Category Archives: Race Reviews

Cell C AfricanX Trailrun Race Report Part 2

Start of Day 2

Start of Day 2

In Part 1 of our Cell C AfricanX Trailrun race report we spoke a little about Day 1 of the 3 day event. Now that our legs and bodies have finally managed to recover it is safe to write part 2 of our experience at one of South Africa’s most well organised and fun trail running events.

Cell C AfricanX Trailrun Race Report Day 2

Day 2 welcomed us with much warmer weather than the previous day. Admittedly we would have preferred the rain as the 34km route on day 2 would take us through some of the hottest valleys in the Grabouw area. As is customary on Day 2 of the Cell C AfricanX the route started off with the brutal climb up the old wagon trail next to Sir Lowry’s Pass.

The climb up the Old Wagon Trail

The climb up the Old Wagon Trail

After the smooth running of Day 1 the technical and demanding trails on Day 2 can be heartbreaking, especially since we started the stage with 36km’s still in our legs from the previous day. We broke the stage up into ‘bite-size’ blocks and hoped that would give us a mental edge over the route. Once at the top of the old wagon trail we were greeted by the pristine views and beautiful single track that has made Grabouw a MTB mecca. Running through the forests was so blissful we almost forgot the heat. Almost.

Forest Bliss

Forest Bliss

Heading past the big dam at the Grabouw Country Club off came the shoes and socks for a seriously needed swim to cool off. Temperatures were soaring to the high 30’s without any wind and we were starting to take strain. After the swim though our spirits lifted and we pushed on. We had heard how tough Day 2 was but we really didn’t realise just how tough it would be. If you plan on running in 2017 the best piece of advice we can give is take it easy on Day 1, save your legs for the climbs and technical sections on Day 2. It really is a brutal route. Just when you think you are nearing the finish with 10km to go the route throws one last big climb at you. Any energy you had left up to this point will be drained by that final climb but the views are so worth it.

The view is worth the suffering :)

The view is worth the suffering :)

Once you have reached the top of the last climb it is basically a 5km downhill to the finish line, careful though cause you can see it for quite a while so it might take longer than you expect. Unfortunately on that downhill I tweaked my knee a little and had to hobble the last 2 or so km’s to the finish line. Not starting Day 3 looked to be an unfortunate possibility but for now, back at Houw Hoek Inn, it was all about eating and swimming. The difference in atmosphere between the evenings on Day 1 and Day 2 is massive. On the first night runners eat, catch up and head to bed. On the second evening after the bulk of the tough running behind those still left running the nerves settle and a party usually begins. After 2 days of grueling trail running I think they have earned the right to let their hair down a little.

Our Coach, Dave Sullivan, from Wingman Multi Sport.

Our Coach, Dave Sullivan, from Wingman Multi Sport.

Cell C AfricanX Trailrun Race Report Day 3

After 70km’s of trail running over 2 days a shorter day of 24km on Day 3 was waiting for the runners still in the race. It was a tough call to make but after a bit of strapping up of my knee I decided to start the day and hoped it would hold out. The 3rd and final day started at the Wildekrans Wine Estate for the first time in the AfricanX’s running and what a fantastic change it was. A 10km loop of the Wine Estate on sublime single track was just what our tired bodies needed to get into a rhythm for the rest of the stage.

Pristine Single Track at Wildekrans

Pristine Single Track at Wildekrans

The cooler weather of Day 1 with some light rain joined us again on Day 3. After the intense heat on Day 2 all the runners were very grateful for this. Unfortunately my knee wasn’t having any of it and after 10km’s I had to withdraw. So desperately close to the finish line but the possibility of a serious injury was very likely. It is always a tough call to make, you feel so weak and a little like a failure but sometimes a DNF is the wisest thing. Especially since it is a 2 person team event I felt very bad for bailing on my partner but thankfully she went on like a trojan and finished strong.

My machine partner, Sue Ullyett.

My machine partner, Sue Ullyett.

