It was a dark and foggy morning on 2 December, waking up at 04h00 to set off for the UltraMARAthon race. A much-anticipated marathon that started in 2020, the event is a unique 50km single-day footrace through the conservancies of the northern Maasai Mara. Participants can either run as individuals or as part of a relay team and all proceeds from the event go to protecting wildlife and the environment, as well as enhancing the lives of community members in the area.
On this day, I was travelling with the Angama Running Club (ARC) as seven of its members were competing in different events. In the men's individual 50km race we had Isaiah Mukanda; doing the individual 25km we had Robert Museini and Benard Ntooto; and then finally, our 50km relay team (4x12.5km) was made up of Samuel Limo, Simon Kipgosgei, Joel Thuo and Elkana Leslie. It had rained heavily the night before so the ground had been transformed into a muddy wonderland but there was still a sense of wonder as few sporting events around the world are placed against the backdrop of wild animals in the open savanna.
A typical marathon is 42km but what makes an UltraMARAthon is a 50km distance — this race is not for the faint of heart. Kenyan runners are known to be some of the best in the world and the conditions were not going to stop these athletes from competing and putting their bodies to the test. Not only do the runners deal with the muddy terrain, but after the sun comes up, the heat is intense and unforgiving.
There was much anticipation in the air and as the race began everyone was full of determination. We joined ARC coach (and Head of Security at Angama Mara), John Wayongo, who drove behind the runners encouraging them as they ran. As it was still cold and wet, the runners struggled to make their way through the boggy terrain; every step towards the finish was a struggle. Our vehicle even got stuck at one point and we needed help to get out.
ARC had already established a lead in the relay by the second of four legs. Moving swiftly and consistently, the team reached the final leg in just over two hours. Knowing that his team was in first place, Elkano, the final runner, received his baton (a small beaded rungu) and burst through the mud hurtling towards the finish line. In just under three hours, he finished the race at 02:59:00 and the team celebrated their victory together.
Julius Mwangi won the men's individual race with a time of 03:17:00 and the women's race was won by Lene Haaland, with a time of 05:19:30.
The win and great results for the ARC runners come as no surprise as the club consistently trains and runs with guests around the wonderful high-altitude escapement. Ubuntu is a core value at Angama — meaning 'I am because we are' — and it is seen here by the team's achievements. Perhaps more important than winning the race is the appreciation for what the race represents — an experience etched in memory and a testament to endurance, teamwork, resilience and love for the natural world.
Filed under: Stories From The Mara
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