Namibia Ultra Marathon Race
Following is an account as seen from the eyes Wild at Heart member Kobus Alberts, during this epic event in Namibia organised by Across the Divide Expeditions to find out more about the race visit adventure-racing.org here.
About the author. Kobus Alberts is a former park ranger and guide, a director of Wild at Heart Safaris an instructor of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine’s Desert Medicine training course and an acknowledged expert on desert travel.
Saw the men for the first time at the Airport when they were collected. Ordinary men of different walks of life.
The campsite was just South of the Brandberg Mountain, and the perfect setting for the starting point. The “rest” day, 1 day before the race, me and the participants went for a walk-about in the area. Climbed an inselbergs to get a bird’s eye view of the area. “Uncle Spikes” a.k.a. the sun were out and burning down for everyone to feel. Near the end of the walk some guys were out of water already, just showing how easy it is to misjudge the intense heat and all of this only in the morning part of the day.
Afternoon spent on briefings, GPS training, and inspecting the race packs.
Already you could feel the excitement of the guys. They looked relaxed but it is the small jittery movements of eyes, fingers, a tapping of a leg that gives away that building excitement in them. The team consisting of Steve, Doc Amy, myself, Faan and his team were also getting in this mode.
7th of April 2008. Awake at 05:15. Lying in bed, smoking my pipe and listening o the camp sounds. That feeling of intense excitement now totally tangible in my body and soul.
The first guys up were Andy and the Swede, Joakim. Drinking coffee, and Andy having his “curry pot” for extra calories.
At 09:00 Faan starts the race. Now my work starts in all earnest. Getting into the Land Cruiser with Amy we drive to check point 2. On the way drive past checkpoint 1 where Steve is waiting for the first runners. The strain is clearly visible in his eyes, but now at least he cracks a smile. It has started. Now all we can do is hurry up and wait.
After setting up Check point 2 we drive back to see if we can spot Tom. We duly did, and he is walking. Says it is hot and hard. We then drive back and I leave Amy at Checkpoint 2. I head south to set up Check point 3. Driving through the Messum Crater is and will always be something special. After the good rains there is a lot of grass and small flowers present. Saw one herd of Springbuck, totalling about 25 animals, just grazing and staring in amazement at the Land cruiser.
The radio crackles into live. Faan and Steve are on their way to CP 3, and I must return to collect Amy. All the runners have passed Check point 1, so the race is truly on. Just before checkpoint 2 I meet Joakim and Andy on the road. Says all is going well, but Andy has a bladder problem and seemingly cannot urinate. After talking a while I head to checkpoint 2. Allan, Chris and Ken are there. They look really tired, especially Chris. Eating some energy bars and just resting. I decide to head to Checkpoint 1 to start “sweeping”. I will collect all the markers after the runners have passed. Around the corner of checkpoint 2 I meet Bill and Pete. They walking a steady good pace and still looked strong.
I arrive back at Checkpoint 2 again at 17:10. Bill and Pete have just left this check point. Amy and I drive to checkpoint 3. On the way we start putting up the glow sticks for the runners as they would approach checkpoint 3 in darkness.
At checkpoint 3 I leave Amy and collect Steve, setting off to checkpoint 4. Tom has passed this point about 1 hour and 30 minute ago. Following a badly corrugated road we drive in silence. Steve is tense due to the fact that Tom might reach checkpoint 4 before us. As darkness descends we spot Tom up ahead. He is still about 5 Kilometre from checkpoint 4. With a sigh of relief we pass him and about 2 Kilometre from checkpoint 4 we meet Faan. He takes Steve and I take some more glow sticks and head back to checkpoint 3. It is now totally dark, and as I drive alone I feel the tiredness seeping into my body. Every time I get out putting up a glow stick I feel the cold night wind, and then I think of the men doing the race. I am feeling tired from sitting in a vehicle and driving around, how must they feel? My respect is growing very quickly for these guys. Andy has now left Joakim behind and is walking a strong pace. He seems to have recovered a bit, but still you can see the pain in his face. Joakim is not far behind and also keeping up a steady walking pace.
