Julie Mahmoud from Arizona has a clear vision for running development in Kapchorwa, with an interesting connection to sustainable farming and healthy living. In this interview I ask Julie about her passion for running, current activities around a running camp in Kapchorwa and her vision for the future.
1) When did you first come to Kapchorwa? What was your first impression?
I first came in June of 2018. The hospitality, amazing people and culture of athletics made me feel connected and at home. I cherish the true friendships that I have made in Kapchorwa. I admire the essential work of From Coach to Coach in empowering youth through sports. The initiatives you are taking are needed everywhere, in the United States as well.
2) How did you develop your passion for high altitude running and ultra running?
I have been running my entire life, and started competing at the age of 7 in road races, track, cross country and eventually moving to mountain and ultra. I believe that we all are born with the gift of running and that we should continue to run as we live. Many people stop running as they grow into adults, this is unfortunate.
Ultra running was a natural progression for me and at the time a result of the circumstances of where I was, mentally and physically. I had just moved to Alaska a few years after my son, Najim, was born, and discovered there, the vast endless wilderness trails reaching far into uninhabited areas. It was easy to start a training run and hard to stop. These places in Alaska, the trails, the mountains, drew me further along. I often found myself still out running after 5, 6, sometimes 7 hours before I even noticed that I was tired.
When I started to enter races, I realized that I had to have a program and a plan. Training with others and learning how to get ready for big races led me to travel to high altitude locations such as Olympic Valley, near Lake Tahoe, for up to a month before major competitions to gain fitness (Alaska does not have habitable residential areas at high altitudes). I eventually went on to win two National Championships and competed for the USA 100k team at IAAF World Championships two times. But my best memories are JFK 50 mile and Resurrection Pass 50 mile. So, I didn’t really develop a passion for running, it was always there. I run everyday and consider running a normal part of life.
3) How do you look at the recent successes of runners like Cheptegei, Nakaayi, Chesang and Kiplimo?
These athletes have given tremendous hope, pride, and most of all, empowerment for the the local community and for Uganda. Most importantly they are giving strength to the next generation coming up now and providing them with the example needed to be successful in their own lives.
4) What does High Altitude Arizona majorly do?
High Altitude Training of Arizona organizes and supports athletes in their development and sponsors an elite team who represent clean athletics and the movement of sustainable living for human potential. We are building an example.
5) How do you compare the training conditions in Kapchorwa versus Arizona?
Arizona is a dry, hot desert from Phoenix to Tuscan in the low altitude southern regions, and much cooler in the northern, high altitude, alpine and canyon regions in and near Flagstaff. Flagstaff is at 2200-2500m altitude with higher areas and peaks that go to 3000-4000m altitude for training. There are good roads and trails that go up to the top of these peaks. Our headquarters is in Flagstaff, Arizona, one of the fastest growing running communities in the world and host to elites such as Mo Farah and Edward Cheserek. It’s one of the only high altitude places in the United States where you can train year round outside and has facilities and venues for every specialty. The trail routes are endless, roads and tracks as well. The community is very spread out and lots of wilderness areas all around. It’s a good place to come to focus and prepare for major competitions. However, the public doesn’t generally identify with the runners here as they do in Kapchorwa. This is an important aspect for developing talent, comprehensive community support and connectiveness. That is a big asset in Kapchorwa.
I have not yet discovered all the training routes in Kapchorwa. I’m looking forward to doing that.
6) What is your plan with the camp in Kapchorwa?
The camp accommodates our elite and developing elite athletes who are accepted to the team. We are endeavoring to provide an environment that supports focused training and optimal health, including help for injury and the prevention of injuries. The team is open to all nationalities because we see athletics as an international community sharing common values and goals. The athletes on the team are selected based on talent, goals, character, performance, and most important, the ability to represent the organization, our values and to get involved with the projects that connect athletics to the well being of the community. Individuals are supported in their efforts to train and race as professional athletes and to reach towards the highest level of human potential they are willing to commit to.
HAT of Arizona provides them with the opportunity to strengthen their purpose through projects such as organic food sourcing for the camp and for building an organic food network and hopefully a weekly market.
A bigger goal, for the organization as a whole, is to organize an international competition, a IAAF certified race, to show case our commitment to a better future and global sustainability. The race will kick off the construction of organic permacultures, first in Kapchorwa, and then in nearby regions. We are calling the project “The Race for Sustainability”. We have much work to do and funding will be the challenge.
Presently, we need to continue to establish a strong team to represent high values and who’s members can understand that athletics drives and nurtures greater purpose and the wellness of the community. The world needs heros and leaders. Athletes are in a position to be that.
7) In your recent communications you are mentioning the word 'sustainability' in relation to the camp in Kapchorwa. How can sustainability be achieved in nurturing young talented athletes?
Sustainability is the most urgent issue of our time. The steady decline in the environment is impacting the survival of all life, and we can see it in the rise of chronic diseases and the decline in health in all human populations. Human potential in general and athletic potential are being impacted negatively.
Athletes are having to rely on technology to produce better performances. Better shoes, supplements, training surfaces, and even some using illegal performance drugs are all familiar examples. These technologies are a form of compensation for an unhealthy environment, not an advance in potential.
Young people need to know that with a healthy environment around them they can do better, run faster, exceed limits, and develop their true potential.
What I’m saying here is that the use of chemicals and fossil fuels in the established, unsustainable, food production system is most alarming and has a direct impact on health and performance. So, indeed, the collapse of our ecosystems is affecting athletic potential.
Young athletes can protect themselves by making sure their food and water is sourced sustainably by choosing organically grown, locally produced food. Water can be distilled or filtered.
8) What message do you have for young, talented Kapchorwa runners who are struggling to come up?
My advice to young athletes is to never give up, no matter what obstacles you may face in progress toward your goals and to remember that you can set an example for the community by how you live and the choices you make. Athletes who have the purpose of inspiring others and to ‘live sustainability’ will go all the way to achieving personal success while making a measurable impact on the larger community.
I say to our athletes: Everything you do matters. Your life is important. Your actions and example have a critical impact. If you face difficulties, see them as a challenge to solve problems and keep moving forward. Nothing can stop you from making your goal. That is the attitude you must have to truey live well and have a positive effect on the people around you.
9) How does the Kapchorwa running environment look like in 10 years from now?
Kapchorwa will have a thriving organic agricultural food system with local distribution. Permaculture food production cooped with the wider community has been established. Health markers will improve dramatically and more athletes will be excelling on the international scale. High Altitude Training of Arizona has built a completely sustainable training facility with renewable materials and energy systems.
Kapchorwa can become a model for athletics and an example for a sustainable future.
Now we are just getting ourselves established and we are looking to gain recognition and supporters who can get behind our vision. We appreciate all the interest and are grateful for the contributions we have had.