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

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge 2011 Report

Those of you who know me on FB would have seen all my Mont-Aux-Sources photos and also know that I had quite a bad experience with dehydration. It was still an incredible experience to run up and down that mountain.

When we arrived on Friday it was very warm and Saturday morning was no different. I knew I was in for a hard day. I’m not great in the heat and coming out of winter training also didn’t help. At 10km to go a medic actually pulled me off the course. This has never happened to me before. Usually I’m good at faking what I really feel like, so I must have looked terrible!

Waiting for the start…

On our way!

The beauty of this race cannot be described in words. From the start it is a 10km climb up the Mahai valley to Witsies Hoek resort. It is tough but the views make the climb feel easy.

Going up the Mahai Valley…


Reaching the Mahai Falls is my first milestone of the race. I had a quick drink of the lovely water. From here it is on to Witsies Hoek and the first check point.

Mahai falls.

Witsies Hoek in the distance.

Arriving at Witsies Hoek.

As I was putting my camera away after taking the photo above, I did a face plant in the grass. No harm done and I was just happy I planted my face on grass and not some rock.

From Witsies the route follows a dirt road for 9km to the Sentinel car park. This is a tough section and it was literally heads down and push forward.

Dirt road to the Sentinel car park.

Beautiful view of the Sentinel…still a long way to go.

Nothing easy on this road.

Beautiful views to keep the spirits high.

Finally reaching the checkpoint at the car park

I arrived at the car park feeling reasonable and aware of the heat. I was a bit worried about the amount of water I could carry to the top but we were assured that the Tugela River was flowing on top of the mountain and water was no problem.

Note: Next year I will send extra fluid supplies in a drop bag to the car park.

View from the car park…beautiful!

From the car park it is a very difficult climb up to the chain ladders. The route goes up the zig zags and it is really very hard and steep at this point. The thin air also comes into play and many runners stop from time to time to get their breathing under control.

Trail towards the zig zags.

As if we didn’t know…

Runners above me on the zig zags.

The views here are breathtaking and it is worth spending some time to take it all in.

Where I came from. Note the car park in the distance.


The journey to the chain ladders felt long and I was really tired at times. Once I was over the zig zags I recovered nicely and I was happy to reach the ladders.

Approaching the chain ladders.

Runners on the ladders. The wind was very strong, making the ladders a bit more challenging…certainly not for the faint hearted.

Taking a breather at the top of the chain ladders while admiring the spectacular view.

After the ladders there is one more climb and then you are at the top. The mental victory of reaching the summit is awesome, but I could feel the heat and strong, dry wind was taking its toll on my body.

Great to be at the top…running towards the amphitheatre.

Top of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre.

No words needed…

I was slower than I hoped to be so there wasn’t much time to admire the incredible scenery. The run goes over the top of the Tugela falls and then there is one final climb to the top of the Gully.

Top of the Tugela falls.

The climb to the top of the Gully was tough and I was quite tired and very hot. This felt strange as there was still some snow visible in a few places. The wind was still dry and very strong.

I was hot and dehydrating even though there was still snow in some places.

Me at the top of the Gully, the highest point of the route.

Going down the Gully is tricky and a bit dangerous. There are lots of loose stones and rocks and the ground is very slippery. Lucky for us the mountaineering rescue squad on hand provides a rope to help you down.

Looking down from the top of the Gully.

Easy does it. The descent is steep and long.

I was relieved when I reached the bottom of the Gully. It felt as if it took forever and I was very hot and tired. I had no water left and the wind was blowing me off my feet. I started my run back to the car park.

Running back to the car park.

Downhill, but still tricky.

The wind was incredibly strong and it was very warm. I was dehydrating fast and by the time I reached the car park the damage was done.

I had some water and coke and refilled my hydration pack. I then started the run down the gravel road back to Witsies Hoek. On the gravel road I died a slow death. I could not drink anything and vomited the moment I took in anything. This continued all the way down to the checkpoint.

At some point I took this photo…


I have no idea why I took it or what I was thinking. I didn't take any more photos after this and have no idea why. I don’t remember much of this and thinking back I can understand why the medic was adamant to pull me off the course at 40km.

Running at the top of the amphitheatre was the highlight of my day. My legs are 100% and this is great...training is paying off. Doing a very tough run in the heat on winter training was difficult, but it also made me stronger for the next challenge. I already have my strategy for next year’s race worked out.

