Let me just start by saying what a fantastic event this was, and what good value for money. Included in the entry fee (see their website for for the latest pricing) you get:
2 night’s accommodation(RO) in a nice hotel Johannesburg(before and after)
Travel to and from Johannesburg to Augrabies, Kalahari (packed lunches inc)
2 night’s accommodation in a large chalet in the Augrabies Falls National Park
2 night’s accommodation in luxury tents at Khimkirri after the event
All food included at Augrabies and Khimkirri before and after the event
Gala Dinner after the event
Welcome pack - Including a Buff, Falke trail socks, Gaiters, lip balms, T-Shirt and various other useful things
A week long safari on foot (Ok, so there might be some running involved for this bit!)
You can find ultramarathon stats for this race and others here.
So, without even running there is a weeks worth of accommodation in the price! The Rand isn't a very strong currency vs the Pound, so everything cost very little when there too. A round of beers/soft drinks for 6 people costs about £3! So 50p for a bottle of beer roughly! Add to that the warmth and friendliness of the organisers; Estienne and Nadia, and Simon I believe is the other partner, plus the support crew, makes this event very special. This event is far too well a kept secret I think. When you can fly to South Africa and experience all of this for less than half of the price of the Marathon Des Sables, I'm expecting this event to get very popular indeed. 2009 in the anniversary 10th year, so I imagine it will be even more special. Lots of previous competitors are expected back, so make sure you don't miss out!
Once you've read this report you might be interested in my critique of the equipment I took with me, and a critique of training programme. You'll find the equipment review useful if you are considering taking part in the event.
Look on the sidebar to the right of the screen, and browse to the 'archive' for October 2008 and you'll find those posts there. I hope they help.
You'll probably already know I completed the Marathon Des Sables earlier this year (2008), after training for it since 2006. If not, you can find the details on my old MDS blog. I completed it, but had not done as well as I had expected, leaving me with a sense of failure. I realise most people just think to complete it is hard enough, but I wanted to finish in the top half of the field and failed to do that finishing 556th out of 800. This was down to a disastrous day 4 (47 mile stage) where I had to take 7 hours rest at the half way stage. Lack of sleep, food and other factors possibly all played a part. If I would have not had to rest I would have finished in the top half overall. So, I felt I had let myself down and had something to prove still. I booked the Atacama Crossing in Chile, next March (it runs at the same time as the MDS 2009). However, that seemed like such a long time away. One Friday evening an advert was posted for a race on the MDS forum I use. The advert was for the KAEM (Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon). I'd never heard of it if I was being honest. I checked out their website and liked the sound of it. It sounded like a tougher version of the MDS with a Safari built in! I checked flights availability and just booked them, on the spur of the moment, just seven weeks before the event started.
I emailed around and got some replies from previous competitors. All said it was indeed tougher than the MDS, but were a little vague as to why. I read the stories from the previous years' race on their website, and looked at the results. The dropout rate was higher than the MDS (which is around 5-10%), the KAEM being consistently 30% every year since it began. The event is now in it 9th running, only the MDS being running longer, for a race of this type. The format is identical. 6 stages over 7 days, with day 4 being a long day (47 miles this year). It is self sufficiency also, so you must carry your own food and equipment. Only water is supplied at checkpoints. The water allowance is more strict than the MDS, with 5l being given on the finish line each day (MDS is 4.5L on the finish line, and 1.5l the next morning before the start). That must last you until checkpoint 1 the following day! So all of your rehydration, and cooking etc, plus refilling your water bottles for the first 10k of the next day/stage. There was a little (not much) extra water in drums in the camp that people used for washing etc. We did not have to bring a stove or fuel tablets, as one camp fire was lit for us to put our cooking pots on. No compass was required (magnetic interference in the rocks render them useless). No anti venom pump, despite the presence of equally dangerous snakes as in the Sahara (it's debatable as to how effective these are anyway. They've had no problems with snakes in 9 years anyway). So, there is overall slightly less kit required, but the weight difference is fairly minor. You'll see from previous blog posts what equipment I packed for the race. On the start line I had about 8kg in my pack, plus 1.5kg of water in two bottles. This was less than my pack weight for the MDS. I had been stricter and brought some lighter kit too. I think I had the lightest pack of all of the competitors, by a couple of kg's. That said, I probably weigh less than most of the others too (I'm about 64kg), so it is all relative.
I got the train down to Heathrow and a direct flight with BA to Johannesburg. The return flight cost me £500. Another UK competitor got a flight for about £470 but had to change at Paris. The flight was around 10.5 hours, but mercifully all of the flights to Johannesburg leave around 8-9pm, so they are overnight flights, arriving about 8-9am local time (+1 hour GMT). This means you sleep and arrive feeling ready for a days shopping in Johannesburg, which is exactly what I did! I was greeted at the airport by Nadia, and introduced to Lena the Russian competitor (you'll hear more about her later!). A short drive to the Airport City Lodge hotel and I met several others. I met Paul, Edward and Patrick from the UK. Edward and Patrick are KAEM veterans, and Paul was a first time ultra runner. I also met Ronan and Alex; Australian Navy, Helmut from Austria, and Gareth and Jon also from Australia but originally from South Africa and Zimbabwe respectively. Finally Phil from South Africa, Flora from China and Kerry from Taiwan. Virtually all of the South African's were Comrades (56 mile road race) vets. The other competitors we were to meet in the Kalahari, as they were making their own way there. There were 20 competitors this year, much less than previous years. I suspect the credit crunch/global economic crisis being the reason.
A few of us shopped in Johannesburg's Nelson Mandela shopping centre during the afternoon and had a meal at a local steak house in the evening. The following morning we left at 6am for the long (10 hour; a few hours longer than the MDS bus journey) trek across the country into the Kalahari. I didn't know at the time, but some people had opted to fly from Jo'burg to Uppington (a 1.5hr flight) instead, and then travel the last hour by bus/car. The flight cost is around £150 I believe. Still, the bus journey was a bonding experience, a chance to get to know the other competitors and also for me to play 'spot the wildlife' out of the bus window. I was so excited to see Ostrich just wandering around the plains, I was like a child! Breakfast and lunch packed meals were provided, but a few of us decided we would get some proper ultra-runner food at a rest stop - KFC. Haven't had one for years but it tasted good. I figured I'd run the calories off that week anyway! We arrived at the Augrabies Falls Lodge where we met the rest of the crew, before being transferred the 3 or 4k to the Augrabies Falls National Park itself where we were paired up and accommodated in chalets as seen below. Click on all these pictures for a much bigger, more detailed view.
In the shop, near reception, I met Kim, a very nice (and well spoken) South African competitor. She was doing her first KAEM. Her husband won a paired rowing race from The Canary Islands to Antigua in December/January (2 month-long race), so they are obviously a very fit family! After a short rest we went back to the Lodge for the evening meal.
After the meal we went back to the chalets to sleep. I was sharing a chalet with Paul from the UK, and we woke early to banging on the roof, and someone trying to open our (locked) chalet door?!?!!?!? We looked outside to see a huge baboon. It was jumping down from the roof of the chalets, trying the doors to see if it found one unlocked. If so, it ran inside and stole fruit before making its escape. Us and the young Aussies, Alex and Ronan, found this very amusing, but other people staying at the park were not so impressed! We had breakfast at the Augrabies Lodge, pictured below.
I was trying out a few outfits for the race, in case you wonder why I am in those CW-X Pro compression tights the day before the race! We then got on the bus for a 2 hour tour of the national park, the pictures of which you can see below.
We drove around, getting off for the odd stop, as pictured. Then we stopped as we spotted Giraffe! Very excited we all dashed off the bus and made our way into the bush for better pictures. Sorry I only had a basic compact camera, but you can spot them!
