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Not as simple as A to B

Not as simple as A to B 
By Dave Flanagan

"I'll feel I haven't done a good job if I don't get some light-hearted abuse," laughs Dave Annandale, who happily accepts his role as course director for RacingThePlanet: Namibia 2009, is one unlikely to make him a lot of new friends – at least while the actual running's underway.

Having just returned from competing in The Last Desert 2008, along with his wife Emma Dawber, Dave is now turning his attention to a challenge of a very different nature – devising a 250km course through south west Namibia that will both stretch and inspire entrants in what is a hotly anticipated roaming event.


You'd think he'd be tired after ploughing through deep snow for days on end during The Last Desert and enduring that now infamous voyage back across the Drake Passage to South America.


But rather than put his feet up, the 52-year-old is raring to get stuck into the task of delivering a truly unforgettable experience for everyone who signs up for May's race. And it won't just be a case of him getting out a map of Namibia and joining together two points, 250km apart.


"The course has to be challenging for all from the elite to the weekend warrior," says Dave of the balance he'll  have to strike when plotting the route from the Fish River Canyon out to the Skeleton Coast. "The top competitors need to know they've been challenged on each stage, but the people lower down the order also need to feel it's achievable for them. Even if it's very difficult, many of them find resources inside they didn't realise they had and the sense of achievement after each stage gives them a confidence they didn't previously possess."


A tall order then, but one which Yorkshire, England-based Dave is more than capable of meeting. The former mountaineering instructor has extensive experience of organising running events in the UK. Crucially, he was part of the course team for the Gobi March 2007 and overall course director for RacingThePlanet: Vietnam. As a competitor, he's tackled the Gobi March 2006 and Atacama Crossing 2007. And of course, The Last Desert 2008.


"A major element in choosing a route is the scenery and terrain," he adds. "Varied terrain is a must. Sometimes part of a course can include a great view or interesting feature, or even a challenging section that makes competitors think a little harder. This can almost always take the edge off the tiredness and pain that some competitors are feeling."


And because this is a RacingThePlanet event, it almost goes without saying that there has to be some kind of cultural experience for competitors.


"In Vietnam and the Gobi competitors had the opportunity to encounter villages and tribes that see very few, if any, non-local people," says Dave. "The interaction with these people was something that lives with the competitors for ever. Some of my best experiences have been sleeping in a mud or bamboo hut with local people. The course in Namibia will probably have less interaction with locals, but wherever that's a safe and suitable option, we'll take it."


It might be tempting to think, as you shuffle (or sprint) along the course in Namibia that, route plotted, Dave's got a cushy number and can just sit back and enjoy witnessing your pain. But chances are, he'll be covering more distance than the majority of competitors ever will, unless they get lost.


"In Vietnam I covered around 450 km on foot, not to mention the bits done in a car," recalls Dave. "I did some parts of the course twice or even three times, plus there were lots of trails investigated but not used.


"The logistics of supporting the course are just as important as creating the actual route," he adds. "Not all the checkpoints will be accessible by vehicle and you have to consider what you will do if there is a problem in a more remote area."


Despite all this responsibility and the potential for being on the receiving end of some blister-induced wrath from competitors, Dave thinks his job as course setter is "just as much fun" as being a participant.


"I love the races when I am fit and enjoy the banter with the other competitors, " he says. "But being a course setter you actually get to see more as you are often exploring areas and talking to local people to get information."


During an event though, Dave remains a somewhat shadowy figure, seeing very little of the people slogging along his chosen route. He's not trying to avoid them, it's just that he's usually out on the course too and, through necessity, way ahead of everyone else. 


"Whilst I know quite a few of the competitors from the events I've run myself, a lot won't have a clue who I am," he says.


Dave's not worried about this degree of anonymity, nor is he too concerned over the occasional good natured abuse he receives from competitors who discover it's all his fault. Besides, he's always got wife Emma to pick up the pieces. She was the event doctor in Vietnam and will be undertaking the same role in Namibia.
"I ruin feet and she fixes them," laughs Dave.  

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