The Yellow Wood Valley is the most dreaded part of the course. You are about to run down the steepest slope of your life! This sharp descent is on a paved surface. The next three kilometres or so will be excruciatingly hard on your quads as you negotiate the steep slope. You reach lion country after the descent and although the next 9kms are flat, you’re running through deep sand. This brings you back to Yellow Wood. And yes, you guessed correctly – you’re going up the dreaded hill this time! Be prepared to take things slowly as it’s virtually impossible to run up this hill.
The route carries on to Long Drive, a narrow valley, where marathon runners do a 6km loop. This section is run on dirt trails, a welcome respite from the deep sand and loose stone terrain earlier on.
The end of the run is fairly hard (final four kilometres). You run halfway down the ridge, which provides you with a wonderful view out over the plateau’s lake. The surface is fairly bad, consisting of hard uneven stony ground with plenty of large rocks and stones of all sizes. This final part has quite a few hills and as the surface is loose, it pays to keep a careful watch on the ground as you run towards the finish, but with the finish line in sight you can now take it nice and easy.
The course will be marked with kilometre signs but these should be used as a guide only and are not intended to be used to gauge your pace.
Have you thought about extending your stay? Check out our amazing optional tours to make your holiday the trip of a lifetime.
The package for the Big 5 Marathon was exceptional. The entire experience was very professionally organised and well managed. The course was very well marked and managed, aid stations were great. Travelling Fit provide an outstanding experience at the events they promote. They are professional and ensure that you are well looked after and get the most out of your chosen running adventure.
From our initial enquiry with Travelling Fit, right through to arriving home from our amazing experience we could not be happier. As a family of six with three runners and three spectators there was some ‘out of the usual’ requirements with accommodation but nothing was too much trouble. We are far from serious runners but rather were looking for a family holiday with a run as part of that and it worked out perfectly for all of us. This is the second time I have travelled with Travelling Fit and it won’t be the last, I love all of the inclusions/tours available. Couldn’t be happier - thank you.
What an experience! I can't say enough about the this amazing trip doing the Big 5 (half)! I'm so glad I stayed at WILDSIDE, with the best group of runners and spectators ever! The facilities were a perfect mix of comfort and real African bush experience. Amazing food and lovely staff. The run was something else - that hill! And the fun and shenanigans at the starting line was hilarious. And the after party! Oh, and of course the animals! The rangers and staff were fantastic, very capable (especially when the lions and elephants came to visit!) and their knowledge and love for the place was amazing. I learnt so much. Thanks to Travelling Fit and everyone involved in making this possible!
The Big5 Half Marathon...an indescribably amazing experience!!
South Africa is like my home away from home, so to finish my first half marathon in a country I love, literally brought tears to my eyes (thank goodness I had sunnies for the photos!) EVERYTHING was so well organised, accommodation and food were amazing, (no need to worry if you have any dietary requirements), staff at Wildside along with our tour leader were genuinely friendly, knowledgeable, and nothing was too much trouble - heading out on one game drive, we jokingly asked to see baby cheetahs, giraffe and lion... well, we asked, we got!!! All three!! And for added bonus, we saw cheetah Mum too. The event itself is....... challenging! There is 4K of mountain which I think has been mistakenly referred to as a 'hill', sand, rocks and not quite as much oxygen around as we are used to. I wouldn't change a thing.
A huge, heart felt 'Thank you' to Travelling Fit and Entabeni Game Reserve for making my first half marathon an experience I will never forget. Bring on the next challenge!
The Big Five Marathon was quite simply an amazing experience put together by an amazing team. From the moment I booked the tour right through to the hotel which was booked for me and the Travelling Fit running shirt that was designed specifically for the event, it was all, by far, much more than I expected.
This was a great event. I met so many wonderful and inspirational runners from first-time marathoners to a lady who was going to do her 174th. The events like game drives, ballooning, extra drives for specialty interests are all great. They tour leader, staff, rangers made the whole experience very, very pleasant. I was woken up by hippo sounds every morning. As for the marathon, it is a toughy; practice your hills and soft sand running.
The most unbelievable running experience of my life and I have done a lot of adventure runs. Just the fact you know the animals are there, the terrain and views and the continued encouragement of anyone you met along the way, could not recommend this enough!!!
