On Sunday 5th August, after completing the equivalent of 5½ marathons (230 kms) in five days, I crossed the finish line – right on the equator – accompanied by two armed Rangers who spontaneously ran alongside me, to be presented with my (suitably large) medal by none other than Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathon runner of the current era and winner of the marathon gold medal at the 2016 Olympics. I am reasonably sure that Eliud could not have felt more elated winning in Rio than I felt that day – and he didn’t get an armed escort!
It was an extraordinary race : amazing to run amongst the wildlife of beautiful Kenya, whilst the Rangers did an incredible job of allowing the animals to get close, whilst always keeping the runners safe. We ran amongst numerous elephant, rhino, zebra, wildebeest, impala – and lion, though the latter were fortunately rarely seen at close quarters. The organisers were amazing : whenever the animals got too close to the route, they intervened to divert them, initially with 4x4s, and when that didn’t work (normally with rather determined elephant on their way to a waterhole) the helicopter was brought in, flying low, which invariably did do the job. The terrain was fairly brutal : extremely rocky and very much hillier than anticipated, and my feet took quite a beating, requiring significant taping for blisters each night by the brilliant medics who were always on hand.
Daytime temperatures, under a clear blue sky, rose to 36℃ - hot enough to make running uncomfortable; night-time, under the most spectacular display of stars, it dropped to around 0℃ - definitely cold enough to prevent much sleep. This was compounded by sharing an army tent with 15 other runners, a large proportion of whom snored heavily. The biggest problem that I faced was an inability to keep food down for much of the week – I genuinely never want to see packets of dehydrated food again – meaning that I was taking in far fewer calories each day than I needed.
And so, challenge number 2 – the Berlin Marathon on 16th September – is in the bag, completed in a time of 4h 35m. More importantly, all eight of us, running in teamArchie shirts, successfully completed the race including my darling daughter Bella who started despite a ruptured knee tendon, and battled through considerable pain from 10km onwards to collect her medal at the finish line – for which she deserves huge credit.
And of course, in a rather nice link between my challenges, Eliud Kipchoge, an absolute gentleman who came to present us with our medals at the For Rangers Ultra in Kenya in August, ran an epic race to smash the world marathon record in the quite extraordinary time of 2h 01m 39s (over 20kmh for two hours!). My only disappointment was that he didn’t wait to see me again at the finish line – I am sure he could have found something useful to do for 2.5 hours…
Now only one remains – the Everest Trail Race in the Himalayas in November, and the focus of my training has changed from steady-paced road running, to concentrating on hills in anticipation of the 15,000m of ascent and 14,000m of descent which I will tackle over 160km. I am writing this having just returned from the gym where I spent an extremely dull session pounding up a treadmill at maximum incline (15%) wearing a 10kg weight vest. Last weekend saw me in Devon hunting out hills on the coastal path, and next weekend I head to the Breckon Beacons in Wales to run up and down the notorious Pen y Fan. I am also about to start sleeping in an altitude tent for the next month, which will deprive me of oxygen whilst sleeping in order to try to minimise the risk of altitude sickness when out in Nepal – something which is unpredictable and which could preclude even managing to start the race.
I return from Nepal on 16th November, and I then plan a long and happy retirement from tackling marathons and ultra-marathons. Many people have pointed out that I have said this before, but I think that this time I really mean it!
Thank you for your amazing support, both in the form of sponsorship and simply being so positive and encouraging.