In 2009, I had done a few full and half marathons and was starting to get fairly decent finishing times and I decided to take a crack at running a race overseas. At the time I was working for a global company that had offices in Africa and I had gotten to be friends with a couple of my co-workers who lived there. I had heard plenty of interesting stories about the people, different cultures, wildlife, etc., and figured that running a marathon would be a perfect excuse to take a trip there and see some of these things for myself. So I did some research and decided on the Mt. Kilimanjaro Marathon, which is held in Moshi, Tanzania each year and has a course that offers a great view of Mt. Kilimanjaro along with a chance to see some wildlife and run with some locals from Tanzania and Kenya (which is right across the border).
What surprised me the most when I first started putting my travel plans together was how easy it was to work with the race director, Marie Frances. She sent me a big packet of information about the area, gave helped me apply for my travel visa, worked with the airlines to book my flight and took care of my hotel reservations too – it was like having a personal travel agent who also happened to be in charge of the race I was about to run. Anytime I had a question, I would send her an email and she would usually reply within 24 hours…. the reason I’m mentioning all of that here is because she’s one of the main reasons that I would recommend this race to anyone that’s up for an overseas adventure.
Well… that and the fact that the scenery is stunning….
The wildlife is amazing…..
The locals are super friendly….
And the entire experience will be something that you’ll never forget….
The most important thing to note about this race is that signing up for it isn’t the same as signing up for any other race (another reason I was so thankful to Ms. Frances for all of her help). Instead of doing the trip piecemeal, you sign up for an entire package that includes the race entry, hotel fees, airfare, transportation, meals, and whatever other activities you decide you want to do ahead of time (besides the race, you can also go on a safari and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro). The only things I had to pay for while I was there were beer and souvenirs.
I decided on a package that included the safari and the race. The one piece of advice I would give anyone that’s interested in doing this race is to sign up for the full package that includes all of the activities. Whenever I think about that trip, I regret not doing it – it is more expensive and will extend the length of the trip by about a week…. but the reasons I skipped climbing the mountain at the time were because I didn’t want to take too much time off of work and didn’t want to spend the extra $750 (or whatever it was at the time). First of all, I don’t work at that company anymore and when I look back, taking an extra few days off really wouldn’t have made any difference at all, and besides that I’ve spent a lot more than $750 on junk that I don’t even remember buying since then. I’ve learned over the years that living life to the fullest is more about having amazing experiences than owning a bunch of crap, and this could have been my chance to have had the experience of going on a safari, running a marathon, and climbing one of the most famous mountains in the world all within two weeks of each other. That being said though, the parts that I did get to experience will be etched in my mind forever:
There are no direct flights from Chicago to Moshi – in fact, there are hardly any direct flights from anywhere to Moshi, and because of the timing of the race and when I needed to be there for all of the various activities, etc., my travel plans were even more complex than usual – I was glad I didn’t have to figure this all out myself: in order to get there, I flew from Chicago to Detroit (1 hour), then changed planes and flew to Amsterdam (8 hours), changed planes again after a short layover, and then flew to Dar Es Salaam (7 hours), and then finally changed planes one last time and flew to Moshi (1 hour). After traveling for almost 24 hours straight, changing planes four times and crossing eight time zones, I was exhausted and wasn’t even really sure what day it was anymore. Another benefit of paying for the entire trip as a package was that as soon as I walked off the plane and picked up my luggage, there was a driver waiting to take me to the hotel….. in some van-type vehicle that I had never seen before and wasn’t completely convinced that it wouldn’t fall apart on the way.
For as late as it was and for exhausted as I was, I had so much adrenaline pumping through my veins that there was no way I was going to be sleeping anytime soon. I was glad that I flew out almost 5 days before the race so that my body would have a chance to adjust. Everything about Africa is different from anything I had experienced before – even subtle things like the sounds you hear and the stars you see at night are like nothing you’ll see or hear in the states.
The drive from the airport to the Mountain Inn Hotel takes about 45 minutes and while I was in the van I met another runner (another key difference from other races is that everyone who does this race stays at the same hotel, eats together, and travels around Moshi together as a group). She and I passed the time by talking about races we had done and places we had traveled to. One of my favorite things about running besides the actual act itself is that no matter where I am in the world, whenever I meet another runner, I know that I can have a new friend within minutes because there’s always so much to talk about. Before we knew it, the van was pulling into the hotel driveway.
The Mountain Inn is one of the most high class hotels in Moshi. It still manages to provide a great African experience though – it’s definitely not the Hilton. The hotel sits on the outskirts of town, just at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the majority of people who stay there are climbers who just need a place to leave their stuff while they’re out on the mountain… My room came complete with mosquito nets and some cool looking traditional African art:
By the time I got to my room, it was pretty late and the exhaustion of all the traveling was finally starting to set in so I pretty much just flopped in my bed and fell asleep. The next day I got to do a little more exploring around the hotel and meet the staff and some of the other runners in my group.
Up next… zebras, giraffes, baboons, and some local entertainment…. then later I’ll write a post about the race.