THE BLOG

25
Jul

Twegaite: An Important Run At The Source Of The Nile.

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The starting point.

The Twegaite Source Of The Nile Run Jinja, which happened on Saturday, July 23, 2016, had not appeared on my radar until Tuesday, July 19, 2016, when a now very enthusiastic travel buddy made mention of it. As a foreigner living in Uganda, the intense publicity that had been employed by Twegaite International Inc on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, and a dedicated website to promote the event had, certainly, found and had an effect on him.

Thanks to him, we made a few phone calls to a few friends resident in Jinja, placed our reservations, and made our trip to Jinja late Friday night. Jinja is that lovely destination no one should ever consider declining an invitation to. We could not help it, but respond to her positively.

Until Twegaite, Saturdays have not been typical days for marathons, but since we want it more than many other things, including all-night parties, we could not resist the urge. A few sacrifices – of previously scheduled engagements and rushed packing of bags – later, we were in an already activated for the night town by the Source of the Nile.

As is expected of most runs in their nascent stages, there was bound to be some reasonable disorganisation. Ours started with a failure to find a place to take a much needed dinner at, and finding that a hotel we had booked to sleep in was filled well enough to our disadvantage. Finding a suitable alternative did not come that easily.

When the beautiful morning of a promising day came, a marathon that had been scheduled to set off at 7AM did not until at 8AM, and, most disheartening of all, the 21KM that we had registered for was reportedly done away with at the last minute. We understood an explanation to the effect that the presence of the guest of honour, who happened to be the Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, and a born of the region, was the reason for the delays, but we could not appreciate why we could not get to enjoy the beautiful Jinja, in all its glory, if the 21KM route and race was not done away with.

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Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, the chief runner.

The Twegaite Source of The Nile Run Jinja, organised by Twegaite International, a Washington DC entity of Busoga hailing Ugandans, and happening in its second edition (the first happened in Washington), got us running from a starting point at Laftaz Rugby Grounds – which, even for locals, had been problematic to identify – and onto Nile Crescent, a street adjacent to the Source of the Nile, Jinja Golf Course, Jinja Sailing Club, before getting us onto Oboja Road, through the core of town, where we used Clive and Scindia Roads and crisscrossed paths with participants of the 5KM run, onto a reconstructed Kampala Road, then onto Nalufenya Road, and finally onto Kiira Road, which led us past Coronation Park, and back to the finishing line.

10KM ended so fast; under an hour, even the average runners. As the slower ones gradually arrived, they joined the early finishers on the Laftaz field where they stretched out their worn out limbs, just like they had warmed them up before they were flagged off.

Thrilled by their involvement, new runners declared their newly found, real love for marathons and promised participation at the next one. I wished that those whom we met along the way equipped with questions about what distance we were doing were instead part of us, and that those I saw geared up for a rafting session had joined us and gone rafting thereafter.

Regrettably, there was not enough time to feast on all the beauty that Jinja has to offer; Owen Falls Dam, Bujagali Falls, Kalagala Forest Reserve, Itanda Falls, and its Forest Reserve, Hairy Lemon, The Haven, and, of course, Nile Breweries.

With just enough time to spare, a handful of us and made the most of it by taking a casual walk to, through, and by the Source of the Nile. The Source of the Nile is an area that marks the place from where the Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea through central and Northern Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt. It was a wonderful way to simmer down. It was rather disappointing that we could not go bungee jumping as planned. The heavens limited us when they started pouring, long enough to make us miss the official bungee jumping times.

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A post race walk with friends, by the Source of the Nile.

Those who remained at the grounds, probably waiting for organised events that included an after-party that would see performances by local artists headlined by Irene Ntale, had an opportunity to listen to post race speeches, participate in post race exhibitions by Uganda Tourism Board, children’s activities like bouncing castles and more activities which had been organised for the purpose of sensitising people on how to accept albinism and help prevent the loss of albinos to skin cancer – the main reason why we had participated in the run.

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Some of the participants.

 

 

 

06
Jun

The Uganda International Marathon: A race like no other.