Will I be back in 2017? You can most certainly be sure of that! 3 days of the most amazing running through Overberg and Grabouw areas. The food. The people. The trails. The views. The vibe. The support. The Cell C AfricanX has the best of everything and it is definitely an event worth adding to your race calendar for 2017. With the support of Cell C and ASICS South Africa it can only get better.

For more info even check out there website here: http://www.stillwatersports.com/event/africanx-trailrun/

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Single Track Bliss!

Cell C AfricanX Trailrun Race Report Part 1

So the Cell C AfricanX Trailrun presented by ASICS kicked off with a bang this morning with close to 700 runners taking part in what is being dubbed, ‘The Biggest AfricanX to date.’. Runners who opted for the tent accommodation were welcomed to Houw Hoek with some light rain and strong winds throughout the night. Thankfully we are a resilient bunch and spirits were high at the start of the Stage. Plenty of smiling and laughing between friends, some even didn’t hear the start gun go off. One of the most welcome updates to the new route was the old ‘bottleneck’ being taken away. Instead of turning onto the single track in the first few kilometers, the field was able to spread out much more as we meandered through the pine trees on the forest roads. Once the singletrack started their was space to really open up the taps and enjoy it.

Views for days!

The route had everything. Beautifully crafted singletrack flowing through the trees, runable forest roads and some slightly demanding climbs to keep the legs honest. The bulk of the climbing and technical terrain will be on Stage 2. Many runners wisely opted to take Stage 1 easy to save the legs for tomorrow. As far as refreshment tables go we had 4 aid stations spaced out perfectly along the route, making staying hydrated very easy. The cooler weather helped a lot as well, normal Grabouw weather can be extremely hot so the light rain and cloud cover was a welcome treat.

Passing through Paul Cluver and Thandi wine farms was special as well. The willingness of the local farmers to open their land up to allow the runners to come through is one of the reasons why the event is such a success. Running trails you would not normally be allowed to win adds to the mysteriousness of the event. It almost feels like you are part of a secret club.

The runners are also what makes the event so great. There is an incredibly fun atmosphere out on the route with runners encouraging each other in low points and jumping for joy in the high points. We managed to latch onto a ‘bus’ of runners on the last 6km’s and it was a great feeling being pulled along by positive people, doing something they love.

Camaraderie at it's best.

Camaraderie at it’s best.

Winding down that final singletrack descent down into Houw Hoek Inn was a great feeling, after almost 36km’s, coming through the forest you can hear the Race Announcer willing you home over the Microphone. You can smell the finish line. You can feel the high 5’s. You can taste the Fair Cape Milkshake. Before you know it you’ve crossed the line, milkshake in hand, recounting the day with your mates. Only to get up tomorrow and do it all again :)

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Race Review: The Bat Run

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.

A not so clear picture of the thick mist

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.

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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.

The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail shoes

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 :)

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Trail Safety and Compulsory Equipment

Trail Safety is an often neglected aspect of trail running.

Be safe out there!

Be safe out there!

If you have been trail running for at least a year or so you would have come across a race that has quite a long and to the novice, highly complicated, list of compulsory equipment that you will need in order to run the event you are entering. These lists can be frustrating and seem so trivial but in fact they are there for your safety and to ensure you enjoy yourself while completing the route as safely as possible.

The earliest memory I have of the kit that I was carrying helping to save my life was when I was about 13 years old in my first year of High School in the Natal Midlands. One weekend a few of us with a teacher decided to the tackle the Two Passes and Cleft Peak Escarpment Hike in the Central Drakensberg. Since we were in a boarding school in the Drakensberg we had plenty experience in the mountains as we would often complete 1 or 2 day hikes over the weekend. This time we chose to get up to the escarpment via Mlambonja Pass, traverse along the escarpment and descend via Mikes Pass. The plan was to camp on the escarpment and complete the hike in a more relaxed time of 5 days instead of the usual 3. Being winter we knew were in for a cold time and there was a strong possibility of some snow falling up on the escarpment. We made sure we had adequate warm clothing as well space blankets and a few other items we thought might come in handy. We started off excited and ready to tackle the 5 days out in some of the most beautiful mountains in South Africa. We made camp at the end of day 1 at the base of the pass and settled in for the night.

