British Columbia

B.C. ultramarathon runner finishes Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, all 250 km of it

Jacqueline Windh of Port Alberni ran seven days through the desert in South Africa, following the footsteps of the ancient bushmen.

Jacqueline Windh of Port Alberni ran seven days through the desert in 50 C temperatures

The marathon goes over ground that was once walked by the bushmen or San, an indigenous hunter-gatherer people of Southern Africa. (Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon)

Jacqueline Windh remembers it being so hot that even her brain felt unbearably warm.

Last month the 51-year-old Port Alberni woman and her husband ran the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Marathon, an approximately 250-kilometre race through part of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa.

"The water in my water bottle was hotter than the temperature we keep our hot tub at home. That's what we were drinking," Windh told North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

Jacqueline Windh said they saw giraffes within the very first hour of the race. (Jacqueline Windh)

The race takes place in six legs over the course of seven days, following a trail through a portion of the semi-arid desert located in northwestern South Africa.

According to the marathon's website, the race is "a challenge to get past what normal people would regard as crazy, and achieve one's personal goals."

Runners have to provide a medical certificate before they compete, and they have to carry all of their food, a sleeping bag and other supplies with them.

A race of survival

Windh, who regularly runs ultramarathons and writes about her races for the website Sleep Monsters, said she does extreme marathons to challenge herself and because the races allow her to access parts of the world that people generally aren't able to get to.

While daytime temperatures in the desert can reach 40 C in the summer, Windh said the 2015 race reached record temperatures — 52 degrees was the hottest measured temperature in the shade on the first day.

Windh said the course consisted alternately of rocky, granite-rock trails or sandy paths, often through ravines. Participants have to carry all their supplies with them, on their backs. (Jacqueline Windh)

She said it's difficult to explain what the intense heat felt like, but said it put her in a "brain fog."

"I felt like I was walking cross-eyed," she said.

According to the Kalahari Augrabies' web site, a medical team will orally or intravenously rehydrate runners who they feel are dehydrated or undernourished.

Runners requiring interventions are withdrawn.

Windh said two people ended up in hospital on the first day — one was put in an induced coma and spent two weeks at the hospital.

She said that made her and her husband realize that it "was a race of survival" and they needed to pace themselves through each day, which varies in distances of 28 to 75 kilometres.

"We just realized all it is, is about getting to the finish point each day safely," she said.

"That whole week we knew that there was one of the racers in a coma in the hospital and we knew we didn't want to end up like that."

Team effort

Windh said on one of the days she stopped at a checkpoint and considered taking the option of sitting out and being driven for the last several kilometres of that day's route, which were during the hottest part of the day.

Windh with her "saviours" — the three men who encouraged her to keep going. (Jacqueline Windh)

"I sat at that checkpoint for an hour, trying to cool down in the shade, pouring water over me … but my core temperature was so hot, I was just burning inside and I could not cool down," she said.

"After an hour this group of guys way at the back of the pack came through and they saw me sitting there and they said, 'Come with us.' I started crying because it was such a nice offer of them."

"Most people did not end up racing. It was really an event of helping one another through."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: B.C woman runs week-long extreme marathon through Kalahari Desert