Inspired by Banff film festival and after a touch of tequila, Emma and I thought she should run from the west coast of Africa to the east. This is our story of dreaming up the idea, researching it, planning, training and running the distance.
3am. The young man gets up in the dark and drinks water. Without a torch or shoes he sets out into the Equatorial darkness. His way is lit by stars and the moon as he carefully navigates the dusty path, wary of snakes and scorpions. He is conscious that not long ago there were lions and elephants living in this area and there are still wild dogs hunting in packs. As dawn rises, 2 hours later, he is almost half way to his destination. School. He can speed up in the light. 20 kilometres he travels each morning, without breakfast, studies all day and then makes the return journey home, arriving late afternoon, when he can finally eat.
This day, however, is unusual, he meets white people from countries he has never had the chance to be to, running on the road. Choosing to run more than the distance he runs to school everyday (well, only one of them). Traversing his country and continent. A luxury experience and education he cannot imagine.
It was my privilege to meet this young man and slowly realise what an incredible person he is. I had joined Emma running. I do this occasionally to keep her company and add variety. For me, it’s refreshing to be moving, to be in the environment. There is the gorgeous view of the Zambezi, cutting through the valley far below us, dust beneath our feet and Cleo is the only car. As sometimes happens, school children excitedly run alongside us. We are a novelty. They run close to Emma, but too close, almost tripping her and shouting and laughing. I drop back and try chatting. It works and they slow to my pace. They are wonderfully exuberant and great company. All on their way home from school. Robert hops out the car to run and translate their stories for me. As the children drop off to go to their homes, we are left with this last young man. He is the tired looking man in the middle of the photo.
The conversation takes place between the padding of our feet and haltingly.
“Is it safe to travel in the dark?” I had naively asked.
“No,” He answered, “There are many animals that will bite you.”
Eventually, discovering he has little opportunity to drink water, we offer him some.
“Would you like the container? ”
“Yes” is the quick and happy reply.
Now, he has a bottle to carry water on his journey.
He exchanges contact details with Robert and we hope that SEED will be able to do something more constructive and empowering in the future. I think he would make a good employee.
Or maybe I missed a trick and he would make a great athlete. If you have the resources behind you and wanted to help this young man I am sure we could find him again.
Meanwhile, Emma has continued battling with her pain to run a phenomenal distance.
Number of Days: 41
Total distance run by Emma: 1734 km, 1078 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 42.3 km, 26.3 miles
Distance run today: 51.73 km, 32.14 miles
If you have enjoyed reading this, please consider making a donation to The SEED Project, a highly cost-effective charity, praised for its innovative and long term sustainable work. Or you can make a donation to our fundraising page:
Africat is inspirational. Its a large farm that has been converted into a game reserve and educational centre on big cats. Its also good timing for Emma to take a break. She’s keen to get there and finishes early in high spirits.
We have a long drive from Africat’s entrance gate to their main centre. Happily.
As soon as we enter this oasis, there are antelope, giraffe,and more warthogs.
We stop so many times to take photos that the Africat team calls us to check we haven’t got lost. When we arrive,
the first thing they do is feed us lots of cake.
The way to a runner’s (and her support team’s) heart is sweet carbohydrates.
The rooms are white and clean. A little overwhelming for our dirty crew. Instead of being crammed in a tent, we have a bed each!
Being utterly exhausted, the first night is most definitely for sleeping. Followed by an early morning game drive, followed by an introduction to the work at Africat, then radio, TV and newspaper interviews. We’re not here for a holiday.
Africat started with a farmer who had a problem with leopards. When he found that killing the leopards was not reducing the number of cattle being eaten, he started to study their behaviour. He set up a platform onto which only a leopard could jump. Jumping onto the platform would pull out the batteries to a clock so he would know what time the leopard appeared and would cause a photo to be taken. Clever eh?
Over time he was able to differentiate between the leopards. He discovered that leopards hunt at night and occupy territory, removing one leopard simply meant that another leopard would move in to that space.
He found simple solutions to reducing the number of attacks, he began bringing the cattle in at night and keeping calves in protected kraals. (Or, apparently, you can send a mule out with your cattle. Not sure who told me that. But mules are bad and can beat up a leopard!)
This approach of living in harmony with the wildlife, having solutions that do not involve destroying wild cats is at the heart of Africat’s work. However, in the days after, on our journey, some generous and friendly farmers (they gave us sausages, we were going to like them) felt that Africat’s solutions were no good for them. Their cattle herds were too big to bring in at night. Others, however, were fully supportive of Africat’s work, agreeing that killing or capturing leopards and cheetahs was pointless.
Clearly Africat’s educational work is successful but it needs more funding to develop their important work and make sure it is relevant to all farmers. (You can donate generously through our fundraising site or direct to Africat UK or, if you can, go on holiday there.)
Africat also rescues animals that have been trapped by farmers.
One farmer told me he had heard stories that Africat simply release the leopard on the edge of the farm but I think this is unlikely. More likely, as others discovered, if you move one leopard out another one will take over the territory. Its pretty tricky to tell one leopard from another.
In the early morning, first thing, we are given something to wake us up:
We visit young cheetahs that have been rescued and are in a small enclosure before being released into the wider farm, where they can hunt for themselves.
Once a big cat is rescued, they have to be looked after. Fenced areas have to be built and food has to be bought for them. This is very expensive, which is why, sensibly, Africat is focusing on education and understanding to resolve this human animal conflict.