Well the dust has settled on our African Adventure, and what a blast it has been! I don’t even know where to begin to try and put into words how amazing it was. Surprisingly it wasn’t all about the marathon..I enjoyed every minute of it – thank you to the awesome runners that made up our fun group, the super cool rangers and the gorgeous staff Entabeni Game Reserve was the perfect setting for this Marathon… from the different running terrains, wild animals and the hill…But after 42km it was all worth it.. that feeling you get when it’s all over will stay with me forever.
Our package was very comprehensive and tailored to our needs. It was great to have someone else do all the hard work - thank you!
The entry fee for the Big Five Marathon is incorporated into the price of the package you choose and cannot be purchased independently.
Please note that all competitors MUST be 18 years of age on race day
There are no qualifying times for the Big Five Marathon.
The marathon is planned to start at 09:00. Please note that the presence of wildlife near the route may cause delays.
Cut-off 1 – 26.5km – 4 hours and 15 minutes after start
Cut-off 2 – 32.5km – 5 hours and 30 minutes after start
Cut-off 3 – finish line – 7 hours after start
Runners who haven’t reached the cut-off points in time will not be allowed to continue and will be picked up by a ranger vehicle and taken back to the finish line.
The cut-off times are strictly enforced to keep everybody safe!
The Big Five Marathon will be accurately timed using the ChampionChip system.
You will get two copies of the your bib number for the Big Five Marathon. Both must be worn visibly during the race – one on the front of your body and one on your back.
T-Shirts and Race information (including race numbers) will be handed out to you on inspection day.
There are no pace setters in this event.
Drinks stations are located along the route at approximately every 4km (2.5 miles). Water and Coca Cola are served at all stations.
The drinks stations will be open until the last runner has passed. Electrolyte drinks and bananas are served at selected drink stations and at the finish line.
A team of Danish doctors and South African paramedics will also be present during inspection and race days.
Personal Refreshments and Clothing
It is possible to leave jackets, sweaters, hat and other personal belongings at the start and pick it up after finishing the race.
If possible, please leave personal belongings in a bag or backpack. Please mark your personal belongings clearly with your name and bib number! Do not place any valuables among the items you hand in on race day.
Although the personal belongings are under staff surveillance, Entabeni Safari Conservancy and the Big Five Marathon organisers cannot be held responsible for any lost items.
You will be transported to the start of the Big Five Marathon on race morning and transported back after the race.
There is no Expo associated with the Big Five Marathon
Finishers T-shirts, Medals and Certificates
All finishers will receive a t-shirt, certificate and finishers medal.
All results will be net time, meaning your time starts from the moment you cross the start line.
However, the top three male and female finishers of both distances are decided on gun time – the first three to physically cross the finish line.
The weather is very dry, sunny and cool at this time of the year. Participants can expect an average temperature of around 15-20 Celsius, but with variations due to sun, shade, wind and altitude.
Please Note: It can drop to between 0 and 5 degrees Celcius in the early mornings and overnight so please be sure to bring a warm coat, gloves, beanie and scarf.
Big Five MarathonThe Big Five Marathon - Entabeni Game Reserve - South Africa. By Bonnie Davies The Big Five Marathon is an annual event held at the end of June during the Winter. Despite being Winter, the ...
The Big Five Marathon – Entabeni Game Reserve – South Africa. By Bonnie Davies
The Big Five Marathon is an annual event held at the end of June during the Winter. Despite being Winter, the temperatures often reach mid 20s Celsius, while temperatures plummet during the evening.
The event is managed by Albatros Adventure Marathons and can be booked directly through Travelling Fit. Because of the nature of the event and accommodation limitations within the reserve the event must be booked as part of a package and can be modified to incorporate additional travel to suit the individual. Rates are dependent upon the accommodation type selected but include race entry, T-shirt, 5 nights accommodation, coach transfers to and from O R Tambo airport, three game drives with the option of purchasing extra and all meals.
Entabeni which in Zulu means place of mountains is located 268km to the NW of Johannesburg and takes approximately 4 hours to drive. Guides holding Marathon signs meet runners at the airport arrivals hall, and a large modern coach transports participants to the Entabeni game reserve. Johannesburg is not a safe city and pre-organised transfers are highly recommended. Our flight did not connect with our transfers, so we had to fly in two days early and stayed at the Holiday Inn Johannesburg Airport Hotel which provides free and safe transfers to and from O R Tambo airport.
Upon arrival to the reserve the coach is met by several off-road safari vehicles. The terrain is not suitable for the coach and all runners must swap onto the safari vehicles. Luggage is handled by the guides who drop the bags off at the various lodges. Guests are greeted by multiple animals and welcomed to each of the lodges with a buffet lunch filled with an array of fresh good quality food.
