It’s done! The 5th and final stage of the 5th annual Namib Desert Challenge.
On paper it is a comparatively short 28 kilometres but the reality is that you can’t just blitz it or think that you’ll nail it in three hours and be done. No. No.
This morning we set off in two waves from the base of Dune 45, where we finished yesterday. It was the slower 10 runners first and then the faster 11 runners 30-minutes later.
The first 15km of the stage are actually quite cruel. It must be about 13-14km across a flat, stony plain that runs at the base of big dunes. The tricky part here is not the terrain underfoot. Because it is some of the most pleasant of the race; firm but not hard and littered with little stones that don’t prod your soles. The tricky part is the perspective. We run heading for a point in the distance but with the huge dunes and the open expanse you just can’t tell how far away anything it. You just run and run and run and never seem to get anywhere. It plays with your mind.
From the start I was running with Dave and Dave. Joe shot off like a horse bolting for home. We caught him going into the first pan. He was hammered. We invited him to join us. He shook his head. We convinced him and he started to jog again with us.
|Looking back from where we'd come - this was just the first pan before the first dune ascent. We came from FAR, FAR away to the right.|
|Joe, Botswana Dave, English Dave and me.|
The route then gets more interesting with a dune climb. After the long, straight flat your legs feel it and your heart rate climbs – quickly. We took photos quickly before heading down into the pan and through into Hidden Vlei and the first waterpoint.
|Waterpoint 1 in the Hidden Vlei. Dave made a great 'model' during the stages when we were together.|
Ice-cold rehydration solution and iced tea saw us off again, following a jeep track etched into the hard-baked mud pan. English Dave and I inched ahead of Botswana Dave and Joe; we grew the gap to the finish.
|Approaching Big Daddy. We aimed for that low saddle (not really that low - see next pic) and then up the spine to the top, top, top there in the distance.|
From the pan we were into some sand and another crunchy pan before starting the ascent up Big Daddy – one helluva big dune. The first part – getting on to the ridge – is really the trickiest because it becomes a case of one-step-up-slide-two-back near the top of the lee slope. Dave and I stood there for a moment to catch our breath again, while watching Joe and Dave approach.
|From the low saddle while we caught our breath. Joe and Dave below - approaching.|
And then up, following the ridge. Fortunately many runners had been up before us and it is far easier to step in the grooves made by those ahead than to blaze your own trail. We passed Laura and Ivan, the Americans from Colorado and continued up and up and up. It really is a spectacular dune.
|Up, up, up. That isn't the summit. This is still the first part of the spine.|
We ripped the downhill, sliding through the sand. It could be a good 300-400m from top to bottom, dropping us into Dead Vlei.
|The descent. That white patch is the sun-baked crunchy, mud surface (dried, cracked mud like elephant skin) of Dead Vlei.|
There’s nothing in the main part of the pan. Dead. Towards the open end there are dead trees. Everything dead. Except us! As there was excess water, the happy helpers poured it over our heads and in the breeze we were invigorated.
It’s really nice that it is only about 2.5km from the end of the pan to the finish. OK, so there’s some thick soft sand to deal with before the warm welcome from Terry, Nel and the other runners.
It has been a really good five days of running. For us everything had felt very smooth in terms of the running of the event and how well we’ve been looked after. I know that behind the scenes things can be crazy dealing with crises but in chatting to Nel he said how smooth it has been on their side too; marking the trails, the daily bus transport, the wonderful dinner spread and the small team of volunteers who make it all happen.
I also really want to commend the staff from Sossusvlei Lodge who have setup and manned many of the water stations. In next to no time they learned all our names and warmly welcomed us into each aid station. They handed us cup after cup of Leopard Piss and iced tea and assisted in pouring water into our backpacks. The kept slices of fruit on hand and trays of cookies at the ready. And always a word of encouragement or a smile as we headed out again.
|My room for tonight at Sossusvlei Lodge. Lovely!|
|A bed! Gonna sleep well tonight ;)|
With a small field of runners we’ve been a happily family of running comrades. A really good people and I’ve had friendly running companions in the form of Tony, Joe, English Dave and Botswana Dave at various points on the stages.
As I type this I’m sitting in a circle with the other runners, under the shade of the Camel Thorn tree at the Sossusvlei Lodge, enjoying refreshments. I think there’s award and such at 18h30 and then afterwards a dinner. We’re looking forward to a late night of chatting and chilling with new friends. We’ll climb aboard the bus at 7am in the morning to head back to Windhoek.
It has indeed been a wonderful treat for me to return to this race. I ran in the inaugural event in February 2009 and now I’ve run their 5th event. Both events are united by good organisation and wonderful warmth and hospitality. If you’re looking for an away race that is very sufficiently challenging but that doesn’t require you to lug kilograms on your back each day, then I can highly recommend that you put this one on your bucket list. It is not easy out here but it is very doable and the whole experience is one that you will treasure. Terry and Nel and your team – thank you and well done. An event to be most proud of.