Running on tired legs never feels great. A
couple of days on the trot can make the legs feel like lead and leave you
wondering where all your fitness has gone.
But next time you have that heavy-legged
feeling like you’re pulling a trailer, imagine running a full marathon (42km)
every day for six days of every seven, to cover the length of the Mekong River,
approx. 2 600km. Add to this the blasting heat and humidity of south-east
Asia, altitude, dodgy food and water, and tough conditions underfoot. And, just
when you’re baulking at the thought of 250km a week for two and a half months, throw
in the age factor: you’re doing this +60 years young.
|route of the Mekong River Run|
Feeling a tad inadequate? Promise to never
groan again? Perfect! Here’s the low-down on two South Africans who’re slogging
their way along the length of the official Mekong River, from where it crosses
into Laos from Myanmar (Burma), through Cambodia and into Vietnam, where it
flows through the Mekong Delta into the South China Sea.
Capetonians David Crombie and Mark Barron have
taken on this incredible challenge to raise funds for the Endurance Challenge
Charity Trust (ECCT), a non-profit charity trust set up by David some years ago
to raise financial support for SA organisations caring for HIV/Aids orphans.
Mark is a vet, David a sports scientist
with two doctorates to his name, and they’re both extremely experienced
ultra-distance runners. David has more than 100 standard marathons under his
belt, boosted by +30 ultras, including Comrades and the Washie 100 Miler. He’s
also done stage races – the Himalayan 100 Miler, the Amazon Jungle 220km, and
the 250km Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon.
|David Crombie and Mark Barron|
Mark also has a bunch of extreme races in
his pedigree, including Comrades, Washie and the Puffer.
So, neither of these guys are average
runners – in any way, shape or form. Nor is what they’ve taken on. And the best
part of the story? As I write this blog post, they have just a handful of
marathons left: as of today, they’ve covered 2 352km and have only six
marathons to go before they complete their gutsy challenge. No one has ever attempted to tackle the length of the Mekong on foot – these proud South Africans
will be the first to conquer it.
Craig and I had the privilege of chatting
to David over dinner a couple of weeks before he and Mark set off for south
east Asia. He’s an incredibly interesting man, with a mind full of wonderful
running anecdotes to share – the kind of chap who’s great to run with uphill
for his stories. But what struck me most about David was his steadfast
determination to achieve this daunting challenge in the face of all obstacles.
And there were obstacles… in generous
chunks. (But more about that in a future blog.)
|David with 24 marathons ticked, 38 still to go|
Nothing was going to stop this man from
achieving his goal – not the distance, not the complicated logistics involved
in planning the whole adventure, and certainly nothing silly like health
concerns. The Mekong River Run was on his to-do list, and by hell, he was going
to tick it off.
David and Mark began their challenge on
November 3rd, taking off from where the Mekong shapes the border of
China, Myanmar and Laos. I e-chatted to David a couple of days ago, on
completion of their 53rd marathon. As usual, he was very chatty –
despite being via the keyboard of his cell phone and with +2 300km in his weary
Here’s what he had to say:
How does it feel to be ticking off marathon after marathon, each day
getting closer to your goal?
As most runners will agree, there are "milestones" during a
run that we use to our mental advantage – such as reaching the halfway mark, having
less distance to go than already run, etc. In the MRR we have had many such
markers eg. getting clear of the
seriaaaas mountain stages in northern Laos, reaching Luang Prabang (edible
food, baguettes etc. instead of noodle soup or sticky rice!), Vientiane (our
4th week and the 1 000km mark), and even more so, our 50th marathon, which felt
very special. Reaching these successive milestones comes at a price: a chronic
recovery deficit. So whilst each is cause for celebration, it points to the
reality that the next one will exact yet more blood, sweat and tears and demand
that we dig ever deeper. We’re haunted by the fact that stopping is not an
option, and buoyed by the fact that each marathon completed takes us inexorably
closer to making our vision a reality – in some ways a seemingly endless
double-edged sword that we re-embrace every day, often several times!
How’re you guys feeling, mentally and physically?
Now in the closing stages there is a sense that success is indeed within
our grasp, and this will I am sure increase when we get to single figures – 9
to go will be a huge milestone. But as the number of marathons completed
climbs, it’s more difficult to keep grinding them out. So I think we’ll be
smiling AND wincing right to the wire. There has not been, and will not be, one
easy marathon for us, and only when we reach the South China Sea will the
constant duality of agony and ecstasy give way to unbridled elation – and
How have your feet coped, and how many pairs of shoes have you gone
Apart from the odd blister, our feet are fine. We’re minus just one
toenail between us. We’ve used two pairs of trail and two pairs of road shoes.