Safaris are included in the package and the guides do a wonderful job ensuring runners see a wide variety of flora and fauna throughout their stay. The reserve is filled with a variety of animals but unfortunately has not been lucky enough to avoid being a victim of poaching crimes.
The Big Five event includes both a half and full marathon and a route inspection of the respective courses takes place the day before. This is so valuable as it gives runners 24 hours to consider aspects of the course and tweak plans. It also provides another opportunity to see all the wonderful animals. The course is marked thoroughly with colour coded arrows for the respective distances and kilometre markings. Following the route inspection marathon runners do have the opportunity to change to the half marathon distance, purchase merchandise and collect race numbers.
The run is dictated heavily by the resident fauna. The 2018 event was due to start at 0900 but started at 0930 due to slow moving elephants on the course. Additionally, we were warned that signs and km markers do disappear at times, as happened to the 37km marker.
The race start at Lakeside Lodge which is the biggest of the lodges in the reserve and sits at an elevation of approximately 1167M. The course winds around the upper escarpment and out to the highest point of the course sitting at 1702M. Runners numbers are recorded here to ensure all pass this point.
The course does consist of several hills, the steepest of which has a 42% gradient. It is not possible to run up it. Running down also requires good knowledge of appropriate technique to avoid injury and to scoot down nice and effectively. This hill starts at the 14km mark, is 3.2km long and takes runners down into the lower escarpment and lion territory. Thick, soft, deep and heavy sand awaits runners at the bottom heavily impacting speed and efficiency. Present for much of the 8km loop in this area I was pleased I made a last-minute decision to make my own home-made gaiters. It meant I could plough through without worrying about the discomfort of sand in my shoes. I would highly recommend short gaiters for anyone running this event.
Armed guides line the course and the pride of lions were closely monitored to ensure the runners were not in danger.
Running in the Big Five does present risks and runners were informed at the start “anything that runs in Africa is food”. There are stretches of the course where runners can find themselves alone. So being aware of the surroundings is important and if a guide does yell “stop”, runners must stop. I personally spent a considerable part of the run alone and had a little fright. Singing at the top of one’s lungs while trotting along seemed to do the trick and saw me safely to the end.
Upon completion of the lower escarpment, runners are given a wrist band. No wrist band at the finish means disqualification. It’s then back up the hill. Despite being extremely steep, it was in the shade and offered respite from the hot high sun that reflected off the sand in the lower escarpment. Walking up with purpose seemed to do the job but beware of cramps at the top, which brought many undone. With 14 kms to go after ascending “the hill” it proved to be the hardest part of the marathon. Muscular cramps troubled most runners making the final third the slowest and most fatiguing.
This final part of the journey winds back through a small valley and finishes back at Lakeside lodge. It is quite undulating and very rocky in parts which can quickly bring a cramping runner to a halt.
The finish is filled with positivity, music and every single finisher is announced including the country they represent.
Hydration stations are located approximately every 5km and offer water coke and wet sponges. Two on course offer additional electrolytes. I ran with my hydration vest and found this better as I needed electrolytes more frequently as cramping began.
Beer and water are offered at the finish along with a buffet lunch. A pool is also close by to assist with cramping muscles and massage therapists provide 15-minute massages for a small charge. All finishers receive a finishers medal.
Trophies are awarded to the first three male and female place getters in each event.
Not accustomed to running at altitude, the first 5km was pretty tough until I settled. Breathing heavy it felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen into my lungs.
Also not a trail runner. This event provided a whole new learning opportunity. I did some preparation on trails and sought advice to better assist me technically which definitely paid off.
As a whole I highly recommend the event as a brilliant bucket list opportunity. It is well organised, and the topography outstanding. To run in the African Savannah is mind blowing. However, I also recommend being prepared.
Big Five MarathonThe Big5 experience as a whole, was better than awesome. Wildside accommodation was like double 5 star glamping, the tents were way better than I was expecting, shower/toilet area was better ...
The Big5 experience as a whole, was better than awesome. Wildside accommodation was like double 5 star glamping, the tents were way better than I was expecting, shower/toilet area was better than I’ve seen in some 4/5 star hotels!!, (beds were super comfy too!!). Nights/mornings were cold, but nothing my very unsexy fleecy socks and pj’s didn’t conquer.
Our tour leader Lena, camp staff and rangers were beyond brilliant; nothing was too much trouble. The other Wildsiders were all super nice and I’m hoping to keep in touch with the little group I spent most of my time with.
