After over 20 hours of travel, the Australian team and our coach, Gregor Gojrzewski, arrived at The Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda. My first impressions were 1) it is very humid, hovering around 85% humidity and 2) things happen slowly in Uganda. After eventually checking in, we tried to shake the travel out of our legs with a jog around the golf course where the race was to be held.
This was our first experience of running in the heat and humidity and a chance to test out the effect of being at 1000m elevation. After a recovery dip in the hotel pool, we attended a welcome dinner where we were entertained with traditional Ugandan dancing and all the countries were welcomed. Most of this occurred in the dark due to the many, many bugs that were whipped into frenzy by any light sources. Dinner was served at approximately 9pm. After a big day and night of travel, we were all pretty exhausted and retired to our rooms for an early night.
The next day we went to check out the race course, which was located approximately a 5 minute walk from our hotel. As I mentioned, the race was on a golf course which meant the terrain was grass (the rough, not the fairways!) with intermittent sand where we were forced to run through bunkers. Each lap was 1500m (we ran 4 whilst the boys ran 7) over undulating ground with a couple of very steep but short hills and plenty of turns. We were all feeling pretty good after a jog around the course.
After lunch we went for a quick souvenir shop and a tour of the local zoo. This featured some magnificent African animals including lions, rhinoceroses and giraffes. In the evening, we were summoned to a dinner hosted by the Mayor of Entebbe. This involved quite a bit of waiting and we finally ate dinner well after 9pm – a little later than most of us would prefer on the night before a race!
Race day! After a light breakfast, we packed and made our way over to the course. The girls were to race at 11:30 and the boys at 12:30. After a warm-up we were ushered into the call room, given our numbers, lined up and taken to the start line and before we knew it, we were on our marks.
The race itself was tough, carrying some fatigue still from the travel and coping with the heavy ground, humidity and elevation. After what was probably a little too fast a first lap, I maintained my pace through lap 2 and 3 and tried to come home strong, finishing in 15th position ahead of the other Australians in 22nd and 29th position. Our fourth runner was feeling unwell prior to the race and struggled with the conditions, she gave it everything she had but collapsed in the final lap and was unable to finish. I spent the next hour after the race with her in the medical tent whilst trying to catch a glimpse of the boy’s race. The Ugandan teams were dominant, placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd in our race and taking out both the men’s and women’s team competitions. The Australian women’s team placed 7th.
That evening we attended the gala dinner and let our hair down a little. Sunday morning we went for a gentle run and took things pretty easy before heading to the airport for our long journey home. All in all, the World University Cross Country Championships were a fantastic experience and I am incredibly proud to have represented my country and Monash University.