A week later and I'm still in awe of the sheer beauty of the Num-Num trail challenge which was held near Badplaas in Mpumalanga, the only race so far that can compare in terms of beauty and difficulty, and done in one day is the Addo, although the Addo involves a lot more 'runnable' trail and nowhere near the technicality of Num-Num, so going into the challenge nursing a bout of ITBS was a bit of a risk, but a risk I'm glad I took in the end, if only to be part of this awesome event
We arrived at the Pongola camp on Friday evening after a fairly quick drive from Secunda on roads which must be getting upgraded for all the Badplaas holiday makers that Secunda houses, on any given weekend there are probably more Secunda residents in Badplaas than from anywhere else!
After a quick registration and goodie bag collection, Chanel and I headed off to get some rest at our home for the next two nights, Misty Valley Lodge.
All this time I was still battling to even walk without a bit of a grimace, the left knee really letting me know that something's not quite kosher, I'd been lazy with the treatment and had basically just refrained from running for a week, before finally deciding to see the physio and really start focusing the use of a TriggerPoint roller on the proper effected areas, this helped but not nearly enough in the short time to be totally confident of a good run.
Race morning! we were at the start bright and early and enjoyed a nice warm cup of coffee and the warmth of a fire, before seeing off the first 2 groups of runners, we took off at 6:50 in group 3... just starting and getting into some sort of a rhythm relieved any thought of pain and it actually felt quite good, this was going to be doable!
The first 4-5km gave us a small taste of what was to come, Chanel struggled in this time, maybe more than she ever has in any race, it wasn't looking good... we arrived at the first CP very slowly, being passed by most of the runners from the 2 groups that started after us. It was here that she decided to pull out of the race, her first DNF ever, a difficult decision.
After saying our farewells I decided to smash it a bit, I was feeling good and with a competitive streak I just had to catch those who had passed us, in no more than 30 minutes this was done! about 20 runners reeled in and I started regaining on the early lost time. 'Smashing it' in this race doesn't mean 4 min/km though, it's was closer to 10/11 min/km, which, on the technical terrain was probably equal if not more of an effort than a road 4 min/km!
in the next few km's we were treated to some beautiful waterfalls nestled into secret pockets of lush ravine forest, I can't remember how many times I said WOW, it was really a slice of natures perfection.
as the time passed on and the k's slowly trickled by, I began to realize that this was only getting tougher, no respite whatsoever... just sheer challenging trail, all of which was either going up, or down, nothing flat at all! Until eventually a 3km stretch of sandy dirt road stretched out in front of us rounding the edge of the escarpment and allowing for the only section of actual continuous running I would have that day. The remainder of the race was spent climbing long, steep rocky singletrack. Gingerly inching down knee-breaking descents or scrambling over ladders and swing bridges, A Spartan race for true warriors.
The last CP I reached before my eventual decision to withdraw was also the 'lunch spot' for the day, incredible what an ice cold coke can do for you, it really lifts the spirits and in my case maybe too much so, as I went flying out of the CP heading down the rocky path, I felt the knee finally give up the ghost.... I could hardly walk never mind even attempt to run and had to resign myself to the fact that I'd be dragging myself to a part of the route that I could be 'rescued' at. The next 8km were sheer torture, I also stopped concentrating on where I was going and focused more on every foot fall to try minimize the excruciating pain.
With only 4km to go to the next checkpoint and being able to see the Camp area, I managed to miss a marker and get lost, ending up high on the ridge, far above the river bank I was supposed to be following, 30 minutes passed in my attempt to regain the trail and it was doing no favors towards how I was feeling. In my absolute stubbornness I didn't use the 'emergency exit' parallel to the camp across the road but decided to persevere and reach the final CP, this involved more ladders, no less than 3! which at this stage made me laugh in a sarcastic sort of way.
In 7h55 I reached 29km, the point that I decided not to continue, it wasn't worth doing real damage to an injury which is still fixable, there's always next year...
Congrats to everyone who completed this incredible race, and to the winners who posted superhuman times!
A well organized race with huge potential to become one of South Africa's GREAT trail races!
I'll be back :)