Edward and Lisa- Blog Post From Kenya

Hold onto dreams, For if dreams die, Life is like a broken-winged bird, That cannot fly.. Hold fast to dreams, For when dreams go, Life is a barren field, Frozen with snow. (Langston Hughes)

Three weeks ago, on our wedding day, the priest at our service read a Langston Hughes quote reminding us to “hold fast to our dreams”.  The start of a marriage feels like the perfect beginning for dreams filled with endless possibility. The beginning of our journey has taken us to Kenya.

Gideon home 9

Gideon home 1

Having hosted Gideon at our home in Bristol for the Bath Half Marathon in March we were so thrilled to be able to come to his home here in Kenya and to spend time with his family. In Bristol we talked a lot about where Gideon’s passion for running came from and what motivated his endless and gruelling training sessions. He told us, “whenever you help me here it just doesn’t help me, it helps more and more people”, something that we have only just come to understand.  Gideon is a man with incredible responsibility. He is the sole provider for his parents, ten brothers and sisters and their children, his own wife, daughter and two nephews who he adopted after his brother passed away. Despite all this his generosity appears endless and we witnessed him give freely to those in his community who don’t have enough to eat.

Gideon home 2

Gideon home 4

Gideon built his home from trees planted and grown by his father and grandfather. We were honoured to sleep in one of these wooden huts where our mornings were filled with sounds of roosters crowing and sheep, goats and a cow ran freely past our window, all of which the money from his winnings at the Cardiff Half Marathon, Bath Half Marathon, Belfast Full and Half Marathons etc. have permitted. With no electricity a paraffin lantern illuminated our nights filled with conversation and laughter – in these moments life for us felt very much filled with perfect dreams.

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photo 3 (1)

Our time with Gideon, however, was also dominated by trips to the local government hospital. Gideon had informed us about his father, James, being unwell and we arrived to find a man so incredibly warm in his welcome and delighted to hear us greet him with the local Kalenjin language. He was wearing a running top from the Carmen 10Km, surely a gift from Gideon and his races at home. The ward was overcrowded and there were no doctors that we could speak to.

The next day things seemed worse. James looked unwell and his abdomen was severely distended. An x-ray had been done and we were able to ascertain that he had a hernia causing a large bowel obstruction – in the UK or indeed anywhere in the world this is a textbook emergency. We were able to speak to a doctor who agreed that he needed immediate surgery. However, things were slow and we frequently struggled to understand what was happening. Eventually we were informed that the hospital did not have a surgeon and Gideon arranged for an ambulance to take his father to the nearest hospital, still a two hour drive away. However, when we arrived the only hope that he had we were informed that the hospital had no electricity and with no functioning generator we both knew that the hope was no more. Gideon and his brothers held their father’s hand as the hours disappeared and just as the “emergency” theatre that he needed slipped away so too did Gideon’s father.

James Kimosop died last night at 1am. He was 64 years old.

Gideon home 6

Gideon and his brothers did everything that they could in a world filled with complex challenges that we can never fully comprehend and cruel harshness that we will never know.

Having been to Uganda numerous times and experienced how limited resources are within a medical setting, perhaps we should have been more prepared for the devastation that we feel at the loss of Gideon’s father in Kenya. It has even been suggested that we should have “expected” it, “TIA (this is Africa)” and yet our hearts feel broken at this entirely unnecessary loss. Yesterday was the London Marathon and Jemina Sumgong, despite falling got back up and went on to win the race. This is the Kenyan spirit that we have witnessed in Gideon, a gentle, kind, modest man. We can only hope that when the time is right he too will find the strength to get back up.

Hold fast to dreams Gideon.

NB-If you wish to make a small donation to Gideon and his family, you can do so by clicking the link below

PayPal+donate

Hold fast

Edward and Lisa.

 

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Once a Hero….But Not Always a Hero

“From Nothing to Something”

What happens when you have been at the very top…The pinnacle of your sport… Once a hero…A superstar… An Olympic champion… You have experienced it all… Traveled the world… Been to every award ceremony and function there is… Competed against the best and beat the best… But then, with some ill fate, you suddenly find yourself at the lowest slums far away from the glitz and glamour of previous success. When all is said and done. When the glitz and glamour has finished.. What happens then?

Irene Kosgei on the podium in Delhi (Gold medal)
Irene Kosgei on the podium in Delhi (Gold medal)

I have spent 5 weeks with the athletes of Solian Athletics Camp, and during that time I have met and spent time with many world class athletes, past and present . Athletes such as William Tanui- 1992 Barcelona Olympic 800 metre Champion. Irene Kosgei- 2010 Commonwealth Games Marathon Champion (pictured above) and Charles Cheruiyot- 2 times Olympian and former world junior 3000 metre record holder.. All athletes who have been at the very top. Experienced the pinnacle of their sport. But for one reason or another they now find themselves far away from the riches they once knew. They now find themselves in a desperate struggle making ends meat just to survive. Going from something.. To nothing. Let me tell you how I met each of these athletes and how I got to understand their struggles. William Tanui was my driver from Kapchorwa to Solian. A good friend to Walter Chumo- Solian Athletics Camp founder (and my main point of contact throughout this trip). I never realised William was an Olympic champion until I seen a picture hanging in his home from the 92 games. I asked him what position he finished. Number one he said!! An unassuming character, William now makes a living working with Walter in Nairobi- cleaning cars, driving people like me around. He has very little involvement in athletics these days.. I was shocked when I heard how he earned a living. This man is an Olympic Champion!! He should not be driving me around!! It should be the other way around..

