Robert Ripley's Namib Race (Namibia) 2021 Race Report
Champion of the Namib Race 2021, Robert Ripley, shares his final reflections of the Namib Race through his live accounts written from the field. Follow his epic journey from arriving at the first camp to crossing the finish line and taking home the champion title as he takes you through the scenery, the struggles, and the camaraderie of the race.
The Last Stage and Epilogue (epi-blog?)
So, I have spent most of the last week in the South African bushveld where the elephants roam wild and the internet and cell service are endangered. Now I am sitting at London Heathrow after an 11-hour flight from Johannesburg, waiting on a flight to Seattle and then home to Bend. In between leopard spotting from the Land Rover and some overindulging at meal time, I have had some time for reflection.
First off, I want to thank everyone for their comments on the blog and their kind words of support. Really, it meant a great deal to have your good thoughts behind me. Secondly, it appears that I have been misspelling Radmir’s name throughout my posts. I’m sorry Radmir! I’m sure you didn’t want to be carrying that extra vowel around.
The last stage was a roughly 5km sprint through the sand dunes and onto the beach. The starts were staggered with the faster runners starting later, so most of us were out together on the last couple of kilometers of sand.
At the gun, Ben took off into the dunes like a rocket. Before most of us could get our legs into a trot, Ben had 100 meters on us. I followed Radmir into the dunes, trying to find the best possible footing in the chopped up sand. We ran the crest of the first dune around and then descended to the flat so we could appreciate the headwall of the area’s largest dune which, of course, Carlos had us running straight up. I hit the dune hard, with legs churning, but quickly ground to a controlled crawl. But once on top I found my footing, as well as a clear view of the Atlantic Ocean, the beach and the finish line.
I caught Radmir as we left the dunes and pushed hard, trying my best to reel Ben in. We dropped down to the Swakopmund River bed one last time and then popped up on a rocky, seaweed strewn beach. For a few seconds, I thought I might have a chance of catching Ben at the line, but then he lit the afterburners and it was all over.
I dipped down for a few splashes in an ocean wave and then ran the gauntlet of flags once again to the finish line. Nancy met me at the line with a huge hug and the race medal.
And, just like that, after 22 months of planning, over a thousand hours of training, and nearly 23 hours of running 250km over some of the most beautiful and unforgiving terrain in the world, the Namib Race of 2021 was done.
Naturally, I am pretty happy with my result. Having never done anything like this before, I had no expectations of how well my legs would hold up over the course of a week. But I knew from watching past races that if I could run 10km an hour I would be near the front of the race. And I was training to run back-to-back 4-hour days at 10km an hour over mixed terrain. As it turned out, said pace would not have been fast enough to beat Ben but somewhere along the way my legs came up with a little extra speed and endurance. I finished about 20 minutes ahead of Ben for the week. Roughly the equivalent of Usain Bolt edging Justin Gatlin in the 100-meter dash by a couple of chest hairs.
I am grateful to Ben, Radmir and Jeff for the stiff competition. While the Namib Race 2021 was one of the smaller races in the series, I feel that the sharp end of the race was as competitive as any. Every stage, I was out there trying to chase someone down. The race was still up for grabs going into the long march, and I am thankful my legs felt good that day.
But the Namib Race, like any of the RacingThePlanet stage races, is about much, much more than how fast a guy (or gal) can run. Every competitor is facing down their own fears, and writing their own story of struggle and conquest. And the longer a competitor is out on the course, the hotter the sand gets and the harder the struggle. Friendships grow on the trail and in camp, camaraderie forms, and the individual becomes part of a larger body moving forward every day. Laughter around the fire pit at night helps put to bed the aches from the day’s journey and prepare for what is coming the next morning.
One night we were huddled around a table sharing stories and a hunk of cheese that Max no longer felt like carrying (God bless you Max, it was the best taste of food I had all week). One of the local drivers walked by and proclaimed amazement at the nationalities represented. He said, “Look! There’s a Brit, a German, a Russian, an American, a guy from Belgium (Olivier is actually Dutch) and an Israeli (at first he said, “and a Jew” but after an awkward pause, followed by Eyal’s laughter, he corrected himself). Someone said we were practically the United Nations and our driver uttered a few expletives about the UN and then, gesturing at our table, indicated that, “This, this here is what the world needs.”
And maybe our driver has a point. Maybe the world’s leaders need to get together around a campfire after spending the day crossing 40 kilometers of desert on foot, with the prospect of another 40 kilometers the next day. And the next. Then maybe, just maybe, they could focus on a unified approach to the problems human beings have brought to our little planet as opposed to their individual political agendas. Call me a dreamer.
And I’m almost home. Thank you for sharing this amazing journey with me. I’m going to lay low for a few days. Hang out in the woods with the dogs. And figure out what comes next.
Read more of Rob's inspiring stories from the Namib Race 2021 here.