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.
The day begins as every day for the last 3 months has begun: Emma and Mike rise just before dawn, ready to set off as soon as daybreaks. We clear up the campsite, fetch water from a borehole and drive ahead to prepare breakfast. As always, we attract attention but it is a working day, people don’t stay long, they head on to their fields.
As always someone helps us out. Its a community activity.
After breakfast we leave Emma and Mike and drive to the coast, to Pemba. This day, the second last day, Emma ran an incredible 74 kilometres in one day.
5 people’s stuff in one car and occasionally 5 people
We speak to several TV companies who say they will film Emma finishing her run. We are delighted that the stunning Avani Pemba Beach Hotel agrees that Emma can end her incredible journey across Africa on their beach.
The next day we wait. Emma has risen early, looking forward to finishing. Robert is waiting on the road to film her arriving at the hotel and radios to let me know she is coming. Woocash is in the middle of the hotel and I am at the end.
It’s a wonderful moment as Emma runs through the hotel: guests and staff cheer and direct her to the beach. It’s been 18 months preparation. Many hours of commitment: for Emma and Mike training and for us preparing the car, kit, logistics, support network, and sponsorship. When Emma and I first came up with this idea, everyone told us we would not survive. We accepted this as a strong possibility and were determined to go. Then, it has been 3 months on the road. There were times in the middle when it looked like the team was going to fall apart and the run would not be finished. Yet, we were all determined to see it through.
Emma runs down the wooden stairs, steps onto the beach, walks along the concrete pier and into the sea. An amazing 3974 km, in 89 days, averaging over a marathon day. She did it. We did it.
We celebrate with champagne and sweets.
Day 88 distance run: 74.17 km, 46.08 miles Day 89 distance run: 62.11 km, 38.59 miles
Number of Days: 89
Total distance run by Emma: 3974 km, 2469 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.7 km, 27.7 miles (A marathon is 42.195 km, 26.219 miles)
Emma had a planned a day off in Tete, which is lucky as she has had no sleep. In addition, her shorts soaked in oil from her daily massages, are frying her legs in the sun. We take the opportunity to wash them as well as possible. Mike and Woocash are not able to support Emma, so Robert will become her companion and guard. Robert has not ridden a bicycle for years but he steps up to the challenge admirably.
At dawn, I drive Emma and Robert the mile or so to where she stopped 36 hours before. As they are about to set off a policeman arrives demanding to see I.D. and saying there will be a fine if we cannot produce them. It causes a slight delay whilst I zip back to fetch their passports. Later in the afternoon, I pick them up 60km down the road and bring them back to sleep in Tete. At 2.30am, the next morning, we drive for 1.5 hrs out the silent dark city and through the dark countryside. The sun is sending its first rays as we arrive where Emma and Robert will start their day.
Emma and I in matching oufits!
Emma and Robert set off into the heat whilst Woocash and I head back to collect Mike. In the afternoon, there are some steep hills on the route and we are all wondering how Robert has coped. (We know that Emma will be fine, although I still think the hills are pretty big). Robert is exhausted when we find them and Mike discovers he has done 55km up and down hills with one of the brakes on! Mike says Alfredo, the bicycle, is misbehaving with out him. Robert and Emma are both an inspiration today.
How many seats on your bike?
Sunsetting and we still haven’t found Emma and Robert!
We are surrounded by tilled fields and wondering where to put up camp when a local man, kindly, says that it is fine to park on his field and sleep there.
Day 69 distance run: 60.57 km, 37.63 miles Day 70 distance run: 55.52 km, 34.49 miles
Number of Days: 70
Total distance run by Emma: 2912 km, 1809 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 41.6 km, 25.8 miles
We contact Mike and Emma regularly to check they are okay. Sometimes they whisper if it is after dark and they don’t want anyone to hear where they are. We meet them briefly in Chinhoyi before heading down to Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, to wait for them.
Harare is beautiful.
I couldn’t decide between that pretty photo or this weird one, so I gave you both:
Robert disappears to see his family and go back to project work for a few days, whilst Woocash gives Cleopatra a health check. I find the best café with internet and spend a lot of time there: photos, blogs and contacting journalists. Luckily for us, friends of the family, Bobby and Margie, generously put us up which saves a huge amount of money. Harare isn’t cheap. As a thank you, Woocash fixes Bobby’s car and we donate some spare car parts. We do a lot of scrubbing and cleaning kit. We also give a surreal children’s TV interview. Thankfully it is live which means that it will never be seen again. Hooray!