William Tanu, Barcelona Olympics 1992 gold medalist. Project Africa supporter and member
William Tanu, Barcelona Olympics 1992 gold medalist. Project Africa supporter and member
William and his team-mate after their Barcelona 1 and 2
With William, Walter and the 2 athletes coming from Frankfurt Marathon
With William, Walter and the 2 athletes coming from Frankfurt Marathon

I met Irene while out jogging one day. We noticed a farmer in a nearby field struggling with harvesting maize. Nothing new here I told myself. This is Africa.. But then one of the athletes I was jogging with asked did I know who the farmer was? I had no idea. He replied it was former Commonwealth Games Marathon Champion Irene Kosgi. I insisted we stopped for a chat.  After a while she tells us about her life as an elite athlete. Travelling all over the world, signing big money contracts with NIKE etc. However, injury struck and it was all gone. Just like that she was dropped. Dropped from her management company. Dropped from her NIKE contract.  Cancelled indefinitely.

Commonwealth Games gold medal and world championships team gold
Commonwealth Games gold medal and world championships team gold

Irene explains in detail the race in New Delhi, and how she had to struggle after falling at the start of the race.. But nothing like now as she struggles with her crops.. Struggles to survive.. Sport can be cruel. Life even more so…

Winning gold in Delhi
Winning gold in Delhi

I met Charles at a school closing day where I was invited along to talk to the pupils. Kids would come up and shake my hand and request photos. I had no clue as to who Charles was. His career was before my time. But at the function I was standing beside this old man. Eventually we got talking and I found out his full story- I was standing beside a 2 time Olympian.. A former junior world record holder and American scholar, studying economics in New York for 4 years before pursuing athletics professionally for another 15 years during the 80s and 90s. What I couldn’t understand was why the kids where shaking my hand?  Asking me for photos? I have never achieved anything!! This man beside me is a legend of our sport.. But now just a peasant farmer in a local village in rural Kenya.. How can this be?

Charles, and his twin brother back in the glory days
Charles, and his twin brother back in the glory days
With Charles Cheryiout, 2 time Olympian and former world record holder.
With Charles now- 2 time Olympian and former world record holder.

Solian is a small village, hidden away deep in the great rift valley of Kenya. At first glance it seems like any other village in Africa.. But when you delve deeper into the area you begin to realise that you are in the presence of greatness.. Without even knowing it. People like William, Charles and Irene are just normal humble people, earning a living through farming and other small scale businesses. They are people who have been to the very top. But are now back where they started from. “From grace to grass” someone said. Project Africa Athletics must give exposure to these past champions. They have a story to tell.. They can be great assets to young athletes coming up today. In 2015 we will work closely with each of the guys mentioned above to see how their expertise can be utilized to its fullest.

The Secrets to Success

The athletes of Solian Athletics Camp
The athletes of Solian Athletics Camp
Future Champions
Future Champions

The athletes of Solian Athletics Camp are a group of 20 elite runners, of which a number have competed in Europe and Asia before. But quite a few have yet to have that opportunity. There weekly training program looks something like this- Monday– 1hr 10mins “dash” (fast) Tuesday– 6am- 40mins easy, 10am- 50mins fartlek (1min slow, 1min fast) 5pm- 40/50mins jog Wednesday– 6am- 40mins easy.. 10am- Circuits/Exercises.. 5pm- 30mins jog Thursday– 6am- 40mins easy.. 10am- 1hour fartlek (3mins fast 1min slow) Friday– 10am- Hill work Saturday– 5:30am- 35/40km progression run (starting slow, finish fast) Sunday– REST

Amos in Training
Amos in Training
The athletes of Solian Athletics Camp

And I think I have discovered the secret to the Kenyan distance running supremacy. I believe it boils down to the above training program plus 4 additional factors- 1) “Mursik”- Also known as sour milk to me and you. You just add charcoal from a “special tree” that is only grown in Kenya, leave it sitting for 4 days in a warm place and then you drink..  Kenyan athletes (The Kalenjin tribe particularly) swear by this receipt.. At first I wasn’t a fan, but with time I began to like. Its very bitter and sweet.. I may even make some when I arrive back in Ireland. 2) Is the altitude. Solian sits at around 6000/7000ft altitude. Training at that altitude develops the lungs and naturally develops more red blood cells.. No EPO required!! Just hard honest training.. 3) Is “Ugali”- The famous athlete diet of Kenya. Every day consists of Ugali.. Morning, noon and night.. Its a mixture of maize flour and water. All athletes swear by this stuff. I could add in tea as number 4, because in Kenya, and especially the athletes, any time is tea time. I drank 30 cups of tea one day. This is no exaggeration either.. Genuinely I drank 30 cups of tea!!

The most important piece of equipment at the camp
The most important piece of equipment at the camp
Drinking Mursik from a traditional calabash
Drinking Mursik from a traditional calabash
More tea? Sure why not!!
More tea? Sure why not!!

