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Serengeti Girls Run with Singita

Written By Kayla Douglas

If spotting the “Big Five” on a safari wasn’t thrilling enough, seeing some of the world’s most majestic animals while running 63km through the Serengeti bush is an experience designed for the most brazen of travelers.

Runners of all levels joined this once-in-a-lifetime event crafted to demonstrate the strength of the collective and our capacity to achieve more when we work together.

This fall, fourteen women from around the world did just that, embarking on this epic journey together to help raise a quarter-million dollars to support women’s empowerment in Tanzania on behalf of Grumeti Fund. Runners of all levels joined this once-in-a-lifetime event crafted to demonstrate the strength of the collective and our capacity to achieve more when we work together. With the iconic Singita Sabora Tented Camp as a home base for five nights during this adventure, participants didn’t just make an impact, but they also had the opportunity to experience Singita’s legendary hospitality while making lifelong connections with fellow runners.

Come along with our Marketing + Social Media Manager as she recaps her 2019 participation while you get thinking about joining in 2020!

Safari with a Purpose

The inspiration behind the #SerengetiGirlsRun was rooted in a long-standing collaboration between Singita, a world-renowned and family-run lodge company, alongside the conservation geniuses at Grumeti Fund, a non-profit organization carrying out wildlife conservation and community development work in the western corridor of the Serengeti ecosystem. The two organizations have worked hand-in-hand in Tanzania for nearly two decades overseeing the protection of wildlife in the Grumeti Reserve, a 350,000-acre private concession within the Serengeti.

After achieving incredible success in their conservation efforts – most recently with the reintroduction of endangered rhino into the land – Grumeti Fund decided to expand their mission to include specific women’s empowerment programing. They recognize that while their work within the reserve is making a tangible impact, it’s only once the conservation efforts are embraced by the community’s most vulnerable members that it goes a step further; and this is where the idea of combining conservation, women’s empowerment and running was born.

The Serengeti Girls Run is a chance to combine luxury travel while you are engaged with and donating to a community development project.

The project was spearheaded by Katherine Cunliffe, Head of Outreach and Sustainability alongside Beverly (Beezie) Burden, Head of Communications at Grumeti Fund. Beezie shares, “Safaris with a Purpose is an opportunity to combine a travel experience with a meaningful contribution to conservation and community development. The Serengeti Girls Run is a chance to combine luxury travel while you are engaged with and donating to a community development project.” Specifically, the fundraising for the run supports scholarships for local girls in secondary school, vocational studies and university; funds also go towards training girl mentors, providing life skills, internships as well as enterprise development training for women and environmental education for girls.

Preparation

Getting ready for a race is such a personal process and looks different for every athlete. The exciting thing about the Serengeti Girls Run is that it’s truly tailored for all fitness levels, so whether you’re setting out with a time goal in mind or simply want to take it easy and connect with nature, it’s possible to do either and remain completely safe. Over the past two years, the event has been inclusive of participants ranging from runners who’d barely broken double-digits miles until their training to Olympic athletes. This year, the group’s most dynamic member was a South African woman named Pippa who despite being in her 60s and initially thinking the twenty-one kilometer distance was spread over three days, not per day for three consecutive days, crushed the race at her own pace! That being said, if you have a will to run and make an impact while doing so, then this project is for you. Though if you’re anything like our Smarties, you like to know you’re doing all you can to prepare; fortunately, a training plan by Bespoke Treatment’s PT, DPT, CSCS and run coach Blake Dircksen is sure to set you up for success.

Oh, and that whole packing thing? We have you covered in our “Safari Packing Guide.”

Getting There

Get excited, you’re about to meet some lifelong friends upon landing.

