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Rogue Training Systems, a health and fitness company in Austin, Texas, is giving Malawian runners the chance to run Austin’s AT&T Marathon in February 2008.
Help support the opportunity of a lifetime.

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The Malawi Project: Where, What and Why

In the shadow of Mulanje Mountain, Nancy and Teresa run. Heading towards their favorite trails up the mountain, they stride quickly but effortlessly across the red-baked paths that criss-cross the green tea fields dotting the area.

Nancy and Teresa have been running together for years. Nancy is 20, Teresa 18.Both grew up in Mulanje district in southern Malawi, one of the poorest of 29 districts in the country. Malawi, itself, is the11th poorest nation in the world.  

Like other Africans, most Malawian runners begin running as children – to travel to and from school. As adults, many run simply to cover long distances necessary to provide for their families. Last year, while I was racing down a steep hill on Mulanje Mountain, a woman came flying by me -- in a skirt and barefoot, and carrying a giant load of firewood on her head. 

Along with about 85% of Malawi’s population of 12 million, most of Malawi’s elite runners are subsistence farmers. This means that they have no other job than farming; what food they grow, they use to feed their families. And no job, like in the US, simply means no income. Some runners have managed to be among the 5% of Malawians to make it through secondary school, but due to the high cost of university education, none has advanced farther than that.   

Which is why, for Malawi’s elite runners, the opportunity to compete abroad is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a chance to provide for their families, to buy medicine for sick relatives, to pay school fees for children -- perhaps, even, to buy a few luxuries like a bed or a radio. 

Many runners live in rural areas. Elite marathoner Frances Khanje runs with the Mulanje runners club, a club that is unique in that it welcomes recreational runners and youth. He lives 7 miles from where he meets his training partners; with no bike or car, he covers that 7 miles on foot.

Frances and Mulanje's other elite runners train every day. The entire group, which numbers about 50, meets once a week in the afternoon, after Team Manager Godfrey finishes his job with the Ministry of Education. At the workout, Godfrey assigns intervals or repititions, which are run through tea estates or around a crudely made track. A few of the runners have shoes; most run barefoot.

Godfrey is not a runner and has never been trained as a coach, but he cares about instilling confidence in young people, and he sees running as a way to achieve that end. Often, though, he feels helpless to provide for the group. He mentioned recently that the club can’t even provide calories for the athletes after hard workouts. When I ask him what he would want, he shrugged.  “Just a bit of Sobo (a Malawian soft drink) and bread would be nice.” I thought of Gatorade and Gu, of Luna Bars and Clif Shots, and how, for American runners, having food or drink is a given. The problem is too many choices.  

Mulanje runners decked out in recently donated Rogue Ironchicks gear

Despite it all -- the poverty, the distance to travel, and the absence of basic resources, like shoes or food – Malawian runners still run. They run because they can, because it gives them something to do, and because of the sense of accomplishment – and hope, perhaps, for the future – that it brings.

Please support the hopes of these Malawian runners as they prepare for the Austin AT&T Marathon. Do it because they inspire you. Support them because you know what it feels like to achieve a dream. Help out because of what running means to you.

Donate today.

The Malawi Project Runners

The following 4 Malawi runners are the first identified as invitees to the AT&T Austin Marathon as part of Rogue Running’s Malawi Project. In the near future, we will bring you stories about them and their lives, their preparation and training. Please send me an email if there is anything you would like for me to share with them or feature about them in the upcoming months. Please donate online here through the Malawi Project to support these runners’ dreams to come to run the AT&T Austin Marathon. This may be the greatest opportunity of their lives.

Francis Khanje

Francis Khanje is one of the most well-known and popular athletes in Mulanje district. The 24-year-old long distance specialist has a marathon personal best of 2:22 and consistently runs sub-30:00 10ks. He has had the opportunity to travel to Helsinki, Finland and Seoul, South Korea to compete. He has run the Porter's Race, which is Malawi's grueling (and steeper) answer to the Pikes Peak Marathon, on numerous occasions.

He trains with the Mulanje running club. Because he lives 7 miles from where the training group meets and does not have a car or bike, he travels on foot to training. He is married and has two children.

Nancy Matanda

Nancy Matanda is 20 years old and has been running since she was a child. She currently holds the national marathon record of 3:07 from the 2006 Nico Marathon, set on a hot, hilly course. She believes she could run well under three hours if given enough time to train.

This year, Nancy finished 2nd in the Porter's Race, two minutes behind Teresa Master.

Nancy lives in Mulanje. She has completed secondary school, and she supports 15 family members. She is not married and does not have any children.

Teresa Master

Teresa Master is 18 years old and heralded as one of Malawi's rising young stars. In 2005, she was 4th in the IAAF World Youth Championships' 1500m race with a time of 4:37.10. Also in 2005, she won the 3000m in 9:50 at Southern Africa Youth Championships in 2005 in S. Africa. She was the Southern Africa Developing Countries (SADC) junior champion in 2006. This year, she won the Porter's Race, breaking her record set last year by more than 5 minutes.

Teresa currently lives in Mulanje.

Henry Moyo

Henry Moyo is a 28-year-old police officer from Zomba district in Malawi.

He currently holds the Malawi marathon record and is one of Malawi's most well-traveled and consistent runners. His marathon PR is 2:17.

In 2006, he placed 5th in the punishing 56-k Two Oceans Marathon, in S. Africa, which draws some of the best distance runners from around the world.

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