Images of elusive, jagged, snow-capped peaks towering above a thick jungle canopy flashed through my mind when I first read about this mysterious mountain, strutting the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I have always had a strange attraction to such seldom visited, remote and unrelenting places, and the Rwenzori and one of its host countries the DRC, definitely fits that picture. The DRC is one of the largest countries in Africa and endowed in mineral riches, but also hosts some of the longest lasting, most brutal civil wars on the continent fought by rebels whose hideout is and has been this very mountain range. Continue reading “Rwenzori: Mountains of the Moon. A Mountaineering report.”
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.
|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!)
|Denali (8 weeks) napping on Umfaan.|
|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!
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!
Knowing Windhoek in Winter, especially the Avis area in July, we packed exceptionally warm. By warm I mean I packed shoes and jackets for everyone this time, which is an extreme occurrence in this no-shoes-or-jackets family (read ‘boys’). I have raced in Windhoek in winter when temperatures in Avis read minus 4 degrees Celsius. It was bitterly cold, and my poor hubs had to entertain two toddlers for 2 hours on a frostbitten lawn while mama at least got to run up a little bit of body heat.
The second annual Avis Dam Xtrail, organised by OTB Sport, took place in Windhoek on Sunday 10 July. Although I love running early-early in the morning we were grateful for a slow start which allowed us some breakfast and temperatures to warm up to 11 degrees by times of the 8:30 am send-off.
|Starting line-up of the 15 km Avis Xtrail, 2016.|
I have asked myself too many times, “why would you want to endure subzero temperatures with a pounding headache at more than 5,000 m above sea level, while strapped to a 1 cm thick rope ,dangling above more than a km of air”. “Why would you leave your loving wife and beautiful boys to go and do something that scares the hell out of you every time you do it”. “Why risk your life and that of your climbing partner in an area so remote, ice laden and rock strewn that chances of surviving a fall would soon diminish with the quest to find your way to the nearest shelter”. I actually don’t know why. But I think, if you have the answers to these questions rambling about in your head during a period of utter isolation, you would probably not be in that spot at that time . Why do we endure terrible cold, dizzying heights and utter fear so far away from home. Are we searching for answers, searching for ourselves or just searching for a way to the top of this damn mountain? Continue reading “Asante, Mount Kenya: A Mountaineering Report”
Friday afternoon, 10 June 2016, as the Damaraland shadows grew longer and Lady Brandberg started basking in her own ocher glow, runners and cyclists from across Namibia started pouring into the tiny town of Uis in northwestern Namibia. Wicus Burger even flew in with his Cessna 210 to line up for his very first trail run. Every single bed in Uis was filled during race weekend, and campers pitched their tents far and wide. A number of athletes also drove from the coast on race morning before the starting siren went off.
|Runners at the start of Brandberg Rhino Run and Cycle tour 2016.|
The race consisted of 4 different events, namely a 26 km trail & jeep track run, a 13 km trail & jeep track run, a 7 km fun run and a 31 km mountain bike ride added this year. The routes were all located within the Tsiseb Conservancy (named after the Tsiseb gorge in which the White Lady rock painting is located), home to elephant, black rhino, leopard, cheetah, mountain zebra, kudu, gemsbok, ostrich, springbok, steenbok, black-backed jackal, klipspringer and many more.
As a running, mountaineering, outdoors family we have always loved the Brandberg and surrounds. Brandberg (from Afrikaans meaning Burning Mountain or Fire Mountain) is of course the highest mountain in Namibia (2 573 m), home to 40 % of the mammal and reptile species and 10 % of the plant species recorded in Namibia. Two thousand species of insects are found on Brandberg, of which 200 are endemic to the Brandberg. An entire new order of insects, Matophasmatodea, was described after the endemic gladiator species Tyrannophasma gladiator was discovered on Brandberg. This granite massif and its natural and archaeological heritage is also a national monument in Namibia and on the tentative list for UNESCO world heritage sites.
|Tyrannophasma gladiator, Mantophasmatoid endemic to Brandberg. (Source)|
In 2015 we acquired a home in Uis and immediately knew we wanted to share the magic of being active within this wilderness area. With our new home being a stones’ throw away from the last population of free roaming desert adapted black rhino (Diceros bicornis bicornis), we knew it was our obligation to host the event in aid of rhino conservation. Similar to it’s inception event in 2015, Brandberg Rhino Run and Cycle Tour 2016 was a fundraiser with Save the Rhino Trust, Namibia (SRT) as our beneficiary. The men and ladies of this NGO works tirelessly, day and night, for the prevention of senseless poaching of the rhinos in the Kunene region. All event entry fees and auction income were deposited as donations to into SRT’s account, while event costs are covered by sponsorships.
