Running on a moonscape. Botswana

Trail Run Magazine, (AUS/NZ.), July 2020.
Running on a moonscape | With Belles On

Written by Annabelle Latz. Photos by Xavier Briel.

Nothing could prepare me for it, and nothing will ever compare to it.

Running on a white vastness, a cloud-whispered light-blue sky above, amongst an absence of landmarks and an abundance of flat land…

Welcome to the Salt Pans Ultra Trail Marathon, Botswana’s inaugural ultramarathon stage race.

For 100km, over three days, 25 of us ran across a section of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. Located in Northern Botswana, this vast expanse of white, similar to the size of Switzerland, used to be a lake. Over the years, the lake has dried up as the area has gradually become drier due to seasonal change, although there are still times of the year when sections of the Pans are uncrossable.

The race village on Kukonje Island, just a couple of hours from Francistown amongst the giant baobab trees, had all the basic comforts one could wish for pre- and post-race, and, surprisingly, enough featured a small rise or two and some grasslands. But a look slightly to the left or right, and the expanse of salty ground cast our eyes into infinite.

Day One was a 12km night run around Kukonje Island, a gentle introduction to this special place, where we got used to the sand, dirt, dust and occasional rock outcrop under our feet. We took off at sunset, which posed a challenge for the first part of the race, as we were nearly too awe-stricken by the light and vastness to focus on running!

Focus was essential, though; it’s surprisingly difficult to run in a straight line on these Pans. The GPS watched closely.

Dinner and breakfasts were provided by Botswana’s bush food extraordinaire Food Girl (Food Girl BW on Facebook), which left us wanting for nothing. With full tummies and maybe a beer from the local brewery tent, Big Sip, we headed to bed for an early start for Day Two.

Running on a moonscape | With Belles On

At sunrise, we were off on our 52km foot journey into the middle of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. The main thing to get our heads around was the vastness. It was flat as far as the eye could see. We ran in a series of straight lines, and the aid stations supplying us refreshments could be seen for several kilometres before we reached them – a mind adjustment that helped keep us sane.

I ran by myself for the majority of this 100km journey over the three days, stopping in my tracks more than once to listen. There was not a person, bird, tree or insect in sight. Just the sand at my feet, the mirage on the horizon, and infinite blue sky above. It was the closest I’ll ever feel to running on the moon.

The flags for the finish line of Day Two teased me for 10 kilometres. After what seemed forever, I reached them, happily collapsing onto an awaiting mattress under a gazebo, wholeheartedly slugging some Coke.

As time merged into the afternoon, I watched in awe as the remainder of the field reached this sweet spot in the middle of the Pans. There were smiles, happy bodies, broken bodies, crooked bodies, sore feet, and a couple of tears. There was also encouragement and respect for each other, and we were all grateful for having such excellent support crew, awesome food, drinks and snacks pre- and post-run, a medical crew, and a physio team.

We hunkered down for the evening as the sun dipped, all taking a quiet moment to gaze into the distance, absorb the enormity of where we were, watch the herd of donkeys walking into the sunset, and feel chuffed with life. With a full tummy and a crackling fire, the hum of distant chatter and a star-studded sky, I drifted into a blissful sleep.

Day Three dawned, and after a quick but hearty breakfast of porridge and strong coffee, our GPS told us we were running in a straight 36km line back to Kukonje Island. It took a couple of kilometres for the legs to wake up, but the crunch of the salt beneath my feet and the cool pre-sunrise breeze soon became rhythmical, and it was homeward bound.

This was the toughest day; a day of mixed emotions as the Salt Pan journey was soon to be over. Thrilled to be done, but also sad it was soon to be a memory. Approaching the finish line in second place overall and second female, I took one last chance to embrace this harsh, unique environment, with its moon-like atmosphere and airy surrounds.

Taking a seat under the shade of a tent at the end, cold drink in hand, it was awesome to see the smiles on every person as they reached the finish line. Smiling in respect of their effort, smiling in happiness to be done, and smiling in awe for the environment they’d been lucky enough to run through for the past three days.

Running 100km across the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan. Tough? Hugely so. Humbling? Like never before. Memorable? For the rest of our lives, absolutely.

For more info head to

A few ultra yards in the backyard. Marlborough, NZ.

