'My soul has been refilled with love, laughter and happiness, and that's all by something you have created' Sarah Thompson, OC 2019.

Ten days ago 30 amateur runners arrived in Malawi and joined the inspirational Colonel Dame Kelly Holmes to take on The 2019 Orbis Challenge- Sport with a Purpose event. Before they arrived they had fundraised £20,000 towards this years 'Purpose' combatting infant malnutrition in Malawi. Our 2019 Orbis Challenge Team were chosen from over 100 applications for their passion for running, drive for adventure and humble spirits. And wow what a team!

VN Team Lake Malawi

(Pic Credit Venetia Norrington Travel Photography)

Event 1: Mulanje Mountain Extreme Trail Run, 25kms, 1,600 metres elevation.

At 5 am Malawi wakes and our team, after fairly sleepless nights all round, donned their On Running gear for event 1. After 48hrs to acclimatise, get to know each other, and think about their first extreme trail run, the atmosphere at breakfast was electric. The mountain towered over the hostel as the dawn mist began to lift and the cracks of light shone through. The support team, already in place having left at 2am to ascend the mountain and prepare the water stops, rescue points and mark the lime trails, were now radioing in to say they were ready for the start gun to fire. That nervous anticipation and the moment to really test out the training was upon us and the team were itching to go. Final weather checks and introducing the 7 local Malawian running guides to the team and we all lined up and waited for The Orbis Challenge 2019 to begin.

Mulanje dawn view beautiful

The 25km trail run up and down Mulanje Mountain is very hard to put into words. The Orbis Challenge Team cross that finish line with a mix of elation, pain, wonder and lots of expletives too! This mountain run combines trail running, extreme hiking, bouldering and new skills that team mates say they would never have been able to train for. The route climbs over 1,500 metres in the first hour, bringing the runners up onto Mulanje Plateau then winds its way over undulating rocky landscape to the descent point. Up on the plateau there is a chance for stunning views, a cool layer of misty rain and the perfect opportunity for breathing in the pure natural wilderness you are in, before the descent...

Mulanje Trails great

Toes, knees, hips and muscles you didn't even know existed. As your Mulanje Mountain Running Guides hop between the rocks and boulders our team were inspirational at tackling this unforgiving landscape- they all made it through and crossed the finish line- some a little bit more destroyed than others but all with astonishment across their faces at what they had just completed. Times varied from 3hrs 50mins to 8hrs. The whole team waited for one another by the beautiful mountain pools that marked the finish of event 1 and the team spirit was sensational. (Perspective: The Malawian runners can do this route in 2hr 4minutes- usually in bare feet)

'Taking on Mulanje was the biggest challenge I have faced, it was brutal and challenging but well worth it for the time spent gazing out across the magnificence of Malawi.' Clare Dixon.

'Blood, sweat and tears...but thankfully no chafing!' Charlotte Stewart.

The Community Run. 3kms. YODEP Community Development Project, Zomba

With aching limbs and slightly sore heads, from the celebratory Malawi gin the night before, our team buses bumped their way into a rural community close to Zomba Town to be greeted by hundred of children all ready to run! What a sight! The team were lit up by their welcoming smiles and were straight into raucous playing with the primary kids who were itching to show off their village trails. Our team, dressed by Tribe Sports, in smart yellow tops for the girls and green t shirts for the men, had suddenly grown ten fold with each runner now accompanied by a group of 4-11yr olds running at such speed that even Kelly struggled to keep up! We ran through the village and up to the main YODEP centre where we learnt about the amazing community focused work this passionate group of Malawians are doing. The children's passion to run and be part of the event was infectious and instead of returning to their lessons, which we will insist on next year(!), they stayed with our team to watch the most incredible display of traditional dancing put on by the YAO cultural group which included some quite terrifying performances from the Gule Wamkulu- a real eye opener to the traditional culture in this area of Malawi.

VN Yodep Back

(Pic Credit Venetia Norrington Travel Photography)

Event 2: Zomba Plateau Forest Trail Run. 20kms. 600 metres elevation.

