RW Race Report: Safaricom Marathon



safaricom marathon

When: June 25
Where: Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Kenya
First man: Daniel Mbogo 2:18:42
First Woman: Monica Muthoni 2:49:43
Last Finisher: 7:17:39
No. of Finishers: 165

The start of the Safaricom Marathon was delayed by 10 minutes this year - there was an elephant on the course. As we waited for a helicopter to shoo it away, the words of the Kenyan commentator rang in my ears: "This is the only marathon in the world where lions run free on the course!"

Held at an altitude of 1,680m and with 300m of ascent under a scorching sun, this marathon is tough. But it has the atmosphere of a world music festival with a diverse clientele to match: at the start line I met a young man who sold a goat to pay for his bus fare to the race, followed by a London fund manager who flew in by chopper.

Organised by Tusk Trust, a UK wildlife charity, the race has raised £1.8m over 12 years for its hosts, the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. For the first mile I mimicked the rhinoceros - a laggardly animal with excellent endurance - while many around me took the cheetah approach, a tactic that many of them came to regret later in the searing heat.

Into the wild

Just after the 2K sign I nearly tripped over a pile of elephant dung, being too busy admiring a wiry Kenyan ahead of me running in leather loafers and corduroy shorts.

As we crested the first hill, I was given a bottle of Lucozade by a Masai warrior and I paused to take in the extraordinary scenery: bruised purple skies against jagged grasslands and winding hills expanding into vistas like the pages of a giant picture book.

At the halfway point I sensed movement behind an acacia tree and turned to see an armed course ranger clutching a rifle and giving me a thumbs-up. It's no ordinary race if a man with an AK47 is watching your back.

Just as I was struggling in the heat towards the end, there came a gesture that appeared to go above and beyond the call of duty: a police helicopter swooped down low in the sky to fan me. The cool air was heavenly and I waved frantically in thanks. I was later told that it was actually heading off an approaching lion - a fact that, had I known at the time, might have shaved minutes off my finishing time.

The only downside to this race is that the full marathon is a two-lapper, but if this is off-putting just do one: there's a half marathon option for less hardy souls. Other than that, if you want a serious running adventure, this is hard to beat.

Run it: tusk.org


The Lowdown

Get there: British Airways offers flights from Heathrow to Lewa via Nairobi from £700 return.
 
Stay (mid-range): The Maridadi Camp (lewa.org) offers simple but elegant tents and hot showers. Full board costs £120-£250 per person per night including a three-course evening meal.

Upmarket: Arriving at the Lewa Wilderness resort (lewawilderness.com) is like walking into a Ralph Lauren advert. From £800 per room per night.

Sightsee:
Go on a big game drive, walk through the bush or book a camel safari via the Ultimate Travel Company (theultimatetravelcompany.co.uk).

Fuel: For authentic African fare, try the post-race festival village afterwards.

Warm-up:
UK running legend Bruce Tulloh leads runs on Thursday and Friday before the race.


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