I was blown away by the food, (no worries about being vegetarian!!) and everything was so delicious!
Game drives were unbelievable! One evening, we had the great privilege of sighting the big male lion, passing merely a few meters from our truck, his eyes were glued to something in the distance and it was like we were just part of the landscape. Considering that we weren’t really protected in those trucks except for our trusty armed ranger, it was quite surreal. If that wasn’t already amazing enough, we also saw baby cheetahs with their Mum, munching on some freshly caught Impala, and the cheetah brothers, again quite happy to amble along beside us, merely meters from the truck.
The run itself……I don’t think it has sunk in that I’ve actually done it…..they certainly aren’t lying to call it challenging!! I was pretty intimidated from the get go, especially when you find out 5 minutes after arriving into camp that Lakeside is… ‘up there’, and it registers that you are looking at ‘the hill’. Are you SURE this is the hill?? Looks more like a mountain to me!! Then people talk about the multiple marathons they’ve done, triathlon, iron man, how their dog can pace them at a perfect 4.5 minute km….I felt so WAY out of my depth. Driving the course the next day, I thought, this isn’t as bad as I imagined, and felt I could give 3 hours (for the half mara) a red hot crack – which I was soon re-thinking after having to walk barely 50m from the toilet up to the start line and could barely catch my breath, lol!!
I finished in 3h17m, all considered, I was happy with that. Please don’t send the ambulance with the sedatives and straight jackets, but I want to do the run again, with more training behind me, and aim for top 10 females. Too scared to tell any of my newfound Wildside friends this, nobody seemed keen to came back to tackle that course again!!
I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Big5 challenge, or Travelling Fit. I’m looking forward to booking my next challenge with you guys just as soon as I figure out exactly what that next challenge will be. A special thank you to my Travelling Fit consultant Tina – you were an amazing help, and did more than you know to keep me in a positive head space. Bring on the next challenge!!
Big Five Marathon ReviewWhat an amazing experience! We were so fortunate to be able to have a fantastic African adventure in the recent 2017 Big Five Marathon, where I ran the marathon and my wife attended as a ...
What an amazing experience! We were so fortunate to be able to have a fantastic African adventure in the recent 2017 Big Five Marathon, where I ran the marathon and my wife attended as a spectator.
We are so glad that we got to stay at Ravineside Lodge which was only a five to ten minute drive from the start/finish line. Just driving from the front gate to the Lodge we saw elephants, zebras and impala! Our en suite room overlooked a magnificent ravine where you could look down on a herd of giraffes grazing! With three scrumptious meals a day, incredibly friendly staff and magnificent wildlife this was a mind-blowing experience! I even bought a tie a the Lodge’s curio shop for a very reasonable 200 rand … I latter found the same tie for sale at the airport for 500 rand!
The marathon itself was very picturesque, but certainly challenging running entirely on sandy and rocky tracks, with a significant hill to descend and then climb in the middle. After it took around 2 hours to drive the 42km course, I was concerned that I wouldn’t make the seven hour cut-off time. However thankfully I made it in about six and a half hours. All the volunteers at the water stations were very friendly and encouraging, with some even greeting the runners with singing and drumming! I was also able to get some assistance from the helpful medical staff on course to apply ‘magic spray’ on a sore knee.
We took advantage of the extension tour to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, which was equally fantastic. Our five star accommodation at the Victoria Falls Hotel was absolutely amazing … it felt a bit like living in Downton Abby with such a magnificent palace-like buildings and with so many helpful staff, and yet with wart-hogs and monkeys roaming the grounds! The Falls were in full flow, and the mist from the Falls being visible 24/7. We got to do an elephant-back ride which was unforgettable, and were fortunate to take a helicopter ride over the Falls in order to be able to take in their full beauty.
A couple of tips for anyone doing the Big Five marathon trip : book early .. this trip sells out fast! And take plenty of smaller denomination notes for tips and purchases (especially US dollars if going to Victoria Falls).
Overall we had an amazing trip, and anyone reading this should put the Big Five Marathon on your ‘must do’ list! I would certainly like to do this event again! The local Travelling Fit representative in Africa, Veronica, was incredibly friendly and helpful, and ensured that our entire trip ran smoothly. Tina and Felicity from the Australian office handled all our bookings and queries promptly and expertly.
Thanks to all at Travelling Fit for once again organising such an unforgettable running adventure!
