THE BLOG

11
Nov

Running The Rift Marathon: A Tough Lollipop

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The undulating hills of Fort Portal.

The Call

Most of the news coming out of Uganda lately is that of strife and more of the same. When there is an opportunity to savour the best the Pearl of Africa has to offer, through a call to, for example, participate in a marathon happening in the depths of its most beautiful destinations – where the Rwenzori Mountains stand proud ahead of you, the Rift Valley opens wide and reaches for miles, eventually disappearing from view in a haze that melts into vast Lake Albert on a colour day – you respond, and positively so, irrespective of where you come from.

The Promise

For the visiting, foreign runners, who arrived n the host town of Fort Portal, a day before the November 5 race day, and their local colleagues, all a total of 200 and more runners, the first ever Running The Rift marathon was billed as a running malarky or a trail runner extraordinaire, and one that would absolutely delight them.

It, thankfully, did not disappoint. The three courses took the runners northwest of Fort Portal. We run through villages and trading centres, and enjoyed some of the most spectacular surrounding we could have possibly imagined.

Be In The Know

Even for an inaugural marathon, Running The Rift was quite organised. All the information that we could have needed, about the event and our stay while there, was well detailed on the both colourful and informatory Running The Rift dedicated website. When we found the organiser’s contacts, we were detailed on the particulars that we might have missed.

When race day started to dawn on us, we found ourselves at the race’s starting line, which was at the luxurious Kyaninga Lodge, a venue where we joined the overly expat and local runners. It was there that we were checked in and flagged off, at 7:30AM for the full marathon and 9AM for the half marathon for the challenge that beset us.

The Route

Before we set off, the route was described to us, over a megaphone, as to take the shape of a lollipop, one that would take us, the half marathon runners, about 6KM on what turned out to be an extremely muddy path, before turning right onto a much, much, better murram or laterite road, before leading us into a plethora of energy consuming hills, before taking us atop the spectacular Great Rift Valley, before getting us up and down a few other hills, before returning us to the stick of the said lollipop, and finally back to the finish line which was at the same spot that we had started.

We were concerned about a 9AM start, but for fears were, thankfully, allayed by an accommodating sky. It was conducive enough to, at least, get started. We were not sure about what our finishing would be like. All we did was pray that we could accomplish that before the sun came out.

Underfoot, we interacted with a route that took a while to leave an impression. Personally, I had to follow the lead of those before me by running as close as possible to the hedges or on the edges of the gardens just to keep the water and mud from soiling my shoes.

The steep slopes looked insurmountable and, indeed, they were, especially for those who would normally choose to avoid running up them. I did notice that most of the runners, either leading or following me, had chosen to instead walk them. You would be right to think that Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro, Lewa, Ndakaini, and Kigali are the tough marathons in East Africa, but Running The Rift will make your reconsider. Mark Rujumba, a running buddy of mine, who had travelled from Kampala, was to tweet a common sentiment, one to the effect that Running The Rift could have been the toughest marathon that he has ever run.

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Mark Rujumba and I when we met at 1500 meters above level.

Having not seen this particular part of the Rift Valley before, I was motivated to keep running towards or into or into it. I thought I had seen it, whenever I caught the undulating hills of the inviting countryside, but I had not. I became sure when I found the ENJOY THE VIEW sign. Only then was I certain, so certain, that I decided to do as asked. Pictures and selfies were a must.

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  ENJOY THE VIEW

 

 

 

 

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Running through the chilling clouds.

 

The People

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Ms. McAuley, who was joined by some of the local children.

As if the beauty of the Rift Valley was not enough, the villagers did very well in matching it. From the cute cheering toddlers, some who run along some of us, to the encouraging bicycle and boda-boda riders along the route, to the strange braless mothers who handed out to some of us, to the grannies who participated by waving back to us, and to all those who came out of their dukas (shops) or houses just to see us run, I loved how they all helped to push our pulses. Indeed, it is true what they say; a place is only as good as the people you meet there.

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The cute, cheering children.

The Finish, The Cheer, And The Crowd

The best thing about a marathon is, very often, that final step across the finish line. It felt like it had taken me a lot of effort to get to there. The resounding cheer as I approached the finish line was, therefore, pleasing. It could be compared to swimming in a pool of ice cream on a warm, sunny day.

