Desert Ultra Blog
Everyone is here! What a journey – Giraffe, Baboons, Warthogs and Spring-Bok with some of the most stunning scenery of any desert in the world – even though it is 4 hours long everyone enjoyed the time to relax pre-race. Camp is set in the foothills of the Spitzkoppe mountain range, a set of granite peaks that suddenly jut out of the otherwise flat plains of the Namib. With a cool breeze blowing of the Atlantic camp is feeling a little chilly once the sun goes down – but soon heats up after 7:30, reaching 35°C in the shade by 11:00. Tomorrow’s route takes the competitors North to our dry river bed camp on the Omaruru, from here temperatures can reach a boggling 50°C.
What a first day! All competitors are now in safe and sound, but that wasn’t always the case – adventure was everywhere during stage 1 of the inaugural Desert Ultra! Within 6k we knew we had a special bunch… George Evetts electing to try and walk through a wire fence rather than hurdle it! The result was a painful dislocation and a trip in our ambulance to hospital. He is now back with us and is going to join in with the final stages of the race. Then it was Mimi’s turn – this time not so severe, just a swollen and twisted ankle forcing her to withdraw at CP2. We weren’t finished yet – with several of the runners needing drips to fight of severe dehydration. Patrick Singh was the worst affected with huge muscle cramps at CP3. He was treated and allowed to carry on but after looking fit and healthy as he crossed the finish line he later had another on-set of cramps and needed several drips to rehydrate. After further assessment Patrick was sent to hospital for further tests and to ensure his electrolytes were in balance (we have since heard that Patrick is doing fine). We saved the best to last with 2 runners (Neal Roche and Dennis Grune) going missing between CP2 and 3, both having been seen heading West on a course set over North East… By 17:00 we had located Neal around 10k off course. He was safe and sound retracing his steps having refilled his water from a local farmer. Neal is now set to continue the race – albeit not competitively. Dennis was an altogether different problem. Dennis (we now know) had continued for a good few hours without seeing the course marking and was therefore way off course, in the Namib this is a real problem, giving us an almost 80km² area of desert to search with valleys and river beds further hindering our efforts. 5 teams went in to the desert backed up by our standby air support but darkness fell before we could locate Dennis and the plane was sent home. The night actually offers a different opportunity to locate lost runners with head lamps and glow sticks easier to spot – however, you still need line of sight and as we’ve already said the Namib has plenty of valleys to make sure this is very difficult to achieve. The search was called for the night a 4:30am allowing staff to get an hours sleep before resuming the search at first light with, again with air support. At first light Wes and his team searched a few areas that were missed from the night before the helicopter joined the party – Dennis was finally recovered fit and well just after 11:00 after being spotted from the sky, making a dramatic and very welcome appearance at camp 2 in the Omaruru river bed. Stage 2 was postponed until Tuesday 19th to allow all resources to be positioned for the safe return of Dennis – something all runners were more than happy to do and all did in the spirit of endurance racing. Wining today’s stage for the men was Andrew Clarke, closely followed by Allan Leed and the women being led by Camilla Gry-Elmman (already 2 time winner this year as JU and MU champion!). The stage consisted of amazing burnt trees and grasses in a grey sand and rock landscape, the heat haze really showing the desert colours off at its best. The course reached a whopping 47°C at 13:00, the fasted runners having to brave this heat on the hottest part of the course – the white gravel road running in to camp. As with any extreme race, you get your evening rush of late on-set dehydration, and today was no different (and with everything that already gone on why would it!), Camilla Gry-Elmann, Steve Jordan, Allan Leed all needing treatment but all recovering during the evening and are able to carry on. A special mention for Edwin Snippe – his first ever ultra and he looks really fresh and well managed, coming in a very respectable 4th. All competitors and support have had a day in camp taking in the African sun. Tomorrow the 55km “Bushmen” stage, competitors can now expect to share their course with the African wildlife as we are now heading out of the farmlands. Let’s hope for a slightly less eventful day!
