Running in the African bush

5th May 2013

Whenever I go running all my troubles simply drift away, whether it’s running along the streets of London or over the moors of Yorkshire. But none of these compare to the freedom I feel when running through the African bush.

When you get it right, running in the bush is the best thing in the world. There’s nobody to distract you, no cars honking their horns and you’re operating on African time, so there’s absolutely no rush. You can stop and check out a track that attracts your eye such as that of a jackal. You’re sharing this wilderness with the wildlife as nature intended, on your own two feet.

Tips for running in the bush

  1. Wear tough shoes
  2. Tell somebody your route
  3. Don’t rush – Stop and enjoy
  4. NEVER run on a big 5 reserve – In Africa it’s food that runs
  5. Give animals their space
  6. Take water and a camera, better still a camera phone

‘Take the dogs, you’ll be fine’

The first time I went running in the bush was on a farm in Kenya which bordered the Lewa conservancy. My brother and I were staying with family on their huge farm which had plenty of game with dirt trails criss-crossing the property. We checked if it would be OK if we went for a run, they said, ‘take the dogs, you’ll be fine’. So we did and we were.

Looking back I realise that we were so naive. The only things we were confronted with were a warthog which the dogs chased and a leopard tortoise which we stopped to watch. We also saw a herd of elephants on the hill well out of our way. Now I can’t help but think what would we have done if they were on the road, would we of stupidly carried on and run straight through the middle of them? But that may have been the least of our danger, over dinner that night our hosts revealed the trouble they’d been having with lion, they’d lost scores of cattle already that year.

Thundering hoofs under a cloud of dust

On another occasion I was staying at a reserve called Leopard’s Lodge at Hartbeespoort Dam, this time it wasn’t big five. Whilst running I took a tumble as instead of concentrating on the rocky track my attention was on the giraffe, zebra and kudo. The reserve was relatively small so I soon found myself running the fence line which does restrict your feeling of freedom. This also meant that I got too close to the game; this spooked them which meant I saw little other than a cloud of dust and heard the thunder of hoofs.

Barefoot running is too distracting

When heading out on a gentle jog at Lapolosa I was taken aback by how hard I found it, at first I thought that in the space of a week I’d lost my fitness. I soon realised that my shortness of breath was down to the fact I was running in the highveld at an altitude in excess of 4,500m. The next thing I had to worry about was the substrate. I was wearing Vibram FiveFingers, basically shoes that are meant to replicate barefoot running, this wasn’t a great idea given the sharp rocky trails. For my next run I wore my heavy walking shoes which were a great improvement. This meant my mind was free to wander and enjoy the stunning scenery and wildlife.