"I'd rather be seen on my bicycle than on a park run" - Quote from the dark side

Monday, 29 November 2010

Sani Stagger Marathon Report

What can I say? I completed the Sani Stagger Marathon on Saturday and had the experience of a lifetime. The race was extremely tough, but worth the effort in every way possible. From registration to the running of the event itself, this is a race in a different class. Superb is the word that comes to mind.

I have so many pictures that I don’t know which ones to share in this report. I’ll add a link to all the pictures at the end of the report.

We arrived in Underberg at about 14:00 Friday afternoon and it started raining at about 16:30. It rained very hard throughout the night and Saturday morning started off cool and wet. The 11km gravel road to the start and the parking were extremely muddy with vehicles getting stuck and sliding all over the road.

Well, I made it to the start in one piece and somehow felt 100% ready and prepared. There is only one way to describe this place…beautiful!

Getting ready for the start.

Shortly after the start.

The first kilometer was run on the golf course and then we went out onto the dirt road. It was still very wet after the night’s rain, but the skies were starting to clear. By the time we started the first uphill, the road was drying and the sky was nearly completely blue.

Wet road early on.

First climb, the sky is starting to clear.

I ran very comfortably, holding back all the time. I had a 21.1km climb ahead of me to one of the highest peaks in South Africa. The runners were all in fantastic spirit, but you could sense some fear in everyone. Gradually the road became steeper with more and more stones and rocks underfoot. The views were incredible and this definitely helped throughout the race. In some places it was simply spectacular!

Every few kilometers there would be a small waterfall coming down the mountain and we had plenty of water crossings to negotiate. This also provided us with some cool mountain water.

After about 13.5km we reached the South Africa / Lesotho border. I was feeling great and felt this was a first milestone for the day. Through the border, on the Lesotho side is where the Sani Pass really starts.

Just inside Lesotho.

It was starting to get warm and I made sure I drank plenty of water. It was very humid as well and I was sweating a lot. As we went higher this changed a bit as a strong headwind was blowing down the valley.

Looking up the valley.

I thought the mountain would shield us from the wind as we went higher, but I was wrong. The wind became stronger and stronger as we proceeded up the mountain, pushing me back at times.

Still feeling great!

Slowly but surely I made my way up the mountain. This was a serious case of “just keep moving forward”. All the way the unbelievable scenery made the journey a bit less difficult. I took a few short videos to show how strong the wind was. I’ll post some of these in the days to come.

Beautiful place to run!

Looking back.

It was really getting tough by now and when I reached the 19km mark, I knew the worst was now right in front of me…the famous hairpins to cover the last 2km to the summit. This is where the journey really starts.

Hairpins Base.

Everybody talks about the last 2km of the climb and I even showed it in my preview last week. Believe me, it is tough! What makes it even more difficult is the fact that you’ve been going uphill for 19km before you get here.

This was really brutal. Notice some front runners going down already.

My favorite photo! You can really see where we came from.

The wind was blowing extremely hard in our faces and I was tired. At the same time I was feeling great because I knew I was nearly there, I was going to make it to the summit well before the 3:45 cutoff. Oxygen was low, but spirits were high!

Almost there!

Then, finally I was at the top! What a wonderful feeling! This was one of the greatest moments in my running career! I made it to the top of the Sani Pass! The first thing I did was to make sure I get my turnaround band. This goes on your arm to proof at the finish you made it to the summit in time.

Happy days at the summit!

Marathon turnaround.

I took a moment to enjoy and take in the feeling. It was cold and windy up here. The people at the turnaround point were extremely friendly and helpful. There was a variety of sweets and drinks and I took some jelly babies to get a break from the GU gels I’ve been eating.

Then it was time to turn around and start the journey back down.

On top of the world!

Going down was a lot easier than going up, but it hurt a lot more. Running down a steep mountain is always tough and turning around after a grueling climb to go down is no joke. My legs were screaming at me to not do this. I tried to run with as little pain as possible, but this was not in my control.

