Race Report: Bennie Roux – Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) 250km

My first self-sufficient desert race

ABOUT KEAM

KAEM – MULTI-STAGE EXTREME MARATHON

The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon (KAEM) is an adventurous and extreme, multi-stage marathon. It takes place in the breath-taking landscape of South Africa’s “Green Kalahari”, annually in October. Founded in the year 2000. This extreme multi-stage marathon and sports event is a 7 day, 6 stage, self-sufficient foot race. It covers a distance of 250km. Known as the ‘Big Daddy’ in the South African running fraternity, KAEM is one of the most prominent extreme marathons on the International Trail Running calendar. Furthermore, it is a unique desert multi- stage marathon in that the route runs across a variety of terrain and landscapes. Most noteworthy KAEM starts and finishes is in the Augrabies National Park and stretches also run through this beautiful nature reserve with wildlife and game.

LOCATION

KAEM takes place in the Kalahari Desert in the proximity of the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. The route traverses the Augrabies Falls National Park, Daberas and private farmlands. This unique and contrasting environment presents a daunting challenge to the extreme athlete and determined adventurer alike. Average daily temperatures reach in excess of 40 degrees Celsius while night temperatures can drop to below 5 degrees Celsius. The Kalahari Desert offers something magical for each participant to enjoy. Most noteworthy is the terrain that comprises vast outstretches of arid desert, sandy riverbeds, spectacular gorges, rocky outcrops and boulder-strewn ‘koppies’. In addition, along the Orange River it runs alongside fertile vineyards.

DISTANCES

Day 1 – 25km Day 2 – 35km Day 3 – 38km Day 4 – 78km Day 5 – Rest day Day 6 – 48km Day 7 – 26km

SELF-SUFFICIENCY

Participants must carry all their supplies, clothes and compulsory safety equipment for the duration of the event. KAEM provides overnight shelter in camps as well as water. The organisers distribute the water in set quantities during the race. In cases of extreme heat, where circumstances demand, organisers will provide participants additional water. In addition, the crew and support also include professional medical backup and sports physios.

MEDICAL CERTIFICATION

Participants must produce a medical certificate prior to the event. The KAEM medical team monitors the runners daily and attends to medical needs during the event. Participants and their backpacks undergo inspection prior to the start. The purpose of inspection is to ensure that participants have prepared enough food. Also, the crew checked that participants will carry all compulsory equipment due. Food intake and energy management plays a critical role in ensuring success in crossing the finish line. Yet, each participant needs to ensure that their food calories are sufficient. 

Participants need to declare all medication and supplements. Therefore, obtain the necessary information related to any potential medication restrictions. Since it is a self-sufficient event, assistance from anyone is not allowed and therefore will result in disqualification from the race. Such assistance includes medication, supplements or food from any other participant or crew member (except assistance from the KAEM Medical Team).

MY EXPERIENCE

I must admit that I didn’t prepare myself enough for this race, except for the running part. I was in good shape and I was ready to race. I wasn’t prepared for the ‘camp life’ and camp food and food that you have to carry from day 1. 

Yes, you carry all your food from day 1, including all the compulsory gear and your sleeping bag. Knowing that the lighter your bag – the better your running will be, you are temped the go lighter and lighter, leaving out all the luxury items.

Inside my pack (7kg dry):

Luxury Compulsory Food Energy

1 extra pair socks Knife and mirror 7 packs 2 minute noodles 20 x Tailwind sachets 1 extra shirt Blister kit 6 travel lunch packs 1 extra short Anti-chaffing cream 6 x 100g biltong

10 Safety pins 7 servings coffee Sleeping bag 7 servings Horlics Warm over night clothes

What would I change next year?

I will defintily consider a bit more luxury for myself. After all, I take these adventures on to enjoy it! I will invest in a light weight blow-up mattras and cushion. I will pack more treats to eat and more variety of food and flavours.

