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.

Laura & Alton joined us in Uganda to run their first-ever half marathon. For Laura, it was a decision she made months before to challenge herself in 2019, and for Alton, a last-minute one to join Laura on her trip!

Below they tell us about this, their nerves about the race, their gorilla trek experience, and connecting with the community at their respective projects – a business empowerment project for women, and a remote primary school in the Ssese Islands.

As Alton sums it up: “It truly is an amazing experience and something I will remember for the rest of my life.” 

 

 

1. What made you both sign up to the Uganda Marathon and was it what you expected?

Laura: It was my friend Amy who initially discovered the Uganda Marathon. She is always keen for a new adventure and challenge so she spoke to me about it one night over dinner and drinks. After some consideration, I decided to sign up and from that day on it was a complete mixture of nerves and excitement. I’ve never run a half marathon before so I knew this would be a tough challenge for me but I had decided at the start of 2019 that I really wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone this year, and the Uganda Marathon provided just that.

It was what I expected and a whole lot more. The kindness from the local community is the main thing I took away from the trip and also making new lifelong friends. I remember doing the first training run and struggling so much with the altitude and hills, and I thought to myself ‘I’m never going to get through a half marathon’. Well, I can guarantee that you will get through it because there is so much support on the day and if it’s your first ever marathon please don’t be put off by the altitude and hills because I’m proof that you can do it.

Alton: Originally, Laura was going to go with two of her friends and I was going to stay in England. Three weeks before the event, one of Laura’s friends dropped out. I thought to myself that this must be a sign… and decided to take her place!! A few people had mentioned that I should go as it would be a wonderful experience so it all fell into place really.

 

2. What projects did you each visit on Legacy Day? What was it like to meet the community there and what did the day involve?

Laura: I visited House of Love and Hope, which works to support vulnerable women between 18-40 years old with business development and empowerment.  It was so gratifying to help a group of women who really want to start a business and make it successful.  Our group helped the women prepare a business plan and logo, and at the end of the day we were able to paint the logo and see it come to life.  I look forward to keeping in touch with the charity and going to see them again in a few years.

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Laura with her group of fellow runners for the week, the Ngabi (Bushbuck) Clan, and the community they met on Legacy Day

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Laura helps the ladies at the project ‘House of Love and Hope’ to develop their business plan for the new event business

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Alton: I visited St Jude’s Primary School, which is very rural and in a remote location. It was an overwhelming experience. As we arrived we were greeted with kids singing, plaques with our names on them, dancing, happy faces and more – I don’t think there was a dry eye among us! The teachers and pupils were so grateful that we had chosen their school for funding and really made us feel welcome. We helped to build a play area for the children. It involved an assault course and a swing, plus other items. With the money raised, the long-term aim is to supply clean sustainable water to everyone at the school as at present, their access to this is limited, to say the least.

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3. Could you tell us about your experiences of Race Day and running your first half-marathon together in rural Uganda?

Laura: No words can really describe the atmosphere on Race Day, you just have to experience it for yourself. Everyone is super positive and along the route, you actually see some of the charities your money will be helping, and this is all the determination you need to get yourself across that finish line. The highlight for me was being greeted by the local schools. They are so happy to see you and it makes everything you are doing so real, seeing a smile on the faces of the locals is what it’s all about.

It’s an early start to avoid the hot weather in the afternoon but you have the rest of the day to cheer on the other runners or relax at your leisure. I used a camelback for hydration and took some gels in my bag too.

Running the race with Alton was definitely a big help, to experience our first half marathon together was something we will never forget. Uganda will always hold a special place in our heart and we hope to go back in a few years. The ladies from House of Love and Hope were even at the finish line cheering me on.

Alton: Wow, where do I start! So I have a chronic knee injury that involves having no cartilage and an arthritic joint. Though I used to play football previously, I have never run 13 miles before so it was a challenge that I wanted to complete! Laura and I were both apprehensive about the actual race but being by each other’s side and having one another to bounce off 100% helped. On the race day, it was amazing. Thousands of Ugandans running the race among us “muzungus” with all the community out in full force cheering and supporting which among them included all the adorable children giving us high fives and making the actual run (though very hard) a truly amazing and memorable experience 🙏

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After running the race together, Laura & Alton cross the finish line to complete their first-ever half marathon!

