Beth Whitman's Namib Race 2021 Race Report
Beth Whitman is from Seattle in the United States and has been an adventurer and traveller for the majority of her life. She ran her first marathon at 50, ran 5 marathons that year and then followed it with a Quadzilla.
Beth competed in the Namib Race 2021, her second race with RacingThePlanet, having recently competed in Georgia just a couple of months before. Beth achieved 3rd Female Competitor, and 14th position overall with an impressive course time of 39 hours, 21 minutes and 35 seconds!
October 22 - Arrival into Camp 1
The adventure started before the race when we were dropped off on the side of a road by our shuttle, then picked up by 4x4 vehicles and driven through the Namib Desert to our first camp. It was here that we were welcomed by singing from our amazing Namibia-based staff. Little did we know how much we’d rely on them over the next seven days…
October 22 - Pre-race at Camp 1
As beautiful as the setting was in the Namib Desert, it was also quite dramatic—with gorgeous sunsets, star-filled nights, and WINDY afternoons. It was all but futile trying to keep the sand out of everything. And I mean Every Thing. It took me days after the race to scrub the final grains out of my ears.
October 23 - Pre-race at Camp 1
Many things happened before we set off to run Stage 1. This included staff and volunteers checking our gear to ensure we had the mandatory equipment we had to carry with us throughout the seven-day race (including 14,000 calories of food). If anything was missing, you risked not being able to start OR receiving a time penalty.
We were also informed of some major changes to the course to avoid the gale force winds expected in the dunes. Carlos, the course director, explained the new route to us by drawing in the sand. While we missed out on some things we had been looking forward to (such as an area filled with flamingos), it did mean we would avoid a long stretch of very difficult sand dunes (yay!). Huge kudos to Carlos and RacingThePlanet management for being so on top of this that they could change the route for the safety of all runners.
October 24 - Stage 1, 23 Miles, 6 Hours 30 Minutes (Part I)
I’m not quite sure how I felt prior to the start of the Namib Race—250K across the desert with a 20-pound pack.
This event was supposed to be the first of four desert runs I’m participating in with RacingThePlanet. All of these *should* have taken place in 2020. Running all four in one year is considered a Grand Slam. Adding in the one non-desert race that’s offered each year is considered a Grand Slam Plus, something only eight people have accomplished, including just two women. (And something I’m now shooting for!)
As each desert race got rescheduled (and rescheduled and rescheduled), the first event I was able to run was in the country of Georgia, the organization’s yearly non-desert roaming race, in August.
My way of dealing with it was to not think about it too much. Hence, I didn’t know how I felt on Day 1. It was a bit like an out of body experience. I was there but I couldn’t give too much thought to the task at hand. I was just going to have to put one foot in front of the other. And hope that I could make it the six to eight hours on the other side. Here’s me at the start line, hoping…
October 24 - Stage 1, 23 Miles, 6 Hours 30 Minutes (Part II)
It’s a good thing I didn’t give a lot of thought as to what to expect in the desert because worrying about it wouldn’t have changed anything anyway.
I will say that Stage 1, at nearly 23 miles, sucked. It was hot (once at camp I found out it had been about 116 degrees). It was lonely. And it was long. I had a lot of bad mental thoughts going on in my head and I really thought that perhaps I would quit after this day. But I told myself to just get through the day (because no one was going to give me a ride!) and revaluate an hour after I got to camp.
Smart thinking because, of course, after getting into camp, putting my feet up and commiserating with other runners, I knew I could be ready for Stage 2! Luckily, I didn’t know the temps would get even hotter in the days to come.
At the end of Stage 1 and at camp that night, where temps dropped dramatically. I’m staying warm now in more clothes and with a hot chocolate. The “hot water ladies” always had multiple kettles of water boiling for our drinks and to cook our dehydrated meals.
October 25 - Stage 2, 23 Miles, 6 Hours 40 Minutes (Part I)
Up for another day in the desert and feeling the support from fellow runners—both of which were with me in Georgia in August!
This day was difficult, for sure. But what kept me going was the fact that I made it through the previous day, so I knew I could do it again. I had fewer thoughts of quitting the entire race, but they were there, deep down.
The distance and time were about the same as Stage 1, but it helped that it was slightly cooler today. Still, it was close to 100F!
October 25 - Stage 2, 23 Miles, 6 Hours 40 Minutes (Part II)
Desert. Deserted. Desolation. Feeling lonely between checkpoints. And hugely grateful to the volunteers (including my husband, Jon!) who provided moral support and lots of water. Camp after Stage 2. Including an African blanket (a bonfire) topped off with singing and dancing by the local staff.
October 26 - Stage 3, 28+ Miles, 8 Hours 40 Minutes
We were told in advance that this would be our toughest day on the course (well, we still had a 40+ mile day coming up on Stage 5!). Today would be longer than Stages 1 and 2 AND we would be experiencing some elevation as well as a wide range of sand conditions.
