Running the Rift 2016 Race Review

Running the Rift 2016

It happened. The first ever Running the Rift Marathon! The venue? The charming West Ugandan town of Fort Portal. A small town in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains where two giant geographic feature meet. The Great Rift Valley and the Mighty Congo Basin. The brutal hills created by the UNESCO World Heritage geography would challenge runners to their limits. The distances raced over would be 10k, 21k and 42k. Runners from across the globe came to take part. From the UK to the USA, from Sweden to the Czech Republic, from DR Congo to South Africa. Many for their first ever marathon.



By far the biggest contingent was the men and women of Fort Portal themselves. Embracing the first ever race of its kind here, over one hundred turned up. And boy did they do their town proud. It is no exaggeration to say that there is some genuine talent in Fort Portal. At the front of the pack, all three races were led by some of Uganda’s finest athletes. Ugandan athletics is on the up big time. It was great to meet some of its stars as they prepare for the beginning of the winter cross-country season. Watch out for the Ugandan team at the World Champs in Kampala this March.

The venue for the first ever Rift Maz, the stunning Kyaninga Lodge. Set up on an extinct volcanic crater lake. It is hard to find a more stunning setting for a marathon.



The 10km Race

Some called it the 10k, some called it the Battle of Fort Portal  This is where the locals went head-to-head. After weeks of anticipation now was the time. Starting at His Majesty’s Tooro palace and finishing at Kyaninga Lodge, the 10k was packed with local runners. The gun went and the front runners went off like rockets. The course ran down the hill from the palace straight through the centre of town. Then northwards towards the finish at Kyaninga Lodge. At around 4km the route changed from road to a dirt path. From then on the course was all hills. The two lead runners were now well ahead of the field. Not just any two lead runners. Paralympic 1500m silver medalist David Emong and his training partner, Kateregga John. The two would stay neck and neck over the steep hills to finish. Kateregga would just clinch the win in 32:49. With Emong finishing in 32:59. Incredible times for such a brutal course.



The 21km Race

The 21k, like the 42k, started at Kyaninga Lodge. Shaped like a lolly pop, the course would take the runners high on to the Rift Valley escarpment. Then back to the crater lake of Kyaninga Lodge. Challenging the Ugandan dominance was Brit Jim Davies. After another fast start, the race settled down and Sadic Bahat built up a solid lead which only grew. A short distance behind, the lead female Chemutai Helen was having a battle of surges with lead Brit Jim Davies. After several miles of back-and-forth, Davies would prevail. But by this point, Bahat was out on his own. Bahat would finish in 1:13:39, Davies 2nd in 1:29:59, and Helen (first female) would finish in 1:41:17. What a race!



The 42km Race

Now on to the big one. The 42k. Full of international runners, the atmosphere before the start was lively. Many of these runners had traveled thousands of miles to explore Uganda and Run the Rift! We even had marathon running royalty in our field. Marathon Globetrotters Klaus Westphal and Brent Weigner. Klaus and Brent are ranked 1st and 2nd respectively for running marathons in the most countries! 118 and 109 countries! These two know how to run an international marathon. Amongst our elite contingent, it would be a story of comebacks. Lubega Robert and Fort Portal native Yiga Francis were looking to get back to winning ways. Not easy when the younger Cheporiot Bensen would be hot on their heels.



The route started the same as the 21k. Taking the runners high on to the Rift and then back to Kyaninga via a huge loop through the villages. The leaders gave no quarter as they attacked from the gun, in characteristic East African fashion. With 5km left to go, Robert was the clear winner with an insurmountable lead. Robert would win in an astonishing 2:49:46. Benson and Francis would battle it out for 2nd place. The younger Benson just edging it in 3:10:44, and Francis in 3:14:46. Not a million miles behind and up at the front for a lot of the race was Chemutai Vanis, the first female finisher. Vanis finished in stonking time of 3:43:31.  Amongst the international runners, there was a mini-competition to be the first tourist home. And the ‘first tourist’ was Matt Wood in 3:49:40. A brilliant time on such a tough course for his first ever marathon.


Why We Run – The Kyaninga Child Development Centre

The whole reason we did this? The Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC). The KCDC was set up by Kyaninga Lodge owner Steve Williams after his child, Sidney, was born with disabilities. The KCDC is run by the force of nature that is Fiona Beckerlegge and provides a lifeline to disabled children and their families in Uganda (a force of nature that also made the race day go very smoothly!) Through the KCDC’s work, the children have a genuine future as engaged citizens in Uganda. And what better way to send that message than through our 10k runner-up, David Emong. The day after the race the KCDC hosted an all-inclusive sports day. The children competed in a number of events, from tyre races and touch rugby, to playing in a drum circle. The international runners had a fantastic opportunity to meet the children their fundraising efforts would be helping. To finish, David Emong gave a rousing speech. Inspiring us all to see that disability is not inability. As if to reinforce the point, the 1500m Rio Paralympic Silver medalist challenged every ‘able-bodied’ man and woman to a 100m race. He won. Easily. A true inspiration.


See you in 2017!

We would love to thank everyone who made Running the Rift possible. There are simply too many of you to name individually. Thank you to everyone who helped on the day, the countless volunteers and marshalls, Exile Medics, and all the people and businesses of Fort Portal who backed the Rift venture with such enthusiasm. Running the Rift is your event. Thank you to our sponsors who made this event viable: Buff, The Running School City of London, Kad Africa, and the Flight Centre.

173 Finishers over three distances. To all our amazing runners, thank you so so much for being the first to Run the Rift. Next year, from Kyaninga Lodge, it will happen all over again. Bigger and better. See you there!!

Check out the Running the Rift website for news of the 2017 event.