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A letter from an unlikely runner

“Last year I struggled to climb the stairs. Last month I ran 13 miles in 28 degrees.”

Debbie runner in Rwanda

From the first step to the finish line, mum-of-four Debbie never imagined she would run a half-marathon, let alone do it in Rwanda. Now back in the UK, she has put pen to paper to inspire us ...

You might be reading this and thinking about signing up for a Muskathlon next year. You may not even know what a Muskathlon is. You heard about a race in Kenya on 8 June 2018 and your heart started to beat a little faster, something inside you leapt with excitement at the thought of the challenge but then the doubts start to roll in like a dark cloud. Is this really for me? What if I fail? I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m not the sporty type.

That was me last September. Standing at a crossroads and on the brink of a pivotal decision.


Would I stay in my comfort zone or step out and ignore the voice of fear, trusting God to enable me to do the seemingly impossible - run a half-marathon in Rwanda.

You might laugh or think I sound overdramatic but before the end of last year, I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath. But last month, I ran over 13 miles in 28 degree heat, surrounded by stunning Rwandan landscape, alongside 22 of some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.

Let me tell you my story …

It all began with my weight loss journey at the start of 2016. I was determined to improve my fitness levels, confidence and overall health. I managed to lose 75lbs and was proud of my achievement but I still had a way to go before reaching my goal to lose 120lbs. I needed a new challenge and focus to keep me going. I didn’t want the fitness journey to just be about me anymore. Then I heard about the Muskathlon with Compassion, an overseas adventure where there is something for everyone; you can choose between a walk, cycle, half, full or even ultra-marathon.

I would be running to raise money for a Child Survival project which helps vulnerable mothers and babies in Rwanda. When I thought of the lives I could change, the motivation I needed came flooding back.

But it didn’t stop there. I needed to train. Not just going for longer walks or a few jogs around the park when I felt like it. If I was going to do this I needed to do this properly and build up my fitness and stamina over the coming months.

I hired a running coach who helped with my technique and showed me ways I could improve my strength. I learnt some stretches I could do afterwards to avoid injury. Not everyone needs a trainer – sometimes a friend or running partner helps too. I ran with my dear friend Karen who spurred me on with endless encouragement.

I now realise that whenever we want to go the distance and persevere we need to do it within community.

The training was tough, especially during those dark and cold winter mornings when I wanted to give up. But I reminded myself of the children I was running for and slowly my fitness started to improve. With each training session I was able to increase my distance and run a little further.

I also decided to record my experience through series of journals and illustrations. It was my way of capturing how I was feeling on the journey in visual form. I poured the highs and the lows straight from my heart onto the pages of my sketchbook.

heavy load

As May approached I started to feel apprehensive and the nerves kicked in. Was I actually going to do this? I arrived at the airport and instantly relaxed when I met the other race-goers. I was worried the group might be all lycra-clad athletes but instead, they were just normal like me from all walks of life.

Initially I thought my trip was simply about the half-marathon in Rwanda but as each day passed it became apparent it was so much more than that. One of the most precious moments was meeting my sponsored child, five- year-old Izabayo and I got to see the difference Compassion makes with my own eyes.

meeting sponsor child

When race day arrived I was eager to get going. The weather was overcast and misty but as the skies cleared a beautiful mountainous horizon was revealed. I was finally here. I had swapped running on Coventry pavements for Rwandan soil.

The last few miles were the hardest. We were getting tired and I could feel myself starting to slow down but I know I had to just keep going.

Sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

Then with laughter and excitement the children joined in the race, running by our sides, reaching for our hands and cheering us on. It was a moment I will never forget, that helped me to look past the aching muscles and blisters.

Then I heard it. The drums, the sound that signalled we were not far from the finish line.


Crossing the finish line was the most exhilarating feeling! The result of a lot of hard work but the feeling of achievement made it all worth it. I have learnt so much through the experience, to stretch myself and to push through even when things get tough. I offer you this encouragement: If I can do it, anyone can!

I have learnt that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. That’s who we were, just ordinary people, wanting to stretch out a simple helping hand towards children living in poverty.

My time in Rwanda was amazing and totally exceeded my expectations. I always knew it would be my biggest challenge yet, but what I didn’t know was that it would also be one the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Why not set yourself a challenge like I did? And remember that so often the best things in life are waiting just one single step outside of your comfort zone.

Join the adventure

WORDS : Jennie Taylor, Debbie Wattis

PHOTOS : Compassion UK



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