Lesotho’s High Altitude Marathon Producing World Class Athletes


It is that time of the year again when the focus of long distance running events is on Lesotho. The small mountainous kingdom of Lesotho completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa offers one of the most gruelling and high profile event, the High Altitude Marathon.  

The natural terrain of the country offers some of the most formidable challenges to runners. With interest increasing in middle to long distance events, Lesotho is like a giant awakening from its slumber in terms of producing talented athletes in these events.

As much as people marvel at the prowess of Ethiopians and Kenyans in middle to long distance running events, there is actually no magic formula for their success. The two countries are merely taking advantage of their natural habitat to produce world class athletes. The two countries have highland or mountainous regions, where most of their athletes come from. These are rugged terrains which provide any one living there with a ready-made challenge in terms of physical fitness training. For youngsters growing up in such environments, running 5-15 km to school is not anything strenuous. It is part of the daily routine when one attains the age of 6-7 and starts primary education.  Natural ability is already developed in the youngsters and all what they need is good coaching to turn them into world class athletes.

With a lot of sponsorship and prize money going into some of the prestigious road races and marathon events, it is only natural that the Ethiopians and Kenyans are using their God –given talent to best advantage to dominate these events all over the world. If there is an event worth running in, you will definitely find a sizeable number of Ethiopians and Kenyans in the field. Running for them is no longer just fun and games. It is viable employment. It is a business! One cannot talk of achievements in the world of athletics without references being made to Kipchoge Keino, Paul Tergat, Bernard Bamasai, Pamela Jelimo, Haile Gebresellasie, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunesh Dibaba and many other athletes from the Kenya and Ethiopia who have dazzled the world of sport.

It is hoped that the Kingdom of Lesotho has not been disturbed too much by the political turbulence that has put the country in the news for the wrong reasons. Hopefully, this year’s event will again be an exciting one for Basotho, thereby enhancing sports tourism in the country. 

The Mountain Kingdom is a Southern African country that is beautiful beyond measure.  The Lesotho tourism authorities actually need to do much more in marketing their country to the rest of the world. 

The lush and rolling hills and mountains provide the perfect environment for running enthusiasts as well as those interested in outdoor activities of equestrian sports, horse trails, tracking and camping.  The Basotho pride themselves in their country by boldly stating that theirs is a kingdom in the sky where you can literally touch the face of God. The prize money of R100 000 for the victors in both male and female categories is indeed a good start in terms of motivation for athletes to compete in this noble event.   The event is now one of the most anticipated events on the Lesotho and Southern African athletics calendars. Hopefully, with more Southern Africa regional support and participation, the event will continue to grow in stature and contribute significantly to the Lesotho economy in terms of sports tourism. The Regional Tourism Organisation of Southern Africa (Retosa) must also assist countries to package and promote such events.

The High Altitude Marathon provides a perfect opportunity for various development partners and brands to show their corporate social responsibility and foster greater people to people interaction in Southern Africa. In addition, the event can definitely be used to support charitable causes within Mokhotlong village, Lesotho and Southern Africa as a whole.

Every year there are always big hypes and media onslaughts pertaining to marathons in New York, Berlin, Boston, London and Paris. It is high time for Africa and Southern African to have their own high profile and celebrated events? 

The Lesotho High Altitude Marathon is like no other in the world. There is no doubt that   it seriously challenges the athletes physically and helps prepare them for similar events all over the world. The event should be a way of bringing the world to Lesotho and taking Lesotho to the world.

 We can only hope that the organizers of the event, their partners and corporate sponsors continue to “think outside the box” in terms of the innovations needed to make the High Altitude Marathon a truly world class and wonderful occasion. It should be an event that is truly rewarding not just in monetary terms but also in terms of the overall experience of Lesotho and Southern African hospitality. It can be a fantastic occasion for professionals, veterans and fun runners of all ages.

Furthermore, this event should be used to develop more Basotho and Southern African athletes who can challenge for honours at various middle and long distance events all over the world. The event continues to be a proud descendants of  Moshoeshoe (founder of the proud Basotho Nation) to show-case what they can do. Khotso! (Peace be with Lesotho!)

December 2014
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