Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Namib Desert Challenge: Stage 2

This second stage is probably the hardest of the five because it is so open and exposed from the beginning. Not to say that you are not pummelled by the sun and the elements on the other stages but what makes this one tough is the... the expanse. Big, long, open sections.

There’s a big queue of cars at the gate to the Sossusvlei Park in the morning; tourists waiting for the gates to open at 7am. We hopped on the bus at 07h15 and got through easily after the rush.

Today’s 42km section started from the base of the Elim dune -  a massive dune classified as ‘living’ for the grasses growing on it. The jeep track from the start took us on a slight uphill for kilometres – running through a grassy plain. This later start (around 07h45 vs 07h00 yesterday) meant that it already felt warm when we set off. No sign of yesterday’s slight nip.

After an up does indeed come a down – a lovely long stretch of good running. It feels great to get in as much distance as possible in the morning before the sun eats you alive but it was certainly still two hours to the first water point at around 15km. I took this photo about three kilometres before the waterpoint – I did say the area was open and exposed!

An open section to waterpoint 1.

At the waterpoint I loaded up on this nasty home-made electrolyte solution. Tony calls it ‘Leopard’s Piss’. It does go down well and we’re all doing well on it. Today I had to block my nose to drink down the whole cup... I chased it with a refreshing cup of iced tea. In fact, at every waterpoint now I’m enjoying the iced tea (and Leopard’s Piss – sometimes two cups!). Makes a nice change from water. I'm not sure what it in it other than salt and some sugar. There are definitely other ingredients.

From waterpoint 1 we headed across a flat, open grassy plain and then across a pan. A lot of nothingness. Hot already. The next waterpoint was only about 9km from the first so we hit it quickly. By this stage Joe and Dave. They’d been hunting me down for kilometres (I’d left the waterpoint a bit before them). They were running non-stop while I was doing my walk-run thing. I run faster than them but they catch me up when I’m walking.

An arrow pointing to WP2.
We hit the waterpoint together and loaded up on more fluids before heading out. I tried to pull out time on them on the dunes – very sandy track winding mostly up, up, up - and while I made a gap it was only a few minutes so we saw each other at the third and final waterpoint. 

View after leaving waterpoint 2, which is at the bottom of the hill and to the left.
This was a sneaky waterpoint because you see it from a distance away but it takes a good chunk of time – certainly 45mins – to get to it. Goodness!

I left only just before the guys and after two or three kays they caught me and passed. I kept them in my sights and found it fun to do the chasing instead of being the chased. It turned out well because the lads started lagging as the temperatures soared. I was feeling quite the same but was really ready to kick this stage in the butt. So I hauled them in and invited the guys to join in my ‘game’ so we could crack the stage together.

My game was to run for 40 paces and to walk for 30 paces. Although these numbers look odd to you, they have an orienteering background for me. In pacing distances I cover 100m in 40 paces and the same distance, walking, in 60 paces. So, each run-walk set is essentially 150m. That’s a nice was to tick off the distance.

It was great having Joe and Dave’s company and we really cooked those last few kilometres. What has been great is that over the last nine-kilometres or so there has been Terry or Nel driving around to keep an eye on us – with water on board. So we’ve been able to top up on liquids. And we did. With temperatures kicking at over 42C, we were packing away volumes of fluids today. I estimate that I drank about 6 litres of water from by reservoir and then three big cups (maybe 300ml each) at each water point. And then I topped up with more water from Nel and I also downed about 500ml from a bottle from Terry – about 1km from the finish. And then more at the finish.

We were greeted with a warm welcome at the finish and as we’d just missed the bus shuttle back to came, we took advantage of icy refreshments, cookies, orange slices and a comfortable mattress under a gnarled Camel Thorn tree.  Lovely just to lie there and shoot the breeze with my running companions.

With my companions from the last couple of kays. Joe on the chair and Dave to my right.
We’ve been back at camp for a while now – showered and fed and watered. All the runners are in.
There are been a few drop outs – mostly with flare-ups of recent/existing injuries. They’ve all made really good decisions not to continue and we’ve seen them out on the route assisting at water points of cheering us on from vehicles. A lovely vibe from the runners.

Dinner last night was superb. They bring it over from the Lodge. We’ll be in for another treat tonight and tomorrow and the next night... Totally spoilt with soups, salads, veggies, braai stuff and dessert. Yes, dessert too!

Ah... a correction from yesterday... Canadian Caroline is Canadian Christine! Not sure how/where I got it in my mind that her name was ‘Caroline’. I’m with the programme now.

At the front of the race is still Argi. He ran the stage in 3h28. Marius was second again - about 20-30 minutes behind. He says he had an easier run today as he knows Argi is so out of range that there really is no need to chase him so Marius can rather focus on his own run as Argi runs off into the distance. He’s really quite something. Third was Asa, who caught the German runner, Stephan. (Stephan was third yesterday, not Asa).

I don’t know any other positions, not even my own other than second lady. I don’t know how far off Christine I was yesterday nor today. She’s a solid, steady runner and most certainly faster than me at a run. Once she’s ahead of me I just can’t close down the distance and instead I have glimpses of her in the distance.

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