Trail Run race (Tsitsikamma Ultra Trail) 7:59:43  57.58 km (8:20 / km) +2768m 6:43 / km
ahr:149 shoes: Inov8 Roclite 305
What an amazing trail to have the privilege to run! Route starts at the “Big Tree” at Storms River, and follows the hiking trail in reverse to De Vasselot campsite in Natures Valley.
Jumped on busses at 4:30am at De Vasselot to get to the Big Tree for coffee and rusks before starting at 6am. Lekker buzz and vibe at the start!
Pitch dark in the forest at 6am, so headlamps on for the first part. An easy jeep track lead quickly into single track through indigenous forest towards Sleepkloof Hut at only 3,5kms in. 4 fast guys got away in the first 5 minutes, and I was by myself in 5th. The first big climb up Nademans Nek started at the 5k mark, and even though it was pretty challenging, it wasn’t too bad on fresh legs. Once over the Nek, it was beautiful running in the early dawn light down through Mosterts Bos and towards the next significant climb, Mosterts Hoogte. I caught 4th place on this climb, and we stayed together until just after Heuningbos Hut, were I pulled away slowly. 2 hrs 5 mins from start to Heuningbos Hut.
Some nice flowing trails until crossing the Elandsbos River at the 22km mark, and then starting with the last of the big climbs, Rushes Pass. I kept the hard power hiking rhythm up the climb, and thankfully it was only 9am, so still nice and cool. A few more short ups and downs and into the “half-way” Keurbos Hut at the 28k mark, in 4 hrs 2 mins. Filled up water and juice quickly, and took a banana and some warm baby potatoes with me! The potatoes were a winner! No sign of 5th place behind me, so tried to keep pushing. I was already 45 minutes behind the leader here. He was flying!!
It was good running conditions between Keurbos Hut and Blaaukrans Hut, with a few short sharp climbs out of the Blaaukrans river gorge and a few other streams. Arrived at Blaaukrans in exactly 6 hours, 41kms in. Filling up quickly and taking some pad-kos, I hit the road straight away, chasing down a sub-8 hour, which was my ultimate goal.
I was very happy that my legs were still feeling good, and we had been told that that last 20-odd kms were “easy” running. I am glad I kept something in the tank, as the last stretch is much easier running on forest roads and smaller jeep tracks, with only a few rocky and rooty path sections in between.
With the sub-8 on my mind all the time in the last 2 hours, I pushed wherever I could, knowing it was going to be touch-and-go. I knew the last 5kms of the trail pretty well from previous runs in and around Natures Valley, so knew what to expect. That didn’t make it any easier! Time ticked away towards 8 hours, but as I hit the bottom of the Grootkloof path at the lagoon road with just over 2 kms to go, I found some energy and pushed home, to finish only 17 seconds under 8 hours. The last few hundred meters were a blur!
Such an incredible experience, and achieving (only just!) that sub-8 goal was a huge bonus! Absolutely loved the route, and so beautiful to run in those mountains. Super happy with how my body and feet held up for the entire distance. Winner (Roelof Mostert) ran a mind-blowing 6:49, smashing the course record by almost an hour.
Forget Otter, this is definitely one to go back and do again! All-round flawless race organisation, and killer post-race dinner!
An awesome end to a lovely 2 week holiday.