Daniel Chepyegon- 2:08 Marathoner

With Dan and his family in Solian
With Dan and his family in Solian

One athlete who trains at the camp and who I spent allot of time with during my stay in Solian was Daniel Chepyegon- former Ugandan marathon record holder with a P:B of 2hrs 8 minutes. Daniel is a world class athlete, and like most of the athletes I have met, is a humble guy struggling to make a decent living as a professional athlete. Professional athletics is not easy. Especially in Uganda and Kenya. However, a guy who can run 2:08 for the marathon should not be struggling to make a living in the sport.. For this I blame the athlete managers and agents. Not once has a manager or agent come to Solian and understood the struggles these athletes endure day in day out. All the athletes need is a fair chance. They struggle day in day out in training for a fair chance. And when they get a chance to compete abroad an agent will skin them for every penny they have. 15% deduction here, another 15% there, in total an athlete like Daniel will return home from a race in Europe with maybe $100.. Sometimes he returns home with nothing..

Daniel (in red) after training.
Dan training with the group (In red)

Athlete exploitation by managers is common practice here in Africa. That is obvious.. Led by European agents, athletes are easily exploited because of the difficult circumstances they find themselves in locally. In future Project Africa Athletics hope to give athletes a fair chance. A chance to earn a living. A chance to realise their talents and pursue their dreams.

MTN Kampala Marathon

We organised for 6 of the Solian athletes to attend the MTN Kampala marathon on Sunday past. For a few of the athletes this was their first experience travelling outside the camp. Organising this trip was not easy- our planned transport let us down a few hours before we were due to travel so we had go by public means to Kampala. From Solian to Kampala is an all day journey by matatu (Kenyan taxi). Couple that with crammed taxis and bad roads, the journey was one I will never forget.. And one I don’t want to relive again.

The guys relaxing before the race
The guys relaxing before the race
Some of the athletes relaxing before the race
Some of the athletes relaxing before the race

On the morning of the race we set off from our accommodation at 5am. The MTN marathon is as tough a race as you will see anywhere in the world. Vincent Kiprotich from the Solian camp finished 10th in the 10km. A few weeks back he ran the Frankfurt marathon to finish 17th. A young man who can run fast times next season provided he is given the opportunity to race frequently. Solians only lady representative finished 9th in her first 21km race. Another athlete who can perform very well next season so long as the opportunities are there. The other 4 athletes where in the 42km and finished in the top 15 (despite 3 of them missing the start by 5mins because of the organisers decided to start the race early!!) In total there were almost 30 thousand runners (an event I would not like to be organising).

Selinah.. Position 9 at the Kampala marathon
Selinah.. Position 9 at the Kampala marathon
Vincent and his wife at his place in Solian before travelling to Kampala
Vincent and his wife at his place in Solian before travelling to Kampala
Kampala 10km startline
Kampala 10km startline

Its worth noting that Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation, where I had spent 3 weeks previous to Solian had 3 winners on Sunday- all be in from past athletes. Alex Cherop won the 10km, Stella Chesang won the 21km ladys race and Nathan Ayeko winning the 21km.. Athletes who would still be with the foundation were the correct facilities in place.

The Final Journey

The MTN marathon draws the curtain on my time here in Africa, with a few more days in Kampala with John Chebaibai of Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation before I fly back to the Emerald Isle. Once I arrive back in the UK and Ireland the hard work will start on this project. We want to give our athletes opportunities to race all over the globe but firstly, we must register with IAAF and we hope to bring a number of athletes to the UK and Ireland early next year for some races and exposure to racing outside of Uganda and Kenya. We will also be undertaking a major fundraising initiative. By the end of 2015 we hope to have raised enough funds to construct a training camp for our athletes. With Rio 2016 just around the corner, as well as Uganda being selected to host the World Cross Country Championships in 2017, we hope to have a number of our athletes competing at these prestigious events. Our plans are ambitious but achievable. Through proper planning, development and fundraising I see no reason why these aims cannot be achieved. And even the 2017 World Athletics Championships are being hosted at the Olympic Stadium in London. Its like a home games all over again!! I have been in Africa for over 3 months, travelling to some of the most remote areas of East Africa to understand the athletes, their lives, the communities in which they come from and the challenges they face on a daily basis. What I have found out is that it is not easy making it as an elite runner in Africa. Especially from deep in the rural villages where our programs are running. Our motto for 2015 will be “from nothing.. to something”.. This applies to both ourselves as an organisation and the athletes we work with..We both can come from nothing.. And achieve something… I honestly think 2015 could be good for something..

Thanks for everything
“The Final Journey”

The Undulating Journey of the Forgotten Runner

“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible”

The Home of Champions
The Home of Champions

Every morning, as dawn breaks across the mountains and hills of Eastern Uganda, at almost 8000ft above sea level, a series of shadowy figures emerge from their wooden shelter to begin the first of the day’s extended runs. All driven by one ambition – to conquer the world of long distance running. Just like their neighbours Kiprotich and Kipsiro before them. Some of the runners barely have shoes to train in.. Others have no shoes at all.. Regardless, as a group, they slip away into the mist- motivated, driven and determined to one day emulate their hero’s and bring gold back to the hills of Kapchorwa.

These are the unknown runners of Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation, based in a small remote village called Cheminy, nestled at altitude on the slopes of Mt Elgon, Ugandas highest peak.

The athletes of Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation
Some with running shoes.. Some without.
Some with running shoes.. Some without.

I have been here for almost 3 weeks now, living with and studying the athletes of Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation. The air is thin. The scenery breathtaking. “We are almost in heaven” Pastor Alfred says. Pastor is the executive director of Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation and Cheminy Christain Junior Academy where the foundation is based. Both the school and foundation are fully integrated, with the senior athletes living in a small wooden hut based inside the school compound. There are approximately 15 athletes living in the camp, with around 30 others joining from surrounding areas for morning, mid morning and evening training sessions.

