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 Charity Projects, to the community feel they give to Race Day.
Kate, a teacher from the UK, joined us as a solo traveller for her first-ever visit to Africa, as she wanted to get out of her comfort zone and do something different! Below she talks about this, connecting with her chosen project, staying in Marbou Village, and making life-long friends.
It’s an experience which she describes as ‘every bit of what I anticipated and a whole lot more besides!’
1. What made you sign up to the Uganda Marathon and was it what you expected?
One Saturday afternoon, back in 2018, I received a WhatsApp message from somebody who had been to Africa and had heard about the Uganda Marathon. There was a link in the message, so I clicked on it to find out more. I had never been to Africa and, at the then age of 53, I thought that maybe it was time for me to do something very different and to get out of my comfort zone.
One of the key things which attracted me to this event was the fact I could fundraise for a project and I would actually get to spend time there. When do you ever get to do that when fundraising for a project which is elsewhere in the world? For me, this was a massive bonus and I believe it also made a huge difference when it came to my fundraising.
I was also impressed at the detailed selection process which takes place when the Uganda Foundation choose which projects to support. In addition, there is a real emphasis on the fact the foundation offers a hand up, not a handout approach, and this makes a huge difference.
So, after a few conversations with the husband, I paid my deposit for 2019 and I am SO glad that I took that leap! I was about to visit a truly amazing continent and have ‘an adventure like no other’.
I poured over the 2018 Race Booklet which was forwarded to me and got a real feel for what I might experience. And it truly was, every bit of what I anticipated and a whole lot more besides!
2. Which project did you choose to fundraise for and why? What was it like to visit the project during the week?
As a teacher, and the mother of a severely disabled daughter, I chose a very specific project which couldn’t have been more perfect. I chose to support Kakunyu Parents Support Association and the wonderful Kakunyu School, which caters for both able-bodied and disabled children.
On Tuesday of our week, we met David, the Headteacher of Kakunyu School, who rolled up his sleeves and got stuck in, building a recycling container with us – very impressive! We also met a few of the children, too. This was lovely because, when we arrived at the school on the Wednesday, it meant we already knew David and we didn’t quite feel like strangers.
For me, personally, there will never be enough words to describe my feelings volunteering at Kakunyu School. It left a lasting impression on me which I will never forget.
We met Mary, the Founder of the school, and heard how she had set it up. Then we spent the morning digging trenches and planting seedlings for the school to grow. It was tough work in the heat, but we were ably supported by some of the staff and older children, who seemed more than happy to pick up a shovel and get stuck-in in their bare feet, too!
(Since returning, through the WhatsApp group we set up for our clan, we have been sent regular updates and pictures of the seedlings, which successfully grew into plants.)
After a truly rewarding morning’s work, we were treated to a fabulous lunch and then we spent the afternoon playing with the beautiful children, who had been given the afternoon out of class to join us.
It was absolutely wonderful to be there!
The Legacy YOU leave:
Your legacy is not only made through supporting one of the projects but also in supporting some of the other, wonderful ventures you will learn about throughout the week. At all turns, you will meet amazing people, doing amazing work to support the blind, the disabled, the young, the old, the street children, the orphans, the list goes on.
I bought an amazing coat made from recycled sugar sacks which has the most beautiful lining; I bought bracelets, a rucksack, a map of Africa covered in beautiful swatches of African material, a fabulous piece of artwork…..I couldn’t resist, especially when a percentage of all that was being sold was for the benefit of somebody else such as blind people, the disabled or for the education of local children.
3. You signed up for the event on your own…what was it like to travel to Uganda solo?
As soon as I signed up, I was invited to join the Facebook group and I would advise everyone to join this if they can. Because I had signed up before the 2018 race took place, I was able to follow events of the UGM 2018 week and quickly found a fellow teacher, Steve. I commented on some of his posts and we got chatting. I then found out that Steve was going to go again, in 2019, so we chatted more, and I found out a lot about what to expect, which was very reassuring. I also briefly met Steve at Manchester Half Marathon in October 2018, so he was a face I knew when I got to Uganda and we were also on the same flight out of Doha to Entebbe.
As the date for departure grew closer, there were requests on the FB group for anyone with room in their luggage to help transport trainers and other things people were taking out for the Ugandan runners. I spotted a request in the group, replied offering to take some things, and met the very wonderful Catherine and Mick (below). They came to my house about a week before we left, to drop off some footy kit I offered to take. And THAT was the start of a brilliant friendship!