Lena, the Russian, ran faster than anyone saw her move all week, chasing the Giraffe to "Make Photo" (her English was better than my Russian to be fair), which she spooked, and they moved off. We boarded the bus and spotted a couple of small monkeys too.
The rest of the day I spent trying out my potential race outfits and visiting the actual Augrabies falls, which were huge and powerful. There is a well constructed walkway and viewing platforms all around the area.
A view back to the chalets.
You can't see them in the photo, but by that point I had changed out of the black CW-X Pro compression tights and put on a pair on white under armour tights. They were much much cooler (in the heat sense, not the style sense! My legs were cooking standing still in the black CW-X tights) to wear, and so I decided upon them, along with my tried and trusted Railriders Ecomesh shirt, as my racing outfit. That afternoon there was the pre-race briefing and kit check. We met the other competitors. Roy, an Olympic silver medallist for swimming in the 1970's (UK ex-pat), and his wife Malene. Tim, Lucas and Danie; all South Africans. Tim (now living in Canada) had failed on two previous attempts to complete this event and was hoping 3rd time lucky (he completed it too, well done Tim!). Danie, I think someone told me he was ex-army. He didn't have a traditional runner’s physique, but wow could he move and he said the heat never affected him! Don't know a great deal about Lukas (except he is fast!), but both he and Danie were very friendly. They spoke mainly Afrikaans, but some English if it was needed!
We got to view the route in detail for the first time. We were given the road books on the bus. They were helpfully on seperate sheets, so we could tear off each day as we needed them, and not have to use a full book each day (like the MDS).
The 240km route.
We went back to the National park and I saw some signs showing the local wildlife. It showed the Puff Adder, Cape Cobra, and Spitting Cobra (the camera crew filmed one at Khimkirri apparently). I hoped I didn't run into one of these frighteners (I almost did though, literally, eek!!). We went back to our chalets and packed our kit for the next day. Paul went and brought a few eggs, and some bread from the shop for a luxury breakfast for us, before the start! I slept quite well, and spotted this little fella outside the chalet in the morning.
Paul served up breakfast, which I ate as well as my porridge race breakfast. I probably ate a little too much in fact. Then we dragged our suitcases up, handed them in, and moved up to the start line.
Day 1 - Stage 1 - 25km.
• Start: Augrabies Falls National Park Camp.
• Follow the markers to the main game viewing dirt road.
• Stay on this road until you get a marker board which will take you on a small loop right, to avoid the wide stream crossing.
• Continue back on the main game viewing road to an intersection, take the left turn and continue to check point 1.
• 600m after check point 1 take the left split.
• 600m further on turn off the game viewing road to the right. It will be clearly marked.
• Continue on the route into a sandy river bed and then turn right down a dry river gorge to the Orange River.
• Then turn left at the river. Staying on the river bank, cross through the National Park fence and follow the river downstream to check point 2. (This stretch along the river is about 3km)
• About 200m before you reach check point 2, follow the markers very carefully as they will lead you away from the water’s edge towards the cliffs. (This is a sandy section)
• From check point 2 follow the markers carefully through vineyards to a wide gravel road.
• Continue up this winding road and at the top of the hill turn off to the left into the Park through the gate. You will see the Vodacom tower on the hill. (There should be crew members at this gate)
• After the gate continue with the 4x4 track past the tower to the finish at Camp 1.
I saw the distance of this stage before I arrived in SA, and I figured it was a gently introduction to the Kalahari. An epic FAIL on my part - it just wasn't an easy introduction at all I subsequently found! We lined up on the start line, here is the outfit I was sporting.
I was running from the fashion police all week. You can blame Likeys for those ridiculous coloured gaiters! However, it gave everyone something to laugh at, and I was declared to be "somewhat flamboyant" by Kim. Let's just say that a few minds were changed over the week, and a few others will be sporting white tights in the future!
There are stacks of official photos from the start here too. After a brief overview of the route, from Estienne, we were off. I settled into a comfortable 8kph/5mph pace and held that as we travelled on the dirt track that wound through the national park. We would stay on that track for the first 10k, the easiest running we would have all week! It was forecast to be hot - 40C+ for the whole week (it got hotter!).
Fairly soon my camera was out as we spotted a family of Giraffe just a few k into the race. I also saw Gemsbok in the distance, but they would not have shown on the picture.
This is Jon, who I had the closest tussle with, on finish times with as the week progressed.
After about 5k I felt a little sick. I slowed up and thankfully the feeling passed - too much breakfast I assumed. Paul had decided to keep pace with me and a few others. Alex, Danie, Lucas and Ronan had dashed off quickly and so it would be for much of the week. Acclimatised to heat and great athletes, they would usually (but not always!) finish well ahead of me! We got to checkpoint 1 after the long slow 10climb from the start line. I was already feeling the heat and took a few minutes to cool down, refill my water bottles (Adding electrolyte into one), and get my Buff soaked in water before continuing. A nice downhill came after CP1, but then a route marker (red and white tape) indicated a right turn into a track (shown below) and then into dry river bed (Wadi - if you want Sahara speak).
Dry river beds are unpleasant, full of soft sand. They get very hot from the radiated heat of the sand, and they are hard to run in, and even worse to walk in. Paul decided to take it easy and drop back and I pushed ahead to catch up and pass most of the others, except the first 4 (this overtaking happened over the whole course of CP1 to CP2). I ran the river bed, whereas most walked it. It's actually easier to run in soft sand sometimes I think; If you toe-in and lean forward.
To make matters worse there was not a breath of wind. In the Sahara, during the MDS, there was almost always a breeze. You could take off your hat anytime and catch the breeze to cool down. Not so in the Kalahari, at least not for the first few days. It was baking hot and more humid too; the proximity to the Orange River probably the reason for this. Here was Lena heading into that Gorge.
I had passed a couple of others when the route exited the sandy river bed and we had to climb up a very steep and silty hill, up and out into a gorge. It was a case of 1 step up and 3/4 of a step back as we slipped and slided up the steep bank. The spot shown below.
I emerged into the gorge which was very hot, and a mixture of rock and sand underfoot, initially at least. The rock blasted heat back at you as well as the sand.
I got someone to take my photo soon after.
After a K or so, the route joined the river and the terrain became more difficult.
Route finding was tough at times, as the markers were tricky to spot. Having a few pairs of eyes in close proximity at that time, helped us through the trickiest section. We would have to climb up and around boulders, lots of leaping involved. The banks of the river were sandy, and the sides of the gorge very steep rock. We were told to keep to the cliff side which meant running on an angle.
Here is Helmut negotiating the tricky terrain, just ahead of me at this stage.
Frequently we came across 'washouts' which were small 4 or 6ft deep canyons, and from 3 to 10ft wide (waters had flowed down and created these in recent weeks). The sides were made of soft silt-sand which frequently gave way underfoot. I tried leaping a few and ended up slipping and falling in, as the sand gave way. The wider ones we had to climb down into and then out of. There were a lot of these in this section; making progress tiring. Now, in the heat of the day everyone was suffering. I went to the banks of the river to dampen my buff, which I wore around my neck to promote cooling (cooling the carotid artery in the neck). Others behind me were so cooked they actually stripped off and went into the river, in an attempt to cool down. The reflected heat still air, and humidity, made the temperature far exceed anything I felt in Morocco (It felt over the 48C I had experienced in Morocco). This was a rude awakening for me. I caught up Gareth and we continued together, occasionally stopping for a few seconds in the shade of a tree. I had never consciously sought shade in the Sahara (when it was available). Here, it was a survival technique! Soon after, we found Helmut slumped under a bush, clearly suffering in the heat. Imagine a strong Austrian accent; he said "Ze Marathon Des Sables is for Ze Children". He along with several others had done the MDS too. I knew exactly how he felt at that moment. Taking nothing away from the MDS, which is a difficult race, I was feeling the strain of this event on day 1! The terrain was very hard and varied, and the temperatures unbelievable. What had I let myself in for? I was down to the last 100ml of my water as me and Gareth prayed for the checkpoint to appear. The route swung away from the river and then a final slog up a short but fairly steep hill where we spotted CP2.
