Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun overview available here.
On Day 4 we faced the longest stage with 49km. However, it was made immediately shorter as we first walked a few hundred metres to the place where we would cross the Orange River by boat to Namibia. Once on the Namibian side the race started. I was in the penultimate group today together with John Cuff and Daniel Meyer based on Day 3’s finishing times. John had impressed me the whole race. At the age of 65 he was running smoothly and consistently and with a remarkable spring in his step. Daniel was also going strong despite a hiccup just before Day 1. He had hired a motorbike to get to the start but it had broken down on the way and he had inured his leg. He hiked to a farm 20km away and managed to get help and get to the registration in the evening before the race. Quite incredible!
Having learnt from the first three days I knew I had to run when it was less technical. Day 4 started out with a sandy track followed by a road for about 8km before we headed into a very gradual ascent that would take us up to the aid station at 16km. The going was tough between km 8 and 10 but then the ground got a bit firmer and the ascent was gradual enough that it was possible to run. I focused hard to run and was not in a mood to chat. I passed everyone who had started ahead of me and was the first person into the aid station. Jo Williams, Tobias Mews and Dawid Kaswarie had started in the last group but had not yet caught up.
After the aid station we had a steep climb with some scrambling up to Zebra Pass. This is named after the trail created by the Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra – a species of zebra especially adapted to this arid and desert environment. I would have never thought zebra’s could be such skilled mountain climbers! This was followed by a very rocky and fairly steep descent, which then eased somewhat in gradient and technicality and eventually, after 22km, brought us out in the enormous Fish River Canyon, the world’s second largest Canyon. I stormed down this trail as fast as I could on the sand and rocks, expecting the more technically skilled runners to catch me but they never did. Just before entering the Canyon, baboons were barking loudly to my left, disappearing into the rocks. It was fascinating to have them this close although it made me feel slightly uncomfortable.
The first 22km had flown by and this was encouraging but now the hard work started. At every bend, which was a couple of kilometres long at least, we had to cross the river and run on the wider “terrace” side in order to not get stuck between a mountain and the river. Sometimes these terraces consisted of vast sandy plains, sometimes just round rocks, made smooth by the river. At times we could run on harder packed game trails but these were littered with sharp rocks so 100% focus was required. These themes seemed to replace each other throughout the remaining 27km at regular intervals, with the occasional river crossing thrown in and a couple of detours into thick vegetation due to getting lost which made you feel like some kind of bushman!
I was thrilled to see zebras twice and les thrilled to run really close to a cliff with baboons who barked loudly and disapproving as I passed. I hurried across and away from them.
A rocky section.. Photo: Ian Corless
As I could actually see the finishing arch and the flags I made the biggest navigation error of the day, straying slightly right of the GPS track and all of a sudden I found myself staring at the finish from the side with a branch of the river in the way. I would have crossed but the walls were very steep here and lined with tall, dense vegetation. I was worried that if I jumped in I wouldn’t be able to get up on the other side. I decided to backtrack and in doing so saw some of the others coming in, having now finally caught me up: Dawid, Linda, Daniel, Jo and Tobias. It called for a sprint but David sprinted much faster, as if it was a matter of winning an Olympic medal in 100m! I crossed first lady though technically I was 2nd as Jo had started later than me and nearly caught up.
It was a good day and the most stunning campsite by the Wilderness Hot Springs, access to which had been opened especially for us via what apparently was a very narrow and steep track. Exceptionally skilful 4×4 driving was required in order to get the camp equipment down into the Canyon and therefore the camp was a bit more basic this day but still impressive.
People kept coming through all afternoon and into the late evening; this was a tough day for many and several people finished in the dark.
Thanks to my running the day before and today I had secured my third place with plenty of margin but it was highly unlikely that I could make up the 40 or so minutes to Linda in 2nd as tomorrow would be a technical trail once again. The race was now effectively over and I had been able to make the most of my strengths to regain some of what I had lost on Day 1 and Day 2.