Bayer employee Ralf Weske usually runs for himself – sometimes he even laces up his running shoes for the 16 km commute from his home in Leichlingen to work in Leverkusen and back again in the evening. This year Ralf decided to run for others for a change. He ran in a charity marathon in Tanzania with proceeds going toward aid projects.
Ralf Weske was raring to go: he stood at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, downing one last isotonic energy drink before making his way to the starting line. This was not your typical fun run. Weske, 47, traveled all the way to Tanzania to run in a Muskathlon – a race for a good cause. Runners need to raise at least 10,000 euros to run in the marathon, with the donations for this race going to charity projects in Tanzania.
“That’s what first inspired me to take part,” explains Ralf Weske, who works in Business Services in Leverkusen. “Running the 42 km marathon was not what fazed me – I’ve done that before. It was more the prospect of raising so much money. That was harder to imagine.”
It’s really amazing that other people could identify with what I was doing and were willing to donate."
Nevertheless, he started training and then asked his colleagues at Bayer if they would support him by pledging donations. “Three or four people immediately said yes, so I decided to sign up.” He drummed up more donations through his “Running Walf” YouTube channel and website (link) and kept his colleagues up to date on his training and the charity project. “I think it’s really amazing that other people could identify with what I was doing and were willing to donate.”
In eight months, he had raised more than 16,000 euros for aid projects in Tanzania. “Around 100 people banded together to give me their support. I couldn’t be more grateful!” Four of his Bayer colleagues were also interested in providing more long-term support by sponsoring a child.
Throughout the fundraising, Weske continued to prepare for the run of his life – and today was the big day. The first few meters through the streets of the town of Moshi didn’t pose a problem. The course, however, soon became muddier. Ralf Weske set a good pace and enjoyed running with the other participants for the first few kilometers. He had been training for this day for months. “There are people who follow rigorous training schedules,” he grins. “I am not one of them.” He had been running around 150 km a month leading up to the race, logging more than 1,000 km overall. All his hard work was now paying dividends. His goal was to complete the marathon in less than four hours.
The route was varied, going from lonely, bumpy roads to villages where hundreds of well-wishers suddenly cheered him on from the roadside. “In Tanzania, the differences between the rich and the poor are not so clear,” comments Weske, “because you don’t see many rich people.”
Weske spent a week in Tanzania, where he had the opportunity to see for himself how the Christian aid organization Compassion uses the money raised by the runners and how the 94,000 children in their care are looked after. “I was very impressed,” he comments. “Compassion had actually looked after one of our interpreters as a child. He has since become a lawyer, representing Tanzanian companies at the World Trade Organization. Without the help he received from Compassion, he says he would still be in dire straits today. He now wants to give something back to his country.”
After 34 kilometers, Weske came to an abrupt halt. He was in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania. His stomach was giving him issues and cold sweat ran down on his brow. “I don’t think the isotonic drink before the start of the race was such a good idea,” he admitted, as the pain continued.
His running companions gradually left him behind, and he could only lope along on his own through Tanzania. Giving up, however, was not an option. He decided to walk. “My only goal now was to finish the race.”
Shortly before the finish line, he experienced perhaps the most wonderful moment of his entire trip. A small boy at the side of the road saw that Weske was on his last legs. The boy ran up to him, took him by the hand and ran along with him. Another boy soon joined, taking his other hand. “They both pulled me along,” he remembers after the race, “such an incredibly beautiful moment.” He finally reached the finish line in a time of 4 hours and 33 minutes.
Now back at his desk in Leverkusen, Ralf Weske reflects on his experience. The Muskathlon may be long over, but the memories remain: “You return to your normal life, but something has changed. Somehow, your everyday problems don’t seem so daunting any more. What the people in Tanzania are going through – now those are real problems.” And he very much hopes to make a difference to their lives through the donations. Perhaps with a second Muskathlon? The next event will be held in Kenya. “Yes, I’d love to,” Weske concludes, “but no isotonic drinks next time, that’s for sure!”