Kenya’s Meru Country held Africa’s first ever Mountain Run on Saturday 22 February, attracting thousands of athletes and spectators.
The run was held on the foot of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second tallest mountain after Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Dubbed ‘Challenging the Heights’, Meru Country incorporated various races; 2 kilometers, 6 kilometers, 8 kilometers and 12 kilometers.
Other than the athletes and spectators, the event was also attended by various high-level delegations from across the world, including ambassadors and military officials from both Kenya and the United Kingdom.
The biggest races of the day were the Men’s 12 kilometers and the Women’s 12 kilometers races.
Purity Gitonga emerged the winner in the women’s race while Emanuel Bor won the Men’s version.
Backed by the crowd of spectators, Gitonga, a resident of Meru County, beat two-time world champions Lucy Murigi who was considered the favorite coming into the race.
The winners walked away with Kshs 500,000 (about USD 5,000).
Gitonga called upon athletics officials to organize more mountain runs to help popularize the event in Kenya and Africa at large.
“I would love to see this sport grow and become line other sports and be held all across Africa so that athletes can come and compete in Kenya like other races. I would be very happy. Many people will realize they have a talent for mountain running. Those who participate in flat races but are not successful and they give up can come and try this and it will be fine. Maybe they have a talent for mountain running,” she said.
On his part, Bor acknowledged the challenge posed by mountain running.
“Today has been very challenging. It is quite a jungle. You go through hills and valleys, mud and in some places stones. it’s not like the usual races we do on roads.No, this has provided a bigger challenge. I am happy for my win and I thank God because it is not usual for one to finish a race as a winner in such a challenge,” he said.
Kenya’s athletics officials as well as anti-doping authorities were in attendance to ensure the race met the required standards of competition.
Athletics Kenya (AK) Chairman, Rt. Lt. Gen. Jackson Tuwei pledged to ensure the Meru Mountain Run is added onto the country’s athletics calendar to enable it to be held every year.
Other than promoting mountain running, the Meru County Government hoped to also use the event to raise funds to build a cancer facility in the county and also to promote sports tourism in the region.
“The purpose of this run is to raise money for fighting cancer. Cancer has been a major killer of our people in Meru county. We are actually number two in cancer statistics in the country (Kenya),” said Governor Murungi.
“For us, this is a dream which has come true. International mountain running is known all over. In fact it is common in the other parts of the world but it is very very new in Africa. And we feel very privileged, very honored to be the first county in Kenya to host this event. We have Mount Kenya here, which is the second highest mountain in Africa, but we have not made much use of it. So this event will help us to market our mountain to the rest of the world.”
The governor said his administration would work to have the next mountain run in February 2021.