Tim was already there, but left soon after we arrived. Here is Gareth (left) and Tim (right).
My gaiters had held so far, and the CP staff were impressed to see not a grain of sand appear when I upturned my shoes. A river of sand came from some people's shoes. My gaiters were obviously working so far (Thank you Likeys). However, my left heal had rubbed slightly, and there was a hotspot. I was in shoes 2 sizes too big, that being the problem. I put a pair of Smartwool socks over the top of the Asics Kayano's I was wearing. This padded out the shoes perfectly. I should have done that from the start of the stage. That decision proved to be absolutely critical to my success that week (my feet remained in superb condition); two pairs of socks; a thick pair over a thinner pair. My bottles were refilled by the always excellent and supportive CP staff, my bone-dry buff was re-wet, and I set off ahead of Gareth to chase Tim. We went past a vineyard and then joined a dirt road, where a winding draining climb began up a hill to a Vodacom (mobile phone) tower on a viewpoint.
I took this shot looking back from half way up. What a contrast to the visible vineyard.
The route turned off the dirt road and then went steeply up an uneven track past the tower.
I'd overtaken Tim already and now began the last slog to the finish. It was uphill all the way for the last few k. The terrain was all rough rock tracks, very uneven and very hot. I was relived to see the finish line ahead and crossed to finish in 5th, in a time of 4:29. The joint stage winners Alex, Danie and Lukas, had come in 40 minutes ahead of me. Ronan had come in 10 minutes ahead of me. The next competitor came in half an hour after me. I was happy with my performance that day. The heat had hit me hard, but the terrain suited me. I'm well used to hill climbing and rough tracks, but not so good on soft sand. Genevieve, the physio was offering sports massage at 50 Rand for 20 minutes (about £3!!!!). Needless to say, everyone including me took her up on the offer every day. She's an excellent sports masseur. Go see her for treatment if you live in Jo'burg!
Everyone else came in over the next few hours. Paul had suffered in the heat, having opted for a sleeveless shirt (very brave!). He'd taken a dip in the river, picked up a few blisters but was still smiling when he crossed to the line.
Roy and Malene came in just after, in 6:46, and then came the long wait. Lena had not arrived with any of the mandatory equipment at all, and had to be given kit to use. She was walking (not running) in hiking boots. She seemed more interested in taking photo's. She apparently got to the first CP (only 10k, or 6 miles, into day 1), took off her shoes and said her feet were sore! She finished the stage in 9:21, technically after the cutoff time, as it was already sundown, but was allowed to progress to day 2. Flora had retired at CP2, after suffering in the heat and terrain I understood. So, day 1 was over and 1 retirement already. I'd eaten my salty salami snacks (Peperami) and my energy bars (Clif and Honey Stinger bars), but not eaten the trail mix of nuts, banana chip and dried cranberries. I ate that after my main meal, a trend that I repeated throughout the week as they just didn't appeal to me to eat in the day, as they had done in the Sahara? I got my first bad nights sleep; maybe 2.5 hours, and that sleep was broken. It was so hot until the early hours, then it finally cooled down. My new sleeping bag was a better fit for desert use, but the night time temperatures exceeded the Sahara and so sleeping (or trying to) on top of the bag was a better option until just before dawn.
More day 1 photo's here
Day 1 official video
Day 2 - 36k
• Continue on the 4x4 track for about 3km and then turn right onto the main game viewing road.
• Continue running on this road until you will go under a subway, crossing below the main tar road. Immediately after the subway turn right off the game viewing road onto a track.
• Follow the markers carefully along this 4x4 track down the hill into a dry river bed and you will get to check point 1.
• After check point 1 follow the route markers and vehicle tracks through another two dry river beds to check point 2.
• After check point 2 follow the markers (be careful as the tracks are not very clear here) straight up to an old fence line which is marked by a row of stones. Turn left here and follow the markers and track. When you get to a windmill split to the right and carry on to a gravel road.
• When you get to the road turn right onto it and continue on it to check point 3.
• After check point 3 stay on the road for about 6.5km where you will turn right off this road onto a track and continue down with this track to the finish at Camp 2.
The start time were staggered, depending on the previous days performance. Lena started at 06:30, Paul, Marlene and Roy at 7am, and everyone else at 8am. I ate my porridge which to be honest is a chore and not a pleasure. I force it down because it is the best race fuel. I don't eat oatso-simple or any other vacuous instant mix porridge. I bring the real deal, oats, with powdered milk and some banana chips in a bag, measured and mixed up myself. It's pointless buying an expensive vaccum packed porridge breakfast, when you can buy a whole box of porridge oats and powdered milk, then mix it into a zip-lock freezer bag. Then just pout hot water straight into the bag, stir and eat it. My breakfast is almost 600kcal, and then I have a carbohydrate-loader drink (PSP22) to bring myself up towards 800kcal for breakfast. It takes me probably half an hour or more to eat this, but I don't fall hungry until well into the days' effort. I set off at a similar pace to the previous day, but was careful to slow to a march for the uphill’s knowing that 11k on top of yesterday meant that today would be tough. It was already hot at 8am, and again not a breath of wind. The route began with a long slow climb up a well defined 4x4 dirt track towards a road.
There were good views over the 'green' Kalahari. It is so called because of the vegetation. It is not as arid as the Sahara, but the sun has almost bleached white the greenery that persists.
I learned early in the week that everything in the Kalahari has spikes or thorns, even the grass hurts as you brush against it. My theory is that everything is designed to spike passing animals (and runners!) to extract blood, and thus moisture to survive. It's probably wrong, but that's how it felt running through the hostile spiky environment!
After about 6k we passed into a small subway under the only tarmac road we saw all week. We then turned sharp right and into dustier/sandier terrain.
We soon dropped down into a sandy river bed before CP1. I passed Lena just before CP1. She had an hour and a half headstart on me, and I had passed her in just an hour and 25 minutes. She was moving very slowly indeed, like a leisure trip. In fact that is what most of us theorised she thought she had signed up for. I moved on quickly from CP1, just a water refill at that CP. The terrain changed from deep sand tracks to uneven rocky-rubble paths. I was moving well and soon caught up with Ronan, we were in 4th and 5th place again. Ronan was taking this section quite slowly because of the heat of the day. I slowed up too, a little anxious that I had gone too fast too early. We stayed together all the way to CP2. Here's Ronan pointing out "one tree hill".
Ronan is Aussie Navy as well, and trained with a 25kg pack. It shows from the way he runs, it looks like he is always carrying a Burgen. He runs with his arms bent out wide as if carrying a much bigger load (watch the video's, you'll see what I mean!) The terrain remained mostly stone and rubble all the way into CP2. At CP2 I changed my Asics Kayano socks for a dry pair, but put the same Smartwool socks back over the top. I performed this same procedure at CP2 (and each subsequent CP) most days.
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer|
We set off from CP2. Alex, the race leader, had gone the wrong way we were told. He subsequently added about 3k onto the days total before being found and put back on track with a time penalty. The day was really heating up and Ronan decided to stop for a rest under a tree. I was feeling good at this point and decided to press on.
