Big Five Marathon Race Recap
by: Staci Dietzel
The Big Five Marathon took place on June 24, 2017. This was the final of the 7 marathons in my goal to complete a marathon on each continent. Big Five is named for the game reserve its held on in Entabeni. The race is run among the habitat of the African game which includes elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, and rhino. Nothing separates the runners from the wildlife- rangers patrol the area by air, jeep and foot with rifles. They steer the most dangerous of animals away from the runners. Race entries are limited, and time cut offs are strict due the nature of the course. (Spectators are also limited to a specific area, and the start/finish line for safety purposes).
I brought my 15 year old son along, and we chose to stay at the Legends Golf Resort which was around a 45 minute drive to the start. He loves to golf as much as I love to run, and was excited to check out the Extreme 19 and the 2 courses on site. He brought his clubs along, and got plenty of use out of them here.
We flew into Johannesburg, arriving on Wednesday night. The transfer to Entabeni was set for Thursday morning, another 4 hour bus ride south. The trip included several beautiful game drives and a tour of the course. This was daunting. There’s a hill spanning miles 7-9 at 43 degrees that is difficult for the jeeps to navigate it is so steep. The hill runs out and back so you get to run both down and up, with 6 miles of deep sand between.
We went on 4 game drives. We saw a lot of wildebeests, zebras, giraffes, monkeys, ostrich, rhinos, leopards, lions, and more. Our living area was protected from dangerous animals, but the other 2 runners’ areas were not, and they couldn’t leave the sleeping area without an armed guard.
The race was Saturday morning. We were lucky to meet some great people on this trip right away. My biggest concern heading over was what my son would do while I was running- but we met such nice people so quickly I had no worries knowing who he was with. I was able to see him out on the course at the spectator area twice and he was at the finish when I was done.
The start was 9 am from one of the other lodges. The first few miles had me worried as I was feeling fatigued early and had to walk a hill by around the 3rd mile! I’m not sure if it was the elevation or the fact that there was a long incline, but it was tough right from the start. There was a lot of rock, boulders, and tricky footing all the way through. Going down the hill was difficult. I found I couldn’t run straight down, and eventually alternated zig zagging and running sideways shuffling (as in a basketball drill). The water stations were awesome. Many had locals singing and dancing- stocked with cola, electrolyte drinks, and fruit. Great energy and fun on an otherwise quiet, peaceful course. I didn’t see any wildlife other than a herd of zebras that snuck up behind me and scared me enough that I shouted out a string of profanity. I was happy to see that they were only zebras.
The sand. If I never run on another grain of sand again I will be happy. 6 miles of ankle deep sand that caused me to stumble so many times 2 toenails had loosened by the end of it. Then back up the enormous hill where I just walked and some people were actually crawling. Crawling.
A couple miles after the hill I split off from a few people that I had been running and chatting with. It was beginning to get painful and I wanted to keep running and get to the finish line as quickly as possible. So I kept moving forward as fast as I could without stopping. The last 3K or so was really rocky and difficult to navigate. My feet were a disaster at this point, making it more difficult. I checked my watch a mile out and saw I might be able to bring it in under 5:00 if I pushed- so gave it a go but missed at 5:00:26. Was great to see Parker and friends at the finish line.
I would definitely recommend this marathon if you’re looking for a challenge and would like to do a South African safari. It’s definitely the most difficult marathon I’ve done, but still was a lot of fun.