Although I travelled alone, because I had deliberately spent time chatting to people on Facebook, I was looking forward to actually meeting them out there. Going down to breakfast with Steve on that first morning, I saw Catherine and Mick and that just felt great! People I knew, so I never really felt alone.
Everybody was friendly and chatted to each other throughout the week. I met people in Uganda who will be friends for life; special people who I have since run races with, back here in the UK.
4. What was your experience of staying at the Marabou Village accommodation option?
I chose to stay at the hotel rather than camp or use the hostel because, at the age of 54, as I was by then, my days of camping are long gone! I needed a few creature comforts! The hotel is lovely and again, all the staff quickly got to know us and made us feel very welcome.
5. Could you tell us about Race Day – what was it like to run the marathon?
I would never say that I am a marathon runner, rather, that I have completed a couple of marathons. My preferred distance would be a half marathon, however, in going all that way to Africa, there was no way I was going to do anything less than the marathon!
Race Day dawned, dark and chilly. An incredibly early breakfast was followed by a short walk down to the race village where the atmosphere was quickly building. We were joined not only by the people with whom we had spent the week, but also by hundreds of others from nearby villages and further afield.
The music was blasting out and the warmup began with runners of every shape, size and nationality jumping around. Photos and selfies galore were taken before we all lined up ready to go!
I ran most of the first half with my friend Mick, as his wife, Catherine, was one of the amazing, volunteer medics who had been with us all week.
This ‘race’ is truly like no other I have ever experienced. Firstly, there was a huge emphasis on the fact that ‘This is YOUR race’. There were no real-time limits – this was about having fun and enjoying yourself.
Having spoken with my friend Steve, I knew that I wanted to spend a lot of time ‘experiencing’ this event rather than just ‘taking part’ – and there’s a huge difference, as I have learnt. So, come race day, there were no headphones for me this time, no Strava to tell me my pace and distance, just me, my friends, great company and an amazing atmosphere.
All the way around, I stopped to take photos with sooooo many children who lined the route, wanting to high-5 you or be in your photos! There were barefoot children running alongside you for miles, happy just to keep you company, probably not really understanding a word we were saying though!
The route itself was not without its challenges: The Beast, Heartbreak Hill and those ditches!!! Many of the ‘roads’ consist of deep red earth with huge potholes the size of craters in places, and great ditches at either side. But IT WAS FUN! All of this added to the experience of running on a different continent, in a country that was completely new to me.
The UGM team had different sections of the marathon to patrol and we felt well-supported, especially as, towards the end, I was one of the last remaining runners out there. Water stations were frequent and there were medics on hand at each one, should you need anything.
We were fortunate in that the weather had been kind to us and remained cloudy for most of the route. This kept the sun at bay, although sun cream was obviously still needed. But then the heavens opened, and I ran the last 5k in torrential rain and I absolutely LOVED IT! The rain was warm, I was soaked through to the bone, running thousands of miles from home with a whole new family of friends! What’s not to love?! I laughed as I ran and did my best aeroplane impression coming down the hill towards the finish line. And what a sense of euphoria it was to cross that finish line! It had taken me nearly 8 hours in total, my longest ever marathon, but I can honestly say that I had enjoyed every single minute of it!
6. Finally, what was your best overall memory from the 7-days, and how would you sum it up for someone who hasn’t been?
The best, and most lasting memory I have of my amazing week in Uganda will always be meeting Mary, the Founder of Kakunyu School.
As we sat and listened to her incredible tale of courage, resilience and fortitude, I was able to associate with some of the battles she had faced. As the mother of a disabled daughter, I have spent my entire life ‘fighting’ for her needs, ‘fighting’ for her rights… Mary had four disabled children and lived in a country where disability was frowned upon, where disabled children were (and still are) ostracised and seen as outcasts by society. The battles which Mary fought, and won, were enormous compared to mine and I’m not ashamed to say that I sat in tears as she told us her incredible story. This lady deserves a Nobel Prize for what she has done, and what she continues to do.
Mary proudly showed me around the living quarters of her school, and I took many, many pictures that day. I have since given talks, mostly to Catholic women, about my time in Uganda and told them all about the legend that is Mary.
I am going back to Uganda next year, in 2020, because there is now a huge piece of my heart out there. This truly was ‘An Adventure Like No Other.’
A big thank you to Kate for participating in this interview, and sharing these great photos with us!