The Uganda International Marathon, also known as the Uganda Marathon, is, indeed, and like its apt slogan reads, a race like no other. In its information pack, released on its website, ugandamarathon.com, in January, 2016, it is described as an event, a race, and an adventure. That is what it really is.

The beginning.

The Uganda Marathon was created in 2014 by a group of Ugandans and Londoners in order to bring people from all over the world to a beautiful corner of rural Uganda, to spend a week with the local community, to get to know them, their dreams, challenges and really immersing in another way of life.

In its first edition, in 2015, it welcomed international participants from under 20 to over 70 years of age who took part in the event. People came from 6 continents. The fastest time was recorded by a Ugandan National Team runner, and the slowest by a former bartender from Plymouth. Over 50% of 2015’s runners had never run a marathon before, and chose their first to be on the Equator.

The essence.

The Uganda Marathon is not only a race, but a seven (7) days immersive cultural adventure on the Equator. It brings people from around the world to work with local projects, stage a sports day and a football tournament, take part in celebration of Ugandan culture, a festival, a party, performance, music, art, and, at the end of it all, a 10KM, half or full marathon. Well, as most locals would appreciate, that is savoured by people who give meaning to the word international.

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The real winners!

However, it is worth noting, that even when the international runners – at least 150 of them for 2016 – are very important, for their generous contributions, sourced from their families and friends back home, and amounting to “over USD 100,000 or maybe more”, and utilised to support at least 16 different projects in Masaka, the locals are not negligible.

The projects

Some of the projects the generous contributions made by the visiting runners have helped revive include some of the following;

Women’s Soroptimist Masaka, which supports vulnerable women in Masaka communities; Bugabira Primary School, which provides quality, affordable education that gives kids a boost in life that would otherwise be completely unreachable; STEP Masaka Project, which supports elderly persons; Youth With A Vision, which supports youth and advocates for rights of disadvantaged young people; Action For Integrated Community Development, which supports communities with disabilities and other vulnerable children; Suubi Centre, which empowers Lubada Community and neighbouring communities with skills for development; Masaka Vocational Rehabilitation Centre, which aims to assist mentally and physically handicapped youths to learn vocation skills for self-support; Knowledge For Children, which operates to invest in quality education for children in rural areas; and Masaka School For Special Needs Education, which supports all kinds of disabled students by, first, teaching them how to communicate.

The joy illustrated by the children the faces of some of the children and locals who made galleries along the route used could be interpreted as testament to the efforts of the Uganda Marathon.

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“Mzungu!”

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“Mzungu”

The choice of Masaka.

A Marathon can be organised anywhere. The choice of Masaka is, definitely, meant to keep in touch and/or connect with the projects, and to bring back to life and remind us of a town that seems to have been forgotten.

Masaka is an immensely beautiful town, one that I had, unfortunately, underestimated. It is representative of all the wonderful things that make Uganda the beautiful country that it is. The town is well planned, the people are as warm as we had experienced while discovering the town the evening before the race. Some of them may not have been actively engaged in the participation, but they, by standing on their verandas and along the route, supportive of those who were. The food is affordable and in abundance. The traffic is fluid. The town is organised and clean.

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There were steep hills…

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…deep valleys,

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…, and captivating views.

Having the above as a good foundation and a plethora of volunteers – from the Uganda Police, Exile Medics, and the Red Cross – at the places that we needed them to be, it was much better for us to participate without much to worry about.

Whether on the tarmac on the town centre, or on the dirt road, or on roads small enough to be footpaths running through schools, people’s homesteads and trading centres or the major roads cutting through the town, Masaka is a wonderful place to run in for all marathon distances. I have, for one, decided to do my first 42KM there.

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Running by the Camp Ndegeya roundabout.

 

Before the race.

When the visitors are not engaged in activities including rafting on the River Nile, trekking gorillas in Bwindi, going on a safari in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a relaxing afternoon on Lake Nabugabo, or a cultural performance at their athletes village in Camp Ndegeya – like they did on Friday, June 3 – they are connecting with the projects that their money is going to – like they did on Wednesday, June 1 – or taking part in a sports day event with the children from the various communities that they are supporting.

