( 27KM)

Runner's World South Africa - - Personal Best -

“If you look at the map, you see that we’re only cov­er­ing a very small part of the coun­try,” ob­serves Ca­son. “But even in this 150km, you get a sense of the real spec­trum of nat­u­ral beauty that ex­ists here. There is nowhere, I would say, that is more defini­tively beau­ti­ful or re­mote than Mada­gas­car.”

He’s right. The land­scape in this re­gion changes dra­mat­i­cally, within a mat­ter of kilo­me­tres; much of what I see is like noth­ing I’ve ever seen be­fore. We drive to the Ts­ingy Rouge – one of Mada­gas­car’s nat­u­ral won­ders – and make our way down into the ravine on foot, where we wait to pho­to­graph the first few run­ners. The brick-red la­t­erite pin­na­cles rise up into the sky like the cus­to­di­ans of the awe­some canyons that sur­round them.

From here, I de­cide to run the fi­nal 20km of the stage with Fran­cisco, one of the Mala­gasy ath­letes. It’s my first taste of how tough it is to run here: there’s very lit­tle shade from the burn­ing sun, and the soft sand cov­er­ing most of the route is re­lent­less. Fran­cisco and I are con­nected through run­ning; even though we don’t speak the same lan­guage, we’re suf­fer­ing in the same way.

Back at camp, we eat freshly-shucked co­conuts from the back of a wooden cart, and sickly- sweet dried ba­nanas. In the ab­sence of cell­phone re­cep­tion and in­ter­net ac­cess, peo­ple are forced to in­ter­act with one an­other for once. The Mala­gasy and for­eign ath­letes are be­gin­ning to forge new re­la­tion­ships.

Out­side of Sam Camp­bell ( 24) – a South African par­tic­i­pant, who is also a vol­un­teer at an NGO in Mada­gas­car – none of the for­eign ath­letes speaks Mala­gasy, and Isabella is the only one who speaks French (the is­land was a French colony for 60-odd years). Yet we find other ways to com­mu­ni­cate. We sing and dance to Mala­gasy songs, ac­com­pa­nied by drum­ming. Isabella makes a mean­ing­ful con­tri­bu­tion to our mobile community by in­struct­ing a daily yoga class.

An army of vil­lagers from Ankerika form a line at the edge of our camp. There is more star­ing.

“What do they make of us?” I ask Sonja Got­tlebe.

“It’s a nice dis­trac­tion for them, be­cause they don’t have TV,” she laughs. “Most of them think we’re crazy – run­ning when it’s hot, and with a car fol­low­ing us we could get into!”

The Ts­ingy Rouge These awe­some la­t­erite pin­na­cles are one of Mada­gas­car’s nat­u­ral won­ders.

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