Tangila Trail Series has gone from humble beginnings to a highly anticipated, exhilarating event in Zambia in just a few short years. “At our first event in 2016, the series had about 50 runners, and the entire race was able to be organised in two weeks. Today, the event attracts over 600 participants and sells out a month in advance,” recalls Jon Stacey, founder of Tangila Trail Series.
The rapid growth of Tangila Trail Series comes as no surprise. Held on Masebe Ranch, a scenic private game ranch in Mkushi, Tangila has come to be known as Zambia’s premier trail running event and attracts participants from all corners of the country and beyond. The event has evolved significantly since 2016 and has included mountain bike and open water swimming races in the past, but recently re-focused on what it has come to be famous for – stunning yet challenging trail runs.
The 2023 event featured three new courses: a tame 11 kilometers for beginners, a hilly 22 kilometers for more ambitious runners, and a demanding 33 kilometers with a strict four-hour cut-off for seasoned athletes. The winners across multiple age categories included youngsters from Chengelo School, veteran members of local running clubs, sponsored employees from nearby commercial farms and scouts working in Zambia’s national parks, as well as participants from far and wide seeking time in nature and happy to do their part for conservation.
With its rapid rise in popularity and profile over the years, Tangila Trail Series has leveraged its brand to raise money to protect Zambia’s fragile wildlife and wild spaces, a cause close to the heart of the Stacey family. Since it first broke even a few years ago, all profits from the event have been directed to The Elephant Charge (www.elephantcharge. org), Zambia’s largest platform for raising and distributing funds for wildlife conservation.
Deepening its connection to the conservation community, Tangila Trail Series also began hosting the annual Solomon Chidunuka Memorial Challenge in 2021. This fierce competition brings together all major Zambian conservation organisations to tackle the 22 kilometers trail in honor of a late legend of local conservation. Teams of six from each organisation must include at least three women and no more than three professional scouts, ensuring that support staff also have a chance to get the full Tangila experience. For the third year in a row, this year’s trophy was raised by the impressive team from North Luangwa Conservation Programme, with the team from Nsumbu Tanganyika Conservation Programme hot on their heels.
Spectators at this year’s Tangila Trail Series were thrilled to check out the Buffalo Soldier Challenge. A nontechnical short race for local farm staff who ride single-speed bicycles (commonly referred to as Buffalo bikes), this competition was recently added to allow a wider spectrum of the Mkushi farming community to experience the unique blend of competition and camaraderie that defines Tangila. Buffalo Bicycles, a local subsidiary of World Bicycle Relief, also got on board as an official sponsor this year.
In addition to Buffalo Bicycles, Tangila Trail Series is supported by an extensive network of local sponsors, ranging from multinational corporates to small family businesses. Stanbic Bank Zambia has been the loyal lead sponsor of the event since 2017 and arrived this year with over 20 participants, including their CEO and several executive team members. This year’s generous Gold Sponsors, North Swaka Trust and Mushingashi Conservancy, were also strongly represented on the trails. Both are privately-funded organisations working with local communities to protect vast areas of Zambia from poaching and deforestation.
“At its heart, Tangila Trail Series is all about gratitude,” says Stacey, “Zambia has been very good to my family, and we feel fortunate to call it home. My grandparents started farming in Mkushi in 1965, and my parents started their adventure on a nearby property in 1978. For over 40 years, they have diligently developed Masebe Ranch into the beautiful place I feel lucky to call home. What better way to acknowledge our good fortune than to share it with others while raising awareness and funds for a cause we care about deeply.”
Images by Bich’ri Photo and Gareth Bentley