Last updated: 15-Nov-16
By Ian Corless
Situated in the remote /Ai/ Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park in the most north western part of South Africa, the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun is the perfect race for a wild adventure.
A supported race, base camp each day is leap frogged to ensure that runners have maximum comfort in small individual tents, food is provided before and after each day’s racing and bags are transported. This is no easy race. The Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun is a run through time in an environment that has been millions of years in the making. It is an ever-changing landscape that personifies remote and wilderness in the same breath. Navigating via GPS over five days, participants cover 200km on a route that starts on the Orange River at Sendelingsdrif and on day four, the race crosses over into Namibia for an ultimate transfrontier experience which concludes in the Fish River Canyon on day five.
Including the oldest desert in the world, the /Ai/ Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is home to an abundance of flora, wildlife, nomadic tribes, sulphur springs, archaeological sites and the stunning Tattasberg boulders. Pieter Van Wyk, an ever-present on the race and arguably one of the most knowledgeable people on the Richtersveld has experience and an outlook on life that extends far beyond his 28 years. Pieter is an attraction of the race and his nightly talks under African skies, accompanied by a roaring fire are one of the many highlights of race week. He clearly explains to everyone who enters the Richtersveld that it is not a right to be there but a privilege. How right he is!
Cool nights follow hot days; no two days are the same. In previous years the race has remained in South Africa but in 2016, the race crossed the Orange River and an incredible two days of remote running followed in the mind-blowing Fish River Canyon – the 2nd largest canyon in the world behind the USA’s Grand Canyon. Yes, this race truly is transfrontier!
Weathered by millions of years of change, the landscape has been formed by water, rain and volcanic activity, it is a masterpiece of geology and botany, worthy of the most acclaimed art gallery or museum.
The /Ai /Ais/ Richtersveld Transfrontier Park is a tough environment and few have had the privilege or the opportunity to experience this region. This is what makes this race so special. Owen Middleton (race director at Wildrunner) visited the area for the first time in 2006 and he was inspired. Working in conjunction with Nick de Goede (Park Manager) and Roland Vorwerk from Boundless South Africa, a dream became a reality and in 2014 the first edition of the race took place.
To experience this landscape on foot, to see wild zebra, kudu, ostrich and an abundance of flora, fauna and bird life really does take participants back to their primal roots. Remoteness challenges the mind, the legs and the lungs of all, but each night a roaring fire, good food and huddles of tired runners telling camp fire stories compensates for the fatigue, and the experience is enhanced. Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun is so much more than just a race! A lack of modern technology and connection provides a release and a re-birth; it provides an awareness and an understanding of what really does matter in the world in which we live – freedom!
For the first time in the race history, 2016 had an outright female winner in Joanna Williams who resides in New Zealand. From day one she ran a smart race and the small time gains made on the opening stage were held all the way to the line. Tobias Mews from the UK may well have offered a challenge to Jo, but ultimately he ran side-by-side preferring to experience the race instead of blasting through with no opportunity to stop, look, listen and let the environment absorb.
People talk about the loneliness of the long distance runner, but the Richtersveld is to be shared. Mutual gasps of wonder should be appreciated with others, it’s lovely to make friends as we run and in Jo I have found a bond – it’s great to run with someone else and share the journey.–Tobias Mews
South African trail running pioneer Linda Doke and 2015 Marathon des Sables female champion, Elisabet Barnes placed 2nd and 3rd respectively in the ladies’ race. Both ladies summing up their experiences with a similar thought process, What an incredible privilege it was to spend 5 days running through this magnificent part of the world on the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun®. Sometimes it takes experiencing places like this to remind us how just how fragile and yet so powerful nature is, and how unbelievably insignificant we are in the bigger scheme of things. – Linda Doke
Local runner, Dawid Kaswarie, was to many the true winner of the race. He had no GPS, his map reading skills were negligible and an error on day one gave him a one-hour time penalty. Had he had the autonomy to run alone, the race would have been his. It’s something that Tobias acknowledged at the awards ceremony. Standing with a huge trophy, Tobias thanked the race, the other competitors and acknowledged his gratitude for being the first male runner, however, in the true spirit of the race and the Richtersveld race, he called Dawid up to take his trophy, ‘this is the true champion’ he commented and we all agreed… A few tears were shed!
In the men’s race, the final podium place was taken by Daniel Meyes and what a story he had. Travelling from Europe, he had planned to travel to the Richtersveld by motorbike after arriving in South Africa. Hiring a bike, he set on his way for the 9+ hour plus journey only to find that the bike would break en-route. A 20km walk for help and a late arrival just before the race start was not the best preparation but somehow he came through running a very solid race.
But like all races, it was in an amongst the line-up of finishers where some real grit and inspiration could be found, for example, 70-year old Larry Classen who completed the race with his daughter. Or Hayley Coles (UK) running her first ultra, fighting for the finish line and achieving it.
Every runner has a story, and they all provide an insight into why the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun is THE must race to do. Yes, you can race, but to do so and not embrace those around you, to not embrace the landscape and the environment, to not disconnect and reflect would ultimately mean that despite winning you will have lost.
This race is so much more than a race – it’s a life changing, life affirming and life waking experience that made all those who witnessed it re-evaluate and leave with a new perspective on life.
Travel is not about escaping life; it’s about not allowing life to escape us!
- Jo Williams 22:23:01
- Tobias Mews 22:42:00
- Dawid Kaswarie 23:07:34
- Daniel Meyes 25:18:20
- Linda Doke 25:43:52
- John Cuff 26:41:19
- Ryno Bakkes 26:52:04
- Elisabet Barnes 27:01:56
- Christiaan Vorster 27:23:19
- Stephen Cunliffe 28:23:19
Full results HERE.
Daily race summary posts and images HERE.
Race Images HERE.