Kapchorwa - Uganda's Running Mecca
Kapchorwa is one of only a handful of established high altitude training destinations in East Africa. Recognised as the running mecca of Uganda, it is a hotbed of endurance running talent. The hills surrounding the town are home and training base to a community of elite endurance runners from Uganda and beyond. The presence of celebrated Ugandan Olympic and World champions such as Stephen Kiprotich and Joshua Cheptegei, as well as the emergence of teenage sensation Jacob Kiplimo, means that the region has become known as the 'Land of Champions’.
Kapchorwa is a simple farming town perched at 1800m altitude on the flanks of Mount Elgon (an extinct volcano) and offers stunning views across the plateau far below. Visitors are rewarded with fresh mountain air, minimal traffic, challenging terrain rising to 2600m and endless rural trails of the famous red dirt to run on.
Due to its remote nature, aside from the nearby Sipi Falls, the region is still relatively untouched by tourism. It’s only in recent years that tourists have ventured here to run, hike and cycle amongst the beautiful nature, passing through villages, banana plantations and farmland alongside the athletes who train morning and evening as they aspire to become champions themselves.
With the construction of an elite high-altitude training facility in Teryet at 2600 metres above sea level underway, the future is bright for the running community in Kapchorwa.
I met Daan (From Coach to Coach) in Iten, Kenya during June 2018. We had both been active in community sport development, capacity building and coaching in Uganda for several years. After realising our shared values, we'd arranged to meet in Iten for a discovery trip where we would learn more about how sports tourism could potentially be used for skills development and the creation of employment opportunities in rural areas.
After a productive visit, we joined forces to use our experience to increase the profile of running tourism in Kapchorwa. From Coach to Coach had already been organising running sessions for tourists in Kapchorwa since 2016, led by passionate running guide George Mwoko and with revenues going to community sport development. Using the ‘Home of Friends’ guesthouse in Barawa (which Daan manages) as an operational base, we began to promote Kapchorwa as a prime destination for sports tourism, with a focus on it's stunning nature and unique running culture.
At the beginning of 2020, we founded 'Run Kapchorwa' - a Community Interest Organisation providing running experiences and training camps for athletes who have an interest in experiencing the region's unique running culture.
Run Kapchorwa Objectives
- To promote Kapchorwa as a leading destination for sports tourism in East Africa
- To use income from running and sports tourism to create employment, capability and community development
- To use profits from commercial running initiatives to fund an athlete development programme that will support young, low-income athletes in Kapchorwa
- To provide an economic boost for the region
- To increase access to running and sport for all in the community
The initiative has been further enabled by Adventure Tourism Uganda, a three year project co-funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) in collaboration with the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This project focuses on adventure and cultural tourism and aims to make the Ugandan tourism industry more diverse as well as socially and environmentally sustainable.
In addition, as part of the community mobilisation programme, a free Community Running Club has started to provide opportunities for all members of the district (e.g. beyond just the elite runners) to access the social aspect of running and sport whilst promoting an active lifestyle and healthy choices.
Two members of the Run Kapchorwa team: Chemonges Collins (Sales and Marketing) and Allan Muzungyo (Community Operations Manager). Run Kapchorwa seeks to provide employment and skills development opportunities for those within the local community.