The good stony path gave way to a meandering route through a deep sandy river bed, before climbing up and onto a winding dirt track. I began to suffer with the intense midday heat at this point, my pace slowing. I began to scour the horizon for shade. There were frequently low spiky bushes but they had inadequate shade, even if you crawled right under them, which competitors frequently did, despite the spikes. Now and again you would come across a Quiver tree which gave a slither of shade if you crouched low with the sun high in the sky overhead. I was evidedntly forced under a bush for this piece of video.
I probably didn't rest long enough in retrospect. I saw CP3 in the distance, but the route instructions did not seem to tally with the visual location of the CP. I got as close to it as I could on the track, then cut cross country for the last 1/2K, as did everyone else I think.
I got to CP3 suffering. They photographed me on final approach there.
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer|
I still had a little water, but I was not feeling well. It was the heat of course. I knew my core body temperature was a little too hot and I needed to totally cool down before continuing. I'd pushed a little too hard in the heat. I stripped off my pack and sat on a chair at the CP, but the air temperature was just as hot in the shade. Then a blazing hot wind (the first wind I'd felt since the race started), like an oven door opening, ripped across the plain just draining me further. I knew I would be taking an extended rest. I spent 45 mins there, watching a few people I had passed come and go until I felt well enough to continue. The last leg (8k) was mostly winding dirt road with the last 2k in sand. I set off from the CP which was at the top of a hill, so a nice downhill on a good dirt road kick off the last leg.
It was still very hot, and the bit of wind was blazing, but at least if I wet my face the wind cooled it down. I ran as much of the leg as I could manage, but still slowed for even the slightest uphill. I caught up and passed a couple of the others and eventually turned off into the sand and caught up and finished with Edward. I finished in 6th in 6:54, only just behind Ronan (6:52)despite my 45 min stop. Lukas and Danie had won the stage after Alex got lost, and so that meant Alex would have to work hard to get the lead back. Paul had continued to pick up really bad blisters at got home in 10 hours, again just ahead of Roy and Malene. His feet were in a pretty grim state already, after just day 2. Kerry from Taiwan withdrew from the race, and Lena also withdrew, much to the relief of the checkpoint staff and course sweepers, who had been working long hours to wait for her to arrive. She was put on a bus to Cape Town the next day (I don't think they wanted her to stay behind and help staff the event, as most withdrawees do). Still the mystery remains of what she thought she had signed up for in the first place?
I waited my turn for Genevieve's magic hands.
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer|
In the evening of day 2 we had a African bee invasion in the camp. A few people got stung, as the bees came attracted to our water. They hung around until sundown, meaning no one could relax. They also returned at first light to make the morning uncomfortable too. I slept worse than the previous night; it was even hotter than the night before. I got less than 2 hours, again broken useless sleep.
More day 2 photo's here
Day 2 Official video (plus some pre-race interviews)
Day 3 - 33k
• Follow the markers carefully on the winding track to check point 1.
• After check point 1 follow the markers through a short section with no track. When you reach the new track follow this track to an old farm house, near Daberas.
• 100m before the farmhouse turn right and run along the fence line until you get to the gate.
• Go through the gate and follow the markers down the very sandy wide river bed. (Follow the markers carefully as there are a lot of criss-crossing tracks)
• Continue down the river bed to check point 2.
• After check point 2 continue on down the sandy river bed for about 2.5km and then turn left out of the river bed. (Please keep a look out for this turn as the tyre tracks carry on straight down the river bed)
• Follow the 4x4 tracks and markers to check point 3. (This is a very hilly and rocky stretch with intersections; please follow the boards carefully at the intersections)
• After check point 3 carry on the track over a hill and down into a small river bed. Turn left up the river bed for about 1km and then turn right and follow the track through a gate until you reach a main gravel road. Turn left up the gravel road for about 700m to check point 4.
• From check point 4 follow the track down in the river bed onto a small road; turn right here. After 500m turn sharply left onto a track that will take you down to the finish at Camp 3 on the river bank.
We were warned the short distance that the previous day was not to spare us for the following day long stage. Today would be our toughest day yet, with a huge climb half way through, and 4 CP's, indicative of the difficulty. The start times were staggered with Paul, Roy and Marlene, Phil, Tim and Patrick getting a 7am start, everyone else at 8am. Paul's feet were in a really bad way, and it didn't look good for him I thought. I set off with Ronan at a fast march, as we both felt rough that morning. It's better to start slow and speed up once you get acclimitised to the heat each day. Even though it was 8am, it was still hot, and it takes some time for the body to start cooling properly I think. The terrain was a fairly good rocky track.
I felt really tired and sick all the way to CP1, even wondering how I would make the day after so little sleep. The sight of Paul, who we caught up just before CP1, brought me around. I was feeling sorry for myself but Paul was in agony. He was moving at a snails pace. Shuffling along, every footstep clearly very painful. I felt better all of a sudden, at seeing someone who was genuinely in a bad way. I suggested he needed some strong pain relief from the excellent doctor, Charl, at the nearby CP1. I spoke to Charl who was already aware that Paul was in bad shape. Paul did get some very strong pain killers from Charl and continued, but not far out of CP1 could make it no further and retired from the event. It was sad to see him come past in the doctors 4x4. Even if he had struggled through the day, there was no way he was going to make the week on those ruined feet. It was such a shame because physically he was very strong and he was still smiling! Paul is signing up for next year, and I've no doubt he'll be back, even better prepared, and will complete it. He did stay on for the rest of the week to help at checkpoints. It was great to see a friendly face of someone who knew what we were going through. Me and Ronan continued from CP2 with great views over the plains. We picked up the pace after CP1.
Here's a phot of us running together
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer|
The sand came though, soon enough
We then headed into a river bed gorge and into CP2.
I changed my socks and refilled bottles before continuing. I knew the next leg was tough. First, a few K's in the deep river bed sand, and then a big climb up a mountain pass to a viewpoint. Ronan had been slowing and suffering with foot pain. A doctor had strapped up the foot at CP2. Almost straight out of CP2 he sat down unable to continue. He loosened the strapping, but it was not feeling any better and he questioning if he could even make the next 20k.
I suggested he got back to the CP and get some pain relief before making any decision on continuing. I'm pleased to say he did that, and was able to continue, it looked like a severe case of tendonitis (I myself ended up with a touch of that as the week wore on). So, I struck out alone along horribly sandy river bed.
Following the markers that you see in the picture below.
I caught up Phil soon before we turned off the river bed and into the hills.
I thought the climb ahead was the worst of it. I was wrong, much steeper terrain was to come.
Half way up that first climb I saw Kim who was being attended to by Charl. She had been throwing up the previous night, unable to keep food or water down, and she was now badly dehydrated, and lying down in some shade. She was administered an IV drip and a couple of bags of saline. That revived her sufficiently to make it to CP3 with Charl, where her husband and daughter were crewing. She was however was unable to continue, retiring there. It's a shame, I liked Kim, but it is almost impossible to recover from severe dehydration once it starts.
Once over the first hill, the route undulated over several short steep ones. Here you can see Dave the cameraman on his Quad bike.
Sadly you can't appreciate the scale here, but we had to wind around and climb that huge hill ahead.
It got so steep that Dave's quad bike could not get up it! He got a little frustrated with it, and was forced to retreat.
Also, we could see CP3 just 1/2 k as the crow flies, but knew we had another hour of climbing and winding around the track for 4k before we would reach it. Torture! I took a few pictures from the top.
