Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® 2016

An Adventure to Remember

At the time writing I’m sitting in a minbus having just left Namibia and the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® (RTW), which has come to an end. The five days of the race have flown by and I am trying to digest it all. In terms of the running I had some good days and some not so good days. I finished 3rd lady after Jo Williams (who had a cracking run and won the race overall) and South African legend Linda Doke who also had a strong race and was very comfortable on the technical trails. However, although there was a race going on, the RTW is so much more than that; it is an adventure and a very unique experience.

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Dawn on Day 3. Photo: Ian Corless

We hiked and ran through a remote, arid mountain desert, Martian in character. We followed zebra trails over sharp mountains of volcanic rock, crossed crystal fields and sandy plains, descended into deep canyons (the Fish River Canyon is the world’s second largest canyon), and crossed the Orange River from South Africa into Namibia. We camped in some locations only ever visited by a handful of people and we were lucky to see wildlife including Zebra, Kudu, wild horses, baboons, snakes. Ostrich and more (although thankfully I didn’t spot any of the scorpions we had been pre-warned to protect our feet from in camp!)

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Fish River Canyon on Day 4. Photo: Ian Corless

About the RTW and Richtersveld

This race is part of the Wildrunner events and organised by Tamaryn and Owen Middleton. It takes place in the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park which stretches out north and south of the Orange River, the border between South Africa and Namibia. The route starts in Sendelingsdrif and finishes in the /Ai-/Ais Hot Springs Resort. Over five days runners and walkers cover approximately 190km with the longest day being 49km and the shortest day 26km.

The Transfrontier component of the race (crossing from South Africa into Namibia during the run) has been made possible thanks to Boundless Southern Africa (BSA), which is a marketing arm of the South African Department of Environment Affairs. Their focus is on developing and marketing Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA’s) in Southern Africa, of which the /Ai-/Ais Richtersveld TFCA is one. We had the pleasure of being accompanied by Roland Vorwerk from the BSA who took part in the race. Roland’s engagement with the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® has not only been integral to making the event a reality but his smiling face and never fading positive spirit was certainly a great addition too!

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The Orange River, border between Namibia and South Africa. Photo: Ian Corless

Richtersveld is a very harsh place on earth and only hardiest forms of life can survive here. In the summer temperatures reach over 50 degrees C so it’s easy to see why this race must be staged in the South African winter months. Water is very rare and life is dependent on moisture from the early morning fog. Plants and animals have developed ingenious ways of conserving the smallest amounts of water and also protect themselves against heat, draught, sand and wind. Perhaps this is why, in spite of the extreme arid conditions, Richtersveld is the most bio diverse desert on the planet. Part of the area is a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Rocky trails in this arid landscape on Day 1. Photo: Ian Corless

Is the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun® for you?

The RTW is a small, exclusive event. The organisation of the race is excellent and as far as multi-day races goes it is one of the more “luxurious” around (for non-South Africans it’s also a good deal considering the current exchange rate of the ZAR).

Your luggage is transported from camp to camp and you are provided with your own one-man tent, mattress and pillow. Showers and toilets are available at each camp as is a pre-bookable massage service. You get breakfast, lunch and dinner, cooked with an abundance of love by Magda De Waal from Richtersveld Tours (whom I never saw without a smile on her face no matter the time of day!) and her team from the local community.

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Day 1 start. Photo: Ian Corless

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Support Team. Photo: Ian Corless

There is even a bar set up every afternoon so if you fancy rounding off your day chilling with a cold beer, soft drink or a glass of wine around a campfire you can do that.

We also had the medics JP and Jc (whom did a stellar job and to whom I was very grateful as I took a few tumbles on Day 1, scraping my knee and causing some damage to my wrist).

This may sound like a walk in the park but the running can be tough and at times technical, including a few steep rocky ascents and descents. However it is a very achievable race with low dropout rate and you don’t need any prior multi-stage or ultra running experience (although this would make it easier). If you want to race with talented locals and international top athletes the opportunity is there, but equally if you prefer to walk that is also possible though your days will be longer. As a runner it may take you four to six hours to complete each day whereas a walker may need eight plus hours and up to 15 hours on the long day. The route is not marked but you get gps tracks to follow and a map every day. It’s possible to make mistakes but if you pay attention to your gps you will soon notice if you go wrong.

I had a fantastic time and I would be very happy to return to this special race.

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Photo: Andrew King

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Day 4 Camp. Photo: Andrew King

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