Running with Wildlife: Races to Add to Your Bucket List
Popular and inspiring as this African proverb might be, it’s pretty far removed from many First World runners’ day-to-day existence. But it needn’t be. Did you know that there is a handful of events on the Mother Continent that give runners the privilege of running with wildlife? Where the unspoiled African bush is explored on foot and sightings of antelope and predators are commonplace? No? Well hold on to your hats. Your bucket list is about to get longer!
1. Safaricom Marathon, Kenya
The Safaricom Marathon and Half Marathon, now in it’s 17th year, takes place annually in the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya. Regarded as one of the toughest marathons in the world, this race attracts more than 1000 runners of all abilities from across the globe each year. Graced with the presence of former world record holder, Paul Tergat, in previous years, this highly acclaimed race gives runners the opportunity to rub shoulders with well-respected Kenyan runners as well as the region’s wealth of wildlife.
Set in the award-winning Lewa Conservancy, the Safaricom Marathon takes runners through the breathtaking habitat of a number of rare and endangered wildlife species. Apart from the Big Five (Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, Rhino and Cape Buffalo), runners may also encounter species such as Cheetah, Wild Dog, Grevy’s Zebra, Giraffe and some of more than 400 bird species on the run. And if the thought of braving the Big Five on foot makes you wince, fear not. An army of 140 armed game rangers are on duty during the race to keep runners safe. Three spotter helicopters and a light aircraft also monitor the movement of larger game species during the race.
The race is used to raise some much-needed funds for conservation, community development and education programs in Kenya. So not only will it treat you to the adventure of a lifetime, but you’ll also be making a contribution to some very worthy causes at the same time.
2. Running the Rift Marathon, Uganda
After a hugely successful inaugural event in 2016, the Running the Rift Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K will once again take place in Uganda’s magnificent Rift Valley later this year. Set at the meeting point of the Great Rift Valley, the UNESCO Rwenzori Mountains and the Congo Basin, the race’s backdrop is bound to leave you in awe.
The race forms part of a six-day Ugandan adventure, which includes exploring the local markets and experiencing the luxurious Kyaninga Lodge. Optional safari add-on extras like game drives or boat safaris in the Queen Elizabeth National Park can also be arranged.
A group of medics from the UK travel to the race specifically to look after the health of race entrants. So rest assured that you will be in good hands.
All proceeds from the event is used in support of the Kyaninga Child Development Centre (KCDC). This organisation is one of the only of its kind in the area and supports hundreds of disabled children and their families and caregivers in Western Uganda.
3. Skukuza Castle Lager Half Marathon, South Africa
The Skukuza Castle Lager Half Marathon gives runners the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run inside of South Africa’s world renown Kruger National Park. Starting and ending at the park’s Skukuza rest camp, the race route winds through Big Five country. Past participants describe the route as “challenging”, with its numerous climbs and dips and (generally) warm temperatures.
Participant safety is obviously the first thing that comes to mind, but rest assured that the utmost care is taken to keep runners safe. Two hours before the race starts, a group of rangers set off by vehicle and on foot to herd off any large animals that may disrupt the race. A helicopter also ensures that Elephant, Rhino and Lion do not get too close to the course. Talk about an adrenaline rush!
The race is capped at 1200 entrants, with entries being allocated through a lottery system. Should, however, your name not be selected via the lottery, you can still enter by raising at least R750 for conservation projects within the park.
The next Skukuza Castle Lager Half Marathon takes place on 5 August 2017.
4. Brandberg Rhino Run, Namibia
Now in it’s third year, the Brandberg Rhino Run (and Ride) is scheduled to take place on June 11, 2017. This event is staged in the Tsiseb Conservancy of north-western Namibia and is regarded as one of the wildest trail runs in the country. Three distance options (7 km, 13 km and 26 km) are on offer for runners, with a kiddie’s run being presented for the first time in 2017.
The Tsiseb Conservancy, in which the event takes place, is home to African Elephant, Black Rhino, Leopard, Cheetah, Mountain Zebra, Kudu, Gemsbok and Springbok, among others. And although not too abundant, you never know which of these magnificent animal species you might spot on race day.
The Brandberg Rhino Run raises funds for Namibia’s Save the Rhino Trust. For 30 years, this non-profit organization has been protecting the desert-adapted Black Rhino of the Kunene and Erongo Regions.
5. Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun, South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe
And if experiencing only one African country on the run isn’t enough for you, why not enter the Mapungubwe Transfrontier Wildrun? This 3-day safari trail running experience takes runners through the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area of Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa and promises to give you a run for your money.
Participants cover a total of 92 km (30 km + 34 km + 28 km) through African bushveld, riverine forest, sandstone hills and along elephant trails during the course of the event. Note, however, that this is not a race. Participants (which are limited to 80 in total) are divided into three groups of varying running speeds, each accompanied by a bush field ranger and assistant guide. The focus of the event is solely to experience and unlock the secrets of the African bush on the run.
And although participants are made aware of the fact that snakes, elephants and other dangerous wildlife may be encountered en route, event organizers stress the fact that both lead and assistant guides are highly qualified and skilled to deal with such situations.
So if you’ve ever dreamed of running wild in the literal sense of the word, take the plunge and commit to one of these incredible events. You’ll never be the same again!