Those are some of the activities that both the visitors and locals engage in before at least 2000 of them – an impressive figure as the 2016 edition is only the second edition – join in from Masaka itself and from as far as Jinja where news of the Marathon has reached. Personally, I had heard of it, and for the very first time, on the day that I did the Kigali International Marathon, just a fortnight ago.

My excitement was intense. I took it upon myself to inform all my fellow marathon tourists and marathon maniacs, some of whom I travelled with for this year’s edition. The runners are led by a chief runner, or rather a patron, the cheerful and likeable Prince Wasajja, a Prince in the mighty Buganda Kingdom, one where Masaka falls. I have been delighted to note his face in Marathons that he most definitely does not know we have taken part in together in Kampala and Nairobi.

The race.

Everything about this particular race was impressive. The information, when we stumbled upon it, was detailed and easy to interpret. When we found their functioning contacts, they responded positively and directed us well. When we arrived in Masaka, and found their offices, we were welcomed and well attended to.

The registration process, which we did in the Uganda Marathon office in Masaka town, was not in any way complex, but the attendants made sure that we were catered to. They did more by recommending places of residence and directing us to the starting point which was at the Liberation Square, and introducing us to other equally warm, receptive officers.

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The race kit, which includes a head sock made by one of the projects supported by the Uganda Marathon.

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Some of the pairs donated by the international runners to enable the locals participate in the Uganda Marathon.

After registration, we were furnished with a race shirt, a race number, and a map of the route. While in the shop, we also bought some of the merchandise as made by the beneficiaries of the projects supported by the Uganda Marathon. Contended, we found residence in a hotel next to the starting point, checked in and went on a discovery of the town, and a grasshopper munching evening, especially for the uninitiated. Our excitement was reciprocated by a deserved expectation of us.

The race was a well organised and coordinated one. Well organised, for emphasis’ sake. As we had been told, that the organisers are Britons who are very English about their time, we started, and just like we should have, at the scheduled time of 7AM, with the 42KM and 21KM races, and at 8AM for our 10KM colleagues.

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Liberation Square: The starting and finishing point.

The route started at Liberation Square, in the Kizungu area of Masaka town, took us past Katwe Hospital, through Ssaza, via Camp Ndegeya, Pine Ridge and ended up at the same Square. There were steep hills, some of up to 1327 meters above sea level, plateaus with enviable views, and deep valleys. The views we enjoyed while we ran were incomparable to many anywhere.

The finish.

By the time that you are done with experiencing a town on the Equator, with investing hours of solid effort – one dusty foot after another, to round the home stretch, to get closer to the finish line, to muster up one last monumental effort, with going through wild, smiling and laughing crowds, crowds that do not get tired of cheering you on, with making new friends, and more, you are satisfied with not only the enriching experience of travelling from across the world to participate in the Uganda International Marathon, but acceptance of the truth in the fact that running in East Africa is like playing football at Wembley, cricket at Lords, or Quidditch at Hogwarts.

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The Uganda Marathon was held on the Equator. It was right that we head there thereafter.

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The Earth’s Equator.

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The finishing smile.

30
May

Afrika Mashariki Marathon: Enduring Kampala.

“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.

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The starting, and finishing point.

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.

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New friends: Denis Mutambi, and I.

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.

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  Runners, boda-bodas, and vehicles on the Northen Bypass. 

 

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Some of the pilgrims to Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo.

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.

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My sisters, Annet and Angel, after our respective races.

 

 

28
May

Kigali Marathon: Go do it on the hills!

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Runners, with a view of Kigali.

I had been to Kigali, Rwanda before; firstly, to take it off my bucket list, of destinations worth visiting; secondly, to attend Stromae’s concert, one of the, if not, the best concerts I have ever attended, and now, for the Kigali International Peace Marathon, the most challenging marathon that I have ever done.

I had waited a whole year to do the Kigali Marathon, after having missed the last one due to a dearth of knowledge about it. It was, therefore, in my best interests that I either suspended or sacrificed my activities in Kampala, Uganda and travel to Kigali, Rwanda.