First the monkey now a dog, everyone wants to drive Cleo
At the children’s show
Harare traffic, usually only bad at rush hour
A few days later Emma and Mike arrive:
The team takes a trip to The SEED Project’s office to catch up with Robert and meet friendly Nyasha, who is SEED’s only other full time employee . Driving through the city, Emma photographs stallholders, people start shouting and frowning at us to put the camera away, it’s an uncomfortable moment.
Stunning architecture where The SEED Project is based
Look how clean we are!
Emma and Mike enjoy a couple of days of rest at Joy’s lovely home. Emma fits in an interview with a journalist, from the magazine Out of Africa, who writes a beautiful article. At a delicious dinner, organised by Bob and Margie, Emma meets Mike who decides he would like to join Emma on one of her marathons. Which is great.
“Queen of the Night” flowers one night of the year and it flowered the night Emma arrived!
Thank you Specialized for helping out with Mike’s bike
Emma and I found this chick confidently wandering the streets
Fantastic article in “Out of Africa”
The Water-to-Go bottles are perfect for Harare as otherwise the tap water isn’t safe to drink without being boiled. With the bottles we can simply fill up and er, go out and about on our business in the city!
We have decided to head on in to Mozambique. Last year there were civil disturbances and vehicles were attacked. But there has been nothing recently and we are avoiding areas that are considered at risk. Rumour tells us we may have to wait 3 weeks to get visas! Rumour turns out to be wrong. It is all sorted within 48 hours by a very organized and helpful lady.
Over at the Malawi embassy, Woocash has to write a letter explaining why he wants to visit Malawi. He does and the lady bursts out laughing when she reads it. We never find out why.
Huge thanks to Bobby and Margie Warren-Codrington for having us to stay in their gorgeous home, loaning us essential kit and arranging for us to meet with someone from the BBC. And perhaps most of all for linking us up with the wonderful Dora in Mozambique who looked after us through two medical emergencies.
Huge thanks to Joy Peacock for having Emma and Mike to stay and for all the help and connections to journalists that you provided.
And thank you to the Specialized workshop in Harare for helping Mike out with his bike.
Day 55 distance run: 56.21 km, 34.92 miles Day 56 distance run: 52.85 km, 32.84 miles Day 57 distance run: 53.43 km, 33.20 miles Day 58 distance run: 32.11 km, 19.95 miles Day 59 & 60: Rest days in Harare
Number of Days: 60
Total distance run by Emma: 2412 km, 1498 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 40.2 km, 25.0 miles
If you have enjoyed reading this, please consider making a donation our fundraising page:
This 3 second video is definitely in my top favourite moments. It’s early morning, Emma and Mike have already set out and then these children come whirring by on their bicycles, pedalling fast down the hill that aspires to be a mountain. Calling out in that joyful way of children: “Morning!”
“Morning!” I almost sing back to them.
As they whizz into the distance, I am left with chirrups and bird noises.
It was here also that we discovered a mini but potentially lethal scorpion sleeping under our blue barrel. These ones can put an adult in hospital and kill small children or the elderly. How do I know? Robert told me. And he knows as one stung his uncle. This article tells you more but essentially, what scorpions don’t have in pincer size they make up for in lethal injection.
Emma and Mike have to tackle huge hills up and down along this route. Some of it on a”corrugated road”, which is exactly as you would expect but probably worse, bumpy in the car and worse on a bicycle or on foot. A combination of bumps and soft sand.
Meanwhile at the less impressive end we have had flies in our eyes! Mopane flies are technically bees but then you wouldn’t be able to bond with me over a love of “Catch 22”. They are in our eyes, and ears and up our nose, busy collecting our secretions to make into honey, so Robert says. Which is amazing. I am the source of honey, I have no idea if I make good tasting honey. (Wikipedia says they are only collecting moisture but what does Wikipedia know, there’s no moisture in my ears). The little things are remarkably robust. I more than carelessly pinch them out the corners of my eyes, and they regularly stretch themselves out to fly off my fingers. However, They don’t help to make Emma as comfortable as possible. Cooking dinner is a test of my focus and inner zen. We resort to hiding ourselves in Cleopatra with the air conditioning on until it is dark and they fly home to bed.
Number of Days: 44
Total distance run by Emma: 1906 km, 1184 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.3 km, 26.9 miles
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:
1641 km! I can’t believe that we have made it this far: That we bought and fixed up a car, shipped it to Namibia, sourced kit and connections, Emma started the run and is still running and we are still all alive. A lot of me never thought this would happen. Really, truly, but I have a fear of failing and that fear drove me to make it possible. You don’t have to believe to succeed but you do have to work hard. I am not sure what is motivating Emma.
