"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:


One Crazy Penguin said...

Looks like a *killer* race. The photos are gorgeous though. Well done on conquering the beast!

Hope the knee is feeling better :)

Unknown said...

Congratulations. The photos are amazing. What an experience that must have been!

KovasP said...

Too bad about the literal "Stagger," but the photos and report make it soujnd like a great race otherwise!

4 Winds said...

What an adventure - hope your injuries heal quickly. Suberb, inspiring photos as usual!


Indi said...

I race to remember for sure! sounds like a really tough one. Congrats on a great adventure and finish! Simply amazing views!

Cindy said...

Wow, that photo looking down really tells the story...that's a hike for me..LOL. Take care of your knee and don't be too mad at yourself-it happens to the best of us!

Mike said...

Congratulations!!Elevation,heat,and a beautiful course. WOW! The grueling races are sometimes the most satisfying.

abbi said...

What an amazing experience - glad you are OK from the fall!

racing dawn said...

AMAZING! The pictures tell it all! I love the scenery. You did an incredible job - fall and all. Congratulations - you definitely earned that medal!!! And that climb...crazy!

Tricia said...

wow, what an amazing race!

Quinton J said...

Nice work! I'm so glad you are able to take the photos that you do while running. It's just great to be able to share in the experience. I've just added this run to my 'list'.

Marlene said...

Congratulations on an incredible feat! You are a trooper for continuing on after such a bad fall. I hope you are healing up!

Thanks for sharing some of the views... truly spectacular and worth the effort I'm sure - but I'll just have to take your word on that!

Jennifer said...

Super race report and great pictures, but it all dulls in comparison to the amazing job you did getting back up and continuing on even after your bad fall. Congrats Johann!

Tim Wilson said...

Nice write up and awesome pictures. Looks like a tough race.

Hope you are healing up quickly!

Giorgio said...

You ran on wet road, up hill and through lesotho: Great battle Johann, considering that you I got
cramp in your left calf twice.
Detailed report of your ordeal!

Adrienne said...

Wow Johann, you simply are the running man! That is a hard course. Sorry about your fall, dangit. Glad you finished and are happy about the race.

Natalia said...

Fantastic! That really sounds like a superb race, and like you did an amazing job. Seems like a 2 year mini-comrades in a half marathon format: half up and then half down!
Congrats, en goed gedaan!

ajh said...

VEry impressive. You fell with a lot left to do and did it! Those hills look seriously steep. And the pictures are gorgeous. Thanks so much for sharing!

Pahla said...

Wow! What an incredible day you had. Congratulations on a monumental achievement! I'm so glad that tumble wasn't any worse. As always, I love all the pics, thanks for sharing them.

Julie @ HotlegsRunner said...

wow! whatta route!!! I would've died! Good job Johann =)

Alyssa said...

Johann, this is incredible and so inspiring. The pictures titled "Looking Back" and "My Favorite Photo" are so breathtaking, I can only imagine what it was like in person. You're a trooper for continuing after the fall and still savoring every second of this amazing marathon! You have every right to feel so proud and to know that this was one of the highlights of your running career. Great job!


Laurie said...

Congrats on what seems to be the race of a lifetime. Great report, and I hope that your booboos heal quickly!

RunKathyRun said...

Congratulations on your accomplishment; savor the victory! The photos are amazing; I'm sorry about your tumble and I hope you heal quickly

HappyTrails said...

Awesome accomplishment Johann! That view from the top was astounding - and you looked very fresh atop that climb. Great job - hope those flesh wounds heal up quickly!!

shannon said...

Awesome race, Johann! Waterfalls and spectacular vistas, the Sani Stagger looks like the perfect marathon. Great race report!

Char said...

Thank you so much for taking your camera. Those pictures - gorgeous. Pity about the fall. There's been a bit of that going around lately.

John Kynaston said...

Congrats Johann.

Sounds a great race and well done for making it. Sorry to hear about your fall but how you deal with these things is all part of the experience!

Recover well.

Anonymous said...

Well done Johan, a great achievement by anybodys standards. Sorry about your fall, it's always disappointing when the race doesn't go as planned. Your pictures are great. Well Done again!!

Amy said...

Wow! Amazing and good on you for continuing on even when you had that fall. Loved reading your report of a beautiful but grueling race - I am in awe!

Marisa said...

Wow Johann - this sounds like a life experience for all of us that love running and especially trail running - I think I'd rather do this than the Comrades! Lovely photo's and really great narative - feels like you are there. Marisa

Daveawalker said...

Very well done on this
Next year you should try Mweni Marathon, i did it 2009, it was a great race.

Have you done 4 peaks at Moolmanshoek?

Molly said...

Congrats Johann!!! Ouch for the fall, but great that you powered through, and you do look so happy in all the photos!!

The Hungry Runner Girl said...

You are my hero, that race looks so hard!! I absolutely love race reviews and I am so glad you enjoyed this one. Loved all of the pictures! Thanks for the comment earlier, made me smile:)

Andrew Opala said...

Congratulations - this is awesome!

Emz said...

truly amazing.
truly inspiring.

love all the photos.


Peggy said...

Wow! Hope your knee is recovering! This race looks amazing, I think I would lose concentration just based on my beautiful surroundings!

DRog said...

UN REAL! in a great way!
you do the most amazing races


Julie said...

You are simply amazing Johann!! This was such a great race report...fantastic pictures! I know that it was such a challenging marathon for you but you did superb:) Maybe I will have to fly out to SA for this one. The scenery is breath taking...I would be in heaven:) You are right that medal is lovely!

Take care!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Impressive as always, I wish I had an ouce of your running skills

Unknown said...

What a great race, big smiles all around. No wonder, that waterfall is gorgeous. Your countryside is just so beautiful, thanks for sharing it with us. I hope your knee is doing alright now!

Andrew Opala said...

This is a little off post - What's the Relationship of the Kingdom of Lesotho to SA? Did you need any documents when you crossed the border? passport?

The US-Canada marathons usually require you to clear customs and have an enhanced driver's license or passport with you.

Anonymous said...

u r training for an ultra!

crazy! absolutely crazy!
cant wait to read about it! good luck

The Hungry Runner Girl said...

That is so awesome that you have never trained in a gym and no music! Wow, you are a true runner!!

The Boring Runner said...

This race looks EPIC!!!!!!!!! So many hills / spills. Plus, at 3000M, the altitude HAS to be effecting you.

And the heat?? Good lord, that is amazing.

Black Knight said...

Your races are always more than a challenge!

Heather said...

The photos are great! what a beautiful trail. glad to hear that you are okay after the fall. Congratulations! This sounds like an awesome event.

Jill said...

That is one well-earned medal!! Congratulations on an incredible accomplishment, very proud of you Johann. You truly do need to come to Colorado and run the mountains here with me!!! You would ROCK them all! Enjoy your sweet victory...hope you're healing up quickly!!

Christina said...

Nice race, besides the fall.

Jason said...

sorry it has taken me so long to get here, but glad I finally made it.

Unreal race, unreal story and in the end CONGRATS.

This motivated me to put this on the bucket list of things to do.

Wow this looks fun.

Unknown said...

That's it. I need to run an ultra trail race in South Africa! If there's one race I should do in South Africa, which would you recommend??

Congrats and way to get back up from your fall to finish strong. That's how it's done!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came to take a look.
I'm definitely loving the information. I'm book-marking
and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and amazing design and style.
Also visit my webpage ; safe diet plans