Arriving a few days before race day, I made the most of my time completing pitching a couple of my entrepreneurial engagements, walking the beautiful city, and catching up with old friends, activities which lasted all day and ran into the night, some past midnight. For a moment, I was worried that I would drain myself of all energies, which I would need to for the race.

That race, or the day meant for it, arrived on Sunday, May 22, 2016. The roads were closed even before we – Felix Ombura, a friend of mine visiting from Nairobi, Kenya – had left the house of our host, Timothy Kaboya, a Rwandan colleague and an old friend of mine.

Accessing Amahoro National Stadium was either going to be difficult or expensive, especially if we managed to do it, or get anywhere close to it, like Remera or Kisimenti, by a moto. Even the moto rides we used were undecided on which routes to use. We were joined at the back of a service truck by a team of Japanese ladies with whom we made it into the compound of the Stade Amahoro. We did it on pretty much half of the race route, and, luckily, arrived on time.

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Our ride into Amahoro National Stadium.

The start line, for the half marathon, as I was later to find out when I ran up the staircase of one of the stadium’s exit points, was inside, on the race track. On it, were hundreds of eager runners who were anxiously waiting for the sound of the starting gun! We joined in, and followed the elite athletes as the gun went off.

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Just after the starting gun went off.

The race took us five kilometres outside the stadium and down one of the thousand hills. The most notable icon that I recall on that early part of the race was the MTN Rwanda headquarters, the main sponsors of the event.

From a little thereafter, at a junction with Woodlands Supermarket, which I now know is in an upscale neighbourhood known as Nyarutarama, it was hills, hills, and more of the same. We were hiking, but at a fast rate. We went further up, and round, turning left, to run through what were, or rather are, apparently, private neighbourhoods. Thankfully, we were on first grade tarmac, which, I believe, was meant to serve as both a consolation and motivation.

Being Ugandan, and one who always runs with my small national flag pinned at my back, I took note of the gated residence of the Ugandan High Commissioner. It and its neighbourhood have enviable views of the city. There were, also, two ladies wearing promotional shirts for the forthcoming Uganda Marathon. I run part of the route with a gentleman donning a similar shirt. Not to be forgotten was a big banana which glided by me as we approached Kacyiru.

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The ladies, in their Uganda Marathon promotional shirts.

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The human banana, on the left, going up one of the hills.

Somewhere between Nyarutarama and Kacyiru, somewhat at the 15KM mark, the elite athletes, who had started taking part i the 42KM race at 8:15AM, an hour and a quarter after we had begun, ran past me, in all their glory, between a police patrol car, and a media crew. The handful of people who created a gallery along the route cheered them on.

Kacyiru was another test. After making a turn on Boulevard de l’umuganda, and specifically, somewhere opposite Telecom House, everything else, in the form of running, was more of running up a hill or two. Well, up to Remera, the nearest town to Amahoro National stadium, where the finish line would be awaiting me and all the other people who had, after an hour and forty five minutes since the start, not yet made it.

The finish line was not going to be an easy one to get to. Like in all other marathons, we could see it, well, mentally, because we were certain that it was in the midst of the floodlights, which we had in sight, but we could not get to it. We took a longer route, one that took us around the stadium, and into the neighbourhood of Kimirinko, before we turned, as if we were heading into Remera, and finally into the stadium.

Entering the stadium was not enough either, we did about three-quarters of a lap, before crossing an uncrowned line which had double as both a starting and a finishing. My playlist must have had an idea about how thrilling the Kigali International Peace Marathon was when it chose AKA’s Congratulate as I crossed the finishing line.

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The Kenyan delegation.

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The Ugandan delegation.

28
May

Uganda can organise a better marathon.

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Our call to action.

