Trail Runners are already some of the more looney, wacky and crazy bunch of people out there, swopping the tar for the extremely satisfying challenge of the trail is something every runner should do at least once in their life! As if trail running wasn’t challenging enough the batty mates at.. well M.A.T.E.S (Mountain and Trail Enthusiasts) cooked up an event that took an already challenging route to a whole new level.
What is the route you ask? Well starting at Kloof Nek runners would run along Tafelberg Road to the base of Devils Peak, summit Devils Peak then return to Tafelberg Road, run along to the base of Platteklip Gorge, up Platteklip to the top of Table Mountain, then if that wasn’t enough along the top to Maclears Beacon (the highest point on Table Mountain) before heading back the same way to Tafelberg to the original starting position to only have to cross Kloof Nek and summit Lions Head before returning to the start which would then be the finish line of an epic 26km event with 2100m elevation. Right now you might be asking, so what? That sounds like a decent mountain run with some decent climbing, what’s the catch? Well I am glad you asked because unlike other events that start in the morning this event starts at night.. Yep you read right, runners start at 7pm with some finishing well after midnight. Hence it’s name, The Bat Run.
This year I found myself at the start line in what is best described as the most intense gale force wind I have ever stood up in let alone run in. As I am only in week 6 of a 6 month base training schedule using the MAF principles I was not looking to race, just get the time on the legs. The wind was traveling at a consistent speed of around 50km/h with gusts hitting close to 70km/h as it plummeted down the cliff face onto the saddle of Devils Peak. This was going to make it tough to keep the HR low. Add to that low lying clouds with thick mist and sharp stinging rain that seemed to pierce through any amount of layers you were wearing. Now I am not ashamed to admit that I am addicted to Adventure, I don’t like the mundane, it is not in my nature.. I need new horizons, new trails, crazy adventures that I know there is a very good chance I might not get out of this alive. When I hit the start line I knew full well that this would be one of those adventures.
After a race briefing we were let loose like a pack of hungry wolves searching for a meal, our prey? The 3 peaks looming above us spitting in all their fury and fierceness, almost to say, “Oh, you want to conquer us? Well we will see about that… mwhahaha (insert sinister laugh)”. We didn’t back down. The sun had only just gone down so we enjoyed about 30mins of twilight before the headlamps came on, by this time I was well into my first ascent of Peak 1 (DP). As I crested the saddle and made my last dig at the summit the wind hit me with such sheer force I was literally blown off my feet, if not for a branch sticking out of a bush I would surely have been blown into a situation I didn’t want to be in. I have honestly never been lifted clear off my feet by a gust of wind before so this was quite an experience. 80kg’s of body and running kit flung around like a rag doll. At the summit (Check Point 1) I learned I was way back in the field, 75th out of 125 starters as it turns out. I wasn’t worried, legs were feeling good and I didn’t chase down the people racing past me up the climb, I knew what was still to come. The decent was gnarley and fast, a little too fast, when I got back to Tafelberg road I regretted letting the brakes off a little too much so early on in the run. I was reminded of this up the Platteklip climb where some of the people I blazed past on the decent caught up to me, thankfully the bulk of Platteklip was sheltered from the wind, I was able to regroup and get my mind focused for what was to come.
The top of Table Mountain was a full on blizzard, wind chill factor was below zero with pelting rain and the before mentioned wind (although thankfully it seemed to not be as severe as on the DP saddle). Trouble was the visibility was literally reduced to max 2m because of the thick mist which took my headlamp and turned the cloud I was running though into a sheet of bright white noise, I might as well have been running with a bed sheet around my face. The path to Maclears is tough to find (let alone follow) on a clear day because essentially it isn’t a path.. you are basically running over rocks that look identical with yellow foot prints painted every 3 or 4 meters showing you where to go, add the mist and the darkness and you feel like you are running on the moon. Thankfully the run to Maclears went well and I managed to stay on path. The trouble started after I turned at Maclears and after about 10m I had lost the path, quickly becoming disorientated I head right instead of left before coming up close and personal with a sheer cliff face. Thankfully some runners who were heading to Maclears were vaguely visible and after some scrambling I was able to get back on the path. I had a massive sense of relief because getting lost or taking a fall up there in that weather would have made it incredibly difficult for search parties to find me. I don’t remember ever being so happy to see the top of the platteklip climb before and I started to make my way down the mountain, it was slow going, because of the rain the rocks were incredibly wet and slippery. Sure footing was scarce but thankfully after a few tumbles I made it down to Tafelberg road.
The contrast in weather was phenomenal, 30mins before I had been freezing in a full on blizzard but now back on Tafelberg as I made my way to Kloof Nek it felt like I was running in the middle of a hot summers day. Before long every top layer I had on was in the pack to prevent further dehydration (I thought it a good idea to tackle DP and Table Mountain with 500ml’s of water which had run out on top of Table Mountain), thankfully I could refill water and get some food at the aid station on Kloof Nek before tackling Lions Head. Lions Head was great, by now the wind was completely gone so I could really enjoy the climb and take in the sights of the city below. I let my competitiveness get the better of me on Lions Head and made a little push at the end to reel in one or two places, probably not the smartest move but fun nonetheless. My shoe of choice this time out was the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail (which I reviewed here). Hands down one of my favourite shoes at the moment, sadly it was their last run as I have clocked some serious mileage in them the last few months before the upper separated from the sole. Taking into account the terrain I run on they held up really nicely in terms of durability. I will however wait for the 2nd version to come out which has an updated and stronger cross-stitched upper, shoes aren’t cheap so the longer they can last the better.
All in all it was a stunning event! Will I do it again next year? I sure will, although I will admit at one section on Platteklip while being smacked by the wind and rain I almost turned back, thinking my life is not worth trying to finish this thing but the Adventure was worth it and getting to that finish line was an amazing experience. Running at night on trails I know like the back of my hand added a whole new world to what I thought was a normal route I have run hundreds of times. Oh and I manged to finish 22nd while keeping my Heart Rate in my aerobic zone which was great sign that the MAF principles are working for me (more on that in a blog to follow), I am looking forward to when I can really get stuck in again and race my heart out.
Thank you Mike and all the amazing people from M.A.T.E.S, the volounteers, the sweepers, the Check Point controls on top of each peak (especially DP and Maclears who were freezing their ear lobes off for us), and to Tim for organising some rad cooler bags for us