Map of the Kampala Jinja relay route that gives the quite correct impression that 1) there were indeed lots of hills and 2) our collective blood pressure would rise and fall like the proverbial yo-yo, ending in a slump by the Nile.
They came from Kigali and Nairobi to join Kampala Hash House Harriers (KH3), an assorted bunch of Ugandans, Americans, Brits and the occasional Dutchie: thin ones and fat ones, professional runners (a few) and the usual party animals (carloads of them).
In true Hash Mismanagement style, we were still shopping for supplies at 11.30pm the night before the annual Kampala – Jinja relay, and on the road (minus the required tent, what tent?) at 6.30 the next morning.
Last year’s knee injury sustained climbing Mount Elgon meant this was my first time to take part in the (in)famous Kampala Jinja Relay, now in its sixth year.
Each relay team comprised nine ‘seeds’ (runners) and miscellaneous hangers-on (well someone had to be responsible for forgetting the tent). The weekly cries of the Hashmasters: “No more than ten people in a team!” were closely adhered to by everyone: our team had 13 members, another had 32.
Two seeds ran/walked one section each, six seeds ran two sections and Seed One ran three sections: the first of the day, immediately after lunch, and the last stage of the day. Needless to say, Seed One was the hardest slot.
Kampala Jinja relay seeding for all 17 stages and distance in km in brackets. Total is 87 km (er… in reality more like 92 km on the day!)
Seed 1– 3 stages (7.4 + 6.6 + 5.5 = 19.5 km)
Seed 2 – 2 stages (5.7 + 6.3 =12 km)
Seed 3 – 2 stages (4.9 + 6.0 =10.9 km)
Seed 4 – 2 stages (5.8 + 4.1 = 9.9 km)
Seed 5 – 2 stages (5.9 + 4.0 = 9.9 km)
Seed 6 – 2 stages (6.2 + 3.1 = 9.3 km)
Seed 7– 2 stages (5.4 + 3 .1 =8.5 km)
Seed 8 – 1 stage ( 3.5 km)
Seed 9 – 1 stage (3.5 km)
What was different about the Relay was running through the day (Monday’s Hash starts at 6pm, as the sun’s going down). With the sun high above us, I joined Lynda and the walkers for the 3.5 km stage.
I felt uncomfortable walking through the cane fields. Large sections of the (supposedly) protected Mabira Forest were illegally sold off by the government. Public anger was such that riots broke out in Kampala. An innocent passerby – who just happened to be Indian, like the owners of the sugar company – fell victim to the mob. As a conservationist, it makes me sick, or was it just the sickly sweet smell of the crushed cane getting to me?
Apparently, the local advice is: come into the fields and eat as much sugar cane as you like – just don’t take any with you.
I disappeared into the bushes to take a short call and emerged a few minutes later to see Cathy had disappeared. Her father Jerry pointed in the direction of the disappearing convoy of cars so I trotted off after them, keen to catch up (I kidded myself). I ran past a few cars, but no other runners.
As the road widened, carloads of cheering Hashers beeped me and egged me on “ON ON!” they cried. I enjoyed running the flat road. And then something strange happened. Jerry overtook me. Hmmm. He was supposed to be AHEAD of me, I thought… The road seemed to go on and on and, just as I was thinking the 3.5 km run must be finishing, the route got steeper.
As I approached the finishing line it seemed everyone was calling my name “Nagawa! Nagawa!” It was quite overwhelming. My moment of fame (and embarrassment) was short-lived as a speeding police car appeared out of nowhere and a quick scuffle ensued as they jumped a boda boda driver trying to run off. My red face and I were grateful to retreat into the crowd. Boy that run was tough. I found out why afterwards – in my rush to catch up with Cathy I’d actually run the longer 5 km stage, the stage before hers! “Sorry you’ll have to do this one on your own after all” I said.
Life away from the main road to Jinja is as poor and underdeveloped as anywhere I’ve visited in the border areas of south western Uganda but the thrill of doing an event like this is seeing people and places you’d never normally see.
A man emerged from his field drinking his morning mug of tea to see what all the fuss was about, as 350 people, three small coaches, 30 cars and a travelling sound system bounced and sang its way along the dusty back roads. Following the runners through the fields and villages was a fantastic driving experience.
Children shrieked with delight as John blasted the vuvuzela at them out of the open car window. Some of the Hashers handed out exercise books and pens they’d brought with them. We couldn’t help but stare at the two albino children we passed.
When the combined results of the seeds came in, our team Ruff Ryders came 15th out of 21 “which adequately reflects our comprehensive training programme” Jerry said.
What a great day it was.
Ruff Ryders – not to be confused with Rough Rider condoms! – team members were: Charlotte “Nagawa” [member of the Red Tailed Monkey clan], Harriet ‘Dry Climax’, Timo, John, Virus, Martin, Apollo, Mukyala, the Burton family (Jerry, Lynda, Peter and Cathy and their 2 dogs of course!). Thanks for being such great team mates.
As the all-night party kicked off in Jinja we sped home to Kampala along deserted roads.
I was glad to be back in my own bed.
“Hashing is a state of mind – a friendship of kindred spirits joined together for the sole purpose of reliving their childhood or fraternity days, releasing the tensions of everyday life, and generally, acting a fool amongst others who will not judge you or measure you by anything more than your sense of humor.”
[Jerry’s friend in Addis Ababa Hash designed our T shirt logo. Here Jerry’s pictured riding a croc on the Nile, beers in hand].
Here’s the official account of the KH3 Hash House Harriers Kampala- Jinja Relay.