Race diary at the Uganda Marathon

Sneaking in a quick blog before the party starts, through the lens of some of the runners at this race like no other.

5.30am — Athlete’s Village, Ndegeya Campsite, Masaka

We’re sitting at the table under a lone light well before sunrise munching on bananas, granola, bread, honey, eggs and peanut butter jelly. Not all at once of course, and with coffee — it’s time wake up as race day is here.

It’s Shannon (a iron woman from the US), Alex, Ben, Emily and Shakir (from London and parts of England up north!) and me, the sole Kiwi in the 130 internationals at this year’s event.

Ben says he should have had more beers, as he had a bad sleep, Shak wonders if folks will pay the donations if he doesn’t make it round the course. Shak also seems more obsessed about going to the loo that he race itself!

Talk switches to personal bests which Henry, the heroic leader of this race, had assured us would not be getting today on the brutal Masaka hills. “Unless it’s your first marathon”, Emily says with a smile.

We discuss ‘the Beast’ that we have heard so much about and I mention that it flattens out at one point. “Easy for you to say” I sense they’re thinking, as I’m a non-runner.

Gift, one of three 12 year-olds being sponsored to run by one of Uganda Marathon team, appears in his bright white race t-shirt. His smile is even bigger than we I sat with him and his friends round the campfire last night.

6.20am — time to depart

I grab a quick word with Sophie Dubus, one of our magnificent organising team. Her face beams with a Masaka smile as she tells me there are double the runners from last year’s event.

The runners don their race numbers with their head torches still on — the sun rises just before 7am and today it’s dawned cloudy. It’s a good omen are the brutally hot day we had yesterday.

I wander over to get a last burst of Nescafe. Vicky Cable mutters “is there any hot water”, oblivious to the thermos in front of her. More than a few nerves perhaps?

Soon we are on the bus heading down the dusty hill to the race start. Mark Callaghan gives a final briefing, while Gift and the other two sponsored kids, Henry and Faisal, giggle with glee over how fast they might run.

6.45am — Liberation Square

It’s getting light and there’s a load of people here already — there’s a sea of white Uganda Marathon t-shirts. The music is awesome, there’s dancing and, always, loads of videos.

Shannon has this to say: “It’s a trail-race atmosphere, so friendly, so much energy, so many connections between locals and our runners. Have the marathon at the end of the week is amazing’’.

Syak has lost his sunglasses and doesn’t know what to do with his energy sachets. Ben is loving folks ‘vibing off each other’. And it’s time to start.

7.20am — start of the the Marathon and the Half

I am caught off guard and so I leg it to try to keep up with the Ugandans that tear off at the count down to try to grab a few early photos. It’s in vein but I catch a few Mzungu and then leg it further up the road puffing and panting. “Thank goodness I’m not running “, I think.

It’s a special moment — I am in my element. Maybe it’s time to go back to my real talent, as a reporter?

8.15am — start of the 10km race

I get chatting to Emma Drew, from the Valleys in Wales — it’s her first ever race and what a place to do it. I’m loving her bright yellow trainers.

It’s time to go and I can’t work out why there are quite a few runners in front of the start line. It turns out they’re half marathon runners who missed the previous start but, no worries, let’s have two half marathons.

And soon they’re off. I look out for Gift, Faisal and Henry but it’s impossible to see them in the tide of white t-shirts. “Oh well”, I think. Time to put my feet up before heading over to my job for the day, time keeping.

8.31am — the half marathon winner arrives

I’ve just arrived and Andy Millar gives me a quick tutorial on the how to record the arrival of each runner. We’re just set when the first runner blitzes across the finish line in 1:11 — it’s scarcely believable but then again we are in Uganda.

32 minutes later … yes you read that correctly … the first 10km runners arrive back. There’s confusion as some of the half marathon runners came down the 10km finishing chute but soon it’s all sorted and our winner has his medal.

From there it’s utter chaos as 10km pile over the line, most without numbers on their shirts, so there’s going to be a big reconciliation exercise later to work out who finished where. Lucky Henry used to be an accountant before quit to ‘do cool stuff’ as he so often says.

I look up to see a boy on crutches cross the line. Remarkable and he seems to have come in ahead of the first able-bodied Mzungu lady.

I’ll have to double check that though one thing I am certain about is the elderly lady that set off last in the 10km run crossed under the red, black and yellow balloons and passed the finishing clock in 2 hours and 8 minutes. Respect.

From here it gets hazy

Trying to record times and keep notes proved to be tricky so here’s a few other highlights I spotted.

Gift finished the 10km, just ahead of Ryan, the youngest runner from our group.

Charlotte was the first foreign lady home in the half marathon in 2:03

The winner of the marathon finished in 2:40

Mel Fisher and Matt Trinetti finished the half in 2.07, Tarka completed the same distance in 2:16 and Becca Warner was just behind in 2:22

Becca had this to say:

How much of a difference it makes when people stop and smile. I was listening to music and dancing as I ran

And ….. drum role please

Katie being the first international runner home in an insanely fast time and despite injury. She has lovely story to tell about how she saw the shoes that she donated while she was running up ‘the Beast’ which gave here a massive boost.

Ben Palmer completed the marathon in 4:08 (wahoo), even after the lack of sleep. I managed to catch him at the finish line and he had this to say:

“The highlight was running with the Ugandans and everyone supporting each other. Yes there were gaps where I was running alone, but that’s marathon running. I am over the moon”

There’s so much more to say …

But I was determined to share the race-day story for all the people back home that are supporting the runners. I have a load of video to share and will be creating page for that.

For now though … it’s time to go see our team, apologise to Dom Jackman for interviewing him 800 yards from the finish and … join the party.