Masaka Runners Club was formed in March 2015 in the lead up to the inaugural Uganda Marathon in the town that June. The club was the first of it's kind in the area and was founded to provide a community that could inspire and support runners of all abilities. They have 45 members ranging from 8 to 60 years and welcome regular visitors and well wishers from all over the world to join their sessions.
Masaka Runners Club primary aim is to create awareness of the benefits of running and physical exercise within the community, especially as sedentary lifestyles increase in the country. They promote running as a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, boost confidence and a tool to combat stress and depression.
In addition to these objectives, they run programmes to support young people in the area. These include initiatives such as:
- Empowering street children in the community by using running as a rehabilitation tool
- Providing a support program for young athletes, including a coaching academy aiming to develop a 'coach to coach' initiative for runners
- Exposure to competitive running (not widely available in Uganda) by subsidising the necessary training, transport fees, accommodation and running equipment
- Assistance to other local Non Government Organisations (NGOs) helping vulnerable children by providing them with access to running activities and training equipment.
These objectives and programs all require funding and with a low membership fee and subsidy for members that are currently not working, the club cannot continue with their outreach work without external funding. These funds currently come indirectly via the Uganda Marathon in the form of an annual running shoe sale. Shoes donated by international runners attending the event are are sold to local runners from the surrounding district at a affordable price with proceeds going the the club. Support is also received from 'Make the Next Step', a Dutch foundation as well as personal donations from well wishers.
Using slow motion video to illustrate key technique cues at a club training session
I have attended casual training runs with the club since my first visit to Uganda in 2015 but with an extended stay in Masaka, it allows me to get stuck into some coaching. We organise an evening session at a sports field atop one of the towns meaty hills and after explaining the benefits of a dynamic warm up, we run through some technique pointers and drills to work on them. This is obviously not something that the majority of the group have done before as there is a lot of self awareness and laughter to begin with which slowly dissipates once confidence grows.
We work specifically on utilising arm drive when climbing hills and then put this practice into action on a steep 150 metre climb, analysing each athlete as they work their way to the top. After ten minutes, the younger members are supposed to drop out and take a rest but they completely ignore this advice and are keen to keep working alongside the senior members. Whilst this attitude is commendable, it's way too early for them to be taking part in a full session so we have to ask one of the members to take guard at the base of the hill and advise them to sit the remainder of the repetitions out. We finish with a cool down and stretch as a group, cue more laughter and some entertaining noises when people find that they're stretching muscles they didn't even know existed.
In between the weekly sessions, we run a steady 5km early on Saturday morning where we encounter the classic Ugandan issue of people turning up 30 mins late and expecting the event to have waited for them. As the rest of the group reached the final seconds of their cool down after a dusty, hilly affair, two particularly fresh and keen chaps appeared and took to the front of the group, desperately pushing for a faster pace before looking on in bewilderment as everyone else stopped less than a minute later for a chat and a stretch.
Running the first bend of a 400 metre rep on the homemade running track
We return to the sports field the following week with the ambitious objective of organising a track session. The starting point is to create a running track as, well, they're a bit of a rarity in the country (I've yet to see one actually). I introduce myself and make friends with Mark, coach of the Katwe Juniors football club, one of the numerous football teams who use the field on weekday evenings. We agree that I can make an oval around their pitch, providing them with some touchline markings in the process. I get out my set of training cones that I've carried tens of thousand miles around the world and although there are a few dips, trenches, ants nests and termite mounds to work around, we manage to furnish our own 400 metre oval.
It's particularly hot today so we utilise the evening shadow of the trees to work through the technique and drills. Julius, board member and club treasurer, assists me by translating some of the more technical language into the local dialect and I use the video on my phone to illustrate the key points in slow motion. We then move to a main session of '400m pairs' where the group partner up and take turns to run 400m hard before resting as their partner does the same, repeating for twenty minutes. After a tremendous effort, a cool down and stretching session (which the runners now take themselves) conclude the session as darkness falls.
Hopefully the techniques and drills that we worked on during our time together will help the club members in their preparations for the 2019 Uganda Marathon. I'll be back in May to check on progress and work some more with the club before they aim for big things in this years race!