crashing into a pile of rocks and walking home. The course wasn’t too rugged, but definitely tough enough that I had to pump the brakes almost the whole time and cruise through at a comfortable speed.

That didn’t stop me from falling off a couple of times.

Thankfully there were 3 or 4 kilometres on-road, which was a welcome respite for my arms (mountain biking kills your arms!) and allowed me to pump out watts the best I could without worrying about dying.

The end of the bike was an on-road climb that seemed to be giving people problems. It wasn’t too steep, but was long and after riding through the mud for an hour was tougher than it should have been. I did my best to finish strong and make up some time.

Coming into transition for the second time, the atmosphere was a bit more festive as many earlier starters had already finished.

I had designed this transition to be lightning quick – all I needed to do was hang my bike, take off my helmet, then grab my hat and go.

I was in and out within 30 seconds.

I’m not the fastest runner, but I’ve gotten better over the years.

In the first couple of kilometres I managed to pass around 4 or 5 people who had blitzed past me on the bike. For whatever reason, the run seemed to be giving a lot of people problems, and many were shuffling or dawdling along and looking worse for wear.

My legs were pretty heavy but it was only a 5.5km run – as a marathoner that distance feels like a gift.

While I wasn’t able to hit anything close to PB pace, I cruised through the run, trying to push in the last 2km.

I passed another handful of people during that final stretch, and crossed the finish line as strong as possible.

After a shower and a freshen-up back at the pool of the Karen Country Club, it was back to the finish line to relax on the lawn and watch the rest of the racers finish.

The relay event had started last, so many were still on their bikes or just starting their runs.

It was a good time to chat with the other triathletes about the race and just about life in Kenya, the triathlon scene and make a few new friends.

Result? 10/67 in the men’s. 11/96 overall.

A decent swim, biked like a snail, and run maybe a few minutes slower than I should’ve. Since I only had 4 weeks of training, couldn’t have expected much more.

Still every race and every finish line is a blessing, another achievement, another building block to staying strong and healthy, and another step to doing better next time.

Overall, I thought the race was superbly organised, and other than the late start, everything ran like clockwork.

Will I race it again? Maybe!

We’ll see what 2025 holds.

Also! Shout out to the teams at Joy Riders and Team Tri Fit for organising the race, and allowing me to train with them for a couple of sessions before the race. Wonderful group of people – if you’re into the race scene and ever in Nairobi, definitely hit them up!

Heading to Nairobi? Check out my accommodation guide here!

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