I had an amazing experience at the Atacama Crossing and at the end of the race, I concluded that my skills at adapting to extreme hot environments had remained intact despite the fact that I had resided in England since 2008. With that reaffirmation, I decided to look for another desert race to compete in this year. This time around, I set out to look for a race with a different concept than that of Atacama Crossing. I did not want to do another race where I will be burdened with having to carry a heavy load consisting of all my food supply, equipment and sleeping essentials like I did at Atacama. I have already been allocated an opportunity to compete at the Western States Endurance Run in June 2013 and that race is my main priority. I cannot afford any risk of injuries and I do not want to work my body too hard before that event.
|Panoramic view of Windhoek|
Fortunately, as we were getting closer to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the view became more interesting. We were greeted with spectacular views of the Naukluft Mountains. The name Naukluft means ‘narrow ravine’ which is apt for the landscapes of plunging cliffs. Over the millennia, rainwater has gradually cut into this massive range of mountains, dissolving the rocks and forming all the steep ravines we then saw.
PRE-REGISTRATION AT SOSSUSVLEI LODGE :
|Our bus arriving at Sossusvlei Lodge|
|Entrance of Sossusvlei Lodge|
The organiser and crew members were there to introduce themselves and to welcome us. Light refreshments were served and the runners started to mingle and get to know one another. It was also at Sossusvlei Lodge that we were allowed to store our additional baggage which was not needed during the race. All our bags were grouped together and locked in an allocated room. After all checks have been completed, we got on the bus again and were transferred to the Race Village (which is only 1km away from the Lodge) to settle our ‘home’ for the next 5 nights.
|Me, Steven Levitas and Mike Chart, going through my equipment check and paperwork|
|David Abdo and Mike Tibshraeny checking their gear|
The Race Village has separate (male and female) shower and toilet facilities (with toilet papers!!) and were cleaned by the Lodge’s staff on a daily basis.
|Female and Male shower and toilet. Hot water provided by the solar panel at the left.|
|Nel, Course Director (left) & Terry, Race Director (right) at the Pre-Race briefing|
|NDC 2013 Competitors|
We then mingled and lingered on the beautiful grounds of the Lodge and witnessed another spectacular African sunset before proceeding to have the pre-race dinner arranged for us.
|View from dinner place at Sossusvlei Lodge|
OVERVIEW AND CONCEPT OF THE RACE :
A large Communal Tent with big tables and chairs was set up for the runners to sit around and relax after each stage. This was a place where we mingled and tended to our blisters, sore joints, aching muscles etc!! Tubs of safe drinking waters were always available but it often got too hot for my liking after having been exposed to the intense heat all day. The runners were responsible to bring their own food for breakfasts and lunches. Light snacks can be bought from the nearby store at the kiosk. Hot boiling water was available during breakfast time. Dinners were provided by the organiser and let me tell you, they were good! Every evening, the staff from the Lodge would come to the Race Village to set up a long table with a spread of delicious food (salad/pasta/meat/fruits/sweets), to be served buffet-style. A chef will be on hand to cook your game-meat to your choice (rare/medium/well-done??). Sigh!! Instead of losing weight at the end of the 5 stages, I think some of us put on more weight instead.
|Communal Tent in the background, long buffet table, BBQ pit and chef|
|Chef from Sossusvlei Lodge|
|Dinner under the Communal Tent|
In a very clever way, the organiser has included the most exciting places and highlights of the area into the race route (not surprising, since the responsible person who started the planning of the race, Nel, has lived and worked there for the past 15 years!!!). By the end of the race, we had run through some very amazing areas which we would not even have the chance to enter even if we pay to do so, as they are located in reserved areas permissible to enter only by special permits.
|Contemplating at Start Point|
My body and soul was invaded by a powerful explosion of adrenaline and as I waited impatiently for the final countdown to take-off, I could barely control my eager feet from darting off to explore the beautiful scenery of the desert. I found it difficult too, to control my enthusiasm and fast pace.
|The start of Stage 1|
I have been so looking forward to run in hot and dry climate such as this, without any slippery, muddy paths and freezing winds. My strategy for this stage was to run fast and to find out how fast the other runners were. In this way, I hoped to can get an idea of their speed level and to modify my own pace accordingly for the following days. Up until the first Check Point (CP), I had been running without turning back to check if anyone was chasing me. I enjoyed my run so much and was totally engrossed with the beauty surrounding me, enveloped in glorious golden sunrise colours and filled with the distinct smells of the desert. The terrain at the start of today’s stage was perfect for a fast run. Upon reaching the first CP, I was still feeling great, so I decided not to disrupt my pace by stopping.
