So popular is this extreme sport becoming that it’s getting tough for endurance athletes to find a race. The Marathon des Sables, for example, is fully booked until 2011.
Enter Across the Divide. They organise 4 ultra-marathons a year, kicking off with The Namib on 19-21 February, 2010 – this race is rapidly making its name as the ultimate endurance race for long distance runners.
It is a race that will test each athletes physical and mental strength to the limit.
“Across the Divide have captured the spirit of adventure racing in this event for me!“ Andy McMenemy, Namibia ultra marathon participant 2008.
This race, along with the Iceland Laugavegur Ultra Marathon, the Spanish 24hour Ultra Marathon and the Grand Canyon Ultra are all events organised and run by the founding directors of ‘Across the Divide’ , Mark and Karen Hannaford and their team.
Mark has been involved with charity challenges and expeditions for over 22 years and has led expeditions all over the world as well as taking part in extreme endurance events. Karen, a keen runner, has been involved for over 17 years in expeditions, event management and charity work.
The extreme series for Across the Divide has actually been developed by Steve Clark who, having completed both the London and Edinburgh marathons, was looking for a new challenge. In April 2005 he completed the Marathon des Sables in Morocco and was well and truly smitten by the ultra distance race bug.
Tony Ford completes the team with a broad range of event organisational skills. He himself has completed some of the worlds strangest races, from Tough Guy to Lions Head, and The Beast to Bibbulmun Trail. After 15 years of marathons and trail races, Tony still has the bug…
Which brings me back to the Namibia 24 Hour Ultra Marathon (charityatd).
This race was first run in 2008 and in the words of competitor Peter Holdgate, “It was hot! It was hard! It was awesome! – A true adventure. This race is a must for individuals who wish to test their limits of physical and mental endurance.”
The route has increased in length slightly for 2010 – it will be 126kms in total which is the same as 3 full marathons. Each of the 6 stages of the route will be 21kms in length.
the route is mainly flat or undulating, firm under foot, but stony with occasional patches of sand and short grass cover. The most difficult part of the route will be traversed at night and it will be important to take care as rough tracks and loose stones will be difficult to navigate in the dark – even with a full moon.
When dawn breaks and you begin to think that the worst must be behind you, the race finishes with a punishing up-hill section before turning off down to the beach, the infamous Skeleton Coast, and the finish line. Jayne Freer, also an original competitor, says of this final section: “The last leg is truly horrific – punishing on the mind, body and soul. Eighteen kilometres down a road that never ends, followed by a further two down to the sea at the Mile 72 campsite. Each and every step is punishing, painstaking and pure hell.”
Runners have to be self-sufficient throughout, carrying all their food, water, energy bars and change of clothing in backpacks – everything they will need for temperatures topping 40 degrees Celsius (46 C was clocked one day) and plummeting to two degrees at night.
Steve Tidball, a competent runner regularly doing 30-40 miles with no problem, was defeated by heatstroke within the first 2 hours of the 2009 race – it is worth noting that he came to this race fully prepared having even done heat training in preparation for the desert temperatures. However, he was allowed to complete the race, and had this to say about it: “Of course once I’d started to recover the magnitude of what we’d been through began to kick in. We met people out there who’ll undoubtedly be friends for life. I learnt that the desert is not to be underestimated; it is an awesomely intimidating place capable of destroying you. I loved every minute of the camp, and the opportunity of being surrounded by people who are just like you and like a bit of pain with their running. And finally I feel unbelievably grateful to the doctors at Across the Divide, first for saving me from doing anything reckless with my health, then secondly for letting me rejoin the race. It allowed me to take away invaluable experiences that will last with me forever.”
As with all the ultra-marathon endurance races we talk about on this site, whether it be AdventureCORPS’ Death Valley Badwater Marathon, or RacingThePlanet’s 4 Deserts (the Sahara Race is underway as we speak), or Across the Divide’s, what strikes me most about the event is the amazing depth of camaraderie and alliance amongst the competitors and organisers – one and the same in some cases. And the friendships that are born out of adversity… There seems to be a unique bond which is tangible but hard to explain.
Well worth witnessing first hand I think.
A normal length marathon is run in the Namib at the same time and will finish after stage 2.
There are still 98 places available for the extreme Namibia 24 Hour Ultra Marathon and if you wish to enter please click here