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Alexander Twinokwesiga, photographed by Eugene Kavuma, as he approached the finish line.

The cheering crowd was made up of mostly expats and locals, some of whom had not run, but, like the helpful marshals, keen doctors, and officers at the water points, we met on the route, were there to make sure that everything went as planned, or, simply, to cheer on and boost the morale of their friends or spouses.

Every finisher was awarded a finsher’s medal, irrespective of whether they took part in the 10K, 21K, or 42K runs. The most notable of them all being Brent Weigner, the old man with number 27, who, it was announced, has run in more than 100 marathons worldwide.

The Aftermath

It was not that easy to leave the venue as it had a lot to offer. There was a sumptuous post marathon BBQ, new connections to be made and opportunities to be crystallized, and crater trail to a nearby crater to be taken. The trail back uphill to the venue might have been steep, but while I finished with it, I was convinced that Running The Rift was both the toughest (since Ntare School, 2003) and most beautiful (since Uganda Marathon, 2016) run that I have ever done. I will see to it that I travel with more runners to the beautiful West-Ugandan town of Fort Portal for future Running The Rift marathons.

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The after race BBQ.

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Flashing the finisher’s medal, while on the Crater Trail.

09
Nov

Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon: East Africa’s high spot.

On Sunday, October 30, 2016, fourteen marathons were held around the world. One of them was the 14th Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon, held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.

The process

By any and all means, it was as organised as expected. Even better, the organisers introduced, for the first time, new convenient ways, like the phenomenal, impressive step of enabling registration online.

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The new, impressive way of doing things.

Personally, I sat in my Kampala and successfully registered for it that way, and, in an email, was detailed on when, where, and what I would need in order to collect my kit, and what steps I would need to take if I could not be able to do so in time by myself. Impressive, indeed!

The run

A couple of inquisitive, encouraging, and congratulatory messages – both before and after the Marathon – later and I was standing amidst fellow runners who were waiting in the assembly area of the half marathon. A colourful, detailed, visual, and, importantly, simple Runners Guide, one which had been well thought out, had done well in directing us where to be and at what times we were needed there.

The route

In our newly designed apparel, we – the participants in the half marathon – started on the route that had been prepared for us. If you have run a half marathon in Nairobi before, you could ably borrow from the extended stretches of the two possible routes to appreciate them as either the Forest Road or the Mombasa Road routes. For this particular half marathon, we took the Forest Road one.

The turns which take runners through the City’s streets, of Haile Selassie Avenue, Harambe Avenue, Kenyatta Avenue, and University Way, the ones on the earlier parts of the routes may, and they do, take a toll on the unprepared mind and body especially of the City’s new runners. They may be likened to jumping through a set of never ending hoops, but that is only until the route eases and stretches up as runners approach Museum Hill. Thankfully, the route, the entire length of it, is properly marked, by branded barricades, and attended to by heedful guides.

The runners

I have always maintained that runners are very important people who deserve as much catering as possible. Like they share(d) the same sentiments, they came through in massive numbers, and categories.

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Clockwise: Twino, Carol, Ann, Jerry, Felix, Munga, Anne, and Ruth.

There were ambassadors, like that black gentleman who warmed up while carrying the Union Jack, and myself, Uganda’s ambassador of sweat; newbies, like Anne and Ruth, the two lovely ladies whom I met just before the start, who were running their very first half marathon; “celebs”, like the US ambassador to Kenya, and the Governor of Nairobi, Mr. Kidero Evans, who flagged us off. I did not see Prince Wassaja, of Buganda Kingdom, this year, but I hope(d) he ran as well as he has done before.

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The Race Runners, who set the pace for most of us, with their attention drawing balloons.

There were pacers, like the balloon bearing Race Runners, who started off their run with a really fast paced team effort, before losing steam or concentration as they approached the other tough part of the route – the hilly terrain of Upper Hill and Uhuru Park suburb of Nairobi. Whether they moved fast or otherwise, they did draw attention with their colourful balloons, and resounding tambourines.

