This is only my second visit to the Kruger National Park, but it has to be one of my favourite areas of South Africa… Driving along the dirt roads before dawn, lions sprawl in the rays of the rising sun, yawning lazily. A pied kingfisher smacks its breakfast of freshly caught fish against the side of the dam wall. Later in the day, ox-peckers ride the backs of rhinos as they browse between the trees, and skittish impala nibble at new leaves while keeping wary watch for predators. Elephants splash in the river under swallow crossed skies and, if you are really lucky, you might catch a leopard draped in the crook of a tree, or a cheetah moving silently through dry grass like a snake gliding through sand.
Once a year though, you might catch an even rarer sight; the mass migration of hundreds of brightly coloured, chattering humans running through the bush. It’s the Skukusa half marathon, and runners gather from all over the country, waiting for the canned lion roar that starts the race. This year I was lucky enough to join the event, and run along the tracks normally reserved for ranger’s 4x4s. A helicopter buzzes overhead, and rifle-armed rangers reminded me that we really are in the untamed bush, where lions roam freely and might be tempted by a slow moving, tasty human The thought only spurs me on to run faster and embrace my inner wild-animal that leaps at the opportunity to run free in this beautiful, near-untouched, world. After a variety of off-road tracks, we hit the tar and pass cars full of tourists looking on in bemusement at the unusual sight. It was surreal to be on the other side now, and realise how the animals must feel; their privacy invaded by cars and cameras… Soon I was at the last water stop, and declining the beer offered by enthusiastic supporters, I pushed on to the finish on under-trained legs. Sprinting the last hundred metres, I surprised myself by beating my previous best time, which I can only attribute to being distracted by the wonderful scenery around me (OK… that, and trying to keep up with Lee!).
Later that evening, while I huddled with friends around a flickering fire under star spangled skies, I contemplated the days events. For me, this run was a chance to break away from the confines of the city and feel the pulse of the African Heart that beats inside us all. It was the “Call of the Wild”, and something deep inside me hoped it wouldn’t be the last time I answered…