In a remarkable feat of determination, Riana Scholtz of Uis in the Erongo region became the first Namibian woman to successfully complete the gruelling Desert Ultra, a 250km race spanning five days, in November last year.
This race is part of the Beyond the Ultimate series, known for its demanding nature and harsh conditions.
Scholtz’s journey began at Spitzkoppe, traversing northward towards the Omaruru River in the first of five stages, covering 51km.
Each subsequent stage presented unique challenges.
“The race was a test of both physical and mental strength,” Scholtz says.
“Carrying everything needed for the week, including food, spare clothes and medical supplies, was daunting. My pack was one of the lightest at 8kg with water, but the weight was still significant.”
The race saw temperatures soar to over 50 degrees Celsius.
Despite suffering from back pain and acknowledging the need for more training with the pack, Scholtz remained resilient.
“We soldiered on. It was more of a fast shuffle than running, but maintaining a quick pace was crucial in the scorching heat,” she says.
The final stage, called ‘The Grind’, was a punishing 92km from the Red Dunes to the Save the Rhino Trust in Damara Land, pushing Scholtz to her limits.
“The heat was relentless, but the goal was to reach the finish line and rest,” she says.
Scholtz is a dedicated mother and adventurer, who has transformed her passion for running into a journey that intertwines family, fitness, and exploring the world’s most breathtaking landscapes.
Having extensively travelled before starting a family, Riana and her husband, Nico, made a conscious decision to continue their global adventures with their children.
According to her, this decision led to the unconventional choice of homeschooling their two boys.
For Scholtz, running is a crucial part of maintaining her well-being as a mother.
“My default means of staying fit was always running, but with kids, it became a vital part of my day to keep my mom-sanity in check,” she says.
“This necessity soon morphed into an exciting quest to find races in accessible but suitably wild and beautiful places.”
Her marathon journey began with the 2015 Zermatt Marathon in Switzerland, chosen for its timing with the Matterhorn climbing season.
“I found myself among throngs of fit Europeans at the beginning of a freakishly hot July in the 2015 Zermatt Marathon,” she recalls.
The family’s move to Uis marked a deliberate shift towards a “tiny-home-less-is-more lifestyle”, Scholtz says.
This transition has led to a pivotal moment in her running career: Nico stepped in with a surprise entry to the 2016 Great Wall Marathon in China.
This set the stage for the couple’s ambitious ‘7 Continents Club’ quest, which they completed with the Antarctic marathon last March.
Family is paramount for the couple.
Except for the solo run at the Great Wall Marathon, they have shared every other marathon experience around the world.
In the world of endurance sport, few events test the human spirit and physical limits like ultra marathons.
“It’s more than just a race; it’s a journey into self-discovery, pushing past comfort zones into a realm where true vulnerability and strength coexist,” Scholtz says.
In 2022, her fascination with the Backyard Ultras grew exponentially.
She and Nico then started the annual Brandberg Backyard Ultra as a means to inspire local endurance runners, as well as support wildlife conservation.
“It’s not about speed, it’s about endurance, both mental and physical,” Scholtz says.
“Yet, what stood out was the camaraderie.”
These events, Scholtz believes, strip away superficial layers, revealing the core of one’s character.
“When you’re out of your comfort zone, when the weather is against you, you find out what you’re truly made of. It’s a mental battle, a test of resilience,” she says.
“Each step, each checkpoint is testament to human endurance and kindness. It’s like compressing a lifetime into a few days.”
What she learned from these ultra races is that people should not wait until they think they will be ready one day, but rather get used to pushing themselves out of their comfort zones by frequently setting and chasing “big, hairy, audacious goals”.
“By deliberately immersing yourself in these situations and embracing these moments of hardship, you will become a richer, more beautiful version of yourself – for yourself, but also for others.”
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