The enjoyers, like the white gentleman who ran by my side for most of the route with his video documenting gadget in tow, and the sufferers, like Felix Ombura, my Kenyan running buddy, who needed some TLC – Taylor Swift Lyrics Care – to Shake Off a troubling stitch, and the cheaters, too, like that one, or were they two boobs, who bent and went under the barricades, much to our disgust, shared their company as well.

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Mr. Obua, Mr. Muranga, Ms. Baker, Mr. Twino, and Mr. Ombura.

The seniors, or rather seasoned runners that I was lucky to make friends, connect, and interact with, and had done at least one marathon in another East African country were united by conversations enriched  with memories of past events and preparations for the upcoming ones that they would be interested in, like the upcoming Kampala and Tigoni Marathons.

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Mr. Twino, Ms. Baker, and Mr. Ombura.

The finish

While Claire Baker, from England, was reflective on the recently held Ndakaini Marathon, Muranga, a Kenyan Mzee, chimmed in when he caught the whisper of the words Kilimanjaro Marathon, before Obua, an Urban Swara, joined us to share his fears of the Kampala Marathon’s 21K, as Felix Ombura did what he did best; making more necessary connections for concerted efforts while running or hiking in the East and Horn of Africa.

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With some of our Ngong Gym going friends, from the 10K run, and their longest by far.

We might have all smiled to take photos with our colleagues from the 10K – they are not awarded finishers medals, so they borrowed ours, but I was even more elated as I had beaten my personal record having posted 01:53 on the board.

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Alexander Twinokwesiga, Uganda’s Ambassador of Sweat.

 

 

 

07
Nov

Running In Mbarara: Ebirungi biruga omutuutu!

Where is this town, Prof. Google?

Mbarara is a town in the South Western region of Uganda. It is the main municipal, administrative, and commercial center of Mbarara District and the site of the district headquarter. It is the blithe paradise commonly known as the land of milk and honey, and, to add (because it is true), beautiful women.

The excitement

As a rule of thumb, the very first thing I do whenever I travel to a new town is to run it, preferably after it has gone to sleep or, better before it wakes up. There is no better way to see a town other than when it is devoid of all its usual distractions. Mbarara, though, is not any new to me. Mbarara Made Me (I should trademark this and print it on tee shirts). None of my runs there, whether as participation in my high school’s annual 10K, or with my high school’s cricket team were, sadly, never documented. They are only memories, good memories, which I choose to hold dear. Instagram and blog posts about this particular, personal trip would salvage that; or so I thought.

The preparation

My mind was set on a two or more hours run, starting at 5AM, and one covering the whole town as I knew, know and will always remember it. My body was up for the jib, and with a new haircut, given right after my arrival there, by Bob – my only barber, I expected no resistance to the force I imagined I wield(ed).

Unbeknownst to mw, I expected to be the only runner, that mad, crazy, poor fellow without much to attend to save for running around in the name of losing weight. (Yeah! I know my people, and how they appreciate most things!)

I chose and mentally mapped out a route which would take me through as many parts of the town as possible. Unless time has changed much since I last lived and studied there, in 2008, my knowledge of the divisions – at least the major ones – was and still is; Kakoba Division, Kamukuzi Division, Nyamitanga Division, and Kakiika Division – the original four, and the two new ones Biharwe Division and Nyakayojo Division which have been created to complete a total of six divisions.

Surprise! Surprise!

In Kakoba Division, the one where I started off, I went up the gently sloping terrain that makes Garage Street with all the gusto I could gather. AT the turn onto Buremba Road, I spotted my first fellow runner; an old, bespectacled gentleman who ran – slowly – with a tracksuit, a yellow MTN Kampala Marathon vest, and a cap on. His concentration that early in the morning was not on the sights ahead, or the people about him, but on the road – probably wondering where next to place his feet. I did not bother to engage.

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The Shell Ankole roundabout, by night. Nakumatt is housed in a building adjacent to the petrol station.

I went forth, past Nyakumatti, sorry, Nakumatt Supermarket, towards the Shell Ankole roundabout and turned left, to run past where what used to be Biashara Supermarket and that is now Lean Supermarket is, and then right towards Makhan Singh Street, and then downhill past Victor Bwana Street, towards Ntare School.

