Richtersveld Wildrun, South Africa

Last updated: 19-Jul-18

By Ian Corless

The simple act of running, placing one foot in front of the other as a method of transport takes us back to our roots, our basic instincts. To cover ground in search of a place to sleep, to hunt for food; It’s about being in the wild, surviving and fulfilling a primal need.

The Richtersveld Wildrun is situated in the remote /Ai/ Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in the most northern part of South Africa. It is on the Orange River and just across the border from Namibia. It certainly ticks all the boxes as a location for a wild adventure.

Covering 150km over 4 days, participants navigate via GPS through the wilderness of the Richtersveld. It is a circular route that starts and finishes on the Orange River at Sendlingsdrif. It’s a run through time, through millions of years of history, in an ever-changing landscape. It not only challenges your legs and lungs but also your eyes and mind. It’s an incredible experience.

The idea for the race came about in 2006 when race director, Owen Middleton, visited the area for the first time. With a passion for trail running and extensive experience in organising events, Owen made his dream a reality in 2014, with the first edition of the race.

It’s a low-key race and intentionally so. The /Ai /Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a tough environment. Few people have been there. In conjunction with Nick de Goede (Park Manager) and Roland Vorwerk from Boundless South Africa, Owen and the Wildrunner team have provided a very unique and special experience for all those lucky enough to take part.

A supported race, base camp each day is leap frogged to ensure that runners have maximum comfort. Small individual tents are provided, with a camp bed to ensure a good nights rest. The seriously committed team of Johan and Magda de Waal from Richtersveld Tours provide daily meals. It’s fair to say, they have the toughest job with long days and little sleep. 

No two days are the same in this remote and wild wilderness. The park includes the oldest desert in the world. It is home to an abundance of flora, wildlife, nomadic tribes, sulphur springs, archaeological sites, and the stunning Tatasberg boulders. It also has the iconic Fish River Canyon (2nd largest in the world behind the Grand Canyon) made famous by Ryan Sandes when he completed a Fastest Known Time (FKT) in 2012. In addition to the ever-changing terrain, weather conditions offer a challenge. Hot days are followed by cool nights and the occasional rainstorm may appear if you are lucky; it doesn’t rain very much in Richtersveld.

Ironically, just as in the 1st edition of the race, rain hit on day 2 of the 2015 edition. A lesson had been learnt though. In 2014 camp 2 was located in a riverbed. These riverbeds usually only flood once every 9-15 years.  But in 2014 it flooded just as 60 runners were trying to catch a night’s sleep. The race is called Wildrun for a reason!

Weathered by water, rain and volcanic activity, the park is a geological masterpiece of natural sculptures. It’s like running through a Henry Moore or William Blake vision of what a mountain desert wilderness should look like. Mountain summits, deep canyons and the massive granite boulders of the Tatasberg make the Richtersveld Wildrun one of the best running playgrounds in the world.

I would go as far to say that the Richtersveld Wildrun is one of the most beautiful races I have seen. And if you are travelling to South Africa, there is also the lure of Cape Town, a visit to a game reserve, the wine routes and a visit to Hout Bay to tempt you. On the other side there is Namibia, the Orange River and the Augrabies National Park.

I, for one, can’t wait to go back, I just hope it’s in 2016.

"The park includes the oldest desert in the world. It is home to an abundance of flora, wildlife, nomadic tribes, sulphur springs, archaeological sites, and the stunning Tatasberg boulders"

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