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

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Odyssey Ultra Race Report

Hi everyone! I’m back from my mini vacation after the Odyssey Ultra and finally I have some time to write a report about this adventure. Yes, it was a true adventure and to keep you from wondering, I did make it, finishing in 13:36. This was one of the toughest races I’ve done so far with lots of sand, seawater, rock hopping, river crossings and a merciless sun.

The week prior to the race the country had lots and lots of rain with floods and flash floods in various places. Nearly all the rivers in Kwazulu Natal were in flood and we were warned about this before the race. For safety reasons the race started at 4 AM instead of 3 AM and we ran on the road up to the first checkpoint. We were not to cross any rivers in the dark and only moved onto the beach once the sun was up.

3:50AM, ready to go!
Shortly after the start at Hibberdene Caravan Park.

I enjoyed the first few kilometers on the road with all the oxygen at sea level, although it was warm from the start and the humidity was extremely high.

The first hour looked mostly like this.
Early days, sweating a lot already.

I was feeling fantastic and before I knew it the sun was rising and it was a beautiful morning with some stunning views.

Just as I was starting to enjoy myself too much I was pulled back to reality when my foot caught a cat eye on the road and I went crashing onto the tar.
Knee bashed again…

Soon after this we turned down to the beach and also the first checkpoint.

1st Checkpoint at Umtentweni Beach. 

The race medic cleaned my knee and I filled my hydration pack and then it was on to the beach. Running on sand is never easy and I wondered how much of this was ahead. I think it’s a good thing I didn’t know so early in the race. It was difficult to decide where to run…soft, dry sand or wet sand with a slope to the left.

Umtentweni Beach.

Where to run…dry sand or wet sand with a slope…?

I soon found most of the time there was no choice and I just ran where it looked the best or easiest.  It was fantastic to run next to the ocean and it was a really beautiful morning.

Dry shoes didn’t last long either as I reached a few small river crossings…small but still ankle deep and no way to keep your shoes dry. It didn’t take long before I just ignored the sand and water and just kept running as normal. There was just no point in bothering with this.

Lots of these small river crossings.

My first goal was to reach Port Shepstone feeling good. I reached Port Shepstone feeling fantastic! Just before I entered Port Shepstone I had to go up to the road again to cross the river there over the bridge. It is a large river and it was flowing strong after all the rain. I was warned the morning before the start not to go into the water here. There was a danger of sharks and even crocodiles here! 

River at Port Shepstone to dangerous to swim through. 

After Port Shepstone it was onto the beach again for another long slog on the sand. I was surprised at how good I was feeling. Things were looking good and my spirits were high. As I went along the rivers became more challenging and there were more and more rocks to negotiate.

Some rivers were getting deeper.

More and more rocks in places.

At some point I needed water and there was nothing but beach and rocks to be seen. I found a small path up to the road. I ran on the road for a few minutes and then I saw a small service station (gas station). I could not believe my eyes when I saw the tap where I needed to get water. How crazy is this…I found a joggers tap!

I took the first road down to the beach again. I was now nearing Shelley Beach where my family was waiting with PB sandwiches and Powerade, my breakfast. My feet was starting to feel the strain of all the sand and water a bit by now. The route was slowly becoming more and more challenging or was it my feet and legs slowly becoming more and more tired?

Shelley Beach in the distance…breakfast was waiting there!

I had to do rock hopping more often and progress was slow at times. I enjoyed my “breakfast” while continuing over some rocks. I was feeling so good I didn't stop completely for breakfast at all.

I finally reached Uvongo Beach and I was relieved that I was feeling much better than I thought I would at this stage. I saw some running friends of mine on the beach here, enjoying their vacation. This was a good spirit booster. Uvongo is another beautiful beach on the South Coast and there were quite a lot of people on the beach. I got a few very funny looks but also some words of encouragement.

Uvongo Beach

The river crossing at Uvongo was deep enough for another swim and when I got out of the water here I found that most of the sand in my shoes had washed to my toes during the swim. I continued and was pondering to take off and clean my shoes or just carry on. In the end I decided to just carry on as any shoe cleaning or sand removing would only help for a few strides anyway.

My next goal was the next checkpoint at Margate. I wasn’t sure how far it was and could not see anything up ahead because of some huge rocks. These rocks were the largest of the day so far and really took a lot of concentration to get over. I was rock hopping and climbing for nearly an hour before I could see the beach at Margate at last. This was not the end of the rocks though, there were more and also some smaller stones and boulders to make my hurting feet hurt even more.