The people:

I met amazing new friends from all over the world: Spain, England, Ireland, Canada, Turkey, Germany, Czech Republic, Belgium and Luxembourg.

I must admit this is one amazing race when it comes to people, the organizers, the camp crew, the medics and fellow runners. It is almost as if you became family during the race. The amount of jokes and chirps help to kill time under the heat of the Kalahari sun. There is not much to do once you finished the days running. So you spend time with your fellow runners and friends. The 3 nights next to the Orange river was great! Not only did we get a chance to wash ourselves and our kit, we also got to cooldown and refresh.

The race:

The route was very runnable and it was mostly on hard surface gravel roads and jeep tracks, with some very sandy riverbeds to slow us down.

Day 1

It started off at 8am and Xavi Marina from Spain was showing off his fitness and experience. It was a hard battle and I mostly just held on with about 200m to catch up every now and then. I managed to catch him just before the finish, and we shared the win for the day.

Day 2

Pavel from Czech Republic took an early lead down the sandy riverbed and opened up on the technical rockface next to the Orange River. We caught him just before CP1 and as the road became runnable it was my chance to test the

field. I expected Xavi the join me as he did, and I manged to get away alone; “out of sight, out of mind”. I really tried hard to get out of their sight! It worked, and the sun was out! This was one of the hottest days! I thought an old farmhouse was the finish and I put the hammer down to capitalize on my lead, only to find out it is still another 3km to the finish! So I decided to nail the 3km and I got my first stage with a very good time gap.

Day 3

The plan was to play it safe, especially when you know the long day with 78km is still to come. I think everybody was holding back strategically, but I couldn’t help myself and took advantage of the situation to increase my lead with another few minutes.

Day 4

The dreaded long 78km stage… Again I think everybody took it steady, and yet again I couldn’t resist to go a bit faster. It was great to catch all the runners that started in the earlier batches and it soon become my goal to catch and count them. Just pass CP4 was the most amzing views of the mountains! Just a pity I didn’t have a camera with me and it seems like the event photographers also missed out on those views. I carried on and lost a bit of concentration when the sun set. I dropped my pace until I saw a bounching headlamp creeping up on me… I knew it must be Xavi, so I picked up the pace and we continued for about 21km at 4:30min/km pace. It was a massive battle and we both refused to give in. I made a small navigation error and Xavi caught up with me to share another stage. I was happy, but worried, Xavi was getting stronger…

Day 5

Rest day – A day to recover and relax next to the Orange River! Food was the biggest challenge on this day as I didn’t pack enough snacks! The curry flavour 2minute noodles with a bit of biltong chuncks had to do the trick.

Day 6

I didn’t sleep too well the previous 2 nights and I could feel it in my energy levels. I had my pokerface on, you don’t EVER show weekness. I even tried to attack and break away. From the last waterpoint Xavi took a quick refill and manged to steal 8 minutes in 8km. I was a bit worried, but still happy that I had a 28minute lead for the last day of only 26km. That meant that he would have to gain just over 1min per km on the last stage to catch up with my time.

Day 7

BEER AND REAL FOOD!!! All I had on my mind was “Beer and Food”. Xavi wasn’t planning to race but he did test me, as he ran 4:45min per km. We shared the stage!

GEAR

Julbo SHIELD eyewear

Total block from the Kalahari sun and reflection from the desert sand.

Altra Lone Peak 4 shoes

Great grip and support. I loved them, not a single blister.

Tailwind nutrition

Really all you need all day.

Ultimate Direction Fast Pack 25

Great fit and comfortable pack. I recommend it for self-sufficient races.

Suunto 9

Best battery life ever, 30% battery left after 7 days and 250km racing in GPS mode.

Injinji Socks

Absolute must when running long distances in the Kalahari HEAT, not a single blister!

KAEM was an amazing adventure that I would gladly recommend! Thank you to all involved: my family, friends & sponsors!