Tell me about your dalliances with Mekong Gut – or Ho Chi Minh’s Revenge!
|Mark and David celebrated their 40th marathon on a Red Sock Friday with a swim in the Mekong. ShoOops!|
gut problem I had was directly related to a meat dish. Desperate for some
protein I succumbed to the temptation… and paid the price, which lasted for
over a week!
What have been your notable highs… and your lows?
first high was getting to CT airport – no more training, planning or
organising, we were finally on our way. Landing in Luang Prabang was obviously
a high, as was starting the first marathon on the banks of the Mekong, with
Myanmar on the other bank and China border to our north – the infamous Golden
Triangle. Reaching Luang Prabang and Vientiane were special, as was having
friends Karen from NY and Judy from HK run with us on our marathon after
Vientiane. And there’ve been too many other highs to mention!
No doubt the main low was the refusal of
the Laos authorities to grant us a permit for the Mini Mekong Run – just two weeks
before it was to be held. This, despite four months of negotiations and
assurances with the necessary authorities.
I’ve been on the Mekong in Laos and can visualise the type of terrain
you guys are dealing with. What percentage of your run so far have you been
able to run next to / near the river?
Really close to the river about 40% of the time; close enough to see it
intermittently about 20%. The remainder – over the mountains in the north of
Laos we were quite far away, but once in the Mekong valley we were often
|view of the Mekong, upriver from Laung Prabang|
How are you coping with the humidity, heat and sun?
The short answer: with great difficulty! According to our information
the weather pattern is most unusual – it should be considerably cooler, both
day and night, with not too much humidity. Instead we’ve not had a single cool
day, and temperatures have ranged from the mid to high 30’s. It was to overcome
the heat/humidity problem that I changed our daily start time from first light
to 2am, and this has made a big difference. But we still pray for cloud cover,
breeze...or rain. Thus far the weather gods have turned a deaf ear!
those roads in the dark must come with its own challenges. Are you entirely
reliant on rechargeable headlamps?
Apart from the full moon nights, a headlamp has been absolutely
essential in order to deal with the route/trail/road conditions, which when not
bordering on technical are just plain hazardous thanks to their appalling state
– never mind potholes, I’m talking endless craters. It was one such hole that
was my downfall, literally and figuratively, despite my trusty Petzl! My model
of headlamp doesn’t use rechargeable batteries, so I carry a copious supply of
You said in one of your blog posts that the people in the remote
villages in Laos referred to you as falang – white-skinned big-nosed
foreigners. They must think you’re nuts. Have you experienced the same reaction
so far in Cambodia?
Yes, we’re called falang in Laos, barang in Cambodia. It’s been much the
same response – perplexed stares. I presume we are a rarity, especially in the
ethnic minority villages. It has been the young who are friendly, often
greeting us first with "Hello...where you come from...where you
What has been your funniest, and least funny, moment?
|on another Red Sock Friday, this time with a vendor selling lotus flower pods and scrawny spatchcock chickens|
One of my funniest was discovering that all of several brand new books I
had bought from "proper" bookshops for really good prices, eg.$10,
were all in fact copies!
Our least funny has been the AK47 incident.
At about 4am on Nov 27th, three guys emerged from the jungle in the
pitch dark, pointed AK47s at us and demanded that we stop. Stop we did, and so
did our hearts! We were searched, and only allowed to continue when our
Laos-speaking support crew arrived. It turned out they were part of a Laos army
patrol scouting for Thai or Myanmar insurgents. Scary stuff!
As of today, David and Mark have just 252km
remaining before they reach their finish line, at the edge of the South China
Sea. They will have accomplished a feat that most of us can ever only dream
about, and they’ll have helped hundreds of HIV/Aids orphans in the process.
So, the next time your legs feel a tad
overworked from training, spare a thought for what they’d feel like after +2 300km
of gruelling slog!
|David at the handover of a donation to Home From Home day care centre in Khayelitsha|
Read more about the Mekong River Run on Mekong River Run
or follow the guys on their Facebook page, at Mekong River Run.
** If you’d like to support the Mekong River Run by donating to ECCT,
name: Endurance Challenge Charity Trust
international donations, use swift code NEDSZAJJ)
For auditing purposes a record of all donors will be
kept, so please ensure you provide your name and contact details when making
Labels: David Crombie, ECCT, Endurance Challenge Charity Trust, Mark Barron, Mekong