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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.