24 February 2010

Day 4: The Long Day

After three successive marathons in the scorching heat of the Namib I was surprised to fine that I was not feeling too bad at the start of the fourth day, during which we would complete an 56 km ultra-marathon and climb a massive dune at the end. We started off with a run along a gravel track heading towards the top of the Sesriem Canyon. We had been given strict instructions not to deviate from the path since we might just fall into the canyon. Well, we were all very obedient and nobody ended up a twisted mess of limbs at the bottom of the canyon, choosing to enter it in a more graceful fashion.

Just after getting into the canyon it became very narrow and our way was blocked by a deep pool. The majority of the runners just went through with their tekkies on but, since I did not have a single blister to date, I intended to keep it that way and so took the cautious route, removing my shoes first. I lost quite a bit of time taking them off and then carefully putting them back on again on the far side (applying bottom butter to my heels), so that once I was back up and running again I had more than a handful of runners ahead of me. I worked my way back past the Project Athena girls until I could see Sam some way ahead, Mimi and Isabella some way ahead in the distance. The lower portions of the canyon were really spectacular but heavy going under foot since the river bed was just fist sized boulders.

I caught up with Sam after a few km and we came into the second checkpoint together. Then started on a long stretch of tar road. Gentle undulations that just went on forever and ever. My gut had been giving me a bit of trouble and I had to stop for a very picturesque interval on the side of the road. Finding cover in the Namib is not very easy and I was desperately crouching behind a very scrawny piece of shrubbery.

After checkpoint 3 we passed into a valley with dunes on either side. It was very spectacular scenery, but by this stage we were pretty buggered and hot as hell. We had kicked into a solid 5:1 regime and were making some progress but there was no sign of the ladies ahead of us.

At checkpoint 4 we were (mis)directed towards Dune 45, lying some 10 km away on the far side of a tarred road with a dry river bed in between. We made slow progress through the river bed because the sand was very light and loose and not easy to get a good pace going. Once we had crossed the road we were able to see Isabella some way ahead of us. She seemed to be heading in the same direction as us, but after a few km she adjusted her course and headed towards a dune which was event further along the valley. If you looked very carefully you could see a tiny flag perched on top of that dune far, far away in the distance. That was the summit of Dune 45 and we would have to get up there before the day was done.

Took an eternity for us to get to the final checkpoint, which also happened to be the end of the stage. But the ultimate wickedness was that before we could go and rest in the shade we had to ascend Dune 45.

Mimi was already luxuriating in the shade, but gave us a stirring welcome. By the time that we had grabbed some more water and started ascending, Isabella was already on her way down. It took quite some time to reach the top, but it was certainly worth it since the view from up there was amazing.

Came down at a gallop and collapsed in the shade. The rest of the field dribbled in during the course of the afternoon. Ian, who has got to be one of the toughest (but more pleasant) buggers I have ever met, came in with Chris just around sunset after spending an entire day hobbling along on feet that would scare even a hardened emergency room doctor.

Not my best night's sleep since I went to bed covered in suntan lotion and desert sand, but since the end was in sight I was not too worried.

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