The Freetown Fashpack Runners thrive under adversity, confusion and CHALLENGES and at this year’s Street Child Sierra Leone Marathon, the circumstances truly delivered. The race is Sierra Leone’s only marathon where the town of Makeni plays host to several hundred runners who travel from far and wide to endure hours of pain and agony all in the name of sport and charity. It is a proud day for the local community and the Street Child organisers, however the event on Saturday was marred by some serious logistical, organisational and safety issues which sadly shadowed the experience for runners across the field.
Without being a complete Debbie downer let’s start with the good news. While the race itself was a mess, the pre-race excitement and organisation was second to none thanks to Fashpack’s Operations Manager and all-round great bloke Ibby Fixer.
Ibby managed to get 52 rowdy runners on the bus from Freetown to Makeni, registered, fed, off to their hotels, off to watch a football match (Athletica vs Real Madrid – GREAT game) in bed by 10pm and up by 4am ready for the big race. The guy is a multi-tasking master who is so damned organised he should basically be running the country or at least be employed by Street Child on a high-end consultancy day rate to sort out the marathon problems.
I would normally post a riveting 800,000 word blow-by-blow summary of results and times but this year I don’t actually think a lot of the results are valid or fair. As those who ran the race are so painfully aware, the course was poorly marshaled and signed and for many runners felt more like a never-ending scavenger hunt than a road race.
The overriding problem was that dozens of runners (not only Fashpack athletes but those from across the international and Sierra Leonean field) were misdirected by volunteer marshals. A lack of water on the course did not help, leading to more confusion and disappointment. The pocket rocket ladies who were triumphant in the 5km race. Hawa Mansaray (3rd) on the left and Isha Kargbo (1st).
Problems were first reported in the 10 km race by a couple of the leading Fashpack runners who were misdirected in the final stages, costing them a fair result. As runners started crossing the line, it soon became evident that the half marathon and marathon runners were also affected. Several runners in the half ran up to 5 miles further and could not even find the finish line.
National record holder Idrissa Kargbo was leading in the second half of the marathon with an Okada (motorbike) acting as a guide. At one particular junction the Okada driver took the wrong turn and lead him more than 5km to a village at the end of a road. He was then forced to double back to the original junction at which point he was passed by his closest competitor and team mate Usman Challey who then went on to defeat him.
Official results indicated that the Freetown Fashpack Runners took home a total of 20 medals (out of a possible 24) which is obviously an OUTSTANDING result. However it is questionable as to how valid many of those results are given that so many runners were lost on the course, misdirected and as a result ran further than they should have.
The Sierra Leone Marathon is a race that our runners take very seriously and look forward to all year, it is also an event that many international runners pay a lot of money to attend and use as a platform for fundraising. While the organisers have no doubt wonderful intentions, it is questionable as to whether their staff and volunteers have the capacity to handle such a large scale logistical operation in Sierra Leone.
Like all other participants in the race the Freetown Fashpack Runners were hoping for a professionally run event with a legitimate course and fair results. We hope that organisational failures are acknowledged and a simple public apology is delivered to those affected. The Freetown Fashpack Runners would like nothing more than to return to Makeni for the race next year but it can’t be done unless the race is properly organised.
There were so many people who helped get our runners to the start line, a big thank you must go to those who sponsored a runner through our “I Heart Freetown Fashpack Runners” campaign, you really dug deep guys and your support is so greatly appreciated. Meghan O’ Hanlon all the way from Toronto also forked out big time and Ange Byrnes once again donated her precious time helping with the campaign.
BIG shout outs and hugs to our favourite Fashpack fundraisers Kate and Nina for their out-of-control motivation and generosity. Their efforts were so successful that we now have nice little start-up fund for our next project -sending the team to the Liberian Marathon in August.
We also had two wonderful sponsors on board, Morvigor Tea headed up by its charming director Mrs Eva Roberts. She was at the finish line on Sunday handing out ice Morvigor Tea to the runners and cheering them on. If you live in Freetown, go and get your hands on her tea (from any supermarket) today. It will make your hair shiny and your skin glow, improve your popularity and generally make you healthier.
The guys at Protec who have supported us in the past also stepped up with a generous donation. A big thanks to Joe and the team and if you ever need security or logistical help in Freetown look no further than Protec.
And just to end this post on a high, check out this uplifting video of 52 Freetown Fashpack Runners going nuts on the bus as they drove through the streets of Makeni after the race (thanks driver Alpha for agreeing to ‘Lap the main’ for our team).
Fashpack Runners, you came you ran you conquered and we are very proud of your marvelous efforts.