Approaching me from Makhan Singh Street was a well built gentleman running in a Rotary Cancer Run vest. I was impressed that he had traveled to Kampala for the Cancer run, until it occurred to me that the same had been held in other towns besides Kampala. My first impression of him was “military, perhaps UPDF”. It was just something about him, the same that encouraged me not to disrupt him in any way lest…

Forward, I ran; past the new Ankole Traders beers depot which I found to be aptly located in the foreground of Uganda Martyrs Primary School (so that the kids know what they are graduating into) and further towards Ntare School, and Omukidongo, Ngabo Academy, Mbaguta Estates, the Mbarara District Administration offices and onward to Kakyeka.

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The entrance.

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Ntare School’s Center For Arts, Culture And Performances, a.k.a its Main Hall.

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The exit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Along that route, I met fellow runners. They included an elderly lady whom I thought was playing about on the hill that descends into Akajogo – the (in)famous valley between Ntare School and Mbarara town. She was, I learnt, actually running, in her own style, in her sneakers, however much her dress and the shuka she wrapped around her waist belied.

There were a couple of running youngsters, too, those whom I hoped I was right to appreciate as either elementary or high school pupils at any of the town’s schools. Having not seen a cricket team jogging behind its captain (it is always easy to find out. Our wicket keepers used to run with their gloves on. Their apparel is unique and not difficult to figure out), I could not comfortably conclude that those few were indeed from Ntare School, the closest of all schools.

Of the many, the one runner who really caught y attention was the one who looked, dressed, and ran like a professional. We ran into each other, in Kamukuzi Division, just after I was done with taking what turned out to be pathetic photos of House Number 34, Mbaguta Estates; the house I was raised in. He had his colourful music gear on, and ran like he has been doing it for a while – albeit alone.

We were later to meet in Kakyeka – which I thought happened rather quickly – before I ran past the Nile Breweries beer depot, which is also located right opposite a Catholic values founded school, into a Rwebikona Market which illustrated the first signs of a town that was starting to wake up.

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Rwebikona Market.

It was such a warm, lovely run, and that was all because of the other runners. Unlike those I have met in other towns, they all smiled and waved back whenever I moved them to. It was pleasing to and for me, and I hoped to and for them as well. Importantly, it made me ponder how to get them into the grand #HikesAndRunsEastAfrica formation. In due course, I was convinced.

Ascending up the slope which begins at the Mbarara-Kabale-Bushenyi T-junction, before taking you up Peers Restaurant, Mbarara University Inn, MUST (Mbarara University of Science and Technology), the local Uganda Police station, Mbarara Municipality Council’s “White House”, All Saints Church, Independence Park, Mbarara Municipal Primary School, and, finally, into town, by way of High Street came easier than I had anticipated. What I thought would be a two hours or so run ended up as a 54:36:35 one. Perhaps, I am getting faster.

Ebirungi Biruga Omutuutu

Avoiding the street which brings Mbarara’s night popular spots – Vision Empire, Another Life, and SABs Parlour – and hotels – Pelikan Hotel, Classic Hotel, Kash Hotel – together I continued towards the Amahembe Gente roundabout – for nothing more than a picture or selfie moment, really, as I found no other iconic monument worth note, and ran further towards home where I finished my run by saluting the early neighbours. They said, and I quote, “waba noronda amagara” – you were looking for good health. I borrowed from the town’s own motto when I responded to them that “ebirungi biruga omutuutu” – good things come from sweat.

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The finish.

19
Oct

Two Marathons In Two Days

The other day, I set out to, like Robin Arzon, do five marathons in five days, or, alternatively, run through all five administrative divisions of Kampala. How I was to do that was not exactly clear, but I was certain I was going to do it. A blessing and test came packaged in two marathons, or rather runs, happening on two consecutive days.

The first came via a WhatsApp notification from Daisy Mulamuzi, a good friend of mine, while the other was a product of targeted and consistent marketing by  Lions Club – its organizers. I was overly excited. Successfully finishing both would paint a picture of what finishing five would take and feel like. When I tweeted about it, I was cautioned by a concerned commentator that I would not survive the challenge. Well, only time would tell. Thankfully, my body and mind were ready.

***

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PAYSCO Run 2016: Alexander Twinokwesiga, Daisy Mulamuzi, and Catherine Kasujja.

