Here one of our previous participants, Syed, writes about his experience of the Uganda Marathon. From signing up to training runs, to the meaningful experience of meeting the Ugandan community at the projects, as well his account of Race Day and decision to extend his time in Uganda to volunteer, here he tells his Uganda Marathon story.

We join him in January when he was contemplating signing up…

 

As I’m sure everyone has a weird or unusual reason for signing up to do something crazy…mine was insomnia. Unable to sleep one night I had blindly signed up for the 2017 edition of the Uganda Marathon without truly realizing what that would entail or the challenging conditions I would face – particularly the extreme heat, humidity, altitude and the course elevations with monster climbs (worst of which is nicknamed ‘The Beast’).

However, as the weeks and months passed, and during the course of training with the inspiring founders and young organizers of the Uganda Marathon here in the UK, I began learning more about the amazing community projects the marathon was involved in in Masaka, a small town close to the famous Lake Victoria.

Syed, fellows runners, and UGM staff at one of the social training runs in the build-up to the week-long adventure

I was so impressed with the sustainable local projects they were supporting that I committed to remaining in Masaka for an extra week, at the end of the marathon, to volunteer at one such project. The project I chose was Masaka Vocational Rehabilitation Centre (MVRC) where kids with disability are taught vocational skills; a cause that sadly takes on much greater significance in some parts of Africa due to some archaic local superstitions and the stigma attached to disability.

Some photos from Syed’s time at MRVC – the Charity Project he volunteered at when he extended his time in Uganda

As I have a keen interest in DIY projects I thoroughly enjoyed the week spent at MVRC, working with the kids to design and make a shoe rack, utensils holder, coffee table and shelving unit from the locally sourced bamboo and strings made from up-cycled plastic water bottles that are otherwise burned by the poor for fuel.

‘Building the wall’ – during the main week, the runners volunteer at the projects and used upcycling to build a wall for a mushroom house – which is something the project wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford but will mean a sustainable income once up in place!

On Legacy Day at the project AICOD, Syed and his clan visit the project they’ve been fundraising for – to meet the very people they’ve been supporting and to lend a hand for the day!

Syed takes some time out to appreciate the beauty of Uganda on one of the Legacy Days

As I write this I am struggling to put into words how unique the Uganda marathon experience was. On one hand, the race itself was incredibly hard, by far the hardest thing I have ever done or likely to do. At times it was touch-and-go and I considered stopping many times over, as every part of my body was cramping up during the latter part of the race. Yet the overriding memories and emotions I and many others took away from that unforgettable marathon week are not of personal achievement but of something more profound and humbling. It is the sight, sound, smell and the colour of Masaka which greeted us, the smiles and generosity of the amazing people who welcomed us to their town for a week; it is of the friendships made whilst sitting around campfire and of the lasting impressions each visit to local projects had left in the minds of 120 or so foreign runners.

‘The Mamas’ – the week is all about connecting with groups in the local community and making a positive impact

It was a surreal experience to meet the ‘mamas’ who were thrown out of the family for simply giving birth to children with disability, and to hear their heart-wrenching stories. Spending a day in their company it is impossible not to admire their bravery and resourcefulness despite the hardship. Hearing how the fruits of a single day’s labour – whether building an extra room for growing mushrooms as a source of added income, a goat pen or installing the roof on a kitchen extension, while the mamas were busy preparing a hearty meal for us – would positively impact their lives was genuinely touching.

Pre-race photo! Taken moments before the runners set off on their big challenge!

Syed makes his way up one of the most challenging hills on the course: ‘The Beast’.

Running events are a generally selfish affair where the prevailing feeling at the end is of: ‘I came, I conquered and I left’. The Uganda Marathon experience was unlike anything I have ever taken part in. After only 2 weeks I left with a genuine affection and a visceral connection to the place and the people I have met. Remembering the sadness etched on the faces of the runners – as they were boarding the shuttle back to the airport, and as realization was starting to hit hard that this rollercoaster of a week is in fact over – it is easy to see why this small event of only 2000 participants, in a village with no infrastructure or history of running, was voted the ‘best international running event in 2016’ ahead of more established and prestigious events such as Berlin and New York marathons. What is more remarkable is that the Uganda Marathon won the award in only their 2nd year in existence, a testament to the dedication of the inspired group of friends who had started this amazing journey. Anybody looking for a unique running challenge or adventure, whether it is for 10 km, half or full marathon distance, I’d recommend Uganda Marathon in a heartbeat. It truly is ‘a race like no other’.

Lastly, I’d like to say a big thank you to all the colleagues who sponsored me. Your support was greatly appreciated by everyone at MVRC.

Syed and all the International Runners at ‘Athletes’ Village’, posing for a big group photo towards the end of the week!

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