The annual Kilimanjaro Marathon is set this year for Sunday March 1 2009. This is one of the most popular of the exotic global marathon destinations and is an unusual mix of bucolic African highland scenery and top flight international runners. The marathon is hosted by the town of Moshi, the main jump-off point for Kilimanjaro, and a scenic destination in its own right, set as it is in the heartland of the small scale coffee growing region, and of course with the iconic backdrop of Kilimanjaro ever present.
March is an excellent time to visit the region, just before the onset of the long rains, and with the ubiquitous haze briefly absent. The marathon route uses a combination of local roads to trace a circuit of 42.2 Kilometers through small rural villages and homesteads with large numbers of local people lining the route to share the excitement. The race starts at Moshi Stadium and briefly traces the main Dar es Salaam road before turning towards the mountain and heading for the tiny mountain village of Mekwa. The turnaround point marks approximately 32 kilometers, at which point the route becomes a fast downhill run back towards Moshi Stadium.
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There is a bike race and also a half-marathon
The main sponsors of the event are Air Tanzania, Tanzania Breweries and the ubiquitous South African communications giant Vodacom, and the entire event is extremely well organized and supported. This year top Tanzanian and Kenya runners will be competing, which lends weight to what otherwise might be seen as a promotional fun-run for local tourism, and a fact that will help pitch the Kilimanjaro Marathon onto the world circuit with some surety. It is still a little way shy of competing with other major events on the global calendar, and still has a little bit of a rustic flavor. This is part of the charm of the event, however, and in fact part of the charm of the whole region. Kilimanjaro is probably the most recognizable climbing destination in the world, and yet the park itself, the wider support region and the tourist industry locally, maintains its sense of being a sleepy cottage industry which definitely is very much part of its appeal.
So for any and all of you out there for whom testing your resolve on a full marathon is not enough, and you need a multi-day trek to the top of Africa’s highest peak to round off a week of mild exercise, get your nikes on and pound the pavement around Kili this year, it promises to be one of highlights of marathon calendar.