At 7am on Sunday 24th May the gun sounded signalling the start of the first ever Uganda International Marathon in Masaka town. Liberation Square was awash with the white of our official t-shirt, music was blaring, dancing warm ups and an all-round real party atmosphere. As the half marathon and full marathon runners began their steady pace towards the first of the five hills the sea of white in Liberation Square only grew larger as the 10km runners arrived for their start, many of whom never having taken on such a challenge before.
Since the team arrived in town and began arranging this race we have seen Masaka catch the running bug, with evening training sessions inspiring those around town to prepare for the race. A hoped for but unexpected legacy.
The course begins with flat 3km stretch out of Masaka centre down to the small village of Ssazza, a good chance to find your rhythm and adjust to the novel surroundings. The race soon changes to trail as you turn off the main road and through the surrounding villages. The small dirt trails wind their way past schools, churches in full song and runners found a mixture of bafflement and utter delight amongst the families and local residents they passed along the way. Shortly after the trail starts so also do the hills, two steep hills in quick succession take you high up for utterly stunning views over the surrounding valleys. The second hill is one the athletes are now very familiar with as it leads to our campsite and is followed by one of the highlights of the course – a challenging descent through Bugabira Community School, a project funded by our runners and the kids were out in force to cheer them through.
The course then flattens out as it heads back to Masaka town, once more, a nice time to keep a good rhythm. Running in East Africa is such an emotional experience that Uganda Marathon course offers a great deal of distractions throughout the entire race, it is in many ways an overwhelmingly intoxicating experience and despite the pain starting to set in the runners were smiling no end.
The half and full marathon runners are joined by the full force of the 10km group outside the famous Ambience nightclub as the course briefly hits central Masaka, only to lead off into the hills again. A sharp descent and ascent follow shortly after. This hill is indeed another iconic moment on our course as it has been a popular place for the children of Masaka to join us on training runs through the year and so it transpired on raceday also. The children run beside you in barefoot, flip flops, broken sandals and comfortably keep your pace if not, somewhat demoralisingly, streaking ahead. But the joy that all the runners have as they are gee’d on by the children is another example of the race offering a totally new running experience.
The trail continues to rise steadily up to the intimidating Pine Ridge, as challenging as it is beautiful the summit offers the finest views on the entire course and perhaps some of the finest in all of running. Our athletes were greeted with a water station, a sight of the entire course in one direction, and the beautiful Lake Victoria on the other side. And then it’s downhill to home sweet home and Liberation Square. The runners were cheered enthusiastically home as they ran right up the central street of Masaka town before the final turn and deceptively long straight back to the Start/Finish line, and the party.
For the 10km and half marathon runners it is time for the glorious finish, for the full distance Marathon runners, it is time to soak it all in, grab their personal drink and head off for another gruelling lap as the sun continues to rise above their heads.
The marathon race was won in outstanding fashion by Martin Ssembulya in a time of 2:46:22 – having previously stated that his usual time is in the mid-2:20 mark we can see a clear confirmation that the Uganda Marathon course in Masaka town is truly a brutal tests of an athletes will-power.
Our female marathon winner was Nikki Cox from New Zealand who struck home in a time of 4:04, a marvellous debut in the hills of East Africa and we hope to see her defend her title in 2016.
Our 2015 Half Marathon winner was Rega Roberts in a time of 1:15:08.
The corporate challenge was one by the team from Nagubugu
The party at the finish line went on for a number of hours as Prince David Wasajja of Buganda Kingdom, who finished our half marathon course in the fine time of 2:20, awarded the prizes to our lead runners. Smartphones were donated by Diamond Trust Bank and a crate of water each donated by Rwenzori water.
First, Liberation Square rocked and then the Athletes Village rocked through the night as the 6 day adventure came to an end with the presentation of wooden medals handcrafted by the children of a disabled school Uganda Marathon has helped support in 2015 – a fitting reward for our pioneering runners and a truly emotional curtain call on the adventure of a lifetime, a race like no other.