Q&A with Paolo Parazzi, Ultra Marathon Runner
The For Rangers Ultra Marathon took place a month ago. Starting on Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and crossing Borana, The Loldaiga Hills, Ol Jogi to end on Ol Pejeta. This grueling 5 day, 230 km race in Northern Kenya is not for the faint hearted. But neither is the job of protecting endangered wildlife. The Ultra Marathon was raising much needed funds through Save The Rhino International and For Rangers for the recurrent training, welfare and support of wildlife rangers across Africa.
Paolo Parazzi was one of the competitors and has kindly answered a few questions to give an insight into running and Ultra Marathon.
Born and raised in Kenya, Paolo spent most of his life on the Kenyan coast making the most of the polé polé lifestyle of Watamu. He has travelled extensively across Africa and founded Africa Born Safaris with Sam Stogdale. Both private guides are some of the youngest shareholders in Ker and Downey Safaris, a safari company established in Kenya in 1946.
Paolo had never competed an event like this before – “it seemed like the ultimate test, both physical and mental”. The cause behind the For Rangers Ultra is something that Paolo feels extremely strongly about. Being fortunate enough to spend large amounts of time in some of the most pristine and beautiful places on the planet, Paolo feels a strong tie to the men and women who give their lives to keep them so.
While on safari, Paolo and his guests spend their days exploring Africa’s wilderness only to head back to camp to find a cold drink, a delicious meal, a hot shower and a comfortable bed – “very often we all forget about the rangers who, with little thanks, spend all day and all night out in the bush to protect the wildlife we all take for granted”, Paolo says. For Rangers is passionate organisation who provide wildlife rangers the support necessary, both financially and in terms of equipment, to safely do their jobs.
Q – How did you find the For Rangers Ultra Marathon?
A - Being my first Ultra there were many highs and lows and I did not really know what to expect. It was, a lot of the time, more mind of matter and each kilometer of each day was different. I got bad shin splints on day 3 which made the remaining days rather painful but I thankfully managed to avoid any blisters!
The course was spectacular and we were fortunate enough to traverse across some of the most beautiful wildlife conservancies in the world, teaming with wildlife.
Q - Did you have any memorable encounters with wildlife while you were taking part?
A - We had some great wildlife along the way. On Borana and Loldaiga we had huge numbers of elephant and that were always a welcomed sight to take one’s mind off the running. We also saw rhino while running on Ol Jogi which was incredible.
The most memorable sighting for me was on Ol Pejeta when we were on about kilometer 30 on the last day and I was in extreme pain. We came around a corner and had a family of elephant calmly grazing and drinking only about 100 meters away. Definitely raised the spirits!
Q - When the going gets tough, what keeps you running?
A - On this run it was definitely the people I ran with and the support. It is amazing what a simple conversation can do to you when you have been running alone for a long period of time and you are battling your inner demons. The medics, support team and organisers along the way were fantastic at lifting spirits. Although I think the best support were the rangers themselves; they were absolutely incredible and were always giving us support and encouragement along the way as well as telling us how grateful they were that we were doing this for their cause. For me that was the most incredible thing and made me push on.
Q - How long had you been training for?
A - I run relatively short distances most days but I started my proper training about 6 months out. The longest run that I had done before the race was only about 20km, which in hindsight, was probably not the smartest idea… I then got caught up in my Safari season which definitely limited the amount of training I was able to do.
Q - How do you balance running and work?
A - That can be challenging for me as I am often out on safari. Finding time on safari to do any exercise is always difficult, let alone training for this event as I needed to try do at least 10km a day. Sneaking out after lunch in the heat of the day while everyone goes for their afternoon siesta is the only option.
Q - What is the weirdest thing to happen to you while you were running or training?
Chafing In places that you can’t even imagine… thank god for Gourney Goo (running lube) and nipple plasters!!
Q - Do you think you will do another Ultra? If so, what race is on your bucket list?
A - If you asked me at the end of the race I swore I would never do another! Now I have started to come around to the idea but not fully convinced…At present I am just staying away from Pete Newland and Sam Taylor (the founders of For Rangers and ultra marathon runners many times over) as they will no doubt try to trick me into doing another one… Costa Rica 2020??
Q - What was the best part of this years Ultra?
A - Finishing the race for sure! I was in so much pain on the last stage and the kilometers were passing by so slowly. Seeing the finish line after what seemed like an eternity and being escorted by the rangers to the end with my family cheering me on was very special. Then being awarded the finishers medal by the legend Eliud Kipchoge and having a cold coke ALMOST made it all worthwhile…
Q - With the recent development of the American Space Force, do you think we will ever get to a point where we are running ultras on Mars?
A – Haha, I would be keen on the idea-less gravity and so less chance of shin splints!!