“THE BAOBABS’ TANGLED BRANCHES TOWER ABOVE THE REST OF THE FOREST.”
In order to drive to the baobab forest in our 4x4 and arrive at the same time as the runners, we have to leave at 4am. Which makes me appreciate what moving the location of the camp every day entails. There are 13 4x4 vehicles and two trucks, used to transport water tanks, runners’ backpacks, cooking equipment, and 100 tents, each weighing 25kg. A staff of 70 includes cooks, route markers, doctors and physiotherapists.
The baobabs’ tangled branches tower above the rest of the forest. Christiaan usually stops to take photographs; but today, on the longest stage of the race, he is being pushed by the Malagasy athletes, a pack of whom are leading the race at a blistering pace.
The eventual winner, Malagasy runner Hajanirina, has the raw talent of an elite athlete; but it doesn’t mean much outside of today, because he has neither the resources nor the support he needs to realise that potential. Sonja hopes foreign participants like Christiaan and Landie will share some of the useful knowledge about running and nutrition that they have privileged access to in the Western world.
The race has also partnered with the Madagascar Paralympic Committee (MPC) and the Malagasy Athletics Federation ( MAF), to sponsor entries for promising young athletes. Both Revelinot and Zephirin belong to Handisport, a movement founded 24 years ago by the race’s cofounder, Patrice Raoull.
The long- term goal is to find sponsors to finance local athletes’ participation at international events. But next year Sonja faces a tough task: in order to sustain the race, she will need to attract 30 paying guests – this year, there are only eight.
The camp on Ampondrafeta beach is a slice of paradise. Our tents are erected at the edge of a deserted stretch of blinding-white sand, flanked on either side by a tropical-warm sea and a row of evergreen trees. Faded wooden fishing boats are moored on the shore. I walk right to the end of the beach alone, and take an outdoor shower facing the sea.
Dan tells me his fondest memory will be that he got lost with some Malagasy athletes today, because some of the route markers had fallen down. “I came to a fork in the road. On the left there were two route markings, but on the right there was only one. Naturally, I ran left; but after about 400m I saw no more markings and decided to head back. Then I met four local runners who advised me to turn around again. ‘Yes!’ one said in clear English, motioning left.
“One of the others was arguing with the guy I think, but he was having none of it. So we climbed fences and ran through rice paddies. Finally, we asked the villagers for directions. But they did all the talking!”