At checkpoint 3 I find Amy, Jane and Fred. In the distance I can see headlights bobbing as the guys are heading to this checkpoint. Allan and Ken come in and immediately start up their stove and cook some food. Good idea as it is getting quite cold now.
Once again I head off towards checkpoint 2 to collect all the markers. Pete and Bill not so far behind anymore. They must have increased their pace. Sadly it is uphill to checkpoint 3, but I have no doubt that they would make it.
On my return I find that the heat of the day had taken its toll on Chris. He is asleep in a sleeping bag, and really looks very tired and exhausted.
After dismantling checkpoint 3 we head towards checkpoint 4. Suddenly Bill and Pete appear in our headlights. They have changed into long pants for the evening part of the race, but are finding it too hot, so changing back to their normal running gear.
Will has now joined Allan and Ken and was looking good.
At checkpoint 4 I find that Andy has already left. After a while Joakim comes in. He drinks some water and then just flops down onto the ground. I can see the Swede is very tired now, but still he has a grin on his face. After reading some of his goodwill notes to me and Amy he heads off.
I return to my duty of collecting all the markers again. Stopping shortly at all the runners as I pass them to enquire if all is ok. All give me the thumbs up.
I return again at about 02:00. It is now cold and the breeze from the sea makes it colder. I am dog tired, but every time I just tell myself to put myself in the shoes of the runners. They must be tired to the extreme, yet they continue. Men of men. 80 Kilometre done, 40 Kilometre to go.
The road to checkpoint 5 is without incident. I am glad they are doing this bit in the night, because it must be a dull landscape. Plains and more plains. Saw some jackal and some springbuck in the lights of the vehicle. In the distance I can see the welcoming flicker of the strobe. Pulling up I see it is Steve that is manning this post. He was sitting in his sleeping bag. To just sit and wait in this cold must be as hard as walking it, but Steve does it with dogged determination. I hear that Tom has reached the finish line already. Andy is through, followed by the Swede. In the distance I can see the headlights of Allan, Will and Ken coming closer. As they reach Checkpoint 5 I drive back again. About 3 kilometres down the road I meet up with Bill and Pete, and inform Steve accordingly. The end is in sight for the whole team.
After collecting all the markers I drive back and find Pete and Bill at checkpoint 5. They are having water and preparing for the final stretch. I now drive to camp and the finish line. Making some coffee for myself, Steve and Faan I head back out again. It is now 06:10 and dawn is in sight. Will, Ken and Allan are doing well, but you can see the blisters are taking their toll in full force. The guys or nearly hobbling along. Pete and Bill also seems like they are suffering. Andy and Joakim are in camp by the time I return. I take Jane out to where Pete and Bill was last seen, so that she can encourage and morally support them, as they are in dire need of support.
For the final time I drive the road between checkpoint 5 and the finish line. At camp there is a subdued silence as we can see the three figures of Allan, Ken and Will slowly making their way to the finish line.
Allan and Ken pull slightly ahead and leave Will to make his own way to the finish. Chris walks out from camp towards Will to help him the last bit. As the people in camp start clapping hands Allan and Ken cross the finish line. Goosebumps all over my body as I see the light in their eyes, the wide smiles, the utter exhaustion. Now Will makes his way across the finish line.
Nervously checking our watches and realising time is running out for Bill and Pete, the only thing we can do is to wait. Then they appear, with the figure of Jane with them. Like the men they are they walk over the finish line with smiles upon their faces and a song in their heart.
As I write this I get goose bumps again, and my respect for these 9 guys is immense. Started off fit and fresh and most of them hobbled over the finish line, totally and utterly exhausted, but they have done it.
To say this ultra marathon is hard is an understatement.
To say it is very hard and tough is a matter of fact.
To be able to say you have done it puts you in a different category of men.
Congratulations to all these men of men. Faan, Steve, Amy and all the camp hands, congratulations on a job very well done.
P.S. What I have seen while doing this work has caused me to also enter this ultra marathon race. Andy and Joakim, see you on the starting line 7 April 2009. You can sign up to by visiting the Namibia Ultra Marathon adventure race website here