I was privileged to run alongside an amazing man for his final steps of the third longest run in history, his run across the entire length of Africa. At 3:23 pm on Saturday, 5 December, 1998, reaching the top of the Giza plateau, next to the Cheops pyramid, Nicholas Bourne, 28, of London, England stopped running.
Having worn out "about 30 pairs" of running shoes on his fund raising journey, Nicholas, showed signs of relief, joy, and good humor as he accepted congratulations from his support team and the small group of expatriate runners who accompanied him on the final leg of his 7,500 mile adventure.
As a record setting run, Bourne's effort is outdistanced only by runs around the coasts and borders of Australia and the United States.
"There's a lot more fundraising work to be done", Nicholas commented when asked about what comes next.
His run up the length of the continent under the banner "Run for Africa" - which hopes to raise £1 million for the Born Free Foundation and Save the Children, The idea of undertaking this run came to Bourne on a flight from New York in February 1996, he stated "I feel a great affinity for Africa."
The two charities that work extensively through Africa covering all aspects of health and development for the welfare of children, wildlife conservation and environmental protection.
Reception at the Sphinx
After a few minutes of interviews with the local television crew at the Pyramids, The Run For Africa team adjourned to the foot of the Sphinx, in the shadows of the great pyramids, where the Cairo Tourism Authority held a reception for them.
Joining in the congratulations was the British Ambassador to Cairo, H.E. D.E.S. Blathersworth. The ambassador remarked that sometimes he felt that, like many others, the idea of running "more than a few feet" could seem a daunting task, and was amazed at Nicholas's accomplishments. The ambassador presented Bourne with a letter of appreciation from Britain's Princess Anne, the chairperson of Save The Children, the main beneficiary of the RunAfrica fund raising efforts.
Bourne, a former model for Versace and Armani, was gracious and composed as he thanked the Egyptian Tourism authority for their support on this leg of his record breaking effort.
Also in attendance by Nicholas's mother who was raised in Africa and who provided invaluable support from the U.K. clearing administrative hurdles dealing with visas, and permissions to run through various states and countries.
"Someone was looking out for mine", she said, 'I believe the Africans respect strength and courage and word must have gotten ahead of them about what my son was doing". She was referring to how the team managed to pass through some dangerous areas unscathed in places where police escorts abandoned them.
Starting in Alexandria...
The Run for Africa effort, began with Bourne and his partner, Chris Rainbow, on October 1, 1997 in Alexandria, Egypt starting their continental run north to south. The two runners had trained in England extensively, equipped themselves with high tech heart monitors, bottles of with bottles of nutrients and vitamins. The team traveled in ex-army Land Rovers 101's, painted in high visibility bright orange, equipped with a state-of-the-art GPS and INMARSAT satellite phone communication system.
After running for 17 days, covering 45 miles a day, it was not any physical challenges, but red tape, which nearly put an end to the venture in the first month. Nearing the Egyptian border with Sudan, Bourne and Rainbow were told by an Egyptian army major that they were forbidden to enter the militarized zone that borders Sudan.
Hoping to get clearance, the runners continued running to stay in shape and ready to resume but permission never came. The Sudanese had granted permission to cross the border but the Run for Africa team couldn't get there.
At one point, Bourne and the team considered abandoning Africa and moving to do a run down the length of South America instead.
Finally, exasperated, they flew to South Africa to resume the run, this time south to north at the start of 1998. After another long pause awaiting for the support trucks which were delayed on their ship from Egypt, the runners headed north planning to run through Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Sudan.
Lions, Tigers, and snakes...
Bourne expected snakes to be one of the biggest dangers of the run and indeed, stepped on a few along the way. Facing a giant cobra in the sand of Chobe National Park in Zambia, running through a herd of elephants, or sweating through 62 degrees (142 Fahrenheit) in the Kalahari desert, the risks and physical demands Bourne dealt with have been astonishing. One scary day involved Bourne being chased by armed militia and having to spend 22 hours without food, water or dry clothing.
But what came as a bigger challenge was the breakdown of the team. Rainbow abandoned the effort, leaving Bourne on his own to complete the run.
By the time Run For Africa returned to Egypt, all of the original team members had also left. Of the four support team at the end, only Bourne's sister, Emma, the main organizer and manager of the event came the whole way with Nicholas.
A former international 400m hurdler, Bourne jokingly says he started into distance running while house-sitting at a friend's farm. He told me (almost) seriously "the only way to really take care of his dogs was to run them into exhaustion every day."
Rising at 3.30am, Bourne started the first of his three-a-day two-hour runs at 4am. The team worked out a schedule of a pre-dawn running session followed by a rest and another running session. The third session of each day would finish before sundown.
The Final Day
Bourne's mother contacted the Cairo Hash House Harriers to ask for some help guiding Nicholas through the suburb of Maadi and possibly escorting him on his final 20 km leg to the pyramids.
Starting at 6:30 a.m. one of the Cairo Hashers met Nicholas about 20 km outside of Maadi on the road he had run from the Red Sea, they confirmed the plan and set off by 7:00.
Another Hasher drove me to intercept and pick up the escorting duties just outside of Maadi where we met Nicholas, having lost his escort a couple kilometers back. The Hash House Harriers, as much a social club as a running club, didn't have anyone ready to escort someone who was running 40 miles a day.
We shook hands and continued, rejoined by the first escort runner and ran another 5K through the town to the banks of the Nile, where he ended the morning session. We took the Run For Africa team back to a friend's house where the hosts fed Nicholas and his team well-received bacon sandwiches. Nicholas was too wired to consider sleeping so just caught a shower and relaxed before the afternoon run.
Six of the fittest Cairo Hashers met at 2:15 p.m. to escort Bourne north on the busy Corniche road lining the Nile and to the new bridge to the Giza pyramids.
After about 5K, Bourne was just really turning it up, from seven minute miles at the start he sped up to just over six minute miles. We shuttled by car ahead of Nick to the end of the bridge to check the way and save our legs for the last 3 km escort.
By the time Bourne ran down the last exit off the Giza bridge, several of the TV crews covering the event were driving ahead and filming. The final part of Bourne's journey was along a dirt road canal through a busy village street and finally into the pyramids compound.
The group was cheering and congratulating Nick as he entered the plaza of the sphinx, and now fired up he charged up the steep hill to the Pyramid of Cheops.. The one thing I can do is run hills. The rest of the pack dropped off and I just kept saying "you've done!" as we reached the top of the plateau, an inspiring moment, an inspiring runner. There, next to me and Cheops, like Forest Gump, Nick said, "I've run enough" and he stopped running