The 29th May marked the two year anniversary of one of the toughest things I’ve ever done and with Kilimanjaro looming on the same continent I wanted to reflect briefly on the amazing time I had in Sierra Leone in 2016.
From the moment I arrived in the country it was clear this was not going to be a normal week. The place just immediately brings to life all of your senses. My initial thoughts were filled with nerves and trepidation. It was the first time that I had been to Sierra Leone, a country that had such an infamous reputation for being dangerous, war-ravaged and desolate, so I was nervous to say the least and nervous about the challenge that lay ahead.
I was in the country to run the Sierra Leone Marathon in aid of Street Child, a charity which believes that basic education is the single greatest step that can be taken towards the elimination of global poverty. Since 2008, they have helped over 200,000 children go to school and have supported over 15,000 families set up businesses so they can afford the cost of educating their children long-term. It is a charity whose message I believe in vehemently and who I was delighted to be supporting during my time in Makeni.
Ever since meeting the founder, Tom Dannatt, and the head of fundraising, Chloe Brett, I’d wanted to get involved with Street Child and meeting people on the ground only served to strengthen my resolve that this was a wonderful cause.
Visiting some of the schools that Street Child had help build and seeing the smiles on all of the kids faces was an incredible experience. Their unbridled joy and enthusiasm towards school, towards learning and also towards us was infectious and amazing to see. I can remember taking part in a class and the room was filled with positive energy, huge smiles and continual song and I couldn’t help but sit back and marvel at what had been created in this magical place. And despite all of the hardship and all of the atrocities that some of these children had witnessed in their lives, they still managed to approach life with incredible energy and positivity.
In light of what these kids have lived through, and go through on a daily basis, 26 miles was a small sacrifice on my part and of course I’d put in the miles back in the UK, pounding the roads for months in preparation. I’d even bought the best running shoes I could find the OnCloud Cloudflow [link]. It was the first time I’d ever attempted running since my career-ending injury and I wasn’t sure how my nerve would hold up, but the OnCloud shoes certainly helped mitigate some of the issues that I typically suffer when running.
In reality, though, nothing prepares you for that race, which I’d still recommend to anyone. First of all, visually the route is awe-inspiring, from Makeni’s famous Wusum Hill stadium through the rural villages and tropical tracks through some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern Sierra Leone, a place totally alien to me, and the race definitely has the “electric atmosphere” that the event hosts advertise.
Having said that, there is no way you can replicate the 30-degree heat and the humidity you face. It was right up there with the toughest things I’ve ever taken on physically.
Not that the local kids seemed to mind – they skipped along with me all the way shouting and screaming and generally taking it all in their stride!
It was a fantastic thing to do and I was absolutely thrilled that we, a group of 118 runners, managed to raise in excess of £220,000 for Street Child – funds which are still to this day going towards building new schools and helping ensure that the children of Sierra Leone and beyond receive the education and support they deserve.
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