“In the beginning – or in at least 490 BC – there was Marathon. Then there was a Persian-Greek War, then there was a messenger sent on a myth-making mission to the Greek capital. The basis was laid for what, years later, became the beginnings of ‘The Marathon’ – not that sleepy seabed settlement on an inlet of the Aegean but a groundbreaking feat of endurance which issues a challenge to people all over the world.”
Kampala too presents a unique range of challenges, challenges which must be endured. Kampala is a mess. When it wakes up, everything is everywhere. Boda-bodas, vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, hawkers, shopkeepers, street children, mad men, politicians, churchgoers and more are people or things that you would not fancy waking up, especially if you are a runner with a task at hand. They, those people or things, are quite competitive, as they go for the same space as the runners. They are so competitive that they will go for the last of the left spaces, including those that you had not anticipated. For any runner, this creates an undesired dilemma. They are distracted, and immensely so, and deprived of just enough space to do what they love.
Intriguingly, it is the same mess; this very disorganisation that makes that makes Kampala what it is, that gives it its beauty. For the runners, elite or otherwise, it is an opportunity to embrace it as it is while they go about what they love. There can be few more impressive sights and engagements in the running world than these that make Kampala.
The Afrika Mashariki Marathon, or to translate, The East African Marathon, was organised as part of the several activities which were prepared to celebrate the Afrika Mashariki Festival, which, in 2016, was running in its second edition. This affair, between the Afrika Mashariki Marathon and Kampala commenced at Kololo Ceremonial Grounds, an easy-to-access venue in the centre of town and ended at the same place.
The start was not the very best – at least for me. From the starting point, through Upper Kololo Terrace, Lugogo By-pass, and up to Bukoto, the unfathomable Kampala humidity was taking its effect on a body that had not rested well enough from the effects of the just concluded Kigali Marathon. From there – Bukoto – onwards, it was as smooth as it could possibly be. With a handful of Bible holding pedestrians, and a few taxis on the road, the town was yet to wake up. It made the race enjoyable for the entire stretch that took us through Ntinda, Kisasi, before getting us onto the Northern Bypass, into parts of Kyebando, and up to Kalerwe.
Shortly before we approached Ntinda, a new friend of mine, Denis Mutambi, a Kenyan living in Uganda ran up to, and, later, with me. He informed me that he recognised me by the Ruto – a Kenya national emblem and national colours cap – on my head and my Uganda national flag on my back. He said he was happy for my making of his day as he did not expect anyone who had been in Kigali, where he had seen me, to be running in Kampala. I was immensely delighted to connect with him.
An interaction with him highlighted the numerous challenges which beset us as runners. First, the mapping! As it happened, we were provided with a map of the race route upon registration. That was impressive. However, while running, a runner’s concentration is on just that, and not on memorising maps. It would have been more than helpful if the roads had been divided or the smallest parts of them demarcated for the event. At the very least, drawn directing arrows on manila papers which would be displayed at the most confusing locations or turning points, as they were many, would have done it. The traffic cops, whom we had been promised would be of assistance were, sadly, not. We had to lose time in stopping to inquire from them on how and where to proceed.
The Northern Bypass was, in being flat, promising and, with pockets of pilgrims to the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo, engaging. The only and major problem with it was the traffic. If you were not rubbing shoulders with a boda-boda, then you were excusing pedestrians unnecessarily halting on their and your way to hold conversations, or running away, farther from the road, to avoid being hit by a speeding heavy duty truck, or jumping over barriers left by a Chinese road construction company. That was bearable, until Kalerwe.
The first sight of fruits or sign of them and anything that could belong to a market was mangoes, which were being sold along the by-pass. With the water points far apart, one could be tempted to grab a few while in motion. The market in Kalerwe was the worst distraction. To summarise, it felt like a net. It was a hive of activity that held us back. It contributed to our losing of time.
Mulago, Wandegeya, and Nakasero were bearable, and, save for the hike up Nakasero hill, good parts to run in. That was all right until we, and all traffic, were stopped by traffic cops, police men, and military men. For what? We certainly did not know. We were later to learn that there was a presidential convoy leaving the Sheraton Hotel. For it to leave, we had to wait for fifteen minutes. For us to move, we had to wait for a command from of one of the arrogant, whip welding military officers.
The route from the roundabout at Ternan Avenue to Garden City had so many turns that it confused and lost several people, like that expatriate who with a race number on his chest and a mobile phone in his hand, looked like he had had enough of the race and decided to walk into the Imperial Royale Hotel for a much needed breakfast. He said he would follow my lead.
The finishing went well, thanks to the help of two kind gentlemen in the City Ambulance. Lost, I would walk to them to ask for directions. Thinking that I needed water, they would offer me drinking water. They either drove behind me, or I ran behind them. The sight of their vehicle from either position was a reassurance of being on the right track.
For what they had lacked in keeping time – starting thirty minutes after the scheduled starting time – and not attempting to guide us better – we had lost our sense of direction from the very start – they made up in taking care of us after the race. The medical teams from Aga Khan University Hospital and elsewhere after the finishing line helped massage us and develop all our medical and body records as we listened to speeches made by doctors who told us about our need to contribute, like we did, to bettering of people’s sight and leaders from the East African Legislative Assembly who promised us an enriching community.