The running and cycling routes comprised a perfect blend of rocky, sandy, gravelly and hilly terrains. The routes were moderately tough and 90% off-road, crossing Damaraland’s rugged shrublands and koppies.
|Stephen James, always in good spirits (Kat Imaging, 2015).|
|Johan Bronkhorst and Kirsty Brits recce run of the Rhino Run route, 2015.|
|Johan Bronkhorst and Kirsty Brits recce run of the Rhino Run route, 2015.|
On Friday night, the eve before the race, we were treated to a scrumptious braai prepared by the Daureb Isib Camp staff and Cactus & Coffee restaurant. An auction of incredibly generous donated items took place during dinner, and we were overwhelmed by the equally generous bidding of our athletes and supporters! Luxury getaways, fully inclusive accommodation packages, personally autographed books by incredible authors and photographers and a stunning piece of artwork, all donated by various companies and individuals across Namibia, as well as from South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana were auctioned. Through the auction alone a total of more than NAD 80 000.00 was raised for SRT! The highest bid for the night went for the Sandfontein Lodge and Nature Reserve package of 3 nights for four people, all inclusive, sold for NAD 18 000.00.
|The Raiths having fun at the auction.|
|Kingsley Holgate’s book and inscription was special.|
|Salome Botes with the stunning Rhino Run 2016 cartoon created and donated by Duif Keiser. She bought the 2015 cartoon by the same artist on last year’s auction as well.|
|Nico probably missed his calling as auctioneer…|
Entertainment during the social function was provided by the very talented 17 year old Janus ‘Firestorn’ Botes, with a pixel poi and then fire poi display.
|Janus ‘Firestorn’ Botes, fire poi display.|
|Firestorn, pixel poi display.|
With the event starting at an early 6 am, athletes were treated to a stunning sunrise and breathtaking vistas that inspired long beyond finishing the challenge. We were fortunate to be able to call on Piet van Rooyen, a local Uis businessman and pilot, to take our event photographer up in his microlight aircraft for a bird’s eye view of the course and the athletes.
|Cyclists set off first just before dawn.|
|Bird’s eye view from Piet van Rooyen’s microlight of the Brandberg and run/cycle course.|
|Beautiful sunrise on Brandberg while runners and cyclists make their way down the course.|
Race day itself was a whole lot of fun. Locals who didn’t take part in the race volunteered as time keepers or to man water tables. The Uis Police department generously assisted with safety on the main road, while high school pupils from Petrus Ganeb Secondary School in Uis acted as marshals at key points on the route.
|The oldest (tannie Toekie far back) and youngest Uis locals that took part.|
|Lorraine from SRT, Annegret and I sharing a moment.|
|Tannie Toekie, spirited Uiser that joined us on the 7 km walking event.|
|Uisers, young and old, volunteers, athletes, supporters, we love them all.|
During all of the excitement, our two boys Z and V were overjoyed with the fact that they could stay up late and rise before dawn (they are big on adventures like these!), and that so many of their friends were in town as their parents took part in the race!
|Z and V having their morning cereal next to the finish line.|
|Littles playing while parents are sweating it out.|
|Elvis Vries, runner from Uis police department.|
|Final stretch down 3rd Avenue, Uis, towards the finish line.|
|Hein Profijt having fun.|
|Frances Courtney-Clarke looking fresh.|
|Paulus Ndamanomhata not even breaking a sweat.|
The winner of the 31 km mountain bike event was the young Luke Munting in a time of 1:15:32, while his female counterpart, Lelanie Swart, won with a time of 1:31:00. The 26 km running event was, like last year, won by Erich Goeieman in a time of 1:36:00, while Risa Dreyer was the first lady across the finish line with a time of 2:21:00. Risa, as well as Johan Bronkhorst and Kirsty Brits, both top finishers in the 26 km Rhino Run just returned from the Comrades Ultra-marathon in South Africa before joining us for this event. We were honored to receive these and other top Namibian athletes in our humble little beautiful town.
|Risa Dreyer, freshly back from Comrades, won the 26 km Rhino Run.|
Albertinus Goeieman also defended his title by winning the 13 km run in a time of 0:55:24, with Bernise van der Westhuyzen finishing as first lady in a time of 1:10:00.