Kapchorwa Day 4 001
KAF Office

The nearest town to Cheminy is 21km away and only accessible via an undulating journey via rocks, valleys and a dirt road which becomes impassable at the first site of rain.

The road between Cheminy and Kapchorwa, the nearest town 21km away.
The road between Cheminy and Kapchorwa, the nearest town 21km away.
THe rod between Cheminy village and Kapchorwa town, 21km away
THe rod between Cheminy village and Kapchorwa town, 21km away
What happens the car when you drive on these roads
Kapchorwa Car Crash 038
The M65 between Cheminy and Kapchorwa town

A typical training week for the athletes consists of Monday/Wednesday morning long runs and easy 40/50 jogging in evening plus “exercises” (variety of gym, circuits, core etc). Mid morning on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday is speed work on track or road (reps, fartlek etc) with morning and evening filled with easy jogging and stretching. Sunday is complete rest with many choosing to attend church, relax and wash whatever small clothes they may have in their possession.

KAF athletes in the gym
KAF athletes in the gym
Over 8000ft above sea level here in Kapchorwa (according to my I-Phone App)
Over 8000ft above sea level here in Kapchorwa (according to my I-Phone App)

I sometimes join the athletes on their morning run and there is no doubting that these hills are unforgiving for an amateur like me. The local kids laugh hysterically when they see me jogging through the village. When I jogged the other day I had upwards of 30 kids join me.. I found it difficult to keep up!! I ask pastor the last time a “mazungo” visited this area- “around 1999” he says.

The Kapchorwa Mountains
Cheminy Christina Academy School Children

The Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation was set up in 2009 to assist athletes within the greater Kapchorwa area who lacked adequate support to further their running careers. It aims to empower people through athletics and sport. It is an initiative set up by foundation chairman John Chebaibai and Pastor Alfred. John has been with me throughout my visit and we have discussed, evaluated and implemented a number of programs for the foundation, starting immediately and for the future. Both John and Alfred have nurtured many athletes since the foundations inception in 2009 namely- Stella Chesang (world mountain running junior champion 2014), Nathan Ayeko (bronze medallist world mountain running championships) and Peter Kibet (international marathon runner).

        

Former KAF athlete Stella Chesang winning the recent World Mountain Running Junior race in Italy
Former KAF athlete Stella Chesang winning the recent World Mountain Running Junior race in Italy
Former KAF athletes before the recent 21km race in Kapchorwa
Former KAF athletes before the recent 21km race in Kapchorwa

However, because of lack of facilities and support, the foundation has failed to sustain many of the top athletes. John explains the problem they face- “we set up the foundation to help support athletes in the area of Kapchorwa. No such camps currently exist here but the talent base is huge. Many athletes are lost to the sport because of lack of support and opportunities”. “When one athlete succeeds we fail to maintain them in our camp. Simply because we lack the resources to do so. The athletes get an offer from a bigger club and we encourage them to move on to better their career. We hope that someday we can provide the right support so we can maintain our international athletes in the camp”. John, Pastor and the foundation have also assisted athletes to gain employment with the local police and prison services. Athletes who perhaps can’t make it as professional runners.

Athletes home housing upwards of 15 athletes currently
Athletes home housing upwards of 15 athletes currently
Pastor Alfred
Pastor Alfred
John Chebaibai, KAF chairman
John Chebaibai, KAF chairman

Cheminy village is very remote and far away from anything that resembles a normal life back home in Ireland. Donkeys are a regular feature on the roads and an essential tool in most homes- carting water, maize and other crops upwards of 20km on a daily basis. The primary school does not have any piped water so 5 donkeys transport water daily (upwards of 10 times per day) from the water well located 3km away to the school. The school has 550 pupils currently, of which most are boarding. There are only 2 televisions in the whole village- 1 in the primary school and 1 in the small cafe across the road. Most homes are mud or wooden structures with thatched roofs. The more privileged homes have iron sheets. 99% of houses have no electricity with regular blackout for those lucky enough even to have power. At night the entire village is practically in darkness.

A standard home here in Cheminy village
A standard home here in Cheminy village
school race and interviews 163
The reliable donkey

We organised a 5km road race a few weeks back for local runners. Around 40 athletes turned up to compete over the undulating out and back course. Steep unforgiving climbs greeted the runners at every corner. The winner was a young 17 year old athlete by the name of Kibet Oscar, brother to international mountain runner Moses Croyne. The winner of the senior woman’s race was amazingly a 12 year old primary school athlete. For sure a talent for the future!!

The start line- marked by hot ash
The start line- marked by hot ash
Heavy going
Heavy going
The Finish Line

We also organised a primary school race last Friday for the pupils of Cheminy Christian Junior Academy. Once funding is secured in the future, we hope to develop a scheme where young athletes who perform well in these races will be offered secondary school scholarships to recognize their athletic ability and academic talents. We are working with a number of local secondary schools to create a partnership that will assist with this program.

Before coming to Kapchorwa I visited the village of Iten, the famous village in the Rift Valley Kenya where the majority of the worlds distance runners live and train. Athletes from all over the world travel and train there all year round. Sport brands such as Nike, Adidas and almost all athlete management companies have camps there, identifying and nurturing the next distance running superstar.