You'll notice I've swapped the Buff for my Cobber. This is a fantastic device. You soak it in water for 20 minutes and put it around your neck, turning it now and again. It makes an amazing difference, believe me! It lasts all day, though I wet it with water at most CP's to keep it fresh. I'll take this with me to any similar event for sure. I appreciated it on the MDS, but even more so here. The days climbing was only made slightly more bearable by the occasional breath of wind. Whenever that happened I would tear off my hat and turn full face into the wind to get the cooling benefit.
This is what passes for a trig point in the Kalahari!
This picture shows good example of the track we were running on for about 15k that day (and many paths on other days). Broken boulders, sure footing needed.
Despite my slow start, I had began to feel better after that big climb was over. I kicked off the picky descent at a very fast pace. I'm very good at descending on rough ground. I remembered the line from "Feet in the Clouds" - 'brakes off, brain off'. Don't think, just run, and let your feet sort themselves out. I ran into CP3 at pace, the checkpoint staff commenting on what a speed I had come down the hill in.
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photographer|
I told them, they should have seen me staggering up the hill the other side to begin with! They would have been decidedly less impressed! Still, at least I'd ventured where a quad bike had not! I spent 20 minutes at CP3, changing socks and taking on a lot of food after my efforts so far, and fuelling for the final legs. As I left I saw Ronan and Kim atop the hill I had been on half an hour or so before. I was pleased to see Ronan still in the running. Estienne was at CP3 and told me there were 'no more monsters' for the rest of the day, apart from a couple of short sharp hills. I set off and soon got past them. Steep, but mercifully short.
The route then undulated for the next few k.
Then the route went through a gate onto a short track, and then left onto a well made dirt road. I had run all the way from CP3 to CP4 trying to make up lost time, and I was doing well. I barely stopped at CP4 before heading off down the track on the last leg. I came to a fork in the track. The sign clearly said "Turn right" with an arrow pointing right. I however went left, for reasons known only to my brain at that moment. I went uphill on a sandy track for 1.4km, to make matters worse I ran it all quite quickly! I was following a faint 4x4 track but eventually it dawned on me there had been no markers for a long time and no footprints. Gutted, I turned on my heels and ran back down, now tiring, back 1.4km to the split. How could I have been so stupid. I had thrown away all the time I had got back from running from CP3 to CP4. That detour had cost me about half an hour I figured. A quad bike had been sent looking for me as they had realised I was lost after I had passed Lynne and then gone awol. However, I was already back on track now. I went right, and passed Lynne again. It was downhill and I was still running, but getting tired now. I got to a dirt road, turned right for 500M then left as per the instructions and into a(nother) sandy river bed for 2k and down to the finish line.
I finished in 6:10, 8th position. I would have comfortably finished in 5th (at least) had I not made the navigation error; still, not too much damage done. Only Kim retired, so that was 5 competitors down after day 3. I was happy to complete that stage, which though touted as the hardest yet, I'd found not too bad overall. The little bit of wind had helped, and I had run a lot of the stage. I felt positive about the long 75km day, if I could just get some sleep.
Here's a typical tent scene that evening. Everyone taking it easy, tending to their wounds. Left to right is Ronan, Jon, Alex, Gareth and Tim
Here's Roy and Malene standing under the finish line during the late afternoon.
A picture of my shoes after day 3.
Let me say at this point, the hot glue-gun glue I used to hold the Velcro in place whilst I stitched it, lasted about an hour into day 1. It just melted away. Be warned everyone. Get a cobbler to stitch your gaiters/Velcro on, forget glue only and I strongly advise you don't try stitching yourself. Some of the stitching also came away on day 5, but not enough to cause me major problems. I also made the right decision by picking trail shoes and not road shoes.
Here's a few people getting ready to cook. Left to right: Roy, Gareth, Alex and the camp commander 'LD' - He did the superb job of assembling and disassembling the camp every day, as well as sorting out the fire etc. Top bloke.
The tents we stayed in.
Waiting for the water to boil to get their gourmet dehydrated meals prepared, are Alex, Gareth, Helmut and Ronan.
Moon rise above the start/finish line.
Jon took an awesome photo with his camera. If I get a copy, I'll post it up.
More day 3 photo's here
I was waiting for the doctor to come to camp that evening with a sleeping pill he'd promised me one at an earlier checkpoint, after hearing of my plight to turn this into the Augrabies Extreme Insomniac Marathon. However, because Kim was pretty sick, she had quite rightly got his attention and so he didn't make it to camp. I went to bed anxious not to repeat history and experience a meltdown on the long day 4. I had to sleep that night. Sleep had other ideas. So worked up with the desire to sleep, I just couldn't. I'm not sure I even got an hour and a half sleep. I just clock watched all night and got up early feeling dreadful.
Day 4 - 75km (Deja Vu the MDS long day)
(Please note: the first leg is 11km and mostly uphill, please make sure you start with enough water)
• Head off down the river bank for approximately 1.2km, turn left up the cliff. (Please do not miss this turn; it will be well marked)
• Climb up this cliff for about 1km, there is no track, only markers up the cliff. At the top you will get to a 4x4 track; follow it and the markers carefully to check point 1.
• From check point 1 follow the road for 300m, then turn left off the road onto a track.
• Follow this track all the way up a small river bed to the fence. Climb under the fence and follow the markers up to a windmill and small paddock.
• Turn left at the windmill and go through two gates at the paddock and follow the track to the right around a small hill on your right.
• Continue with the track through one more gate to check point 2 at another paddock.
• After check point 2 carry on through another two gates to a main gravel road.
• Cross straight over this road (watch out for rush hour traffic☺)
• There is an old silver motorbike frame mounted next to the road.
• Go through the gates on the other side of the road, go past a farmhouse through another gate. Continue on to check point 3.
• From check point 3 follow the markers. At the first intersection turn right and follow this track until you get to a very sandy river bed.
• Turn right and follow the markers up the sandy river bed for about 1km. Daberas farm house will be on your left; you must turn right out of the river bed onto a road, go through a gate with a farm house on your right.
• 200m up the road turn left to another farmhouse on your left and check point 4.
• After check point 4 follow the markers past yet another farmhouse and up to a fence line.
• Turn left here and follow the fence to check point 5.
• After check point 5 follow the track down and across a sandy river bed, up the other side to the main gravel road.
• Turn right onto the road and carry on with it to check point 6.
• After check point 6 continue on the road to check point 7.
• From check point 7 go straight down a road. At the cross roads, go straight across.
• Continue on this road straight on past Blouputs farm houses to check point 8.
• After check point 8 continue down the road through the park gate and onto the main Blouputs road.
• Turn right onto this road and continue for about 3.7km.
• Turn left here to the finish at Camp 4. (PLEASE LOOK OUT FOR THIS TURN AS IT WILL BE DARK)
• If you reach a tar road (paved road) you have missed the turn so go back.
I tried to put myself in a positive frame of mind that morning. I'd packed a tiny little Q-Be MP3 player with a few favourite songs on. I used them to cheer myself up, and try and forgot I was so tired. The start times were all staggered from 8am to 1pm. I was to start with Helmut at 10pm - just as the heat of the day starts to burn. I took some photo's at sunrise.
We had been camped on the banks of the Orange River, and I'd been for a swim the previous evening, as had everyone.
I was told later that the other side of the river was Namibia. If I'd have known, I'd have swam over just to say I'd been there!
We saw Fish Eagles in the morning which was very cool too.
The camp awakes.
We waved off the earlier starters and me and Helmut began at 10am. It was 11k to the first CP, but there was a water drop after 4k because the terrain was so tough. The first 8k was river bed and very soft sand - very slow going indeed. We could barely average 5.3k's per hour at best marching pace.
After 4k we reached the cooler box and water drop point.
