From Madagascar with Love

Stage One

There’s a scene in the movie 300, when the narrator is talking about King Leonidas’ feelings about the battle, and the Greeks are doing quite well, all things considered, and the quote is something like, “Our king begins to hope, such vain hope, we can defeat them, we can win!” Well for Pete and I, this race is nothing like that!

I’ll come right out and say it, we’re not going to win this thing. Given a year or two’s training, maybe, but in the limited time we had to train, no ways. Sorry to disappoint our supporters. But… we did end up surprising ourselves on day one. We decided to start slow and slow down, as this is a marathon, not a sprint (many marathons in fact), and lo and behold, we finshed the day in 20th and 21st position, out of about 250. We were quite pleased with that, and although well off the pace of the leaders, we think if all goes well we can actually get a decent placing come Saturday.

Obviously this is only day one, and there are still 5 stages and 210km to run (I winced when typing that!) so anything can happen, but we’re feeling pretty good without too many aches and pains. It’s hot and sandy and windy but we’re knuckling down and getting on with it, so keep checking our daily updates, and if you still want to donate to the Good Work Foundation, for whom we’re trying to raise R300 000, don’t be shy to donate.

James Tyrrell puts his feet up after day one in Madagascar. Out of 250 entrants, after the first stage, they finished in position 20 and 21.

James Tyrrell puts his feet up after day one in Madagascar. Out of 250 entrants, after the first stage, they finished in position 20 and 21.

Off to have a freeze dried savoury beef and chicken meal now. Yum yum. Then a stretch and maybe another stretch. And lots of water and electrolytes. And another stretch maybe.

Tomorrow is a 46km stage. Ouch. Lots of sandy tracks. And heat.

‘Hopefully we can cling on to our top 30 spots, but we’re in this thing for the long haul, and it certainly won’t be won tomorrow. We’re holding out for the 80km beast on Thursday.

More updates tomorrow…

James and Pete

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Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Stage Three

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was…”

If anyone can please let us know the end to this opening line from A Tale of Two Cities you’d really be helping us out, coz Pete and I have been obsessing over it all afternoon and can’t remember how it goes.

The reason for this quite ridiculous obsession is quite simply the 11km checkpoint 3 to the finish line. It took us through a beautiful Tsingy Canyon (Google “Tsingy”), but if I’m perfectly honest, I couldn’t have given a fig about the geological features of the area, as right about then it really was the worst of times!

Absolutely brutal heat, reflecting off the canyon walls, and no breeze between the high walls. 31km into our third day and it was the first real wall I’ve hit.

Pete was his usual imperturbable, annoyingly cheerful and patient British self while I hobbled along behind him, up and down scree slopes and scrambling out of the canyon to eventually get back to a hard-packed road, a blessed relief after the ankle deep sand of earlier in the day. Once we hit the road, with about 8km to the finish, we were able to get ourselves back into it mentally (I say we, but mean me), and we broke into a trot once more.

That was one looooong 8km stretch, but eventually we sighted the tents of camp after a long river crossing (wonderful for cooling the feet, but not ideal when the water softens the skin and makes blisters far more of a worry). We were a minute short of a 5:30 finish, so like idiots we decided to absolutely leg it up the last ridiculously steep incline to the line to try and finish in 5:29. The line was slightly further than it appeared, dehydration and fatigue playing havoc with our depth perception, and we stumbled home in 5:30.28, in 17th and 18th position for the day. A bit off the pace from yesterday, but still consolidating our position in the top 20.

Tomorrow is about 39km, and is basically one permanent but thankfully gradual uphill, finishing at some sort of sacred lake. Hopefully we’re allowed to swim, but the local Gods might curse us. After the midday heat of the last three days, a nice cool swim may well be worth a curse or two!

Our aim from here is simply to finish tomorrow intact, which will give us a good base from which to launch into the 80km beast on Thursday. Shuffle shuffle, walk the hills, trot the flats and the downs, and hopefully come through without too much wear and tear on the feet. We’ve been lucky so far, although the chaffing around my gentleman’s area is unpleasant, and with 130km still to go, one can appreciate my concern.

Signing off. Thanks everybody for the messages of support!

James and Pete

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Stage Five

RFM. That has been our mantra for the last few days.


Relentless Forward Movement.

Yesterday was the monster. The soul crusher. The beast. 76km of dusty tracks through the Ankarana range of Northern Madagascar and its accompanying heat (nearly 40 degrees!). After the previous day’s performance we were quietly confident, but since neither of us had run anything even near to this distance before you can understand our trepidation as well.

Knowing the first 25km would bring us down off the plateau we had spent the night on and was a constant gentle downslope, we decided to make hay while the sun shines (or more precisely, before the sun got high enough to shine as hot as it was going to!) and not hold back too much. It was a bit of a gamble as we both knew how downhill can take it out of your legs.

We went through checkpoint 2 in 8th and 9th positions, moving well and feeling good. We were running 27mins and walking for 3, and being absolutely religious at it. We kept it up until about the 25km mark, when the heat began climbing and the pace began to tell. We then dropped to a walk run strategy of 13/1, 13/3 to break up every 30mins.

This kept us going, but through checkpoints 3 and 4 (approaching the 48km mark at checkpoint 5), the heat was absolutely brutal and energy-sapping!

We needed to readjust our strategy again and dig seriously deep at this point, the early miles having started to take their toll. We changed to a 10 on, 5 off walk/run, and this seemed to work well. Mercifully the clouds had moved in soon after checkpoint 5, although my iPod died at this point, leaving me cursing every step and tuneless. While keeping up a good pace in the 5min walks, we were still able to get our breath back, and we could up the pace nicely in the 10min runs. 10mins is also an easy time to get your head around mentally, knowing it’s only a short trot before the next rest.

The kilometres ticked by, and we were getting serious pressure from a Canadian runner coming up behind us, so we really had to man up to keep the pace going through checkpoint 6.

By Checkpoint 7, with only 8.9 km to go, the afternoon was well advanced and the temperature was dropping, although the legs by now were in serious pain and I was struggling to keep up with Pete. We were pretty confident by this time that we had cemented our finishing positions, as on the long stretches we couldn’t see anyone down the road behind us.

Eventually, 76km, 8 hours and around 40minuts later, we came across the finish line, physically shattered, but VERY happy to have taken 8th and 9th place for the day.

I can’t remember when I last had to dig that deep to see something through, but here we are, alive after 240km with only a 10km run to the finish tomorrow.

Two pretty happy guys.

James and Pete

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