A fortnight of consecutive half marathons was only half the “madness” Deborah Beaton cooked up. The 32-year-old Kenyan with startling blue eyes and a Zen demeanor ran the 250 miles through East Africa’s wild, home to rhinos, elephants, zebras, wildebeest, lions, leopards, and cheetahs, to name a few.
Natasha Awasthi: How did this idea come about?
Deborah Beaton: I’d been working at a lodge called Ol Donyo Lodge, where I met guys who did horsed safaris. They wanted to explore a new route through the southern rift valley, between Amboseli National Park and Maasai Mara National Reserve -– an area that supports one of Africa’s richest concentrations of the wildlife. It’s also a crucial migration path between the two reserves. They were worried about taking the horses. I said, “Why don’t I run it and let you know.”
Was there more to it?
My parents have lived in the Mara for 40 years now and I was brought up there. I couldn’t be more passionate about wildlife conservation and wanting to raise awareness. And the more research I did the more sense it made. The poaching of elephants and rhinos is out of control. Given the current decimation of the area and wildlife, the issue is urgent right now, not 10 years later.
What was your timeline like?
I decided in June 2013 and ran in December 2013.
Had you run a similar distance before?
The longest distance I had run before was 10kms.
That seems like a tough schedule. How did you know you could do it?
I am not sure. I never doubted it. The idea was perfect from the beginning, the route, length, passion for the cause. I just knew I couldn’t not do it.
Did you ever want to give up?
No. Not once. Although, there was this one day when I just lay on the floor and cried. It was in November, and I hadn’t run in two months because I had pulled my hip flexors. It was Sunday at 3pm, with no one in the gym. That day was grueling and boring as hell. I did two hours on the bike, then 10-minute intervals — 2 minutes easy then 8 minutes hard, for an hour. When I was done, I was so tired. The actual run was easy; the buildup to it was way harder. I was also organizing the whole thing, starting two other businesses at the same time, and training three hours a day. I was buggered.
How did you keep going?
Before my injury, I was doing 30kms for five days in a row. One afternoon, I had only the last 10kms left. I took a half-hour nap and woke up with such a bad headache from dehydration, everything ached. I didn’t want to do it. I called my boyfriend, and he said, ‘Get up and run.’ That was it, and I thought: ‘yup, get up and run.’ Simple.
What was your biggest surprise?
The ease of the route in sections we had not reccied [British-speak for reconnaissance.] We had expected virgin lands. But all those protected spots, where we imagined humans would not have made it to, they had a maze of tracks. People had gotten everywhere. What does this translate to? The wild isn’t all that wild anymore.
What was the most memorable moment?
We were in Magadi and so many members from SORALO were there to help us. Also, many of the Maasai herders from that area ran with us for the last 7km to hit our 300kms. Unknown to us, the entire community had come out and painted a big sign that read: ‘300KM. Well done Dudu and Team.’ We ran up a hill, rounded a corner and saw that. I burst into tears.
What had you hoped to achieve?
I just hoped that people would wake up to what is happening.
What happened in reality?
Everyone just focused on the achievement rather than what it was to signify. Which is why we have to keep doing it.
When will you do it again?
What are three things you will do different next time?
Organize more people to run and have them pay so that I can hand over logistics to a professional company. Reccy the route, to find the best areas that are good not only for running but also to highlight how diversity of the ecosystem is being destroyed. Enjoy it more. Smile more, look around more, laugh more, and take it less seriously.
Fast forward a few years; what’s your fantasy for this idea?
A yearly run with lots of divisions: competitive ultra-option for ultra-runners, marathons, and other legs. I want to turn it into a huge event that brings good money into the area, and helps the Maasai to live there without having to sell their land, trees, and souls.
Natasha Awasthi is a data monster by education and business designer by profession. She artfully untangles messy problems by discovering unexpected patterns–in behavior, processes, and technology. A self-proclaimed Jedi-in-training, she writes about channeling the force and embracing her creativity. Find her on Twitter or email her here.