Desert Ultra 2019 Race Report - STAGE FIVE

We officially have our first Namibian winner of the Desert Ultra.

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Nobody should have to set an alarm for 2:30am.  It’s inhumane.  Still, that’s exactly what we made everybody do today.  Some people managed to grab a handful of hours, others barely managed to doze overnight as they lay around, torturously waiting for their alarms to go off.

After a fairly frantic hour of cramming kit into bags, attempting to keep down breakfast in the middle of the night and one final stage brief, the race got underway at 4am.

Stage Five begins with a mad dash up a very steep sand dune.  This small section of the route isn’t marked.  Instead, our 4x4s are all parked at the top of the hill and shine their lights to guide the runners in.  This makes for some very creative lines as the runners bob and weave between the thornbushes, trying to find the quickest or easiest route to the top.

After this, they pick up our marking flags and head off into darkness.  This stage has everything.  High sided, dramatic rock canyons, rocky outcrops with massive panoramic views and lots and lots of distance to cover.  Today our runners also had to contend with a strong headwind along an exposed 15-20km stretch of the course and with temperatures which got up to the mid 40s in the afternoon.  It was extremely draining for the already very tired runners.

Even the ever-energetic David McIntosh was relatively quiet by the time he reached CP7, and that is unheard of.  David has been a huge character around camp and the medics love him arriving at a checkpoint.  He has been struggling with ankle pain for the last couple of days though and it was almost enough to leave him subdued.  This didn’t last for long though and he powered through the pain to complete the race.

A special mention for outstanding perseverance goes to Isabelle Kursava.  She has toughed it out throughout much of the race, marching ever onwards no matter what the temperature.  Her rate of advance is slow, yes, but her stubbornness knows no bounds.  She has been accompanied since Stage Two by Jason Carpenter who, despite his luggage containing all of his race kit not making it beyond his layover in Ethiopia, has taken it upon himself to stay with the slower runners and keep them on the move.  He has kept Isabelle moving for 3 days and they hit the finish line of the short course 22km away from camp at CP7, at 2:45am.

Best finish of the race goes to Deborah Koh who arrived just a few moments ago accompanied by a procession made up of our CP8 team.  Francois drove behind, illuminating Deborah with his headlights, The Final Countdown blaring out of his speakers, whilst 2 of the amazing exile medics carried race flags over their shoulder alongside her in military fashion, pausing occasionally to twirl them around, cheerleader style.  As she crossed the line, beaming grin on her face, she cheerfully announced ‘I feel like I’m dying, I did not know it would be this tough.’  There’s a trip adviser review to be proud of.

Dale Thomas unfortunately didn’t make it through the day today.  Dale was here to avenge his DNF in 2017 and had prepared thoroughly.  It was a trimmer, speedier looking Dale who started this race back at Spitzkoppe and he moved along the course in a way which suggested the medal was in the bag.  Unfortunately, the heat got the better of him.  Dale being an experienced runner with a good head on his shoulders, recognised that he was dehydrated and was not going to be able to progress further, so he found himself a shady spot and contacted our team to request a pick up.  We hope to see Dale again, he is an extremely popular character, gentleman that he is.

Now to business.  You’ll recall that we started this final stage with Namibian runner Wim Steenkamp 31 minutes ahead of Julen Urdaibai.  By CP7 today, Julen was running alongside Kazia Orzechowska at the front of the pack and had a 27 minute lead, meaning that he would take the win by 4 minutes.  Once informed of this, Wim ran and ran hard.  In the last 22km section, Wim managed to stretch that 4 minute lead back into a much more comfortable 25 minute lead which he held until the finish line.  We officially have our first Namibian winner of the Desert Ultra.

The stage winner today was a runner who had never run an ultra at the start of the week.  Kazia Orzechowska started the race strong, but held back a little pace in respect of this new ultra distance.  She got stronger as the week went on though and by last night was asking about how far off the course record pace she was.  At that time she was almost 40 minutes behind the pace.  Today she turned that around taking first position on the stage and setting a new women’s course record of 32 hours and 57 minutes, almost an hour faster than the record set by Kristina Madsen last year.  Kazia also managed to take third place overall.

In second today was Julen Urdaibai.  Julen started the week extremely well and, in a different year, could well have come out race winner.  His fast pace saw him into 2nd position overall.

2nd woman to reach the final camp was Eliza Miles who accompanied Simon Davies, another repeat customer here to succesfully banish the ghost of a DNF last year.

It is impossible to finish this race report without saying a massive thankyou to our Namibian Team.  Gert, Francois, Alda, Louwtjie, Gawie, Henko, Dupie and their team are incredible.  Their local knowledge, Namibian ingenuity, and untiring effort.

Comms will likely be limited tomorrow as we attend our medal ceremony and after party at a nearby, luxury lodge tomorrow.  Our runners will be ready for hot showers, cold drinks and a massive buffet.  They’re going to need to have a lot of food ready for us.

The final thank you, as always, goes to those who have been following the race at home.  It means a lot to these runners to know that there are people sharing in the experience at home, whether you are checking n on our Instagram or eagerly watching the dots on our GPS trackers.  You’ve all taken a journey with us too and it’s been a pleasure.

Stage Five Results:

1Katarzyna Orzechowska11:31:00
2Julen Calzada Urdaibai11:39:00
3Wim Steenkamp11:43:00
N/AKris King12:48:00
4Jürgen Heilbock12:52:00
5Anthony Jouannic14:27:00
5Mael Jouan14:27:00
7Hannes Smit14:31:00
7Christoph Castelberg14:31:00
8David Mohring15:16:00
9Simon Blair15:28:00
10Ben Harrison15:29:00
11Eliza Miles16:19:00
11Simon Davies16:19:00
13Marc Antoine Colonna16:25:00
14Bronia Lewis17:06:00
15Derrick Khan18:01:00
16David McIntosh18:25:00
17John Mcleary19:42:00
Deborah Koh
Isabelle KursavaSHORT
Dennis KjaerSHORT
Michael NielsenSHORT
Tamara RadovicSHORT
Dale ThomasDNF
Phil MarchDNS

Final Standings:

NameOverall Duration
1Wim Steenkamp30:05:00
2Julen Calzada Urdaibai30:30:00
3Katarzyna Orzechowska32:57:00New Female Course Record
n/aKris King33:30:00
4Jürgen Heilbock35:14:00
5Anthony Jouannic36:14:00
6Mael Jouan36:37:00
7Hannes Smit37:19:00
8David Mohring37:54:00
9Christoph Castelberg38:37:00
10Eliza Miles40:50:00
11Marc Antoine Colonna41:37:00
12Simon Davies41:48:00
13Simon Blair42:35:00
14Derrick Khan45:19:00
15Bronia Lewis46:37:00
16Ben Harrison47:56:00
17Deborah Koh53:08:00
18David McIntosh53:32:00
19John Mcleary55:46:00
Tamara RadovicSHORT
Michael NielsenSHORT
Kari McDonaldSHORT
Dennis KjaerSHORT
Isabelle KursavaSHORT
Dale ThomasDNF
Phil MarchDNF

About the Author

Will Roberts

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Desert Ultra 2019