The best thing about our sport is the chance to be free and enjoy the outdoors and places we would just never see otherwise, hence my decision to skip the long 50km club run and instead take part in the Magalies Mayhem 65km stage trail run, through quite magnificent trails in literally our back yard.
A mere 30 minute drive from Fourways has you enveloped in natural beauty, blue hazed mountains and the peace and quiet you wouldn’t expect from such a short journey outside of a bustling metropolis.
The fun all started on Friday 4th May after arriving at Van Gaalens Cheese Farm, we were shown the field where we may set up our tents and then return to the main restaurant area for registration and a few drinks, there weren’t many people camping as it was a short drive each morning for the Joburg crowd, but the few that did stay over were a great crowd. I set up next to… unbeknownst to me at the time… the male and female winners of the race, and elite athletes in their respective careers!
My good running friend Chen from the Fourways club arrived shortly before the start of the first leg, and the camaraderie of the weekend was already evident as we all helped each other with tents, hammering of pegs etc.
The first leg of the race was a 10km night stage in the nearby surroundings of the farm, along the river banks and through bamboo ‘tunnels’ it was fast and furious, chasing the little dot of light cast by our headlamps. My headlamp made the going only slightly doable as I had failed to replace batteries since last years KAEM, so it was more a case of using peripheral vision to avoid colliding with low hanging bamboo. Finishing in a time of 48 minutes, I was pretty chuffed with my effort especially for a low vision night trail, A top 10 finish in the bag for stage 1!
After the first ‘leg-stretcher’ we all gathered in the athletes ‘dining room’ for a hearty pasta dinner and a couple of drinks, pro runners and newbies alike.
The first night in the tent was, to say the least… FREEZING, but after wrapping cocoon-like in a duvet and blanket all was good for most of the sleep until emerging at 5am. Coffee and some FutureLife crunch down the hatch it was all systems go for the 35km stage which would take us deeper into the Magaliesberg, I decided that I would take the day easy and run within myself, after all Comrades is only a month away and a rolled ankle at this stage would be disastrous, if not foolish on my part.
I spent most of the day running with a lady who claimed she had never run trail before… yeah right! She powered up hills that had even the top runners reduced to a walk at times. One of these hills was ‘Concrete Road’ a cement jeep track up a very steep slope, it was to be the biggest climb of the day and luckily within the first 8km so energy levels were still prevalent.
The rest of the day was spent easing through great Gauteng trail, mostly rocky single track, until at 28km I took a wrong turn and ended up 15 minutes off course wading through a river, cursing the race organizers for poor route marking... I made my way back to the last marker, only to see clear as daylight painted on the middle of the track the straight arrow in the correct direction! Cursing myself now, I had to get a move on to catch up lost time, 4 people had passed me and due to my competitive nature couldn’t let them get too far away.
While making my way in the wrong direction, I also experienced something that touched me and will stay with me forever, it was one of those moments that almost brought a tear to my eye… A little boy who couldn’t have been older than 4 years old came running up to me from the nearby informal settlement, I greeted him in my very limited Zulu vocabulary and asked him if other runners had gone the direction I was going? He clearly didn’t understand me as all I got was a ‘yes’ for everything I said, so I smiled and said goodbye as I went on my way further in the wrong direction, once I reached the river bank I noticed that he had followed me down, perplexed with what I was doing he showed me the best way to cross… but before letting me go he grabbed my hand and placed R4 worth of R1 coins into my palm and closed my hand again! This little boy had just given me possibly all the money he had! Probably thinking that I would need it for my journey and that I was lost in the wilderness… I placed the coins back in his hands, tightly closing them and re-enforcing by feel that it’s his money, and thanked him, he smiled from ear to ear and went running off back to his home.
It really is the little things that make life worthwhile…
Once I was finally on the right track I built up a head of steam and started my push to catch those who had passed me, the next checkpoint was a quick affair spending less than a minute and downing a cup of 32Gi, 2 people caught on the technical ridge that followed, 2 to go…
For most of the day I had surprisingly found myself relishing the technical sections of the route and struggling more with the flat dirt road sections, the last 6km were flat road like surfaces and the monotony had me employ a walk/run strategy until the finish, 4:50 for the stage and finishing mid field was almost exactly what I had planned barring the getting lost part, so a good day.
After a hamburger for lunch, and a nice shower, the rest of the day was spent lazing in the shade… reading, sleeping… anything that involved as little effort as possible.
By this stage people had also got to know each other better and we were sharing our stories of adventure come dinner that night, the laughter filled the dining room and friendships were made.
Day 3, and a little surprise was in store for us… we were told that we would climb Concrete Road again as well as another hill called ‘Pofadder’ later one of the runners’ Garmin’s revealed it to be a 24% gradient monster of a hill!
The reward however for the skyward spiral, was a superlative vista over the Cradle of Humankind, awe inspiring stuff! And a 2.5km steep descent down the mountain side… taken extremely slowly once again to avoid injury, others came flying past, I couldn’t risk it… 2:10 for the 20km last stage, which on the terrain and climbs made me quite happy, without ever over exerting myself.
So after 65km in 3 days it had all come to an end, a 20th place finish, km’s and time on the legs, and new friendships made!