Not long after that, the terrain began to change and the track became more demanding, filled with deep sand. My heart rate rose to 178 but I felt like it was 150. After awhile, the second CP came into view and I stopped for about 10’’ to have a drink of water. I ran through a long dirt track after that, which led up to a hill, with gentle altitude gain.
For the first time, I turned back to check on the other runners but I could not see anyone within a distance of 2 km. Being excited by this fact, I sped up and climbed the hill and was surprised by the presence of Terry, Nel and my wife (with her cameras), waiting to greet me and to see how I was doing.
|Me coming up the hill|
|Nel & Terry|
|Waving at my wife, who was standing precariously at the edge of a high cliff for this shot!!|
I only stopped briefly to give them a wave and a smile, signs which showed that I was fine, before I sped off to conquer the steep descent which followed.
|Terry & me|
I was told by Nel that there was only about 10km to reach the Finish Point, so I decided to push harder from then on. A few minutes later, I had my first encounter with the wildlife of the desert. A small group of oryxes were running just 100m beside me and further down the track, some springboks were rudely disturbed by my presence and were seen ‘floating’ up and down the air, trying to get away from me!!
|One of the Springboks|
|One of the Springboks|
With these surreal close encounters, I was suddenly fuelled with indescribable excitement and happiness, which in turn inspired me to release all the energy remaining in me, to charge to the Finish. My heart rate was reaching 190 at this point, and despite the heat getting stronger as the sun rose higher, I ran like a possessed man, attracted by the presence of the strong oryxes and the graceful springboks so close to me.
|The amazing terrains I ran through|
|The very 'tiny' me against the vastness of nature|
|Arrow pointing to the Finish|
|Spoilt for choices!!|
|Heiko and Paul Gunner making their selection|
|Dinner after Stage 1|
I reached CP 1 without stopping but stopped at CP 2 for a short break of a few seconds, before arriving at a difficult track in the sand dunes.
|Mike Strong helping out at the CP today with a Lodge crew|
|Track leading up to sand dune|
|Me having lots of fun !!!|
Photo by Heiko Hampsink
|Me running towards a very steep ascent|
|The last pink arrow....|
|My long and lonely run...|
|...with only the fluffy clouds to keep me company!|
|Still lonely with no signs of arrow or other runners...|
|My HUGE relief at seeing Heiko !!!|
|Finish Point of Stage 2|
|The amazing view from Race Village this morning|
|Me studying the map and contemplating on my strategy|
|Paul & Charles (England)|
|Lisa (South Africa)|
|A very angry Me !!|
|Behind the scene: A frantic Nel preparing extra wooden arrow signs|
|...and tying extra pink ribbons!!|
|The oryxes which I ignored...(how could I??)|
|The ostriches, which I ALSO ignored!|
|Me, running like a possessed man, ignoring Nel & Hannisze who were following me!!|
After a while, I met Stephan, the nice, ‘crazy’ German guy who was doing this race for the second time. We (even he himself) called him ‘crazy’ because he ran this race carrying all his equipment and daily food ration in his rucksack every day even though that was not required by the organiser. He never joined us for our delicious dinners, opting instead for his Austrian sausages and his powder meals!! In addition, he ran with a big German flag sticking out from the back of his rucksack, which must have added more weight and difficulty to his pace, although we all admit that with that flag of his, he always ended up with the best photographs!!
|A picture-perfect Stephan Pirl. See what I mean?|
|CP 2 : where I got the latest news|
Feeling more motivated that ever with this new piece of information, I pushed my body further to the same fast pace while the temperature of the day was getting higher and the scenery, more boring. The route was taking me across a long, flat area without any proper track, with only a white NDC flag in the far distance as my only point of orientation.
|A very determined Me soldering on to reduce the gap|
I was trying hard to see whether I can spot either Marius or Asa in front of me but I could not.
|Marius (South Africa)|
|The crew at CP 3 searching for me in the horizon|
|Me approaching CP 3|
|Nel pointing me to the right direction|
|Finish of Stage 3|
|Me at Finish of Stage 3|
|Marius & Asa at Finish of Stage 3|
|The stunning view from our Race Village this morning|
|Leaving the Start Point at Race Village|
|Crossing the gate to the National Park with tourist buses at the back|
|Running through amazing scenery towards the Canyon|
|The dry Sesriem Canyon|
|Me running through the floor of the Canyon|
|A wider /higher view|
|Hard, flat terrain after CP 1|
|Me gaining speed|
|A wild fox looking down at me :-)|
|A happier Me|
Nel and my wife, who overtook me with their truck were teasing me and asking me to slow down. Not any chance!! I was feeling superb and strong.
