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Russell Nugent raises R40 155 for The Keratoconus Foundation

THE KAEM 2018 Report Back by Russell Nugent!AoaZEprOVUW0gqZW4zXdLJ5cAzaiCA

Russell Nugent, Optometrist Upington

The Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon is a 7 day, self-sufficient foot race across the Kalahari Desert. Organisers provide the runners with shelter at the campsites and water during the race. For the rest you need to be self-sufficient. This means that you need to carry all your food and clothes for the week, as well as the mandatory safety equipment.

Runners are permitted to use the race as a platform to raise funds for the chosen charity. I elected to raise money to enable the Keratoconus Foundation of South Africa to assist patients in need of a corneal graft. A young boy from Pretoria was selected by the Foundation to be the recipient of the funds I was able to raise. It would be used to cover the costs of importing the donor tissue.


The 2 days prior to the start of the race were used for equipment check and race briefings. The support crew checked to see that we had all the mandatory safety equipment which included things like a mirror (signalling), a whistle, blister kit, torch, space blanket etc. They also checked to see that we had enough food to sustain us through the week. The temptation always exists to skimp on the food to lighten your bag, especially when you’re doing your planning at home with a full tummy.  During the race briefings we were given some idea of what to expect. We heard that we might encounter snakes, scorpions, leopards, extreme heat, thick sand but to go out and enjoy ourselves.

Day 1 (26km)

After all the scare mongering from the previous day’s briefing I’d decided to approach the race with extreme caution, self- preservation being my only consideration. I ambled through the first day at a pedestrian pace, especially if you look at how everyone else started. My only excitement being to have an ostrich run beside me for a while. It was comforting to run over familiar terrain. I’d run or cycled over every part of the day’s route at some time and had a fair idea of what lay ahead. I finished the day down in 10th position. 

Something that I do know is that in difficult conditions, some form of routine brings comfort. It allows you a measure of control over your circumstances which reduces anxiety.  From the start I was determined to establish a routine and at least reduce the uncertainty of my living conditions.

At the end of each stage, I’d take my daily 5 liter allocation of water and get into the shade of my allocated sleeping area under one of the three stretch tents. I’d fill up water bottles from my water rations so that I knew what I had left I could comfortably use during the day. I’d then make some effort to clean myself up, paying specific attention to my feet to avoid blisters. The rest of the day was spent eating at regular intervals and just lying around.

While KAEM is a race across the desert, most of your day is spent sitting around recovering for the next stage. During these down times you get to experience the real magic of KAEM, such as the people. You spend hours chatting to people from all the corners of the world. From England to Ireland, Spain, The Czeck Republic, Luxembourg, Canada, Turkey and even Pretoria. The camaraderie that develops over the course of the week is special and, I think, the main reason that brings people back year after year. I heard that once you finish KAEM you become part of a family. It’s true.

Day 2 (35km)

The second day was a hot day! The Kalahari showed its fangs for the first time with temperatures climbing to over 40 degrees. I also took a fall which took some of the skin of my knee and hands. Fortunately, there was no real structural damage and it didn’t really bother me for the rest of the week. The heat had taken its toll and even though I’d had my hand brake pulled up a little by the conditions, some of the runners had suffered a lot more. By the end of the stage I’d moved up to 8th position. 

Day 3 (38km)

This was my day. Or perhaps it was just an off day for a lot of other people who were paying the price for going into overdraft on the warm day before. The weather was cooler, I felt comfortable and I got through the stage relatively quickly. The only excitement being a black cobra that shared the path, albeit briefly with me. It was so close I could have reached out and touched it. Not that I harboured any such intentions. I finished the day 4th and moved up a few more spots to 6th position. The mood in camp that evening was more subdued considering that the next day was the long 78km stage.

Day 4 (78km)

During the race each stage has a staggered start. This means that the slower runners start first, going off from 6am. The last group starts at 1pm in the heat of the day. Fortunately, this year the long day was an uncharacteristically cool day with temperature topping out in the mid 20 C.  I started in the 2nd to last group setting off at 12.30.  The start of this stage was in the soft sand of a dry river bed. Considering the laws of diminishing returns, I’d decided that the extra effort it required to run in the soft sand was not worth the marginal speed returns it brought.  I was able to convince Fergus Wall from Ireland of the wisdom of my plan and the two of us set off at a brisk walk. In fact, we didn’t run a step for the first 7km. Stopping to photograph a troop of baboons and allowing Fergus to give me a brief overview of Irish history. Fergus and I stayed together to the 4th checkpoint (37km). At this stage he was feeling a bit under the weather and I may have been putting him under pressure to maintain a pace he wasn’t comfortable with. He suggested I “fook af” and go on ahead, which I did.  The conservative start with Fergus paid dividends and I finished the rest of the stage at a comfortable, relatively quick pace. I got into camp at 21h45, 9 hour and 15min later. My efforts had put me into 5th place some 8 minutes behind Pavel Paloncy a World Adventure Racing Champion.  I slept well.

