Last October, SHAPE Magazine social manager, Marietta Alessi, ran 45 miles across Singita’s 350,000-acre private concession in Tanzania in the first all-women, multi-day Serengeti Girls Run. This inaugural event, a partnership between Singita and the Grumeti Fund, raised money for women’s empowerment programs in communities bordering the protected area and has inspired a follow-up event this October that will give twice as many runners the opportunity to take part. Read her account of this bucket-list experience.
Video courtesy of SHAPE Magazine
Only six places remain for this extraordinary experience which is not only life-changing for the participants but for the women and girls of rural Tanzania.
“I’m not a runner but the fact that the Serengeti Girls Run had three of my favorite things – adventure, advocacy and animals – really solidified my entry. I had been looking for a way to give back in a meaningful way and when I read about the Grumeti Fund and all they were doing to protect the land and people and animals inside it in a very unique way, I was sold!” Marietta describes herself as a “self-proclaimed ball of energy” and while she enjoys fast-paced HIIT-style workouts and strength training, she didn’t have as much experience doing steady-state cardio. She signed up with less than two months to go, which kicked off an intense 7.5-week endurance training program under the guidance of professional trainers, exercise physiologists and doctors of sports medicine. Having successfully been whipped into shape for the run, her departure day arrived and Marietta began the transatlantic journey to Tanzania from New York City.
Marietta and the other international participants arrive at Singita Grumeti
When asked her first impressions of Africa, she remembers a sense of amazement at the scale and beauty of the Serengeti as the small plane touched down at Singita Grumeti: “I was in complete awe at how pristine the land looked. This is what nature really looks like. Seeing different species roam freely is unreal. That feeling is one I’ll never forget. It went above and beyond my expectations.” The first afternoon was spent settling in at the camp and getting to know her fellow runners, who included an Ironman triathlete, a world-record-breaking Olympian and an ultra-trail runner amongst others! A sunset game drive through the conservation area, dinner around the fire and an early night completed Marietta’s first day in Africa.
The first day ended with a game drive guided by female Field Guide, Mishi Mtili
The events of the following day are noted as particularly memorable by the participants of the 2018 event as the team had a chance to spend time with some of the women and girls who would benefit from the fundraising efforts of each participant. The group travelled to the nearby village of Nata where they met hundreds of high school girls from the local communities. They ran with the girls on a 3km “fun run” before taking part in a career fair where the Serengeti Girls Run participants could share inspiring stories from across the world. These interactions were a highlight for Marietta who also enjoyed “singing songs from their tribe and from mine – we sang Beyoncé’s Who Run The World? Girls over and over!”
High school girls from the neighbouring village joined the participants for a 3km “fun run” and inspiring career fair the day before the multi-stage run began.
The main event began at dawn the next day, when the Start banner was unfurled and the women began their trek across the Serengeti. Each runner selected their own pace and distance, and were accompanied all the way by game scouts from the Grumeti Fund anti-poaching unit. Over the next three days, Marietta and her fellow runners crossed the iconic landscape, traversing grassy plains under a vast African sky, surrounded by all manner of wildlife. “The run was definitely physically and mentally challenging but that came from internal pressures. I always felt safe and a part of the group but I was torn with wanting to run as fast as I can and wanting to hold onto every moment and slow down to experience this incredible journey,” she says.
Marietta makes her way across the Serengeti on foot, accompanied by an armed anti-poaching scout from the Grumeti Fund who was on the lookout for overly curious wildlife!
At the end of each day, the runners returned to camp where they took time to stretch their tired muscles, relax in the pool or enjoy a much-needed massage before returning to the open plains for an evening game drive. The tireless conservation work of the Grumeti Fund has transformed the once barren and dusty plains of the western Serengeti into a lush wilderness with a thriving wildlife population, which makes for truly exceptional game viewing. Singita’s guests, including the participants in the Serengeti Girls Run, have exclusive access to the 350,000-acre concession where they are likely to spot zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and hippo as well as elephant, lion, cheetah and more. Singita Grumeti offers the ultimate Serengeti safari experience.
“One day during my massage, my therapist lifted my head and told me to open my eyes — an elephant was nibbling at a tree only yards away.”
Marietta and the other participants celebrate the end of the third and final day of running.
During the six-day itinerary, the participants also visited the Grumeti Fund’s Environmental Education Center, which hosts week-long, residential courses for local students on the critical role we all play in minimising our impact on the Earth’s limited resources; and met the Fund’s anti-poaching team at the Joint Operations Center to find out more about how they preserve and protect the region’s critical ecosystem. “It was fascinating to see all the different ways in which the Grumeti Fund helps to conserve the Serengeti. I loved hearing from [Singita Field Guide] Mishi Mtili how she has witnessed the Grumeti Fund grow the elephant population by the hundreds over the years that she’s been at Singita.”
Participants in the Serengeti Girls Run visited the Grumeti Fund Joint Operations Center where they learned more about the critical conservation work of the Anti-Poaching Unit.
When asked how she would describe the experience with her fellow runners, Marietta says: “We are bonded for life. Even though this was my first multi-day race and the longest race I’ve ever done, these women welcomed me into their pack and never once judged me along the way. We all still keep in touch in WhatsApp group – we will now and forever be the Geti Girls!” She encourages any woman with a big heart and a sense of adventure to consider signing up for the 2019 event. “You will leave feeling so fulfilled;” a sentiment shared by her fellow runners, the support team and the Grumeti Fund staff who were all profoundly moved by the whole experience.
The group developed a special bond throughout the experience and remain in close contact.
Find out more about the Serengeti Girls Run:
“My passion for making the most out of life is what got me to sign up for this wild run, but the immense amount of support I received not only from the women on this trip but everyone who believed in me enough to help me get there is what pushed me to the finish line.”
JOIN THE SERENGETI GIRLS RUN 2019
Following the success of the event in 2018, we are delighted to have expanded this year’s run to accommodate 18 guests, which will allow Singita and the Grumeti Fund to increase the amount of funds raised for programs specifically focused on opportunities for women and girls to fulfil their academic and career aspirations. Home base for the Serengeti Girls Run 2019, which takes place from 25-30 October, will be Singita Sabora Tented Camp; an intimate 1920s-style explorer’s camp. The package includes:
- Five nights full board at Singita Sabora Tented Camp in Tanzania
- Running up to 21km per day for three days to raise funds for girl and women empowerment. Partners and non-runners can join the team in the support vehicle and/or run/walk some of the way with the participants.
- A chance to interact with the conservation teams and see their work in action, as well as engage with the women and girls who are benefitting from the event at the village fun run and career fair
- Daily guided game drives in the 350,000-acre private reserve
- Return Grumeti Air flights from Kilimanjaro International Airport to Singita Grumeti
- All meals and beverages (excluding French Champagne)
- All activities
- Laundry service