Return to Rwanda – an Ultra with a difference

In November 1994, as their UN assistance mission assignment was drawing to a close, a group of British Paratroopers came up with a crazy idea, partly to relieve the boredom of the last weeks, partly because they could, partly as a tribute to Roy Castle’s ‘Cause for Hope‘ Lung Cancer charity.

The idea? Run across Rwanda, from the Ugandan border in the north (starting at the top of a 4500m volcano) to the border with Burundi in the south. 264 km. Target – less than 24 hours. Read the original run report here

return to rwanda

Instigator & ringleader of this ambitious plan was my friend Jon Cowell (then Sgt J M Cowell, 82 Airborne Squadron).

I didn’t know Jon then, I met him in 2002 in a little village in sleepy Buckinghamshire, England. I’d just moved to the village and wanted to run with a club. Jon had just set up Olney Runners. At the time, there were less than 10 people in the club. We’ve both moved on since then, but his legacy is a thriving club which punches above it’s weight in local competition and has over 300 members. I talked a bit about Jon, coaching and Olney Runners in this post last year.

Jon helped me train and prepare for my first marathon in 2003 and we’ve run and raced together many times since.

He is also, in no particular order of priority:

So he knows a bit about pain and suffering!

A few weeks ago, Jon made a brief stop over in Singapore on his way to Adelaide for another Duathlon World Champs. We ran at Macritchie (of course). He told me about his plans:

Next Week, Jon is going to do the 1994 challenge again, in reverse. Which means finishing at the top of the volcano.

Accompanied by his wife Sarah and a small support team, this will be Jon’s first trip back to run across Rwanda. No longer war torn, the country is slowly rebuilding. In a fascinatingly symbolic parallel move, Lions have also been returned to the country for the first time since 1994.

Jon will raise money this time around for the Veterans Association. The summary from his just giving page is typically modest and unassuming :

Jon Cowell, a former soldier, is reprising an historic 264.5km run, from Rwanda’s southern border with Burundi to its northern border with Uganda, to raise funds for Veterans Aid.

In 1994 Jon led a small team as part of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda.  As this operational tour came to a close, he organised a team of Paras to run across Rwanda for charity in a relay from the northern border with Uganda, Mount Muhabura, to the southern border with Burundi.

On the 9th – 11th November this year, Jon intends to return to Rwanda and reverse this journey, running the 264.5 km solo over 2.5 days.  Jon will be supported by a team of five looking after pacing, nutrition, logistics, photography and communications.

“I’m supporting VA because they deal directly with those in need, providing their own services and getting to the heart of veterans’ problems,” says Jon.

I’ll be donating, and checking on his progress. I hope you will too. This is an amazing feat by a lovely fella.

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