Going down. Runners were still going up.

With just under 18km to go a runner chatted to me about the distance and something about her Garmin. In those few seconds my race suddenly changed. The one moment I was chatting, the next moment my foot caught a stone and I was on my way down. Wham! I had a bad fall!

Running down on a road like this can always cause a bad fall. I was mad at myself for losing concentration. I know better than this. I could feel my hands, left elbow and left knee hitting the ground and getting messed up. Then I got a cramp in my left calf. It was cramping so badly I couldn’t feel if any of the other injuries were serious.

Once I got rid of the cramp I got up and started moving again. My knee was not feeling great. It was bleeding quite badly and there was a gash in my left elbow as well. Both my hands were bleeding and there were some stones and mud under my skin.

After a while I could run normally again. My knee was swollen a bit and my hands and left arm was burning like crazy. At least I felt no serious damage. I ran quite well and reached the border again.

Back at the SA border.

It was now getting hot with the temperature reaching 30°C (86F). I was a lot slower than before and my whole body was aching. The last 10km became a battle. I just shuffled along but as soon as I came to a steep downhill my left calf would cramp again. I was forced to walk a lot, but I kept going.

I wasn’t feeling too bad, but the fall took its toll. I finally reached the finish and can’t remember when last I felt so happy to receive a medal.

I did it! Things didn’t go according to plan when I took a tumble, but I kept going to finish this grueling race. It was about 33°C (91.4F) when I completed the race. I headed for some shade to lie down and take in the whole experience. A paramedic came to clean my hands as there were some gravel and sand under my skin.

Resting while I get the wounds on my hands cleaned.

I thought about the Black Night while lying there. This was a true battle, but I won!

Lovely medal.

You can view these and more photos at the link below:

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sani Stagger Preview

I am off to the mountains on Friday to run the Sani Stagger Marathon on Saturday. This is an off-road marathon and said to be one of the toughest standard marathons in South Africa. The route is an out-and-back and is run on the famous Sani Pass between South Africa and The Kingdom of Lesotho.

We will literally run 21.1km from the bottom of the pass to the summit, turn around and run 21.1km back down. The Start/Finish is at 1566m (5137ft) with the summit at 2873m (9425ft). That is quite a climb!

Profile of the Sani Pass Marathon - Start/Finish at Sani Pass Hotel.
Everyone I’ve spoken to has warned me about the last 2km of the climb and I finally got this photo that shows it.

The final part of the pass to the summit.

That might well be a challenge, but I’m more worried about making a u-turn at the top and running down that again…ouch!

So I’ll be MIA for a few days to go visit and run in this beautiful place. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Monday, 22 November 2010

A Question for Me

After the question in my previous post Char from My Life’s a Marathon had another question for me. “what was your first ultra, how many marathons had you done before it and what made you decide to take up the challenge?”

Well, my first ultra was the 56km (34.7 mile) Milo Korkie Marathon in 1985. My motivation for running it…my dad. He had been a runner since I can remember and always my greatest inspiration. Here I am in my first ultra (no. 1623). I was 21 years old at the time. The runner that is cut off on the right hand side is my dad who ran all the way with me.

I received this tracksuit badge for completing the 56km Milo Korkie Marathon. Medals were not common in those days.

Here is my dad in the Comrades Marathon of that same year, 1985.

To answer the rest of Char’s question, I ran 3 marathons before I ran my first ultra. In South Africa that is the norm. You run a few marathons and then proceed to ultras. Marathons don’t really count in SA. It is all about the Comrades Marathon here. If you haven’t completed at least 1 Comrades (90km, 55.8 miles), you are not seen as a runner. Believe me, in South Africa you can complete 100 marathons, but if you don’t do 1 Comrades, you are not a runner. That’s why it was pretty normal for me to run 3 marathons at age 21 and then move to ultras. Comrades here is probably like Boston in the USA. If you start running marathons, that’s the one you aim for.

