My Experience At The Victoria Falls Half Marathon

by Jess White
(Victoria Falls)

Crisp cool air, beautiful unforgettable scenery, wildlife encounters and the thundering start makes the Victoria Falls Marathon one of a kind

28 June 2018

Between the rush of endorphins, the sheen of sweat, and the feeling of triumph as your legs power you across the finish line, running is undoubtedly an addictive experience. It is the little fist pumps that go off in your head every time you get over that hill, and the mental victories unique to you as a runner that make it one of the most satisfying endeavors we can award our bodies. And when you are running through raw wilderness, under a brilliantly blue sky with undiluted fresh air pumping through your lungs, the experience becomes that much more exhilarating. The Victoria Falls Marathon is all these things and a little bit more.

Before the sun has crept over the horizon, hundreds of eager runners gather in front the starting line. It is an electric morning- a sharp chill nips your nose and the tips of your ears, the commentators voices booms through the speakers, all around people are stretching, hydrating, and fuelling their bodies for the physical journey that lies ahead. A cacophony of sounds envelopes runners as we all jostle for a decent spot in the crowd of swarming bodies. There is a moment where everything falls quiet, before a loud bang cracks through the silence, signaling the start of the race. In one swift motion, hundreds of feet begin pounding the pavement.

I have done this marathon a number of times, and the moment I look forward to the most is the run along the bridge. This is what sets the Victoria Falls Marathon apart from all others. Rays of sunlight dance through the plumes of mist, creating a golden glow that feels almost tangible. The bridge hangs above the chasm of the gorge, and while I prefer to run with music, the second my trainers connect with the steel walkway I whip my earphones out and let the roar of the raging rapids flood my ears and drive me forward. You become hyper aware of your body and your environment, entering an intoxicating state of complete mindfulness. Trees draped in coats of deep green leaves stand in stark contrast to the black basalt rock that they erupt from, and the churning waterfall feels an arms reach away. You will run across the bridge towards the Zambian border and then loop back and cross over once more.

The next leg of the run takes you around into the National Parks area. You will catch a glimpse of the river as you make your way down a road that sees more traffic from elephant, baboon and impala than it does from cars. The road will take you all the way to the Big Tree, the biggest Baobab in Zimbabwe. I always smile when I reach the tree, remembering the legend that tells us that when the Baobab was first put on earth it was so excited that it wouldn't stop rushing around. Its creator eventually plucked it up and planted it upside down so that it would keep still. I imagine if trees had eyes, the Baobabs' would be rolling continuously on marathon day. One year, we even came across an elephant here, and he was less than impressed to have his breakfast interrupted, surveying with great disdain as we huffed and puffed past.

After the Big Tree there is a long stretch of road flanked by bush on either side. There is
usually a family of warthog trotting along, as though keen to be part of the excitement. They never manage to keep up for long and will stop for a leafy snack while they wait for the next person to join. You may even
come across a herd of impala here. They fix their big doleful eyes on you, as if trying to decide if you will keep coming towards them. When they conclude that yes, you will, they take off in a dramatic and frantic leap, disappearing from sight and then returning ten minutes later to repeat the process, all the while maintaining an air of absolute shock and horror.

The loop through the National Park is another highlight on this route. Once you enter the
gate, you are swallowed whole by the trees and find yourself in the belly of nature. The
rocky terrain is dotted with animal spoor of various shapes and sizes. Twigs crunch underfoot and clouds of dust rise and fall as runners rearrange the ground. I will usually
take my earphones out again so that I can truly immerse myself in nature (and keep an ear
out for any inquisitive wildlife). This part of the run is about three kilometers, and it
always goes by quickly. It is easy to distract yourself from any fatigue you may be feeling when there is so much else to see and hear.

When you exit the National Park, you will need to dig deep and engage those energy reserves. Up until this point it is mainly downhills and flat roads, but the second half is gradual climbs and two challenging hills. The first hill is before the Safari Lodge, and it very steep towards the top. It has usually warmed up a lot by this stage, so it is important to keep hydrated. There are marshals handing out water packets, banana slices and energy bars along the way, so take advantage of this when you need to. Baboons like to hang around the water points to snatch up any discarded food. They park off in the shade, munch on their banana peels and basically make you wish you could be them for a little while.

The second big climb is up Baobab Road. It is a tar road and though it's not a long hill,
you will need to push yourself all the way to the top. Fortunately, after that it levels out, but be sure to keep an eye out for the markers at the top. There is a T-junction and you turn right for a kilometer or two and then double back at the end of the road. The last part of the run is up a rather deceitful hill that doesn't look to steep but is long enough to have your muscles burning and your heart thudding all the way up. The route finishes with a lap around the field at the local primary school. The atmosphere at the field will give you the boost you need to finish strong. Music pumps through the air and excited supporters cheer you on so that you end this amazing experience on a proper runner's high.

"Even when you have gone as far as you can, and everything hurts, and you are staring at the specter of self-doubt, you can find a bit more strength deep inside you, if you look closely enough."
- Hal Higdon

Further details:
• Event is on the 1st of July
• The full marathon is 42kms, the half marathon is 21kms and the Fun Run is 7kms
• This year will be a chipped timing event
• Registered and unregistered runners will need to collect their race numbers and T-Shirts from the Kingdom hotel on either Friday the 29th or Saturday the 30th between 10am and 5:30pm.
• There is an after party sunset cruise on the 1st that wonderfully warps up a wild day.
• There are packages available for accommodation and transfers from Harare. For details on these, visit https://www.econet.co.zw/marathon

Related Links
Victoria Falls Marathon
Econet Victoria Falls Marathon Website

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