This is exactly the type of project the Head over Heels 2014 team wanted to raise money for. Managing the balance between humans and animals benefits everyone: cheetahs, for example, keep population of small animals down to levels where vegetation can grow and this affects soil erosion and the survival of cattle and larger herbivores.
After the morning game drive, Emma and I are interviewed by NBC with a cheetah relaxing in the shade in the background.
It was slightly surreal, as were some of the questions.
Africat isn’t all about cats though. On our way in, we see one of these:
A Pangolin, like an aardvark, but not. Not even related. These annoy farmers as they burrow holes. Some farmers kill them as they believe cattle break their legs in the holes they make. But Pangolins are really useful. They eat termites and a termite problem is not one that is easily solved by humans. They are also highly prized in China as a medicine to make your life perfect. That’s what we all want, a perfect life, but I think travelling across Africa without a wash for 5 days is a better way to find it. Each to their own imagination, I guess. Seems a pity to unnecessarily kill a Pangolin though.
Due to being extremely busy all day with interviews and learning about the work Africat does, we decide to take an extra day off our journey to clean, repack the car, write blogs and make use of the internet. Using the internet is a slow process in Namibia, particularly trying to upload photographs to the blog. Which would be bearable if i always load the photo I want but sometimes I wait 10 minutes to discover it doesn’t look right at all. Its very frustrating. At the end of two days we are all ready to get back on the journey. Before leaving, Emma eats her body weight in cakes and Africat send us off with a bag muffins. So yummy.
Its 7.30am: not a normal time for me to be out on a Sunday morning. London is surprisingly busy. I can’t get a seat on the Victoria line train. There are suits and ties, tourists, shorts and hoodies, little dresses. No-one speaks. Birds chatter in the early morning, humans don’t. I pass a homeless man, blended into the building scenery, having a morning cigarette.
There is a receptionist at the studios, he lets me in the glass security gates and directs me to an empty room.
I call a number to chat to a nice man who checks the sound is working and then he tells me to wait for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to call. And silence. I’m surprisingly relaxed or maybe still asleep.
At 8.15am … no-one calls.
I’m slightly concerned there is a problem but am distracted by the temptation to press buttons.
Then a lady comes on the line, I’m not sure if I’m live on the radio and stutter. But, after initial greetings, she says that I’ll be speaking to the presenter in a minute and hangs up, leaving me connected to the radio. My adrenaline soars as I listen to the music.
When the presenter, Suzie Roberts says “Good morning”, I almost fail to speak. Luckily, Marie goes first and I’m interested in what she has to say. Listening to her, I relax. Then Suzie asks me question. I respond and all other sound cuts out. I can only hear my voice whilst sitting in an empty room. Surreal. It stops you babbling though, as you have to listen to what you are saying. The questions are good and easy to answer. Then its goodbye and silence again. I’m a bit confused. Is it over? Seems to be and off I go without ever having mentioned that the run is called Head over Heels 2014 and how you can follow us. Doh!
You can hear the interview here, Marie’s first and my bit starts at 2.50 (a huge thank you to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire for having us on the radio and being friendly):
Don’t repeat the question because if they cut it you can sound stupid (I didn’t learn this from the radio, I learnt it from my friend in PR who I met up with the night before)
Also, I’d say don’t repeat the question because the presenter doesn’t have much time between songs so if you’re not concise you won’t get much info across.
Interviews are short, its not a chat show, make sure you get the key points in quick and notice when they give you an opportunity to do this.
Its surprisingly fun
All PR advice gratefully received
Have you had a radio interview? Any tips? Any funny mistakes?
I would like to introduce you to Jackson because I’m sure if you met him, you’d get on well. He’s one of those people. Also, he and his wife, Marie, founded The SEED Project. One of the charities we are raising funds for. Today, I recorded him talking about SEED’s Project Manager, Robert Kazunga. This means, within 1 minute, you get to meet Jackson (as much as is possible), and hear about Robert and SEED.
Robert is outstanding in his role and passionate about his country and his job. When Jackson first met Robert, he was a gardener in Harare, Zimbabwe, now, he is SEED’s Project Manager. Robert’s solution to the cholera outbreak was recognised by a UN organisation as an example of best practice: educating over 70,000 people with only 2 staff. In this clip, I asked Jackson, “what made you choose Robert?” Robert’s story is SEED’s story.
Emma, the lunatic, as my housemate calls her, is going to run the Cotswold Way as a practice run. That’s 103 miles! Doing this will teach Mike and I, how (not) to annoy Emma, how to use our brand new stove, and who snores as we’ll all be snuggled up in a tent together.
I thought you might want to get involved too.
Of course, you are always welcome to donate through our fundraising site: virginmoneygiving.com/EmmaTimmis which would be brilliant but I thought it would be more interesting to organise a sweepstake in your office or amongst your friends. So, we’ll be timing Emma. We will be timing her running, so lunch breaks and overnight sleeps are not included but quick snack stops etc. will be. However, if you wanted to run a sweepstake on how long it takes her, including sleeping and eating, we will be recording the time she started and the time she finishes. And then, er, if you could donate some of the sweepstake to the charities, maybe even through our fundraising page, that would be highly motivating for us and hugely appreciated by all the charities.
A little tip you might like to know:
Emma still hasn’t run more than 25 miles in a week – this fact is worrying me a lot more than Emma.
Emma is starting on 11th April
Let me know if you want to run a sweepstake on anything else, like whether I prang the car, as I may have a 4×4 by then – which is a little bigger than I am used to. My current car is a 17 year old Ford Fiesta.
And if you fancy popping by and cheering Emma on that would be fantastic (or if you want to dress up as a lion or elephant that would be even better).