Stopping for a herd of elephants mid-run is about as far off the beaten track as Jacqueline Manson has ever been.
Manson, who grew up in Omakau but is now based in Hawea, conquered the inaugural For Rangers Ultra marathon – a five-day, 220km trek across the Laikipia Plains in Kenya.
The event took place in August.
Manson was the first woman to cross the finish line and finished seventh overall after completing the event in 28 hours and 29 minutes.
For Rangers raises awareness and funds for the welfare of rangers on the front line who are battling to save Africa’s wildlife, particularly from poachers.
Those rangers were on hand, dressed in camouflage and armed to protect, during the gruelling event, which attracted 50 competitors from around the world.
Drones were used to keep an eye on the course and helicopters were used to move animals on if necessary.
Rangers also had the power to stop the race while wildlife crossed the course.
“There were times when you had to wait for animal crossings, which was OK because you got to see them which was awesome,” Manson said.
“You would hear hyenas and lions at night while you are in your tent.” – Jacqueline Manson
With the race broken into five stages, competitors weaved their way over five conservancies, being treated to sightings of elephants, buffalo, zebra, impala, giraffes and black rhino.
While Manson did not get to see all of the animals, they could often be heard in the distance, she said.
“You would hear hyenas and lions at night while you are in your tent.”
However, she crossed paths with some elephants early in the competition.
“I just really had to keep pinching myself – it was so beautiful,” she said of the scenery and surroundings.
“You were spotting things in the distance and I just loved that terrain.
“Just to be out there doing that – it was a once in a lifetime sort of thing.”
Competitors raced in temperatures of about 32degC each day and crossed terrain that was usually off limits.
Manson said the last day was the most challenging, because of the accumulation of the previous four days.
“And I was really trying to push it,” she said.
“I was just red-lining the whole way. All I could think was one foot in front of the other and to focus on the finish.”
She credits Scott Waterman, a good friend and fellow competitor, as instrumental in helping her get through the final stage.
“I just sat on his feet the whole way. I would have been at least half an hour longer if it wasn’t for him.”
Eliud Kipchoge, the world’s fastest marathon runner, was at the finish line to present participants with their medals, which Manson described as another of the many highlights.
the third ultra marathon Manson has completed and, as she puts it, one she has now ticked off her bucket list.
But, that did not mean she would not sign up again.
“I probably would,” she said.
The second For Rangers Ultra will take place in September next year.