The Econet Victoria Falls Marathon in Zimbabwe grew from the success of the Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania, and was first proposed by Wild Frontiers in 2005. The buy-in of the local Tourism Board and the Athletics Association was quickly forthcoming and Wild Frontiers drew in local tour operators in Victoria Falls to partner in the event management. This has since become a highlight of the African running calendar and grown year on year since its inception.
As with the Kilimanjaro Marathon, the idea was to use sport as a means of attracting tourism to the region.
The first event, in 2006 was very small (around 300 in total) and consisted of mainly local runners. Sponsorship was also limited – the harsh economic conditions at the time in Zimbabwe made us make use of the ‘barter ‘system, for a lot of sponsorship deals – beer, water, flights etc. were all supplied rather than cash. At one stage we even considered giving the prizes in livestock – cows and goats. Thankfully this did not happen.
The first few years started something in the Falls and more people in the region were running socially. People were starting to join the event but it was a slow start.
In 2010 the improved economic situation allowed better numbers and now the event is fully on the map. The event now consists of a full, half and 7.5 km fun run. It’s an entirely unique event. No other race can boast a route that starts with you running across a bridge over an international boundary in the spray of Victoria Falls, cutting through a World Heritage Site and having the possibility of seeing big game such as elephant along the beautiful route. From an “adventure sports tourist” point of view, in the surrounding area you have all you would ever want: game viewing safaris, boat cruises, walking safaris, canoeing, white water rafting, horse riding and more.
We could not have done this without some great sponsorship support over the years and Zimbabwe’s top companies have all helped us to make this event a success.
As well as being a great breeding ground for the local talent, the event draws quality runners from neighbouring countries, and from around the world – with up to 40 nationalities attending the event. Apart from the sports element, the event has a big pay off in the region. Sponsors have used it to build their Corporate Social Responsibility around the event and the economic benefits to the country and the region are huge. There is also a change of lifestyle across the country, with many more people taking up running to keep healthy and socialise.
Who would have believed an idea way back in 2005 would lead to such a successful event and lasting heritage in the region. We foresee this event growing more and more each year and becoming one of the world’s foremost destination marathons.