The Namibia desert between Luderwitz and Walvis Bay has the highest sand dunes and the lowest average precipitation in the world. There are no permanent inhabitants – it’s simply too hot.
So when expedition organiser David Scott asked me to assist with some community work, and complete a 500km run across it, this seemed like a strange request. However, the photos he shared convinced me instantly. I got on a plane and flew across Africa to Namibia and my next challenge. It started well, but after two days and 125km carving a route through the dunes, I was in hefty trouble. Winter in Scotland does not prepare you for summer in the Namibian desert.
Every step up the dunes was a mission, as some were 300 metres high, I slid most of the way down while staring at the formidable “Devil’s workshop” looming ahead.
My hip flexor stung, and my left big toe was one big blister, but medicine teaches us not to panic and gives us a resilience to break down problems, so each day, along with fellow runner Donnie Campbell, we managed to run between 52 and 64km. We were breathless not only from the exertion, but from sights of sand blowing into the distance, huge shipwrecks miles inland, and wildlife that included hyenas, jackals and antelopes, and seal colonies and flamingos when nearer the coast.
As doctors, we are rarely in the true wilderness, but other than our superb support crew, we did not see another soul until we hit the edge of the desert at Walvis Bay. Running and climbing are generally solitary pursuits, but they help to recharge your mental batteries, keeping you fresh for work in the UK. I’ve always dedicated a couple of weeks a year to do different things and escape.
When travelling, a background in medicine can be useful and satisfying. I’ve learned from the great Kenyan runners and from rural communities in Mongolia and Indonesia what leads to high performance in this sport. Namibia was a real opportunity to speak with local Topnaar Tribal Chiefs, the Mayor of Walvis Bay, healthcare workers, and the divisional minister for health about the speedy rise in life expectancy, and decreased family size in Namibia, and consider how this may be applicable elsewhere.
Members of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow had generously donated valuable medical equipment, and there was the opportunity for some medical training during the community aspect of our trip, and a chance to look at working together in the future to share knowledge and ideas. So although this journey from ward to world removed me from my comfort zone, and much of the skin from my feet, it has left me with memories from one of the last great wildernesses on Earth and ideas for future ventures.
Dr Andrew Murray is a GP and Sports and Exercise Medicine Consultant, as well as a runner for Scotland, and Merrell UK. He is a Cruden Leadership Fellow with Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.
Visit: www.docandrewmurray.com, follow @docandrewmurray. Andrew raises money for a few charities he is passionate about, with support from the Scottish Association of Mental Health. www.justgiving.com/runners4getactive.