But we had to negotiate this 9-10ft high fence to reach it! No joke when you have a backpack on, I can tell you.
I started to deteriorate soon after that point. I was so tired I could not focus. I wasn't moving quickly, even when the ground improved slightly just before CP1. I felt like I could just fall on the floor and sleep. I decided in my mind I must try and sleep at CP1 when I got there with Helmut. It was at a farmhouse and amazingly they had a mattress on the floor inside - perfect. I shocked everyone when I said I must sleep - after all I had only gone 11k. I explained I was mentally shattered. Helmut left with Lynne who was already there, having started a little earlier than us. I lay on the mattress thinking it was heaven and I would go out like a light, but I didn't. I lay there thinking about what happened on day 4 of the MDS, how I had fought sleep for 7 hours before continuing alone at the back of the pack in the dead of the night. I couldn't let thathappen again. 45 minutes later I got up, put my pack on and set off alone, straight into the dry river bed from hell. It was very soft sand, punctuated with fences to climb over, under, or through. I struggled to focus. I started seeing 'fairy route markers' in the trees that weren't there, and following them, until I realised they were really not there. I backtracked, following the quad bike trail instead of the red and white route markers. I had to stay in the quad bike trail, in the soft sand to avoid getting lost. Normally I would have strayed to the loeft or right in search of firmer ground but I could not trust myself to stay on course. I tried to work out my speed and distance, but I couldn't. I tried to do some basic Math but was just unable to. I was in really bad mental shape. I was having to stop frequently under trees to cool down and sort my head out. It was taking me an age to cover the 12k to the next CP.
I ran out of water.
I had really worked myself up now. Tired, confused and waterless I was scared I would wander off the route and just collapse. I had silly visions of not making it back alive or seeing my son again, even though I was only 2k from the next CP. This was all aggravated because I had not seen a support vehicle in the 5 hours I had been going so far. Normally you see the doctor’s jeep, or at least the cameramen Daver or Frankie on their quad, but the frequent fence climbing meant that most of the first 23k was out of bounds to the vehicles. I felt vulnerable and dazed, and scared. I more or less decided that if I made it to CP2 I would quit. I was angry and my perceived lack of support in my mental confused state. I didn't trust myself to find the ongoing route. I was unable to unfold the route instructions. I just couldn't figure out how. I just ended up tearing them up by accident. What a mess I was in. I continued on, my mouth dry, wanting to break into a run to get to the CP as fast as possible, but stopping myself from doing so, because I would use up more energy and dehydrate even faster. CP2 loomed into view.
Immediately there was relief, but still I was very cross and obviously tired and agitated. I walked slowly into CP2, feeling defeated. (capured below)
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008|
I threw down my pack and sunglasses and gave the poor checkpoint staff and doctor a piece of my mind. It partially features in this youtube video (worth watching)
However, lets just say it's been well edited. I appear in a much less angry light and much of my rant has been cut out. You need to watch that video to understand my state of mind.
I was ready to quit, saying I thought I was finished, but stopped short of declaring myself out for definate. I did say I wasn't taking another step until I had slept though. The doctor patiently waited for me to stop ranting, got me to lie down in the shade and take some kind of anti-anxiety (chill out pill) to try and get me to sleep. He couldn't give me a sleeping pill mid-stage for obvious reasons. I said I would stay at the CP until the last person arrived and left, which could give me a couple of hours probably. I lay down and gradually calmed down. The doctor told me off for taking my pulse. It was around 70, and I knew I would never sleep with a heart rate that high. Still, I rested and calmed as the others came in and left. Finally Tim came in and I thought I had to continue. I'd been there almost 2 hours but not slept. It was still hot, but the worst of the heat was passing.
I decided to continue, perhaps only walking until the sun went down, and then see how I felt. I had still got 52k to go; more than 30 miles.
I left the CP, shown below, just in front of Gareth and behind Tim.
The track was slightly sandy for a few K.
I was marching quickly and passed Tim. Gareth (who had started 3 hours after me) soon caught up and started running. I decided to try and hang onto his coat tails. To give me an objective and take my mind off being so tired. So, I ran and walked when he did all the way to CP3. Just before it we passed small farm and the most bizarre thing I'd seen all day. A professional advertising board with a sign saying "Advertise Here" on it, with a phone number to call! Right in the middle of the Kalahari! Wish I’d have taken a photo.
At CP3 I changed my socks quickly and dashed off to catch him back up and again tailed him to CP4. I made it into a bit of a game to occupy my mind. I'd run when he did, and walk when he did too, but I would be running 100M off the side of the main track and out of his sight. I gradually got closer to him, running for a little longer than he did sometimes. I was quite enjoying myself, playing tail the target!The sun gradually sank in the sky and it began to cool a little.
Here's my almost traditional 30ft shadow picture
Me and Gareth pictured; I look a wreck on this one!
|From Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon 2008 Official Photohtapher|
I got to CP4 and changed my socks, as Gareth once more moved straight through the CP and onwards. Patrick was there and said he'd had enough, having quit just a few K back. He'd completed the event previously and I'm not sure what made him quit this time. Maybe the thought of facing the next 20 miles in the dark?
The sun set just before CP4, and the full moon appeared (the event is built around a full moon for the long day, each year.
It was dark now, but there was enough light from the moon for me not to use my head torch as I ran off from CP4 to chase down Gareth. Estienne and Nadia came past on a quad bike asking if I was ok. I said I was and hurried on, eventually catching Gareth. He asked if they had warned me about the Puff Adder. I said 'what Puff Adder' looking around nervously. He took out his camera and showed me a photo's of a big Puff Adder than had been lying next to the path in ambush. I have since been sent the photo's that Gareth took. Here they are.
They don't move to avoid humans, but will bite if trodden on. I must have ran right passed it, or over it, and never knew. Needless to say, I reached up and turned on my head torch, and left it on! Gulp! For those that don't know, Puff Adders are deadly and responsible for more deaths in South Africa than any other snake.
We ran on together. Gareth had a sharp eye for the wildlife pointing out a smaller blind snake, a lizard (pictured), and a whip scorpion.
We got to CP5 quite quickly, barely stopped and set off marching on the short dirt track before we got to the main dirt road that would be the route until almost CP8. Gareth ran on ahead before we got to the road. I announced I was going to run again as soon as I hit the road. I took on more water and ate another energy bar, fuelling myself. The temperature had now dropped, and it felt like life returning my body. I suddenly didn't feel tired anymore. I stepped onto the dirt road, and I took out my MP3 player. I dialled up Delirium - Silence, and then had Danny Howells - Live in Miami for the rest of the night. I started to run. This wasn't a long distance shuffle, I was running. Gareth was about half a K ahead. I passed him about 10 minutes later, now in darkness. I turned off my head torch and ran in the moonlight. I then passed Edward and Jon who were walking. I ran on, and my Maths ability returned. I knew that Edward and Jon were both very close to me in the overall ranking, but I had given 2hrs 45 mins away by resting at CP1 and CP2, and they had come past me hours ago. However, it looked like with all my running since then, I had managed to reel them back in again. However, Gareth and Edward had started 1 hour after me that day, so technically If we were to finish at the same time, I would be an hour behind them. Hmmm....lets see if I can do something about that I thought. I refilled my bottles at CP6 and dashed straight off at pace. I had the feeling of boundless energy for some reason. I wolfed down a Mule Bar (which are awesome by the way), and drank water more frequently as my pace demanded it.