3 – The Bushmen
The Bushmen – ancient people that roamed the deserts with the awesome ability to hunt by literally running their prey to death. How apt. This stage is a killer. 55km in total, starting with a relatively simple route across some amazing open desert with Spitzkoppe and the saddle we used for yesterdays navigation in the backdrop, we even had an early morning mist making the whole desert look even more amazing! With the early start the runners had a good chance to see some wildlife en-route, especially as we’re now out of the farming region. Ostrich, Kudo and Spring-Bok were the order of the day. This being a Beyond the Ultimate race and of course living up to our Nothing Tougher slogan, we saved a little surprise for the end – a 13km slog through a roasting river bed with deep, soft sand, followed by a rocky section that would not look out of place on Mars! Anyone with blistered feet felt every painful step as they drop down in to base camp for the night. Luckily the river bed is also one of the most stunning sections of the stage. Beautiful rock formations, pine trees that look totally out of place and the odd wild horse or two. Today everyone was a winner. All runners managed themselves extremely well and came through the stage. Mimi Anderson & George Evetts started at CP2, George obviously carrying a pretty painful injury after his fall and both came through with a huge smile, George is doing especially well. Neal Roche, fresh back from his rescue from the desert on Sunday has been passed fit and allowed to start, completing the entire stage, coming over the finish line and a smile – yes Neal this is what the finish line looks like! We’ve had news from the hospital that Patrick Singh has been released and is now enjoying Namibia before heading off on a safari, and Dennis Grune has been assessed after his adventure in to the unknown and been passed fit ready to return. The front-runners are starting to bunch up now, Raphael Fuchsgruber putting in one hell of a performance completing the entire stage by 13:00. Shortly behind was fellow countryman Michele Ufer and overall leader Allan Leed, all looking very fresh. A special mention for Henrik Kornum – this is his second BTU race having completed the Jungle last year, it is literally impossible to find this guy without a smile. He puts in 100% everyday and is a joy to watch compete. The last remaining lady is Camilla Gry-Elmann. Camilla found todays stage very tough, but forced herself over the finish line to give herself a chance to run tomorrow. Camilla was a little dehydrated when she came in and is being monitored throughout the night. All other runners are in great condition and looking to hammer tomorrows relatively short stage out in preparation for their toughest test yet, out 100km stage around Brandberg and the Doris Crater, no doubt we’ll have a few more surprises and challenges for the runners to overcome before they reach the finish line Thursday and Friday. Nothing Tougher? You bet.
4 – The Heat
At last – reprieve. Reprieve from the heat, reprieve from the relentlessness of the desert terrain. Today’s relatively short stage takes our competitors across a simple twin checkpoint stage finishing in the beautiful Ugab Riverbed where the elephants live and drink from the fresh water deep below the sands. Camilla Gry-Elmman showed great courage and superb self-management today in coping through this stage without a hitch. When put in to context, to the struggles she has faced down and conquered over the first 2 stages this becomes even more impressive. Yet again Mimi Anderson and George Evetts completed the stage, this time from the start with everyone else – proving they are up for the 100km tomorrow. The first runners came in to the finish between 2.5 hours and 3 hours, extremely impressive. But all competitors came across the line in good form, the last one just 6 hours from the start – all with plenty of time to rest up and prepare for what will surely be their toughest and most comprehensive test yet – the 100km long one called “Brandberg” after the mountain that remains in their sights for most of the distance. At least until night falls and the animals come out to play….
Image of the Day – Competitors resting out of the afternoon sun.
