Here, we interview runners who have participated in the Uganda Marathon, so they can share their stories and experiences from the 7-Day Adventure. After all, it’s their involvement which makes the week so special, from the impact they have on the projects, to community feel they give to the race.

Helen joined us for the event as she saw it as a great opportunity to visit Uganda for the first-time, as well as tick off another major on her bucket list – Gorilla Trekking. Below, she gives a detailed account of finally getting the chance to fulfil a lifelong dream, as well as her time with the projects. Plus, a self-described ‘non-runner’ she talks about participating in the half-marathon…where Race Day happen to fall on her birthday!

 

1. What made you sign up to the Uganda Marathon?

Having travelled and worked for NGOs all over Africa, Uganda had always evaded me and fascinated me. Therefore the chance to potentially use my Veterinary skills, by helping out with a rural project with a group of people from all over the world, plus the challenge of attempting a 1/2 marathon was a win-win situation for me. I needed an aim for the year, having lost a bit of momentum in life, and this sounded like just the adventure I was looking for.

I heard Henry and Andy [the founders] talk at a few events in London the year before, and their enthusiasm and clear love for the area really resonated with me. I didn’t know anyone else going, but knew of people who were thinking of going this year, via Yestival and the Project Awesome crew, so I was fairly hopeful that I’d find a good bunch of people to camp with, who’d be up for some fun and a few beers around the campfire.

 

2. Which project did you choose to fundraise for? Tell us about why you chose this project and your experience with them in Uganda?

I was in contact with Andy Bownds [the UGM’s Community Partnership Manager] before signing up and choosing a project, as I wanted to use my skills as a Vet and business owner to full effect. He recommended Youth with a Vision, as they had some projects involving animals.

Although I didn’t actually get to work with any animals, I did get to help 2 fantastic people come up with a business plan to put to the Youth with a Vision board, in order to apply for a loan of around $200. This low-interest loan would enable them to build a piggery, buy 4 young sows, hire a boar to breed them with, and feed them for long enough that their piglets would be ready for market. The time period to breed from pigs and rear their piglets, is at least a year, and as most other microfinance NGOs only lend for 3 months, this project was their only hope.

We calculated that if they sold most of the piglets, they would be able to pay back this loan in full within the 12 months, including the small interest charged, and would then own the sows outright, and be able to carry on their business model to earn money in the future.

Helen helps the pair of Ugandan students present their business plan

We drew up a business plan together, presented it to the board, and I am still in contact with the participants now as a mentor to help them with any technical advice that I can. I’m delighted that they have finally been granted the loan in the last month, and that everything is in place right now to build the piggery, of which I have regular updates and photos via email which is really fantastic.

 

3. What was it like to participate in our half-marathon event on Race Day

I am not a natural born runner whatsoever, and the marathon was not the reason I signed up to this adventure – but merely something to endure at the end of it.

I entered the 1/2 marathon, having not had time to train over more than 10km, and so was more than a little nervous on race day, surrounded by others who had run way more, way faster, and way better than me. I had however done plenty of hill walking in the UK, and had just walked right across England, so luckily this stood me in great stead for managing to walk up all the massive hills we encountered, and somehow I managed to complete the whole marathon – all be it at a very slow and steady pace! I found a fellow plodder on route, and we took on the second loop together after most people had finished their run after the 1/2 marathon loop. We stuck together and completed it in style, despite the searing heat. We even managed a sprint finish, and partied till late in the evening, which also happened to be my birthday – one I’ll never forget!

 

4. You extend your stay in Uganda to go Gorilla Trekking in the Rainforest. Could you tell us about the experience?

It was a long old journey to get to the Bwindy Impenetrable Forest, especially on the day after race day when we were all a bit stiff and hungover – however I wasn’t prepared at all for the incredible scenery along the route, especially as we neared the border with Rwanda and Congo, with a view of a row of volcanoes. People talk about their encounters with the Gorillas, but never the surrounding area, which for me was just as impressive!

I have been bought up on a zoo, with lowland Gorillas, but have never had the opportunity to see them in the wild, so this really was an opportunity of a lifetime not to be missed for me, and another big reason that I signed up to the UGM in the first place.

Trekking through the jungle was tougher than I’d anticipated, and the trackers were incredible to find the family of Gorillas in the thick forest, but we finally did, and it was everything I’d hoped and more. I was speechless at how close we got to the massive silverback, who could have torn us apart if he’d wanted to – but all he wanted to do was sleep, eat leaves and fart ALOT. The massive muscles on him from eating just leaves and shoots were incredible, a real advert for vegetarianism ……… but man oh man he did fart!

The way his family of 9 were so relaxed around us, was the most emotional part of it for me. They stared at us, as we stared at them, but then continued eating and ambling about in the undergrowth. They are so habituated to a group of humans coming to visit them for an hour each and every day, that they just accept it and get on with life, completely non-plussed about us and our cameras. It takes years to habituate a family of Gorillas to this stage, but is an amazing experience to be part of. Once our hour or so was up, they also knew it was time for us to go and leave them in peace for the rest of the day, so they walked off into the undergrowth and disappeared right on queue.

 

5. Finally, what was your best overall memory from the adventure and how would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?

Swapping stories over a beer around the campsite; sharing a tent and living communally with adventurous people from all over the world while also making a real difference to a rural community in Uganda – you really can’t beat that feeling, and it will last a lifetime.

 

Helen, and the other volunteers help the young entreprenurs design and write their business plans

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