The Big Five Marathon – Travelling fit, or trying to!I thought I was all prepared for the big trip, I had been planning it for long enough, every detail painstakingly mapped out, but those last few days in Oz just didn’t seem to run ...
I thought I was all prepared for the big trip, I had been planning it for long enough, every detail painstakingly mapped out, but those last few days in Oz just didn’t seem to run smoothly. I hoped this wasn’t an omen, however much travel I do I still get anxious at the last minute, have I packed correctly, are all the documents in order, will the plane stay in the sky? I did not need other matters to worry about.
Part of the preparation was to get a health check, in the past I have almost come unstuck when I have had to claim on travel insurance for medical issues and had to produce a letter saying I was healthy before I left (I don’t know what being healthy has to do with falling and breaking ribs) so this time I wanted to make sure a doctor knew I was travelling fit, just in case. I had never been to one of my local doctors so because she didn’t know me she sent me off for blood tests to look at cholesterol, blood sugars, kidney and liver function and who knows what else. Well, blood tests and I do not go well together. I get all geared up and know it’s not going to hurt but I just can’t help the light headed, dizzy feeling that comes over me. At pathology the first nurse couldn’t get the blood, I obviously looked rather drained so she said I could sit in the waiting room and she would try again later. I thought I felt OK to stand up but obviously not, the next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor! I have never fainted at these things before, only felt like it! After some rest another nurse came to try again, she was fantastic, chirpy and chatting and a real professional, she got the blood and it was all over. Or so I thought! No, the results showed everything was fine except my blood sugars were a bit high, it had only been a screening test so to find out conclusively I needed an oral glucose tolerance test – involving three consecutive blood tests! Wow, that made my day! I saw the same nurse that was successful the first time, she was amazing, she needs a medal for her public relations skills, she got me through the whole three tests over two and a half hours and the results were everything was OK – what did I do to deserve that punishment?!
The fainting episode over with I now knew I was fit and healthy to travel, but that check hadn’t involved my teeth. Just flossing away in the morning and ‘ping’, what was that? It felt like I had popped a whole tooth out, well as good as, my huge gold crown had just been ejected from my mouth, followed closely by a bit of tooth that was underneath it. On the bright side it had landed on the floor and not gone down the plug hole! Off to the dentist, yes she was able to reattach it and fill the huge hole underneath it, I just need to keep my fingers crossed that it stays there for the whole trip, flossing will be minimal!
Now I am ready to depart, but no, something else of monumental importance breaks on me – my Garmin! Well, actually the watch was still functioning but the strap had broken, no time to look into this one, time to get to the airport.
For five weeks prior to race day I was travelling through Spain and France, finding wonderful places to explore during training runs, (carrying my Garmin, because apparently a watch repairer can’t fix it, only Garmin can and I am not about to send it away at the moment). I tried to stick to the training plan as much as possible and to get some hills and soft sand runs included. I found great hills in Barcelona, up to the castle, and in the little village I stayed outside of Montpellier, built on the side of a hill I could go up and down, round and round to my heart’s content, soaking in the atmosphere of the narrow French lanes, lush green countryside and quaint, ancient stone buildings.
I put myself to the soft sand test running from Montpellier to Sete. There is an amazing spit of sand that runs for more than 25 km, almost all the way between the two towns, the Mediterranean on one side of you and a large inland lagoon on the other, hardly a sole about – I was getting a bit worried that I would get to the end of the spit and not be able to cross the river to get to the town on the other side, but as I got closer there were people walking towards me so I guessed they had all not just walked the 20 km from the last town! As I got closer to Sete the skies cleared but the wind picked up – by the time I ran across the causeway I could hardly stand upright, I know why they have wind turbines on the hills! My planned 23km was up just as I reached the end of the causeway and I didn’t run a metre further! The town was still a couple of kilometres away but a cool down walk with a large bottle of water was the order of the day. The run had been decidedly slow taking 2 hours 28 minutes (the sand was much softer than that of St Kilda beach and the wind was much stronger – that’s my excuse), but it only took me 20 minutes to get back on the train!
Training for a marathon is generally a great way of seeing a new place, you have time to explore all its intricacies. However, I do find one drawback that sometimes makes me reluctant to venture forth, the fear of not knowing where the comfort stations (as my guide in India insisted on calling the public toilets) are! Of course if I think I am going to get caught short then I do, but I have managed to ease my anxiety by having some back up locations – bus and train stations; the great outdoors; fancy hotel receptions are the best option!
