Brian Bannatyne and Laura Forster of the local Albany Road Runners club returned from the 245 kilometre Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon in fine fettle last week. With barely a blister between them, the athletes had to carry all their own food and kit for seven days while tackling every type of terrain from deep sandy river beds to climbing up boulder-strewn gorges. This was (pardon the pun) no mean feat.
The race was won in an incredible 24 hours and 42 minutes by top trail runner Hylton Dunn, with the first woman, international athlete Bakiye Duran from Turkey, finishing in 38:45.
Bannatyne finished 15th overall and was the 13th man home in 41:19 – doing very well in his first self-supported staged race.
Forster crossed the finish line as the fourth woman and came 24th overall in 47:25.
The last runner to finish took an epic 73 hours, having walked most of the course. Of the 45 starters, seven withdrew along the way.
“We focused on managing ourselves carefully. On a race this length it’s essential to keep up your nutrition and hydration, to maintain a conservative pace until after the 79km day (Day 4) and to deal with any foot problems before they become issues,” Bannatyne said.
“I enjoyed the race tremendously and ran within myself, finding that I handled the heat better than some of the other runners. For most of the week the temperature was in the high 30s to low 40s, but on Day 2 it hit 50 degrees and a number of people withdrew that day as a result,” he said. “Laura took twice as long to cover 38 kilometres on Day 2 as she had for 30km the first day, but bounced back afterwards in lower temperatures.”
The race tests the resolve and endurance of the participants, and also puts the body under quite a degree of strain. “Some of the runners lost quite a bit of weight – one guy dropped 11kg!” Forster said. “We lost a kilo or two each – we planned our nutrition around light, high-energy foods such as droe wors, dried fruit, noodles, biltong, dried cheese, and nuts, and added olive oil to our evening meals, mainly avoiding sugary things as they become unappealing in the heat.
“When you have to carry all your food for a week, you make sure that it is something you are going to enjoy eating.”
Their packs weighed about 10kg at the start of the race, but only around 4 kg by the finish. “We ate them empty!” Bannatyne said and, “all that was left to bring home were our sleeping bags, spare clothes and cooking kit.”
Many of the runners came from overseas, with contingents from the USA, Singapore, the UK, France and Germany, as well as Turkey. “For them it is such an intense experience, especially for the city dwellers,” said Laura. “To be running alone at night under African skies in the middle of the Kalahari was a highlight for all of us, but particularly for the overseas visitors.”
The pair plan to rest from racing after their epic journey, although 2013 will see Bannatyne preparing for the Two Oceans and Comrades marathons, and Forster for the Addo 50 mile trail run in March.
“We know at least one Grahamstown runner who has definitely put the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme on his running calendar for 2013,” Forster said, “and two or three others who are seriously considering it. We will be very happy to share information and pointers about training, kit, and food”.