Big rocks for a few kilometers. Really tough and needed lots of concentration.

First glimpse of Margate.

These stones made it just that bit more challenging for my feet.

I was really relieved when I made it onto the sand at Margate. There were lots of holiday makers on the beach and I got a second wind. I ran across the beach feeling positive and with some new energy. I found the checkpoint at the end of the beach where they gave me some cold water. I was happy.

The beach at Margate.

After Margate I went to Ramsgate quite quickly. It was getting very warm. It was 12:00 noon and 30°C (86F). I took a bathroom break at Ramsgate and then sat in the shade for a few minutes to cool down and eat some jelly babies. I stood under the shower that bathers use to wash off the salt water and then I was on my way again. I could feel I’ve been going for 8 hours already.

There were more difficult rock hopping to do and I was really relieved when I found a trail above the rocks at some point.

Trail above some difficult rocks.

The next two hours were extremely hot. I ran where I could and walked and climbed the rest of the way. There were many more rivers and rocks. The sun was relentless and there was no shade anywhere…just open beaches and rocks. Mentally this was the most difficult part of the race. I dipped into the sea a few times to cool down. Most of the salt would wash off again at the next river crossing. My feet started taking a heavy beating and the sun was burning my whole body.
More rock hopping.

Nowhere to hide from the sun.

At some stage I could see running shoe prints in the sand. Was I catching up to another runner? I didn’t know where anyone else was at that stage. We all chose our own route and went looking for water at different beaches and roads.

Running shoe tracks…

This was definitely the lowest point of the race for me. Seeing no one else for hours and the temperature reaching 35°C (95F) with no shade anywhere. The positive for me…I’ve never been this strong in the heat! My feet were hurting and I was tired, but somehow I still had the energy and will to carry on strong.

About 60km done. My low point...hot and tired with sore feet.

Through the rocks I go!

After a few more beaches and more rocks I found a small trail in the foliage above the rocks again. I was still able to run here and again surprised at how well I felt in the heat. As I came round one more “corner” I was surprised and relieved to spot another runner up ahead.

A fellow crazy runner up ahead! (she’s on the top right)

I caught up with her after a while and she was very surprised to see me. She was trying to call the organizers with her cell phone to come and fetch her, she was done…literally and figuratively. She wasn’t able to reach anyone and besides that we had no idea where we were. I encouraged her to carry on to the next beach where we could see where we were exactly and then decide what to do.

Soon we reached Marina Beach and we actually received a call from the RD at that point. He ensured us it was only 5km to the next checkpoint.

The RD’s 5km turned out to be 15km of this…


and this...

We reached the next and final checkpoint 3 hours later. The RD said it would be a 1 hour journey. Way to go for the organizer not knowing the route at all…!

Final checkpoint, 5km from the finish.

During the 3 hour journey I encouraged and pep talked my fellow racer to tough it out. 5km to go and I would stay with her. That did the trick and we started the last push to the finish. I was very tired but feeling good and positive. This was in the bag!

After about an hour we finally made it to Port Edward. I was worried that the river here would be deep by now with the tide coming in, but luckily it was just above the knees. We crossed the last river for the day and then made our way over the beach to the finish.

Emerging from the last river.

Almost there!

To the finish at the end of the beach!

What a day! This was tough and I could feel it. The sand, salt and water took its toll on my feet. The heat and sun took a lot out of my body, but I made it! 13 hours 36 minutes of hardcore running. Yes, after this race I will call myself hardcore.

I’ll show off my Odyssey cap and towel with pride for sure! The 01 was my race number.


Unknown said...

Congrats Johann! What a great recap. I cannot imagine running for this long through rivers and sand and rocks! So kind of you to help a fellow runner push through to the next stop. I'm sure she will be forever grateful.

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

Wow, that sounds like an incredible journey, and I love your photos. I hope you're resting a bit and recovering well - you deserve it!

Bethany + Ryan said...

whoa. congrats! that is definitely a hardcore race! wowzer! such beautiful pictures! so sorry you fell and cut your knee! hope you are recovering well and gearing up for hte next one! thanks for taking all those pictures to share with us!! congrats!

Lauren said...

