Nicola and the Orbis Challenge

Nicola Ross, Finance Manager at MLA, describes her recent participation in the 2019 Orbis Challenge.

The start of the annual Porters Race up Mount Mulanje in Malawi (originally only for porters and guides) is marked by 1,000 metres of vertical ascent in the first 8km. However, this was not the annual race but the first run in The Orbis Challenge 2019. Spearheaded by Dame Kelly Holmes, the double Olympic champion, this charity running challenge covers 65kms of incredible trail runs through Southern Malawi.

I was lucky to be accepted for this challenge as it was a truly amazing experience. The initial Mulanje run was a tough 25km mountain run, steep and rocky, and after this initial climb, I was running alongside my friend, Sally – and Kelly Holmes herself. I never really anticipated this but it seems we are more at home in the mountains than Kelly!

The second run, a half marathon in the Zomba Plateau (nothing “flat” about the Zomba Plateau!) was through temperate forest, past waterfalls and along dirt tracks. This was made tougher by tired legs from the Mulanje run.

The third and final run could not have been more different from the first two. This was by Lake Malawi, round the local fields and countryside on single track dirt paths with little shade. We started at sunrise, 5.30am, and by 6.30am it was sweltering. However, for this half marathon we ran more as a group, including Kelly, and with music and dancing at the water stops it turned into a bit of a festival – the Lion Sleeps Tonight will always be a reminder!

Of course, one of the main reasons for the challenge was to raise money for the charity OpenArms Malawi, who look after orphans and aim to rehouse them back into the communities. Our first day in Blantyre was spent visiting the orphanage and the house for older children. We also spent the downtime between runs visiting local community initiatives and part of the money that raised for the trip goes to these initiatives. We visited YODEP, a Youth Development Initiative set up by young Malawians to educate about the spread of Aids and prevent so many teenage pregnancies. Other charities such as 1acrefarm and Zomba Forest Conservation assisted in setting up our running routes. On each run, we would have local guides who would run with us and afterwards we would donate trainers and kit to the local community. The ethos of the trip was Sport with Purpose – to provide Malawians with a means of sustainability and local enterprise – and this was achieved very successfully.