Ronald Namugera is a professional engineer as well as an ardent running enthusiast. Over the weekend, he was part of a 22-member group of runners under their banner ‘Team Matooke’ that took part in and completed the prestigious 42-kilometre Berlin marathon in Germany.
Team Matooke is a group of professionals that participate in races as non-professional runners. For Namugera, his time of three hours and 14 minutes was his second-best finish in a marathon. It marks a remarkable turnaround for a person who just three years ago couldn’t even complete 10 kilometres and he hopes to use his experience to inspire others to run for fitness.
Back in mid-2021, on the invitation of a longtime friend, Godfrey Kamya, who was already a Team Matooke member, he participated in his first-ever group run.
“I learned that it is desirable to belong to a smaller running group, either at work or at home. Such groups do regular runs as a bunch of running buddies to keep fit and also train for national, regional, or international runs where they go as Team Matooke,” he says.
“It was in this group that I got the inspiration to run a marathon. They have a slogan that Running Silutalo [is not a war]; so, just enjoy the run.”
In Namugera’s first run with the group in June 2021, they moved from Kampala up to Entebbe at the 22km mark in Kitubulu. He was tired and sat down.
“Meanwhile, the running group that had organised the run had put a beer stop, and some runners would stop to take pints of beer before resuming to run. Some even reached Entebbe International Airport. I was in total disbelief,” he says.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
With that inspiration, Namugera felt he was ready to participate in the first marathon. On D-day, October 31, 2021, he set off with other Team Matooke members from Kampala city centre to Entebbe. It turned out to be a baptism of fire.
“I threw up after the gruelling 42-kilometre run; I thought I was going to die! The generals [a reference to senior group members] stabilised me, gave me fruits and drinks, and even made me lie down. After I regained my consciousness, they said, “Now this one has been initiated”.
I thought I would never run the marathon again, but that initiation, as they called it, was only the beginning,” he says.
To date, Namugera has completed the Kilimanjaro marathon twice in 2022 and 2023: the New York marathon in November 2022, the London marathon in April 2023, and now the Berlin marathon.
“I am now a three-star general, having done three of the six prestigious Abbott World Major marathons. The other three are Boston, Chicago and Tokyo, and I intend to conquer them too by God’s grace.”
Besides his busy schedule as the registrar of the Engineers Registration Board, it is astonishing how someone can become a fitness freak in just three years to the extent of travelling across the world to participate in marathons. For a person who could only compete 10km and not dreaming of doing anything beyond that, Namugera’s world has dramatically changed.
However, there is no doubt it is an expensive venture to travel for an international marathon.
“One needs at least four months of training, but that is not enough when you are not sure of funding. As for me, I am extremely lucky that I got partial sponsorship from Dynaco Ltd., a civil engineering firm whose CEO Jonathan Tugume believes in my potential. They fully sponsored my return ticket to Germany. Other costs, including accommodation and upkeep, one has to dig from their own savings,” he says.
Still, one wonders how Team Matooke secures the opportunity to participate in these races amid tough visa demands.
“Honestly, the president of Team Matooke has partners who are part of the organisers. Through his networks, he gets slots for us. Our duty is to train and prepare while our dear president identifies our slots and sends us to represent Team Matooke,” he says.
However, given that they are a non-professional running group, the members continue to face some challenges in preparation.
“We lacked proper information on the required training. We also didn’t have adequate time to undertake the training and then rest because we all have 8am–5pm demanding jobs, yet training goes hand in hand with proper resting. There is also the lack of proper feeding to nourish the body adequately as well as getting injuries during training, yet one has already committed to the marathon,” he says.
The Berlin marathon attracts more than 40,000 runners in one place. In Uganda, this often creates chaos, but according to Namugera, Matooke Team members were amused at the professionalism and level of organisation of the marathon.
“The atmosphere was exuberant. There were cheering supporters from start to finish; they read your name on the shirt and cheered for you like they knew you so well. They pushed you all the way, and no wonder many of our Team Matooke participants registered their personal bests. There was a Ugandan-German citizen called Tobias Amajuru who prepared lots of fruits, including Ugandan watermelons, and served us at around 22 kilometres of the race.”
“The kit collection was done over a period of three days, and every one of the runners individually collected their kit. Our local marathons need a lot to learn; I know the executive committee of Team Matooke has tried to share these international practices with local Ugandan marathon organisers like MTN, Kabaka’s Run and others but is yet to succeed,” he says.
After the marathon, Namugera says, he learned that no human is limited.
“Everyone can run; it takes a little commitment and discipline. One does not need to be a professional athlete to take part in these marathons. It is a good hobby. My advice is that any fitness enthusiast can start a step at a time, and with a little determination and consistency, they can make it. Everyone needs a hobby that excites him, especially as we race towards our evening years,” he says.
Going forward, Namugera says Team Matooke has already set its eyes on the Nairobi marathon in October, where they have registered over 100 participants.
Then, on the international scene, they are targeting the Chicago Marathon in October, and they have already lined up about 20 participants.
“There is also a Boston marathon next year in April 2024. Makumbi normally makes annual calendars for his members to participate in national, regional and international marathons,” he says.
About Team Matooke
Team Matooke is the umbrella running club that brings together smaller running groups in Kampala and greater Kampala. It is actually a membership organisation fully registered with a constitution and a president, Martin Makumbi.
Members of Team Matooke are consummate professionals, mostly at senior levels in their trades. They include engineers, lawyers, bankers and auditors.
For one to be a member, they only need to be a runner and consistently participate in team events. They always schedule a monthly run from Kampala to Entebbe. Team Matooke also organises a monthly run every second Sunday of the month from Lubowa to Entebbe, covering 28km, 32 km,and 36 km, and this is used as training for long runs.
There are always ‘buses’ [smaller groups running at different paces]. So, anyone can easily get into a comfortable bus, depending on his or her pace.