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

Monday, 10 September 2012

2012 Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge Race Report

The Mont-Aux-Sources 50km Challenge remains my favorite race and when we heard about snow on the mountain last week my excitement grew. In the end the snow was so much that the route had to be shortened but it still made for one of the best overall race experiences I’ve ever had.

The trail going to the chain ladders on Friday.

At the race briefing on Friday evening we were told that we would not be able to run the full route. There was no way we could run to the chain ladders and up to the summit. The race was shortened from 50km to 39km. Disappointing? Maybe a little, but there are so many positives about this race that it didn’t really matter. I think there might have been some sighs of relief between the disappointment.

View from the start.

The loop at the top was cut out so we only ran up to the Sentinel car park and back down again. Still a very challenging race in any book. There was also no cutoff time which made for a very relaxing day out for everyone.

I was expecting quite a cold run, but in the end the weather was perfect. The shortened route certainly made everyone very positive with no fear of not making it. I decided to go out and have as much fun as possible.

The first 10km is a very hard climb up the Mahai valley. It was a perfect morning and the fantastic views put everyone in a great mood. I was feeling really good right from the start and in a very happy space.

The snow on the mountain was an added bonus. Here in South Africa that is not something we see very often. Being out there with the snow on the mountain was really special.

The trail goes through some beautiful forests and there was also a lot of water in streams everywhere. It was very wet compared to last year when it was warm and dry. I love stream crossings!

The Mahai valley was beautiful as always, but this year there was a feeling of magic in the air. After about an hour of running some mist came over and this started the experience of all weather conditions in one day for us. I loved it and confirmed again that I am much better suited for cold, wet conditions than anything else.

There was water in every stream and waterfall and most rocks were glistening with water in the sun. The views literally took my breath away!

Between all of this we were still busy with a very hard climb. I was happy with how strong I was on the climb. My legs were feeling really good and I was definitely much better prepared than a year ago. You need to train for this race, there is no question about that.

The last part of this first climb becomes hard, but finally Witsieshoek comes into sight and a first milestone is reached. Looking at the view just before Witsies had that “privileged to be here” feeling come over me. This feeling stayed with me for the rest of the race.

A privilege to run here.

Awesome views!


After Witsieshoek the route follows a gravel road for 9km to the Sentinel car park. Make no mistake. It might be a gravel road and not single track, but it is still a very hard climb to the top. The road is steep.

The sight of the snow covered mountains was incredible and around every corner the mountain was getting closer and closer. The road and climb feels like it will never end at some points, but then you realize the mountain is getting closer and the never ending feeling disappears.

We had the enjoyment of watching the front runners on their way back and this was nice. On the 50km route I don’t see many front runners, but with the route change we saw everyone. I also saw a Bearded Vulture gliding in the mist! They are so scares and endangered. The funds of this race goes to conservation of the  Bearded Vulture. They are the most awesome birds!

The weather was sunny, cloudy, windy, warm, misty, dry and wet with changes every few minutes. Runners were changing clothes all the time. I was very happy when we reached the car park and the Sentinel came into sight. It was in the mist for most of the morning and I had excellent timing to get a beautiful view.

Drakensberg Sentinel.

Yes, I was there! J

At the car park I got a few things from my drop bag, took a few photos and then it was time to start the journey down. I was a little sad that we couldn’t get closer to the snow, but I knew that safety took priority over everything. Everyone accepted that this year we did not get to the top of the mountain…next year…

Sentinel car park - turnaround point for this year's race.

I felt great as I started my run down the dirt road again. The good weather and race conditions made me very positive and I was in trail running heaven. With no race cutoff I took some time for a few more photos than usual. The views going down are just as spectacular.

There are some tough hills on the way down as well and I remembered the one very hard hill where I died a slow death last year. This year I was feeling super at this point.

The hill that killed me last year…

Soon I was back at Witsieshoek again and I was very happy with my progress. I was hoping for a sub seven hour finish and now realized I would finish closer to six and a half hours. I was still feeling great!

Back at Witsieshoek.

The last 10km is a drop down the Mahai valley. Certainly much faster, but a killer on the legs.
I took it fairly easy going down. I decided since there was no cut off this was a perfect time to take a few more photos than usual of the descent down the valley. Next year I’ll probably be chasing the 10 hour cutoff down here with no time for photos. J

I’ve been up and down this valley many times and it remains one of my favorite trails. It has a bit of everything. Drop, climb, grass fields, rock formations, forest, waterfalls, water crossings and much more. It also tests you as a runner.

In the last few kilometers the descent really hammers your legs and knees. I suppose this is where age comes into play a bit. I wonder if the youngsters experience the same discomfort in their legs as I do…?

The finish is visible during the last few kilometers and I was excited that I would be finishing strong. Anette was waiting at the finish and after last year’s dehydration I was glad she would see me finishing strong this year.

My lovely wife and faithful supporter.

Once off the trail there is a nasty little climb in the road and after the 10km downhill this feels weird. Then it is a nice stroll into the finish area. I was happy and the thoughts of not running to the summit were long gone.

