Dreaming of a desert race – MOAB240, 3rd place for Bennie Roux. THEN RUN FOR HOPE

MOAB 240 – 11 October, 2019

Run For Hope – 22-26 October, 2019

By Annabelle Latz

He ran for more than 70 hours in a desert in Utah, he saw witches up trees and piles of books on the ground, and had to pinch himself sometimes to check what he was doing was real. 

The witches and books were his imagination, but the pain, suffering, and eventual triumph at MOAB240 was very real. 

Bennie Roux is the first South African to podium at this 240 mile race (392.67km) based in the small town of Moab in Utah, USA, and clutching that South African flag as he claimed third-place in the early hours of the morning was one of the best moments in his life. 

“I am so happy with third. I would have been happy with a top ten spot in any case. But I am super happy with third.”

The joy at the finish line was amplified by the toughness of this race, especially the final seven miles, which Bennie described as “horrendous.”

“I remembered suddenly talking to my pacer William Mitchell in Afrikaans, I was really out of it. I even thought to myself ‘what am I doing here?’ I even pinched myself.”

Mitchell joined Bennie at mile 70, and was a massive help for the night sections, especially because Bennie was unable to contact his family and friends, which he does when he runs The Munga in South Africa, a 400km non-stop trial run. 

Just four miles from the end of MOAB240, Bennie was in second place, but the headlight of American runner Jeremy Suwinski caught him in the final hour, who finished not even 20 minutes ahead. 

“I saw his head torch and thought ‘oh no, now I’m going to battle for the podium,’ and this is what I didn’t want. The adrenaline pumped, I was sprinting.”

Bennie managed to drop his fellow competitor Joel Meredith in that final four mile ‘sprint.’

The extreme range of temperatures posed the biggest challenge for Bennie; freezing temperatures during the night where even the water froze at the aid stations, to mid forties during the day. 

In his semi-dazed state during the final seven miles, he insisted to his pacer he wanted to stop, and wanted a 4×4 to come and pick him up. 

“I said to him ‘let’s make a fire right here, this in an emergency, this is survival.’”

But Bennie did march and run until the bitter end, and looks back now with fond memories and big learnings from that time in the desert. 

On the first night, after about 120km and in second place, Bennie has his first sleep, and it was totally unplanned.

“I was having a conversation with my pacer about bears, and the next moment I just fell. He said, did you trip? I said no, I fell asleep.”

His first planned sleep was a 30 minute one after 200km, at one of the aid stations on a mattress. 

In total Bennie slept for one hour and 10 minutes. 

“One of my biggest learnings was around sleeping. Getting to an aid station, I’d be planning a 10 minute nap. But there was such great full service there; they bring you food and drink, whatever you want, even hamburgers. And once you’ve had that five star service, you forget about that 10 minute nap. Until ten minutes later after you’ve left the aid station. Then you regret it.” 

Admittedly, the organisers of MOAB did not quite realise the caliber of Bennie’s running talent. Bennie was grateful enough that they helped him out with a tent and all the comforts, but a surprise at the finish line awaited him.

“At the end of the race they said to me ‘We didn’t know you could run this well. You must come to the office.”

Much to Bennie’s delight, he was upgraded to a full cabin with air conditioning and a television at Moab Valley RV Resort. 

Until a decade ago, Moab was a ghost town, but it is now a true haven for outdoor lovers. 

Bennie was taken under the wing of some 4×4’ing enthusiasts there, who showed him around the area for the next couple of days, and Bennie has promised them a return of generosity when they visit him in South Africa. 

“It was this awesome, these people who pulled me into their group, who invited me for food and beers, gave me lunch when we were 4×4’ing. I was like their guest of honour, I was really treated by these guys. We had an awesome time… We’re still in touch, and I invited a whole bunch of them to come to South Africa.”

Another race highlight was four South Africans from Salt Lake City coming to MOAB to watch Bennie. They don’t know him, but follow him on Facebook. 

“They started speaking Afrikaans with me from the sidelines. Oh that really lifted my sprits, to hear Afrikaans.” 

Bennie loves to run, and is so proud to be South African.

“If it’s at all possible to travel and run, do it while you can. You only live once.”

AND IF RUNING 240 MILES WASN’T ENOUGH……

Just a few days after returning from MOAB240, Bennie ran 250km across the Free State, from Villiers to Oranje Guest Farm between Fouriesburg and Clarens.

For five days, for Run For Hope, Bennie and a group of runners raised R200,000 for the Trauma Unit of AfriForum, for victims of farm attacks and murders. 

Admittedly, Bennie had signed up for this great cause when he was still planning on running Ultra Gobi, which was pencilled for earlier in the year, until it was cancelled for international runners. 

“But feeling broken from MOAB supported this cause, because running 250km on fresh legs wouldn’t be as much of a challenge. Feeling broken was part of the symbol, it wasn’t supposed to be easy.”

A special moment for Bennie was running to his old stomping ground, Reitz High School, its students lining the streets, and some of the cross country kids running five kilometers with Bennie. 

“It wasn’t just about the money raised, it was about the awareness. It almost went viral. It was all over newspapers, television and radio stations.”

Bennie’s auntie and uncle were once victims of farm violence, so this run held special meaning.

“I’ve gained so much from running, I’ve always searched for something where I could give back to something, through running.’

They also visited farms where attacks happened, and towns.

“The Trauma Unit is doing amazing work. It is involved in trauma counseling, crime scene clean up, the court case, helping with medical costs, supplying clothes… They take broken people and they take all the pieces, and put them back together, and give them a reason to hope again.”

NEEDLESS TO SAY, it’s been a massive few weeks for Bennie, now he’s taking a well deserved rest. 

He has a few ideas on the agenda, but nothing set in stone. 

He’ll start cross training again early November, Functional training like squats and sit ups. 

Track work will start early December, and some runs. 

“I will try and not run for a month. It will be hard, but I will try. If the urge is too big, I will jump on my mountain bike and go hard for an hour to break a sweat. 

His immediate plan is to fix up his sons’ mountain bikes, and have quality time with his family. 

“The brain is on a long rest right now, not a long run. Yusss my brain is really toasted.”