I had NO idea there are so many types of sand. Deep sand, crushed sand, sand as fine as sugar, sand dunes, beach sand, packed sand, loose sand. We had it all on this day.
I was definitely moving slower on this day. Initially I thought it was because of the accumulation of two days of running and the difficulty of navigating the sand. But once at camp, I learned that it was hotter today than it had been over the previous two days. In addition, much of it was through a canyon where there was no breeze. At all. So, for much of the day we were facing what was likely 120+ temps.
I made my way through the first two checkpoints, which would have been about the first 14 miles. It was shortly after that when I met up with Gabriella, my Norwegian tentmate (and total badass). We accompanied each other through much of these canyons, struggling in the heat and appreciating the fact that we had company through this very tough section.
I put on my running playlist and we immediately found ourselves with a faster pace as we sang our way through the canyons. We were then joined by Hans who was close behind us.
The three of us walked our way through most of the last half of this day and were very grateful to be greeted a few miles from the finish line by race staff and volunteers who were refilling water bottles for anyone who needed it.
Arriving so late in the day (after nearly nine hours on the course), there isn’t a lot of time to recover for the next day. So, I unpacked my gear in the tent, put my feet up and grabbed a bite to eat. This was an early to bed night for me!
October 27 - Stage 4, 23+ Miles, 6 Hours 30 Minutes
As the days go on, you realize there’s no turning back. There are no excuses for quitting (although I did have the occasional wish of a natural disaster that might force us ALL to quit) and the only way through this is forward. With a really tough day behind me, I figured Stage 4 would be easier (it was).
Just happy if I were to finish this entire race, I hadn’t looked at my overall time, but I knew I was in fourth place for women at this point. I also knew that the women ahead of me were faster and it was unlikely that I’d catch up with them today, let alone pass them. So, I took it easy and enjoyed (if that’s what you call it—LOL) the day.
Camp at the end of Stage 4. I loved the energy that our Namibian staff brought to the race—always happy, always singing and dancing.
And then there was my tent mate, Jang Ha Yeong. She was the youngest runner (at 19!). Often the last into camp but ALWAYS smiling. She toughed out every day and finished the race when there was some doubt she might. But it goes to show ya how much mental strength plays into these events.
October 28 - Stage 5, 40 Miles, 10 Hours 50 Minutes
On this day, the longest of them all, I wanted to do one thing…get through the day and put it behind me as quickly as possible. That’s not to say I was “fast,” I was merely focused.
As a matter of fact, I was slow and steady through the first two checkpoints, walking more than I had been on previous days, as this early section included elevation gain (my nemesis).
But as soon as I hit the downhill after the second checkpoint at about mile 12, my pace quickened by two to three minutes per mile. I first passed a couple of people through a technically difficult section and then, after a mile or two, caught up with Kasia and Wolfgang.
I think they were simultaneously bummed and motivated to see me. They had been taking it easy, walking and talking together, until I came along, all Energizer bunny-like. So, they increased their pace to keep up with me.
We stayed together through checkpoint four (about mile 24) when Wolfgang sped up (or perhaps we slowed down—LOL!). In any case Kasia and I mostly stuck together the rest of the way into camp, another 16 miles. At one point I had told her that I would be delighted to come in third in women’s that day, with her and Liss ahead of me. (Kasia had other plans for me…)
I was definitely losing steam during the latter half of the day while Kasia kept a strong and steady pace. While she walked fast, I felt like a puppy dog jogging behind her trying to keep up. Often, I would jog ahead and then walk until she caught up, when I would start jogging again, only to have her quickly catch up and pass me.
We chatted along the way but often stayed quiet, reserving our energy for our legs.
As we approached the finish line, nearly 11 hours after we started the day, I went to grab Kasia’s hand so we could cross together. She said, “No, this is your day, you go first,” and gave me a little push forward. This gave me second place for the women on this day. (What an incredibly generous gesture.)
Overall, I was super happy with my time on this day. In Georgia, Stage 5 took me closer to 13 hours to complete even though Namibia was a lot more difficult given the terrain and heat (although it was a few miles shorter). All I can say is that I had the mental focus on this day to push. And push I did.
October 29 - Rest Day!
The local Namibians are getting giddy. Two of our “hot water ladies” showed up in traditional dress. And then somehow convinced one of the guys to dress up as well. Such a hoot! Jon and I took a little walk on the dunes to check out the terrain for the final 3.5 miles to be run the next day. Beautiful but tough to navigate!
By late afternoon, the wind had picked up so much that it was uncomfortable to be outside the tent. Well, it was uncomfortable to be inside the tent, too! But I did hunker down for the late afternoon and evening, eating my final dehydrated meal in the tent alone.
It was impossible to keep sand out of the tent and, in addition to it being all over the tent floor, in my bag, my clothes, my ears, and my water bottles, it built up in the cavities of my sleeping pad.
Another RacingThePlanet event in the books!! 250K across the Namib Desert and a third place women’s finish. More later but for now this pic while I put my feet up and get some proper sleep (and shake out all the sand!).