Running to the rhythm of the bush

One of the first things you will probably learn out in the African bush is the famous rule – Don’t run! As a runner, I guess this golden rule won’t help me get a gold medal at my upcoming race as it stops me dead in my tracks quite literally. The idea of possibly becoming prey when you kick up the pace is a frightening thought as there is no way you can outrun anything out here, even if you were the fastest animal on two legs.

By the way, the fastest animal on two legs is the African Ostrich easily reaching up to 70km/ph. The funny thing is that even an Ostrich can give you rev out here if you maybe stumble too close to its hatchlings. Seems like everything is counting against me but that is not exactly true…

In 2021 my other half got me into running and since the first 5km time test, I was pretty much hooked. The idea of slowing down and feeling the soil/tar under your feet as you glide across the landscape is something special to share with people who are like-minded as your feet move to the beet of those around you. But where the real challenge came in for me was when I had to go to our EcoTraining camps for six weeks at a time after two weeks of pure running bliss at home. With the nature of our schedule and the daily brochure in camp, we are left to do any form of exercise during the hottest time of the day between breakfast and lunch.

Wesley and Christoff on a bush run.

Running one half-kilometer loop between the tents and the fire break after another takes its toll on the imagination. This changed when Instructor Michael Anderson and Wesley Cragg invited me to join them on a “Bush Run”. The concept certainly had my adrenaline pumping with the idea of possibly bumping into a dangerous game. But there is a method to the madness as we only run between 12:00 and 14:00 when it is the hottest time of day and dangerous game are less likely to be moving around. We also avoid running close to waterholes as this is a likely place animals will be drawn. However, this doesn’t mean that you are completely in the clear. We also keep our eyes and ears wide open for any fresh tracks or signs on the road and a big part of this is listening for oxpeckers and alarm calls of birds, antelope, and monkeys. These are life savers out in the bush as animals don’t lie when they see a threat.

Running gear – Photograph © Christoff Els

Running partners, Christoff & Marie

Photograph © Christoff Els

This once again made me realize that it is our knowledge that keeps us safe out there. One of the perks of running in the bush is for sure that your attention is so focussed on the environment around you that you don’t realize how hot it is and how tired you are.

In Karongwe camp we have a 2.5km loop that also goes through the reserve research team’s home base known as GVI. This gives us even more peace of mind and serves as a second stopping point should we need a water break after the 3rd or 4th lap. Up until now, we have been lucky that we have not bumped into any elephants, buffalo, rhinos, or lions but should the day come, we will revert to the “Don’t run rule” given the context. I have to be honest that once or twice I have gotten the fright of a lifetime when a large plated lizard bolted through a heap of dry leaves next to me and I switched over to a flying jump kick.

Photograph © Christoff Els

Photograph © Marie Schmidt

Since we started running this loop on a weekly basis, I have found I feel safer out in the bush than out on the open road. If you ask any runner there is no feeling worse than having a car fly past you as you unsuspectingly run along. Except for this running out here in Karongwe has taught me that we still have some ancestral DNA in us. Feeling so close to animals in there and our habitat is a magical feeling as we have been co-existing since well…forever. It’s only been in the last few hundred years that we have started to move to the cities and fence land causing wilderness areas to shrink drastically. Being eye-level with animals on foot will teach you a new kind of respect for animals that no vehicle can ever give you.

Armed with our knowledge we can run in harmony with the rhythm of the bush.

A Surge of Energy | Student Interview with Matthias Scheidt

We meet EcoTraining Professional Field Guide student Matthias Scheidt who completed the first part of the year course and is currently based at Selati as a backup.

Matthias favors the early mornings in the bush and bushwalks. With the rise of the sun, he experiences a surge of energy as nature awakens. Animal sounds and bird calls are abundant and alive.

About the Author: 

Christoff Els is EcoTraining’s Visual Content Creator and spends most of his time at our different campsites capturing the beautiful moments one can only find out in the bush.