ADIDAS high performance centre Iten
ADIDAS high performance centre Iten
Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation Centre
Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation High Performance Centre

I am amazed that there is nothing of the sort here in Kapchorwa or Cheminy. Or indeed Uganda. The potential here is huge!! Potential that could rival their Kenyan neighbours if correct structures and support were made available. When I watch athletes from the foundation train continually week in week out, I get the feeling that these athletes are perhaps the forgotten runners in the multi million pound industry that is now big city marathons, diamond leagues and sponsorship deals.

There are no camps here apart from the foundation camp (that gets zero support any outside organisation). No Adidas, Nike or Asics.. No athlete management companies.. No support for the next upcoming athlete to realise their potential. No one willing to support athletes like Chebet Alfred, an orphaned runner who has been at the camp since 2009. Chebet will train every day without fail hoping that one day, he will receive that big break and be given an opportunity. An opportunity he feels he so richly deserves, after years and years struggling up and down the hills of Kapchorwa.

Chebet on top of the world
Chebet on top of the world

It’s amazing to think that this small remote area of Uganda has produced numerous champions-  Commonwealth Games champions, world mountain running champions and indeed Olympic champions- marathon winner Stephen Kiprotich coming from just down the road. The talent pool is huge. At first I thought it impossible that an elite athlete could come from these mud houses and hills and conquer the world of athletics. When you compare with the facilities in Iten and indeed in the west, you think there is no chance.

But in truth, this place is a training paradise for long distance runners. Hills upon hills, altitude to match anywhere and the desire of the local athletes to overcome every obstacle to succeed tells me that with time and adequate resources, this area could become a leading training destination for distance runners throughout the world. A place for athletes and tourists to visit, train and learn from the best.

When they named Uganda “the pearl of Africa” they must have been referring to the village of Cheminy and the wider Kapchorwa area. And indeed, when we talk about the first athlete to run under 2 hours for the marathon- why can’t he come from these hills? And why not Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation?

“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible”

Running for Your Life

“WHEN TWO ELEPHANTS FIGHT IT’S THE GRASS THAT SUFFERS”

This blog post focuses on two young athletes I met last week- Agnes Aneno- a 22-year-old 400 metre runner and Okwelo Moses- an 18-year-old 800 metre runner- both Fame Athletics Club athletes under the tuition of Coach James Mugeni. Both originate from the Northern region of Uganda; an area scourged by war for up to 20 years. To give you some history- starting around 1986 a group calling itself the “Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)” launched a bush war in Northern Uganda against the then government of Uganda. This war was to have devastating effects on everyone caught in its path. No more so than Agnes and Moses, who spent their childhood in various war camps set up by the then government to protect the local people against the LRA rebel group.

Training with Fame Athletes- Including Agnes and Moses (1st and 2nd from right)
Training with some of the Fame Athletes at their camp in Jinja- Including Agnes and Moses (1st and 2nd from right)

When I heard from Coach James that two of his athletes grew up in the North, I was interested to know what effect the war had on them and their families. And indeed, how they came from those conditions to be involved with Fame Athletics Club. After much hesitation, both Agnes and Moses agreed to talk to me about their time spent in various war camps during the 90s, and how they came from such terrible conditions growing up in war-torn Uganda, to discover running and Fame Athletics Club.

Agnes has competed at world youth level and Moses is a district champion and national representative hoping to gain an athletic scholarship to university next year. Both athletes talked vividly to me about the conditions they faced and described some of the experiences they witnessed during the war.

Agnes and Moses Hill Bounding
Both athletes training

Moses tells me how he can still hear the bullet exchanges between the LRA rebels and government soldiers. Off camera he tells me how he still fears the dark; a fear stemmed from experiences of the LRA rebels often attacking under the guile of night. Coach James tells me how the conflict was often described as a “night war”.. When I first arrived in Uganda I shared a room with Moses at the Fame Athletics Camp in the town of Jinja, and I wondered why he slept with the light on. I now know why!!

Moses explains how he lived in various war camps for 13 years, and describes how he regularly lived in fear during his time in the camp. I asked him to portray that fear to me.. He explains how under a hail of bullets he ran. He ran anywhere because he feared the bullets. Literally running for his life!

Running saved Moses life!
“Running saved Moses life!”.. Leading the pack (navy t-shirt) during a hill session.

Agnes spent 2 years living in a war camp, before being taken by her uncle to Tororo in Eastern Uganda. However, as Agnes describes, she was basically taken from one nightmare to another- distilling alcohol and “working the bar” for her uncle until she was 17.

"On the Road to Riches".. One rep at a time.
“On the Road to Riches and the Diamond League”.. One rep at a time”. Agnes in the gym

Coach James talks about how he first discovered Agnes as an athlete at local school competitions and immediately recognised an athlete with potential. However, when Agnes started training with James and his group he discovered the true story about Agnes. “She was coming to training late and often in tears” James says. “I looked into why this was happening and discovered what she was doing- Working in an illegal brewery for her uncle, toiling up to 14 hours per day. It was child labour”. When Agnes returned from Italy following her world youth appearance, James decided that the living conditions she found herself in were not conducive to an athlete of her calibre. So after some consultation with his wife Harriet, they took Agnes under their wing and nurtured her talent away from the “alcoholics and drug addicts”.

"Lightning fast"!! Agnes training for Europe next season.
“Like a Cheetah”!! Agnes training for Europe next season.

