“Africa”…”Madagascar, Africa”….”RUNNING through Madagascar, Africa”…it just kept getting better and better the more we kept on reading about Racing The Planet’s Roving Race 2015. We never really thought of Madagascar as a “real” place till this race (Madagascar was always just a Disney cartoon movie). But once we found out Racing The Planet’s Roving Race for the upcoming year was to take place on the island of Madagascar, we were hitting the “Register” button almost without hesitation.
Describing a 7 day, 250 km stage race is not easy. The amount you see, the number of people you meet, the different race inputs you experience goes on and on but the highlights are easy to note. Getting to the start line of this race was not easy. In the 35C heat of the day, 20 or so vans were loaded up with anxious runners and headed down the meandering “roads” (don’t know if these paths actually could count as roads) to an army base just outside Diego Suarez, Madagascar.
On August 31, 2014, we toed the start line with about 250 other competitors along with a local Malagasy running group who was to join us for the first 10km (lucky ducks!). Each and every runner was geared up with a pack containing their grub, clothes, and required gear for the entire 7 days. Water and a communal tents were they only thing you got a helping hand with from the race….otherwise, you are on your own. Standing on the start line, we knew the clean faces and fresh smelling clothes were soon to disappear. A little Eye of the Tiger played to get us pumped and we were off!
This race took us down some of the most unexpected paths. Each day ranged from about 38-46 km with one long 80ish km stage on Day 5. And with each brought some new highlight. The first few days took us along the coastlines and through deep sandy tracks. The temperatures averaged in the high 30’s each day and with limited shade or tree cover along most of the course, your only saving graces were the many river crossings we trekked through. More often than not though you weren’t really enjoying the “cool off”, rather your brain was busy contemplating what kind of parasite you picked up in the still murky water you were trudging through. But hearing the locals from nearby villages singing and cheering us along the way would often distract the pessimistic part of the mind that searches for reasons
to quit. There was even an entire village cheering, chanting, and dancing for us at the finish line of one stage. These people stayed out there for 7+ hours cheering runners in by sharing their culture and energy. The next few days took us away from the coastline and sent us inland to see red tsingy, deep crevassed canyons, and endless rice paddies. Although the scenery was absolutely breath taking (which is quite the pun for someone already breathing heavy during a race….but you get my point); the people are what made this race.
Our fellow competitors were a collection of unsung heroes. The true idols that should be on the front of those magazine covers at the grocery store check out instead of a Nicki Minaj. Some of these athletes had gone through some difficult life events, completed some of the toughest races, and came from a huge variety of different backgrounds. And still, they had the biggest grins on their faces and always willing to lend a hand….or in our case, an emergency gel.
The volunteers and workers were an ant army; always hard at work, always doing something, and never complaining. When they weren’t busy at their volunteer role, they were putting their cheer skills to work at the finish line…every runner that came in had a genuine, enthusiastic welcome…even those coming in late at night.
And then there were the locals. “Malak malak!”, “Ambato sara vasza!!”…two of the phrases that popped up everyday along our trek thru Madagascar’s backcountry. There were times you weren’t quite sure if you were running through someone’s backyard or house; regardless they were always calm natured and would throw out a greeting or at least a wave. Children would run out from the huts and hop onto the fences screaming “Salam Vasza!!!”…”Hello White Person!!!”. The Malagasy embraced us. Every single competitor; regardless of gender, age, or the colour of their skin…they were truly non-judgemental.
This race as a whole is one we would strongly recommend, and plan to compete in another in the future (of course being a roving race it will be in a new location!). On the organization end, it was pretty much flawless: checkpoints were always where they were supposed to be, stalked with water and a med doc, tents were always already setup before you hit the end line of that day, and the hot water for food never ran dry. Like every race, you yourself go through big ups and downs. Running 250 km over 7 days with everything on your back can start deteriorating yourself mentally and physically, but the scenery, fellow competitors and Malagasy locals make it all so worth the journey!