More results are available HERE.
|Simson receiving a race goody bag with goodies from sponsors.
Our stunning race medals are hand made by a local crafstman in Swakopmund.
What was really heart warming was to receive teams of riders and runners from the various sponsors, all driving from afar to personally support the event! We had a total of 265 athletes, of which 87 were cyclists.
|Robert Grant from KPMG, with his pretty runner wife Odette and friend Conrad Dempsey from RMB. Lorraine from SRT was the medal-lady.|
|Team RMB, one of the Diamond sponsors of the event.|
|Riders from Team RMB.|
|Team RMB Namibia, with the vehicle they sponsored to SRT through another fund raiser in 2015.|
This year we also had a kiddies run preceding the prize giving ceremony; our littles’ turn to shine after cheering on their parents all morning.
|Little Rhino Run in full action!|
|Some athletes felt they would be faster if Mommy carried them 😉|
|Little ones receiving a sweetie and a medal from SRT’s Lorraine.|
The organisation of an event like this is of course not the work for one or two people alone, and we are incredibly fortunate to have had the best support team in the the country. Publication and advertisement of the event is of course key, which is why we were overjoyed to welcome back our immensely talented event photographers Karl Terblanche and Bernd Curschmann from KAT Imaging. These guys again sponsored their time and expertise to make magic of our dusty show, staying up late at night with us and rising before the first athletes appeared.
|Karl Terblanche from KAT Imaging.|
Oom Des Erasmus and his wife Annelie at Erongo/Republikein newspaper also took this event on as their baby, and supported it from every thinkable angle since 2015. The most beautiful part of an event like this is not necessarily only the direct support from participants and sponsors, but the beautiful friendships that are made and rekindled through the whole process.
|Oom Des Erasmus and Annelie taking notes for the next publication with Nico and Simson Uri-khob from SRT in the back.|
The prize ceremony and race day was ended with a nice lucky draw of generously sponsored goods, including boxes of Windhoek Lights, for which our athletes were really happy during the midday heat in Uis.
|Happy to receive some Windhoek Lights, sponsored by Namibia Breweries.|
|Cobus and Steph Brayshaw were also lucky!|
|Elated for some cold tall ones 😉|
All entry fees and proceeds went directly to Save the Rhino Trust, which means that every single athlete that entered the Rhino Run and Cycle Tour is a benefactor of our joint cause: Conservation of our Namibian black Rhino. We are grateful beyond compare to be a part of such a beautiful running, cycling and giving community, and can’t wait to host our athletes and friends in Uis again in 2017.
Continued from Prelude in C Major.
I went to bed very early the Friday night before the race, extremely nervous for what lay ahead, calves still aching after our short stint on the Wall the day before. I woke up at 1am (wake-up call wasn’t until 3am), and couldn’t go back to sleep. But the moment I woke up, I knew I would be fine. I was ready. My mind was in a good place, my stress had disappeared and I was looking forward to the experience of a lifetime. My bags were packed, gear sorted out and my hydration pack filled.
Before breakfast I foam-rolled my calves and my butt (to ensure a firing butt, heaven knows we can’t afford a butt that doesn’t fire). Breakfast was at 4 am and, although I didn’t have an appetite at that time I knew fueling would be key to a possible 6 or 7 hour taxing run in high heat and humidity. I hydrated well the day before and had enough water during the few hours before the race as well. Luckily the coffee in China wasn’t very much to my taste so water it was.
At 5 am we all piled into our respective buses for a 1.5 hr drive to the start of the race. There was a quiet tension in the buss, the atmosphere loaded with adrenaline. I listed to my race day playlist and the familiar songs calmed my nerves.
