It is safe to say that Ellie Lacey is an inspiration.
Before 2017 bulldozed its way into her life Ellie was fit, active and already an inspiration; cycling across Europe and setting up a charity marathon in Africa. But come January of that year she experienced a sudden and unexplained liver failure. She went from being a picture of health to on the Super Urgent Liver Transplant List and three days later receiving a liver transplant.
For most people that would have been the end of their running but that didn’t stop her. In the same year she had her transplant, she not only competed in the British Transplant Games but took home a gold medal.
So after months of chatting and generally being useless at getting back to one another we finally got around to doing an interview and here it is. I feel I should say from the out that I focus mainly on the race in Africa as there are so many brilliant pieces written about Ellie’s extraordinary story of competing in the Transplant Games (my favourite is linked here).
What is Running the Rift?
In a pistachio nutshell, it’s a marathon, half or 10k race through rural Uganda and along the edge of the Great Rift Valley. But in a brazil nutshell, it’s actually a week-long adventure in the most stunning part of the world culminating in the running challenge of your life.
How did the idea for this race come together?
My husband, Paul, and I were out in Uganda and we met Steve (the man behind the architectural feat and marathon HQ Kyaninga Lodge). He had started a charity supporting children living with disabilities out in Uganda and wanted to find ways of making the charity self-sufficient. The marathon idea was floated…and then it grew and grew until it became an awful lot more than a marathon!
What makes your race unique?
Blimey, honestly where to start!
For the participants: It takes place in one of the most beautiful, unspoiled landscapes you’ll ever see. The race route winds through Ugandan villages where the locals (if not racing with you) are cheering you, the kids are sprinting with you and squealing, it’s so heartwarming. The marathon HQ is a beautiful log cabin perched above a volanic crater lake and overlooking the UNESCO Rwenzori Mountains so you get to wake up with the most breathtaking view and drink cocktails with a true African sunset. The thing that makes the race particularly special are the people that come out to race it. Every year we’ve had the most wonderful, adventure seeking, chilled out people just up for a laugh and a chat and a bit of exploring, they make the Rift Maz the family it has become.
For the charity: The Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC) is unlike any other charity. It doesn’t take away anything from the local community, it exists only to support disabled children and their families, they use their money so strictly and wisely and everybody who’s part of the KCDC works so hard because they care so much. The results speak for themselves…I could honestly go on about them all day long!
How hard has it been organising and putting on a race in Uganda?
Now you’re asking! In some ways I think it’s easier than organising a race in the UK in that there’s no paperwork and red tape, it’s all organised by friendly meetings – it takes a long time but a solution can always be found that makes everybody happy. The trickier side of it often happens on the day itself and it’s things that can’t be planned for – in our first year one of the villages that the marathon route went through (at about mile 20) decided that was a good day for a protest about the state of their roads. So as we were putting out the water, marshalls and medics, they’d barricaded the road with tree trunks and weren’t letting people through!!! You can imagine our panic…but some explaining and some smiling later, the tree trunks were gone and the protesters were cheering our runners through!
It took Paul and I a little while to realise the best way to get things done in Uganda is honestly just to chill out and take each problem as it comes, which is actually a great skill to have anywhere.
Back to you, what advice would you give a runner about to start out?
Enjoy the journey! I had the unusual experience of being a decent-ish runner then, after a physical trauma, having to start again from scratch. Looking back now I wish I could have told myself to enjoy the journey, the progress, the PBs. I was too hellbent on becoming the runner I’d been before and only when I got back there did I appreciate how good it had felt getting there.
How much did your own personal experiences influence your decisions to put on such a race?
When we created the Rift Maz initially we did it because we were adventurous people wanting to share a spectacular running spot with other runners, wanting to help a charity and wanting to do something a bit different. Then, not long after the first event, I ended up having an unexpected emergency liver transplant (nothing to do with Uganda!), having come so close to – without wanting to sound dramatic – death, gave me a very new perspective on the Rift Maz. It became a beacon for me in my recovery – to get back to Uganda for the second event – and made my little life feel like it had been worth saving, because I was doing some good in the world. Sounds OTT writing it down but it’s been a very emotional journey and the marathon really was at the heart of it. Getting back there after all that and seeing our runners endless smiles was an indescribable feeling.
How did it feel coming back after your liver transplant and competing in the transplant games?
Quite honestly there are no words that get close to describing it. From being so close to death I couldn’t breathe for myself, to feeling strength course through me again. I felt lucky, so so grateful and euphorically alive!
The journey back to health had been difficult and I had been so hard on myself to get back there fast. To compete – and to compete well – was emotional. Running because somebody else has given you the gift of life is overwhelming, doing it surrounded by other people who feel the same is very special indeed.
Lastly, morning coffee or morning run?
I’ve just had a baby so right now COFFEE but when this pelvic floor is back in the game give me a RUN any day!
To learn more about Running the Rift and Ellie’s amazing journey click over to her site here
Awesome! Thank you for sharing a remarkable story about an extraordinary person and a life-changing event. Such an encouraging read.