Monumental Rwenzori marathon to champion conservation, tourism

Wekesa and Kabushenga say the marathon has attracted some international runners and this will create awareness about Rwenzori, key among them the fact that it is the source of much of the country’s fresh water. PHOTO/COURTESY.  

What you need to know:

About 2,000 runners are expected to grace today’s innagural TuskerLite Rwenzori Marathon on the slopes of Mt Rwenzori in Kasese

Mountain Rwenzori, the third highest mountain in Africa after Kilimanjaro and Kenya, is a uniquely beautiful feature for its snow-capped tops.

The mountain’s ranges are a combination of beautiful peaks, glaciers, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, and various species of flora and fauna, making the Rwenzori scenic.

Although, this should be one of the biggest attractions for local and foreign visitors, the mountain barely attracts a fraction of the 35,000 visitors who visit Mt Kilimanjaro.

But Amos Wekesa, a tour operator and Robert Kabushenga, former Chief Executive Officer of Vision group, want to change this narrative by leading a travel and tourism initiative dubbed ‘Tusker Lite Rwenzori Mountain Marathon’. This is aimed at positioning and showcasing the Rwenzoris to the local and international tourists for the uniqueness.

The marathon will take place at the foot of the mountain located in Kasese, western Uganda today, September 3 .

“We saw what had happened in Tanzania on Kilimanjaro Mountain and we thought we could replicate that on our own mountain. Kasese is beautiful and very safe,” Kabushenga says, describing the Rwenzoris as extremely tough and ‘whose experience climbing is difficult to narrate to another adequately and fully.’

“To understand it, you must go through it, and feel the pain that it inflicts on you, the hardship, and the effort required going through it and coming back. It is actually called a technical mountain. It might not be the highest, but it is the hardest mountain to climb in Africa. It is extremely hard to climb,” Kabushenga explains.

According to Wekesa, the Rwenzoris, a set of five ranges are 120 kilometres long and 143 kilometres wide. This means one can do very many different activities and can accommodate four to five times more climbers than on any African Mountain because of its length and beauty.

“We managed (to hike it) because we are mentally and physically fit, but the challenges are that the higher you go, the thinner the oxygen. You also must know that there is altitude sickness and so hiking is tough. Sometimes you climb for 15 – 18 hours a day,” 49-year-old Wekesa, narrates.

In the wider perspective, the marathon is geared towards exposing domestic tourists, and foreign ones alike, to tourist attractions in the Kasese tourism region.

They include Rwenzori National Park that’s home to giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias, Queen Elizabeth National Park which is home to a variety of wildlife, different bird species, flora and fauna which can also be seen along the 34-kilometre long Kazinga Channel that connects lakes George and Edward.

As such, Kabushenga is confident that the marathon is surely going to create awareness about Rwenzori, key among them the fact that it is the source of much of the country’s fresh water.

A conversation about climate change should be important too.

“We saw how things are changing; the gracias are all drying up, all the streams and rivers that used to be there are drying up. We might be headed for a freshwater crisis,” Kabushenga, also a zealous agriculturalist, elucidates.

He is encouraged that many Ugandans have shown immense interest in participating in the various marathons and runs that have been organised within Kampala and the out-of-town environment will provide marathon enthusiasts with a unique experience in a picturesque and scenic setting.

Elizabeth Mutamuliza, the Tusker Lite Brand Manager says they are pushing the envelope with the Rwenzori Marathon as an opportunity to explore the great outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of Kampala City.

“Someone mentioned the other day that boda bodas are shouting at you while running in Kampala. The people who seek adventure will participate in the marathon and will support the tourism and hospitality economy of Kasese by occupying accommodation facilities, feeding in restaurants, on the streets, bars, and other businesses,” Mutamuliza explains.

Kabushenga says they are targeting Ugandans who love running and would go anywhere for the sake of running- many run in groups and can travel to different places to run. “Some of them go to Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to take part in runs there so we want to create our own that is challenging. We also want to have some international runners who appreciate why running in a marathon is extremely hard,” Kabushenga further explains, adding that the marathon has already attracted interest with many making inquiries and payments to participate in the five-kilometre run.