For matters first and important, I go by the name Alexander Twinokwesiga. First, because I am a Ugandan, born and bred in the blithe paradise that is Mbarara. Important, because in, and by, name, I am firstly the saviour or helper of mankind, and, sir-ly, one meant to have or believe in a ray of hope – however minimal. The two reasons I am noting the following personal and, hopefully, shared reflections, and offering my own recommendations where I do not get carried away. In essence, I am not a disgruntled foreigner, passionately engaged in lamenting about what a poor, third world country like ours has to offer. I am a feminist, working for Mother Uganda. I am one of us. I believe in us. I wish us the best. I know we can do and deserve better.

For my work, I employ myself as a great relaxer, one whose responsibilities are limited to creative visualisation. A thing I do at my address which happens to be global, or, rather wherever makes me happy. In my spare time – which happens to be a lot – I walk approximately 40 to 50 kilometres, run approximately 18kms, every two days, on roads around my Kampala residence, and participate in either elite, diarised and/or impromptu, charity/project inspired marathons both in Uganda and what we know as outside countries. I have some of the certificates and medals to show for my efforts over the last ten years.

The most recent marathon that my fellow marathon tourists and I participated in was the MTN Marathon, 2015. It was a marathon that for various reasons can be comfortably described as one of – if not – the most disorganised run(s) that we have ever done. One for which excuses like; “anyway, it is Uganda” should not be accepted.

Strongly believing that as a country and individuals, there are three major things that can significantly change our way of lives, namely – a little more organisation, a little more openness, and efforts at paying attention to detail, I have taken time to identify a few of the following pointers to help salvage us, and the future.

a). Registration for the marathon.

Not only was information about the process of registration relayed late, but when it was, it was rather quite confusing.

A few of my friends whom I met at a Kampala hotel on the eve of the marathon told me that they were not even aware that there was a marathon happening the following day. Apparently, the platforms of, perhaps, newspapers, television, radio and telephones which were utilised were not sufficient in achieving their purpose.

To organise a better marathon than we had, the organising committee – if any – would have to detail literature which addresses preparatory aspects including but not limited to the most convenient ways of registration. They – the organisers – should consider outsourcing or partnering with, for example, a popular chain of supermarkets or cafes or petrol stations in as many locations around the country as possible which would agree to having a simple table, chair and a well resourced aide attending to them while registering whoever approaches them. Also, it would mean that we do not have to travel to the ever packed Lugogo Indoor Stadium or any of the MTN Service Centres to register when they could be entertaining other business. Some of these businesses may include SIM registration, a thing I found to be off and unrelated to the marathon at Lugogo Indoor Stadium- the main point of registration. Not all the runners have got to be making use of the main sponsor’s network.

The options for registration which included early registration by, amongst others, way of Mobile Money as shared by the @mtnugcare and @mtnug twitter handles were, when I tweeted them, indeed several and misleading. They were about five, with each having a different registration fee appended to it. Due to this, there were some of us who ran without timing chips. To any reasonable runner, timing chips are not just collectable items but essential elements of any memorable marathon. Timing chips are not and should never be an option.

The sight that really did it for me was on the very day of the marathon. It was that of intending and eventual runners who looked like starving refugees fighting for food while passing money and receiving kits over each other’s heads before hastening towards the start line to follow the footsteps of those who had already started.

To counter that, the organisers have no option but to agree to having only the distances – 42, 21, 10 kilometres – differing but with a uniform registration fee applying to all. In the future, they will have to ensure that registration ends, at worst, two weeks before the marathon and have no exceptions or extensions whatsoever. The texts we received, on Friday, informing us of an extension of the registration, to Saturday, for a Sunday marathon were unwarranted. Like all things in life, a marathon takes considerable preparation for. It is not a romantic ceremony that we cannot fail to miss.

b)  Literature about the marathon.

We are in the 21st Century, a time when information is the most valuable commodity. However, the MTN Marathon 2015 did not embrace this indisputable fact. In the kits I got for myself, my guests, and those that I saw fellow marathoners picking up was nothing – preferably in print, like a flyer – with information about a couple of important aspects of a marathon. These include literature about local gyms guides, and their marathon training programmes, route maps, road closures, terms and conditions pertaining to the marathon, and regardless of the various reasons why we went, the mysterious reason why and the people for whom we were told we were running.

