Harrismith is about 300km from Johannesburg, so this is not a race that I would travel to easily. I am very glad I did the travelling this year though. I had a great run at this super race!
We arrived at the venue well before the start. The race only starts at 11AM to cater for runners traveling from far. Harrismith is the unofficial half way point between Johannesburg and Durban. Many runners travel from the cities to run the race.
You have a full view of the mountain from the stadium and I noticed how all the runners glanced at the mountain from time to time while waiting for the start. I saw many good friends at the race which was great.
We started right on time…viewing the banner that read “Finish”. We finished the race viewing the banner that read “Start”. J
On our way!
The first 3km is run through the local neighborhood of this small and beautiful town. This is done to spread the runners out before they hit the single track trail climbing up the mountain. There was a great spirit between everyone and I was really happy to be in the race.
It was quite warm so I made sure I drank plenty of water and some coke at the first water point just after 3km. Then it was onto the trails!
Hitting the trails and climbing immediately.
From 3km to 6km is a steady climb on mostly Jeep track. The wise ones among us made sure to save energy here for what was ahead. The mountain came closer and closer, looking higher and steeper with every step.
Getting closer to the mountain.
The second water point came at 6km. From here we ran through some trees onto the single track winding its way up the mountain. There was a long snake of runners making their way up ahead of us. It looked quite daunting. The trail up the mountain is really very steep.
Snake of runners going up.
Someone had a good sense of humor…
It was soon clear that the climb to the top would be slow. Not only because of the steep gradient, but also because I was in a long queue of runners that stopped and waited every few steps as runners were climbing over obstacles up ahead. This was a little frustrating but I have enough experience to know this is the best way to make your way up to the summit.
There were many places where the only option was to get down on all fours and climb with your hands and feet. Some people really struggled up the mountain and I was grateful that I could do this quite easily.
The fact that I didn’t need to carry my own water and food as in most other trail races helped me a lot. Zero kg on my back is much easier than the 3kg to 4kg I usually carry up the mountains. I eventually reached the summit feeling nearly 100% rested! The views were stunning!
There was a water point waiting for us at the top. Here I had more coke and water. Then it was time for the run on top of the mountain.
The mountain is called Platberg. This is Afrikaans for “flat mountain”. It certainly is flat on top. It felt very flat after the steep climb.
Friendly waterpoint at the top.
The run on top takes you to the highest point of the race where there are two antennas.
Then it was time to “drop down”. Running down technical trails is tricky and the not so seasoned trail runners always battle to do this. Once we started going down I immediately started over taking runners. I probably overtook about 50 runners while going down. It is just as steep as the climb, but there are no plants and bushes to cling to.
I’m always very careful, but at the same time enjoy the thrill of a technical descent. I must admit towards the end this one started hurting a bit.
Another well stocked and friendly water point awaited us at the bottom of the steep descent. When I hit the flat section at the fourth water point my legs felt numb and like jelly. From here it is a gentle downhill run on a single track back to the road that goes into Harrismith. I settled into a nice pace with the runners in front of me. 11km done and I was feeling really good!
It was getting quite warm and when I reached the tar road again I could feel the heat coming up from the road. The last 2.5km is run on the road through the neighborhood again to the finish at the Platberg Stadium. My legs could feel they’ve been working but I was feeling great.
There were some very friendly people supporting the runners in the last two kilometers. This is where I started realizing that almost all the other runners were finding this race very hard. I was happy about this as it must mean something for my training. I honestly didn’t find it very hard at all, although the course is certainly tough.
There was a small water point 1km from the finish which I didn’t use but thought was nice for struggling runners. Rohann and Anette came to meet me with 400m to go and I gave Anette the camera so that she could photograph me finishing for a change instead of me photographing the finish. She did a good job!
I finished feeling really strong and thinking “this was not as hard as I expected”. My training is definitely paying off and that makes me very happy.
I received my medal and chatted with some friends. Everyone was a bit surprised that I didn’t find the race very hard. It seems a lot of people really struggled and find this race extremely tough.
This is a great race and I am very glad I took the trip down to Harrismith. It was worth every cent and every kilometer driven. I’ll be back for sure. Maybe not every year, but I will be back.