Klaserie River Sands

Namib Desert marathon: Going beyond the extreme for wildlife rangers

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

The Namib Desert is one of the most hostile places on Earth – a barren wasteland continually scorched by the unforgiving sun. It is also the location of the Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon: a 250km race across a 55-million-year-old landscape. Myself and the 10 others comprising the For Rangers team had embarked on the greatest challenge of our lives to raise funds for ranger welfare across Africa.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

Day 1 – Spitzkoppe Saddle – 51km

The majestic Spitzkoppe, bathed in the warm morning light, dominated the skyline behind our campsite. With increasing trepidation I prepared myself. I had trained hard for six months and the moment of truth had finally arrived. I was terrified. We crowded on the start line, shared one final nervous joke and then… we were off!

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

I ran the first 10km from the start keen to make progress in the early cool but soon the sun heated up with a ferocious intensity, the air became hot and dry, sweat poured down my face. I slowed to a walk and focused on the horizon. The checkpoints (spaced every 10km) came and went slowly. It was a monumental effort to stay hydrated and force down food on a regular basis.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

By evening, a staggering 9.5hrs later, I stumbled onto the dry riverbed that marked the end of stage one. I had walked over 30kms on my own – it had been a lonely day. My feet were already a mess, huge blood blisters on my heels were a testament to the hardship of the day. It had been a shock to the system. Some runners did not finish. The highly experienced Exile Medics got to work on my feet.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

Day 2 – Brandberg – 50km

By 8am we were once again on the trail. We had recovered from the brutal assault on our bodies on Day 1 and pressed on over an undulating rock-strewn landscape. We were better prepared for the challenge that awaited and we made steady progress during the day.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

The heat sapped our energy as the sun passed its zenith but there was no option but to continue. The landscape was featureless, a true wasteland. A total of 9 hours later we arrived in another soft riverbed that marked the camp for Day 2. The day had destroyed me, physically, mentally and emotionally.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

Day 3 – White Lady Marathon – 43km

My feet were in an absolute state; blistered beyond recognition and sensitive to the slightest touch. I had no idea how I was to survive another day through the desert. The early morning breeze failed to last and soon we were slogging it out across the vast empty expanse that is the Namib with fata morganas dancing on the horizon.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

It was a punishing day and with swollen feet I limped into camp as dusk was falling. I could barely enjoy the stunning location that was the Brandberg, all I could think of was how I was supposed to keep going. I did not lack motivation but my body was falling apart around me.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

Day 4 – Damara Dash – 22km

While the day was deceptively short, our departure time of 11am was a killer. The medics spent the morning addressing all manner of foot ailment – I took up a generous amount of their valuable time. They strapped my feet in tightly, cut open my running shoes so that my feet would fit inside, gave me some drugs and wished me well.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

For hours we slogged it out over the loose red sands of the desert. I had developed a serious limp and was barely moving at all but failure was not an option. I focused on the pain, gritted me teeth and kept hobbling along till the finish.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

Day 5 – The Grind – 93km

At 3:45am the alarm erupted. In the harsh morning chill we tried to shovel down some porridge and painfully squeezed our broken feet into our shoes for one final effort. I had no luck – my feet were so swollen they simply wouldn’t fit inside. The medics attacked my shoes with scissors yet again.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

There was little of them left. I was given a strict regime of powerful drugs – the idea was that I would float over the pain. I was happy to try anything.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

At 35km I was dropped by the team, I simply couldn’t keep up with the pace. I watched them disappear over the horizon. Suddenly I was alone in one of the most majestic places on earth. The wind tore at my clothes but I had little appreciation for it. I reminded myself that failure was not an option. I fought a million battles in mind often in the deepest darkest depths of my mind. I no longer felt human.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

At 1130pm the For Rangers team, including myself (after I caught up with them later in the day) stumbled into the Save the Rhino outpost, marking the end of our ordeal. It had taken 18.5 hours through some of the toughest terrain we had ever encountered but the body had triumphed over the desert. Somehow.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner

The cause

In total over £44,995 has been raised thus far which will go a tremendous way towards buying essential kit for rangers, providing necessary training and maintaining motivation as they fight on the frontline to protect Africa’s iconic wildlife.

Donations can still take place at the For Rangers fundraising page.

 Beyond the Ultimate’s Desert Ultra Marathon, Namib Desert

© Mikkel Beisner



Maurice Schutgens

Born in the Netherlands but raised at the end of a tarmac road in a remote Ugandan village, Maurice was always going to end up living in Africa. After a brief stint in Europe he returned to this great continent to pursue a Master's in Conservation Biology at the University of Cape Town, which was followed by several years of traipsing across the globe in search of adventure and stunning wild places. For the last few years Maurice has been based in Kenya and is working towards securing a future for African elephants and the landscapes on which they depend. He is a passionate conservationist, amateur explorer and his camera is always with him! You can folllow more of his adventures on Facebook and on his website.

Africa Geographic