Ultrarunning is having a moment. It started when Jasmin Paris became the first woman to complete the absurd Barkley Marathons, getting to the finish gate 99 seconds before the 60hr cut-off. One of only 20 people ever to complete the 100 mile race in its 35 years, Paris became a press sensation in the aftermath, even getting the opportunity to be the starter of the London Marathon. Next up, at the beginning of April, Russ Cook, aka @hardestgeezer completed his run from the southernmost tip to the northernmost point of Africa over the course of 352 days. Crossing through 16 countries, the 27 year old’s adventure has (at the time of writing) raised over £944,000 for charity, and propelled him into the mainstream consciousness, with everyone from the BBC to the Telegraph to countless podcasts and specialist media covering his story. It’s a reminder that even niche athletic pursuits like ultrarunning resonate with the wider public when there’s a human face to the story, and that story is well told. As an agency that believes in the power of movement, community and storytelling, this is something we do for our clients every day, and through our Active Communities Fund it’s something we’re helping with in the community too.

Somewhere in east Africa right now, there’s another remarkable running story unfolding. Deo Kato, a 36 year-old, Ugandan-born Londoner, is currently running from Cape Town back to London, exploring the human story of migration from Africa to the rest of the world. “All humans come from Africa and I want to educate people of that fact through running“, he told the Mirror in March 2024 as he approached the halfway point of his 9000 mile run. Deo’s run is less about speed and more about connection, as he told Sidetracked Magazine: “The ancient history of human migration and modern-day human migration is the same. People are still migrating for the same reasons. People are forced to leave their homes because it is unsafe and are in search of safer, better environments to call home.” Sleeping in cars or wherever he can, Kato is living the life of a migrant as he travels. At times he’s been the victim of harassment, while at others, people have extended the hand of friendship, as he recounted to the Guardian: “It was a difficult day, our car had broken down, we were stuck in the sand and had been chased by some farmers who were hostile towards us, then we met a farmer who offered us a place to stay. When we got there, they had cooked for us, they had the tea ready. It was close to midnight and they had everything set out, even though they had no place for us to sleep. They said, ‘Just come, we will figure things out’. We ended up sleeping in the car. But it was the best day so far.” When he eventually makes it home, these are the kinds of stories Deo is aiming to share as he travels around educating and inspiring young people about human history and human potential. At the time of writing this newsletter, Deo has been running for 271 days, covered over 8000km, crossed seven countries and tackled nearly 60,000m of elevation – that’s approaching seven times up Everest.

Back home in the UK, Deo’s partner Alice Light is managing fundraisingsocial media and press while Deo is busy on the ground. We spoke to Alice to find out more about the challenge:

How important is it to know that there are people back home rooting for Deo? 

The support from around the world has been invaluable in supporting Deo’s mental health, believing this challenge can happen. The inspiration people have taken from Deo’s journey is incredible and the support from different communities has been fundamental to the project. Each message, DM or donation has a huge impact on the project and on Deo and gives us the energy to keep moving on. 

Does it feel like that’s already having some impact, making people think about the geography of Africa and the real world politics of the migration?

We regularly get asked when Deo is arriving in Europe and yet Africa is so huge, it’s impossible to gauge, especially with the challenges ahead. People don’t really understand the enormity of Africa. But Deo is on the ground and no amount of words, reels and images shared can prepare you for its beauty, richness, poverty and turmoil.

The biggest impact is sharing the map of Africa within schools, here in the UK and in South Africa where children have been able to see what lies ahead for Deo. For example, running from the southern tip of Europe to London whilst a ridiculous distance is probably less than a quarter of what Deo would have run since Cape Town!

The politics of Africa has come out in our storytelling, with difficult border crossings, corruption, conflict and war as we move further north. The political scene in Africa is a complicated one and has been an eye opener for Deo in different ways and how he has been treated by police and officials. The local communities in each country have generally been very welcoming though and kind towards Deo and when they understand his reason, there is an understanding without the excess explanation that western countries ask for. That has been refreshing. 

Back home and the journey so far…

We naively thought the running would be the hardest part of this journey but Deo has faced many challenges along the way from managing extreme heat to torrential downpours, to countless border crossings with hurdles and challenges of their own and then there is the fueling as a vegan. Funding is by far the hardest part in all of this but we move forward every day with hope and belief in the “Legacy of Hope” Deo is creating as he visits children in and out of the classroom along the way.

At Aspire we think that what Deo is doing is important and powerful, so we’re doing everything we can to support his journey. Led by Aspire’s Community and Talent Manager, Lory Louves, we hosted a ‘Moving Meet’ in March to help raise awareness, drive fundraising and drum up support for Deo’s challenge.

We asked Lory about the support Aspire is providing:

How did you first become aware of Deo’s run? 

Back in November we were invited to attend an event organised by Alice, Deo’s partner. It moved me deeply. Because of my values, rooted in change and equality for all, and the feeling that as a black person, you have to be the one breaking barriers instead of waiting for them to be lifted. From that point on, I told Alice that we would put things in place to support however we can.

How and why are Aspire involved? 

The only way to be real is to put actions behind our words. We were in talks of creating a fund to support active communities, their leaders, and the incredible things they were doing. Deo effectively became the first recipient of the Aspire Active Communities Fund. This fund is effectively how we, as an agency give back to the community. Without going into too many details, we will set up a committee who will bring ideas, communities and leaders to the table and will vote on who and how to support them commercially. It is worth noting that, Aspire’s support can go beyond simply giving donations and putting on events – we can offer PR and marketing consultancy to those structures too. We will support Deo this way this year as well.

Our Moving Meet in aid of Deo was a great success with dozens of runners and supporters in attendance to get together and help raise funds and the profile of Deo’s challenge. 

We asked some of the community leaders in attendance to share their thoughts on what went down and why Deo’s story is so powerful.

Khosi Hlongwane, Founder of Sexy Pace Run Crew

Stories help us understand everyone’s journey, everyone’s ‘why’ and most importantly, help us connect. Real community building happens when we understand the various ways that we can show up for each other. The Moving Meet was an important reminder of the things that truly matter, that is being united in support for one of our kindest community members, Deo. 

The reflections shared by Alice about the work that has been going on behind the scenes really made us understand the resilience it takes to be on this journey. There is still so much to be done but we can all play a part by spreading the word, making a small donation, or offering support.” 

David Bone, Co-Founder of Camino Ultra

“We all agree that Deo’s story is both unique and powerful – the question for me is how do we help make this take flight? The Moving Meet was a beautiful mix of raw, youthful energy and some punchy words meant to galvanise everyone into action. I feel this is a critical moment in this project – this is a global story and at this time, with the London Marathon and Hackney Half on the horizon, the full community is ready for it.

Tasha Thompson, Founder of Black Girls Do Run UK and Aspire Community Adviser:

“There’s so much more to running than training, turning up at start lines and personal bests. Weaving real stories into running gives running purpose, meaning and the opportunity to share our ‘why’. The support for Deo at this Moving Meet was amazing. It was great to see new faces come along to run, support and hear all about Deo’s journey so far. There were two highlights of the evening: kneeling outside Downing St to the backdrop of a gospel choir singing across the road, and listening to Alice’s real and raw account of Deo’s journey. That really was moving.”

You can learn more about Deo’s trip, donate, and follow along on social media via his website, Deo Runs – and if you’d like to join us for an Aspire Moving Meet, email us to join our mailing list.

A huge thank you goes out to our Moving Meet partners too: DripCLIF BarDometicRed BullAthletic Brewing Co. and Love Corn