Flyers with advice on the choice of decent running shoes, training and on which surfaces to train, and with particular regard to nutrition or healthcare are not a luxury, but a necessity for both marathoners and their friends who are merely interested in the ever growing culture of marathons.

Even more important, are the flyers that clearly illustrate a simple, easy to appreciate map of the routes to be taken, where the assembly points or holding areas are, and at what times the respective races will begin. MTN has been known to provide us with such. They have done it before. 2015 was not any different. The future is not.

Without such a flyer, some of us arrived at Kololo Airstrip for the 21 kilometres race, only to end up doing 10 kilometres. On retracing our steps to the starting point, where we thought we would find clear directions for the 21 kilometres race, we were not helped, and had to finish the 10 kilometres race albeit under protest and immense dissatisfaction.

It was left upon us to find such a map a day before the race. The two we picked by following the Twitter hashtag were too blurred and unhelpful. They did not offer much in terms of time, assembly points (or, like they put up small billboards for, holding areas), and starting times. All was left to our defeated imagination. We had to, like most, “go with the flow” of the mass that made up the 10 kilometres race.

c). The marathon kit.

Admittedly, there are people in this town of ours who only register for the marathon for the ease with which it avails them with a plastic bottle, a squeeze bottle, a wristlet and etcetera. I know some who have done it, for years, and never turned up for a single marathon.

Fortunately, this is an illustration of the influence and exuberance which come with the MTN Marathon. To exploit both, the organisers can consider designing a couple of kits that equally illustrates both. This, they can do by designing an all embracing kit for the regular marathoners, and treat partnering organisations, banks, hotels, institutions with the pleasure that is derived from uniquely designing for them.

Notably, there were so many kits that it became troubling. At one point we thought that the folks who had the colour blue on their backs were going for a different race as compared to those with the colour white. We were disappointed on finding out that there were, in fact, more colours than those we saw, and not enough races to match them with.

To iron out such confusion in the future, the organisers can try limiting the sponsors printed on the shirt by choosing one, universal kit sponsor. The variations from 2015 were a display of disorganisation and a possible “print more as more people register” situation. Let the kit be one and the same for all marathoners. Granted exceptions can and should only be made for organisations, institutions, communities and more which are, expectedly, capable to pay more for their uniquely designed kits.

d). The races.

From our shared experiences, the 10 kilometres race, which is an important, not to be abused race, is treated with all the disrespect that it can certainly do without. Here is how; introduce a 5 kilometres fun race for both the little people who walk the 10 kilometres, and the not so fit parents who run, and poorly so, ahead and behind them while cheering them on and unsuccessfully convincing them that they are having fun.

By having four – 5km, 10km, 21km, 42km and corporate – races and informing marathoners properly about their assembly points before the race and different, successive start times in advance, we will definitely do away with the commotion, congestion, and possible stampedes at the starting line and on these narrow Kampala streets.

A 5km fun race that starts much later would also embrace all the latecomers with whom we ran past while they tried to make it to the starting line on boda-bodas. It would also be more than good enough for a plethora of first time runners, and those who are not sure about themselves.

e). The tracks.

A track is defined, by the English dictionary, as a course over which races are run. Nothing in that definition includes ambulances, vehicles, motorcycles, policemen, golf game-like galleries and other unwarranted creatures.

On a marathon day, a public road turns into a reserved track. A track should, at all times during a race, be cleared and free of any possible obstructions. It should have no hurdles like parked cars, moving cars, boda-bodas, photographers, videophiles, or any other non-marathoners on it.

The 2015 marathon was adequately littered with ambulances which blocked marathoners at the starting line, boda-bodas, cars, cameramen and more who should not have been sharing the same track as us. Personally, I had to spank the passenger seats of boda-bodas I found in my way and ask the riders to excuse us. Somewhere towards the National Museum, I saw policemen encouraging cars to join the track.

