The runners make the Uganda Marathon what it is. The friendships, the community, the fundraising and the determination to finish is why UGM is truly a Race Like No Other. Here we tell the stories of the runners who took part in 2016 event, as they share their insights and experiences of the week-long adventure.
Ali was one of our first sign ups for the 2016 event and even though she had never run further than 13-miles before, she decided to enter the full-marathon race! During the week she stayed at Athlete’s Village, volunteered at ‘Child Restoration Outreach’, witnessed some breathtaking African views and made lots of new friends. In fact, the week made such a personal impact, it has now given Ali the confidence to go on to have many more exciting adventures!
1. What made you sign up for the Uganda Marathon 2016?
I have always wanted to run a marathon at some point in my life and after a few failed attempts to get into London, I happened to come across the Uganda Marathon. It immediately resonated and got my heart racing with excitement, so I decided it was the perfect challenge for me! I have always enjoyed running but had never tried anything beyond a half marathon, so having heard about UGM almost a full year before I figured I’d have enough time to train and so there wasn’t really any reason not to sign up! It was also a great excuse to travel to a completely new country and take a week’s break from the office job.
2. Was it what you expected?
The whole experience was ten times what I expected! I’d tried to not get carried away with the idea after signing up because it seemed too good to be true, and I was conscious I was going alone and it was obviously going to be a really tough run. However, I remember meeting people at the airport and realising so many other people were in the same situation, so I immediately felt more at ease. Then when we first arrived at Athlete’s Village the feeling and vibe was incredible! This only continued throughout the week as I met loads of amazing people and made great new friends. The insight into the projects was really eye-opening, and experiencing life in Masaka and the openness and welcoming nature of all the people was very special.
3. What projects did you volunteer at during the week? Could you tell us about the experience?
I volunteered first with Child Restoration Outreach. This charity supports street children to have a proper education as well as providing counseling and encouraging children to play, with the aim of reintegrating them into society. We spent the morning going out to experience the parts of Masaka where these children live and come from, and to sample the local delicacy of fried grasshoppers! It was very enlightening to appreciate what life is like for these children, and it served its purpose to show me what a difference having somewhere to get support can make to a child and their life aspirations. In the afternoon we had great fun playing football and basketball with the kids, then helped create paper beads that would make necklaces to be sold to raise money for the charity. The children were so appreciative of all our efforts and it was humbling to spend time working with them.
I then spent a morning volunteering with East African Playgrounds, painting an otherwise black playground into something full of colour and imagination. The aim is to create safe and creative places for children to play, to encourage child development and reduce youth unemployment. The end result looked great, and we were assured the children would be so excited to play when they arrived the following week. It was quite a wake-up call to think how much we take for granted when some children don’t even have somewhere to be kids, so it felt amazing to do something proactive about it.
4. You stayed at Athlete’s Village during the week? What was it like?
I loved it! The views from every part of the camp were beautiful, the food was delicious and most importantly there was an amazing buzz to the place. Even taking a shower was amazing as you looked out over rural Uganda. Everyone was so friendly and chatty, it felt like we’d created a small hilltop community for the week that felt like home. There was loads of evening entertainment to enjoy too and plenty of fun every night around the campfire. One of my favourite parts was the chill out zone where I could just relax in a hammock and let everything about the week sink in and rest ahead of race day!
5. What was your best overall memory of the Uganda Marathon, and how would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?
It’s so hard to pick just one! The whole week was full of great moments: the kids trying to make me go faster during the hilly morning runs, long evenings around the campfire experiencing waragi and whiskey booms (I’m really not an athlete!), learning how to make paper bead jewellery, the sunsets at camp and the questionable dance-offs at club Ambience on the Sunday night. Not forgetting all the support along the marathon route- kids holding my hand as I ran and having Henry, the race organiser, rubbing suncream into my shoulders at mile 22 and giving me some final encouragement when I felt completely exhausted.
But I think overall the one memory I reflect on is approaching the finish line of the marathon. During the week in Uganda I had very little time to even remember what the Sunday involved or think about my reason for being there, and on the day I could never have imagined the immense emotions of completing such a challenge. But when it came down to it, there was so much more to crossing the finish line than just having run 26-miles. It was amazing to think how far all the money raised would go towards making a difference having experienced the incredible work of the charities, and seeing so many new friends lining up to cheer me on and show their support felt amazing. Definitely a memory I will cherish!
To sum up the Uganda marathon… it is the best marathon in the World; with stunning scenery, organised by a great group of people and with a real impact on the community. It was a week that I wish I could relive over and over. It has made me more confident in seeking out more adventures and life is definitely more exciting as a result. I would 100% recommend it to anybody else, as it was truly an unforgettable experience!