African countries have churned out a number of prominent and talented athletes who often dominate marathons. More people are taking up the challenge of running marathons. For some, running is a lucrative and challenging profession. For others, it’s a great way to stay in shape or a means to test physical and emotional limits. Whatever the motivation, here are some major running races that occur across the continent on an annual basis.
Lagos International Marathon: Nigeria
In a bid to improve sporting in Lagos, the Federal Government hosted the Lagos International Marathon on February 6th where a record 20,000 athletes showed up for a chance to win the grand prize. The historic event (which was last held thirty years ago) attracted both local and international athletes with Kenyan runners taking both first and second prizes.
Why it’s so popular: The grand prize for first place is $50,000. Even if that dream seems a bit far-fetched for some runners, it’s a great way to be part of Nigerian sporting history.
Marathon Des Sables: Morocco
Dubbed as the toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon Des Sables (or MDS) is a challenging marathon through the Sahara Desert. Racers must run while carrying everything that is required to survive (except water and a tent) on their backs for approximately 250 km. As grueling as this sounds, it has quickly become one of the most popular races today, with funds raised going towards improving living standards of local communities.
Why it’s so popular: The race is seen as a way to test one’s endurance (with bragging rights going to all who manage to complete it) while giving back to the community.
Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon: South Africa
This seven day race takes runners through the Kalahari Desert in the Augrabies Falls National Park and private game parks. Its ever-changing route takes participants through the Orange River Valley in the footsteps of ancient Bushmen, and is only disclosed to athletes on the day before the race. Much like the Marathon Des Sables, participants must be self-sufficient and carry all survival equipment.
Why it’s so popular: This exclusive race is a great way to see the unspoiled terrain of South Africa, complete with a first-hand view of its wildlife.
Kilimanjaro Marathon: Tanzania
Runners begin at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro and run a loop four times. With such a stunning backdrop, it should come as no surprise then that the race was ranked the 4th Best International Adventure Marathon by Forbes. The race takes place in the small town of Moshi. The local community, famous for its Tanzanian hospitality, provides support to racers as they make their way to the finish line.
Why it’s so popular: This is the only marathon that does not invite professional athletes. Each year an amateur wins the race, thereby making it accessible to budding marathon enthusiasts.
Great Ethiopian Run: Ethiopia
The Great Ethiopian Run (GER) was the brainchild of acclaimed athlete Haile Gebrselassie and his neighbors Peter Middlebrook and Abi Masefield. The 10 km run is immensely popular and attracts 35,000 runners every year.
Why it’s so popular: Participants get the chance to run alongside industry greats such as Haile Gebrselassie and Gebre Gebremariam (but only if you can keep up)!
Uganda International Marathon: Uganda
This marathon offers a 10 km, half, or full marathon, but also incorporates a festival, street party, and children’s sports day, all aimed at creating both a physical and cultural experience. Participants also have the chance to take part in local projects and make a difference in someone else’s life.
Why it’s so popular: The event is not only a marathon, but a volunteer and fundraising effort aimed at helping local communities.
Safaricom Marathon: Kenya
The marathon takes place at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and allows participants a breathtaking view of Mount Kenya, Mount Ololokwe, and Samburu. Each runner is presented with a medal and gift bag. The event also works towards raising money for use towards wildlife conservation.
Why it’s so popular: Runners get the chance to run alongside zebras, elephants, and giraffe.