The next morning we awoke feeling super excited to get to the top of the escarpment and enjoy the views. As we began to make our way up the pass we were greeted with some light rain, as we got higher the rain turned to snow which began to fall, light at first but by the time we were 3/4 of the way up the snow was bucketing down so thick and so fast I could barely see 3m in front of me. The ‘light snow on the escarpment’ had turned into a full blown snow storm that was now reaching all the way down the pass. We quickly realised that pitching tents on the escarpment was now a bad idea, we were in a race for time to find some safe shelter. Freezing we made our way for the Twin Caves, not really knowing if we were even on the right trail because at this stage the path was completely covered with snow. Thankfully we eventually found shelter in the cave, after working our way through the snow, sopping wet we set up camp inside a small cave and tried to ride out the storm.The snow fell for 5 straight days and continued to fall on the 6th day, albeit a little lighter. The hike was only supposed to be 5 days so we were out of food and had no choice but to hike out. Descending back down the pass was probably the most surreal experience of my life, the little stream that ran alongside the path was no where to be seen. Everything was completely covered in snow. Using poles to test for level ground we made our way down the pass in hip high snow.

We made it back safe and if it wasn’t for my space blanket, my thermal base layer, thermal beanie and waterproof hooded jacket hypothermia would have come very quickly. In fact one of my friends unfortunately developed hypothermia before we made it to the cave but thankfully we were able to warm him up. Just how you do that is another story.. if you don’t feel like being mostly naked in a sleeping bag with a friend till your body recovers take this list seriously. Most trail races aren’t 5 day hikes but when you are on the mountain, even the smallest, the weather can turn so suddenly and so fast you will be caught in a serious situation before you can even say, “But the sun was just shining!!”

It has been recorded that since 1920 there has been more deaths on Table Mountain (a seemingly easy climb of only 1080m asl in the city of Cape Town, South Africa) than there has been on Mount Everest. 219 recorded deaths on Everest and 225 for Table Mountain. There could be many different contributing factors but for me it boils down preparation. The average person attempting an Everest summit is far more prepared than the average person attempting a Table Mountain summit. These compulsory lists ensure that you are prepared, even if the weather forecast is for “light snow on the escarpment.”

The weather at the summit, will very often be very different than the weather at the base.

The weather at the summit, will very often be very different than the weather at the base.

Below is the list that WildRunner has listed as the compulsory equipment for the Marloth Mountain Challenge, lets unpack it a bit (my comments in red) and see what each item is there for:

