Kampala is renowned as the city of seven hills. This write-up is not about those hills – the bosozi bwe’mpala. This is about the seven severe summits that – good or otherwise – characterised the Kabaka’s Birthday Run 2017.
- The Culture
#KabakaWange was the second, and my first, Kabaka’s Birthday Run. The first happened when I was not anywhere near Kampala. I got to know about it after it had happened. My pals – Kenyans – and I thought about, waited, and prepared for the subsequent one; this one.
One of the reasons for the love we had/have for the Kabaka’s Birthday Run was the love that he, the Kabaka, enjoyed/enjoys from his subjects. We wanted to experience what it felt like. So, we travelled, from Nairobi, Kigali, and Masaka for this year’s run.
For a run that begins and ends in the compound of his residence, one that is run on some roads named after past Kabakas like Mwanga, famous roads like Kabaka Anjagala road, the straight stretch which connects Lubiri and Bulange, one that is run past monumental Buganda Kingdom structures, like Kasubi Royal Tombs; one in which we run with the one of the royals, the marathon tourist and patron that is Prince Wassaja, and, importantly, sharing the same space with the Kabaka himself was/is exciting. It is not something that happens every other day.
- The Reason
Lately, my favourite running and jogging apparel has been Standard Chartered Nairobi Marathon’s Run For A Reason shirt from the 2016’s marathon. Every step that I make should make sense as I move closer to the finish line. I was delighted to see Prince Wassaja, another marathon tourist running in the same Run For A Reason shirt.
Most of the “charity” driven events, marathons or otherwise, have not been targeted towards health-related concerns. Last year’s Kabaka Birthday Run was organised to help reduce the impact of fistula. This year’s run was organised to contribute to bettering the health of those affected by sickle cells anaemia.
It is, therefore, impressive that Kabaka’s Birthday Run was/is organised for a cause as worthy as running against sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cells has fundamentally affected several people, some of whom I call brothers, others sisters, others family, others friends, and several others unknown to me. I have, through studying with them, paying them visits on their sick beds, and chatting with them seen, known and experienced how they have been affected by sickle cells. Some have held on, others have, sadly, not.
My run and blog about this year’s Kabaka Birthday Run were/are both dedicated to Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa, a.k.a Nevender, a friend of mine who labours under the challenge of this terminal illness, one whom I have grown to call my brother. I pray for him and others like him every other day and hope that they get better. My love for him, and others like him, is timeless.
- The Newbies
Weekend before the Kabaka flagged us off, I was satisfied and excited that the people, some of whom I had unsuccessfully persuaded, for long, to participate in a marathon, due to reasons like “we cannot pay money to run”, had finally yielded to participate in this year’s Kabaka Birthday Run. Some of them ran, others did not, but, at least, they participated and contributed respectively. Their involvement is an illustration of the transcendence of a phenomenal summit in building a running culture. Thanks to the influence of the Kabaka, these newbies have participated in their first marathon, and are now interested in hitting the road for another run elsewhere.
THE GOOD, AND BAD.
- The Route
The routes, of 21K, 10K, and 4K were, at least, for the 21K that I ran, thrilling. We were properly guided by chain of interested marshals, policemen, and army men who lined the route or made themselves visible at what would have been troubling, confusing points as the marathon had so many of those.
We left the compound of the Lubiri – the Kabaka’s main residence – and turned, sharply, left onto Lubiri Ring Road, before using the straight stretch that is Kabaka Anjagala Road, after which we turned right onto A;bert Cook Road, Balintuma Road, Nabulagala Road, at whose end we made a sharp turn somewhere near the Kasubi Royal Tombs, by way of Masiro Road, after which we joined Namirembe and Makerere Hill Roads, got past Makerere University, into the Wandegeya area, and wound up at the Mulago Roundabout. It was on these roads that we competed the first five kilometers, the very tough first five kilometers of the run.
The most interesting (re: consuming) part of the marathon started from the Mulago Roundabout. Yusuf Lule Road seemed longer than usual. By the time we got to Garden City, those of us who had had enough took drastic decisions, like humping the backend of an ambulance, an ambulance which whenever it stopped, they approached its windows to ask for glucose. Ingenious! Then the turns began.
We went through a couple of turns. The first turn was onto Nile Avenue, the second was onto Speke Road. After the Independence Monument, we joined Nakasero Road which took us uphill towards Akii Bua Road, after which we turned right, and then left onto Muwafu Road, further left onto Lourdel Road, and further onto Nakasero Hill Road, after which we turned, onto a longer stretch that was/is Lumumba Avenue.
