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