Once we arrived most of us lined up outside the bathrooms for the last calls of nature. I met the two Running Rhinos from South Africa, Bradley Schroder and Greg Canning, who each ran (and successfully completed) the Great Wall Marathon wearing a 10 kg Rhino suit. Their campaign raises funds and awareness for rhino conservation.
|The Running Rhinos, South African running team. Source.|
While shivering in the morning cold (although I knew it wouldn’t last…), the lady next to me in the bathroom line (accidentally) started talking to me in Afrikaans, and great was her surprise when I replied in the same language! Turns out she also hails from neighbouring South Africa and was in China for her very first marathon. We shared a little gossip about how awful we found those plastic bathroom ‘doors’, most probably the breeding ground of all unthinkable kinds and numbers of germs!
|These plastic ‘screen doors’ were found at bathrooms, some butchers and small stores… the source of great terror for a pedantic germophobe like me!|
While all athletes were bunching to their various starting areas, we were entertained by a beautifully uniform-clad Chinese orchestra playing lively tunes, including Jingle Bells (?), much to everyone’s delight and entertainment (during the run some villagers also cheered us along with what I suspected was their only English: Happy New Year!) Bless them.
|Live entertainment before the start of the Race.|
The race had a staggered start, with the faster runners (marathon and half-marathon) starting in the first wave at 7:30 am. I was in the second of four waves (I may or may not have put up a goal/dream marathon time during race entry, always be positive!) that landed me in the early wave…
|Just before the start of the race.|
And then we were off! The first kilometer was a relatively flat one, after which a winding ascent of about 5 km on tarmac lead to the entrance of the Great Wall. From there we covered a roughly 3 km section on the Great Wall from west to east, including 2550 steps (according to the step-counter on another athlete’s watch the steps were way more than that… but who’s counting?) The steps were really steep in some cases (both going up and down), and in other sections they were so tiny and broad we had to run them two by two. Okay I just put ‘run’ in there for fun. I didn’t actually run the steps. I suppose there were people who ran them, but I definitely didn’t. I moved quickish. Many parts of the Wall were really too steep and treacherous to run on, and the flatter parts I mostly used for recovery. And meeting new people. And taking in the absolutely breathtaking wonder of the surroundings and the remarkable structure that is the Great Wall.
After descending the NOTORIOUS Goats Track we passed through the Yin Yang Square to great cheering of the supporters. The MC also announced that I was the second Namibian to pass the square that morning, but sadly I never got to meet my fellow countryman/lady. Then off to the country side we went as the temperature and humidity started to rise. I carried my own hydration pack, but there were plenty of aid stations offering bottled water, energy drinks as well as bananas in some places. It was really hot, and I was very cautions of heat exhaustion . I took in a lot of fluids, even refilled my hydration pack at some point, but also took electrolytes and three Slow-Mags along the way to prevent cramping. And it definitely paid off.
|Route of the Great Wall Marathon, Jixian.|
|Route Profile of the Great Wall Marathon, Jixian.|
From the route profile I expected the small hill in the country-side section to be insignificant (compared to the Wall), but it turned out to be another nice, long climb but with less of a view. The villagers were friendly and cheering us on, with little children clapping and giving high fives all along the route. That was really moving, and reminded me of my two babies back home and how they always high-five runners when they support a race.
The sections between villages were hot and tiring, and at some point I reverted to my music for some inspiration. There usually comes a point during any race where I start to focus more on my tired body and less on the driving will to finish the race in a decent time. Before long I end up strolling and finding excuses not to run even if I feel rested again. That is where I find music to be of a great relief, to get my mind off the current task and get me moving again. During this run the thought of the two Running Rhinos constantly inspired me; people that are willing to endure a lot of physical discomfort for the greater cause. The plight of the critically endangered rhino is also very near to my heart, and the focus of a fund raiser run/cycle event that we organise in our home town.
|Some views from the country side and villages along the route.|
After the loop in the country side the marathoners returned to Yin Yang square, so passing there a second time after the start, and I recall the prize giving had already started. When I passed the square after the 8.5 km run on the wall the first time I heard the MC announce that the first lady on the 21 km entered the square with me… Ha, well I guess there were people running a bit faster than me!
