The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Northern Kenya is home to buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhino, but somehow, every year, over a thousand people decide they’d like to run through it in the Safaricom Marathon.
Kicking up dust through lion territory requires serious courage, and well organised protection. Which is why Tusk – the conservation giant that organizes the Safaricom Marathon – arranges 140 armed rangers and 3 spotter helicopters to protect the runners as they race through the 13 miles of unfenced wild. The spotter choppers keep an eye out for any threats to the runners lives before swooping in, in an attempt to herd lion, elephant and the like away from the running route.
Sound like a fun day out? It isn’t. 70% of all runners that start the race don’t finish it, giving it a Dakar rally like reputation in the global marathon fraternity. The danger, challenge and feat of completion also gives the Safaricom Marathon a mythical status, earning it a place in Runner’s World’s 10 Races To Run Before You Die.
If the wild surrounds aren’t enough of a challenge, the 5,500ft elevation, 80 degree heat and endless rolling hills are sure to push you to breaking point. The reason for all the madness? Conservation. With every $250 entry, a mandatory $1,500 fundraising donation is required – bringing to the fore the scale of aid that the Safaricom Marathon provides to African wildlife conservation, and (if you didn’t have enough reason already) making clear why this should be your next adventure travel experience.
This year’s Safaricom Marathon is taking place on the 25th of June 2017, and, if you have that feeling in your gut that this might be the year for you – you’re going to need to know a few things.
We caught up with Matt Hudson, owner and founder of Total Motion Events, who completed the half marathon in 2015, to get an inside track on what you need to know if you’d like to take on the Safaricom Marathon.
What was your approach leading up to the Safaricom Marathon?
I probably took it reasonably lightly in that I thought to myself that I’d done marathons, half marathons and half iron-man events before, so I could do a reasonable amount of training and just turn up on the day. I was so wrong. It is one of those events that is just absolutely unlike any other that I’ve ever participated in. In the UK the marathons do have uphills and downhills, in Lewa – it’s a different story.
Other than the hills, what made it so tough?
The fact that you’re running at that altitude, in that heat, and that you are essentially only running in the tracks of 4 wheel drive game vehicles that have made grooves in the dust road. I’ve run marathons in London, Manchester and throughout Europe, but I’ve always run on roads. In those marathons, you can weave around people without worrying where you put your feet – running in these 2 columns in these grooves in Kenya was incredibly difficult. I knew that I would be running around the conservancy but that’s where my knowledge stopped, I didn’t appreciate that it would be so hilly, that it would be so warm (coming out of the English winter and going to that heat was very difficult) and that the terrain would be so rough.
Is there any part of the route runners should be weary of?
Physically, it was at about 8 or 9 Kilometers into the race, you start getting steep hills. Now, usually in a marathon when you have a long uphill you get the benefit of a downhill thereafter. The tough thing about Safaricom is that, you fight up the steep uphills, and then the downhills are equally steep, meaning your recovery time before the next uphill is incredibly short.
Mentally, it was the focus required for the entire duration of the race. Quite often when you’re running, especially longer distances you’re not having to think so much. You’ve done your training and so part of you just shuts down and you can just kind of, do it on auto pilot. When you’re there [Kenya], at no point can you stop thinking about what’s around you. You just don’t know what your foot’s going to land on with every step, which forces you to have a constant awareness. You’re not able to switch off for a single Kilometer.
Reaching the finishing line and hearing of a lion kill that had taken place there the night before just reminded me that we really were in the wild.
What gear would you say people need to make sure they pack?
I just ran in normal gear, which I think you can get away with because it’s dry and so there is grip. If you have trail running shoes and you’re used to running in them then yes that would help, but trail running shoes that you’re not used to can be unforgiving. You want a fairly solid shoe, be it a trail running shoe or a good running shoe with a lot of support for the intermediate marathon runners.
You definitely need a hat and some sunglasses and a lot of the factor 30 or 50 sunblock. The difficult thing is that when you’re approaching the starting line in the morning it’s actually quite cold, and the temptation is to put an extra layer on, but you don’t want to have to carry something with you when it heats up.
Where would it rank on the list of challenges you’ve taken on?
I’ve run the London Marathon a few times and a couple of events in Europe and, as an all round experience, it is number 1 on my list. To be a part of the race first hand is just amazing. You’re not going there for a personal best, you’re going there for the overall experience.
Anything else that you would say people should know or consider before taking on the challenge?
If you have the opportunity and the time, whether you’re a runner or you’re not – this is something that should be on your bucket list. It is just such an incredible opportunity to really go and witness first hand what it is like to run a distance in that sort of environment.
If you’re interested in taking part in this year’s Safaricom Marathon, contact us today and we’ll create an itinerary based on your country of departure, as well as your intended length of stay in Kenya prior to or after the marathon.
Matt Hudson left a Corporate life in financial services in early 2016 after becoming disillusioned with spending day after day between the four walls of his office. Matt started doing small events in South-West London, in aid of charities that he wanted to support, and through that passion founded Total Motion Events. Today, he is organising sporting events for charities, schools, corporates and health clubs ranging from short running races on London’s commons to aquathlons at our Lidos and stairclimbs at some of the tallest buildings in the country in the City of London. You can find out more about Matt, his mission and Total Motion Events here.