A lot of work goes into making sure that we provide a safe, secure and exciting experience and so many individuals contribute to this. The event wouldn’t happen without them.
Street Child staff and volunteers, both local and international take on extra responsibilities to their day-to-day jobs to coordinate the whole week. Local stakeholders such as the Red Cross, Police, Army, Sports marshals and Council all pull together to cover the course and the SLM team just generally rock, so thanks to all of them.
I want to share my race day(s) experience with you.
Thursday (22nd October), the truck was packed with all equipment and materials, which had been stored at the Street Child compound over the last few months including banners, cool boxes and even the podium.
Friday (23rd October), even though we had booked the Wusum Stadium for all day Friday and Saturday I showed up at the venue at 8am in my full/valuable truck to find that football practice was still going ahead, crowds of women selling breakfast were all over the pavilion and rubbish was everywhere. At this point I became the villain as football was cut short, everyone was cleared out of the stadium and workers were told to clean the mess up ready for registration.
After a busy start, registration smoothed out and was controlled all day, whilst also setting up the start/finish area with banners + bunting. Following a drill patrol with the local security firm it was time for the Street Child beneficiaries football match, a fantastic spectacle and chance for the kids to show off their skills. This was their Champions League final, the opportunity to play in front of an international crowd.
Once again the stadium was cleared and I was off to the Pasta party at the Clubhouse in order to refuel for the big day ahead and deliver my pre-race brief.
No rest for the wicked as we went off to meet with the President’s security team. It’s not as glamorous or intense as you see on a TV series like 24, instead we sat in a large living room in the Presidential residence had a quick chat with his Chief of Staff, handed over a number of runner’s t-shirts and that was it.
Race Day, Saturday (24th October), back to the Wusum Stadium. It is well known that the Race Director never gets any sleep the night before the race (Thanks to Emma and Alusine for the company).
There is something quite relaxing about setting up in the middle of the night with very few people around, no distractions and just enough time to get stuff done but then funny things like this happen:
- Clearing the main gates where all of the APC (political party) guests decided to park their cars.
- Asking a security guard to hack off a chain on the other gate so that runners can enter/exit
- Posting up tape and posters on the street outside whilst dogs bark crazily at you.
- Putting up distance markers and signs around the course in the pouring down rain.
- Carrying and allocating bundles of water to each vehicle/water station so that they are ready to collect.
- Refusing a few late night partygoers in to signing up for the full marathon only hours before the race.
- Sweeping up and cleaning a private room for the President.
- Ringing and shouting at certain people who have slept in and are late in collecting water/equipment ready to deploy out on course.
By 5am, the majority of course volunteers and vehicles were deployed, with runners then starting to arrive and begin their warm up on the pitch. Hats off to the Africell DJ, the music got everyone in the mood for a big day ahead.
Next it was time for the President and all of his convoy to arrive. The President gave a warm and welcoming speech to officially open this year’s event and then came the call for marathon and half marathon runners to make their way out to the start line.
I thought it was very fitting for Palo Conteh, head of the National Ebola Response Committee to start the race and get our long-distance runners underway before daybreak.
30 minutes later, after some more stretching and dancing we were ready for the 5km race to start. Once again I was asked by the President’s security team to go out and stay with His Excellency as I knew the course and his team –this was great fun!
President Ernest Bai Koroma is much loved in Makeni, the crowds were showing real affection towards their leader and this was amazing to be part of.
Whilst waving back at the crowds, we spoke along with his First Minister about Makeni, the marathon course, the roads and his love for football and Arsenal. The First Minister even invited me to visit him for dinner in Freetown some time, so I returned the offer and said I would take him for a night out in Newcastle.
The 5km was done done, the crowds were overjoyed and it was a beautiful day. So far so good. The finish line was electric, everyone eager to welcome in the half and full marathon runners.
Congratulations to all participants but special praise to our sweepers at the back, Josh and Bart who kindly offered to match the slowest runner and make sure everyone got home.
Everyone did it, everyone managed to complete their distance, well done as I know it’s not easy! But you were all some way off my SLM (2014) record slowest time of 8hours 37minutes, so come along next year and give it a go…
Tenki Ya… Mark