WHEN a Redditch grandfather agreed to take on the Big Five half marathon through a South African game reserve, he joked about being chased by wild animals to make him run faster.

But Doug Richards didn’t realise how true his words would become.

Doug, 64, successfully completed the race in the Entabeni Game Reserve on June 23, but not without a massive scare just two days before the start.

He was raising funds for the RAF Association as his son, Chris, serves in the RAF.

Two days before the marathon, he was taking part in a bush walk in the game reserve with other competitors.

He said: “We were learning about different animal tracks. It was clear there had been recent elephant activity in the area. Our head ranger, Sander, had noticed the tracks had turned down into a deep wooded ravine, so we climbed down to a large flat rock to see if we could see where they were.

“We saw nothing and as we had been out for some time, decided to return to the lodge and started to climbing out.

“I was following immediately behind Sander when a large elephant suddenly emerged from the trees above us. It immediately began to react aggressively and Sander and another ranger, Marco, signalled us to descend into the ravine as quickly as we could.

“It was steep terrain littered with trees, bushes and boulders and I was now at the back of the party with just Sander behind me. He was yelling and screaming and waving his arms at the matriarch female who had now been joined by five others.

“I was focused on leaping from boulder to boulder but could hear the elephants were getting closer as they ripped out small trees and bushes in their path “My over-riding memory was the noise, with continuous piercing trumpeting and deafening roaring. At one point I stumbled briefly and fell and, glancing back, saw the lead elephant no more than 20 yards behind, huge ears spread out and tusks waving wildly.

“Sander was much closer than that, still screaming and shouting at them, and as I stood, he fired a warning shot from his rifle. This seemed to make them bellow even louder so he fired a second shot into the air.

“Thankfully, this halted their charge. We were still concerned they might come again so climbed up the other side of the ravine where we reached the safety of a track where we called for a vehicle to rescue us.

“I have no doubt our lives were saved by the professionalism and training of Sander and Marco,” he added. When he fell, Mr Richards sustained a muscle sprain in his calf but after excellent support from the race organiser’s medical team, he was able to take his place for the race.

He said: “It was such a privilege to run in such awesome surroundings with giraffes, zebra, and herds of wildebeest and antelope galloping across the plains. Fortunately we encountered no elephants, although we did pass a rhino and its baby with a nearby ranger keeping a watchful eye.

“Part of the course passed through ‘lion country’ but again rangers had had them under observation so could keep them at a safe distance. “It was a couple of days I will never forget and just a day before the race, I received a text from my son to say we had raised over £500.”

To donate, see justgiving.com/bigfive.