Competitors met in Swakopmund, many reuniting with old friends, and some meeting for the first time. A nervous energy surrounded the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Centre as volunteers completed their training and competitors awaited the check in -- all nervous that their equipment and gear wouldn't pass inspection.
Samantha Fanshawe, the Race Director, led the briefing, telling competitors about the recent rain on the course and the emerging flowers that had laid dormant under the sand awaiting water in order to blossom. She explained the dunes they would encounter and the seals and shipwrecks they will see along the Skeleton Coast. The course was now set and competitors were eager to head out to the Namib desert.
However, first, competitors had to go through several check-in stations including a medical review, equipment review, among others stations.
The competitors set out for the first campsite shortly after noon for a four hour bus ride to the Skeleton Coast National Park.
Competitors arrived at Camp 1 to a very warm welcome from Namibian locals signing under the banner. Competitors quickly settled in, preparing a dinner by the fire before heading to bed as the sun quickly set. Steve Wise of Scotland said in his blog: "As the sun begins to set, everyone is sitting around chatting, eating and enjoying the beginning of a big adventure. After 7 months thinking about this thing, I will be off in 15 hours. I’m hoping to get some sleep tonight and be raring to go on Sunday morning."
Stage 1 will begin at 8 am.
Today's Stage 1 winners were: Ralph Crowley of the United States in 3:04:38; Jovica Spajic of Serbia in 3:16:40; and Iulian Rotariu of Romania in 3:22:11. The women's winners were: Kristinet Starck of South Africa in 4:43:50; Carolina Monaci of Italy in 4:44:50; and Kirsten Althoff of Germany in 5:02:16. Both the men's and women's divisions are highly competitive. It is typical for the lead to change throughout the race.
Stage 1 introduced competitors to the sheer vastness of the oldest desert on Earth, the Namib Desert. The stage consisted of endless plains and colorful valleys in some of the most precious areas of the Skeleton Coast National Park.
At 37.8 kilometers competitors began in a river bed before moving to open plains consisting of white crystals with only small signs of life visible. Colorful hills and valleys followed with rare lichen fields fed by the ocean fog. The terrain was sand-topped with small black stones. Towards the mid-section, the atmosphere became hot with only wide open plains and soft ground ahead. A green river bed in the distance alerted competitors to the next campsite.
Volunteers left early in the morning to set up the the checkpoints to ensure competitors had water and medical care, if needed, at each checkpoint which were roughly 10 kilometers apart.
Stage 1 started with some competitors flying out of the gate as they weaved between sandy river beds. There was a tail wind behind them. Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia took the lead with Ole Norstad of Norway and Ralph Crowley of the United States running a few minutes behind. The lead competitors ran through CP1 at a crazy pace as they made their way to the coastline. CP2 had a stunning view of the ocean. The temperatures really started to heat up after CP2 and Ralph Crowley of the United States slowly took the lead. However, Ralph was further pushed by Serbian Special Forces competitor Jovica Spajic.
Stage 1's eventual winner was Ralph Crowley of the United States, calling it "the windiest stage ever," and that says a lot given that Ralph is in the 4 Deserts Club and has volunteered on multiple 4 Deserts and RacingThePlanet Ultramarathon races. Jovica Spajic of Serbia placed second, and Iulian Rotariu of Romania placed third.
Further down the field saw Judy Chan of Hong Kong who finished in five hours and thirty minutes. Judy was listening to podcasts with an empty mind, not thinking about work and just focused on finding the hardest sand and avoiding rocks.
Marisa Holman of United States was "power walking like a boss." She found the stage "an amazing day and super beautiful." Marisa finished in just under seven hours.
Tomorrow's Stage 2, which begins at 8 am, is 39.5 kilometers.
Stage 2 is now complete and full results have been posted at http://www.4deserts.com/sahararace/results. Another incredibly rare stage as all competitors successfully completed Stage 2. The top three men today were: Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia in 3:14:02, Ralph Crowley of the United States in 3:25:18, Iulian Rotariu of Romania in 3:42:18, Jovica Spajic of Serbia in 3:42:53, Ole Norstad of Norway in 3:58:40.
The top five women were: Kirsten Althoff of Germany in 4:22:17, Kristinent Starck of South Africa in 4:59:05, Carolina Monaci of Italy in 5:29:12, Riitta Hanninen of Finland in 5:05:44 and Andrea Loew in 5:49:20.
The final 10 finishers were: Marisa Holman of the United States, Hiroki Takahashi of Japan, Chloe Kim of Korea, Bo Jun Kim of Korea, Kwang Hun Lee of Korea, Byounghwan Oh of Korea, Paul Bao of Singapore, Peter Kang of Korea, Young Woong Jung of Korea and Sungho Ryu of Korea.