In Arles I ran along the canals, with mist rising off the water, Cyprus trees and Van Gogh’s bridge, it was totally peaceful and you could almost see the paintings of Van Gogh and Cezanne before your eyes.
In Paris I ran in the Bois do Boulogne, yes, I found soft sand! I think I was running along the horse-riding path because the sand was really stirred up, but good for my training. It was very pretty, all through the woods, you wouldn’t know you were in the centre of Paris. Then as I saw a scantily dressed young lady and an older gentleman (well, maybe that’s not the phrase to use!) come out of the woods and go in opposite directions I seemed to remember some stories about the Bois de Boulogne, whilst it might be a runners, walkers, horse riders and families delight through the day at night it comes to life with prostitution; now this was 7am in the morning, some of them obviously work late!
In Antibes I had a bit of trouble with locating sand for my training, the Mediterranean sparkled in the glorious sunshine but the sand was distinctly lacking, the few scattered beaches being about 100 m long! By running the 12 km along the coast to Cannes I got to run for about 3km on sand, a lot of the beaches were ‘private’ with sun beds lined up bumper to bumper, luckily they have to allow a 2 m gap between the sea and the sunbeds for people to walk by. There are certainly a lot of hills around Antibes though and I thought I found some steep ones, until I saw Yellowwood at Entabeni!
It works out well that I enjoy running because my real passion is food! I love French cuisine, the fresh baguettes, the cheeses, pates, tartes, crepes – everything! And of course the vino is excellent too. It’s amazing how I always seem to gravitate to the produce markets in each town, I meander amongst the stalls looking longingly at the culinary delights. I really work hard at restraining myself and just taking home enough for my evening meal, well maybe some terrine and Roquefort to nibble on as an entrée!
My French training expedition came to an end and it was off to Barcelona for my flight back to Johannesburg, meet up with Peter, and transfer to Entabeni. It was exciting to gather at the airport with the other participants arriving from all corners of the world. When our coach load were gathered it was off on the three and a half hour drive and the start of our big adventure! I don’t think it was an exciting drive, miles of nothing, not unsimilar to home! Lots of flat scrub and open spaces. The road went from freeway, to highway, to country road, to two lane dirt road, one lane dirt road, then it was a change of vehicle, off the big coach and into the safari wagon, for the last four km.
Wow! On the drive into the reserve we saw giraffe, wildebeest, several species of antelope and then as the guide dropped us off at our cabin we looked across the ravine and there were four elephants straight in front of us – and I spotted them, the guide was really pleased as she hasn’t seen them for a few days! We stayed at Ravineside, what an apt name, the cabin was supported by poles right over the edge of the ravine, really spectacular.
After the first of many beautiful buffet meals, (I would definitely have to watch my calorie intake here, yes I know there was a marathon coming up but before then exercise was really limited, you could not walk from your cabin to the lodge, or anywhere, because the animals were often up close and personal) we were off on our first game drive.
Wow, wow, wow! What an introduction we saw warthog, zebra, white rhino, wildebeest, ostrich, giraffe, eland and impala. We were so close, they looked amazing. We were driving down a track and right in front of us the zebra were walking across the road – our guide said ‘Zebra Crossing’, I just cracked up, that is definitely the true meaning of the zebra crossing! She loved me because she said not many people get her joke, she did mean it as a joke but in actual fact it was purely a statement. Some of the others wondered what I was laughing at because they call our road crossings pedestrian crossings not zebra crossings!
Later that evening, after another feast, and our escort back to our room we discovered why it is called ‘darkest Africa’ – yes, the power went out! It would be a difficult country to live in, with their load shedding for the electricity, the country can’t produce enough so everyone has to take it in turns to do without! A shower by torch light! My main concern was getting my camera batteries charged up for the delights of the next day – it was all good, the power was back on in an hour.
Counting down the hours now, one day to go! Awoke at 6.15 to the sun rising over the escarpment, a beautiful cocktail of reds and oranges lining the ridge of the ravine opposite our room, what a start to the day.
After breakfast it was over to Lakeside Lodge, where the race starts and finishes, for a briefing and a course inspection. Sixteen jeeps lined up in front of the lodge for the three hour drive around the full course, you can imagine how rough it was! It was definitely a challenging course, and when they said there was a steep hill they meant it! I was anxious in the vehicle, let alone on foot! The course is hilly, rocky, sandy – but amazing scenery, fantastic views from the upper escarpment, I had just better remember not to look at the scenery tomorrow, I need to look down at where I am putting my feet! On the bright side there were no tree roots, (tree roots and I do not have a good history) but I am sure the rocks would have the same effect on me!
