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By Edward Chapman

Runners come to the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon from all over the world as well as from all parts of South Africa. This year 15 counties are represented. The international entrants had their first endurance challenge at Johannesburg airport waiting in the long queues at passport control.

Most of the international runners took the internal flight to Upington and were greeted by crew member Holly who had arrived from Singapore. Holly’s job was to make sure all the runners caught the flight. She is a seasoned KAEM volunteer so knew many of the returning runners. She did not know the new entrants so used this as an excuse to approach all the fit young men and ask them if they were running KAEM. She did her job well and everyone caught the flight. They were then bused the final part of the journey to the Augrabies.

When the bus disgorged its precious cargo there was much whooping and hugging as runners met old friends on the crew. The newbies looked on bemused until they too were swallowed up in big hugs and they started to realise that they were joining something very special.

I arrived in Johannesburg on Wednesday just before Annie and we were met by Joseph who drove us to our overnight accommodation via a bar of course. It was an early start, 5.45 am, the following day for the long drive to Augrabies. For Annie it was also the start of her running. After opening the security gate she had to sprint up the drive to leave the keys in her room before sprinting back down again to get out of the gate before it closed. She didn’t make it on the first attempt, but warmed up the second attempt was a success. The drive to Augrabies was relatively uneventful. Debbie, her daughter and Fransa joined us in another car to make up a two car convoy. Despite Joseph having to stop in Upington to get his windscreen replaced (large crack caused by a stone thrown up by a lorry) will still arrived at Augrabies before Debbie (distracted by waffles and ice-cream in Upington). The plan was to nip into the Augrabies Falls Lodge to pick up a pass for the National Park then drive there straight away. It didn’t work. Neale spotted me and rushed over to the car with outstretched arms, his Castle lager in one hand and a cold one in the other hand for me. I was soon embraced in a massive bear hug. Annie and Joseph were also getting hugged by friends. It was a long time before we escaped from the lodge.

The evening meal at the lodge was a special occasion. Simon (master of ceremonies) introduced every runner as they came up to the front to be given their goodies bags. The Irish contingent were in good form, their numbers swelled by the capture of Harry Hunter and a few others. They called out appropriate comments and some in case inappropriate ones as runners walked to the front. It added to the occasion and also gave people an indication of who to avoid. Those new to the event hopefully appreciated the banter and didn’t feel too worried about becoming part of the crazy but wonderful KAEM family. Ian Hickson-Mahon won the contest for getting excuses in early; he arrived with one of his feet in a medical boot.

Breakfast the following morning was a game of two halves, the excited chatter of old hands and the more subdue conversation of the newcomers who hopefully were starting to feel as if they fitted in.

The runners briefing that followed was a relaxed affair. Estienne said he would keep it brief but no one was surprised when it overran. I’m not sure that his instructions to leave bees, snakes and scorpions alone and they will leave you alone reassured people. His confident assurance that the ostriches would be too tired to attack due to all the animals being hungry as a result of a lack of rain was not very convincing. It was probably a little unwise to mention leopards straight after talking about hungry animals.

After the briefing every one passed through a very efficient kit check and medical screening. This year blood pressure and heart rate readings were taken so that the medical team had some baseline data. For me this data is definitely skewed towards the high side due to the lead medic being very attractive.

Fortunately Harry’s blood pressure was taken before he realised that he couldn’t find the awesome fruit cake his wife bakes him for his big challenges. He calm down a bit when he found it in one of the rucksack pockets.

Those that went on the game drive after the formalities were treated to the site of giraffe lying down and other animals. At the lookout point Kim (USA) was overheard to say. “I think this is as happy as I have ever been”

So with everyone through the checks and thoroughly briefed (including how to survive a Bush fire) all that remains to be done is to pack and repack our rucksacks many times over before the start at 8.00 am on Saturday.

The general advice to competitors from those in the know has now change from “Don’t drink with Dave” to don’t try and out drink Harry”. I think a lot of people might ignore that advice next Friday.