What an amazing race! Loved reading your report. I especially loved it when you came upon the other runner after hours alone. Great adventure (& pics too)

Amy said...

I really really enjoyed reading your report - congratulations for such an amazing accomplishment and good on you for helping out another runner - it sounds like it made a major difference for her!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Wow, impressive as always

Christi said...


John Kynaston said...

Congratulations Johann.

An excellent race and loved the photos and report.

Sounds as though it was a tough run but aren't they all!!

I've ran on sand for a while in one of my ultras and it can really zap your energy so well done for toughing it out.

Recover well and look to the next one!

Laura said...

You are SERIOUSLY hard core. Congrats and great recap!

Staci said...

To one seriously hardcore runner, WELL DONE! You so deserve to wear the cap with pride.

I have been waiting expectantly for your race report and I 'm not disappointed. Your pictures are great and I would love to travel there - just not to run there.
Funny that under different circumstances the warmth and sunshine would be so welcome.

Well Done again on your achievement, your positive attitude and your kindness to a fellow runner.

Marlene said...

Wow!! More incredible views! Congratulations on holding it together in EXTREME heat on a very challenging course. I can't imagine being out there all day long.

Matt said...

So impressive! Congrats!

Kate Geisen said...

Johann, this is amazing! I can't imagine being on my feet that long. Your pictures are so beautiful, too. Great race report, and congratulations on finishing strong. You clearly made a difference for that other runner, too; that has to feel good.

Jill said...

The first thing that came to mind reading this was, "How the heck did you NOT get lost??" Omg, I would have been a basket-case without having another soul to keep me on track. But wow o wow, Johann, that was an amazing RR to read, I felt like I was there with you (well, without the pain, obviously) an dI am so happy for you!! And to bring that other runner along with you at the end so she could finish, too - that had to feel so good! I salute you, Mr. Johann, on completing what was truly an amazing feat. Congratulations!

misszippy said...

Wow--13 hours! What an amazing accomplishment. How did you resist just laying down on those beautiful beaches to rest? What a temptation! I also have a question--do you need to worry about crocs or hippos at the rivers? Naive American here, indulge me!


4 Winds said...

Wow! What a run and what a country. A bit different to Margate in the UK!


Emz said...

holy crap!

This is the best RR ever!

You never cease to amaze me.

Seriously. just completely amazing.

Well done.

In awe.

Teri S. said...

You are beyond hardcore. Great race report - you are my hero!

Heather said...

That was a great race report. What an amazing day that must have been. The photos are beautiful. I hope your legs is healing up. You are definitely hardcore! Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment!

Mike said...

Heat,water crossings,sharks and croc's! Wow..what a tough,tough course. You are truly hardcore!! Congratulations on your finish.

Giorgio said...

rock hopping and river crossings!
And what a beautiful beach at Margate! You shared a beautiful and detailed report of that tough adventure. Thanks for that Johann!
Did you wore special socks for sand?
13 hours! congratulations on finishing strong!

ajh said...

This was an excellent report. I didn't realize how hard the trail would be. Did you have to worry anywhere else about crocodiles or sharks? wow! That is wonderful that you helped the other racer complete it. She must also be feeling very hard core and proud. I loved all the photos and reading about it. You are amazing!

Sherry @ Life from my persective said...

Looks amazing and crazy challenging!!! I will add you to the Run for the Bling post tomorrow. Congrats again!!!

Julie said...

Hi Johann,
Wow! This ultra ranks up there as one of the most beautiful as far as I am concerned! Those views of the ocean and beach are amazing!! Congrats on another challenging ultra:)

Anonymous said...

Wow, great job. You were an iceberg short of mother nature having virtually no mercy on you!

Jennifer said...

Congrats on such a great race Johann! I hope when I do my first long ultra and and am down in the dumps that I find an angel like you to help me through the tough spots! Good karma for you! Cheers!

Natalia said...

Johann, what an amazing race, and super congratulations! You are really a terrific runner, and you inspire all of us to do better, and go that one mile further. Your kindness and generosity to another runner is nonpareil. You are a star in every aspect! Have a good recovery.

Alyssa said...

HARDCORE INDEED! I cannot believe all the varying terrain you had to run on -- and for 13 hours! All you were missing was some jungle, and with the humidity, I bet it felt like that. Congrats on such an awesome, awesome accomplishment. So inspiring!