|Me refusing to slow down|
|Main road to National Park|
|Sand dunes on my right|
After about 11km on the asphalt, I reached CP 3 where I left the asphalt, turning to the right for a nice dirt track flanked by more huge dunes.
|Dirt track after leaving asphalt|
|Huge dunes to both sides of track|
|What a wonderful feeling!!|
I took time to admire the scenery which I have been dreaming of for months before coming to this race. Enormous apricot-coloured dunes with gracefully carved ridges unfolded before my eyes and photogenic oryxes hid themselves under the feathery acacia trees. What a moment that was for me!!! I was extremely happy and excited at the same time. A couple of oryxes were dashing just 50 metres ahead of me and that served as a challenge for me to speed up my pace.
|The last CP, located at the base of a huge dune!!|
|Me approaching the last CP|
|As you can, I was feeling very different from how I was yesterday|
|Doing a silly jump...|
|...and another one!!|
|Dashing to the CP...|
|Nel giving me the direction.|
|Me dashing off after the CP|
The silhouettes of the lonely black trees against the orange dunes and the infinite blue sky created such an amazing contrast in colours that I was totally in awe of the whole vision before me. I could not believe that this picture-perfect scenery, the quintessential Namib Desert scene which I had so often seen in travel magazines and postcards, was actually real, right there before my eyes!!
|Dead tree trunk against sand dune|
For first time today, I decided to slow down to take in the view and to enjoy my presence in this amazing wonder of nature. The heat was getting stronger by now but I had no cause for complaint. I was living my dream - running completely alone in such an isolated wild landscape, with my eyes wide opened to capture and remember as much of this unique moment as I possibly could!
|The tarmac leading to the Finish - huge dunes everywhere!!|
|Finish of Stage 4 - Dune 45 on the right|
|Finish of Stage 4 - Dune 45 on the right|
|Finish of Stage 4 - at the base of Dune 45. Waterpoint under the tree|
When I neared the NDC flags at the Finish Point, I saw a group of about 20 people clapping and cheering at the waterpoint under the shady tree. So, I ran towards them, but I then heard Nel shouting at me from the flags and telling me to run to him instead. Needless to say, I was a little confused!! I was so looking forward to having a nice cup of iced tea under the shade.
|Yeay!! A close-up which looks like I was running towards the right direction|
|A frantic Nel shouting at me : "Argy, come here NOT there!!!"|
|Me heading up to Nel...|
So, I mustered the last source of energy in me to run against the slope of the dune, one of the most photogenic dunes of the National Park and did as I was told.
Upon reaching the summit, I spent about one minute or so to admire the beauty of the surrounding area and to hear the sounds of the desert. I was struggling a little with my emotions to tear myself away there for my descent down the dune.
|Not quite there yet!!|
|Me running across the ridge (with Heiko waiting ahead)|
|Me running further up to the NDC flag!! Almost there...|
I started an unforgettable slalom down the soft and slippery steep slope and the feeling of ‘freedom’ which came with that was really an unforgettable one!!
I crossed the finish line and was engulfed in bear hugs with Terry, Nel and the other volunteers who had gathered there. I repeatedly thank them for this rare opportunity which helped me realise yet another of my many dreams. I was so moved and touched by the natural beauty of today’s route. Although the route consisted of 16km on the tarmac, I had the feeling that I was running in a wild and remote place. Marius finished 35’ after me, making my advantage over him a solid 1:10’.
|Terry, Me, Nel, Paul & our trusted driver, Mattheus|
All of us shouted to him, asking him not to come down, not to surrender. He did not look at us and seemed to not have heard us at all. We saw him slowly descending from the dune. Without a second thought, I grabbed my hat and decided to run up to him and try to make him change his mind.
Another three guys, Steven Levitas (a volunteer), Mark Tibshraeny (one of Joseph’s mate from Botswana) and a staff from the Lodge, joined me in my attempt to convince Joseph to continue to the summit. Initially, he was adamant to not go on. He looked hypoglycaemic, pale and completely drained of energy. I tried my best to convince him that if he gives up then, he will regret his decision later, when he has fully recovered. I also emphasized to him how wasted and unfair it would be for him to give up the race at the last km after having run for more than 8 hours.
Thank God he became less resistant to my encouragement, changed his mind and turned upward again, ready to climb the last steep meters of the dune. All 5 of us ascended together and once we reached the summit, we took a small rest and ran down the dune together, save for Mark, who had decided to accompany David Abdo (South Africa), another one of their mates who had just ascended the dune after us.
