How Kili Marathon Grew From Brainwave to Africa’s Biggest

Kilimanjaro Marathon 2011

When two sports enthusiasts got a brainwave to initiate Kilimanjaro Marathon almost a decade ago, they could not fathom that their idea marked the beginning of a huge sports gathering close to the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain.

Neither could John Addison, the Managing Director for the South Africa-based Wild Frontiers and a Moshi-based retired athlete, Leonard Mandara figure out that their idea would, in no time, yield one of Africa’s biggest and best known marathons. “All we wanted was to initiate a marvelous event that would remain as a living testimony of our contribution to the development of athletics in Tanzania and other neighbouring countries,” explains the 72-years old Mandara.

Having retired from working as a public servant in 1993, Mandara found himself in a situation whereby he could effectively divide his time between sports and other family issues. He then decided to ponder into what he used to be doing during his youthful days. A flashback of how he used to be representing the Northern Province in national athletics championships during his days as a Middle-school student in Moshi between 1954 and 1958 came inevitably to his mind.

The memory of the days he represented the Central Province in similar championships during his days as a trainee teacher at Mpwapwa Teachers Training College between 1959 and 1960 filled his brain folds. He mulled over the days he represented Tanganyika at the Eastern African Athletics Championship. Mandara made a solid decision that time was ripe he did something and that was how the initiation of Kilimanjaro Marathon was conceived.

“I then decided to share the push for the initiation of Kilimanjaro Marathon in me with the Member of Parliament (MP) for my constituency, Philemon Ndesamburo… was during my deliberations with Ndesamburo that he told me that John Addison, his South African colleague, had also been contemplating the same,” explains Mandara. Understanding that they were working for a good cause, the three then decided to work as a team and their first joint consultative meeting was held at Keys Hotel in Moshi in 2002.

“I was then tasked with the duty of looking for sponsors….I subsequently went to see Aggrey Marealle in his capacity as National Public Affairs Manager at Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL) Headquarters seeking for sponsorship,” he explains. Aggrey then proposed the idea to the then Kilimanjaro Premium Lager Brand Manager Goldman Nsherenguzi and in 2003, the five were able to turn the dream into reality and that is how the Kilimanjaro Marathon was born.

They agreed that Kilimanjaro Marathon, which was duly registered as Kilimanjaro Marathon Club with the National Sports Council on 17th January 2003, should be supported by Kilimanjaro Premium Lager as its chief sponsor. Ndesamburo shares Mandara’s sentiments: “We conceived Kilimanjaro Marathon out of our own love for sports and I’m now glad that almost everyone is happy with how the race has evolved – moving from good to better and to best – during the past years,” the Moshi Urban legislator said.

The beginning was intricate, with only 750 athletes mostly from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa participating in the first race in 2003. Apart from Kilimanjaro Premium Lager, the inaugural marathon managed to attract just two more sponsors which were Celtel Tanzania (now airtel) and Multichoice Tanzania. “The first winner in the inaugural marathon went home with 1m/- and 700,000 for men and women categories respectively so you can imagine the situation that we were in that time,” he explains.

However, each of the initiators of the event decided to use all means within their ability to turn Kilimanjaro Marathon into a force to reckon with in the global sporting arena. The initiators then shared tasks amongst themselves accordingly. Wild Frontiers remained the event organiser while Executive Solutions Limited, whose Managing Director is Aggrey Marealle, is its main local coordinator in conjunction with Athletics Tanzania (AT), Kilimanjaro Marathon Club, Kilimanjaro Amateur Athletics Association and Keys Hotel provide logistical and operational support.

Kilimanjaro Premium Lager, which draws its name from the highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro, remains the title sponsor to date. It took the event initiators few months to win the hearts of sponsors to the effect that this year’s event is co-sponsored by Vodacom, Gapco Tanzania, CFAO Motors (formerly DT Dobie), Keys Hotels, KK Security, Simba Cement, TanzaniteOne, TPC Sugar, Precision air, Southern Sun, Tanzania Tourist Board, Kilimanjaro Water and Standard Chartered Bank.

The event saw some 4,500 athletes from 35 countries participating last year. The Kilimanjaro Marathon is a formally accredited international race recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It is also registered with the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS), and has the official backing of Athletics Tanzania, and the Tanzania Tourist Board (TTB). The number of categories has also went up.

The inaugural race had three events; the full marathon, half marathon and a 10km run. At present, runners have an option to take part in four competitive races; the Kilimanjaro Premium Lager Marathon (42.195km), half marathon (21km), GAPCO Disabled Half Marathon or the Vodacom 5km Fun Run cheered on by thousands of spectators.

The success of the Kilimanjaro Marathon has also been reflected in the way athletes who have emerged from the event have per formed in other competitions. Lucian Hombo of Tanzania won his first ever marathon with a time of 2:16.25 and subsequently went on to win a string of other international marathons across the world.

Additional Kilimanjaro Marathon products include Christopher Isegwe, winner of the 2004 Kilimanjaro Marathon who went on to win the Belgrade Marathon the same year; Andrea Silvini (2007), went on to win the Pune Marathon in 2008 while Banuelia Brighton (2007 female winner) went on to win the Kigali Peace Marathon in 2009 and finished second at the Kampala Marathon in 2011. “From small beginnings, running on rural dirt roads, to the 4,500 odd runners, we now have running on proper tarmac roads.

This event has shown remarkable growth and has proved the value of sports tourism to both the Kilimanjaro region and athletics development, by virtue of looking at the number of top athletes who first showed their skills and potential at this event. With runners coming from all over the world to compete – over 35 nationalities, this race has proven that Tanzania is on the map as an athletics Mecca and a tourism hotspot in Africa,” says John Addison.

And Aggrey Marealle says: “I am very proud to have been amongst the five founding members way back in 2003 and am very grateful for the role Kilimanjaro Premium Lager has continued to play as Title Sponsor in developing Tanzanian athletes….I am personally a sports enthusiast having done cross country running, swimming and basketball at high school and later Kung-Fu at university where I was also 5000 metre champion for two consecutive years.

The marathon has proved a springboard for athletics development in Tanzania,” says Marealle. With such a success, Ndesamburo feels time is ripe for the annual event, which usually kicks off from the Cooperative College Stadium in Moshi, to have got its own venue.