The camera team came up behind me in their 4x4, and asked me if someone was chasing me (due to my speed). I laughed and said the doctor was supposed to give me a chill out pill, but maybe he gave me something else because I can't stop running! They laughed and I ran on, and into CP7. Paul was there, crewing. It was great to see a friendly face. He said I was looking good (I suspect he lies well!). He refilled my bottles and I set off running again. The route turned downhill for a few K's, down a rougher track. I passed Roy and Malene when I was being interviewed again by the camera crew, as I passed through some soft sand and was taking some more water on board (that clip is shown in the film above). I then kicked off running again but progress slowed in a sandy river bed before CP8. Still I was managing to run the river bed somehow. I refilled quickly at CP8 and headed out for the last, allegedly, 8k leg. The route went from soft sand, to rough track for about 6k and then turned onto a main dirt road for 4k (you can see it was 10k and not 8k!!). The final road was undulating. I ran as much as I could, but I had to walk the hills now. Knowing the finish line was near my body started to relax and tire badly. Estienne came past on his quad giving me micro-instructions to find the turn off into the last 400M stretch of river bed and into the finish. I ran, walked and staggered on, finding the turn off and straight into deep soft sand. The last 400M felt like a kilometre as I staggered towards the line. The camera crew said well done, how do you feel? All I could say was "must sleep" "must sleep".
I've looked better.
I finished in 14:49 (8th place), despite the 2hrs 45 of rest I took at CP1 and CP2. Edward and Jon finished 1 hour and 2 minutes later. I'd done it, made up whole hour on them since passing them by CP6. Jon however would still lie 15 minutes ahead of me overall at that point. If I had not have needed to rest I would have done the stage in 11 hours, only behind Danie and Alex. Still, that was never an option that day. I was a wreck earlier, and had I not rested I would not have even made CP3. The day long day demon from the MDS had almost taken me again. This time I'd fought back and won, or at least kept the battle damage to a minimum. Today had been a mental battle, not a physical one. When they say doing these events is more about mental strength than physical, believe it. I got into the tent and fell into a deep sleep for 5 hours, without stirring at all.
Day 5 - the rest day.
I got up around 7am, as did everyone. I felt quite refreshed after getting some much needed sleep. We ate and tended to our wounds again. My hotspot on the heel had finally turned into a small blister. I threaded my needle and put a length of cotton through it, leaving it to drain. I left it like that (it's still like that now in fact - thread in place. It'll drop out as the skin renews). That was the only blister I got all week, and if I would have worn two pairs of socks from the start line I would not have even got that one. For the last two stages I pre-tapesd the area with Leukotape and the heel never bothered me again.
Here is Jon, Lynne, Tim (I think), and Danie
I went for a dip in the Orange River (we were camped the river bank again that day), as did Alex.
Views up to the bridge we would cross the next day.
Alex had a blister and we coaxed him into the Friars Balsam method. You inject Friar's Balsam into a drained blister. He'd never done it before. It burns - like a white hot poker in your foot. It is agony - trust me.
I did take a couple of video's. In between the two video's, he'd said "it doesn't hurt, I can't feel anything". Shame I missed that bit. Ronan filmed it too. I'll post up his copy if he sends it to me.
We all took it easy that day, eating and recovering. A took a few nice photo's of the sunset.
I did sleep that night. Not brilliantly, but I got about 3-4 hours, which I deem to be enough to live on for these events.
Day 6 - 39k
• Run up to the main road, turn left, as soon as you reach the tar (paved) road turn left and run over the bridge across the Orange River.
• At the T-junction turn right; run straight through the village and continue out the other side.
• About 1km past the village take the right hand split and head for the Molopo River bed. (wide and sandy)
• Go into the river bed and carry on to check point 1. (This is only a water top-up check point)
• From here follow the markers carefully. (Look carefully for the markers as this is a small dune section and the tracks are not that visible)
• Continue over a small hill and down the other side to a flat section. (Follow the markers carefully through this section as there are many different tracks – you should keep mainly to the left)
• The track will then take you up a very steep, rocky mountain pass to check point 2.
• Continue along the 4x4 track to check point 3.
• After check point 3 carry on with this track for approximately 5.5km. Turn right onto the main Riemvasmaak road.
• Continue on the road and go out through the main gate. 600m past the gate is check point 4.
• From check point 4 go into the park and follow the track all the way down through the mountains for about 6km where you turn left off this track onto another one. (please look out for this turn; it can be easily missed)
• Continue along this track to check point 5 at an old farm house.
• Just after check point 5 take the right split and follow the track to a T-junction.
• At the T-junction turn left into the finish at Camp 5.
Camp in the morning light.
I'd joked with Jon that I wanted my 15 minutes back (the lead he had over me). I was however bloody well determined to get it back! We all set off staggered starts again; I started the main group at 8am. I started slowly, just planning on keeping Jon in sight in the early stages. I tend to start slow and finish strong each day, gaining in strength as others tire. I fell fairly quickly to the back of the pack, still not feeling fully rested as it turned out. We crossed the bridge and continued on a good track.
The track then turned into sand (We eventually nicknamed Estienne "Sandy" or "Mr Sandman" for his route choice)
...and then an inevitable river bed before CP1.
That's Edward above. I passed him just before CP1, where I quickly refilled and kicked off faster, pulling Jon and Helmut back into sight as we entered sandier terrain before the mountain pass.
There was a stiff but not too long climb into CP2. That's Jon and Helmut ahead.
I was feeling a little rough and took 5 minutes to rest at CP1 whilst I drank more water and ate something. I set off with Helmut for a while (top bloke by the way!) before moving ahead and chasing Jon back down, as I ran up and down the undulating broken terrain.
You can just about make out Jon on the hill ahead in the picture above.
Between CP1 and CP2 I got quite bad foot pain, almost out of nowhere (I think the cause was all the running on the long day, on the harder dirt road in the closing last 20 miles). I managed to catch Jon up and slowed down to march at his pace but I was feeling nauseous. I was also getting secondary pain higher up in my thigh. At CP2 the doctor was attending to Lynne. Still feeling tired I worked myself up over nothing again and took a lie down while I waited for the doctor to see to Lynne. He gave me one of his magic chill out pills and then decided I had got tendonitis like Ronan had earlier in the week. He dished out some Paracetamol, and I promised to stop getting sports injury hypochondria, before I got going again! So, now I was initial 15 minutes plus a further 20 minutes behind Jon! The Paracetomol kicked in and I increased my pace, passing Lynne and Helmut before CP3. Jon had got into CP3 about 10 minutes before me, so I had made up time already. I dashed straight back out and into the rougher hilly terrain again.
Again, this was terrain which I loved. I would run both up and down this loose rock at pace, and quickly caught site of Jon and chased him down a few K's after CP3.
I only paused briefly to say hi and kicked off again, deliberately running fast up the next hill of loose stone.
I passed Phil who had started the stage earlier, and soon after and then hit quite a good track that would lead to CP4. CP3 to CP4 was marked as 8.5k. I thundered through my water at a pace that would leave me dry after 8.5k, looking at my speed and distance GPS watch. There was no CP at 8.5k. Had I taken another wrong turn? Surely not? There were 4x4 tracks still, and still route markers. Maybe I had strayed onto the route for the final stage by accident? I continued on, but I was walking now deliberately, worried I was going the wrong way and had no water. Still, I trusted in the markers, and eventually CP4 came into view, at 10k!!!! Way out of the route indication in the road book!! Paul was at CP4. Again it was good to see him. I refilled quickly and kicked straight out for home, trying to eat into the 15 minutes lead that Jon had from the previous stages. The last leg turned out to be only 2k, much shorter than advertised, and I'd ran that last leg averaging 10kph. I finished in 6:02, 7th place. Jon came home in 6:35. So, now I had 18 mins lead going into the final day! Yay! Happy!
