Down in the valley

David Bentham recalls a great trip to the Running the Rift Marathon in Uganda

General location shot with two runners (2).jpg

I’ve been up since 4.45am and had a quick breakfast at the hotel followed by a slow bus journey in pitch darkness along deeply-rutted and potholed roads, in order to be on the start line and ready for the flag-off at 7.30am. It’s warm and humid and the 26 runners are eager to get going when we are told that, due to heavy rain in the night, the marshals are struggling to get to some of the remote check points, and the start will be delayed by half an hour. We are in rural Uganda and in the three days since we all arrived, in addition to getting to know each other and becoming friends, we have adapted to the flexible approach to time-keeping in this beautiful part of Africa.

I first became aware of the run when I saw it advertised in Trail Running magazine. "Running the Rift Marathon", according to the publicity, was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. I was instantly hooked - convincing my wife that this holiday was just what she needed took a little longer!

When we finally set off, both the temperature and humidity have started to rise, making an already challenging trail run even more difficult. The track is mainly dirt, turned to mud in places after the night’s rain, and the marathon has a total ascent of just under 2500 feet. We run along narrow paths on grassy hills, occasionally passing through small settlements where we are joined by children who delight in running along with us for several kilometres, some even holding our hands, before turning back to their homes.

The Rwenzori Mountains form a backdrop throughout the run, a stunning spectacle that in a certain light appears almost surreal, the detail and colours exaggerated to an impossible clarity. Which is all well and good when you remember to look up and see it, but for most of the day I am concentrating on continuing to breathe and stay on track! About six miles out from the finish line my old nemesis, cramp in the inner thigh, hits me with a vengeance. Despite copious use of a cold spray I carry, massaging and so on, the cramp keeps coming back, and I am forced to walk the final section. As I approach the last corner before the run-in, looking bedraggled and exhausted, a spectator calls out ‘How was it?’ I gasp the reply, ‘Piece of cake’, to much laughter.

I cross the line, slowly, after 5 hours and 48 minutes - thankfully there are a few others yet to finish. The organisation of the run has been superb and in the evening a feast featuring whole roast pigs and a plentiful supply of local specialities is served up. We still have three days of activities ahead of us, including a road and river safari in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, just across the equator.

The organisers of this extraordinary adventure are Paul and Ellie, whose welcoming and supportive approach made us all feel at home from the moment we arrived. There was a full medical team on hand throughout, and all profit from the event goes to the Kyaninga Child Development Centre.

This year's Running the Rift Marathon will take place December 1st - I cannot recommend it highly enough.