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! And yes, you are hardcore! Beautiful and challenging course- you did a terrific job!

Laurie said...

Woah, congrats! That course looks impossible. I am also impressed that your feet didn't get chewed apart by all of the sand in your shoes.
Great pictures, too.

Molly said...

another jaw dropping race report! I can't believe the heat, the sand, the rocks, the danger from sharks and crocs....not to mention the Joggers tap : ) Congrats Johann, you are awesome.

Cathie said...

Wow Johann. Congrats!
Firstly I love reading these reports of yours for two reasons. Firstly cos they are so well written, and the pix are great.
Secondly cos you make me feel like I was there, which means I DON'T HAVE TO EVER DO IT!!
Sand, then rocks, then water, never mind the distance.
Makes Comrades looks like a walk in the park! But I think I will stick to the 'tar' in the 'park'.

well done!

Pahla said...

Oh, my!! That was definitely an epic Odyssey! I'm so impressed with your perseverence, wear that hat with pride my friend!

Adrienne said...

Johann, that is simply amazing. I cannot get over the mental strength you have and positive attitude. So inspiring. Doesn't sound like a whole lot of race support yet you never seemed down. I can't imagine doing that but loved reading about your experience.
Definitely HARD CORE

Nathan said...

What an incredible story! The photos were fantastic. Now I want to visit SA- but maybe not in your summer season :) Those were some crazy climate issues.

Does every Ultra runner spend their race helping other racers? It seems to be a theme I have noticed in the rew ultra blogs I read...

This must be a real experience of perseverance.

Great adventure!

DRog said...

stunning views is right - nice battle wound

those pictures

that sand
omg the river crossings

do you not wear GPS watch as you were uncertain how far margate checkpoint was? just curious

incredible effort
incredible RR



wendy said...

Ouch! That leg looks nasty!

Andrew Opala said...


To stay up and motivated for so long ... did you suck the Adrenaline out of passing animals?

I start getting down after 90 meters of a 100 meter sprint at the end of a 5k!

#01! That's what I think of when I compare you to other runners in terms of guts!

Unknown said...

What an amazing adventure! I couldn't believe these pictures and the rock hopping. Just when you needed to relax and just run, you're expected to rock hop and run on the sand. Yikes, you rocked this run and enjoyed each and every moment. I love that!

Patrick Mahoney said...

That was an epic race report and an epic effort. Fantastic!!

ultra collie said...

great effort and report johann..not sure id be ok at 35c! how do you manage footwise with lots of salty water / sand and the heat..a recipe for blisters id have thought?

Tim Wilson said...

Wow, awesome job as always! Great pictures as always as well.

I am with you on the beach running, it is beautiful, yet hard reguardless of whether you are on the lose sand or the slop near the water.

I loved the joggers tap!

But, I have to say - my favorite part is what you did for your fellow runner, great job carrying her through to the end when you were feeling bad as well.


KovasP said...

Outstanding effort Johann! One man's 5K is another's 15K, very true. That jogger's tap was great - we have such things for dogs but not as much for people.

Andre said...

Hi my brother!
Absolutely awesome!
Got goose bumps reading it.

I salute you**

Derrick said...

Eish ! Walking on that kind of beach for any distance is tough at the best of times. Running for that length of time makes it a seriously HUGE achievement. Congrats. Gr8 journal.

HappyTrails said...

That looks awesome! You are Hardcore - it is official. Wish I would have seen this last week but you were not showing up in my Blogger dashboard for some reason... The photos were stunning, but I am sure that they only scratch the surface of how great your experience was. Congratulations!!!

Black Knight said...

A great report with many beautiful pictures! congrats.

Cara said...

The photos are amazing, and so are you! That other racer is lucky to have met you, Johann!

MCM Mama said...

You are definitely hardcore!!! What an amazing race.

Kim said...

Wow! Now that sounds like a tough race!Congrats!

The Green Girl said...

I can't believe how much your feet and legs went through - running through sand?

The pictures were incredible - so many of them looked like postcards. Thank you for always sharing the beauty with us.

Congratulations, you are like beyond hardcore!

Christina said...

I'm behind in reading blogs but knew I had to read your race report. You are truly amazing and I don't know how you ran on the sand for so long. I saw the pictures of your black toes and your sexy tan. Thanks again for being an inspiration.

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