Wekesa expects 2,000 runners and expresses fears whether Kasese will be able to take in and accommodate the visitors.

“Investors or those with resources would need to smell the coffee and put up the necessary infrastructure to tap into the opportunity events like the marathon present to the tourism cluster,” he says.

“If you assure people of continuation, what is going to happen is that people are going to invest, and investment follows opportunity. It’s good we have got good partners coming on board.”

According to kabushenga, even if someone cannot find a shoe, he or she can still run for the benefit of being healthy. It is one of the most effective forms of exercises that you could find.

“The altitude in Kasese is much higher than what most of the runners are used to in Uganda. The air is slightly thinner so it will test your endurance and the ability to go through such strain,” Kabushenga says, adding that discipline to run at a particular pace, to understand your body as the run tests your resolve and will to take on difficult things, will be key.

High endurance running has found fame in many parts of the world, including Africa. In South Africa, for instance, the Comrades Marathon, an ultramarathon of approximately 89 kilometres which is run annually in the KwaZulu-Natal province between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race that was started in 1921.

Uganda can also benchmark the 20-year-old Kili Marathon for its iconic nature. It takes place at the end of February, sometimes at the beginning of March when Tanzanians and avid international athletes and sportsmen run a standard 42.2-kilometre marathon, a 21.1-kilometre half marathon, and a five-kilometre fun run in the town of Moshi in Tanzania.

Besides tourism, marathon running is one of the most effective exercises, and the least cost and affordable way to keep in shape. The marathon is set to marry sports, health, conventional and agro tourism with an appreciation of coffee which is grown in the highlands.

Kabushenga feels (very) passionate about Uganda using her national assets properly especially those that are unique to Uganda and are nature given and are unreplicable.

To celebrate the majestic beauty of Rwenzori, the initial edition of the Tusker Lite Marathon is slated to encompass folks eliciting their fun side through after-parties and a concert to crown the event.

“We are looking at growing the marathon through a long-time partnership. We are not in it for one year, our ambition is to grow this marathon to the level of the Kilimanjaro marathon and have it on the world athletics calendar,” Mutamuliza further explains.

According to information from the  official website www.mtrwenzorimarathon.com, transport and accommodation will be handled by Tripesa, a digital platform that enables tourism businesses in Africa to do business and thrive online.

Tripesa has built a website (www.visitrwenzori.com) and is working with over 100 hotels in the Kasese region to increase hotel bookings not just for the festival, but for the future.

Accordingly, all hotels on the website have been vetted by the Kasese Tourism Investor’s Forum, an association that represents the interests of tourism stakeholders in Kasese.

There will be a warmup by participants between 6:10 and 6:30 am. The flag off will be at 6:40am for those running 42 kilometres and at 7am, those going for the 21-kilometre run will be flagged off.

At 7:40am, those prepared to run the five-kilometre marathon will be flagged off too and at 8:30am, it will be time to cool down and stretch. There will be entertainment at 9am and speeches at 10a.m.

There will be more entertainment at midday and expectedly to the dying hours of the night. The monumental event will ultimately champion healthier lifestyles and reminds us of the need to conserve our environment.

RULES

According to the official marathon website, www.mtrwenzorimarathon.com, participants of the full and half marathon (42km and 21km) must be over 18 years of age and those in the Family Fun Run under the age of 18 years, must be accompanied at all times by a responsible adult.

You should be in good health and physical condition and prepared to take on the challenge of the race for which they are entered to participate in. Pet animals, whether on a leash or not, are not allowed on the course.

Participants are obliged to follow the instructions of stewards, always run officials or Uganda traffic Police. Plus, the organisers reserve the right of admission and to use the participant’s motion pictures, recordings or any other records obtained for any legitimate purposes, including commercial advertising by sponsors of the event.

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