Run (or ride, sing, knit, bake or jump) for Rhino

Currently hard at work organising the Brandberg rhino Run and Ride, as well as the Brandberg FKT Challenge, we are incredibly thankful for the amount of support from sponsors and athletes all over Namibia and beyond. At the initiation of the very first Rhino Run in 2015, a tiny seed was planted that grew into the golden thread that tied us to our beneficiary and the other benefactors, tighter and stronger every year:

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Women Who Run With the Dawgs

Maybe not as soul-stirring or profound as Clarissa Pincola Estes’ Wolf-running version, but to this running lady it comes preeeetty darn close.

See, we’ve been running for longer than we have been raising and loving pups. And in the past 10 years or so we have tried and tried and kept loving and trying to stay patient, but running with our four-legged chidlers, with leashes or without, just never was any real fun. The Jack Russel really, REALLY wanted to run, oh yes. As soon as he saw any indication that we were even LOOKING at our running shoes, he approved with his high-pitched, incessant barking, quivering with excitement.

For the first 500 m of our seaside runs, Jack had to be on a leash, which we would take off once we hit the beach. If we survived the 500 m being dragged by what felt like a rabid kudu, an extended mandatory walk break would follow (for the human). Jack, of course would then celebrate his newfound freedom by flying off miles out ahead, scaring every biological being on the beach, from non-suspecting bird life to poor peaceful fishermen. So in the wake of this embarrassment the human would start running again sooner than the dragged-legs could recover.

Unlike other normal runners (or runners with normal dogs?), our beach running had to take place ON the beach. On the deep, sandy and bouldery section, and not on the compact walkway a few yards in. All this just to try and keep Jack from picking a fight with every other dog. Tiny woolly ones, rottweilers or boerboels were his favourites. Attacks on the woolly ones would usually entail an ears-down-tail-tucked-in run down of his victim, followed by a dusty brawl, while the hysterical owner (usually female), lashed out at us for not keeping our vicious dog on a leash. Luckily there was never any (serious) blood shedding (that we are aware of).

Attempted attacks on the larger canines would usually entail a nervous, flat-eared Jack going in for the kill without any pleasantries, straight for his opponent’s throat, his irate prey just lifting his head away to avoid scarring. Often times WE ended up being the hysterical party, trying to call off our silly pup, not looking forward to what may have followed if the big dawg lost his or her temper.

Or Jack would just run. And keep on running without looking back. And we would get the all too familiar phone call from a kind stranger or the SPCA to come fetch our dog. That happened all too often. We met many new people like that.

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Dear sweet Jack. Innocence personified.

On the complete opposite side is our big yellow Lab. Umfaan turned 10 this year, but he is every bit as cute and clumsy as he was at 6 weeks when we got him. Loving, caring and very attached to his humans. He always wants to be within 5 cm of us, or closer, if possible. So much so that, when he runs with us he will either step on our heels when he is following, or stop dead in his tracks when he is leading, turn sideways to check if we are coming, causing his human to stumble or jackknife over him. He just doesn’t have personal space, and we love that about him. But not during a run.

And then there was Denali. The first puppy we had since the boys were born. Shortly after he came to stay with us I noticed that this pup was really very sensitive and bright. He could play a decent game of fetch before he was 3 months old, actually dropping the ball for his human to throw again (Umfaan would keep it, Jack would eat it. No comparison, we love our fur-boys equally, but eish, have we bought balls the last 10 years!)

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Denali (8 weeks) napping on Umfaan.
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The boys and their pups.

About two months ago, when Denali was 6 months old, I started to take him on short runs with me. At first he was a little skeptical, not really sure what the point of the running without a ball or a short-term reward was. But we kept at it, running with him for short distances about once a week. Sometimes he needed a lot of encouragement. He would stop dead in his tracks while I ran out ahead. I would call him, praising him, to which he would respond very enthusiastically. So much so that he would come sprinting, leaping up on my unsuspecting calves (and later, as he grew taller, my lower back) in mid stride, sending his shocked human forward in a lunge or a crouch.

Well, after two months I can happily report that the 8 month old pup is a running dawg now. He gets it, and he loves it! This week he ran with me three times (only 5 or 6 k’s at a time) and he also did some hill repeats with the hubs. He was an absolute star.

He is still very young, so obviously we don’t want to exert him too much too fast, but for now we both really love our shortish runs together. His quiet, happy and oh-so-grateful companionship is such a tonic. For the first part, as we run out, he usually follows me, staying in my tracks, a step or two behind me. On the return trip he usually leads, right in front of me. Sometimes I try to run next to him, but he just scoots over to my side again. He wants to lead. And he doesn’t take too kindly to walk breaks. He has his own steady pace and you better keep up, my Lady!

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This morning as I headed out I called Denali and he didn’t seem to be in the mood for running, just watching me leave over the hill. After about 5 minutes or so I heard footsteps behind me, skrikking me in a tizz, only to turn around to his friendly, panting black face (he is so black that my camera can’t focus on his face if his tongue isn’t hanging out!) He ran after me for about a kilometer or so, all on his own. I couldn’t be more proud.

So after all these years of trying and trying and hoping and giving up, we are finally Running With The Dawgs. And we absolutely love it!