The first was named PAYSCO Run 2016, an event organized by the church of Uganda in preparation for its Provincial Annual Youth And Students Convention which will be happening in December, 2016.

It happened on Saturday, October 15, 2016 and started from the Church of Uganda’s Provincial Secretariat in Namirembe, before taking us through parts of Sanyu Babies Home, Old Kampala, Nankulabye, Makerere and others before returning us back to where we had begun, and after covering a distance of 10K.

I was disappointed there was no 21K route, but I understood why not after appreciating that it is the second time that this is happening, and successfully happening even without that much of resources or sponsorship either. I did the 10K, in 20:05:31, and was glad that I fell into the 21st position when I was done.

I was immensely impressed that it attracted people from all walks of life; the young and the old, the students and the employed, the male and female, the locals and the aliens, and, importantly, school going pupils who amicably warmed up, ran, and interacted well with one another; all thanks to the imposing swagger of Uncle O and the grace of His Grace, the Right Rev Stanley Ntagali, who was the chief runner-cum-walker.

My favorite part was that it was well organized. Before we set off, the route was detailed by Maxwell, a gentleman with a beautiful voice. On that route were traffic policemen who were not simply there to fulfill their official obligations, but to guide the runners and the traffic out of their way. They were helped by the organizer’s own guides who were rightly placed at all turns to guide and cheer us onwards.

The first fifteen males and first fifteen females were all rewarded by the Archbishop in a ceremony which included speeches that enlightened us about the Church of Uganda’s new KIDO program and bore blessings.

***

The second was hash tagged #RunForSight. It was organized by the Lions Clubs of Uganda in association with the Lions Club Viadana of Oglio Po – Italy, and other local sponsors who included GTBank, Rwenzori Bottling Company, Royal Way Media, and MPK Graphics. It was their 4th Annual Marathon.

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The 4th Annual Lions Clubs #RunForSight Marathon.

I had been discouraged by their efforts even before I got to the starting line. On three occasions, at Mega Supermarket, two at Shell Bugolobi, and one at Chello Petrol Station, which had all been designated as payment and collection centers, I failed to find either dedicated tables or knowledgeable persons. I was left to requesting that a kit be saved for me and found before we set off.

My experience was, briefly; that I had had issues with finding a kit, that we had started late (especially for those of us who did the 21K), that there were no guides along the entire route (I was told that they too got lost), that there were distances marked as either left or completed, that there was no water (at all, even with the sponsorship from the leading bottling company in the country), that we got lost (as some of us had not seen or been given the map), that we took a boda (to take us back the proper route, as we had run onto Aki Bua Road instead of Kyadondo Road), that we got lost again, but intriguingly, still managed to finish – at least for me – in 02:04:51:57.

As I ran, I felt that the route was not mapped, and that I had done anywhere between 32K and 40K. Those I could fathom because the experience of running itself is thrilling enough, but what I could not understand was the lack of refreshing water.

The first half of the marathon, which took us through Kololo, Industrial Area, and Bugolobi was enjoyable, but the second half took a toll on us. Without that much needed water, running into parts of Nakasero was draining. I could see that those running in front and behind me were spent. I am not even sure of the ones behind me finished having lost them somewhere on Speke Road. You cannot organize a marathon without providing or taking water after every five kilometers. The need to hydrate is as you dehydrate is major. At the end of the 21K, I had pieces of salt all over my skin, an indicator of that intense dehydration.

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#RunForSight: The salt.

Regardless, it was impressive that, in celebration of Lions Clubs 100 years of service, the organisers successfully brought together people and got them either walking or running in one of 5K, 10K and 21K. That is no mean feat. It was a beautiful sight seeing primary school pupils, secondary school students, old people, elite runners, Lions Clubs members and even the Prime Minister of the Republic of Uganda participate in different capacities.

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#RunForSight: Apollo, Hon. Shem Bageine, and the Rt. Hon Ruhakana Rugunda.

There were new running friends to be made. They too were not impressed by some of the mishaps. They too are up for future running events. We will definitely be there for the next ones. We hope that the organizers then will take notes from past marathons in order to organize much better marathons.

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#RunForSight: Mark Rujumba and Alexander Twinokwesiga.