Race day – wow, what a day! Woke at 6am to get ready, our breakfast pick up was 7am – I declined all the culinary delights, I know from experience that two pieces of toast and jam set me up well for a marathon. 8 am and down to Lakeside for a planned 9 am start but it was 9.15 when we started, apparently that was because they were having trouble locating one of the lions! I didn’t mind waiting! The sun came out whilst we waited so I was able to leave my jacket with Peter, I wouldn’t have needed it for long once I started running. The music was great, a real motivator and all the staff were dancing along, a real party atmosphere. 267 runners in total for the half and full marathon.
And we’re off! 1km downhill, then 2 km up and that was the theme for most of the course! The first 10km were really good, I was third female at the 10km turn around, but dropped back a bit after that! I was feeling really strong at the 16km mark, that’s where the spectators were, it was good to have a bit of a cheer squad.
That was the end of the feel good stage, it was then the very, very steep 2km down from the top to bottom escarpment. Who planned this race? I’m sure they could have found 42 km of perfectly good tracks on the top escarpment without having to venture down, but this is what made it the challenge! I am not good at running downhill, and it’s not safe, so I pottered carefully down, one of the young girls from our lodge flew passed me, I don’t know how you get the confidence to do that, I suppose we all have our strengths, at the bottom it was soft sand for 10km and she was only 500m in when I went passed her, and stayed in front, my soft sand training paid off! In fact I passed all the folk that overtook me on the downhill! It was an absolute killer on the quads, it really wrecked the rest of the race, I was sort of ok for the loop at the bottom (except I found a tree root, yes don’t let it be said I can’t fall over in a race, down I went, luckily on completely soft sand, straight down on my side, didn’t even put my hand out to break my fall and got straight back up again. I had a couple of near trips on rocks, luckily they didn’t eventuate into falls) but after coming back up, the legs were done in.
The 21 km mark was really fun, the staff all had drums, there was music and dancing, plus some much needed drinks of course, I even managed a bit of a sprint to get with the mood! At the 26 km mark it was back up that dam hill! Nobody ran it, I don’t think anyone could, I walked up, trying to do so as quickly as I could, I felt much safer going up and I don’t think it did as much damage to the legs, but it was a long haul. I made sure I was running when I reached the spectator spot at the top! The whole crowd cheered, excellent motivation, if only the legs had ears!
From there it was a pleasant slight decent, with firm ground, rock free for a few kms, but I was getting weary; I decided to have my second gel, but then I was really thirsty, the drink stations had been about every 4km, but I’m sure this was the longest gap, I began to think I was getting dehydrated, then at 34km yeah, the next drink station, I hoed into the water. Mariska and Christy (our ranger guides) were at the 34 km drink station, they were cheering me on madly; they said only 4km to go, I wish! Rangers were positioned, with their rifles, throughout the run, some at drink stations and some in between, there were a lot more at the bottom of the hill, that’s where the lions and hippos live!
The last 12 km were really hard, I wanted to run the flat and the downs, but the downs were the most painful. I was looking forward to the hills for an excuse to walk! I have never walked so much in a marathon, but everyone else was too. At the 38 km mark certain muscles felt so strained that they might pull or strain, I thought, please don’t give up on me at this stage of the game! The last few kms I was running / walking alongside another couple of guys, each of us taking turns to lead, fall back, lead again! At the 40km mark you could hear the finish line, it was exciting, anticipating being almost there, then you were amongst the twist and turns of the hills and lost the sound till you were right upon it – as I came up to the finish line one of the other guys I had been running backwards and forwards with was just in front of me, I put on a sprint (well, a sprint for me!) and we crossed the line together, in 4 hrs 53 mins, I hope I didn’t ruin his finish photo!
That’s it all over! How fit did I feel now? Not very! My first port of call was the massage table. Ooh the pain! Hopefully that meant I would be pain free tomorrow! Next stop was a shower, followed by lunch and yes, a vino!
I bought my ‘finishers shirt’ I think I deserved it; 5th female over the line; 24th overall and if I want to claim a first I was the 1st Aussie female home – and definitely the first over 55 female.
Although the run was finished the experience continued. The next evening was the amazing after party at the Hippo Boma, a thatched roof, circular gathering place, partially closed with stone walls, with a roaring fire in the middle. Staff continued to entertain us as only they now how, singing and dancing and getting everyone involved! Food was plentiful, a few beverages were imbibed in and fun was had by all!
