My last few weeks in Masaka fly by. I discover that if simply being a white chap out running got funny looks from some of the locals, you should see how they react to hill sprints - ABSOLUTELY INCREDULOUS. I venture further out into the countryside surrounding Masaka, further than I ever have before. You can see that those living here are less familiar with mzungus due to the jaw dropping looks as you move through the villages. A young girl waves and wishes me to 'have a goodbye' as I move past her. I like that and pledge to use it myself.
As the weather heats up and the rain all but disappears, you become caked in a layer of dust on every run. A vehicle moving past on the dirt roads leads to a spray of dust akin to someone throwing flour in your face. This brings the unwelcome return of dust bogeys - I won't go into detail on this one (let me know if you want me to go into detail). Showers take longer to remove all the dust clinging to your skin and I dry off after my run and glimpse something moving out of the corner of my eye. I look into the mirror opposite and see a cockroach the size of a cat* happily sitting on my shoulder admiring itself. I scream, jump out of the tub and slip into a door frame before gathering myself and sheepishly returning to deal with the beast.
* this may be a slight exaggeration
I make the effort to learn a few words in the local dialect (Luganda) and try out my newly found phrase of 'how much?' whilst bartering with a boda driver. He's clearly impressed with my excellent grasp of the language and gives me the price in Luganda. I have absolutely no idea how much it is. I haven't done numbers. Work to do.
When I'm not training, washing off dust or embarrassing myself with the language, I take a sport session at Suubi secondary school, in Lubanda village, 30 mins drive outside Masaka. I also run a couple of group fitness sessions at the guesthouse.
I finally discover somewhere else flat to run instead of endless laps around a football pitch, an old motocross course atop one of the ridges that overlook the town. Unfortunately, this former beauty spot has been designated as the municipal dump and the track is a bit close to piles of burning trash and the toxic fumes they emit. I have to beat a retreat when breathing starts to become difficult.
On my last visit to my local restaurant, I make a final attempt to explain to the friendly ladies there that I can't possibly finish the immense Ugandan sized portion, even pointing to my belly to show it's limited capacity. They return a minute later with a smile and enough food to feed three people.
My long runs are edging up to twenty miles and on this terrain that means being out for the best part of three hours. As I neared the end of a hilly, hot & dusty 18 miler, I paused for a drink at the top of the final climb. I must have looked in fairly poor shape as a teenage girl who had been walking toward me on the other side of the road crossed over with a concerned look and offered me some of her breakfast chapati. One of so many lovely moments when out running in this great country (I'm not crying, I've got dust in my eye).
I start the long journey east and stop in Entebbe for a couple of days as I'm due a long run and there's no way I'm going to try to do it in Kampala. I set out early in the hope that the roads will be quiet and see if I can access the Botanical Gardens for some scenery and refuge. For once, the haphazard expressway construction is a good thing as it means instead of having to run alongside speeding traffic (which is the norm), there is a wide strip of flattened earth to run along. On arrival at the Botanical Gardens, I run past a crowd of mischievous looking monkeys hanging outside and discover that the gates are shut and there's no one to be seen. Just as I accept that I'm going to be running loops of back roads for a couple of hours, I see someone sneak under a nearby fence and decide it would be a great idea to follow. I manage to spend a large chunk of the run in the gardens and only need to spend an hour running boring loops on the back roads.
A morning run alongside Lake Victoria, Entebbe
Time spent in Kampala is always eventful. I'm involved in a boda crash on the first day. No great surprise with the careless driving permanently on show in the city but fortunately I escape with no more than a bruised wrist. The 'try to avoid running in Kampala' plan means I only have one run to squeeze in in my two days here so I aim for Independence Park. At first I'm flatly refused entry but the guard realises that looks a bit off when there's a bunch of locals all walking through and I'm the only person he's stopped. I start to make a loop around the parade ground then notice there are a couple of hundred army tents and some sort of military briefing in the grandstand, I decide running past that is probably not a great idea and return to the hostel. I've been feeling a little under the weather for a few days now so don't mind cutting this run short.
I also manage to squeeze in a visit to my friends at Kids for Africa Sports Academy, a non-profit sports academy in Kampala that uses sport, predominantly football and netball, to engage, educate and empower young people in poverty-stricken communities. They show me the work they are doing with sports provision and the improvements the project has brought to the village they operate in and the young people that live there.
I move on to Jinja, another couple of hours in the car. We pass over the impressive new Source of the Nile bridge to get into the town that sits on Victoria Lake and the start of the Nile (hence the name). On arrival, I discover I've booked into a place next to a bar, I know I'm likely in for a noisy weekend.
The mosquitoes are out in force here, the battle to get your running stuff on in the morning darkness at great speed before being eaten alive is real. After I return to my room to put my shorts on the correct way round, I take my first run along the river. I cross underneath the railway bridge that spans the water, dicing with bodas as we dance with one another on the narrow dirt track that runs along the base.
Each night a huge storm erupts and the power goes out (which is a result as it means the music stops at 2am rather than 5am). Running the next morning, the tracks are slippy and the road is strewn with fallen palm branches and coconuts. My 'feeling under the weather' morphs into a nasty stomach bug and after a night spent either on the toilet or curled up into a ball sweating, with bass shaking the room (the Fresh Prince was RIGHT), I give up on sleep and decide to call an end to my Jinja visit. Time to move on to my target destination, Mount Elgon and Kapchorwa.
Crossing the new Source of the Nile bridge in Jinja
Weeks until Boston Marathon: 7
Avg Distance / Week: 44.4 mi
Avg Time / Week: 6hrs 14mins
Avg Runs / Week: 5