The journey from NY to the Serengeti is one made much smoother thanks to the recently launched JFK-NBO route by Kenya Airways. For ultimate comfort, the 14-hour trip to Nairobi is best enjoyed in business class on one of their new Dreamliner 787s, where you’ll be able to lie-flat and enjoy the hospitality of the lovely crew on board! After touching down briefly in Kenya, you’ll have a short layover before boarding a brief flight to Kilimanjaro where you’ll be met upon arrival for your transfer to Arusha. Settle into the Arusha Coffee Lodge for just one night as you prepare for your final flight of the journey, set for early tomorrow morning. Wheels up in Arusha to wheels down at Sasakawa in your Grumeti Air flight will take just over an hour. Get excited, you’re about to meet some lifelong friends upon landing.

Camping? Not so much.

So, you’ve landed safely in the Grumeti Reserve; now, it’s time to settle in at Singita Sabora Tented Camp, home for the next five nights. And while the words ‘tented camp’ may evoke a sense that you’ll be lacking creature comforts, we assure you, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Walking into your spacious accommodation will reveal how Singita redefines what it means to be immersed in the bush with its thoughtful design touches like clawfoot bathtubs, a stocked bar and ample power outlets (each seemingly unfathomable luxuries when you realize how deep you are in the Serengeti!). Beyond the tangible amenities, though, it’s the service here that will stand out. As a guest of the lodge – which has been fully privatized for the Serengeti Girls Run – you’ll be interacting almost exclusively with female team members who have been pulled from various other Singita lodges within the Grumeti, ensuring that the atmosphere remains a safe and comfortable space to build community.

Even more exciting, for guests participating in 2020, each of the nine tented suites will feel brand new as the camp is undergoing a full renovation, set to be complete in June. Features like a private meditation deck, large glass panels with views of the surrounding grasslands, in-room kitchenette and an outdoor sala with daybeds – perfect for reading or marvelling at the plains game passing by – will greet you.

Sabora Tented Camp: Bush fire

First Things First: Sundowners

After all the intense preparation and travel that went into your arrival, your first night in the bush will feel like a weight has been lifted. Sink into the magnitude of what’s ahead with one of the most cherished safari traditions: the sundowner. Dating back to 19th-century colonial Africa when British soldiers would cap off a hot, dusty day in the bush with a refreshing alcoholic beverage (typically gin), it’s the kind of ritual you’re sure to quickly embrace. Even better, as a participant of the Serengeti Girls Run, sundowners will offer you time to connect with the inspiring tribe of women who’ve traveled from so far to be a part of this special event.

“Tuko Pamoja”

“But we want them to know that being a girl is not bad luck or crippling. You can be a girl and do great things in this world.” – Frida Mollel, Head of Community Outreach Program, Grumeti Fund

Waking up to the sounds of exotic birds chirping as the Serengeti is being illuminated at dawn is an experience that grounds you in ways previously unimaginable. Particularly on that first morning, when you know that you’re about to meet with the local girls being impacted by Grumeti Fund – whose work is made possible in part by the support of Serengeti Girls Run – there’s a lightness and weight in the air, all at once. After breakfast with your fellow runners, you’ll head to the small town of Nata for the chance to kick things off with an inspiring empowerment talk led by Frida Mollel, Head of Grumeti Fund’s Community Outreach Program. Her message of encouragement is one that comes from personal experience, having grown up in nearby Arusha. She shares, “[girls] have to know the circumstances hindering their success in order to face them. Compared to their male counterparts, many challenges stand between them and education; early marriages, teenage pregnancies, FGM. But we want them to know that being a girl is not bad luck or crippling. You can be a girl and do great things in this world.”

With hundreds of high school girls chanting “tuko pamoja” meaning, “we are together,” it’s not just these words that reverberate through the village but a visceral feeling of togetherness. When women gather together in these kinds of numbers and commit to supporting one another, magic happens. Seeing so many hopeful faces, embraces and acts of solidarity reminds us what what this race is all about, the power of the collective. After the rally, it’s time hit the dirt road winding through the village, hand-in-hand with your new besties. At the finish, the girls will be given a year’s supply of reusable pads followed by a career fair where the participants can share their own stories. Presentations at the fair will showcase jobs in both the conservation and hospitality sectors, industries that would have been difficult for the women in generations prior to pursue; but here, the message is all about girl power and the opportunity to create whatever future they envision.