Coach James has a great way with words, and explained to me that “when two elephants fight it’s the grass that suffers”, describing the families and individuals who found themselves caught up in the LRA war.. If Agnes and Moses had not discovered athletics and running, then one can perhaps assume that they would have ended up as child soldiers. A devastating fact that is true for so many children who found themselves born into a battleground of devastation and destruction in the Northern region of Uganda during that time.

Watch the full video interviews on my YouTube channel here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VX0bQ2CcAck

Fame athletes putting in the hard yards, including Agnes and Moses
Fame athletes putting in the hard yards, including Agnes and Moses

This weekend I travel into the mountains of Kapchorwa where I will spend the next 3 weeks living with and profiling the athletes there. An area that has produced world class athletes namely Olympic marathon champion Stephen Kiptorich and Moses Kipsiro, the current Commonwealth Games 10000m champion. But before I leave Tororo and Fame Athletics Club I must say a massive thank-you to James, his fantastic family and Fame Athletics Club for hosting me this last 5 weeks. When I was packing my bags for Uganda 5 weeks ago to embark on this journey I knew it would be special. But already, through my time with James, his family and Fame Athletics Club I can honestly say that it has been more than special. I upload regular photos and videos so that people back home can get some perspective as to how wonderfully different Uganda is and how welcoming the local communities are to foreigners and “mazungos” like me.. I feel It is imperative that people now consider visiting this amazingly different world and experience everything it has to offer .. You haven’t really lived until you experience Africa!

Some of the local kids (and a plate of chicken legs)
Some of the local kids (and a plate of chicken legs)
"They see me rollin".. Hitchin a ride Uganda style
“They see me rollin”.. Hitchin a ride Uganda style

The locals I have met tell me that not many “mazungos” have visited Tororo. I find it quite amusing when I jog in the morning down dirt roads, and through the local villages that I find shop owners, street vendors and kids on their way to school laugh, cheer and encourage the “mazungo” as I run! “A mazungo in our town? They say.. “Surely not!”..  A mazungo running! Surely, surely not!!”.

Local kids cheering as I run
Local kids cheering as I run

There is no doubting people here live hard demanding lives in comparison to what we have back home.. But how joyful and appreciative the local community are really amazes me.

"Its a long road to the top"
“Sometimes you are pushing.. and pushing.. and pushing.. But then you realise, it’s a wall that you are pushing”

Without doubt Project Africa and Fame Athletics Club have built the foundations for a partnership that will last well into the future. Fame will be an important affiliation club for Project Africa as we move into the New Year, and indeed over the coming months and years.

With James and his wife Harriet
With James and his wife Harriet
Jame and I in Iten Kenya having some watermelon with London 2012 Olympic 5000m bronze medallist.
Jame and I in Iten Kenya having some watermelon with London 2012 Olympic 5000m bronze medalist (2nd from left).

Onwards to the mountains I go….

And So the Story Begins.. Blog Post 1 From Uganda.

“give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.. Give him a hook and he will eat forever”

The “Theatre of Dreams”

And so the story begins!! And quite the story it has been already… I arrived into Entebbe airport late Monday night, having traveled from London via Brussells and Rwanda some 16 hours prior. Somewhat apprehensive as to what lay ahead I was glad to see the sign “Collins, Fame Athletics Club” being held outside the terminal by my main point of contact James Mugeni. James is the clubs head coach, and along with the clubs administrator Talya, had drive over 250km to meet me at the airport. We were due an overnight stop off in a town called Jinja approximately 100km from Entebbe where Fame have a base, before travelling onwards to the town of Tororo the following day, where my permanent base would be for the next month.

To Uganda from London

Having made a few detours on route we finally arrived at our destination around 2:30am, which turned out to be an old run down health centre donated to the Fame club by a local doctor a few years back. A quick “meeting” was held in the main room to discuss the following days itinerary and then that was that for the night.

The following morning I was up around 8:30am, choosing not to take up the offer of a 6am jog with some of the local athletes. I instead chose to attend the main “mid morning” session on the local track at 09:30 (Africa time). After breakfast James and I ventured onto the running track to meet the local athletes who had gathered to train that morning. This was my first opportunity to properly look at the set up and structure of the session, facilities, club etc. Half the athletes didn’t have running shoes. The track they train on is a grass track that floods with the first sight of rain and has more pot holes than the Grand Canyon.. But then I was introduced to some of the athletes and I quickly discovered the talent that was in front of me. There was Moses- a 17 year old who ran 800 metres with a PB of 1:52 (on a gravel track).. And there was Agnes- A 23 year old woman who ran 400 metres with a PB of 54.4.. Agnes is also a mother and former world youth representative for Uganda. A personal best of 54.4 seconds on a gravel track at altitude in Iten Kenya a few years back quickly told me that this girl had talent, but also many many problems.

After concluding the session James insisted that we visit Agnes home. Agnes sleeps on a concrete floor with her 10 month old child, selling sugarcane and maze at the local market in order to survive. Agnes escaped a war camp at 10 years old; having lost both parents, and has basically fended for herself her entire life. From speaking to her I could tell immediately the scars she bared. Some external.. But most internal.. A wide awaking for me as to the difficult scenarios I would come across in the first week here in Uganda.

That evening we boarded “Air Force One” (Talyas’ name for the car we were travelling in) and traveled onwards East to the town off “Tororo”, where Fame Athletics Club was formed and where I would be staying with coach James and his family for the next month. I would be experiencing the real Ugandan lifestyle; eating their food, learning their language and understanding their culture first hand.  James has 4 young children who immediately greeted us in traditional Ugandan fashion with open arms as we arrived at the house, offering to carry the “Mazungos” bags and assist in any way possible. James’ wife Harriet had also prepared a fantastic supper including traditional Ugandan deliciously such as sweet potatoes, goats meat, chapatas, rice, spaghetti, fresh orange juice, bread and endless cups of tea and coffee.

