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.
John, along with his friend Louis, signed up for the UGM16 after being attracted to the idea of mixing a running challenge with volunteering and an adventure abroad. During their stay in Uganda, they visited the country’s capital, went on safari and ran the full marathon course. They also took advantage of the UGM’s split fundraising option to ensure they ran every mile for causes important to them!
Here’s John’s take on the seven-day adventure…
1. What made you sign up for the Uganda Marathon 2016?
I was asked whether I would like to join a friend in running a marathon on the equator and drawn by the challenge, I jumped at the idea. I was already in training for the Brighton Marathon set to take place a month before and after reading online about the adventure and volunteering alongside other like-minded runners, I couldn’t see the downside.
2. Was it what you expected?
Not at all – it was a much more profound experience than I ever expected with the projects. Leading up to the event my main focus was the challenge of the run, but relatively that ended up being a small part of the whole thing. From the moment I stepped off the plane, the most prominent element for me was easily the amazing people I met and the friends I made. We all shared some great experiences at the projects, base camp and all round good times together.
3. What projects did you choose to fundraise for and why did you choose them? You chose our ‘split fundraising’ option- could you tell us about this and your visit to Kampala?
My friend Louis and I raised money to be split between all of the UGM projects and Tackle Africa. This was because UGM projects create something sustainable where the good continues long after the events are over. For example, it was brilliant to visit MRVC a year on and see them producing and selling. It’s an incredible project working with young people who have disabilities to teach them vocational skills.
Tackle Africa is a charity we had close ties to as Louis’s wife works on their behalf. They deliver HIV education across the African continent through football coaching. As sessions were being put on in the capital, it was a great chance to get involved.
Kampala was an electric hive of people and traffic, which we traversed using the local Boda-bodas (motorbikes). We ventured across all parts of the city, from the affluent areas to the slums on the outskirts where we met Matt Wolfe (Qualified coach) supporting a number of football sessions with the community. The approach was learn-through-play with drills run containing educational messages that unfolded as they progressed. No matter which part of the city we were in, everyone was incredibly friendly and there was a real sense of community.
4. You ran the full 26 miles in Uganda… could you tell us about the experience of running the full marathon course? Were you nervous before the event and how did it feel to reach the finish line?
When race day finally came the usual anxiety was there but I was excited to get started. The full marathon was two laps of the same course with the second easily feeling the more challenging. This was not only because of having already run a hilly half-a-marathon, but because the sun was now higher in the sky. Round the course, the support of the crowds, the UGM team and other runners helped motivate and keep us going. Then finally approaching the finish line and seeing so many people cheering us home, I was stirred to find energy I didn’t know I had. It was an incredibly satisfying to finish.
5. Finally, what was your best overall memory of the Uganda Marathon and how would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?
It is far too hard to single out a particular memory as the best. Across the week there were so many special moments.
Right from the start you instantly felt like you were among friends and it is the people you become close with over the week that make these things special. You all know who you are! Brilliant memories of course with the hotel family and our fearless leader Ian who couldn’t do enough to make sure everyone was set up and settled okay. Great morning runs lead by Andy from which I’ll always remember Katie (such a pro) bounding off ahead with the club runners casually having a chat whilst I’m trying to keep up and getting my first taste of what was to come. Ryan had his first Boda-Boda ride to base camp and we had all the children running out and waving to us as we rode by.
You make so many friends and memories from it all. Since Uganda I’ve been to a few reunions in London to see everyone and whilst traveling even stopped by in Dubai to see Katie and Hong Kong to see Claire.
The marathon route itself is definitely challenging and one I underestimated for the hills but the views were incredible and so the effort to the top was always worthwhile.
From earlier in the week there were some special memories with the children at Bugabira Primary School who sang for us before we worked to paint playground equipment and also from the Kids Run Wild sports day- they never stopped smiling the entire time.
The Uganda Marathon was a positive experience in so many ways and one I can’t recommend enough.
6. You decided to extend your trip and do the Safari extension whilst in Uganda. Could you tell us about the experience? What were the highlights for you?
To travel all the way to Africa and not do a safari just felt wrong, so it was a welcomed addition that followed the UGM week. It was sad to say our goodbyes but the adventure wasn’t yet over. I traveled west to the National Park where on safari we were fortunate to see a lion running through the Savannah catching up to take a kill from a lioness. There were also elephants, buffalo, and hippos to name a few, along with so much wildlife whilst traveling down the river by boat. It really was like a scene from the “Lion King” as it all merged together at once. Make sure you take a good camera with you!
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