Around the campfire.
A view of the camp
I love my sunsets
I got this one perfectly.
Day 7 - 32k
• Follow track and go straight at the first intersection.
• After about 4km you will come to a fence, follow the fence on your left down to the river.
• Climb over the fence at the marker and follow the track onto a main gravel road.
• Follow this gravel road al the way to check point 1.
• From check point 1 go down into a sandy river bed for about 600m.
• Turn left out of the river bed onto a track and through a silver gate.
• Soon after the gate turn right and go around a big hill on your left. Follow the track carefully here through a few intersections which will take you into a rocky river gorge. (There is no track through the gorge)
• On the other side of the gorge turn right onto a track.
• Continue on this track until you reach the fence at the main Riemvasmark road.
• Turn right here and follow the fence for 1km to the gate, go through the gate and turn left onto the road and go back up to check point 2.
• From check point 2 go into Khamkirri. Go over a small red, sandy hill.
• On the other side turn right onto another track.
• Follow this track down and across the river bed, turn left immediately after the river bed.
• 300m further on turn right onto a track and follow this all the way to the top of the hill.
• Continue straight past the red dunes on your right and down to the bottom of the hill.
• Turn left at the intersection at the bottom of the hill and follow the track to check point 3 at the top of the hill.
• After check point 3 go down for approximately 1 km and turn right onto a track.
• Go through a gate and follow the markers to the next gate. (Main Khamkirri gate)
• Go through the gate and follow the fence line for 400m and turn left, then straight down to another gate.
• Immediately after the gate turn right and go 200m, with the vineyards on your left, turn left at the bottom corner of the vineyards.
• Keeping the vineyards on your left again for another 200m turn right out of the vineyards and onto a road.
• Carry on straight past as large pack house on your right to a farm house with a garden in front of it.
• Turn right at the farm house and go up the hill, keeping the small dam on your left. Go over the hill and down the other side all the way to the main Kakamas road.
• Turn right onto the road for 600m and then turn left into the Khamkirri main entrance.
• Follow the road down to the FINISH LINE.
I ate well and I slept well.
I like my sunrises as well as sunsets. I was a happy bear that morning after the sleep.
Apparently I was snoring! The best sleep I had got all week - 6 hours or more. Jon hadn't slept well though. The final stage was a staggered start for everyone, to try and ensure we all finished in a 2 hour window. I was drawn with Jon for a 7:20am start. Roy and Malene had started at 5:30am...eek!
Danie and Alex were to start at 9am. Alex now had a commanding lead of his own that would be hard for Danie to reverse. The camp had talked up the rivalry between me and Jon the previous evening. I'd played it down a little saying I was not racing Jon, but racing the clock. I wanted to complete the stage in less than 4 hours. I was now sporting a pack not much heavier than 3kg. I had packed the Raidlight front pack away, into the main backpack. I put my snacks in the side webbing of the backpack and I was carrying just one full 800ml bottle in my hand, the other 800ml bottle was packed inside my backpack, empty. I was gambling I could speed between checkpoints in about an hour; 800ml being about the amount of water you need to consume each hour to stay hydrated. I was dressed for speed basically.
We started at around 9-10kph. Jon eased off for the first incline, but I continued at the same pace, along mosty flat track and then dirt road, starting to come back to civilization you can see.
I maintained the pace, getting to the first checkpoint in 58 minutes (about 10k).
Immediately after CP1 the route went into a very sandy river bed
Edward was just ahead of me, after starting about 20 minutes ahead, but I couldn't move as fast as he did in the sand. I only managed to overtake him when the route exited the soft sand after a couple of K, and headed into rocky terrain and then a 4x4 track.
Not long after I caught up Helmut who posed for this one.
I even took time out to pose for one myself.
Great views accross the seemingly endless plains.
I got to CP2 in good time, sitting for about 30 seconds as my bottles were refilled. I was well ahead of Jon at this stage (15 mins), so I was only racing the clock now.
After CP2 there was a short downhill section, then a very very long slow incline up a light sandy track and into rocky hilly terrain.
I had to walk a little of this section, fearful I was going to burn myself out. The stage was no final day 'run in' like the MDS is. It was a full stage, with sand and hills. The long slow incline continued through the orange sand of the Kalahari, and then there was a short sharp climb up a rocky pass to the welcome site of CP3. I refilled quickly and headed down the picky boulder-strewn path at pace; my favourite terrain again. I knew there was less than 7k to the finish. In the distance I caught site of Tim and chased him down as we entered a vineyard. I said a quick hello and pressed on, glancing at my watch. I passed through the vineyard to waves from the workers and emerged onto a road. About 1k down was a left turn into Khimkirri park. I turned up the speed and raced down the drive. A small spark of emotion and relief crept up knowing the finish line was around the corner and I had done it.
I rounded the corner to claps and cheers from the crew, and I jumped up in the air as I crossed the finish line, really happy!
I was congratulated by Estienne, Nadia and everyone else and given an ice cold can of Coke; Nectar!
I finished the stage in 3:41, in 5th place. I finished 6th overall, in a total time of 42:08. This surpassed my expectations of my performance. I stayed at the finish line to welcome in and congratulate each and everyone of the competitors. Alex stormed home in 3 hours to win the stage and the event overall, a great performance. He has only ever done one road marathon, in 2:51. Imagine what he could do if he actually trained for one properly?? Well done Alex. Lynne won the womens race, well done Lynne.
Afterwards the crew lined up for a photo.
A big thank you to each and every one of them for helping me through the week.
I got a shower, shave and cleaned my teeth properly for the first time in a week. It felt good. I had forgotten to take a towel over to the shower block, so when I stepped out of the shower to the sinks and mirror opposite,to shave, I was drip drying butt-naked in open view of the wide open bathroom door. I figured it wouldn't matter too much as guys had seen it all before. I stood there naked for 20 minutes shaving, then suitably dry, got dressed and walking out, only noticing the 'Ladies' sign on the door on the way out!!!!
They served up some sandwiches and boiled eggs. Helmut decided to play Cool Hand Luke and start eating boiled eggs. He ate 12! Afterwards, we had a free afternoon and then an evening meal around the Braai pit.
The following day I joined a few others and we went 25km on the bus into a local town. There wasn't much to see or buy though. Later, I wandered around Khimkirri taking photos of the wildlife. The Ostrich were too quick for me to picture, but I did get pics of Springbok, and Chris the giant tortoise who roams around free as well.
Another great sunset that evening. I love these photo's.
In the evening we had the gala dinner for runners, crew and invited guests.
Lynne (ladies winner), Charl (Doctor), and Paul (UK competitor) below:
We were then presented with our award, a Kalahari Glass lepoard trophy, engraved with the name of the event and our own name.
Much cooler than a medal I'm sure you will agree.
Kevin, one of the crew also has a tradition of handing out 'penalties', basically joke-gifts to various people. He called me up and said on day 4 the crew couldn't decide if you had lost your sense of humour or your mind, so they presented me with a joke book and a bag of marbles! I laughed as did everyone, and graciously accepted my penalty!
The following morning we set off for Jo'Burg and said goodbyes to the crew. We had another Steak meal on arrival, which tasted fantastic, and said our goodbyes to the runners following day. I had a 9:10pm flight home. I slept on the plane and got the train home safe and sound.
So, that's the story, but I'll add to it with more pictures and videos as they get posted. Also, I will make a separate post soon, reviewing my equipment, training and overall performance, highlighting lessons learned.
The KAEM was a fantastic event for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it (I can say that in hindsight. It's amazing how quickly you forget the pain!). Seriously I'd urge anyone to take part and join the toughest week-long foot-safari on Earth!