Mackenzie Deal of the United States said "I am completely exhausted. I started off walking but eventually loosened my muscles up enough to start a solid “Airborne Shuffle”. The terrain was a bit more crazy today and it really ate up my legs along the way. Now, more than yesterday, I am walking around like an old woman due to some extreme stiffness and soreness, both in my legs and shoulders. I can most definitely say this is the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted and hope I can continue to knock down the miles in the coming days."
Chris Sharrock, a lawyer from Hong Kong originally from the United Kingdom, said of Camp 3 "...a beautiful campsite in the dunes just back from the sea rolling in on the Skeleton Coast. A truly stunning location which makes all the hard work of getting here worthwhile! Another great day out."
Charlotte Lynch of Australia commented: "It was a pretty good day today, mostly flat but some parts with really rocky surfaces which are hard to run on. As we were finishing they had put the flags where you run up a sand dune! Nic and I were like is this some cruel joke?!"
All competitors are resting at camp under the beautiful African sky. Tomorrow's Stage 3 is 42.8 kilometers which will take competitors along the Skeleton Coast before arriving at Camp to prepare for The Long March.
"Survival can be summed up in three words - never give up. That's the heart of it really. Just keep trying."
In Stage 3 titled "The Skeleton Beach Run" competitors endured 42.8 kilometers of sand running between shipwrecks dotted along the Skeleton Coast and a stunning seal colony on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Throughout the stage, competitors experienced wide open desert landscape with magnificent colours and vast salt flats connecting a Skeleton Coast with all its surprises.
During Stage 3, Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia further strengthened his overall lead, but the field of talent runs deep, and tomorrow's 80 kilometer stage titled "The Long March" will feature endless kilometers of sand, fierce winds and a scorching sun. Anything could happen with Serbia's Jovica Spajic getting stronger each day.
In the women's division, Germany's Kirsten Althoff again won the stage with Finland's Riitta Hanninen not far behind, and Stage 1's winner Kristinet Starck of South Africa also within striking distance. The Long March will be interesting to watch, and will favor the strongest competitor adaptable to heat, wind and sun.
Mo Foutstok, Saudi Arabia, 4:11:38
Jovica Spajic, Serbia, 4:30:47
Iulian Rotariu, Romania, 4:45:17
Ralph Crowley, USA, 4:48:20
Ole Norstad, Norway, 4:49:04
Kirsten Althoff (Female), Germany, 5:27:14
Rafael Fuchsgruber, Germany, 5:27:?34?
Felix Allen, UK, 5:27:58
Nicola Benetti, Italy, 5:31:02
Christoph Castelberg, Switzerland, 5:37:57
Kirsten Althoff, Germany, 5:27:14
Riitta Hanninen, Finland, 5:49:33
Kristinet Starck, South Africa, 6:26:40
Carolina Monaci, Italy, 6:31:36
Martina Hesseling, Germany, 6:36:17
Andrea Loew, Germany, 6:54:40
Mayumi Taguchi, Japan, 7:16:32
Marina Lazic, Serbia, 7:20:16
Diana West, UK, 7:31:30
Alexandra Da Roza, Hong Kong, 8:21:11
Chris Sharrock of the United Kingdom called Stage 3 a "Long Day in the office today." He said "Fabulous to experience but hard work! The undoubted highlight was passing 6 seal colonies. There were seals everywhere! Surfing the waves, diving over the waves or just lying on the beach sunning themselves. Our resident wildlife expert reckons there were between 50,000 and 70,000 of them!"
Ralph Crowley of the United States, one of the men's top contenders, said "Our campsite on the beach was awesome, and I even got to clean up a bit in the ocean. Today started on the beach, and stayed on the beach. Pretty much everything from camp to checkpoint 3 (20 miles) was soft, soft sand. It was by far our most beautiful day, but we certainly paid for it with exhausted muscles."
Riitta Hanninen of Finland said "The Skeleton Coast is absolutely stunning! Wind wasn’t on our side which made the morning quite hot but it did pick up properly by the time the course turned against it – typical! Seals colonies were fun to watch. The same shipwrecks were still in place. As fun as it would be to stop for a proper chatter at checkpoints, I worked on a plan to get out of the hot course asap. The last ?one kilometer? turned inland and it was hot even with a strong wind – just under 40c."
Riitta wishes she could send you the sunsets which she calls "amazing."
Tomorrow's Stage 4 is also known as The Long March and will cover 80.8 kilometers over two days.
