Running as hobby for a cause: Eighteen years of Lewa Marathon

Ever since a cook, Coroebus of Elis, ran flapping naked for 192 meters to earn his place as the fastest Greek in the first Olympics held in 776 BC, the glory of running a race became possible for everyone, cook or professional.

But unlike other races, a marathon affords the ordinary individual a less professional option since a majority of competitors are recreational athletes as larger marathons can have tens of thousands of participants who run and even walk.

With the Kenyan love for athletics, there is the inescapable feeling of triumphing over the limitations of our physical bodies and sedentary lifestyles which is sweeping the country’s middle class towards a culture of running and participating in marathons.

One of the most popular Marathons ran in Kenya is the Safaricom Lewa Adventure which will hold its 19 version today marking eighteen years of experience and a rich culture stretching back due to its resilience.

What began as a comparatively small event in the year 2000 with 180 runners participating in the marathon, has grown to over 1,300 runners in what is growing to be a part of the recreational activities for middle-class Kenyans.

The Safaricom initiative raised $50,000 in 2000 and that amount has grown exponentially to over $700,000 last year.  To date, this has grown by a tenfold as the marathon has raised a total of $7 million for conservation and community development projects across Kenya.

But as the breathtaking event changes, including the registration process, which has moved from paper to online, it has greatly helped the efforts geared towards the preservation and conserving the environment.

Another change this year has been the introduction of an option where you can set up an online fundraiser on Safaricom’s M-changa platform to support the worthy course.

The 13-mile course at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya is no easy task, as it involves managing the dirt roads through acacia woodlands and running along river banks.

“I ran in 2014 and it was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. I wanted to give up after 8 Km, but I pushed on through until I hit the 42Km mark. I was inspired by the 80-year-old Mzee who finished in record time. I want to be as fit as him in future, said Dee, a participant in the marathon.

Global sales for sporting goods topped Sh4.3 trillion ($43 billion) in 2013, up from just over Sh3 trillion ($30 billion) in 2005. Of these sales in 2013, almost a third came from athletics apparel and over 22 percent were generated from sporting goods and equipment.

The fact that the sportswear industry is growing fast in the United States among other global markets, is an indication that health concerns are increasingly driving the middle class to appreciate running as a way of keeping fit.

What starts off like an office challenge where colleagues like the friends of Rebbeca Njoroge who ran the Safaricom Lewa Marathon race in 2010 becomes a realization that our bodies require the exercises that running marathons have to offer.

“My colleagues and I were ready to hit the track after weeks of training a at the gym. That morning, as soon as we hit the 5Km mark, one of us got some crazy leg pain and had to be ferried off in a helicopter. He said it was an awesome experience (The Race) and he would love to do it again,” said Rebbeca Njoroge, and the rewarding feeling of keeping fit has the tendency to catch on as a hobby once you run one race, you literally cannot stop, she adds.

Saumu Hassan who ran in 2015 says her first race was the First Lady marathon and ever since then she has never looked back.

“Running has become more than a hobby; it is now a part of my life. I am looking forward to participating in the Safaricom Marathon. Given the training I have been doing, I know I will greatly improve my time from the first lady’s marathon running time of 2hrs 15min,” Ms. Hassan says.

Derrick Wesonga says since he began running the Safaricom Marathon back in 2011 he has been hooked.

“Nothing beats that feeling of getting up at dawn and warming up with other runners with the possibility of encountering wild animals. It was challenging at first but each year, I keep getting better and stronger,” he says. He adds that for good a measure, the fact that funds raised in Kenyan marathons with initiatives such as Safaricom Lewa’s go to supporting conservation projects of endangered species, keeping wildlife safe and promoting access to healthcare and education in remote areas are just some of the ways in which the marathon continues to demonstrate its impact.

Lewa Marathon
Horseback patrols are conducted on the slopes of Mount Kenya by community rangers

The funds raised this year will have numerous and varied beneficiaries, from the community rangers who patrol Mount Kenya on foot and horsebacks ensuring it remains safe and pristine for years to come; to the marine scouts at Watamu’s Local Ocean Trust who patiently and lovingly watch over endangered turtle nests; to the forest scouts at Ngare Ndare Forest who guard over indigenous forest species dating back 200 years. Not to mention the keepers of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary who rescue and raise orphaned baby elephants from all across northern Kenya.

See also:

Philemon Baaru Wins 19th Safaricom Lewa marathon edition

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