5am start. Had a rough night’s sleep. The evening before I had been pretty tense and uptight. After everything to get here, the whole year and then spending time speaking with the women who had been assaulted during the conflict…I just wanted to run. At this point I still believed that this run would change things.
After picking up an armed guard from the local police station, some sugar cane and a letter from the police authorising the run we began just after 7am on a gorgeous morning.
It was stunning I can’t get over to you how stunning the views were – a giant blood orange sun rapidly rising up into the sky, fishing boats on the lake and people milling about down by the shores. The only blemish to the view was me and Dom attempting to warm up. We looked like the visual representation of dyslexic yoga.
The first few miles of the run were quite tricky as we tried to find a steady pace. With cars, lorries and motorbikes buzzing round you; it didn’t feel the safest place to be running. I also found it pretty off-putting having three camera lenses pointed at me when we were running, I didn’t know where to look.
After a mile or so we attracted the attention of some young children who decided to run along with us. This part was immense just playing games, running in stupid ways, high fiving people, felt so alive just running along with them. This helped me relax and I begin to start enjoying the run. Felt like Forest Gump.
The day warmed up so quickly and with UN trucks flying past, my eyes and lungs began to clog up with orange dust. I remember the mixture of dust and sweat making my eyes sting and burn.
I tried counting the UN trucks but lost count after about 25 or so. All seemed pretty friendly, but they were always tooled up with guns. I couldn’t help but think that it must be hard for them to be linked into communities when you spend all day with a gun in your hand or you just shoot through villages on giant truck miles above the people looking down on them.
Having heard from a number of people that it was the villages where the attacks are likely to occur I began to tense up again when we left the outskirts of Bukavu. I had also begun to pull away from Dom at this point and I had lost the vehicle out of my sight. From speaking to Nicola after the race they had been spotting a fair few people up in the hills shouting at us waving machetes. I’m glad I found this out after the event.
Generally people were quite unsure about us to begin with as a lot of people thought we were UN soldiers. But with a few friendly Swahili and French phrases the stern faces turned into massive smiles.
After about 10km we must have had about 7 or 8 children running with us, by about 20km there must have been 20 children with us. It was amazing they were so happy. I remember carrying a few on my back and just running, singing, dancing and laughing so much. Never felt that happy before – the kind of happy where you feel that your mouth is going to rip from smiling so much. Wholesome like brown bread.
At 37km we arrived at a Women for Women project and spent an hour or so looking round and speaking with the women who spend time there, it was a great opportunity to spend more time there and learn, but I just wanted to run.
The whole time I just wanted to run and be on the road, I could feel my legs begin to tighten; we had 7 more kilometres to go. I was conscious that because we had been chatting and playing along the way that I had been running as hard as I could. I promised myself in January that every race I run, I do it as hard and as fast as I could. With this in mind I sped off. I wanted to feel knackered and drain at the finish, not just coast over the line. At one point I was hitting 18km/ph
As I ran quicker and my body began to tire my mind was flying in circles and becoming blurrier. I kept on going over the question of why am I running or thinking of the people I had met along the way, friends at home, and then it started to bite – what the hell would this run achieve?
It was dawning on me increasingly that what had started as my project would never succeed if I kept it as my idea. Up until then I had been pretty precious about it because of the hours and effort I had put into this, more than any of you know. I’ll sneak out my flat at 3am and going running, I’ll be scribbling ideas down on the tube, running for Congo has become such a massive part of my life. But as I came to the finish it hit me that the marathon will do little and because of this I realised I’m not able to create the change I want to see on my own. I learnt on the final few painful kilometres that the people in the DRC need all different types of people working for them in the UK to make the Government aware that the UK public want them to be proactive in helping to end the conflict in the DRC. That way the people in Eastern Congo will hopefully no longer have to suffer the fate of their parents.
I just hope that the Congo marathon and every mile I’ve ran this year is the equivalent of a Jaeger bomb on a night out, a catalyst. I hope more people are interested and aware.
I crossed the line and collapsed. Just sitting there in a storm drain head in heads. Felt lost and lonely. Up until this point all that had mattered was getting to Congo and completing the marathon. I had completed it, what next. I was lost.
I found it hard, as there were villagers all around me just staring at me not knowing what I had done or why. The click of the camera shutter in the background and a microphone in my face. I couldn’t speak, I just felt numb, my mind was full of horrific images.
As rough and as lost as I felt I also had a sense of pride about what I had achieved. So many people said I couldn’t do it, it was dangerous and I was putting my life and others at risk. My folks didn’t want me to do the run. But I did it.
None of this year would have been possible without everyone’s support. This gives me a fair amount of hope, because people are interested in the DRC, we just need a few more people to get interested. On the face of it you may think the DRC is doomed, but if you try and make a difference then things happen. I still remember the line for the Genocide Memorial in Kigali.
“To save one life is to save the world”
How about this
“To change one view is to change the worlds views”