It’s all set for the Marathon in Dar es Salaam this morning. It’s still very early in the day, but thousands of people in blue rotary T-shirts are flocking from all over the city to the Masaki peninsula.
Some are on their way to the start of the race, others have already embarked on their tour and are eager to reach the finish line as soon as possible.
It was not long after sunrise at 5 o’clock when the most daring of the participants kicked the marathon off 42 kilometres of sweat and pain lay before them. They were followed by the cyclists an hour later (half and full distance) as well as the half Marathon runners. Most popular, however, was the walk over five or nine kilometres that started at 7 o’clock.
Just next to Coco beach, a good number of students and organisations had gathered to go on a charity walk together. At the very front stood the oldest participant of the event, no other than the former president of Tanzania, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. He succeeded the father of the nation, Julius Nyrere in 1985 and has this year celebrated his 92nd birthday.
It was a very moving moment when thousands of participants waited for the start signal. School children were chanting, the moderator played some electronic dance music to fire up the folks and the people were chatting full of anticipation of the walk. A foreign ambassador called it the gold standard of a Tanzanian event, others would just talk of a big folk festival.
It was the first time this year that the Dar es Salaam Marathon went over full distance. Before the race used to cover 21 kilometres, this time it was the double as much for the ambitious runners and cyclists. This innovation didn’t pass unnoticed by the professional runners, some who made the trip to Dar es Salaam to compete for the 2 million shillings cheque.
The best current runner in the field, however, did not go full speed. The Tanzanian marathon runner Alphonce Felix Simbu won the gold medal at the world championship on London this year, but didn’t compete in Dar es Salaam. Instead, he used the race for training purposes, settling for a half-marathon.
By adding more and more different distances, the Dar es Salaam Marathon has become bigger and bigger in recent years. It all goes back to 2009 when the local Rotary clubs of Dar es Salaam came together and organised a charity walk with 700 participants.
Their goal was to raise enough funds to plant 25,600 trees in schools and public places, inspired by the United Nations Environment Programme “Plant for the Planet” who aimed to grow one billion trees to fight global warming and increase biodiversity. When the Rotary clubs planted these trees, they found out that schools’ sanitation and water situation was almost non-existent. For the following year , they pledged to provide 25 schools with drinking water provisioning.
Further projects followed, in particular a state of the art oncology paediatric ward at Muhimbili National Hospital and the creation of a fully equipped and modern entrepreneurship centre for the University of Dar es Salaam Business School. That’s how the marathon of the Rotary Club became a tradition in Dar es Salaam, each year raising considerable funds for a good cause.
This year’s fundraising was dedicated to health. The goal was to raise Sh1 billion to build a clinic at the Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT). The funding supports a CCBRT’s social enterprise project, which aims to expand revenues to enable subsidised care in the disability hospital.
“We believe in the power of community,” explains the chair of Rotary Dar Marathon, Catherinerose Barretto, on the reason behind the event. “Not one single person, but together we can move something,” she says. The idea in the first place was to organise an event where everybody could participate and thereby raise a good sum of money for a good cause.
Ms Barretto offers a positive summary of this year’s innovations. The extensions of the runs didn’t pose any problems, despite the fact that the route had to be doubled, to save the runners and cyclists from having to make the same way twice. As a result, the full route went down as far as Kigamboni, where the participants had to cross the 680-metre-long bridge that was just opened one year ago.
“More volunteers and more material was needed, but thanks to the commitment of our members, everything went well,” Barretto says.
There was a big diversity among the 15, 000 participants. There were children, middle-aged persons and older folks. Black people, Indians and Westerners all came together, men and women, sports professionals and amateurs.
“This is an amazing event,” Annukka Paavola says. This personal trainer and physiotherapist who comes from Finland finished the 42 kilometres of cycling as the second woman. She usually runs half-marathons, but opted this year for the cycling race over the full length. It was actually the first time she had riden a bike for 42 kilometres.
“I was stunned that I did so well,” she says. All the more because she had borrowed the bike from a friend. She is full of praise for the marathon, finding it especially charming to start running just after sunrise. She also was satisfied by the good organisation and the great team spirit. “It really seemed that everybody was in it together,” she says.
This was especially true for the family of Gabriel Landa. This business consultant rides every day to work for 60 kilometres both ways for training purposes. At the marathon in Dar es Salaam, he participated in the 42 kilometres race while his wife and their children went for half the distance.
They had to get up at 4.15 o’clock in the morning to be at the starting line on time, he says. He doesn’t regret. “It was definitely worth it,” he says. Even though he is a cycling enthusiast, sport was not the main reason why he participated in the race.
“I felt obliged to come here because this is a social responsibility event,” he says adding; “I am happy to help marginalised people to get affordable health care.”
Another passionate sportsman is Arno Rohwedder, a honey producer from Kigoma. Just one week earlier he had run a marathon in Zagreb, Croatia. Then he found out about the marathon in Dar es Salaam. The timing was not ideal, but he decided to participate no matter what. When he stood at the starting line, he could still feel the pain from the previous week, but he didn’t care.
“To run a marathon in an African metropole was just too tempting.” The run was okay, he says with a smile marked by pain. The conditions were certainly not ideal to obtain a good time, he says. Not only was the marathon in Zagreb a heavy burden for him, but also the heat and humidity of Dar es Salaam.
“But it was finally not about the time, but about the fun to do it,” he says. At the time of interview he was still capable of standing on his legs. “We will see how I get out of bed tomorrow,” he told me with a strained smile.
For most participants, however, the athletic challenge was not the main interest, but rather spending a good time with friends and meeting new people. Four friends of Indian descent had just finished their bike race and were discussing the route over 21 kilometres.
“It was a great experience,” says Alizaygam Bhimani from Dar es Salaam. “This event is about the unity of the people,” he adds.
His friend Alinaqi Esmail agrees. He was surprised to reach the finish line. “We tested the route yesterday, but I couldn’t be sure to really make it,” he says. The group of four is full of joy about the race. There is only one drop of bitterness for Sameer Dewji. He finished 7th in his category under 21 and had hoped to get an award, just to find out that only the sixth best of the ranking would be awarded.
Secondary school students comprised the majority of the participants. More than a hundred Form Five and Six, Tambaza Secondary School students for example, participated in the 5 kilometres walk. Their teacher Christine Kimwaga says she took her students to the marathon because sports is healthy and the event was aimed for a good cause.
Among them was Mussa Ramadhani who says he was happy to have participated in the walk. “I met old friends and made new ones,” he says. He is determined to come back again next year. So will 14,000 others. The marathon next year will take place in the same month of October.