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Date : 12th May, 2016
Time : 59’ 19”
Total distance run to date : 770 km
Run map and details : https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1173821430
‘Don’t travel to South Sudan. It’s great what you’re doing and all that – but don’t come here.’
The British embassy in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, were very nice about it. But also very clear. Even in Venezuela, the scariest place I’d run in previously, the Embassy hadn’t been so definitive. There they just wanted to check that I’d made the necessary security arrangements. They didn’t want me at all in South Sudan.
But I had to go sometime and all my research suggested the local situation was relatively calm. So I got on a flight from Addis and tried to work out where to run when I got there. Around the airport? Or possibly the airport car park? Venture into town? Down to the banks of the river Nile?
The few local runners I’d been in touch with ran round their own protected compounds. Not an option that was open to me.
We landed and I still didn’t know what to do. The airport was crowded and tiny so that wasn’t an option. But everyone seemed friendly – and full of laughter when I told they why I was visiting South Sudan – so I thought I’d try going into town.
By now it was after midday and pretty hot. Mad dogs and Englishmen weather. Except that there weren’t any dogs out in the heat and just one – mad – Englishman.
The first 5k were okish but after that I began to suffer. An image of a live lobster about to be dropped into a pan of boiling water kept crossing my mind. I felt like I was being broiled in the heat and humidity.
By the 7k mark, I realised that I had to get my body temperature down or I was going to collapse. So I ran back to the shaded waiting area outside the airport (pictured above). Water and a walk around and then I set off again.
By now everything was going a funny shade of orange and I was starting to feel nauseous. Even in my discombobulated state, I realised these weren’t good signs.
I took a break in the shade every kilometre and then every half kilometre. Eventually I limped through to 10 km in just under an hour. And then sat down and didn’t move for 15 minutes. I took off my sun hat, sun glasses and headband. Then put my headband back on as I was still sweating so much.
It was a tough, tough run but I hadn’t felt threatened by anything other than heat stroke. On the flight back I met an American who works for an NGO in Juba and asked him if I’d right to worry about the security situation. He told me that times were tough, and that an AK47 only costs $100 in Juba, so there were an increasing number of robberies. On the other hand, his experience was that westerners normally get left alone and that political violence is relatively limited at the moment.
Whatever the truth about the level of risk, I was glad to get back to Addis that night.
And that’s probably enough about the run. If you’re interested in South Sudan’s recent history – it only became an independent country in 2011– then Wikipedia can, of course, help. In 2015 it was ranked at the top of the Fragile States Index ; which is also the year it joined the Olympic movement and became a country I had to run in.
As ever, if my suffering has inspired you at all then please don’t hesitate to donate to cancer research!