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.
Robert, Elaine and Celia signed up for the Uganda Marathon together as ‘Team Mallett’ and fundraised collectively, raising over £2,300 for the Ugandan project, Ssunga Health Centre. Below they tell us about their fascinating reason for signing up, their visit to the health centre, and their different experiences on Race Day – as Rob ran the 42K, Elaine and Celia chose our spectator option.
1. What made you all sign up for the Uganda Marathon and was it what you expected?
Robert: My main motivation was to combine my liking for running in different countries with a trip back to the land of my birth. On both counts, it succeeded in bringing me a new running experience but also memories of my childhood.
Elaine: I had been trying to encourage Bob and his sisters to return to Uganda for a number of years, and spotting someone at a running event in the south of England with a Uganda Marathon t-shirt, was the perfect impetus Bob needed to get signed up. As soon as he checked out the website, he was sold on the event. Running in his homeland! It took little persuasion to get one of his sisters [Celia] to come along too! I wasn’t going to miss out either, so as Bob’s chief running supporter and bag carrier, I was in too. I had no idea what to expect, but it was a brilliant week all round. Friendly UGM staff and volunteers, friendly locals, well-organised event – what’s not to like?
Celia: It offered two very good reasons to return to Uganda after 50 years – to support my brother’s marathon run and to raise funds for a very good cause.
2. What project did you choose to fundraise for and why? Could you tell us about your experience of fundraising, and of visiting the project in Uganda?
Robert: Our team chose the Ssunga Health Centre (SHC). Child mortality is high in Uganda and the lack of key equipment such as a scanner means that the staff are constantly battling the trend without the necessary tools. With a lot of goodwill from family and friends, we received lots of donations and also held an African evening event which raised a healthy amount.
The overriding feeling when visiting the project was the total dedication of the staff in the Health Centre. They were very open and friendly and were delighted with the assistance we were able to give them during the day of our visit and with the funding they will be receiving.
Elaine: Ssunga Health Centre. Having had six children between us, Bob and I were very aware of how much free healthcare we take for granted in the UK. We expect, and get, the very best care using all the latest technology. SHC does not have that luxury, but with a bit of help from outside, an ante-natal scanner was a reachable goal and could make a massive difference to the quality of care they could offer to their patients. It was great to be able to help raise some of the funds they needed. All our friends and family chipped in what they could – every penny counted and would go to the project. It was amazing to find out how many of our donors turned out to have African, and even Ugandan, links of their own.
Visiting the centre in real life was a sobering experience. It was very, very basic in comparison to the UK, but the team was rightly very proud of their centre and the service they offered in the local community. Knocking down an old pig-sty and rebuilding it wasn’t what I expected to be doing when we visited, but it was what they needed, so that’s what our clan did. Hard, sweaty work, but successful in the end.
Celia: Ssunga Medical Centre. Knowing that life can be very hard, giving babies and their mothers the best possible chance at the start is a very valid thing to do. The visit to the project underlined just how important our fundraising was, and when those who had donated money to the project saw a selection of my photos they were in full agreement and pleased to have contributed. Demolishing and rebuilding the pig sty was a surprise, but the value to the centre by adding to its self-sustainability is very worthwhile. Our team and the local workforce did a wonderful job together.
3. Could you tell us about your experiences of Race Day? Robert, your experience of the 42K, and Elaine & Celia, your experience of spectating?
Robert: I have run a few marathons but none with the same terrain as this one. Once you hit the red dirt roads and run through the various villages you know you are running somewhere special. The support from the local people of all ages was incredible and kept me going – especially when approaching ‘The Beast’ and ‘Heartbreak Hill’ for the second time! It was hot, it was dirty, but crossing the finish line brought a total sense of achievement in respect of the whole week – not just the run.
Elaine: Race Day itself started very early. Going out to the start in the pre-dawn light was very atmospheric. You could feel the tension from all the runners and walkers. Celia and I were nervous for them! The warm-up was fun to watch with all the local runners turning up to take part. I was surprised how many children were running the shorter events – they all looked very fit. It was great to get to the top of the tough hills to see runners struggling to the top. The speedy guys at the front must have run up them, but nearly everyone else was walking. We didn’t expect to see Bob up there, but we did on his first lap, which was great and he was very surprised to see us. Hopefully, it gave him a boost!
It was also great to be able to clap and cheer all the runners in as they came down the finish straight. ‘Texas Bob’ got the biggest cheer I reckon as he brought up the rear having walked the whole marathon – what an effort. And the medical staff were brilliant all week. The party in the evening was a great way to relax, and we loved the medals, even for the supporters!
Celia: A lot of excitement and tension. We jumped at the chance to go to the top of the heart-breaker for a while to support and encourage the runners at this stage – including Robert, which was an extra bonus.
4. Finally, for each of you, what was your favourite memory from the week?
Robert: It is difficult to identify just one as the week had so many, but I think seeing the staff of all ages from the Health Centre turning out to run the 10K in their full uniforms/habits showed the inclusiveness of the Uganda Marathon.
Elaine: The one big memory is all the smiling faces. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. I really enjoyed going to the recycling centre and working with the plastic waste to build something useful for the SHC. It was great to visit Masaka, and to try the local cooking including picking fresh jackfruit, avocados and green bananas. I was especially thrilled that Bob finished the run without any major incidents and that he and Celia were really pleased to have been ‘home’ for the first time for over 50 years.
Celia: There were many memorable times – meeting the children benefitting from the projects, trips into Masaka, cooking lesson, art, but on a personal note, the highlight was the relief when Robert appeared on the top road for the finish, dusty, a bit battered but still smiling.