***

14
Sep

Uganda: Running Against It.

Few events on the Ugandan sports calendar attract as much interest as the several, growing runs and/or marathons. Year after year, and at several, some impromptu moments, marathons unite friends, families, and the general Ugandan public, irrespective of their diverse cultural backgrounds, from the unemployed to the company executive, from the young to the old, from the local to the foreign, from the amateur runners to the elite.

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A wonderful mix of different participants.

Lately, the popular reason for which Ugandans participate in marathons is, apparently, humanitarian; a campaign characterised by running, whose proceeds are meant to be invested in a cause they all believe in deserves their support.

For some, it is simply to arrive at their final destination – the finish line – before the sponsored tents run out of breakfast. For most, it is, indeed, to run for charity (as was illustrated by most of us and entities like Charity Initiative Uganda and Rotary E-Club Uganda), and for other, themselves (like that gentleman who tied a tractor’s tyre to a rope he fastened to his waist to run the entire route).

To start, and end with, the marathons are more akin to a party, as runners meet up for the first time since the last one, to warm up their muscles and, later, to stretch them as they dance to music played by an invited DJ and under the instruction of a hype man or MC who might not necessarily be a trained health instructor.

Like those before it, the Rotary Cancer Run 2016 did not make use of an alternating route. That, they did not even have to, considering that Kololo Airstrip, the starting and finishing point is still the best assembling option available (well, until we make the most of the vast space and beauty that is Namboole Stadium).

The run (which happened on August 28, 2016) brought together several organisations, notable people like General Katumba Wamala, popular faces like Simon Kasyate’s, passionate ones like TMS Ruge, seasoned runners like Bridget Ayeza, fledgling ones like Canon Rumanzi, and marathon tourists like Felix Ombura and Denis Mugambi who were both visiting from Nairobi, Kenya.

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Alexander Twinokwesiga and Felix Ombura, marathon tourists from Kampala, Uganda, and Nairobi, Kenya respectively.

The core purpose for the now annual Rotary Cancer Run – as an example – is to raise both awareness and resources which can be contributed to a construction of specialised hospitals that are meant for the prevention and treatment of terminal illnesses like cancer and, consequentially, improving of service delivery in existing health facilities.

That is a wonderful and much needed cause. However, how many more marathons are we going to participate in before our health facilities and their service provision can get any better? Uganda is, frankly, a country which satisfactorily illustrates that anything with the word public in it should not function. The stories, of expectant mothers who lose babies almost immediately after birth, of doctors who do not attend to emergencies unless they have been paid first, and those of old people who die due to the negligence, the recklessness and the inadequateness of doctors and hospitals are heartbreaking.

Thankfully, several people and organisations, unimpressed by the state of affairs have taken it upon themselves to better the world that they live in. As such, there are several new runs and/or marathons meant for the benefit of cancer victims (Rotary Cancer Run), sickle cell anaemia victims (PSU Sickle Cell Run) and organisations, like Charity Initiative Uganda (which has been fundraising for a young girl who needs an operation, in India, of/for their porous heart) and Farfett Foundation, founded by Pamella Lutwama, a young lady who has a special interest in health whose most recent and successful project being events and campaigns aimed at helping Isaac Nchuti, a young boy who almost lost his life, thanks to poor diagnosis and negligence by doctors at three Kampala hospitals.

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A few members of Charity Initiative Uganda, after the Rotary Cancer Run 2016.

 

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A few members of Rotary E-Club Uganda, after the Rotary Cancer Run 2016.

Moving forward, a better idea, I believe, would be to partner with all concerned parties, like the aforementioned, with the intent of engaging more people and collecting much more resources, and nominating an agreed number of charity organisations as beneficiaries, with another agreed number having their own turns at benefiting.

In South Africa, Comrades Marathon Association has done considerably well. Each year, it nominates four charities as beneficiaries. In Uganda, the Uganda International Marathon, which happens by the Equator, in Masaka, has been exemplary. Even in their second year of running (2016), they have supported and/or revived nine projects that they support.

It was impressive that various Kampala Rotary clubs were directly involved in the preparations prior to the marathons, and, significantly, that participants were flagged off at the same time in different towns in Uganda.