I received my “trophy”. This is the second part of the stand of the trophy I received two years ago. Next year I’ll receive the last part.

We also received a beautiful fleecy jacket, a towel, running gloves and some other goodies in our goodie bags at registration. This race is worth every cent.

So I'm already committed to next year. I'm sure we'll run the full route in 2013. I'll be ready...I have some awesome challenges lined up until then that will be perfect preparation...

These and more photos can be seen here:


Unknown said...

well done! beautiful photos! what a wonderful experience that must have been. :-)

KovasP said...

Even with the shortened distance, lots of adventure! Love the multipart finishing trophy, great idea.

misszippy said...

So incredibly beautiful! Well done, Johann, even with the shortened distance. Snow could have been very challenging!

Jill said...

WOW! The pictures of the mountains with the clouds are just breathtaking! Sorry the snow caused the course to be shortened, but these things happen and you were a great sport about it. What a fantastic course and all the diversity of terrains you had to encounter - definitely one of those days that will forever be laminated in your memory. So glad you didn't end with the same dehydration problems as last year and finished feeling fantastic - you are incredible. Love the medal and for sure you'll get the 3rd leg next year - can't wait!!

Well done, Johann. Hope you're still enjoying your victory! :)

Indi said...

what an gorgeous race!! It goes through such a variety of terrains. Congrats on a great race!!

Robin said...

Congratulations. Another beautiful event! Looks amazing! Too bad it got cut short but what you did get to do looks incredible.

Mike said...

What a scenic course. You have some great races in South Africa.

Kate Geisen said...

Your pictures are just glorious, and I know that pictures NEVER do an area justice, so I can't imagine what it felt like to be out there. No wonder you had such a feeling of gratitude. And isn't that the BEST feeling during a race or event? I tried very hard to muster that during yesterday's bike ride...not so much of a success.

Glad all of your training paid off with such a strong feeling. Funny to think of snow being such a rare thing for you when it's no big deal usually around here. That's one of the cool things about blogs...reminding us how much the same and yet how different our lives are.

Jerry Smallwood said...

What a great event, I am now officially very jealous of you :-)

MCM Mama said...

What an amazingly beautiful run. Sorry it was cut short, but it was awesome to see all the pictures you had time to take.

ajh said...

I LOVE that the snow excited you! And instead of being disappointed you found positives about the shortened route. Yay you! I didn't realize snow was something you saw so seldom. I love snow and feel it is one of the most beautiful sights in the world on a mountain. Your excitement and pleasure just shine through in this report. There is nothing like having a wonderful time in a race. Thanks for all the great photos. Why do you get the trophy in threes?

Detroit Runner(Jeff) said...

And here I am running 5k's. Wow - this course looks awesome and you get some great swag with it. I can see why you like hilly - if you don't, you better start since there not much flat is there?

Abby @ Have Dental Floss, Will Travel said...

What a beautiful course! I was disappointed for you, reading the report, that you didn't get to the snow, but the scenery almost makes up for it :)

Char said...

What a wonderful post. The photos were gorgeous and the whole run sounded quite magical. I'm glad it was such a great experience for you.

Amy said...

Awesome pictures and sounds like an incredible day - your report made me think of that song by Crowded House, "Four Seasons in One Day"...

Giorgio said...

Excellent report ... I'm astonished! wonderful scenery and running paths, Johann.
Congrats on that wonderful experience!

Average Woman Runner said...

You are amazing Johann - such a positive attitude! The snow, water crossings, shortened course, none of it phased you which is great. The scenery is just beautiful. You can tell you really went some distance and elevation with all the different microenvironments you went through. Thank you for taking so many great photos!

Liz said...

What an incredible experience! You really make the most of where you live - it's stunning!

Anette said...

My Love, this was one race you looked forward to for months. Then came the day. Snow on the mountains and the race shortened. Not sure if the disappointment was that no "play" was allowed in the snow. The race happened and you did well! I am very proud of you and your mom relieved... :)
Next year you try again

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

Congrats on finishing and finishing well! Incredible scenery! I'd love to run this race someday!

Lindsay said...

wow, that is so gorgeous!! the weather change - that would be tough to run in, good call on cutting it short even though i'd be bummed about not going "all the way" myself. still an incredible run and great challenge.

Lauren said...

Another race in South Africa that I would love to run. Even though the race was changed -- love the no cut-off's (pressure free!!) and I really enjoy seeing the front runners. I only get to see them on out-and-backs, and it's a joy.

I believe you that those gravel road climbs were tough. For some reason they seem tougher than single-track climbs. I'm not sure why, perhaps with single tracks I have to focus more and don't notice the difficulty as much.

Great recap! Thanks.

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Shaun Horsepower said...

Hello, can someone tell me what's the waiting period for this race?

Shaun Horsepower said...

Thank you Johann for the info,..wow! What an awesome adventure. I love the photos,..can't wait to run it with you guys this year. Warm wishes Shaun.