Like many runners, I’ve come back to the sport time and time again throughout my life. As a child, running at county level, in my twenties trying to beat a 2:36 marathon time and again in the last few years trying to impress on my kids the importance of balancing fitness with other more sedentary aspects of life these days. I may not be so fast now, but I’m still running marathons, and I’ve still got that bug.

In 2018 I took up the Orbis Challenge alongside twenty others and Dame Kelly Holmes, I was so inspired by this that I started Artisan Design which now brings Kenyan Beaded Running Bracelets to the UK.

I think the quote below from Kelly sums up what Orbis and Sport With A Purpose is all about.

“A life changing experience. Having gone on two trips, it reaffirmed that there are wonderful people in this world. Those that having nothing give so much love and show hope and determination. Those that have more show determination to succeed and compassion. Together we proved that we can build friendships that will never be forgotten.” Dame Kelly Holmes, 2019.

In October 2019, a team of thirty amateur athletes travelled to Malawi to join Dame Kelly Holmes on The Orbis Challenge. The team raised over £20,000 for Open Arms Malawi to support their nutrition programme; this year’s ‘purpose’ was all about combating infant malnutrition in Malawi.

There were three key elements to the challenge, which were as follows:

1. Mulanje Mountain Extreme Trail Run
Every year, there is a 25km run up Mulanje Mountain known as The Porters Race. This trail has a 1660m elevation gain which combines trail running, bouldering, extreme hiking, scrambling… you name it! Times of completion ranged from 3 hours 50 minutes to 8 hours; to put this into perspective, the Malawian runners can complete this route in 2 hours 4 minutes, often running without shoes!

2. Zomba Plateau Forest Trail Run
The second event was organised by a local reforestation organisation, and took place among the trails through Zomba Forest Plantation. This 20km route was extremely varied, made up of windy forest trails, undulating hills and exhilarating river crossings; it was truly breath taking. Times ranged from 2 hours to 4 hours; it was an incredibly hot day, and the team were delighted to succeed in another extreme challenge!

3. Lake Malawi Trail Run
The third and final event was another 20km trail run; this was a flat sandy route through Chembe Village and out into the fields.
Having already run 50 kms in the previous few days, the team were understandably a little weary and achy! In spite of this, the final challenge was filled with joy, laughter, singing, and incredible displays of teamwork and camaraderie.

The Orbis Challenge Team experienced the very best of Malawi, not just via the three key challenges, but also through a number of visits to rural villages and meeting students from both international and local secondary schools.

So, what next, and how can I get involved? The 2020 Orbis Challenge will be headlined by Susie Chan, an endurance runner who has taken part in some of the world’s toughest ultra-marathons and endurance races. The 2020 event will focus on raising awareness for reforestation in Malawi; to find out more please click here.

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s what a couple of of our Orbis Challenge athletes had to say:

“In one word, I’d say ‘friends’ (for life!…3 words though!! It was another amazing group. But I’d also add I took away inspiration – (from fellows particpants and from the Malawians we met and spent time with), and a renewed sense of self-belief and appreciation of life.” Polly Haywood

“I took away a lot of motivation/inspiration from the people and places we met and went. Gave me a whole new look in life” Marc Singer

“This was a real eye-opener to me, seeing how people live in this beautiful country. And it inspired me to want to return for a second time….” Rob Paddock @artisandesignbracelets

“It’s difficult to sum up my experiences, and actually I don’t want to, because I feel like I am still living it. I genuinely feel like a different person as a result of my time spent in Malawi. I hope that I have brought that person home with me, and I hope to continue to spread the word and inspire people to visit Malawi; friends, family, colleagues and strangers have asked me many questions and displayed a real curiosity, which was quite unexpected and very heartening.” Mellissa Oliver