Today was Day 1 of what will no doubt be the toughest run yet done on South African soil. Following the route of the 2 350km Freedom Trail, a gruelling event much hallowed by even the bravest mountain bikers, the Freedom Run is a challenge being tackled by two women – yes guys, two women – who will be running an average of 80km a day, over 32 days.
They’ll run from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl. Sixty-four back-to-back marathons… on some of the toughest terrain in the country.
Click here to see the route: Freedom Run route (and follow the little pink dot as it progresses - that's them!)
They’re tackling this feat as a challenge, and yes, they’ll achieve a great sense of personal achievement when they accomplish their goal, but far, far more importantly, they’re doing this for something very much greater than themselves – they’re raising funds to set up a social enterprise that will empower women in the community to make reusable sanitary pads, enabling young girls to be free to continue their schooling without the interruption of their monthly periods.
The next amazing fact is that neither of these women are South African – and yet they care enough to change the lives of young women in the rural areas of our country.
Mimi Anderson (UK) and Samantha Gash (Australia) are both hard core ultra-runners supreme, each with mileage under their belts that would scare most runners the world over.
Mimi (52) has two Guiness World Records to her name – one as the fastest woman to run from John O’Groats in northern Scotland to Land’s End in southern England (12 days 15 hours 46 min), and the other for the furthest distance covered on a treadmill in seven days by a female (649.86km).
She has won ultras in the Sahara, Kalahari and Namib Deserts, she was the first British woman to run the double Badwater Ultra Marathon (470km in 108hr 10min), which is in Death Valley, the hottest place on earth.
She was the overall winner of the 6633 Extreme Ultra Marathon in 2007, a 352 mile non-stop self-sufficiency race in the Arctic, setting a course record that is yet to be beaten: 143hrs 23min. She remains the only woman to have finished the race.
Well on her way to matching Mimi’s crazy achievements, Samantha (29) was the first woman and youngest person to have completed the Four Deserts Grand Slam, she has a 379km non-stop run across the Simpson Desert in Australia, and a 222km non-stop run across the Himalayas to her name.
What will the Freedom Run achieve? It’ll set young girls free.
Here’s the reality:
- In South Africa, one in 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 17 miss out on 4-5 days of school a month due to their periods. WHY?
- Commercially produced disposable sanitary pads are too expensive for most schoolgirls in Africa.
- A girl missing 4 days of school every 28 days due to her period loses the equivalent of 8 weeks of school per year. Falling behind in lessons inevitably means they end up dropping out of school.
- There is a distinct lack of education in the rural areas about the changes that happen to a girl’s body during puberty.
- Menstruation is a taboo subject in most rural areas, and is not discussed openly.
- 60% of girls and women in South Africa don’t have access to feminine hygiene products. Instead, they make a plan, often using rags, cloth or bits of newspaper.
Scary? The problem is real, it’s widespread, and it’s simply not acknowledged. And yes, it’s uncomfortable to talk about.
Mimi and Samantha’s Freedom Run is not only a mission to raise awareness and confront the problem, but to work a solution. The funds they raise through the challenge will enable Save The Children International to establish a social enterprise in an identified community in the Free State. The business will employ 12 women to make and sell reusable sanitary pads within their community.
“The project will also provide ongoing education on health and hygiene for girls and women, as well as life skills training workshops for parents. It’s a simple way of making a massive difference for thousands of girls in South Africa,” says Samantha.
Check out this quick clip, filmed over the days leading up to the start today: Freedom Runners' preparation and their crew
And yes… today was Day 1. They ran 80.98km, with more than 2 000m of vertical gain, and still looked fresh at their finish line!
Follow their progress by clicking on the tracker on www.freedomrunners.org
Help Mimi and Sam raise funds by clicking on the donate link on the Freedomrunners website how to donate