About one month ago I ran the 2010 Big Five Marathon. It was an absolutely incredible experience and I highly recommend this adventure race to anyone whether they are a runner with many races under their belt or someone just beginning to get into running.
The race is run on the Entabeni Game Reserve in the Limpopo province of South Africa. It is a once in a lifetime event to run amongst some of Africa’s greatest natural wild life. The Big Five are the five most difficuly animals on the African continent to hunt on foot. While not one of the Big Five, one of my race highlights was when a herd of 30 impala ran 2 metres in front of me.
The race is certainly challenging and not for the faint of heart. The first 750m or so are downhill followed by 10km of uphill run on a mix of clay road and rock. Kilometres 10 – 12 are relatively flat with the races first big challenge arriving at kilometre 12. At this point your begin a 5km descent into Yellowwood Valley.
The grades of this descent range from a modest 12.5% to a staggering 47%. At the bottom of this descent is a 9km loop. Possibly more difficult than the 5km descent is the fact that this 9km loop is run on sand. The sand is not packed or hard. It is soft beach sand that requires the racer to engage a variety of different muscles to soldier through this section of race.
At the end of the 9km loop racers are faced with a 5km incline. The same 5km that had previously been descended. At the top of this ascent runners head onto a plateau along clay road before beginning a gradual ascent accompanied by a headwind. The headwind is get for combatting heat but excruciating for runners trying to accelerate through the latter part of the marathon.
With 4km to go the course begins a steeper ascent of approximately 16%. Leveling out for the stretch between 40km – 41km the course heads downhill for about the final 800m – 1000m. Runners turn the final corner with about 150m to finish line and give everything they can to complete on of the world’s most difficult marathon’s.
The 2010 Big Five marathon was won in 3 hours 16 minutes with the second place runner crossing the line in 3 hours 52 minutes. While I did not meet my race goal I was very happy to finish as the top Canadian and the 20th male.
The entire experience forged life long friendships, created unforgettable life experiences and challenged me physically unlike any other way I have ever experienced. Put this race on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.