By Duncan Mlanjira
The mountain trail challenge, Mulanje Mountain Porters Race, celebrated its 23rd anniversary in July and over the years it has produced several excellent long distance runners, such as Theresa Master, Doris Fisher, Evance Nyazule among others, who have made their mark in other local races.
But one huge product is Edson Kumwamba, who has since become Malawi’s international mountain trail long distance (Ultra marathon) specialist after he trekked down to South Africa for greener pastures, where he then joined high profile athletic clubs there.
Following his exploits in South Africa having been on the winners podium in many high profile ultra trail races, he was invited to participated in the 90km Marathon du Mont Blanc in France in 2018 in which he came 20th in Open male and 32 on the Globe 2 (world class) in a time of 14:5:25hrs
In June this year, he was also invited for the 2019 Marathon du Mont Blanc and he finished in a personal best when he came an impressive 14th position in Open male section and 18th in 12:57:25.
Kumwamba was born in Nchathu Village, Traditional Authority Nkanda in Mulanje District, and he became interested to become an athlete when he was just nine years old when his mother used to take him to watch the Mulanje Porters Race.
After doing his studies at DAPP vocational school in welding and fabrication, he left Malawi in 2002 for greener pastures in South Africa where he rose to prominence.
But now he has relocated back to Mulanje since last year and after participating in last July’s Porters Race, he went on to form an athletics club in Mulanje, which is currently preparing to stamp its authority at the forthcoming Blantyre City Marathon, scheduled for September 9.
So far, Mulanje Athletic Club has more than 20 athletes, both male and female and Kumwamba says they are still receiving more interests.
“Amongst the members are this year’s Mulanje Mountain Porters Race men’s winner Evance Nyazule as well as Theresa Master and Dorothy Gawani, who came second and third respectively.
“All the men and six of the girls all did the Porters Race. According to the training programme we are following and based on their performance, I intend to field 15 runners for the Blantyre Marathon.
“Our plan is to hit the Blantyre Marathon by storm. Last year, two of Mulanje athletes, Theresa Master and Doris Fisher came first and second and the rest of my squad are yearning to do well and monopolies the top 10 in both categories.”
Master was champion in a time of 3:19:49 while Fisher, who has since relocated to South Africa where she joined an athletic club, was runner-up in in 3:20:37.
In July’s Porters Race, Fisher beat Master and this rivalry will definitely manifest itself again during the Blantyre Marathon.
When Kumwamba relocated back to his home in Mulanje last year it was just in time for the Blantyre Marathon, in which he came 11th in his first-ever long road race, in which he clocked 2:50:53hrs, some 23:43 minutes behind the champion, Happy Nchelenje who finished in a time of 2:27:10.
He had said he was satisfied with his performance as he gained so much experience to be used for the next marathon that might come his way and it was also part of his training for the Al Marmoom Ultramarathon in Dubai which participated in December.
“Being my first long road race, and that I didn’t know the route very well, I took it easy at the beginning until I reached the halfway mark from where I started pushing but I realized this was too late.
“In front of me there were several runners and I overtook them and at the last check point, I was told that I was 15th and I went on to overtake four more before entering into the Kamuzu Stadium.
“I have learnt quite a lot and I am happy that I am in the record books of the athletics association. I wished though I could have been inside the cut off time [which was set at 2:45hrs] but this was part of my training for the Dubai race.”
The Al Marmoom Ultramarathon is dubbed the longest desert marathon in the world at 270km.
Some of the races he has been on the podium for include: Ultra Trail Capetown 100km, Jongershoek Mountain Challenge 38km, Puffer 80Km, Mont Blanc 90km (France), Mulanje Porters Race 24km, Marloth Mountain Challenge 55km, Batrun 30km, Table Mountain Challenge 44km, Dryland Traverse 110km and Salomon Bastille Day 35km.
Some of his personal records are three, Bastille Day 35 km in 2hrs 56min, the 80km Ultra PURfe 6hrs 54 mins (which was a record done in August) and Batrun 30 km in 2hrs 40min.
For the Marathon du Mont Blanc, Kumwamba was coached through online by Dubai-based Marcus Smith and after been told by his athlete of the Mulanje Porters Race, he decided to sample it.
After also been told that some athletes ran the tough terrain barefoot, Smith brought with him running shoes which he donated to Mulanje Athletic Club.
The donation was presented a day after the Porters Race at Likhubula where the event starts and finishes after taking part in the race in which he came second in the category for International Participants.
He finished in a time of 3:00:39hrs that was won by Marc Henrion in 3:00:30 while South African volunteer doctor, Peter Schnellus of Mulanje Mission Hospital was third in 3:02:26.
After the race, Smith had said: “This has been an amazing experience for me. It was a very good feeling to have race with very friendly people all along the course.
“And like what Edson said, I witnessed myself how the youths enjoy their participation yet most of them them run barefoot. This is a very tough race and it is amazing that these youths can manage to finish it running in bare feet.
“So we brought with us running shoes weighing over 56kgs which we will distribute to some of the kids Edson and I identified,” said Smith, who became Kumwamba’s coach after his participation in the Dubai Al Marmoom Ultra-marathon.