Runner's World South Africa - - Personal Best -


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!”

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