By Bryony, HR Manager
7 1/2 hours of sweat, uphill graft, tonsillitis, dust and 'African running tummy' not to mention the sheer exhilaration of running alongside a barefoot 5 year old who quite simply delighted in just holding my hand - these were some of the emotions I experienced during the Uganda International marathon (UGM).
6 months ago, in the usual, heady, Christmas party fashion I had ‘one too many’ and decided to encourage my colleague Matt to join me in tackling an East African marathon on June 5th 2016. Little did I know that this would not only be a life changing and inspiring journey but would also cement a true friendship that may never have surfaced had we not been thrown into this whirlwind adventure. Six months later, following many long Sunday training runs which deluded me into considering myself a 'runner' we left Gatwick for East Africa.
Arriving in Masaka, Uganda after a straight 24 hours of travel and then driving through the night, the sun was just coming up and the true enormity of what we had taken on started to sink in, but not quite. Met at the campsite by Lizzie, the camp organiser de vivre, we sank into two plastic chairs and watched dawn breaking with a not so English brew in hand. From the top of the hill all the early arriver campers set off on a 5k, led by the camp raving lunatic and face of the marathon, Mark. To those of you who run regularly, you may consider a mere 5k a short training run, as did I. How wrong I was! Watching runners (who incidentally looked far fitter than me) return after a 'tough' run, dripping with sweat, first thing in the morning when the sun was only peeking out from behind dawn clouds, the anxiety set in for Sunday's looming race!
So how would the UGM team motivate all of these people who had travelled far and wide to run through the steep hills to raise money for the local projects? Simple. Show them what a difference one single day can make.
First day and with very little sleep, Matt and I along with a coach full of enthusiastic campers travelled to a local rural home for the day. Organised through Action for Integrated Community Development (AICOD) charity, one of UGM's projects for 2016, we spent the day building a fence for a young Ugandan living with Asperger syndrome. Despite the fact that due to lack of resource and understanding he had spent much of his early childhood tied up to a tree to prevent mishaps while his mother went out to work, here was a happy content and very cuddly young boy. Many of the villagers, including lots of keen-bean kids, visited during the day to see what we were doing and learn more about disabilities. What struck me throughout the day was how free these children were, with not an iScreen in sight. The tree swing we constructed out of tyres and wood was a revelation to them. Feeling humbled, spoilt with affection and grateful for lifes’ simple pleasures, we left their home that day elated and truly fulfilled. Wow.
Fast forward two days, add in a bout of tonsillitis and a couple of nights unfulfilling tent sleep, with our 4am wake up call, two toilet trips and plenty of water, we set off at 7am to tackle 26.2 miles of Ugandan terrain. We were met with stunning views, loud chorus from many of the Ugandan churches we ran past and lots and lots of kids! It was HOT! The hills were long and whilst I thought jogging up and down to Greenwich observatory a couple of times would stand me in good stead I couldn’t have been more wrong! And, the community was out in full force. The trail was peppered with families and children spurring us on, young children would run up to us and alongside us just for the chance of a high five or if dreams came true, a jelly baby. One little boy ran the last 12 miles with us. As I was struggling up the aptly named 'beast' hill for the second time - he calmly and gently stuck by my side, nipping off every now and then to go for a wee or pick himself up a snack. His reward? A balloon when he crossed the finish line - he may as well have won the lottery when he beamed back at us and trotted back to wherever he came from, not a bead of sweat in sight. This race was, and is, quite literally like no other.
So why am I writing this and what did I come away with? A full heart, a good friend and inspiration to encourage other colleagues to take on a challenge.
Matt and I were lucky enough to have all our colleagues behind us - both in fundraising and in spirit, the joy it gave us to hand out all of the arts and crafts equipment our team had donated lifted all of my tired limbs the following day. Since returning to the 'norm', I have realised that however small the change, working together to make a difference impacts our lives and our employee community in a monumental way. As Ellie described it last year, step outside the comfort zone of slick organisation and goodie-bag treats, and experience something really different. You won’t regret it.
If you would like to get involved in the Uganda Marathon or any of its projects you can read more here. Lubbock Fine raised money for Teach a Man to Fish, if you would like to sponsor us worthy runners you can do so here.