It’s the big one. The 100km Brandberg Stage, the last of the stages in this epic race. Due to the extra resources thrown at locating Dennis Grune during stage 1 and the day when Stage 2 was supposed to take place, our competitors will now finish their race after this one. This is in fact how our race director Wes prefers to finish his races – after the toughest of challenges, we’ll see if everyone agrees once they’re done! The day started at first light, 6:00am. The first 40km of the route requires a tough mental attitude (as if the final 60 doesn’t!) and includes craters, sand dunes (and of course our King/Queen of the Dunes Red Jersey Stage) as well as open desert scrub (Wes was out marking the course here yesterday and saw Giraffe, Ostrich and a Cheetah!). As morning turns to midday and afternoon our competitors turned around the Doris Crater to face the hottest section of the course – aptly named “Microwave Hills”. At this point Rafael Fuchsgruber and Andrew Clarke are around 40 minutes in front of the second pack that includes Allan Leed, Edwin Snippe and Michele Ufer. The remaining runners are then spread across a huge section of the course between CP5 and CP3 but all looking strong, a sign that they have been managing themselves extremely well and have acclimatised to desert conditions. As the stage unfolds Wes is out patrolling the length of the route cheering on competitors back and front, when in communication with camp he said that the front pack were “moving forward with machine like efficiency”, Rafael even offering Wes a salt tablet at CP4! The course was proving extremely tough, especially when the sun was at its strongest – between 11:00 and 15:00, even the front runners electing to slow the pace for some of this time – after all this an Ultra Marathon, not a Sprint! As the course navigates around the Doris Crater the terrain changes almost every km, from white sand to red, from slate rock to burnt black jagged terrain with valleys and open plains and of course the extinct volcano Doris to the left the whole time, all extremely beautiful but also demonstrating just how remote this location really is. The final section of the course takes the competitors through a valley, a valley that would not look out of place in Disney’s Lion King movie – the bit where the Hyenas live…. Dark, inhospitable, hot and not a little bit unnerving and that’s in the daylight, just wait until it gets dark! The first two to come through are of course Rafael and Andrew, both in great spirit and looking very strong. They make it through the valley just before dark, the only two to really experience the salt deposits and the mashes in all their beauty before the final km up a dry riverbed, and the finish! This is the wildest of place – Rhino, Elephant, Antelope, Hyenas – all use this area to transit to open scrub, camp looks like it’s been placed in a land long forgotten by civilisation. The next runners will all come through this valley after dark and on a night where the moon will not rise until 22:00 when we say dark, we mean dark! The night sky closed in, showing off the most amazing display of stars any of us had ever seen. We even spotted two distant galaxies as we waited for the next groups to appear. Some of the competitors were now on their own, talk about tough! For these last few the experience could surely not be surpassed – finishing their 100km in almost complete darkness, surrounded by the jet black rock of the valley, the stars above and the small circle of light produced by their head torch. Mind games? You bet! This is when the test almost becomes more mental than physical, when the solitary mind games of the endurance competitor can either galvanise or defeat. If you haven’t experienced this level of test in your life you can’t really say you’re alive – this is why they’re running, this is what they came for! As Wes drove the final sections of the course he found weary body after weary body. There were tears, there was doubt, there was even the odd smile as they came in to the final checkpoints. At this point Neal Roche was really storming forward, his adventure from stage 1 truly put to rest. Stephen Jordan – now without his wife (they are competing here for their honeymoon!) was staying very strong, now using his poles to help march himself forward to the finish line. The last runner on the course was now Camilla Gry-Elmann. Camilla had faced here deepest darkest fears over these last few stages – commenting how she had found the desert the toughest terrain and climate of all (she’s already won the Jungle and Mountain this year!). Camilla decided to bed down for a few hours at the final checkpoint, this allowed a few of the others to pass, but this was of no concern, finishing was her only concern – and rightly so. At 5:00am, to loud music and vuvuzelas that would not be out of place on the streets of Rio Camilla came across the finish line, the inaugural Desert Ultra was over. A few of us (including Camilla) opted to lay under the stars for our final night in the desert, the camp fire burning to ember to our side and thoughts of this amazing challenge dancing through our sleepy heads, this had been one epic journey. Breakfast was made for all in camp (eggs and bacon!) before we took off on what some were calling stage 5, the drive from the desert back to Okaranja and the hotel! Once there we had the most amazing party, swapped stories and celebrated each and every one of our competitors, medics, volunteers and staff – everyone had played their part in making this race a “must do” for anyone that has a sense of adventure and the determination to finish a Beyond The Ultimate “Nothing Tougher” Desert Ultra.
1st - Rafael Fuchsgruber, 2nd Andrew Clarke, 3rd Allan Leed.
1st - Camilla Gry-Elmman
King of the Dunes
Rafael and Andrew- a dead heat!
Queen of the Dunes
Some of the Crew and Competitors after they've finished.
Anand colling down, what a great competitor he is, not a single issue all week!
Final foot Clinic! We're done yay say the medics!!