One of the members of the media, a cameraman, who did not have a distinguishing jacket as such, irritated me when he, standing in the middle of the track, and having failed to take a shot of whatever it is he was trying to, ran ahead of us to position himself and do better. There were ambulances which, on more than one occasion approached us, from the back, with wailing sirens, beckoning us to move onto the roadsides even when there was a free lane on the other side. These are just a handful of distractions we can do without next time.

To achieve this, the organizers would have to work with the police and the local authorities – like Kampala City Council Authority – to close, without fail, all the roads meant to be used for a few hours of such a marathon morning and appropriately divert the traffic on the alternative roads. Those not participating will have no option but to prepare accordingly as well.

They can purchase brightly colored “POLICE LINE. DO NOT CROSS” or yellow MTN or keep specially branded MTN MARATHON tapes to use as barricades between the runners and the undesired distractions. A runner’s state of mind is not one to be distracted by unnecessary obstructions. That is one of the reasons they are given kits, to identify and distinguish them from those not actively involved in the race.

f). Toilets, water, first aid, and massage points.

Before the race had even started, a friend of mine who used the toilets at the airstrip told me that they were horrible. Another told me that, during the course of the race, they looked out for a toilet and found only one somewhere near one off the three water points on the 10 kilometers race.

By my count, there were only three water points on the 10 kilometres route. Like they did not expect us, the folks who were giving out water were unpacking it (the bottles, from their polythene wrappings) as and when we arrived, and not much earlier. We, in fact, helped some of them do it. There were no dustbins or disposal units for the water bottles and soaked sponges we used and threw wherever pleased us.

My memory has no recollection of a first aid and paramedic’s tent on the 10 kilometres race. For a race that probably attracts the most, the absence of ready paramedics was shocking. A fainting person would have to wait for the sound of wailing siren in order to get treatment.

Unless the individual company tents after the finishing line had, there were no massage tents or areas designated for the same. The importance of massages after a knackering race cannot be exhaustively detailed. Notice was made of a team of dancers who were seen on stage engaging those who had finished their races as much as the announcer said he had helped them warm up for it.

Improvements can be made by positioning toilets, water, first aid, and paramedics points every after 3 or 5 kilometres. Nothing would help the runners plan well on how to run and when to take breaks if necessary. The races are about the runners. They pay well enough to be sufficiently catered for.  It would help the hosts – the organisers – too, to monitor and manage the needs of their guests – the runners.

g). Volunteers.

The 2015 marathon did not make the numbers when it came to volunteers. Volunteers are an integral part of a properly prepared for marathon. There are undoubtedly more than enough people in this town who would, for a simple tip, be motivated to come on board as volunteers.

The importance of volunteers can stretch beyond guiding the geographically poor marathon tourists, to distributing water and other resources, to ensuring that no people join in from the wrong starts, to ensuring that the timing boards – on the track – are used, to keeping unauthorised vehicles, people, pets, motorbikes and bicycles off the track and more.

We need volunteers. We really do.

h).The aftermath.

I drove back home with a thirty something years old colleague from my neighbourhood who, after doing his very first marathon, returned with a scathing head ache. His reaction to a marathon was not any close to the best. It would have been if there had been a paramedic to attend to him.

Certainly, he was not the only one.

i). Proceedes.

Without a doubt, the organisers do make a lot of money from the registration fees. For a marathon that started and ended without any literature, it is not easy to tell where it all goes. Keeping the whole of it does not hurt, but informing us that at least a part of it goes to a named initiative to, for example, combat an avoidable illness will not make the organisers lose sleep or change their religions.

We are the ones who pay. We need to know what our money does. We want to be accounted to.

j). The future.

Before we set out, a bigot of an MC said that the marathon was a wonderful MTN Uganda initiative which had now obtained an international status. He made the announcement in Luganda, a local language which, however popular, is not inclusive on the international stage. As Ugandans, our diversity is our strength. It is incumbent upon us to illustrate that strength by behaving like mindful citizens of the world.

The MC went on to recognize a couple of political and other leaders and representatives of companies. Personally, I found that unnecessary. If they were at the start or finish line, then they too, must have come along as fellow marathoners. There was a consistent marathon tourist who happens to be a Prince from a popular Ugandan kingdom in the 21 kilometres race. He did not suffocate from not being introduced to the crowd.

k). Change of marathon name.