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4. Could you tell us about your trek to see the gorillas and the highlights?

Laura: The day after the marathon we went on to our Gorilla Trek. I hadn’t thought much about this prior to this day as the marathon had been at the forefront of my mind, but as soon as I got on the coach I felt excited, even with my body feeling tired and sore! We knew everyone doing the extension really well from spending the week with them so we were like a little family at this point. It’s a long journey from Entebbe to Bwindi National Park but expect to sleep for most of it, you will need the rest. Our driver and guide was amazing and was able to tell us some interesting facts throughout the trip. He was with us for the full extension tour.

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We only had to trek around 30 minutes to find the Oruzogo family of gorillas, 19 in total! We were very lucky. They have a trekker that goes out early in the morning to track them down, but be warned that it can take a lot longer to find them – it won’t always be 30 minutes! You get to spend one hour with the gorillas and it truly is magical seeing them in their natural habitat. It’s obvious how comfortable they have become with humans and it’s like they don’t even know you’re there. Having a silverback literally a metre away from you really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’re going all the way to Uganda to do the marathon I really advise you to add the extension on. I’m sure you will end up regretting it if you don’t.

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Alton: Haha, so.. usually, I am not exactly that comfortable around the most basic of animals (dogs, cats etc) so to commit to going on a trek to see Gorillas in the flesh, in their natural habitat was definitely testing lol! However, it was an amazing experience. The trek can take on average 2 hours before you find the actual clan of Gorillas that you are designated. But we were lucky and within 30 minutes, we had found and met our Gorilla family! You have to stay a few metres from them but WOW… amazing! They were so chilled and really didn’t seem that bothered that we were there! You can also pay $20 to have a local assist you on the trek so it’s another way of giving back too. Defo a must if you go to Uganda as it’s one of only 3 places in the world where you can see mountain gorillas 👌

 

5. Finally, for each of you, what was your best overall memory from the 7-Day Adventure, and how would you sum up the week for someone who hasn’t been? 

Laura: If you want to experience something amazing and help give back to a community that is so thankful then this is the right adventure for you. It’s a mixture of emotions all week and it’s taught me not to take anything for granted. You spend time with adults and children who have nothing but they are so happy and content because what they have is a relationship with themselves and one another that surpasses all that pointless “stuff” most of us waste our time thinking about. You will push yourself out of your comfort zone and will feel such a sense of achievement. Helping others isn’t just about the money aspect, it’s about giving your time and this is what’s so great about the Uganda Marathon. You have one week to fully immerse yourself in the culture.

I have so many highlights I can’t possibly note them all here. Marathon day is definitely one of them, the energy throughout the whole day is so uplifting. Also, make sure you take part in a marathon promo run.  This is where you run along with ‘Shouty Car Man’ promoting the race to the locals, giving out flyers. Alton and I even got to do another lap sitting in the car! An experience we will never forget!

Laura with Edna at the Uganda Marathon office

Another highlight was meeting Shadia, from Youth with a Vision. She had never been to school at age 13. Alton and I were able to help finance her schooling and were even able to go and visit her new school with her. This was a very emotional day for me but also a happy day – she hopes to be a nurse one day. I can’t wait to go back to Uganda in a few years’ time to see Shadia and the women from House of Love and Hope.

Last but not least the Uganda Marathon team who make everything happen on this week are truly amazing, and were a major highlight for me. I’ve stayed in contact with many members of the team, Edna and Martha in particular who I miss dearly.

Alton: For me, the best overall memory is the overwhelming unity, love and passion from everybody involved in the UGANDA MARATHON 2019. From all the volunteers, runners, local businesses, local people, school children etc etc… Everybody is pulling in the same direction, to help the Ugandan people, create successful sustainable businesses that will help create more, and more jobs for the people of Uganda. It truly is an amazing experience and something I will remember for the rest of my life ❤️. If you are thinking about it… don’t… JUST DO IT! It will 100% be one of the best weeks of your life, trust me 🙏🙌👌.

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A big thank you to Laura & Alton for participating in this interview! 🙂 Also, thanks to the Glass Passport Project, Laura & Alton, and marathon team members for sharing these great photos with us!

 

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