Since the UTCT two weeks ago was the first race I have ever not completed, I decided the best thing to do was get straight back up there. I entered us into the Brauhaus 45 km mountain challenge
On Friday we drove to Rustenburg where we camped at a lovely campsite called Bergheim and scoped out the Brauhaus am damm, a delightful german brewery and restaurant where the race finish was set up.
The race registration pasta evening at Milhoro Lodge (the race start) was lovely! Sharon and Paul are veterans of this mountain and they gave us valuable advice on the best ways to get across the mountain safely. For those who dont know - this race is self navigated, there are no markers to show the route. It was both our first unmarked route and our first time on that particular mountain.
On race morning, armed with our Garmin Fenix into which Clint had programmed our waypoints and our fully stocked hydration packs, we lined up with around 90 other runners. Excitement was high as the gunshot rang and we were off! It was a 5 am start and the trail of little lights going up into the mountain towards checkpoint 1 was a magical sight. The trail was fairly easy going and steep jeeptrack. At Checkpoint 1 we were feeling strong. It was light enough to pack away our headlamps.
We set off on the first unmarked portion of the trail to Checkpoint 2. There was no path and we literally picked our way through the veld. Parts of it was runnable but some parts were very rocky. We followed our gps and all was well until... We had to choose between following other runners or going over a steep mountain. We chose following the runners since they had done this race before. Wrong choice. We found ourselves negotiating a forest at the bottom of a gorge and then literally having to climb up to checkpoint 2! Lesson learnt - you always want to be at the top of the mountain for this race!
After some much needed refreshment and once my quads stopped squealing, we set off to checkpoint 3. Checkpoint 3 was back at the same location as Checkpoint 1. This time we followed our gps and found the route much easier! At Checkpoint (19 km done) we were given a beautiful buff which we were required to show at Checkpoint 4.
The journey between Checkpoint 3 and Checkpoint 4 was by far the longest and most challenging part of the race. It is hard to describe the vastness of the 20 km between the two checkpoints. We seemed at times to be completely alone in the world, occasionally glimpsing other runners far away. There are no trail markings, no people, no water points. We followed our gps track and hoped we were right! A wrong turn gets you stuck in a gorge or on the edge of a cliff. The weather was fortunately good - fairly strong wind but at least not very hot like we had anticipated. Except for one brief encounter with a small gorge in the last few kilometers before the "elephant", our navigation was perfect! I had a little emotional breakdown - legs were shattered, mountain seemed endless... had a good cry on Clint's shoulder and then we pressed on.
The "elephant" is a ridge that climbs higher and higher, both sides steep mountainsides with gorgeous views. It is an "on top of the world" feeling being up there. There was a footpath that we followed and scary climbs from mountain hump to hump. At one stage some baboons crossed the path in front of us. Finally we reached the "elephants head". I was elated! We would finally be climbing down the trunk!
The climb down the mountain deserves a paragraph of its own. It was loose rocks and slippery sand all the way! On shattered legs, I found this very tough! At the bottom we found a path that led to the dam wall, through a foresty bit and finally- Checkpoint 4! What a feeling! We had made it across the mountain and we had only about 5 km to go!
The last 5 Km's took us past the yacht club, through the bottom of the town where we were chased by little dogs (seriously?!), through a plowed field, a reed bed and finally more plowed fields at Brauhaus! That last bit of lawn were the sweetest meters I have ever run!
Thanks to my amazing husband, Clinton and my wonderful son, Adrian, for all their support! Thanks as well to Brauhaus and to Sharon and Paul for putting up one hell of an amazing adventure!
Special mention to Stewart Chaperon, coached by Clint, for running this race in record time! You are super tough Stewart, congrats!
To all our fellow trail enthusiasts - If you haven't done this race yet, put it on your list right now!