On Saturday, February 11, Lagos as a city was able to show some love during the Access Lagos Marathon.
Lagos is a city that does not know how to love. Transport fares are hiked up indiscriminately; road rage is in full force when you attempt to navigate a roundabout; and we will say a silent prayer for you if you scratch a vehicle in the mayhem.
So, I was totally unprepared for the love and support sprinkled along the roads at the Lagos Marathon.
#RunLagos and #IGetStamina kept making rounds on Twitter and billboards in the weeks that led up to Saturday’s marathon. I knew I was going to run, but I wasn’t sure how far. I registered once I saw that you could customize and create a display picture stating how many kilometers you will be running.
The distance covered in a full marathon is a little over 42km. I figured I could do 5km comfortably. It was not until I put up my customized marathon picture on social media that I felt a sense of commitment.
The Days Before
If registering for the marathon was stimulating, the collection of the marathon running kits was frustrating. Hours were spent on queues at the sole designated collection point, Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere.
Residents of Lagos were alerted by Whatsapp broadcast messages, radio announcements, and road signage of the closure of several major roads come Saturday. The marathon take off point was National Stadium Surulere.
The runners were to bypass Fadeyi, Onipanu, Anthony, and veer off into Gbagada before getting on Third Mainland Bridge. The route snaked around Osborne Road, the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, Ozumba Mbadiwe, which cuts into Victoria Island, and the finishing line at Eko Atlantic City.
To see Lagos differently was one of the main reasons why I chose to run this year’s marathon No traffic, no daredevil okadas, and no Roforofo.
The reality of the marathon actually happening began to sink in at Friday’s press conference.
It was a struggle to decipher which promises were true or not as the sponsors and organizers spoke glowingly about this year’s edition.
“Yes, there will be lots of water. No, Area Boys will not be allowed to disrupt water points.”
At the hotel venue, I rode the elevator with Kenyans, Ethiopians, and their local hosts. Oh yeah, we knew the Kenyans will win.
— Nmadiuto Uche (@nmadiutouche) February 10, 2017
The D- Day
After spending the night before, tweeting until midnight on Lagos Marathon trivia, I know that my 5am wake-up call will be a tough one.
My running buddies decide it will be best to take a bus to the starting point, but Lagos officials had other plans.
Access to the Ozumba Tollgate is blocked by the time we get there at 5:30. There is nothing we don’t attempt to make it to Surulere. We coerce the Lekki-Ikoyi traffic controllers, beg a belligerent bus driver, attempt to hitchhike when the driver refuses to continue the trip, and finally hop into a cab.
At the start point, there is a scramble for red wrist bands to identify runners who start from National Stadium. I have to give it to the organizers though. The race starts at 7am sharp, no African time and no dilly-dallying.
5km- Lagos Marathon
Who would have guessed that Mainlanders were so much fun? They troop out in hundreds and line the expressway to support us.
I walk and stare in awe as I pass familiar landmarks in no time. Adebowale House, Jibowu Bus Park and St. John’s School.
There are all sorts of comments from the crowds.
“Some of these girls came to look for bae, they are not even running.”
“You people should not be drinking plenty water.”
Oh yes! Aquafina holds it down with lots of water from the start point. There is even 7Up, but I am all pumped up and feel hydrated, so I skip that offer.
10km- Lagos Marathon
How on earth did I make it from National Stadium Surulere past Corona School Gbagada?
There is something intoxicating in the cocktail of cheering Lagosians and loudspeakers blaring out Nigerian hits.
I had trained for 5km and done double the distance planned.
How would it feel to run on Third Mainland Bridge? I wonder. Now, this is the longest bridge in Africa.
Distance on paper may not mean much until you embark on a journey.
15km- Lagos Marathon
At this point, I am walking and asking for 7Up.
All the refreshment points are devoid of energy drinks or fruits. The faster batches of runners have cleared the stock and there are rumors of hoarding by officials.
On the bridge, there is not much energy to feed off from. The waters leading up to the shanties of Makoko are a familiar sight. I have viewed them before in traffic at a similar pace.
The km markers are the only source of joy and consolation now, until some officials start loading them up in a truck.
Twitter says the elite and local athletes have reached the finish line at Eko Atlantic City. We may not be elite, but our participation counts. 7 hours is the duration we have to run our race. Only 3 hours have passed.
21km- Midway Point- Half Marathoner
With no km markers in sight and packed up water points, the midway point spurs me on.
I had seen it on Twitter, a blue sign held up garland-like in the air.
As my walking buddy and I limp forward, we notice impatient workmen taking the sign down.
Fighting atrophied muscles and cramps, I sprint towards them, pleading for at least a selfie.
We have just completed a half marathon and want the world to know.
The Finish Line
When most people found out I ran the marathon, the first question they ask is, did you reach the finish line?
Yes, I did. In style.
We rode the BRT bus sent out by the organizers to rescue tired runners/walkers.
It has air-conditioning and a patient driver. On his way to Eko Atlantic City, he stops to ask those running or walking if they want to hop on. Some do gratefully and are welcomed onboard; others decline graciously and are cheered on.
At the finish line, there are certificates and medals for participants. Something more to show the moment Lagos stood still for us to run.
The Days After
Body pains arrive, I apply mentholated lotions and swallow some painkillers.
I have flashbacks.
I see fatigued runners stretched out on carpets under the white tent at Eko Atlantic City, cheering Mainlanders, and the never ending Third Mainland Bridge.
In standstill traffic by Adeniji, I look out at the waters of Makoko in disbelief that this road was a clear stretch during Saturday’s marathon.
One week after, there are still signs of the race dotting the city. The 30 to 40 km road marks still adorn some roads in Lekki and Victoria Island.
They bring back a flurry of butterflies in my tummy.
Occasionally, I smile at the memories from the day we ran Lagos and got some love.