Host Family- James, his wife Harriet and 4 children
Two of James children modelling one of my hats.

The training group in Tororo is similar to that of Jinja in that it is a small group of 7-10 athletes but with lots of ability and talent. A younger group, with the oldest being 19 and youngest 17, all hoping and dreaming of competing internationally next season. Again similar to Jinja the local running track is a 400 metre grass track which is very run down and only maintained by the local council a few times a year. It’s worth noting that this track has produced world class athletes- a 2006 Commonwealth Games participant, 2 world youth finalists and an African Games champion, all in the last ten years. James calls it the “Theatre of Dreams” .

Training Group in Tororo- The “Theatre of Dreams”.

For me the last few days has consisted of training at 6am with the local group- mostly a 35/40 min jog, and then coaching the mid morning session at 9:30. I have introduced James and the athletes to some of our technical drills and core stability work, as well as some speed development drills on hills that we would do back home. I will continue to work with this group over the coming weeks as well as meet with local authorities and businesses to discuss how they can help support Fame Athletics Club within the local community. Currently the club is not funded by any local authority nor the governing body of athletics within Uganda. Everything is solely funded through James and his family. We plan to canvas local businesses over the next few weeks to build up some support for the club.

We are on the local radio station tomorrow discussing my trip where I will be empathising the fact that the local community must get engaged with Fame Athletics Club and support what it is doing within the local community, as well as support these talented athletes to fulfill their potential. In my view it is the only way this club will be sustainable in the future and as James rightly stated to me- “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.. Give him a hook and he will eat forever”, empathising the fact that the only people who can make it work are the local people themselves.

Hanging out chattin “runnin” with a local tribe just outside Tororo

I have uploaded some videos onto YouTube which you can view at the link below. I think a video tells a better story and will try upload as many as possible over the next few weeks. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk5R6XuC6Tccz3XGrUiYFXA

Weebale (Thank You)

Okacha Collins (My local Tororo name)

Almost there… Almost!!

“With brains in my head and feet in my shoes, I am steering the direction I choose.. Today is my day, my mountain is waiting, so I’m getting on my way”.

Ok so, this is only my second blog post. I have been pretty busy with the small matter of the Commonwealth Games, and have recently just finished up a fantastic 14 months working with the organising committee delivering  one of the biggest and most successful sporting events ever seen in the UK (which I will write about in a future post). My full attention now turns to my impending visit to Uganda and Kenya.

First of all I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who responded to my appeal for running gear. This last week has been spent collating and sorting the various items and figuring out how I will get them to the three running camps in Uganda and Kenya. Below is a photo of just some of the gear that has been donated this far.

Running Gear Donations

A few weeks back I met with Walter Chumo in Glasgow. Walter is my main contact when it comes to the Solian marathon running camp in Kenya and feeder club Kapchorwa Running Foundation in Uganda and is the co-founder of both camps. Walter just happened to be in the UK on business so we arranged a quick meeting. Walter is very knowledgeable with regard to the Ugandan and Kenyan running scene and is very focused on supporting and enhancing the area of Kapchorwa and Solian with regard to middle and long distance running. A partnership I am very glad off as I am going into this project pretty blind with regard to local contacts etc.

During our meeting Walter outlined to me the obstacles that they are currently facing. The Solian camp, which currently houses 25 full time athletes, does not have the capability to employ a full time coach at present. Most of the athletes who are based there are self coached and support themselves with regards food, clothing and training programs etc. They also do not have a full time cook or adequate sleeping arrangements within the camp.

For anyone that is involved in athletics, be that local or international level, will know the importance of having a full time coach in order for you to progress in your career. Therefore, my main focus initially will be to achieve funding/raise finances to help support a full time coach for the camp and area of Solian and feeder club Kapchorwa Foundation. As already stated, there are 25 athletes based at the camp, of which several have run sub 2:10 marathons in races throughout Europe. Currently any costs attached with getting the various athletes to these races has been funded via Walter, and which is simply not sustainable when it comes to supporting future athletes who may have the potential to compete internationally.

One positive that  I do see is that an athlete who can run a sub 2 hour 10 marathon with little support makes me strongly believe that with the correct guidance and support from a qualified full-time coach these athletes can achieve great things.

I am going to start raising some funds via paypal so if you would like to donate a small amount then please visit the paypal link here-https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/send-money-online and send your donation to collinsciaran6@gmail.com via the method outlined at the link provided. You will need to have a paypal account in order to be able to transfer funds. Any small amount would be greatly appreciated at this stage.

Anyone that donates will receive a personal thank you letter from Walter and the Solian camp outlining how your donation will help the various athletes based at both camps to progress and prosper with their running careers at local, national and international level.

Please be rest assured that any donations will be secure and managed directly by me and only me..

I fly out via London Monday week so once out there I will look to upload frequent blog posts and video interviews etc so please stay tuned.

Also, please visit http://www.shareuganda.co.uk- a locally based charity which is a strong supporter of what I am doing in Uganda and Kenya,

Ciao for now,

Ciaran

“Is the impossible, possible?” .. The Beginning

 “IS THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE?” .. THE BEGINNING

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“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” (Christopher McDougall, Born to Run)

A marathon in under 120 minutes.. an average speed of 13.1mph.. 4:34 mile pace average.. 5k splits of 14:13.. 10k splits of 28:26.. and half marathon in 59:59…. Is it possible? Surely not!!