We ran the last few metres of the steep descent by holding hands together and celebrated this magical moment with the cheers and whistles from the others on the ground. This will be one of the few most memorable moments which I took away with me from this amazing race - where a Runner overcame his own limits with the solidarity and support of his fellow runners.
STAGE 5 -28 KM :
I had very mixed feelings today, being the last stage of the race. I reflected on how I had felt at the last stages of my previous races at the MDS, AC and AAUT. Back then, I was feeling SO relieved to finish those last stages so that I could go back to all the comforts awaiting me.
This time at the NDC, however, was very different. My body felt superb even after 4 days of continuous running, and mentally, I was still fresh and not drained. In fact, I was still capable and opened for more run!!
At the Start Point, I found myself thinking that I could and would be able to carry on running for another week at this amazing place. I have never enjoyed running so much as I did this time and I concluded that the reason for that was made up of probably by a combination of many things.
|Start Point for Stage 5|
|Quiet contemplation : moody Me|
No more scents and visions of the desert.
No more sand dunes.
It is surprising how easy it is for one to find happiness and satisfaction in so many small and basic things.
With all these thoughts in my mind, I decided that I would run slower in this last stage and enjoy every single moment of it as if it was the last run of my life!! I joined Marius, Asa, Stephan and Paul at their pace and for the first time at the race, I was running and talking with my fellow runners. After a few kilometres into the run, we met my wife, who had waited patiently to get a photo of us all. I asked the guys to make a jump together, to prove that we were still young at heart. Hannisze managed to capture us floating in the air at the precise moment, giving us another unforgettable photographic memory to bring back with us to Europe.
|Marius, Asa, Paul, Stephan & Me!! My wife called us the 'Big Five' :-)|
|Big Daddy : Photo by Heiko Hampsink|
|Big Daddy : Photo by Heiko Hampsink|
Marius led the way and Asa and I followed his steps slowly and steadily. I stopped now and again to look around me and to admire the vast, opened views of the desert.
|Approaching Big Daddy : Photo by Heiko Hampsink|
|Approaching Big Daddy : Photo by Heiko Hampsink|
After arriving at the top of the dune, another magical view appeared in front of us - the famous Dead Vlei, an old pan with merely skeletons of tree, some of them said to be over 500 years old!! It was one of the most starkly beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. The only way for us to explore this wonder (at that point in time), was to run down the 300m of 50 degrees vertical slope. What a total, awesome, bliss!! I would love having a pair of skis with me to do just a few slaloms on this thin, golden sand!
|Paul and a Lodge crew waiting for us at the base of Big Daddy|
|A very eerie Dead Vlei|
The Lodge crew and Paul Ramncwana ( a volunteer), were waiting for us (under no proper shade) with some cold water. One of the crew, a local who worked at the Lodge, naughtily challenged me by running very fast ahead of me in his quest to show us the right direction out from Dead Vlei. Around this time, my poor wife had just arrived from the other side of Dead Vlei after having climbed over many sand dunes with 2 heavy cameras. She managed to get a few photos of me but was frustrated that she had missed me at the Big Daddy proper!!!
|Me leaving Dead Vlei|
|A 'flying' crew with me and Big Daddy in the background!!|
I decided to follow the fast pace set by the Lodge’s staff but after 500m he gave up, showing me the right direction instead, for me to carry on. I knew I was very near the end and so, I did what I always did at the end of each race and took out my Greek flag as I ran through the last glorious moments of this unbelievably amazing race. Some tourists began to clap and cheer me on, shouting ‘’Greece!! Greece!!’’ and with this encouragement, as always, more adrenaline was automatically pumped into my body and I began to fly to the finish.
|Me at the Finish|
|Me at the Finish|
|Me and my wife, Hannisze, at the Finish|
Photo by : Heiko Hampsink
When all the runners had finally arrived at the Finish, we were transported back to Race Village to collect our belongings, to be further transferred to the very comfortable Sossusvlei Lodge, where we would stay for the night.
|The organiser and crew springing the surprise on us|
|The scrubbed-up runners :-)|
|The Lodge's staff and the opened fire|
|The long table where food was served|
|Food cooked and kept warm over opened fire|
|All of us digging in :-))!!|
|The chef ensuring that all was good enough for us!|
Now that I have let this 'secret' out of the bag, with accompanying photos as well, the organiser will have to think of another surprise for the next editions to come :-)! Sorry, guys!!
I really hope to do this race again someday and how very wonderful it will be if I can do it together with some of my friends!! Good things are meant to be shared and this is one race which I will highly recommend to all runners out there!
More photos taken by wife at this amazing race can be viewed from her Facebook Page at : https://www.facebook.com/RunAndRaces.