Desert Ultra 2013 Race Report - Stage Four
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”...
It’s the big one. The 100km Brandberg Stage, the last of the stages in this epic race.
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 (the team out marking the course here yesterday 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.
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, dark, inhospitable, hot and not a little bit unnerving. 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.
Rhino, Elephant, Antelope and Hyena all use this area to transit to open scrub; our 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. The night sky shows 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. 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. 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.
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 she has faced. 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.