Luckily I’ve done Comrades so I can call myself a true South African runner.:) For those interested in stats, I’ve now completed 122 marathons and 112 ultras. This Saturday will be marathon number 123.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

What is your favorite distance to run in a race or just out on a run?

This post is in response to Christina’s Running Question Challenge.

What is your favorite distance to run in a race or just out on a run?

There are two questions here and I have two different answers. The first would be my favorite distance to run. In my case that would be 32km (20 miles). Just as it starts to get difficult and sore, it’s over. That’s what I like about the 32km distance. You get a good challenge without the hurting and battle a marathon throws at you.

The second is my favorite distance to run in a race. My answer here would be ultras, the longer the better. I would say ultras of 100km or more are my favorite races. I think there is a difference between “favorite distances” “and favorite races to run”. Nothing can beat the feeling of finishing a long race after 20 or more hours. There is something about it that only those who have done it can explain.

So if I have to pick a favorite distance to run and enjoy often it is 32km (20 miles). If I have to choose one favorite distance or race to do it would be an ultra of 100km or more.

Do you have a favorite distance?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Good Trail Run Including The Black Night Virtual Race

Yesterday I did my last hard run before the Sani Stagger Marathon on 27 November. I ran 18km (11.16 miles) on trails as the Sani is an off-road marathon. I decided this was the perfect run to include the Black Night Virtual Race.

The virtual race rules stated that I had to wear something black. My trail shoes are black and I also went with black running shorts and my black hydration pack. I didn’t wear a black shirt as I’m experimenting with different shirts for different times of the day for my ultra run on 8 January. I also think it is safer to have a few colors visible when running on trails. My personal photographer, my 9 year old son Rohann, accompanied me on this outing.

Ready to go!
And I'm off!

It was quite a warm morning and the temperature was 22°C (71.6F) when I started at 07:00 and 30°C (86F) by the time I finished. The first few km was easy trail next to a stream. Once I crossed the stream this changed very quickly into a very steep, technical climb.

Easy trail to start with.
View from the climb. The above trail can be seen next to the stream below.
The trail becomes beautiful towards the top and the green summer colors are starting to show. Not many people take on this climb and there were parts where the trail was not visible at all. Luckily I’ve been here many times and I had no problem to find my way.

Beautiful trail towards the top.

Spot the trail...

When I reached the summit I was feeling great. I love running at the top of this hill. It is always beautiful and the views are spectacular.

Trail on top...lovely!
Beautiful view.

The trail to get down is very rocky and technical and I took my time getting to the bottom. I don’t want to risk injury at this stage and definitely not on a training run.

Rocky trail down.

Rohann was waiting close to the bottom and took this photo to prove that I was really running the virtual race as he put it.

I crossed the stream again and was back on the open trail. Here Rohann joined me for about 2km. It was warm by now, but running here with Rohann was awesome. I was having a lovely virtual race and getting in some good training at the same time.

I crossed the stream twice.
With Rohann on the trail…what can be better?!

The trail from here is absolutely perfect with some really beautiful parts...

Rohann asked: How long is the virtual race?” “Oh my, I think it is 10km, I better finish it now.” So Rohann dashed ahead and drew the finish line in the ground. He cheered as I crossed the line to finish the Black Night Virtual Race! My 10km was done somewhere in the middle of my 18km run. Looking at my average pace for this run I estimate my time to be about 01:14 for the 10km. Then again, it included the very tough climb and might even be slower. I don't use Garmins or any other fancy gadgets, I just estimate.

This was really fun! Thanks to Stefano, The Black Night, for giving me the opportunity to run in his race. I had a few more kilometers to go to finish my 18km and felt really good when I reached the end. This was a good run.

Confirmation of a good morning on the trails.

Have a fantastic week everyone and be sure to sign up for the Black Night’s Virtual Race.