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.
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.
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.
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.