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.
Holly and Mark were looking for a marathon in Africa when they stumbled across the Uganda Marathon. Hooked by the idea of doing an event which was more than just a single race, they decided to take the plunge. Below they tell us about this, their entrepreneurial approach to fundraising, and how they connected with the local community across the week.
‘Unique‘, ‘life-changing‘ and ‘an experience everyone should take the time to do‘ is a few of the ways they describe their time on the Equator…
1. What made you both sign up to the Uganda Marathon and was it what you expected?
Holly: Running is a special hobby of mine and last year I decided to create a lifetime goal to run a marathon on every continent. My second continent was Africa, so when I started to do some research, the Uganda Marathon massively stood out for me. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but weirdly the marathon was actually just a small (but amazing) part of the whole trip. Yes, it was challenging – but the week wasn’t just about running a marathon, it was about building connections, having new experiences, and sharing stories with a new community of incredible people. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.
Mark: I signed up to the Uganda Marathon because I wanted to experience something very different to the marathons I have done in the past across Europe. The Uganda Marathon seemed perfect as it was not just a marathon that you turn up to, race and then go home, but more. Upon arriving in Uganda I was shocked by the amount of work that goes into the full week – the marathon is just the cherry on top of the cake!
2. You fundraised a fantastic amount for the project, ‘Buddu Community Volunteers’. Could you tell us why you chose this project and how you went about fundraising?
Holly: I’ve always been passionate about young people in business, and we live in London which has many amazing opportunities for young people. Therefore, it was pretty heartbreaking for me to find out that the youth unemployment rate in Uganda is as high as 83%. So, we chose to work with Buddu Community Volunteers, which helps to create employment opportunities for youth in Masaka. John Ssansa, the founder of the organisation, was a factor in this too, as we were inspired by his work creating the project.
We had to be quite creative in our fundraising because it wasn’t our first marathon we had fundraised for! We shared John’s story, which was inspiring for a lot of people back home. We also created a Ugandan themed spice rub, called ‘Rubbalicious’ which we sold to our friends and family. Rubbalicious is so good – people are still buying it from us, and we will continue to support the Uganda Foundation through this initiative.
Mark: I wanted to support a project that I felt I could really add value to. I used to work as an engineer building new manufacturing lines for food products. When I saw the video of John from the Buddu Community Volunteers, it resonated with me as he was creating a product to help people come out of unemployment.
Holly and I created a delicious rub which is naturally called Rubbalicious, as a reason why people should part with their money rather than just asking for money, which I have done multiple times before.
3. Could you tell us about Legacy Day, when you got to visit the project?
Holly: Legacy Day was one of my favourite days. We got to spend time with members of Buddu Community Volunteers and take part in some of their daily activities. This included producing liquid soap, because one of their sustainability programmes involves creating a soap product that is distributed to shops in Masaka. This soap business has created many youth jobs and is continuing to expand production to create even more youth employment.
Then, as many of the international volunteers have experience in business, we also advised on how they could improve their processes and therefore enable the continued growth of the project. I loved having the opportunity to properly bond with members of the community and use my skills to support them.
Mark: It was amazing to meet the Buddu Community Volunteers on Legacy Day. We were welcomed into their home with open arms. We really got to know the people we had been fundraising for by playing games and creating some of the product that they then went on to sell. After we made some MAJORITI soap for ourselves, the group broke up and analysed the business, understanding where there could be improvements and then we presented back to the community. They were so grateful for us to give our time to help them and it was amazing to really see where your fundraising was going to first hand.
4. Could you tell us about your experience of Race Day and running the marathon?
Holly: The vibe and spirit on marathon day is so electric! There are runners from all over the world, the majority of participants are from Uganda, and everyone is of all ages and different running abilities. The course is definitely challenging, lots of hills and rough terrain – also worth taking some Imodium before the run! But as you run around the course, locals want to try your running gels, kids will run alongside you for a few miles, and everyone comes out of their homes to support. It was incredible! You also get to run through local villages and see the beauty of Uganda.
Mark: Race day is basically a huge party, starting at 6 am. Everyone has a spring in their step – some more than others, Ugandan’s are unbelievable runners! There were people from all over the world that took part in the 3 races: the full Marathon, half and 10km. Running the marathon was amazing, taking you through the local schools and villages. Some of the children ran with us for parts and one child (10 years old) ran half a marathon with us. It was unreal to see someone so young run so far and in just flip-flops. It was also amazing to see first hand where all the sports clothes and shoes we brought with us [to be donated] went. On Race Day the Ugandans were so excited to try out their new shoes for the first time.
5. Finally, for each of you, what was your best overall memory from the 7-days, and how would you sum up the week for someone who hasn’t been?
Holly: Too many to choose from! I loved the daily training runs, visiting local schools and sitting by the campfire sharing stories with new friends. But the best memory was being invited to John’s home (leader of Buddu Community Volunteers) and spending time with him, truly bonding with a local of Masaka and learning more about his culture and daily life. We have continued our friendship – we regularly Facetime and I hope to see him in the near future.
To summarise the week, it is truly a unique experience. It is an incredible opportunity to be immersed in a new world, one where the people are SO KIND and welcoming and interesting. Even if you’re not a runner, I wouldn’t be put off by the marathon because it really is just one part of what is a life-changing trip.
Mark: My best memory has to be spending time with John the leader of the Buddu Community Volunteers. He welcomed us to his house and we really got to understand how he lives. It was inspiring to see the drive he had and how happy he was constantly.
It is hard to articulate the 7-days because it has such an effect on you – you meet such inspiring people that have hearts of gold who are all out to do such good in the world. The atmosphere with all the ‘internationals’ is amazing too, and we created such good friends from the trip.
It is an experience everyone should take the time to do in their lifetime.
A big thank you to Holly and Mark for participating in this interview, and sharing these great photos with us!
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