April 25th, 2020.
Embracing the hurt box – A special kind of special.

It’s weird. As you’re being sucked into its void, you already know that when you are eventually spat out on the other side you’re going to be in a thousand pieces.
Welcome to The Hurt Box. The crazy addictive and viscous, yet endlessly rewarding drug of endurance sport.
Simultaneously, a switch in your brain switches from ‘we’re running for quite a long way’ to ‘game on.’ The pain factor rises, discomfort levels take a spike, and your mind clicks into sixth gear on the grit scale. No amount of hydration and nutrition will get you out. The deeper in you get, the more you don’t want to leave because you’re in new territory now and your curiosity gets the better of you.
A game of self negotiation, pain management, injections of great moments, and moments of ‘I think my brain is warping.’
The ultimate mind vs body battle.
When you enter Hurt Box land during a race, you have no choice but to push on. On the other hand, when you start running a 3.2km loop at 6.30am on ANZAC Day with an undetermined distance in mind and you enter Hurt Box, a voice in your brain pops up and says “Well if you’ve gone this far, you might as well make it worthwhile.”
Other self-justifications for running for 13hrs 49 minutes; a sunrise should be matched with a sunset. Running one marathon should be matched with running two marathons. Running only two marathons would only encourage your South African mates to give you grief for stopping so early. A bit like this:
“Kiwi, did you get attacked by a sheep on your run?”
“No. Why?”
“Well why didn’t you at least run the Comrades distance of 89km? You silly kiwi…..”
This conversation went through my head as I clocked 80km, so with a big sigh I moved my virtual finish line from 85km to 89km.
But I was wise enough to stop at 89km and not make it 90km. Because we all know how that conversation would have gone…. “Why did you stop at 90km, and not run 100km?!” I wasn’t going to open up that can of worms.
I do have one question of my own though – to whoever organised that gale force wind situation on the top ridge for five hours…. Why?! That was horrible. Obviously.
With my race gear stashed in a vehicle at the bottom of the hill I thought it’d be a luxury not to have to wear my hydration pack and carry any nutrition. But as silly as it sounds, I put it on for one lap early on and I discovered my level of focus took a rise. So that was a nice learning surprise. One of my bubble buddies Una joined me for some laps which was epic, and she pointed out that the loop was just long enough to not really remember the beginning by the time you got to the end, so you didn’t really feel like you were running loops. I happily agreed with her when she mentioned this, but crank the clock forward a notch, and in the final couple of hours when things got dark, (literally and figuratively) I clung onto that observation with all the grit and madness I had. Cheers Una! A third lesson I learned was that if you eat an orange with your head down, orange juice starts to come out your nose. I was horrified, disgusted and amazed all at the same time. On the snacks topic, freshly baked banana bread delivered on two separate occasions during this challenge was happiness on another level and the best fuel, so cheers Macca for that and all the other snacks you rocked up with, and even the herbal tea which I have never been a fan of until then!! Legend, this wasn’t your first rodeo.
And then, just like that, beneath the star studded sky my watch did a little bleep to tell me I’d clocked over 89km. With a bit of a grin on my face I said ‘oh yay’ and pegged back into a walk for the final downhill back to the finish line. The wind had disappeared altogether, even the sheep and cows had gone to bed.
It’s at that moment you say ‘So now it all makes sense. Lucky me, what a treat.’
PS. I wonder what the normal people are doing today? 👣🙄😁🧡





#covid19 #lockdown


* Total distance: 89km
* Total time: 13hrs 49mins
* Total laps of the 3.2km hill loop: 28
* Total ascent: 2460m
* Best fuel of the day: A delivery of freshly baked banana bread.

Running Sky High – Sky Run 100k

Country Wide Magazine, February 2020.

Check out the online magazine and full version including the article with Graham and Margy Frost of the wonderful haven of Balloch, click here

Running with the Desert Gods, Kalahari Desert. AFRICA, February 2020.

Running across the Kalahari Desert for 250km requires a lot of hard work from the top two inches. And some solid graft from the legs too. Signing up for the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon gave me the chance to experience first-hand the tales of desert running I’d heard so much about this year…

Read all about it here on Holly Woodhouse’s website, the Adventurous Kiwi!