Nevertheless I still felt strong as I headed towards the Goats Track to tackle it from bottom to top this time as we ran the Wall from east to west. (I said run again…) That goats track was one difficult climb, I must say, and I passed a lot of runners sitting or laying down on the steps, shoulders sagged with very far off gazes in their eyes. I talked to all of them, offering water, and they all seemed to just be tired but not defeated.
|Some resting runners.|
During this last section on the Wall I just kept moving, albeit slowly, and actually talked to a number of interesting people, which made it one of the most memorable sections of the race. I happened to meet up with Henrick Brandt who has completed every one of the Great Wall Marathons since it’s inception in 1999. His first Great Wall happened to be his first marathon, and thus he keeps returning every year.
|Last section on the wall, walking with Mr Great Wall (as he is known) Henrick Brandt (first from right.)|
After we stepped off the wall I had to remind myself that I was actually in a race and should start running again. The final seciton was the 5 km covered in the start of the race, which was now downhill. Ironically a lot of people told me afterwards that this was the hardest part for them. I think mentally you feel you should be done after completing the hard part, which is the second round on the Wall, and 5 km just was far on tired legs.
When I entered the Yin Yang square for the 4th time, it was to massive cheers from the audience (always nice to finish late, there are many people to cheer you on!) I finished in 6:29 which I was quite happy with, with plenty time left to the 8 hrs cutoff. I was immensely happy to receive my beautiful medal, as I felt I worked for it long and hard and often doubted if I would be able to accomplish this huge goal.
|Stunning race medal!|
All runners received a complimentary ticket for a massage after the race. I hung around the physios’ tent for a while observing the agony on their poor patients’ faces, thinking to myself that the Chinese were out to get us… those whom they didn’t destroy on the Wall they ould finish off with a brutal massage! Then one of them grabbed my ticket from my hand and, wickedly smirking, directed my to a bed. I though this was it, they are going to break me! Sure enough the lady was quite forceful but it felt good in so many ways, and I can honestly say that between my Slow-Mags and my Chinese physio-sergeant I didn’t have any major aches or pains the next day!
We were transported back to Beijing after the race, most of us (world-travelling adult athletes) only took our medals off once we got to our hotel rooms in Beijing, 3 hours later. All of us SO proud of what we have achieved and experienced that day.
Race week was aptly ended with a gala dinner at a very nice hotel in Beijing on the Sunday night. The food was delicious, everyone was relaxed and friendships were made. The organizers showed a video of the event on a large screen, and reliving some special moments of the days before stirred some emotion in all of us as we knew our adventure was about to end.
|We had some really tasty dinners after the race, including traditional Peking roast duck!|
All in all I have to commend Albatros Adventure Marathons for a superbly organised race. From our arrival and reception in Beijing, our sightseeing tours, transfers to Jixian and the Race to the last morning where they organised transport for each of us to the airport to catch our various flights, all went smoothly and was SUCH a big adventure. I can most definitely recommend the Great Wall Marathon to anyone who seeks to run a superbly organised, VERY scenic yet TOUGH international race.
I arrived in Beijing around 10:00 pm on Tuesday 17 May, after a more than 24hr trip from Namibia and probably an hour’s sleep in total during the journey. The absolute highlight of the three part flight there was seeing the Himalaya Mountains. Although I am not the mountaineer in our family I had an overwhelming urge to find myself on foot amidst those immense snow-covered peaks and desolate valleys.
From our vantage point the entire mountain series seemed pristine and untouched, beckoning to be explored. Snow has that beautiful way. Very much like the moving sands of the Namib Desert of my country of birth, snow eradicates any sign of intrusion and impact very effectively and rapidly. My mind wandered to the countless explorers who lost their lives on those mountains. Their remains too, are softly hidden beneath the snow.
|Himalaya mountains, Tibet.|
|Race briefing in Yin Yang Square.|
|Race route inspection of the Wall section.|
|Three hotel maintenance guys trying to figure out how to open my broken lock.|
|Very busy Chinese local market.|
|Tour of the last Ming (or Ching?) Emperor’s tomb.|