To complete the adventure our last game drive delivered us to both the male lion and the lioness. We owed the close sighting of the male to our ranger, who, thinking the lion was on the other side of the track had ventured down from the jeep for a call of nature. The call turned out to be more nature than she expected, the male lion was walking right in front of her, she remained calm, kept eye contact with him and backed up to the jeep. Once safely back in the jeep we could all admire the stately animal.
Whilst I was really happy with my performance that wasn’t what made the event, it was the combination of new friends; fantastic scenery; amazing animals and friendly, energetic, dancing staff – I can thoroughly recommend the Big 5 Marathon.
Big Five MarathonWe drove the half marathon course the day before... my goal was now to be faster than the vehicle could drive. The race started in the morning with a very pleasant temperature... the first 1½ ...
We drove the half marathon course the day before… my goal was now to be faster than the vehicle could drive. The race started in the morning with a very pleasant temperature… the first 1½ km’s, whilst rough, were down hill and then the course provides you with the first steep challenge of approx. 1km. It wasn’t too bad, and if you wanted to walk there was plenty of Impala to view on the way up.
Over the top of the hill and along the flat, that is where the excitement of the run, well, turned really exciting!!! I ran about 500M and there was the ranger trying to stop the rhino’s getting across the track… when I stopped to take photo’s he told me to keep running, ok, I don’t need to be asked twice.
Another few hundred metres and I glanced to the left… I had seen the wildebeest stampede on my left earlier, obviously they went over to the marathon runners, got spooked and where heading back, in my direction!!! Forgetting time, I ran for tree coverage and stood there whilst the herd stampeded past me… I took some nice shots but was too scared to have the presence of mind to change the camera to video, anyway too late…
I watched the last wildebeest head across the track and then decided to return to the run. Just before the next water stop I managed to catch-up to the runner in front of me… I yelled out that a herd of antelope type animals (Blesbok I think?) with massive antlers/horns were heading in our direction. By the time he said “what do we do?” the herd had sped up, dropped their antlers/horns down and went either side of us… now my heart was really pumping!
The rest of the race was pretty tame from then on in, running down Yell Wood Valley – it was so steep where it felt like your feet would come out the front of your runners but the views where just magnificent. We were joined prematurely by the marathon runners who had their course altered (thanks to the elephants finding the banana station). Down to the bottom and running through lose sand (Tech tip – leave new socks at water stop D) and then back up the valley. At this stage I was averaging under 5.30mins per kilometre… the first kilometre of Yellow Wood took me 19minutes – it was a killer.
Anyway, eventually over the top, a few km of gentle down slop, across 4km of rough rocky road and the longest 1km of downhill I have ever run. Over the finish line and straight to the massage tables and showers… the most unbelievable running experience of my life and I have done a lot of adventure runs. Just the fact you know the animals are there, the terrain and views and the continued encouragement of anyone you met along the way
I could not recommend this enough!!!
WELCOME TO SOUTH AFRICA
The Big Five Marathon is held in the African savannah, among some of the area’s unique wildlife. Runners from all over the world will converge on one of the ‘Big Five’ game reserves in Africa to enjoy this exceptional race.
Travelling Fit is offering a 7 Day Package staying at the private game reserve Entabeni, located in the Limpopo Province, There is also plenty of opportunity to experience several game drives.
You also have the option to stay longer and treat yourself to one of the 3 extension options which include:
- 5 Days/4 Nights – Safari and Panorama Route
- 5 Days/4 Nights – Cape Town and Tour of the Winelands
- 4 Days/3 Nights – Victoria Falls
PLEASE NOTE: The extension packages sell out so you need to book in as soon as possible to avoid disappointment
- Guaranteed Race Entry (Runners Only)
- 6 Nights Accommodation:
Check in: Wed 14 Jun Check out: Tue 20 Jun 2023
- Full Board (Starting with Dinner on Day 1 and ending with breakfast on departure day)
- Return transfers between Johannesburg Airport and Entabeni Private Game Reserve
- Transport within Entabeni Game Reserve
- Game Drives & Outdoor Activities as per the itinerary
- Route Inspection & Race Briefing followed by Buffet Lunch
- Celebration Dinner
- Personalised Travelling Fit Running Top
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients
- Invite to Travelling Fit's Big Five Marathon Closed Facebook group
exclusive to Travelling Fit clients