Day 5 (Rest Day)

This day was spent recovering from the previous days exertions and preparing for the 48km that lay in wait for the next day. The camp was at the river, so I spent the day lying around the river, dodging the sun and eating the extra food I’d packed for the rest day. When I was looking at the stages during the weeks leading up to the race, the stage that concerned me the most was the 48km that needed to be done straight after the 78km. Its one thing to “byt vas” and survive a monster 78km stage if that was going to be the end of it. But to get through 78km with the thought that you had 48km that still needed to be done, I had difficulty getting my head around that.

Day 6 (48km)

I enjoyed the thought of being in 5th position and at the sharp end of the race. I had never started the race with any intentions of getting my name on the first page of the leader board. I went about my business with the view of finishing the race. I think it was more a case of other runners sliding down the leader board than me moving up. I had no intentions of changing my approach and “racing” to make up time or move up the leader board.  Fergus and I again spent the majority of the 5th stage together. Fergus had been “off his milk” for a few days now and his energy level and general well being was quite low.  Again, he got to the second to last CP with me and then encouraged me to let him take a few moments to rest and replenish his energy levels.  I caught up to Pavel, who was clearly taking it easy. I didn’t have the strength or talent to challenge him for his 4th spot. We finished together.

The evening in camp was a jovial affair with all the hard work having been done. An awards ceremony was held with the Lobster award for the best (red) suntan, the dummy award for the biggest whiner, the duct tape award (to be applied over the mouth) for the noisiest individual etc. Other than that, the conversation turned towards cold beer, steak and other simple pleasures we’d been denied for what seemed like an eternity.

Day 7 (25km)

The staggered start saw us starting at 10h30 on the last day. The temperature was already in the mid 30’s by the time we set off. I would have liked something around 18 degrees with a tail wind, but the conditions were what they were and there was still 25kms I needed to knock off. Pavel and I ran together, I knew that being a world champ he wasn’t going to give me half a chance to make up 8 minutes on him.  It was an honour to cross the line with him a few uneventful hours later.

Waiting to meet me as I crossed the finish line were Tate and Lucky representing the Keratoconus Foundation. They’d made the trip all the way to Upington to welcome me back to civilisation. It was an unexpected surprise and one that I was extremely grateful for. 

Finishing KAEM has been a personal triumph. But more importantly, through the involvement of Chris Faul and Vision Magazine we had been able to draw enough attention to the plight of Kamogelo and keratoconus in general. As I write this, we have raised R40 155 (at today’s exchange rate). In addition, Charl Laas from Innocon has donated a pair of scleral lenses and Peter Brauer has undertaken to assist in fitting the lenses post-op. I’ve been humbled by the support the campaign has received from all over the world. I couldn’t possibly thank everyone mentioned above or listed below for their financial contributions and moral support. I trust that knowing their contribution has restored a young man’s vision will be thanks enough.

Yaacov Arnon
Chris Faul
Marc Malan
Luane  Van Der Merwe
Sbusisiwe Zama
Farzana Assamo
Catherine Mccarthy
Antonie Van Der Westhuizen
Peter Brauer
Ricardo Santos
Glenda Edelson
Rob Wallace
Thomas Arnold
Charlotte Phatudi
Elizca Kies
Lebo Ntlabathi
Janine Pienaar
Lou Odendaal
Tsietsi Nkambule
Livhuwani Maake
Ruhi Pathan
Bev Milun
Glenn Nugent
Marietjie Richter
Mimi Wang
Jenny Sidney
Elzanne Van der Linde
Synapse Synapse
Andrew Mouton
Karen Marais
Sifiso & Kego Msiza
Mildred Labuschagne
Fergus Wall
Jean-Marc Schneitter
Optical Alliance
Cooper Vision
Gill and Bruce Fordyce
Andy Baker
Lesley Nugent