It’s not often you find a race that makes the Munga look short, but the inaugural Rhino Run succeeded in dwarfing all preexisting races in South Africa with a monstrous 2750 km and 27 000 m elevation gain, yes you read that right, 27 000 m vert! I mean that’s 3 Everests in one race. Not only is this a crazy amount of distance and elevation to cover, but it is an unsupported race, meaning you have to fend for yourself, carry wherever you may need, buy food and water along the way and then carry enough of these supplies to get you to the next town, often many 100s of kays away.

There were some very big names to line up at the startline in Plett, the likes of Sofiane Sehili, winner of Tour Divide, Silk Road Mountain Bike Race and Atlas Mountain Race to name a few, and Steve Halligan and Max Riese both with heaps of bikepack racing experience and the list goes on. One name that was sadly missing was Lael Wilcox, who had planned to ride but was unable to for personal reasons. From the start however, it was not the riders with stacks of experience under their belts that took the lead, but the relatively inexperienced Abdullah Zeinab and Kevin Benkenstein. Abdullah had never been on a gravel bike before but with the 24 hour distance record to his name (a whopping 900 kms) he was no stranger to pushing his body to its limits. Keven ‘Benky’ is synonymous to endurance racing in South Africa with multiple Munga wins and podiums but nothing quite on this scale.

Kevin had a very strong start to his race and was the first to roll into Stellenbosch to win the Entree, but it was in the Main Course where the race really got exciting.

While Kevin was forging on in the first half, Abdullah was contending with a multitude of issues, from a broken backpack (which he replaced with an el cheapo kids backpack that was bound to break, so he bought two, and yes, the second came in handy when the first gave up the ghost later on), to a lost phone on the first night, as well as two heavy crashes, all threatening to derail his attempt to finish. His bad luck didn’t end in the Entree either, he cracked a rim which somehow managed to hold itself together, and suffered from an inability to sleep for several nights which resulted in complete disorientation. He says he didn’t know where he was or why he was there, and turned around at a point thinking he had to get home, but luckily something clicked and he realised he better get his Bivvy out and sleep. On waking he had regained some awareness of where he was and realised he was racing the Rhino Run and had to get to Namibia, and he managed to press on.

Abdullah and Benky had been alternating the lead regularly as they approached the Namibian border, and on making it through the border Kevin opted to have a nap while Abdullah chose to push on. Abdullah gained a respectable lead on Kevin as he forged across the scorching desert, but alas, luck still was not on his side and he suffered a mechanical. As he was attempting to change his derailleur he dropped the grub screw that attaches the derailleur to the frame, so pretty essential. Abdullah spent 2 hours searching in the sand for the tiny screw in the heat of the day. In this time Kevin came past and managed to take back a substantial lead. Abdullah finally realised that the screws in his pedals were the same size and removed one of them to use on his derailleur. He was finally able to continue and see what he could do to catch Benky before the looming finish line in Windhoek, but at this point it seemed impossible.

That night, dot watchers around the globe were compulsively refreshing their devices to see how things would play out. Abdullah says that he finally caught a glimpse of Benky’s tail light disappearing into the stars above him on the last long climb of the race. Abdullah says that Kevin’s light was his sole motivation on the climb and he gradually reeled it in, finally catching Benky at the top, within 50km of the finish. He tells how he then tested Benky’s current state by riding off the front a couple of times, and the third time he just went for it and stayed away, extending his lead by 100m a minute. Abdullah rolled over the finish 17 minutes before a broken Kevin Benky, in a time of 7 days, 20 hours, and 4 minutes to claim the victory. Kevin Benky, who had definitely been the underdog on the start line was nothing but complimentary for the tenacity that Abdullah had shown to overcome every obstacle that was thrown at him throughout the race and come out victorious.

I don’t think an Ultra Endurance race has ever been so exciting to follow. We can’t wait for what next year’s edition has in store. To watch the after-movie head over to:

To hear about Kevin’s experience in the race: 

To hear about the race from the perspective of one of the other competitors, Jono Botha, another South African, he gives a very real insight into what you go through as you push your body to, and beyond, its limits: