By Kim van Kets

The Loooooong Day (in fact the longest 74km in the history of running)
Temperature: Blisteringly hot and freezing cold

“There are some
who like to run,
they run for fun
in the hot, hot sun!”
Dr Seuss

Some stats to begin with: We started out with 41 runners, 25 of whom were men and 16 women.  We are now down to 17 men and 14 women.  Draw your own conclusions 😉

The long day started between 6.00 for the tortoises  and 12.30 midday for the hares.  Everyone else set off in small groups of 2 or 3 at 30 minute intervals depending on their cumulative time by the end of day 3.  I was extremely fortunate to be in a group with Mich and Toosie (who are incidentally on the completely opposite ends of the “chatty” spectrum). There was no doubt that this was going to be a super tough day and our stated strategy was: “If you plan to go fast, go alone.  If you plan to go far, go together.”  We were going far so we agreed that unless something went badly wrong, we would do just that.  Our other plan was to remain joyful (relatively) for as deep into the day as possible and not to give way to check point yearning too early.   We broke the day down into 10 stages (9 checkpoints and then the finish) and tried to approach it much like eating the proverbial elephant.  My absent watch would hopefully help to create a Zen-like acceptance of the fact that the check points would materialize when they were good and ready to do so.  The heat at 10.30am when our trio set off on a sandy uphill climb was utterly unbearable.  I couldn’t help thinking how it would feel at 12.30 when the last group set off.  Gratitude for small mercies…

The hours between 10.30 and 5pm passed in a blur of intolerable heat and sand and rocky foot stabbing nightmare as storm clouds built and built with no relief.  It seemed to be raining on the horizon all around us but not actually on us.  I have seldom experienced such drama in the Kalahari.  Massive storm clouds, flashes of illuminating pink and purple lightning (I kept imagining I was having a Damascus Road experience), peals of rumbling thunder that made the ground shake and fabulous windmills (the perfect desert accessory!).  Despite our suffering we were overcome by the astounding privilege of getting to see the incredible display the Kalahari was putting on for us.  A full moon would have been amazing but a Kalahari storm probably trumped even that.  At last the rain came in a burst of relief just as the sun was setting, with that beautiful smell created by big drops of rain and Kalahari dust.  And for a few minutes we were elated and grateful and then we stopped at checkpoint 5 for a quick meal and within minutes we were all bitching and moaning that we were cold.  Never satisfied I tell you!  And it didn’t stop raining until just after midnight when we eventually limped (at astonishing speed) into the camp.  We even had to stop to dig around in our packs for space blankets as we shook with cold in the driving rain and wind. The hours of darkness were punctuated by bursts of chatter followed by deathly quiet.  If the silence persisted for too long,  Mich would point out that our muteness was worrying him.  Toosie would then dig really deep and burst into song or I would cast around for yet another insane story to pass the time.  And just when we thought it would never end, the long dark night of the soul (“cutting between bone and marrow”) was over and we embraced each other and the blessed relief of finally being still.  The only challenge that remained was the small difficulty of contorting oneself into a crouching position to enter the gazebo and getting over the horror of getting straight into a manky sleeping bag without washing after 14 hours on the trot.  Fortunately standards are non-existent by day 4.

And now we have a glorious day of rest at the river, punctuated by little swimming sorties across the border to “Namibia”, doing our laundry (7 pairs of socks!) and endless lying around and as we try to recover and gird our loins (as Steve puts it) for another big 46km day tomorrow.  My primary concern is girding my feet (as opposed to loins).  My shoes are paper thin, totally the wrong choice for the rocky tracks (though good for the sand) and in great danger of not making it though the last 70 odd km.  I’m thinking of imploring the Kalahari Cobbler to sew the soles of my slip slops to the bottom of my running shoes and am off to methylate my blister.  So much to look forward to 🙂

Gone but not forgotten on day 4:  Tomas Sundman

Special mention:  Thanks to Plato Lodge and Daberas Adventures for accommodating us on their land.  Thanks to Saab Grintek Defence Partners for partnering with KAEM to keep track over everyone and manage communication (among other things).  Thank you to the astounding crew and medics who make every one of us feel as if we must be their very favorite child every time they see us.  Honestly, you guys are the best part of this race.  Thanks to the extraordinary Camp Kommandant and his partners in crime  – you look so hardcore but you are total sweethearts and totally nurture us with your special brand of Kalahari camo-care. 

RUNNERS COMMENTS

Pretty much everyone told me to bugger off this morning when I was hobbling around camp asking for input.  Funny that.

“On every one of these races there is always one @*&^%-hole.  But this time there isn’t one!”  John

“Holy cow!  I didn’t know I could run that far!  16 hours…..shoo, what a flippen awesome day!  Managed the insane heat in the silly frikken river bed.  Then saw the most spectacular sunset with thunder, lightning, rain, wind, orange, red, quiver trees.  Wow!  Superb.  Got my second wind and ran faster than ever before for 4 hours.  Kim van Kets you biscuit, you didn’t catch me!!!” Tony

I had a few meltdowns, the first one Sandy took me to a wag’n’bietjie bush, emptied half her water bottle on me and said it will be ok.  Sandy, you are my hero!  Without your experience yesterday would have been impossible.  I salute you!” Marelise

Extreme but in a different way! Spectacular lightening and thunder and eventually RAIN!  Very strange to run solo from CP3 until Dion caught me between CP8 and 9.  Happy to be in camp before midnight. Entertaining watching camp crew re-erect some fallen gazebos! “ Annie

“I had the most crazy day yesterday.  I almost gave up at CP 1 because I was feeling dizzy and nauseous because of the heat.  Then I was feeling very strong from CP2-4, then the exhaustion started to get me from CP 6.  After that I stayed with Richard, walking and shuffling.  From CP 6 I had to take a pee every 2 km!  That was crazy!  Maybe because of the rain?  Now I know what it is to run a long stage in a 7 day race! I am so glad its behind me now! And the lightning was beautiful!” Coralie