Emma runs, Mike cycles and the rest of us drive into tourist town. A kaleidoscope of colour, noise, little shops, glamorous tourists and backpackers, touts and cars. For the next 3 nights we shall be sleeping in beds, beds I tell you, with mattresses. We are all exhausted and could do with time apart. Emma is obviously much more tired than the rest of us and happy to be off her feet. I am giddy at the thought of not thinking about the rest of the team or cooking.
First, however, is the goodie bag Mum has brought from the UK. We unpack presents and letters for Emma. Emma is overwhelmed as she hears all the words of love and admiration from her friends. She’s not the only one.
There are also shiny new shoes kindly donated from family and friends, which were hugely appreciated. Then it is time for each of us to take turns soaking in the tub and getting as clean as we can, dirt has become ground into our skin. Emma and I have a lovely relaxing dinner with my Mum and leave the guys to their own devices.
Number of Days: 37
Total distance run by Emma: 1641 km, 1019 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 44.3 km, 27.6 miles
In constant pain, Emma with a determined gait, still covers phenomenal distances. We try running with her to provide support and variety for her day. Before, she would chat happily but now she conserves all her energy and focus on running. It’s hard to know what to do. I do come up with this make shift idea: (video of me cooling her feet).
Peaceful breaks are a challenge. Children come running, their little legs spinning as fast they can as soon as they see us. I feel a sense of obligation as guests in their country but having them watching us closely at every rest stop is not restful. Woocash and I cook as quickly as we can and then move on to meet Emma and Mike but even then, at times, we still have to swiftly pack up and drive 1 mile down the road, as the children come running after us. Emma arrives at her breaks looking stressed from the constant attention. Once a small child had run up and slapped her. I can only assume that the child thought Emma was a ghost or something. I suggest Emma calls us on the radio when children surround her but she doesn’t believe we can help and so never asks. As every metre hurts, the mismatch between the car’s measurements and Emma’s measurements become a significant irritation for her.
We pass road works: a sign says, “Apologies for the 15 minute delay” which makes me chuckle. I come from the UK. I love my country dearly but for sheer politeness Namibia and Zambia are winning. The road itself is good quality.
The main highlight of the day, however, is Robert chasing us down in a minibus taxi. If you remember, Robert is SEED’s Project Manager and is on the trip as our guide, to gain experience and consider expansion into new areas. Having travelled overnight from Harare to Victoria Falls, Robert caught sight of Cleopatra (the car) in the distance travelling in the wrong direction, which confused him (we were returning from a breakfast in hiding) and persuaded the driver to accelerate to catch us. I was thinking who is this crazy driver trying to overtake us until everyone chorused “Robert” as they saw him frantically waving out the window. His cleanliness makes him stand out. Woocash is instantly happier, the two of them have a budding bromance, and the whole team seems re-energised for seeing Robert.
Number of Days: 34 (almost 5 weeks)
Total distance run by Emma: 1,482 km, 921 miles
Daily average distance run by Emma (including rest days): 43.6 km, 27.1 miles
Having Katie join Emma in the morning is great. Anything to change the routine.
It’s a long stretch of tarmac. 252 km from Grootfontein to Rundu, now another 197 km to Divundu and then 310 km to the border. It’s long and it’s a bit dull for Emma.
That night we camp on the side of the road. Literally. All along the road there are rest stops, with a tree, a table and bench seats and a couple of big bins. Up until now, we have been very careful about camping out of sight but here, there are houses everywhere we go, and this place seems the most unpopulated. It makes for a noisy night, as lorries thunder past.
Emma is ill all day the next day and it’s very worrying. Stomach upsets in Africa are serious because it is easy to dehydrate in the heat and it takes too long to get to hospital. We are 100km from the nearest clinic. Emma continues to run when most people would be dithering between the bed or the toilet.
I call a contact Andy gave me, Charlie Paxton. On the phone, Charlie asks if we are sitting under a tree having lunch. Yes we are! We have been spotted. Charlie invites us to come and camp with them that evening at Shamvura, which, if you ever get a chance, is a delightful and unusual experience. Both Charlie and her husband Mark are extremely knowledgeable about the area and animals. They educate us on current conservation techniques and issues.
Charlie knows a huge variety of people and reminds me of my childhood hero Gerald Durrell (who wrote “My family and other animals”). Having told us wonderful stories about her pet vulture following and doing whatever she did, including sunbathing in the pool, Charlie invited us to have a look in their bedroom to meet their pet goat. I imagine a little cuddly goat. But no, this guy is as big as me. Startled by us, he almost jumps on the chicken that is calmly sitting on a trunk. The chicken doesn’t shift a feather. The one thing that struck me most was how clean and tidy the bedroom was. I am guessing you won’t believe me but honestly, it was a clean and tidy room. I failed to ask how you train a chicken and a goat not to poop in the house.
