Madagascar - The 8th Continent

Racing The Planet Madagascar 2014 - A 250km 7 day foot race in Northern Madagascar


All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2015. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.


Map of the approximate 250km course and approximate location of camps

My first few days in Madagascar were spent in the northern port town of Antisiranana, otherwise known as Diego Suarez. I had a few days there ahead of the Racing The Planet 250km race to get over jetlag and acclimatize to the tropical heat, having arrived directly from winter in Australia. In the days preceding the race I rode by quad bike to the village of Joffreville and then onto the Amber Mountain National Park where I saw some fantastic Madagascan wildlife including the smallest chameleon in the world.

This was all a prelude to my main reason for being there, which was to participate in the Racing The Planet 250km foot race that was being held at the northern tip of Madagascar at the end of August 2014. You can find out everything about this race on the Racing The Planet Madagascar 2014 website.

My own personal assessment of the race is that it was brutally hard, both physically and mentally and yet incredibly rewarding personally. Among many physical and mental challenges were the daily temperatures above 35 degrees Celcius which I would have to spend running/powerwalking on shadeless dusty tracks. These were often no more than tracks through soft sand and dust, which slowed me down and demanded more physical energy per mile. Daily distances run were 40km or more, with one day of 76km. Sand and dust would get into my shoes, causing sore feet and the onset of painful blisters. Since the race was self supported, the only nutrition available for 7 days was what I carried, an unappetising and unsatisfying morning gruel of instant porridge before the run, and a dehydrated meal after the run and not much else. The air was dry and windy meaning that copious quantities of water needed to be consumed to avert dehydration. It was a mental and physical personal battle of survival and attrition. Success was being able to mentally and physically present yourself at the starting line each morning after a gruelling preceding day or days.

On the positive side, which of course far outweighed any negatives, were many things. Foremost of these was the privilege of encountering the fantastic local Malagasy people passed on the course, being amonst their basic and austere way of life and passing through their little villages made of sticks and leaves, their farms and rice paddies, their little tracks and trails, and the laughing children that ran and waved all around us. The local people welcomed us racers, who must have looked so out of place in our lycra and expensive running shoes, backpacks and race bibs. Surely meeting these local people far away from any towns or modern life is one of the greatest rewards of travel in Madagascar.

Another very positive aspect of the race was the amazing diversity of landscape passed on the course. Although I often felt that the endless red dusty tracks would never end, the landscapes were amazing. There were empty white beaches with waves from a crystal clear Indian ocean crashing on the shores, there was a jagged limestone coastline, there was open savannah landscape and coconut palms. There was an amazing forest of huge baobab trees. There was a red canyon full of amazing rock formations called Tsingy, similar in shape to limestone karst but red in colour and very fragile. There was a blue crater lake. There were rivers to ford and rice paddies to cross. There was a town too. All the while we ran on little tracks or rarely driven roads. Finally the race ended in the town of Ambilobe and throngs of local people lined the streets to welcome the runners to the finish line.

Truly the race was one of life's great and memorable experiences.

Below is a brief summary of the 7 days of the race with my own race times and position recorded. After that are a few photos of the race and the amazing country that we passed through.

Date Stage Distance My Time (h:mm:ss) Temperature Comments
30 Aug 2014         Today was the race check-in, mandatory gear check and race briefing at the event hotel in Diago Suarez. After a huge lunch and after buying last minute supplies we were driven to the race starting point at the little village of Ramena, near the entrance to the huge harbour of Diego Suarez.
31 Aug 2014 1 36.7km 5:14:35 37°C Wonderful coastal scenery. Lots of sandy beach running and deep sand just inland from the coast. Difficult and tiring due to the heat and sand. Camp was on a white beach on the Indian ocean.
1 Sep 2014 2 46.3km 7:48:46 36°C Miles and miles of soft sand. Started along the beach and then around limestone coastline, then into the hinterland. Through rice paddies, through an amazing forest of huge baobab trees, some river crossings, some mud and some rickety little bridges. Another very hard day. Camp was in an open area.
2 Sep 2014 3 42.1km 6:31:15 36°C A beach run in firm sand, then inland into the Red Tsingy reserve. Amazing rock pinnacles. The route climbed up then back down and doubled back on itself. Then up to the rim of the Red Tsingy canyon and around it on hot trails. Last 10km were very hard due to the hot dry conditions. Finally reached camp after a river crossing.
3 Sep 2014 4 40.3km 5:29:57 36°C Mostly gently rising country heading inland (west). Open country with expansive views. Eventually it passed around the rim of the Sacred Lake which was an alluring blue colour. Reached a road junction then some paved road through a town and not much further past this town on a dirt track was our next camp.
4 Sep 2014 5 76.9km 11:57:17 36°C The long march. Basically endless miles of hot dusty track. It was endlessly hard, my feet were now blistered and sore. The Grey Tsingy, a range of limestone karst, were in the distance to our left for most of the day. Sunset over rice paddies. Feet hurt. It got dark. Got to camp eventually and had a hard time recovering, could barely walk and my food wasn't right - too many dehyds and not enough carbs. Not feeling well. Very tough. At low ebb. Had to take a painkiller that night, feet were so sore.
5 Sep 2014   0.0km   36°C Day at camp resting and recovering. Not very comfortable. I was lucky enough to have my feet tended to in the medical tent. Having trouble with calories and diet and the type of food. Not feeling well. Feet incredibly sore but better after being properly taped up.
6 Sep 2014 6 10.0km 0:55:09 HOT Today the race finished in the town of Ambilobe. I ran the 10km hard to the finish line in the centre of town. Thousands of local people lined the final 1km down the main street of town. A great race atmosphere. Food and drink was available at the finish line. Eventually buses took us back to Diego Suarez. Time to have a shower and rest before the awards banquet and celebration dinner at the Grand Hotel.


Photos - Pre Race Camp

Pre-race camp.
The beach near the camp.
Lighthouse at the entrance to Diego harbour.


Photos - Stage 1

Photos - Stage 2

Photos - Stage 3

Photos - Stage 4

Photos - Stage 5

Photos - Stage 6 - Finish



All content copyright © Ashley Burke 2015. Not to be copied, duplicated or used for any purpose without permission.

Page created 21 Apr 2015, last updated 10 May 2015.