BY KEITH MACKENZIE
Skye ultra athlete Donnie Campbell last week achieved an energy-sapping world first, when he and running partner Dr Andrew Murray completed an epic trek across the Namib desert in south-west Africa.
The intrepid duo took nine days to cover 504 kilometres, scaling some of the highest sand dunes in the world along the way.
In conditions notoriously hard to navigate, the pair had to run over 50 kilometres a day — most of it over heavy sand — on a route across Namibia never followed before.
Donnie, who in 2011 famously ran between Glasgow and Skye without sleep, said it felt great to have scaled previously-uncharted territory.
He said: “It was a huge relief to finish, after having put so much effort into training. It felt like a bit of payback to all those who had supported and encouraged us to take on the challenge.
“It was a fantastic experience being there, and knowing you were going on a route that no one, not even local guides, had been on before.”
The pair set of from Luderitz on 2nd February, and finished up in Walvis Bay last Tuesday, 10th February. En route they came across fur seals, jackals and gemsbok — although thankfully no snakes — during a trek through a desert well known for its harsh sandstorms.
Donnie (30), who now lives in Edinburgh, added: “We could not have done it without the expertise of our expedition leaders David Scott and Bert Jukes and the support and superb local knowledge of the team in Namibia. Their route selection was incredible considering no one has ever driven parts of the route never mind run it, so this was a huge effort for them to deliver Andrew and myself to Walvis Bay a bit battered, bruised and tired but still in one piece.”
Dr Murray, who has family connections with north Skye, is no stranger to racing in extreme conditions — having once completed an epic 4,295-kilometre run from Scotland to the Sahara desert.
He added: “The Namib desert is, hands-down, both the most spectacular and gruelling place I’ve run in. Every step through the sand was energy-sapping, and my feet are destroyed with blisters. We were in hefty trouble even after two days, but our support team and the incredible views got us to the finish.”
Donnie said his next “challenge” would come next month, when he and his fiancée Rachel get married in Skye.
“With no mobile and internet for the past two weeks I’ve managed to avoid any wedding planning,” he joked. “But that’s what will have my attention now for the next few weeks.”
After that Donnie will return to the European ultra-running circuit, with races in Turkey and France lined up in the spring.
The Namib challenge was set up by Scottish expedition organiser David Scott, and received expert assistance from members of the local Topnaar tribe as well as from South Africa-based expedition and travel company Live the Journey and Lyprinol UK.