World over, marathons are known by the names of the cities, towns, national parks, forests, charities, that they recognize. Boston. London. Guangzhou. Nairobi. Old Mutual Two Oceans. Comrades. The Red Cross. Big Five. Kilimanjaro. Kakakega Forest.

Renaming ours, from MTN Marathon to Kampala Marathon, would do us more than just good. It would be a source of pride while inviting someone to take part in a marathon organised by a company they are not and will not be customers to when it is done.

l). Adopt internationally recognised standards.

Renaming our marathon to have an international appeal will not be enough. We need to partner with the IAAF so that it can help us adopt the most basic international standards. I am neither sure nor do I feel we are approved.

A marathon is a competition. Conducting it under the IAAF jurisdiction would, for example, help combat the international problem of doping by athletes especially amongst those interested in the prize money.

For this, we do not need to borrow a leaf, but the whole damn tree.

m). Results and rewards.

Besides the now training vests and, for others, the helpful squeeze bottles, there is not much to keep as a reminder of our involvement in the marathon.

On asking the ladies at Lugogo Indoor Stadium who attended to me when I registered, they reminded me that there would be no certificates for those who took part, no medals for the finishers of the 21 kilometres race, and they could not explain the process of obtaining my results from an online platform if I wanted. They, in simple words, did not encourage me to take the marathon seriously. The Twitter handles too were quick with responses, but not the motivation.

With the input of an individual timing chip number, individual time results have previously been offered online. I have gotten mine from there before. I hope people are still able to get them.

In addition to that, the organisers can generate software whereby an individual can print out their own finisher’s certificates. Other countries are able to do this. Other countries do even more. They offer finisher’s medals to those who complete the 21 and 42 kilometre races. We too can. For some people – marathoners, it is about their rewards.

n). Increase the registration fee.

A couple of years back, there were complaints I heard, they were to the effect that the MTN Marathon increases by UGX 5000 every year. Well, be it true or not is not of necessity.

The reason why, for example, concert tickets – Nile Gold Jazz Safari, to pick – are expensive is because people want to purchase them. MTN is blessed already. Every other year, tens of thousands of people want to go for the marathon. They can capitalise on that, and increase and maintain the fee to a standard figure of say UGX 30,000, or 40,000, or 50,000 (depending on which figure they choose, it would still be one of the cheapest in the region) because they are certain that people will still register for it. The marathon has grown its beards.

For the runners, it would be a good figure to guarantee that the organisers organise an event worth their time, and, importantly, that they are contributing towards a more worthy initiative if their money is well accounted for.

o). Go national.

MTN can crystallize on its national presence by seriously considering conducting marathons in the major regions of the country. A marathon in the West Nile, Northern, Karamoja, Eastern, Busoga/Source of the Nile, Central, South Western, and Western regions of Uganda that happen at different times before the one in November would be a good opportunity for MTN, the local athletics federations, the local Olympic committee, etcetera to identify impressive athletes from those areas and to start a revolution of turning Uganda into a remarkable running country. It would, also, be an excuse for marathoners, tourists, and the general public to travel – physically or remotely via media channels – to those regions to appreciate the beauty of our beautiful country.

From my experience as a countrywide travelling cricketer, I am certain that there are more than a handful of talented or gifted sportsmen – across the board – in Uganda who have not been provided with an opportunity to shine on both national and international scales. Not everyone has to wait for November to come to Kampala. The Kampala one, held in November, can be the “world cup”, our representative, national marathon.

In conclusion;

I believe that maintenance of this “command and control” methodology, whereby the organisers tell and hand us what to expect and expect us not to tell them that they have made mistakes or can do better than their best can be curtailed.

The organizers are only helping us put together an event which would not happen without our money and participation. Without us, it would not happen.

With a little more openness, a little better organisation, an attempt at paying more attention to detail, and getting the mere basics right, we can do a whole lot better than we currently are.

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Marathon tourists, from the East side.