Big 5 Spotting

…dedicated focus to the task at hand: to provide guests with unforgettable experiences in nature, introduce them to the wonders of the wilderness and highlight the value of conservation.

After heading back to the lodge for a delectable meal prepared by Chef Mia‘s women-led kitchen, it’s out for afternoon game drive. This will continue to be the format for the days ahead, where you’ll work hard in the morning only to be rewarded with guided game drives that provide a front-row seat to this exclusive 350,000-acre protected reserve. To further the experience, hop in the Land Rover with Mishi Danstan Mtili, whose sweet smile is just the beginning of her innate understanding of hospitality. Mishi was awarded “Best Female Safari Guide in Tanzania” in the 2019 Tour Guides Awards and while she’s hosted some of the world’s most famous actors and celebrities, her feet are firmly on the ground. True to Singita’s family values, Mishi’s humility shines through in her dedicated focus to the task at hand: to provide guests with unforgettable experiences in nature, introduce them to the wonders of the wilderness and highlight the value of conservation.

Starting Line Ready

Waking up for day three of the program may come with a side of nerves, despite that you have absolutely nothing to worry about under the care of the diligent team on property. In an effort to make the twenty-one kilometer course per day even more approachable, you’ll split into pace groups each accompanied by scouts from the Grumeti Fund Anti-Poaching Unit followed closely by a support team in a shadow vehicle to ensure ultimate safety and comfort throughout the entire event. Plus, if you get tired, you can just hop on in the vehicle for a break! But, it’s far more likely that adrenaline and the encouragement of your fellow runners will get you through each step of the race.

The Routes + Sideline Spectators

With three separate creative courses planned out, one of the most impressive parts of this multi-stage run is that it’s impossible to become bored. Each day, you’re presented with new topography and yes, even wildlife to admire along the way. That’s right, swap out your typical sideline spectators with signs and cheers for much more elusive supporters including topi, zebra, giraffe and yes, even elephants! Take it all in and grab a breather at the two dedicated hydration stations (approximately every 7km) which are staffed by Singita and sure to be far better stocked than any aid station you’ve seen in prior races.

Lunch. Massage. Game Drive. Repeat.

If running a half marathon per day weren’t rewarding enough, one of the most gratifying parts about this race is that you’ll have your running done each morning before 10am, with the rest of the day to relax and enjoy. You’ll cross the finish line conveniently located on property and enjoy some refreshments before you sit down for lunch to recount the morning’s happenings (“Did you see that giraffe? How about how strong we ran through that last 2km?”) as you refuel over the most delectable bites. Then, break off for some time at leisure where you can either dive into a book in the library or opt for a massage accompanied by the soothing sounds of the bush. No matter what you choose, rest assured that you’re likely to feel more present than you can remember in recent history. Chase your R&R with another afternoon game drive where your guide will tell you stories of the land and show you the diverse animals on the land, each a result of Grumeti Fund’s conservation wins.

A Cause for Celebration

This will be a journey that you will never forget — for your mind, spirit, and body.

By the final morning of the Serengeti Girls Run, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be charged with emotion. Reaching the finish line on day three means you’ve officially clocked 63km in some of the world’s wildest terrain. The only question is how fast you can sign up for the following year! In the words of 2019 participant Mari Sinton-Martines, “I am so excited to be returning for my second year of the Serengeti Girls Run. In just one week I made unbelievable friendships and bonds. It is truly a magical, powerful, and enlightening experience. Not only are participants making a difference for girls in Tanzania, they are also making a difference for themselves. This will be a journey that you will never forget — for your mind, spirit, and body.”

Are you ready to participate in the third annual Serengeti Girls Run from October 27th to November 1st, 2020? Contact kayla@smartflyer.com for details.

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