01 April 2016, 7am
Sun 28 February 2016
Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, dominates the Tanzanian countryside for miles around.
Coming to run the Kilimanjaro Marathon here must be near the top of any runners’ must-do list especially as there are packages which include a six-day climb to the top of the mountain after the race. I opted to run the Half Marathon because I had booked myself on just such a package, starting the following day.
I 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 were there for the run. It was my fourth visit to Tanzania and I have always found it one of the most friendly countries I have visited. But the usual formalities of ‘habari yako?’ or ‘mambo vipi?’ were for this weekend replaced with ’21 or 42km?’
There was a steady stream of people jogging towards the stadium at six in the morning. The early start time of 07.00 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. The sun began to appear over the horizon behind Mawenzi Peak, the second highest on Mt. Kilimanjaro, as the loud music and a dj started getting everyone fired up.
The start line outside the stadium was so noisy that we missed the sound of the gun firing. Despite having spent the past few months training with the target of setting personal best times today was about enjoying the race and conserving energy ahead of the climb. Even if I had wanted to go for a PB it would have been impossible. Hundreds of people lined the route; I have never hi-fived so many kids while running before.
The half marathon route heads north from town and it’s a tough uphill climb for the first 9km or so. You soon leave the built up town of Moshi and run into more rural communities. One section was an off-road track and row after row of banana trees helpfully provided us with shade. They were interspersed with coffee trees, several huge red termite mounds and many groups of enthusiastic kids cheering us on.
By the time I reached the highest point of the course, before the long downhill stretch back towards town, the sun was high in the sky and beating down. Coming from a North European winter I found it hard going but there were plenty of water stops and the occasional shower en route. The ‘going green’ initiative at this year’s race was in evidence as cyclists with big carts on the back rode up and down the course collecting waste.
Indelible on the memory is the experience of running below the magnificent, regal snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. Also impressive was the much closer view we had of the elite men in the marathon — who started half an hour before us but had to run the first half of the Marathon out-back on the Moshi to Dar Es Salaam road. They glided past me with 3km to go.
As we returned to Moshi the crowds grew thicker and the noise louder; and as we entered the stadium we were cheered by thousands. The finish line appeared around the track in the heat and humidity almost as a mirage. Despite my contained effort I felt quite drained by the end but it was certainly one of the best races I have ever run. As great as the half was I’m sure I’ll be back for the full marathon one day.
Charlotte Schmidt, a Danish expat mother of two baby girls resident in Dar es Salaam adds:
Living in Dar-Es- Salaam has not offered best training conditions: I have been struggling with the heat and the hectic traffic during training. I only focused my training on the Kilimanjaro Marathon (I mean the half marathon there) in January.
But after a good night’s sleep (despite a bit of noise from the wildlife outside) I got up at 04.00 had breakfast and took the shuttle to the race. It was pitch black when the driver dropped us off. I stood at the start line with butterflies in my stomach and at 07.00 we took off. I had placed myself in the middle of the massive crowd (a bad decision) and found groups already walking ahead of me. Despite that frustration I knew I was just starting this wonderful journey and I wanted it to be a fun experience.
Right after we started the temperature was already rising but my training in the hot morning hours of Dar Es Salaam were now going to pay off. Mentally I felt good. After 7km I saw other runners had stopped to take photos of something to their right hand side. When I looked their way I was blown away by the stunning view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. I never thought I would stop in a race to take photos, but in this breathtaking moment I succumbed. I wasn’t worried about losing time I was just pleased see such an amazing scenery. The meeting with Mt. Kilimanjaro gave me and the other runners a fresh boost of energy; all of us were smiling at each other while we continued the race.
After about 10km we finally turned back downhill. Suddenly I felt like I could keep running forever: a feeling of relief and happiness. But then the top marathon runners flashed by. They looked so easy running at a speed that I don’t even dream about. I cheered them on as they overtook.
Approaching the stadium I could hear the crowds cheering. People were lined up everywhere watching the race. They provided a much needed rush of adrenaline to spur me on to the finishing line.