Compulsory Equipment List

  1. Trail running shoes. (Pretty self-explanatory, I have tried running trail with road shoes and I was subsequently awarded the ‘Sailing-Sarah’ award with my local club for my spectacular falls, trail shoes have grip for a reason.)
  2. Backpack or suitable mountain running equipment carrier. (Unless you like carrying your stuff in a shopping bag, this one is pretty self-explanatory as well :) See our review of the CamelBak Circuit Hydration Pack here: CamelBak Circuit Hydration Pack review)
  3. Waterproof jacket with a hood (NO wind proof shells, no apple jackets, no ponchos – MUST carry a label that reads “waterproof“). (This is where it gets serious, water resistant is not going to keep you dry. Being wet with a wind chill factor of below zero, which is easily achievable even on Lions Head, and a pumping NE with heavy rain slapping you in the face things can get very hairy, very quickly. Being dry can save your life. Someone once said there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.)
  4. Ultralight windbreaker – wind shell, apple jacket or similar. (These aren’t as warm as your waterproof jacket enabling you to stay pretty comfortable and not overheat while running in a chilly wind or even a light mist / drizzle.)
  5. Micro fleece (thin fleece) or equivalent (NOT a long sleeve running top). (Micro Fleece is one of my most favourite fabrics, it is a great base layer as it helps insulate and regulate your body temperature, allowing your skin to breathe and wicking sweat off the skin.)
  6. Buff AND beanie. (Some people think these are the same thing but they are not, a beanie will keep your head warm while the BUFF will keep your neck and face warm, in really cold weather I find it easier to breathe warmer air if I cover my mouth and nose with the BUFF. Very cold air going into your chest is also not good for infections. I find the Seal Skinz waterproof beanie’s are amazingly warm and keep your head dry. Your feet, hands and head are the most important parts on your body to keep dry and warm.)
  7. Emergency/space blanket (preferably a heavy duty emergency blanket or bag). (Space blankets are an incredible invention, they basically turn you into a human oven when you wrap yourself up. The reflective material sends your body heat back to your body instead of letting it escape. In an emergency situation this piece of kit will save your life, or someone else’s.)
  8. Whistle. (This is not so you can referee a social soccer match up in the mountains, it is to call for help, especially if you are out of sight because of a fall or the weather has turned bad. A person can only shout so loud for so long, the sound from the whistle will carry much further than your voice.)
  9. Cell phone, charged and with the numbers of the organisers on it. (If you find yourself in an emergency situation with cell reception, your chance of getting out after calling in for help are much higher.)
  10. Basic food, enough for anything from 3-7 hours in the mountains. (If you are stuck and waiting for assistance which could take a few hours, your planned nutrition for a 3 hour run will now not last you a 7 hour wait. This is not to make your pack heavier, again it is for emergency situations for either yourself or a fellow runner.)
  11. 1 litre of water (there’s lots of water on the course but you must carry a minimum of 1 litre from the start of the event). (If you get stranded and you aren’t close to a river or CP having at least 1 litre with you will enable you to hold out for help much longer than if you don’t have any. If you find yourself stranded without water on a hot day seek shelter if possible.)
  12. Basic first aid kit.
    This can include the following: pain killers and anti-inflammatory tablets, stretch bandage, rigid strapping, safety pins x 2, super glue, tampon x2, cable ties x2, rehydrate sachet x1, “Grabber” hand warmers x2, and any personal medication. (Having these items with you are paramount, I try carry these even on basic training runs. you might carry them 99 times and never take them out but that 1 time you need it, they could save a life. If you are wondering what on earth the super glue is for it is an amazing tool to close wounds that need stitches, enabling you to not bleed out as you make your way to a CP)
  13. Either a dry bag to keep all of your dry stuff dry OR packaged individually in zip-lock bags. (Most of this stuff will be pretty useless if it’s wet, keep it dry.)
Visibility can change very quickly as well.

Visibility can change very quickly as well.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED IN BAD WEATHER

  1. 4x Grabber hand warmers. (I love these things, they are basically a mobile heater for your hands.. as soon as they are removed from the packaging they heat up. Warm hands will enable you to continue working with your hands, like strapping an injury, making a plinth, building a temporary shelter etc.)
  2. Polypropylene long sleeve running top – will still insulate when wet. (Layers equal insulation, having the correct layers at the correct position can mean staying warm while still staying light. Polypropylene is not like cotton or polyester, if it get’s wet it will still keep you warm if it’s layered with a mid and outer shell.)
  3. Polyproylene running gloves – keeps your hands warm enabling you to close/open zips … to get food or warm/dry clothes out. (Same as above.)
  4. Mohair socks – keep your feet warmer in wet shoes. (These wick moisture off the skin and breathe like a dream while still keeping you warm.. a wonder material!!)
  5. Cold weather running tights. (I usually don’t worry about these, even in severe cold weather but each person has their own preference, weigh up the terrain and what the weather usually does and plan accordingly.)

Other kit I would recommend

  1. Seal Skinz Waterproof socks.. dry feet for the win
  2. A head lamp in case you get stranded into the night
  3. A pocket Knife with a basic survival kit for the really gnarley routes
  4. A beard.. naturally :) Beard’s are scientifically proven to keep your face warm.. (ok maybe not scientifically proven but it is pretty obvious.)

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So there you have it, a breakdown of a compulsory equipment list, the vary between races some being super strict and some less strict. It all depends on the terrain, altitude, time of year etc. As I mentioned earlier there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. Rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

It could save your life.

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