Kalahari race a proper test of the mind

John Williamson has left the city to participate in the 20th edition of the seven-day KalahariAugrabies Extreme Marathon.
TOUGH GUY: John Williamson has left the city to participate in the 20th edition of the seven-day KalahariAugrabies Extreme Marathon.
Image: SUPPLIED

East London businessman John Williamson has left the city to participate in the 20th edition of the seven-day KalahariAugrabies Extreme Marathon, which will be run from Saturday until Friday, October 18.

This will be the fifth time Williamson does the race, which is about 250km in length. This year about 60 competitors from around the world will be in action. Williamson is no stranger to extreme runs, having also participated in similar races in Iceland and the Jordan Desert.

“The Kalahari is pretty tough, with plenty of soft sand and rocks to overcome,” he said. “Temperatures vary from about 35°V to as high as 40°C each day, so it’s exhausting.”

This year the competitors will race on six days of the seven, with a rest day scheduled for next Wednesday.

Most days about 35km to 40km are covered, but the “big” day is set for next Tuesday when the runners will need to cover about 80km.

Williamson explained that all competitors had to supply their own food, sleeping bag and bedding, and items to eat such as biltong, peanuts, jelly babies and electrolytes. The organisers only supply water during the running periods, and most athletes eat dehydrated food at night which needs boiling water.

He estimates that he will lose between 6kg and 8kg in weight over the week through extreme sweating, but this would depend on the heat of the day.

Williamson, who once finished in ninth position in a similar race, has made it his goal to finish in the top 10 at the Kalahari.

He says he keeps fit through mountain biking, which he says assists him in leg strength and endurance which are two factors needed in the desert conditions.

Williamson added that the event is always well run, with medical teams at hand should problems arrive.

“We camp for two nights along the Orange River, which I believe is running strongly at this time. This gives us an opportunity to dive in and wash our clothes and ourselves,” he says with a smile.

He ventured that running the race required “30% fitness while the remaining 70% is basically the athlete’s mental preparation”.

“The worst is blisters on your feet, the pain experienced, and then it becomes mind over matter, really.”

He said that times are accumulated at the end of each day, and each athlete knows his exact position in the race each morning before setting off.

Williamson said he was keen to meet up with some of the runners, particularly those from Ireland whom he has raced against in past races.

“I have five or six close friends among the runners and know at least 30 of them.

“Evening camps are always good socially, with plenty of camaraderie.

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