Have you heard? You can ‘run with the herd’!
If you love running – as I do – and animals – as I do, then the ‘Dubbo Stampede’ community running festival is a match made in heaven.
The Stampede is the only running event where you start and finish in a zoo!
Held at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, New South Wales, at the end of August, you can get to run past creatures like lions and tigers (and let’s face it, you’re going to set a new PB for sure speeding past them!); elephants; hippos; monkeys; giraffes; wild dogs; meerkats and so many more.
You can sign up for the 5.3 kilometre ‘Dingo Dash’ or ‘Wallaby Wheel’; the 10 km ‘Cheetah Chase’; 21.1 km ‘Zebra Zoom’ or, like me, go the whole (wart) hog and tackle the marathon ‘Rhino Ramble’.
As I arrived at the zoo before sunrise on a frigid morning on 27 August, the first thing I heard was the sound of monkeys chattering and seemingly ‘laughing’ at me – as well they might.
Here they were, cuddled up snug and warm with their families and contemplating a day of scratching their tummies and swinging leisurely through the trees. Here was I, chilled to the marrow and about to run 42.2 kms – for fun! Now, you tell me … who is the monkey?
All jokes aside, I could tell this was going to be a fun event with spirit. From the obvious excitement among fellow runners (almost 2,400 across all distances), to the tremendous sense of community spirit, there was palpable ‘camaraderie in the menagerie’.
The marathoners were the first to head off at 7.00am. Although the day had dawned bright and sparkly clear, it didn’t take me long to curse that I wasn’t wearing running gloves. Even after a few kilometres in, I was still failing to feel my fingers and wishing I had a bit of fur like some of the critters not too far away!
However, the stunning bush scenery as we head out and away from the zoo is enough to divert my mind from this relatively small impediment.
The marathon course proceeds outside the zoo, and involves three loops of the beautiful river track, with gorgeous views of the winding water itself; bridges; weirs, bushland – where the magpies are loudly tuning up their vocal chords – parks and gardens and playing fields, along the way.
It is run largely on undulating (read ‘hilly’ in some spots!) gravel trails and tracks; concrete paths and some asphalt road sections,
There are not the huge numbers of runners I’m used to in the major, big-city marathons, so we quickly spread out as we settle into our own race pace and it’s a pleasant experience to find myself cantering along pretty much solo for long stretches at a time.
The drink stations come regularly every 2.5 kms and for much of the time the volunteers manning them are the only other people I see – aside from several pram walkers and Sunday joggers also using the public track, who applaud me or offer an encouraging word.
A nice touch that brings a smile to my dial as I head home on the first lap is the fun chalk art, depicting some of the zoo animals, on the concrete pathways.
Something I haven’t come across before in a marathon, is the issuing of wrist bands.
Competitors in the ‘Rhino Ramble’ are given different coloured wrist bands by the volunteers at the beginning of the second and third loops of the river track, which you slip on as you run past.
I recall feeling very strong and cheery as I laughed like a hyena and joked with the volunteer who handed me mine at the end of lap two.
Looking back, I can’t recall much jesting at the end of lap three, with my face looking more like that of a grumpy gorilla!
The course is much tougher than it initially looks. And those ‘undulations’ (hills) take their toll even after 21.1 kms.
Add to that the strong headwind that’s appeared from nowhere, whipping up eddies of dust, and lap three is a grit-your-tiger-teeth effort.
In the final few clicks, I feel I’m moving more like a sloth (not sure that there was one of those at the zoo!), rather than the gazelle I started out as and still aspire to be.
But, somehow, in the final four kilometres I manage to lift my game (hmmm … maybe not the best word in this context!) and head (uphill, wouldn’t you know it?), towards the big welcoming gates of the zoo.
Once inside, it’s a kilometre or so trot past some of the animals (including those much wiser simians); words of encouragement from zoo patrons and staff and then a where-the-heck-did-that-come-from sprint down the finish chute.
Aside from the stylish medal that’s hung around my neck, I personally mark this very memorable ‘Rhino Ramble’ by buying a cute namesake soft toy at the zoo gift shop. He will forever remind me of running with the herd in 2017.
Written by: Annie Robson