“Running” the Kampala “Marathon”

The explosion of inverted commas in this post’s title is not a product of excessive sarcasm, but rather an early warning that we did not do something as impressive as you would be led to believe if the title contained no inverted commas. Now, some explanations, in reverse order:

“Marathon”

In the US and Europe, and, I imagine elsewhere, marathon refers to a specific distance: 26.2 miles or 42.165 kilometres. The word can be used as a metaphor for an event that takes a long time, but whenever it is used to refer to distance, it has one clear meaning.

Not so in Uganda! Here, “marathon” can refer to any athletic race of any distance.  So this past weekend, when we participated in the MTN Kampala Marathon, there were actually three “marathons” taking place: The 42k marathon (full marathon), the 21k marathon (half-marathon) and the 10k marathon.  We ran in the shortest of these three “marathons.”

“Running”

The MTN Marathon is a big deal. It seems that anyone and everyone who can participate does. It’s the only marathon in Uganda all year, and probably the only half-marathon as well, so the uniqueness of it probably adds to its allure.  But the vast majority of participants seem to be in the 10k.  And the vast majority of them are walking. And truthfully, most people are dressed to do little more:

In fairness, some people were attempting to run in clothes that were ill-suited to such activity

Faith and I arrived only moments before the start.  Faith had initially hoped to walk with some of her colleagues, and I planned to run the race somewhat competitively.  Neither would come to pass.  There was such a massive sea of people (all dressed the same, as you can see) that the probability of finding anyone you were looking for was decidedly low, so Faith and I decided to run together. It wasn’t until 7 minutes after the clock had started that our section of the great horde crossed the start line.  Because of the sheer number of people, and the average speed of said people we spent most of our time ducking and weaving, trying to run through a sea of walkers.  As a result, we ran 10 kilometres forward, and a few more sideways.

It was a good thing I didn’t start the race with the intention of clocking a good time: it would have been either impossible, or perhaps possible but dangerous as running at any great speed would have required negotiating thousands of slowly moving obstacles with swift agility.

Here were some of the highlights of the “marathon”

The scene at the start

Another reason running isn't feasible.

The mass of yellow was present throughout the race. This is at about kilometre 3.

Interesting running costumes were not limited to Ugandans

Us after the "marathon"

Us with some friends after the race

Beer was, of course, a German friend's idea. Christoph, number 16257 in the previous picture and half of a face in this one.

As you might have gathered, the MTN Kampala Marathon is more of an event than a race.  If you found this post because you were searching for this marathon on Google and are trying to decide whether or not to run it, here is what I would say:

If you’re looking to run your first marathon (in the full sense of the word), this is probably not your best option.  If you are looking to set a PR, this once again isn’t a good choice: the full marathon might be a bit less crowded than the 10k, but even so, the course is rather hilly. Additionally, a friend of ours who ran the full marathon in well under 4 hours said that by the time she was nearing the finish, they had opened the course to traffic.

That being said, this race is quite the spectacle.  If you’re going to be in or near Uganda anyway, it’s definitely worth your time — even though it will be more of your time than normal.

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