It’s a fairly eventful time at Shamvura. Woocash wakes me up in the middle of the night as he rushes out the tent, barefoot, to throw up. On the way, there are poisonous spiders, snakes, scorpions and thorns to step on. So, in sleepy befuddlement, I find his sandals and a torch and make my to the bathroom where he’s finished by the time I get there. I have no idea how he did it in the dark.
Whilst trying to leave, before dawn, a friendly horse bothers us. He’s very curious about the tent and what we are doing packing things up. He seems a bit miffed when we push him out the way.
Then it’s through the darkness of the trees and back to the road.
Number of Days: 24
Total distance run by Emma: 998 kilometres, 620 miles
Average distance run, including rest days: 41.6 kilometres a day, 25.8 miles a day.
For anyone considering staying at Shamvura, the campsite seemed great. We had a little corner to ourselves with good facilities.
Stopping to eat or go to the toilet has become a public event. Small children run towards us calling, “sweets, sweets”. Older ones stop and stare or join Emma running. There are people, everywhere. Every few yards there are clusters of homes. Some are neat with a sturdy fence surrounding them. Others are carelessly built, fenceless, at risk of wandering hungry cows. Cows, dogs, donkeys and goats ramble at will. Being in the second half of the dry season there are only dusty stalks of grass and spiky bushes for the cattle to eat. Through this activity the high quality tarmac road from Grootfontein cuts a straight line to Rundu: enabling cars to noisily speed and inevitably collide with innocent animals. A dead donkey and a crushed car lie on the side. Children seem to be wise and careful of the road.
First thing in the morning, one of the children from the previous evening arrives asking for food. I do not know if this is out of need or the simple joy of a gift from someone from another world. Erring on the side of caution, I give her an orange.
Children across the world go to school hungry, I have no way of knowing if she is one of them. In addition, I think my 7-year-old self would have been equally excited to have a gift from unusual foreigners. She grins with delight and bounces off, throwing and catching the orange as she goes.
For lunch, we find a quiet stop 20 yards off the road under a huge tree. Soon three 20 year olds come by, I think they are looking for a job, but stay to watch and chat while I cook. Kindly, they leave us soon after Emma and Mike arrive.
Whilst we are eating, in the distance a troop of small children head our way, but a swirling dust devil frightens them off. Dust devils are dangerous for children. Like a mini-tornado that arises from nowhere, stories abound that they can pick up an adult. Seriously! It’s not just an urban myth, it’s in Wikipedia. The small children don’t come back. Maybe they think we sent it. It feels like someone sent it as we get to finish our dinner almost undisturbed.
The school children are there to laugh and interact. Group no 3 are fascinated by everything and want something, anything. They don’t understand that we do need our kit and cannot easily get more. It’s a pleasure / pain experience: it’s great to connect and interact but after a while the pressure to entertain means it would be nice to have a break. Chatting to them is interesting, though, even with the language barrier. When I point out Namibia and Angola on our maps, with soft reverence they chorus, “Angola”. Many of the children are refugees displaced by the war. Clearly, their hearts long to go back.
But the team needs to rest. It takes several attempts before they will leave us. Short of an hour they are back, waking us up. We must be an exciting event, it’s not every day a woman who is running across Africa is snoozing in your field with her team and all their specialist kit. I try to distract them by showing them our leaflets about the run … then they all want a leaflet.
Emma has to give up on resting and sets off running early. The children shouting and screaming, scamper barefoot alongside her. This group drops off quickly but Emma has to deal with this frequently throughout her run. Luckily, she has Mike keeping by her at all times.
For the next 6 hours, there is nowhere to pee in private.
Nor can Woocash and I find anywhere to camp. Eventually, we stop outside a clean and tidy looking compound. A big friendly guy comes running up to check we are okay. When we ask him if we can stay on his land. He goes off to ask his wife. (I don’t know why it makes me smile when I write that. Maybe because he was a big impressive guy and everything he did was so cheerful.) His wife, however, is clear, “No, it is too dangerous.” They, themselves are about to leave and don’t stay there at the weekend. On his advice, we pick up Emma and Mike and head north to find a campsite.
Daylight was fading by the time we turned right onto a long dusty track to Samsitu campsite by the Okavango River. Emma and I were sure it was going to be closed. Happily we were wrong. Andy invited us to stay 3 comfy nights in beds. Hooray!
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.