Race Report: The Lucky Star Half-Marathon

I love early mornings. I used to love getting up way before the crack of dawn and start my workday with a mug of coffee or two before the sun was even out. Then came babies and the consequent lack of sleep, so nowadays I try to make the most of whatever shuteye I can get…
But on race days I don’t mind getting up in the wee hours of the morning. If we are not on location I summons an entire support team to fill in for me at home me so I can slip out early to line up. The recent Lucky Star Half-marathon kicked off at 7 am, so I got to get up at 5 am since I need my two hours head start for preparations and caffeinations. And then I was almost late for the start because I had to drive all the way home again for socks! I forgot my socks?! I arived with 2 minutes to spare.
Early morning race day preparations.
The Lucky Star Marathon has been taking place at the coast since 1985. This year marked it’s 29th anniversary, which is quite remarkable. More that 800 athletes lined up in total for the full marathon, the 21.1 km, the 10 km and the relay races. It was also the Southern Region Half-Marathon Championships, so a number of international teams also participated. The route of the Marathon is from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund, while the 21.1 km and 10 km races started in Swakopmund and followed a route alongside the coast direction Walvis Bay and back.
This is a route that I have traveled on regularly in the past seven years, but I don’t think I have really taken in the breathtaking scenery before as I did during this race. It really is beautiful, with the ocean on one side and the coastal dunes on the other.
Yes, there is a road race that takes place in THIS beautiful setting. It is called the Lucky Star Marathon. (Thanking my Lucky Stars it is on the tarmac BELOW these Mother dunes).(Source)
For the half-marathon the route itself is relatively flat, with a few long but low hills. I found the terrain surprisingly comfortable, with level tarmac most of the way or an option of level gravel on the shoulders where the road slants in a bend. I often opted for the gravel, even on the level stretches since I find it easier on my knees.
The race was extremely well organised. Water tables were situated every 3 km and traffic officials did what they could to keep us safe on this busy road. I did however feel that heavy trucks could have been directed to the alternative route behind the dune belt for the duration of the race. It wasn’t pleasant to breath heavy exhaust fumes and to fight the wind gusts and flying sand from passing trucks. But in all honesty it was perhaps 3 or 4 trucks in total. So not really that bad.
The water tables were manned by Etosha Fishing personnel, and they apparently had a competition on for best team spirit. This was easily the most supportive, fun race I have attended in Namibia. People in costume were cheering and friendly and ready to hand out a drink or a word of encouragement wherever they could. Cheers to them!
The Etosha Fishing ‘Cowboy’ water table won a prize for their good spirit and costume. (Source).
Although breaking my PB (pubic bone. Or Personal Best time) wasn’t really my main goal for this race, I seem to derive from a long line of overly competitive boere people and once we get that itch, it rarely goes away. My previous PB over the half-marathon was 1:59:30, which I ran earlier this year after a longish baby-and-second-pregnancy running break. My goal for this race was to bring that time down with a few minutes. But when an English lady cornered me at the third km and asked me my goal time, I had to commit to a number – after I got over the initial shock of being challenged so boldly by a rival. Aren’t the English supposed to be more proper? Who asks your goal time?! You make small talk while quietly pinpointing your opponents’ week spots to plan the sudden overtake and the triumphant, pretend-reserved, wave at the turnaround or finish line! But the game was on. I aimed for 1:55.
While I was pondering this newly set goal, I suddenly had an epiphany (not an alcoholic beverage in this case) and  a game plan was born. I decided to run the way I run my long runs, essentially without a watch to check my pace, just by feel and feedback from my body and the course. The previous night I read a race report of a fabulous mama-runner who also happens to be my beautiful and inspiring cousin. She reported to have tackled the 21.1 km in 5 km increments, with a uniform goal pace over the 4 sections. Suddenly it hit me that I have always tried to tackle the entire race as a whole, instead of breaking it down in smaller, manageable (rewardable) sections. Tackling the race as a whole usually resulted in extreme math problems once you hit the 13th or 15th km, when you try to work out an adjusted goal pace and whether there is time for a quick sip of water or if you will be able to fit that darn 1.1 km at the end and still make a PB. Way, WAY too complicated!
So I set a goal pace for each 5 km sections, ran by feel and just glanced at the watch to keep track of the distance, never the pace. And low and behold, running a few five kays is way easier than running a 21.1 km! When I crossed the bridge into Swakop with 3 km to go I glanced at my watch and thought it was wrong, that it had stopped at some point. I finished the race in 1:52:05, an improvement of more than 7 minutes on my PB, and felt quite chuffed.
New PB by more than 7 minutes.
My beautiful hubs came out with Vee to support me as always, driving past me a few times and standing next to the road at the 15 km mark. They charmed the last chocolate out the poor friendly support table, because when I arrived I was offered only water and a Chomp already out of its wrapper(?) I just smiled and waved. Seeing my smiling, cheering hubs and babies next to the road while racing makes me immensely happy, and those images always carry me when it gets tough. Those and images of my mother in costume.  She lives far, but we have a tradition that she always ‘dresses up’ to come support me in spirit. And her description of her ‘costumes’ has had me giggling many times during a race.
The Hubs and Vee waited at the finish line. No better way to finish a race!
Overall this race was one of the running highlights of this year for me. I love huge, well organised races with a lot of team spirit and happy runners. Times for the marathon athletes weren’t apparently all that good and they complained of a strong head wind. Here at the coast you never know what the weather, especially the wind, will do come race day. You just have to take it as it comes and it honestly can change from one minute to the next. I certainly enjoyed the Lucky Star and will be back.
Ps. I passed the English lady in the last km. Not competitive at all. Really.