Event two was organised by a local reforestation organisation and took place along the stunning trails through Zomba Forest Plantation. The team loved the route and it really gave them the chance to get into their stride, put their training into practice and experience the beauty and rugged nature of trail running in Malawi. The Zomba Trail Run offers incredible variety, the route winds in and out of the forests, across the flatter plateaus and undulating hills to steep river crossings and rocky passes. The day was hot, the local running guides fast and our team were tired but with times varying from 2hrs-4hrs they did incredibly well and crossed the finish line with mainly tears of joy!

viewpoint zomba 3

Event 3: Lake Malawi Trail Run. 20 km. Flat Sandy Trails.

After an incredible day of a river boat safari, visit to a lakeside secondary school and many hours of driving through Southern Malawi the team arrived at the shores of Lake Malawi. This was to be the final event and the team were excited, nervous and feeling quite tired having already run 50 kms in the past few days. Due to the heat down at the lakeshore we woke at 0430 and by 0500 breakfast was done and the team were fuelled and ready for the run. There was an incredible buzz about the start line, with everyone supporting each other with niggling injuries, nervous tummies and running pairs forming to get through this last challenge. The local Cape Maclear runners led the team off through Chembe Village and out into the fields as the rain cleared and a beautiful rainbow came out over the lake. The team split into groups and ran for the pure enjoyment of being out on the Malawi trails, no speed seemed to matter, just getting everyone over that finish line, through this final challenge with as much joy, happiness, singing and dancing as possible. It was beautiful to witness and probably the most relaxed event showcasing what an incredibly inspiring team we had this year.

lake malawi dawn trails

The Extra Bits

Some of the most tingly bits about The Orbis Challenge we don't write about very much. It isn't possible to put into words how emotional it is to hand over your trainers to your running guide at the end of a gruelling 8 hr run up Mulanje Mountain. Or how amazing it is to witness the humility, kindness and passion of the local guides who give their time to join our team and guide them across their home trails, often announcing, 'that was great, but now I need to go for a run, as that was more of a walk for us!'

The Orbis Challenge Team get to see the very best of Malawi, they get to witness the beauty of seeing herds of elephant drinking on the banks of The Shire River from a riverboat safari, to experience the raw cultural of rural villages, to meet the students from both international and local secondary schools and learn more about some of the challenges and amazing achievements taking place in this small slice of Africa. The event is part of a series of Sport with a Purpose expeditions each one offering a chance to combine your passion for sport, adventure and giving back your time to learn more about Malawi and it's incredibly inspiring people.

Edson beach running conor

The Sponsors

We would like to thank the below companies for joining us this year to support The Orbis Challenge- Sport with a Purpose.

On Running: On Running kitted our runners out with their incredible kit and Cloud Venture Trainers. Their support enabled us to include three Malawian runners as permanent team members for the whole week. 

Tribe Sports: Tribe Sports supplied the team with their community day kit. Beautifully crafted and perfect for the Malawi heat!

UK Structural Systems: UK Structural Systems provided sponsorship and t shirts for our 21 local running guides. This was integral to the success of The 2019 Orbis Challenge. The local runners brought so much knowledge, skill and kindness to each event and are really at the heart of Sport with a Purpose.

The Protein Ball Company, First Capital Bank, Sunbird Malawi, St Andrews International High School, Skywaves Car Hire, Klassiq Car Hire, Vital Water, Finisterre, Active Root, Simply Seedz and Artisan Bracelets all came on board this year to help us with sponsorship. Thank you for everyone who was involved in this incredible event.

The Purpose

The 2019 Orbis Challenge Team have raised over £20,000 for Open Arms Malawi to support their nutrition programme. https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/orbis2019

The 2020 Orbis Trail Challenge

Watch this space. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter for our brand new headliner of The 2020 Orbis Trail Challenge or head over to www.orbis-challenge.com to see what Sport with a Purpose event you might like to get involved with in 2020. 

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