My mate Macharia (Mash) is a runner. The kind of man who carries running shoes on a holiday and spends an easy weekend off doing a half marathon. I used to hang around him hoping I would pick up his good exercise habits, but nowadays I dread his phone calls. He has become that voice of conscience that nudges me out of my sedentary existence.

Like all seasoned runners, Mash has his neighbourhoods mapped out. He knows what roads have the best running paths. The paved ones, the traffic free ones and the scenic ones with mature trees. He knows how to time a run too. To start out at dusk before visibility gets poor and return through lit roads and free of ankle sprain. He knows the best loops with the right amount of hills and flat ground to make a run bearable.

One evening, he called me out. He had started his run two kilometres down my road and hoped I would not chicken out of a “polite” 5km run. I have my pride and he found me warming up outside my gate. We took the usual easy-run route, but at the T-junction, he turned into a road jam packed with evening traffic snaking up a steep hill. Mash attacked the incline, all in stride without switching gears. I watched him pull away with ease. Left with no choice, I shifted down to my lowest gear and retained him in my sights, focusing on keeping my heart from seizure.

A triple lane highway was at the top of the hill. One had to sprint across it in peak traffic because Nairobi drivers are determined to keep pedestrians fit. On the other side was a dusty murram road, under construction and none of the landscapes were familiar.

After 50 metres, we merged onto a perfectly paved road, with no traffic and lit streets. All along it were manicured hedges and tree cover. No dust. No car fumes. A runner’s boulevard that stretched over a few kilometres.

‘Normal beatings’

Two female joggers passed us in quick succession. Mash turned back looking pleased and mumbled: “You know a neighbourhood is okay, when it is safe for women to jog at night.” It was a correlation I had never made.