Hundreds of professional and amateur marathoners last weekend descended on the spectacular Lewa Conservancy for the 19th edition of the Safaricom Lewa Marathon.
The annual sporting event takes participants through 21 or 42 kilometers of tough terrain alongside wild animals with all proceeds directed to replenishing the endangered animal sanctuary.
This year’s edition was flagged off by First Lady Margaret Kenyatta who applauded the Lewa Conservancy and Safaricom for the continued support in protecting Kenya’s dwindling wildlife stock and uplifting the livelihoods of local communities.
The First Lady observed that the achievements and milestones reached through the Lewa Marathons have also been aided by partnerships amongst corporate sponsors, county governments, local communities, conservationists and individual philanthropists.
“We must continue to promote human-wildlife co-existence to protect our country’s rich natural heritage. All these conservation efforts and partnerships can contribute towards a greater social and human development”, said Ms. Margaret Kenyatta.
Philemon Baaru, the undisputed king of the Safaricom Lewa Marathon, defended his title for the sixth time carrying the title for the grueling 42km race.
Mr. Baaru, 37, finished with a time of 2hours 22minutes and 21 seconds while Jane Ngima emerged winner in the women’s category of the race with a best time of 2 hours 51 minutes and 36 seconds.
Mr. Baaru credited his sixth victory in the charity event to his strict training regimen and familiarity with the terrain.
“I am glad to have clinched the title for the Safaricom Marathon for the sixth month,” he said. “The race and the competition was tough but I emerged victorious given that I usually train in such tarrain.”
In the 21km event, Morris Munene clinched the men’s title with a best time of one hour six minutes and seven second while Maey Ngendo emerged winner in the women’s category clocking one hour fifteen minutes and fourteen seconds.
Aside from giving a chance to emerging marathoners to compete on a professional level with seasoned runners, the marathon has been hailed for its sustainable impact on the community.
First Lady Margaret Kenyatta further said that the Safaricom marathon aligns well with her office’s Beyond Zero fund-raising marathon that aims to raise resources for realizing universal healthcare among low-income mothers.
“I am aware that over Sh. 60 million has been allocated to 30 conservation projects and organizations nationwide and with that we have protected our iconic rhino species. I am pleased to know that over the last 3 years no rhinos have been poached on Lewa -Borana Conservancies,” said the First Lady
The annual Lewa Marathon comprises the 42km race, half marathon and the Children’s event and draws exceptional talent of participants from all over the globe with the marathon course running through one of Africa’s most breathtaking wildlife conservancies.
This year’s marathon attracted a wide array of athletic talent from over 20 countries including Kenyan greats such as Henry Wanyoike and the oldest local athlete, 80-year old John Ruwengo who took part in the 21km race.
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There are currently 17 government primary schools and 4 secondary schools under the Lewa Education Programme with an enrolment of over 7,000 children.
Other programs that benefit from the Safaricom Lewa Marathon include the Bongo surveillance project to protect the largest group of the animal species surviving in Maasai Mau forest and the Grevy Zebra Trust (GZT) that monitors and protects the rare mammals.
Since 2013 to date, and for the fifth year running, Lewa Conservancy has managed to effectively maintain a zero-poaching rate within its boundaries, an achievement that was lauded by the First Lady.