Running for Rangers in Africa

Director of Programmes at Tusk, Sarah Watson, is setting off on the 5 day For Rangers Ultra Marathon (UM4R) a 230km race split into 5 stages crossing five wildlife conservancies in East Africa.

sarah watson running

The UM4R runners will encounter the diverse wildlife of these incredible conservation areas.  The trails through the grasslands will be baking and the terrain through the rocky hills and riverbeds will be rough underfoot.  Undulating between 1500m and 2000m above sea level the habitat and conditions vary hour by hour.

As a self-sufficient race, runners are responsible for carrying their entire kit, specialist gear including food, safety equipment and a minimum of 2.5 litres of water which can be refilled at checkpoints along the stages. Nights will be spent under canvas at base camps under massive skies full of stars.

The event starts on the 18th September at Lewa and goes through Borana, across Laikipia, before finishing at the Equator on Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Unlike the other two races Sarah’s done to raise funds for the rangers she lives and works with, she’ll be running with a team of 4 rangers who have decided to see for themselves how mad she is!  – Sarah tells us more:

Why is running something you’re passionate about?

It’s a great way to escape emails! All you need is a pair of shoes and a route – preferably something off the beaten track. It’s a way to switch off and destress and it takes you to places that you can’t get with a car and just allows you to be on your own in amongst nature – and on Lewa of course you get to see some pretty amazing wildlife! 

I’ve always run – even as a young kid I used to round up our cows on foot while my sister rode! I did quite well at school and University making the county team, but then 19 years ago I broke my back. That was hard as it meant I couldn’t run, and I didn’t for over ten years. When I started running again I decided it had to be for a reason, and so I took up ultra running. This is my third race. 

Tell us about the UM4R route?

It’s stunning! But also tough; there are a lot of hills, it’s run at altitude, it’ll be hot and there will be wildlife on the route. We start on the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and run across to the Borana Conservancy; before heading into the Loldaiga Hills sonf across the Ol Jogi Conservancy finish on the equator in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. 

When I’m training alone I have to stick to the main roads, but with this route, we’ll be running through 5 of Kenya’s most beautiful conservancies. We’ll be watched by teams of rangers the whole way which is poignant as they are the people we’re raising money for

How have you selected these particular 4 rangers?

For the last few years a team of us have been taking on some bit challenges to raise money For Rangers – from climbing Mount Everest to circumventing Greenland in a canoe to running through the Peruvian jungle. We’ve spent many hours training with the ranger teams from Lewa, Borana, Ol Jogi and Ol Pejeta and this year they decided to join us to see what these crazy adventures are like: 

  • David Piroris – Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
  • Dedan Matanta – Borana Conservancy
  • Simon Irungu – Ol Pejeta
  • Joseph Nangoli – Ol Jogi 

What type of equipment will you be able to get for rangers across Africa?

All profits from the race will go entirely to the 2500 rangers supported by For Rangers. It will be invested in basic equipment to make their lives easier in the field, towards educational opportunities for their children and, with over a thousand rangers having been killed in the line of duty across Africa since 2003, towards the welfare of a Ranger’s family should the worst happen.

What else are you hoping to achieve?

We’re the reason that the wildlife is disappearing, but we’re also the solution. The rangers live with the wildlife and understand more than anyone the importance that it remains alive. Having worked and trained with Lewa’s rangers for many years I decided it was time to give back to them. Our main aim is to raise awareness about how we’re all linked and also of course raise some money. Oh and I’m hoping to achieve zero blisters – on my last race I lost all my toenails!!! 

Give our readers a top tip if they wanted to get started?

All you need is a good pair of trainers. Start with small distances – find the distance that suits you and within a short time hopefully you’ll be hooked. I hadn’t run a full marathon distance (42km) before completing my first multi-stage ultra. It’s amazing what your body can do. 90% of a run is in your head, the rest in your body. 

If you’d like to support Sarah, she’d be very grateful – 100% of the funds we raise will go directly to provide equipment and life insurance for thousands of rangers from across Africa. https://www.tusk.org/donate/

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