"When the weather is hot keep a cool mind, when the weather is cold keep a warm heart." Anonymous
Competitors always knew Stage 4 would be the defining stage of the Sahara Race 2017. This year's race moved Stage 4, aka, The Long March, from Stage 5 to Stage 4. This gave competitors a little less time to acclimate but also less time to develop serious blisters.
Stage 4 began at the typical 8 am, but shortly thereafter the sun and heat came onto the course with a vengeance with temperatures quickly rising to around 45C or 113F. At the conclusion of the previous day's Stage 3, no one had yet withdrawn from the Sahara Race which is rare, but already by CP1 of Stage 4, competitors started to drop like flies and by CP3 already 14 competitors had withdrawn from the Sahara Race. By CP4, one more competitor withdrew. After that point, there were no more withdrawals for the stage as temperatures quickly cooled and competitors could be seen flanking jackets, caps and gloves.
Such is the Namib Desert that it appears friendly on the surface but can quickly unleash its true force -- no doubt the shipwrecks on the shores of the Skeleton Coast are a cruel reminder of the number of people fooled by the oldest desert on earth -- the Namib.
Stage 4 saw little change in the overall leaders. Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia, Jovica Spajic of Serbia, and Felix Allen of the United Kingdom were the top three overall and for the women Kirsten Athoff of Germany, Carolina Monaci of Italy and Riitta Hanninen of Finland were the top three for the women. Carolina Monaci and Riitta Hanninen of Finland are battling for second place in the women's division.
Tomorrow's Stage 5 is "Dune Day" and competitors can expect no respite from the heat and sand as they battle a marathon distance of dunes.
It isn't the mountain ahead that wears you out; it's the grain of sand in your shoe.
Stage 5 aka "Dune Day" took competitors west for 9.7 kilometers towards CP1. Starting on a rocky uphill section which then flattened out onto black desert terrain next to the dry Uniab River.
After CP1, competitors entered the dry Uniab River bed as the dunes of the Namib desert begin to appear. Running past smaller dunes before entering the main dunes of the Namib Desert, competitors navigated 11.7 kilometers in a southwesterly direction towards the Skeleton Coast.
Leaving CP2, competitors climbed up to a steep dune ridgeline following this for some distance while admiring the stunning vistas of immense dunes on their left and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance in front. Competitors exited the dunes to meet CP3 after 4.9 kilometers.
Heading towards camp, at the bottom of the dune, on the left, competitors met a remote African airstrip before reaching the Atlantic Ocean and the quaint Torra Bay fishing camp after some 40 kilometers for Stage 5.
Today crowned a new stage winner with Felix Allen of the United Kingdom taking first in the stage in a time of 4:24:43 followed by Jovica Spacjic of Serbia in a time of 4:26:38 and the overall leader Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia in a time of 4:26:51.
In the women's division, the overall leader Kirsten Althoff of Germany again won the stage in a time of 5:11:35. Riitta Hanninen of Finland put in an excellent performance coming in second place in a time of 5:32:31 followed by Carolina Monaci of Italy in a time of 5:40:08.
Mo Foustok of Saudia Arabia is expected to win the Sahara Race 2017 and Kirsten Althoff of Germany should win the women's division.
After six tough days, some of which temperatures reached 45C, competitors set off in two waves, at 8am and 8:30am, for the final ten kilometers of the Sahara Race 2017. Nationality flags and banners representing charities were proudly displayed as competitors took their final steps across the world's oldest desert, the Namib, en route to the illustrious finish line. Beer, soft drinks and food awaited competitors but first the incredible feeling of accomplishment as they crossed the Sahara Race 2017 finish line for the last time and accepted a heavy pewter finisher's medal drapped around their neck.
Exhaustion, tears of job, happiness and sadness that the race was over were some of the emotions on display. Rafael Sampaio of Brazil was particularly emotional being at his first 4 Deserts race to follow in the footsteps of his father Mario. Rodrigo, also from Brazil -- he has dreamed of this moment for 3 years.
Stage 6 saw Iulian Rotariu of Romania place first, followed by Felix Allen of the United Kingdom and Rafael Sampaio of Brazil.
For the women, Kirsten Althoff of Germany took first, followed by Martina Hesseling of Germany and Alexandra Da Roza of Hong Kong.
Overall the Sahara Race 2017 champions are Mo Foustok of Saudi Arabia in a cumulative time of 25:16:36 and Kirsten Althoff of Germany in 33:36:37.
The next edition of the Sahara Race (Namibia) starts on Sun, 30 April 2017.
The Post-Race Update will be posted on Sun, 7 May 2017