Wilson Kipsangs splits for the current marathon world record of 2:03:23 looks like this-

– Average mile pace-4:42.

– 5km average 14:36,

– 10km average 29:12,

– Half marathon 61:36..

Its difficult to comprehend that sort of running speed.. However, its still a bit off sub 2 hour splits!!

The great emperor of distance running Haile Gebrselassie believes that a sub 2 hour marathon may well take another 25 years before we see anyone capable of going under two hours.. However, Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich, though, the current Olympic and world champion, believes there’s room for optimism.

“Lowering the record to 2:02 will be done soon, definitely before the next Olympics in Rio,” he said. “Then it will again take some time.”.

Let’s take a look at some of the great athletic milestones of years gone by- the first sub 10 second 100 metre sprint- Does anyone remember Jim Hines? The first sub 4 minute mile- Anyone remember Roger Bannister?.. Both records were deemed “impossible” at one time or another.

And looking outside of athletics, you just have to look at what the likes of Michael Phelps achieved for swimming.. And what the likes of Felix Baumgartner has achieved for the human race in general- These guys are “one-offs” who have achieved unbelievable feats of extraordinary proportions.

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If history is to teach us anything it’s that human beings can achieve unbelievable things. The examples above demonstrate the human form’s sheer capacity for endurance and defying the odds.. Its true that records are there to be broken.. Barriers are there to be cleared.. Impossibilities are there to be made possible..

Mr Bannister states in his autobiography that-

“Whether we athletes liked it or not, the four-minute mile had become rather like an Everest – a challenge to the human spirit. It was a barrier that seemed to defy all attempts to break it, an irksome reminder that man’s striving might be in vain” (Roger Bannister, Twin Tracks: The Autobiography).

There is no doubt that the sub 2 hour marathon is also a challenge of the human spirit.. And indeed a challenge of many other things as well.. Its true that we may have a while to wait to see such a feat, and no doubt it will take someone out of the ordinary to achieve it. It will require a person who has a physiological make-up much superior to anyone who has come before.

But there is no doubt that evolution will dictate that the sub 2 hour marathon will inevitably happen.. And whoever becomes the first to stop the clock at 1:59:59 will accomplish something so significant that it will be on par with anything ever achieved before, in sport or otherwise.. It will be a majestic feat and an indicator of what the human body can do when trained and primed and pushed to the limit.. It will indeed show that what is impossible can be possible.

But my question is this- Does the person who will eventually run under 2 hours for the marathon live among us today? Could that person be someone who IS NOT from the more traditional running nations of Kenya or Ethiopia? A Ugandan perhaps??

The reason I say Uganda is because I was present at the Olympic Stadium in London when Stephen Kiprotich, the Ugandan marathon runner, stood aloft the podium at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games to receive his gold medal for winning the Olympic marathon, and where the topic of conversation first turned to the possibility of a sub 2 hour marathon..

I first visited Uganda back in 2008 with the charity “Share Uganda”. Ever since I’ve had an affiliation with the country.. Kiprotichs’ amazing Olympic feat propelled the nation of Uganda into the realms of long distance running supremacy; alongside the likes of Kenya and Ethiopia. However, amazing as it may sound, Kiprotichs gold is only the second gold medal Uganda has ever secured in Olympic games history, and the first middle/long distance medal..

Uganda, which is nestled among the two hotbeds of marathon running- Kenya and Ethiopia, has often lived in the shadow of these great marathon running nations.. In comparison to Uganda’s 2 Olympic gold medals- Kenya and Ethiopia have long produced Olympic, world and Commonwealth champions over the last 30 years..

Through my visit in 2008, I discovered how beautiful Uganda is, and I have since had a great interest in the country.. Couple that with my fascination of long distance running and the possibility of the sub 2-hour marathon happening sooner rather than later, I feel that Uganda will be an ideal setting to study further the subject of a sub 2 hour marathon.

I also believe that Uganda has a huge amount of undiscovered talent when it comes to middle and long distance running, and indeed sport in general.. Stephen Kiprotichs Olympic marathon triumph has given me the motivation to carry out this trip (all be it 2 years later). I hope my visit to Uganda will give me a better understanding of distance running in the country, and indeed a better understanding of running in general..

I feel that Kiprotich’s Olympic triumph is a story of inspiration; one that all young Ugandan runners can aim to replicate.. It has given them a right to dream big, where before there was perhaps no opportunity to do so.

I will travel to some of the most remote parts of East Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia included).. I will visit the people.. Study the people.. Live with the people to get an understanding of what motivates and drives these people. People who come from severe deprivation and poverty, and become world class athletes who continually push the boundaries of human endurance.

Specifically, I will profile 2 athletics clubs in Uganda- the Kapchorwa Athletics Foundation which is based in Eastern Uganda in the region of Mount Elgon, and the “Fame Athletics Club” based near Kampala.. I will also profile individual people- young athletes (primary/secondary school age), current athletes who are trying to make it, as well as athletes who have succeeded at national and international level.. I will also profile coaches and club administrators along with governing body officials etc.

I will embark on this trip following the completion of the Commonwealth Games in August this year. Please follow my story and comment below any thoughts you may have-

Thanks and stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.