18 November 2009

KAEM - quick summary

Before I headed off for KAEM, I quizzed a coworker who used to live in South Africa about the country to get some tips. She was asking how the race went, and I thought the quick summary I gave her was also a pretty decent overall snapshot of the trip to post here. So, while a full race report is in the works, here's a very brief snippet of the experience:
> Hi Bruce,
> I thought of you a couple of times wondering how you enjoyed your time
> in Africa. Did you find the temperatures extreme or did you manage to

> lope through? How did the race go and what did you end up doing on

> your one day in scary Johannesburg?

> Aren't the Augrabie Falls something else?

> I would love to hear about your
trip and what you thought of that desolate area.

Thanks for thinking of me!
It was an interesting time down there, certainly enjoyable, but I can't say I would rush back. What a long trip to get there - 36 hours each way! Joberg was definitely not a highlight, just a big dirty city with that constant overhanging threat to personal security. I think I was most struck by that aspect: the locals
who thought we were mad to walk a 1/2km from the hotel to a restaurant or take a taxi, and the fact that the SA athletes had to assess their odds of getting mugged on training runs, to the point of one guy who would always do his training carrying a pistol. That's all pretty scary talk, although we never had any negative experiences. As for Johannesberg, we did try to get to the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City, but they were closed at the time (Monday). We did go to a Casino for lunch that had a really good bird and snake zoo - although the Casino was an over the top Vegas imitation (quite the contrast to the extreme poverty close by).

The heat wasn't bad, it sounded like we got lucky with some cooler weather according to what the locals said. It did get over 50C in the direct sun for a few of the days, but I didn't have any particular problems with the dry heat. It rained before the race, which caused a massive hatch of blackflies that invaded our eyes, ears, noses and mouths and occasionally bit us as well (I'm glad I brought a headnet!) However, they only lasted a couple of days so we didn't go too crazy. The countryside was quite beautiful, though not spectacular - I was reminded of places I have been in Utah/Arizona. The Falls were definitely pretty awesome, they must be incredible when the water level is higher. We were surprisingly close to civilisation as our course bounced towards or away from the Orange River, along which were quite a number of vineyards or farms/ranches, though we were out in the barren desert most of the time.

The race itself went well for me, after a slow and painful start. The first two days I had a tough time in the sand, and also developed a very sore back from the pack I was carrying. However, by day three I had smoothed out my running style and rearranged my pack to alleviate the pain, and was running well after that and had a couple of very strong days. Overall I placed 15th of 73 starting athletes, which I was quite content with.

The camp life was fun, we spent a lot of time at camp and under the tents. We had to carry everything we needed for the week, and were only supplied with large group tents and water. Generally we were under the tents to stay out of the fierce sun, but it was also a very social place to hang out, eat, and chat or joke with the other runners. It was good getting to know so many people over the course of the week.

Everyone asks about wildlife, and I did manage to see a number of larger beasts: there was a baboon in our camp at Augrabies Falls (he even went inside some people's cabanas to steal food!); springbok; a herd of zebras running across some hills; and on the last day, there was a two-metre long black spitting cobra that slithered across the road in front of me as I was running. I saw some ostrich on our bus ride as well.
(photo is the tail end of the cobra heading into the grass! )

So, in summary, it was a fantastic trip and I am really glad I went. I think the overall highlight for me was meeting the other athletes and the friendships and camaraderie that we experienced, above the race itself and the countryside.

Thanks for all your tips and advice before I went, it was much appreciated. :-)

You can take a look at some of my photos of the race and trip at


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