The other turns were onto the The Square 1, Buganda Road and the other onto Kyagwe Road. The next turn was onto Rashid Khamis Road, Ginnery Road, Gaddafi Road, Matia Mulumba Road and the final road being Muwanga Road.
For the about ten kilometres that we ran on these hills and turns, we spent more energy than the usual, and that is partly because the ever-intense Kampala humidity was even more intense. Burning energy, or rather dehydrating is always expected. Hence it should be matched by an equivalent or close amount of hydration. Unfortunately, there were only three water points on the entire 21K route; they were at the 5K, somewhere like 10K, and roughly at 17K. Those were, like I keep saying, not enough. The standard, especially in a town with the humidity the levels of Kampala, should be a water point every after 3K. The average Rwenzori water bottles are way too big. Make disposable tumblers available and ask the marshals to pour the water into them. It either makes the water more available or multiplies the water points. It was disappointing that the officers at the last water point had “retired” from their duties when we got to them. They were not interested in handing over bottles of water or, in the interest of saving time, opening them. A new running mate, one who was doing their first marathon, and participated in the 10K said that when they got to the second and last of the water pints on their route, there was no water left.
- The Patronage
A security guard at one of the registration points told me that the reason kits ran out was because they were made by a one Kabushenga, the MD at Vision Group. I have heard his name being mentioned, for good and not-so-good reasons, during the preparations for some of the most notable events in the country – including heading the organising committee for the recent Pope’s, Pope Benedict’s, visit to Kampala, Uganda.
It is a wonderful thing that a name like his is involved in marathons, too. I know he is because I have run past him in the MTN Kampala Marathon 2016 and the Kabaka’s Birthday Run 2017 – in which he seemed to enjoy the attraction he drew from the captivated media houses and fellow runners who kept up with a pace he set for them.
However, his and other like-minded, influential, indulging people should be well aware that running is more that either just a social event, or a money-making enterprise; it is a culture, one upon which I/you/they can build a business. Their involvement should, absolutely, bring with it attention to detail and a concentration on standard, standards which can attract IAAF certification to/for Ugandan marathons.
We hope that they will remember to read, and, even more importantly, listen to these Hikes And Runs East Africa blogs, because we those who have been lucky enough to learn and take notes from the other marathons we have participated in, are well aware that we can definitely do better.
- The Services
I learnt, from a marathon tourist friend of mine who was visiting from Nairobi, Kenya, for his second Kabaka’s Birthday Run, that this year’s run was much better than last year’s.
However, we both agreed, as we have run several times together before, that we could do better. The literature, and map, about the marathon were not detailed/available up and until a few moments or hours before the marathon started. I did not understand how and why with all the efforts invested in publicising the run, there was not much done in respect to responding to our queries.
- The Dis-Organisation
Besides the selling out, or rather running out of the marathon kits, and the conflict in the fees, the UGX 20,000 on the flyer, and the UGX 10,000 that was being paid, there was the most unfortunate one of them all; that of miscommunication between the orders giving authority, the orders sharing communicators, and the orders receiving enforcers.
Cheap/affordable marathons will always attract many people. Even better, a marathon or any event affiliated to the Kabaka, marathon or else, will ultimately result into massive enrolment. When the Kabaka calls, his subjects answer, and positively.
Thus, when a few people are catered to, and others not, especially in a set up without any known/highlighted deadlines, more than a few others are bound to be as inconvenienced and embarrassed as we were – details being spared. The Kabaka would not approve of such. I believe. Thanks to the running out of kits, some of us who travelled to Kampala just for the Kabaka’s Birthday Run, were bounced at the entrance into the Lubiri’s gates (we were labelled security threats) by minions, policemen, and army men who were, apparently, under strict instructions to keep us out.
Airtel, one of the organisers, is popular for, amongst others, their clientele focused products, like branded T-shirts. All they could have done was/is avail T-shirts labelled with an emblem of the Kingdom of Buganda, or with words to that effect, or printed out marathon related stickers which could have been stuck on any other piece of apparel that those who did not get kits came with. But, alas, when those who could get got, those who did not did not matter. A miscommunication between the arrangers and the enforcers was wholly responsible for barring runners who were there to run alone, a passion, an experience that surpasses the event some exploited to publicly get a handshake from the Kabaka.
Regardless, it was a thrilling experience, and we will return for the next. We hope it will proceed to be much than this years.