The Kilimarathon has been near the top of my list of ‘races to do around the world’ for some time now. I opted for the Half Marathon on this occasion, being the sensible option considering the package I booked involves starting a 6 day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro the following day.
Along with my mother (who returns to East Africa after 40 years having grown up in Kenya) and brother, we arrived in Moshi a couple of days in advance to prepare. Signs for the race were up everywhere and people of all ages were constantly asking us whether we are here for the running. This is my fourth visit to Tanzania and I have always known it to be one of the most friendly countries I have visited in Africa. But the usual formalities of ‘habari yako?’ or ‘mambo vipi?’ were for this weekend replaced with ’21 or 42kms?!’
There was a steady stream of people jogging towards the stadium at 6am. The early start time of 7am was designed to beat the worst of the heat. The marathon runners were getting in position as my brother and I arrived and we stood up in the stands as the excitement grew and the sun began to appear over the horizon behind Mawenzi Peak, the second highest on Mt. Kilimanjaro. Any tiredness felt from the early start was soon dispelled by the loud music and dj getting everyone fired up.
The start line outside the stadium was noisy and we missed the actual gun going off. I joined a running club last year and have spent the past few months working on speed to try and get PBs in a number of distances. Today was all about enjoying the race and conserving energy ahead of the climb though so the crowded start and first few km I took in my stride. Even if I had wanted to go for a PB it would have been impossible. Hundreds of people lined the route and I have never hi-fived so many kids whilst running before.
The half marathon route heads north from town and is a tough uphill run for the first 9km or so. You soon leave the built up town of Moshi and run into more rural communities. A section here was off the Tarmac and fortunately shaded amongst row after row of banana plantations. They were also interspersed with coffee trees, several huge red termite mounds and many groups of enthusiastic kids cheering you on.
By the time I reached the highest point before the long downhill stretch the sun was high in the sky and beating down. Coming from a cold UK winter it was tough but there were plenty of water stops and the occasional shower en route. As someone who gave up using plastic over a year ago it was great to hear about the ‘going green’ initiative at this year’s race and later see the cyclists with big carts on the back riding up and down to collect all the waste to be disposed of properly.
Obviously the most incredible aspect of the race is running below the magnificent snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and largest free-standing mountain in the world. Equally impressive, too, was being overtaken by the elite men’s marathon runners – who only started their race half an hour before me – as they glided past with 3kms to go. As the race entered those final few kilometres thoughts turned towards setting off tomorrow morning on the trek to the summit.
Back in Moshi, the crowds and noise grew and we were cheered by thousands in the stadium as the finish line appeared around the track. It was hot and humid, I felt quite drained by the end, but it was certainly one of the best races I have ever participated in. As great as the half was, I’m sure I’ll be back for the full marathon one day!
Written by: Andy Stephens – 21km competitor