Four Deserts not enough for David Barnard
01 January 1970
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Brad Brown: You’re listening to Old Mutual Live, great things start here, great things start now. Time to chat some more running. I love, I’m a huge fan of multi-day stage races. As we record this, one of the things I’m reminded of, a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to do the Wild Run up the coast of the Eastern Cape from Kei Mouth to Hole in the Wall. If you’ve never done that race, it is fantastic.
That is where the bug bit for me when it comes to multi-day stage races. But nothing in this sort of calibre and we have a returning guest on today’s podcast. We spoke to him quite a while ago with regards to the Four Deserts Club that he was hoping to join.
He’s now gone and done it, he completed the 250km Atacama Crossing in October last year in Chile. But he’s now on a mission to do something else. It’s a great pleasure to welcome back onto the podcast David Barnard. David welcome, thanks for joining us.
David Barnard: Hi Brad, thanks for having me.
The Atacama and the Four Desserts
BB: David, let’s just touch on the Atacama, I don’t think we’ve spoken since then. We spoke in the build-up to it, incredible run. I’ve heard such amazing things about that race.
DB: The landscape and the whole environment in which the Atacama Crossing is held, it’s from a different planet. I haven’t been to Mars, but I take it that since people are making movies about Mars in the Atacama Desert. It must closely resemble what you’d find in Mars. It’s an amazing landscape.
Running across those salt pans and surrounded by high mountains, volcanoes etc, truly unique. In the bigger scheme of things, it is about running and completing the race. But I think you would be missing something if you don’t really appreciate those unique surroundings.
BB: Absolutely and in doing so, you’ve joined a pretty exclusive club as well, as the racing the planet Four Deserts Club. I think there’s only seven South Africans who are part of that. In the last ten years I think only 181 runners worldwide have done it.
The four races, obviously Atacama in Chile, the Gobi March in China, the Sahara Race in Egypt and Jordan and then the last desert Antarctica. But you’re not going to stop here, you’ve now decided you want to do one of these multi-day stage desert races on each one of the continents?
Time for the Grand Daddy
DB: Yes, I’m getting old, but I think there’s maybe still three of these races left in me. The three continents that I haven’t done are North America, Australasia and Europe. So Europe is not necessarily a place with a proper desert.
But there’s an interesting race in Iceland called Fire and Ice. Where you run on the black lava sand, so I hope to leave that one for last. Australia has a very interesting run in the Simpson Desert called the Red Run. Then yes, I’ve decided to take on North America this year. The very unique and special race called the Grand to Grand Ultra in just over two weeks for now.
BB: As we’re recording this, 25th of September is when it gets under way. I mean it’s called the Grand to Grand, I’m taking it the Grand Canyon is involved there?
DB: The race is done in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon. Basically you’ll start on day one, looking into the Canyon. Although the race is not held within the Canyon, you actually never go down into the Canyon. But you’re in the vicinity of the Canyon for 5-6 days.
The whole landscape is just incredible. From every video that I’ve watched, every blog that I’ve read and all the background information that’s available to run it. This is a truly unique race in the sense of the diversity of landscape. So you’re going to run in sometimes proper desert, it looks like you’re in the middle of the Sahara or Namib.
The next minute you’re kind of in the slot Canyon, the next minute you run up a mountain, very heavy undulation and elevation going over the few days. Running with a heavy backpack going up those mountains will be a challenge in itself. But you always have a big downhill then to look forward to. This will be different.
It’s not a typical, what I would say desert race, which is fairly flat. You basically have to deal with the heat and what goes hand in hand with that. I think the elevation and the undulation in this race will make it very challenging. But a special challenge to take on.
End Fund – helping deal with tropical diseases
BB: It sounds incredible. One thing you’ve done over your career of these multi-day stage races is always had a charity angle. You tend to change things up a bit. You’re doing exactly the same this time around too?
DB: Look, I basically started doing these multi-day stage races way back in 2010, in support of the organisation that I was involved in at the time. Since then, every year, with the seven or eight races I’ve done up until now, I’ve always dedicated the race to an organistion.
Obviously I try and keep it interesting because I think with these type of races. If you do it for charity, it’s one thing to just raise money and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I try and pick an organisation and try to embrace what it stands for. The work they’re trying to do and make it a little bit a part of my own life and how best I can support it beyond just say the fundraising side.
This year I’m doing it for a US based organisation called the End Fund. It’s an organisation working on tropical diseases in 17 countries around the world, 15 of which are in Africa. It’s a fairly unique organisation, it deals with an issue that I think, to a large extent, is under the radar. That more than a billion people on this planet that in one way or another are still affected by tropical diseases.
It means there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of creating public awareness about these diseases. Their impact on society, mobilizing the resources. Ensuring that the support gets to the people most in need of that. The End Fund is really at the cutting edge of working with either pharmaceutical companies, NGO’s, government entities across the world. In driving the message forward about what needs to be done in terms of eliminating tropical diseases on the one side. What are the potential positive implications of that for the people affected by these diseases.
BB: If people want to find out more about them as well, the website to get to is www.end.org, you can get info there. I know you’ve been blogging about it as well. Your website is desert2desert4socialcauses.wordpress.com. It’s mouthful, but we’ll put that link in the show notes as well. David, as far as preparing for this race in particular. Have you done anything differently to what you’ve done to possibly say for the Atacama or has it been pretty much the same with regards to preparation?
What preparation did it take?
DB: Look, there’s always more that you can do in hindsight. As I’ve said to you before, I do have something that keeps me busy from 8:00 to 5:00 every day. So you try and fit in training and preparation for this to the best of your ability. I’ve given myself five months. I haven’t done anything major in the first 4-5 months of the year.
I had the idea of doing maybe a Comrades this year and just because of travel and other commitments didn’t get to it. I basically started in early May and for the past five months have been running a lot of distance. For me the big thing is always, not so much the distance, it’s getting into the rhythm of running on consecutive days. I’m trying to do 4-5 day blocks to the best of my ability.
Done my long runs, did an 80km race two weeks ago, to just check if the body can still hold up for that distance. But all in all, I won’t say I’ve done anything different. I think also the more you do these races, you also get to understand how to manage yourself.
I think it’s very different for someone that enters these races, like a Ryan Sandes or the equivalent. The Dirk Cloete or whatever that runs these desert races to win them. I think for people that enter to basically just get to the finishing line and in the process also support a good cause etc, it’s about managing yourself.
Obviously we’re all competitive in our little right, so even if it’s about fighting for place number 50, you want to get there as quickly as possible. But you have to manage yourself. As you’re also getting older, you know where the aches and pains will be the following morning. So I think I’m definitely a little bit smarter in terms of that, in terms of impact on the knees etc.
But all in all, I try to do the maximum distance that I could. Did my various gym and whatever other exercises that I had to do. Although that was probably the one part that I disliked the most. But all in all I think I’m in good shape and ready for the challenge. Ready to deal with those blisters and eating plastic food for a week again. But that’s all part of the fun and all part of the challenge.
BB: Exactly, that’s why you do it, cause you love it. David, as always, great to catch up, safe travels. I look forward to seeing the pictures. These races, you talk about the backdrops, they’re truly spectacular. I’m sure you’re going to have another amazing run and we can’t wait to hear the war stories afterwards.
DB: Fantastic Brad and thanks for your support.