A dream was about to come true – I was off to South Africa .

I had always wanted to visit South Africa but had never had the opportunity to do so; that is until myself, Max , Louise and I started training for the Marathon des Sables in 2000. We were extremely lucky and managed to get sponsorship that covered all our kit, entry fees, flights and a couple of weeks training in hot countries. Louise is a South African and had a house just outside Cape Town so on the 8th December 2000 we landed in beautiful, sunny South Africa.

Since then I have returned many times to take part in races such as the Kalahari Extreme Marathon both in 2006 and 2009, the Addo 100, Double Comrades and of course to visit friends that I had made while racing there.

It’s a country that both Tim and I fell in love with the second we stepped foot on South African soil – there is something about Africa that gets under your skin. It’s a extremely diverse Country in terms of it’s geography,  there is everything – stunning coast-lines, the Drakensberg mountain range, desert, the Kruger National Park, The Garden Route, Orange River and of course Cape Town which is very cosmopolitan; so you see it really does have everything.

According to Wikipedia there are 11 different languages the highest number of any country in the World.

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In 2010 I was looking for a big project to get my teeth into and my first choice of country was South Africa, so I asked a few of my equally mad South African friends if they had any bright ideas of routes I could run. There were a few suggestions but one in particular caught my attention – The Freedom Trail, a 2,350km route starting in Pietermaritzburg and finishing in Paarl just outside Cape Town – this sounded like the challenge I had been looking for, time to look into it more closely.

Each year in June/July there is a mountain bike race called The Freedom Challenge that takes place along the Freedom Trail, set up by David Waddilove. He has put a huge amount of time and effort into not only finding the route but also getting the support of the local communities. Watch this 7 minutes clip of David talking at FEAT in Johannesburg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxTnAP7PvJA

Their website was my first port of call for maps, information on the route, photographs and of course blogs that some of the riders had put up all of which helped to build a picture of how tough this was going to be.

I discovered that no female had run the full length of the Freedom Trail so this seemed to make it even more of a challenge but discovered a few months later that a lovely lady called Emma Timmis was planning on running it over two months with her brother as support on a bike. The two of them went on to successfully complete the epic journey.

Once I knew that Emma was going to tackle the route I have to admit my plans went on the back burner for a few months as I concentrated on running Double Badwater and the Spartathlon but loved following Emma’s progress over the two months.

Once the Spartathlon was over I continued my research into the Freedom Trail, chatting to David Waddilove and various other people who had either taken part in the Freedom Challenge itself or who knew the various areas the route went through and realized quite quickly that this was too big a project for me to handle on my own – I needed a like minded running partner.

The first time I came across Samantha was when she emailed me on the 21st April 2010 asking for advice on how to tackle running 4 multi-staged events in one year – The Atacama Crossing, The Gobi March, The Sahara and The Last Desert; she succeeded in becoming the youngest female to ever achieve this. Since then Samantha has gone on to complete in many challenging events with great success.

Sam_Gash_Dandenong-1160We have kept in touch over the years either on FB, email or Skype and it was during one of our Skype calls on the 26th August 2012 that I brought up the subject of running a ridiculous distance across the Freedom Trail in South Africa – her face said all I needed to know and the planning began.

Both of us knew that if we were to take on a challenge as big as this we wanted to raise money to help imrove the lives of  South African girls and women, it took 8 months of hard work and discussion to identify the cause we wanted to raise money for before we went public and it was fantastic when the NGO Save The Children agreed to come on board to support us.

On the 26th June 2013 the two of us finally met up and went for a run in London, it was as though we had known each other for years and wonderful to discuss our project face to face.

Many people have asked me what is driving Samantha and I do run 2,350km along the Freedom Trail – Not only is it a massive challenge for any runner but mainly we are running to raise awareness about and, importantly, raise funds for the start-up of a social enterprise business employing women to make and distribute low-cost feminine hygiene products. The social enterprise business will be in the Namahadi Community in the Free State.

WHY? When we learned that in South Africa, 1 in 10 girls between the ages of 11 and 12 drop out of school because they have to miss 4-5 days of school a month when they get their period – they simply don’t have the financial means to buy appropriate sanitary hygiene products to enable them to live normal lives during their periods. Missing so many school days month after month inevitably sees them dropping so far behind in class that they eventually drop out of school completely. This is a sad and shocking reality of South Africa, a situation that people in urban areas are seldom aware of.

Since our first discussion on the 26th August 2012, we have both been working tirelessly on the project turning it into what you know today as The Freedom Runners.

We have fantastic people supporting us from all over the world, without which this project probably wouldn’t be able to happen.

For both of us this will be the biggest challenge of our running careers – running an average of 80km per day for 32 days isn’t something to be taken lightly and for me especially technical running isn’t my forte but I believe that in order to grow as a person we all need to do things that take us way out of our comfort zone, each time pushing just that little bit further – this project will push me further than I have ever pushed myself before, in many ways.

If you would like to support us in ANY WAY please get in touch with me via my website or to make a donation you can do so by going to https://donate.savethechildren.org.au/FreedomRunners

Enjoy this short Video that tells you a bit about our project.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1DFTxIJEiw

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Happy Training!

 

 

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