Malawi Porter’s Race

Most of you will know that Graham Denny is currently working for a charity in Malawi. He also took time out to do the Malawi Porters Race up Mount Mulanje. Here’s his story…..

Malawi Porters Race

No Masanje (picnic) on Mount Mulanje

The legend of the Porters Race first run in 1996, has grown and it now ranks as a classic endurance events, traversing one of Africa’s iconic mountains – Mt Mulanje in southern Malawi. At over 3000m this mountain massif towers majestically over the African plains. Following the footsteps of Dr Livingstone, intrepid mountaineers can today hike and use a network of rustic huts across this magnificent highland domain. The highest peak is called Sawpeta – which in the Malawian Chichewa language means “don’t go there!”. During the race, some runners will come to understand this in its truest sense. Hikers are invited to explore the area which is well supported by the local porters who carry all loads, offer route guidance and are a wonderful source of knowledge about all aspects of this unique mountain. For one day these men and women drop their loads and race. Their mountain knowledge, speed, strength and agility ensure a continuing race dominance despite the increasing numbers of international racers attracted by this inimitable challenge.

The Porters race was inked into my diary upon arrival in Malawi but I soon discovered that many of my Malawian colleagues at the Beehive Centre in Blantyre having heard of the race had never considered entering. For most Malawians, disposable income is an absolute premium so travelling long distances to races is an unaffordable luxury. With little encouragement, I soon had a core of committed runners training on a regular basis with the target of entering the race.

Pre-race information is limited but armed with the date, time and transport, thanks to Seibo, an eager team of 10 runners left Blantyre at 4.30am. In typical Malawian fashion the start was delayed til 7am until registration of the 350 runners was complete and various speakers had voiced their encouragement.

Immediately after the start the relentless climb of the Likhubula valley commenced. Racers either bound or trudge depending on their fitness towards the goal of the summit plateau of Mt Mulanje. Fortunately the sun was only just beginning to peak over the high peaks so climbing through the steeply wooded hillside remained relatively cool. Numerous small children attempted to join the race but were ruthlessly expelled by marshals with the stern warning “No chest number. Go home”. Streams cascade down from the peaks and along with sugary Sobo drinks provide welcome refreshment.

A passing runner with huge grin remarked “for such a Madala (old man) you have great courage to attempt this race”. Sadly I never saw him again.

Summitting, the run traverses past the Chambe hut and many a runner may have been fooled into thinking the hard part was over. The majority of my team had long disappeared and the next hour and a half required constant changes in running style, as the path varied from short sections of gentle contour path to steep descents and brutal climbs back to the plateau. The surrounding peaks all rise majestically around but full concentration is required not to slip and fall on the rocky track.

Eventually the decent begins and for many this is the most difficult part of the course. Serpent like the tracks twists and turns down ferociously steep ravines and rocky outcrops to finally reach the valley below. Bare footed Malawian ladies with tucked in chitenge (skirts) nimbly skip past, a humbling experience but being ‘chicked’ on this race is inevitable.   The winners are already home enjoying the adulation at the finish, while the majority of the field struggle down until the mountain finally releases its grip and the finish arrives to a cacophony of noise from the partying Malawian supporters.

For a mzungu (white) runner the finish offers a novel post-race experience of being immediately man handled away to be checked over by medical staff before being offered a handful of pain killers and a large steaming plate of nsima and beef stew.

I am immediately surrounded by our team of successful Beehive runners all delighted with having completed the course and keen to discuss future events. What a success and fulfilling event. Thanks guys.

Are you challenged for 2018?