Thanks for reading!


Teamarcia said...

OMG the pics are breathtaking but oh what you went thru to get them! Looks like a glorious day because I can't see the heat. Sorry about the face plant and being pulled off but I'm so glad you're already stategizing for next year. Another fantastic adventure!

A Prelude To... said...

Holy beauty! Those are some marvelous pictures! You are so lucky to have had this opportunity to enjoy such amazing gifts of God.

Kate Geisen said...

Wow, Johann, scary. I'm glad the medic was there to drag you off. :) What an amazing trip and a good learning experience for next year, too. Dealing with that heat after cold weather training is no joke. There was a local marathon here back in April, and the weather was in the 80's after it had been super cold all winter. They ended up having to close the marathon course after a certain point because runners were dropping big time...and the terrain was NOTHING like what you were dealing with!

Gorgeous pictures.

Mike said...

Wow!! Ladders up the side of a cliff. Johann...you run some tough races.

Christi said...

Wow, that is really a tough course. I am so sorry you had a bad day!

Robin said...

Wow what a beautiful course, but scary indeed. Sorry about the dehydration, and definitely better safe than sorry!

Jim ... 50after40 said...

Johann - I always enjoy your race reports more than anyone else's in the blog world. I consider myself in fairly good shape, but I don't hold a candle to you my friend. Much respect and keep up the great work!

Giorgio said...

Strong wind which dehydrates and gravel road down hill: you
really did a great adventure through a fantastic landscape! Beautiful report, Johann! Thanks for sharing those special places of the world such as Drakensberg Amphitheatre and Tugela falls.

Ewa said...

That's the spirit, Johann, talking about the next year race already! Think not only of extra water but electrolytes.
This is a stunningly beautiful place and your pictures are great. Thank you for sharing.
I am truly impressed and inspired.

Lauren said...

Truly a beautiful race. Sorry to read about your dehydration. Running out of water is the worst! I've had my fair share of hydration problems. I always say that I learn something new at each race (even each run). Next year you'll be back even better!

Jill said...

Wow, Johnann - that is one brutal course and I fully "get" the dry, hot and windy (that's Colorado!! And that was Pikes Peak this year!). I am sorry that you ran out of water and thus faced the ugly crash you did, but I am so thankful a medic was closeby and got your fixed up...no race is worth dying over, right?!!?! And dehydration can be very deadly. Way to go getting up that beast...and my god those views from the amphitheater are simply breathtaking - I am sooo glad you got up there to experience the amazing views, I am certain you felt very peaceful there!! Nice job, sir...I salute your valiant efforts!!! Very proud of you!

Alyssa said...

You are so lucky to get to run where you do! Gorgeous. Sorry to hear about the dehydration! :(

ajh said...

The pictures are amazing. Did they give you IVs? Those ladders would scare me to death. But the views you kept seeing. Nope I still couldn't do those ladders. You are one hard core runner! Hope all is fine now.

Char said...

Sounds like a really tough day at the office. You must have been feeling dreadful, Johann. There are so many variables when it comes to racing and the weather is one that we just can't control. Hope you have a quick recovery.

Amy said...

OMG - amazing pictures but so sorry you ended up getting dehydrated! Hope you're feeling better by now. I am in awe that you are already thinking about your strategy for next time!

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

Wow, the scenery looks incredible! I'm really sorry about the dehydration, though. We all experienced varying degrees of it racing in Costa Rica last summer, and it was really rough. I'm glad the race staff was there to keep you safe and make the right decisions for you when you may not have been in the right state to make them on your own.

Liz said...

Incredible. Your running experience is so different to my races on the roads of the UK! What a tough course - glad you were ok in the end.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

What a gorgeous course!!! Sorry to hear about getting pulled

Marlene said...

Dehydration is scary, especially since it seems to come out of nowhere. Glad you were okay. Important thing is you learned a lesson for next time!

Congrats on making it as far as you did - that climb is no joke!!!

Unknown said...

So sorry about the dehydration but it looks like the run was totally worth it, just gorgeous!

Molly said...

wow Johann! I never thought of how hot winds could dehydrate you. Amazing pictures, and I love how you're already planning your return next year!

Jennifer said...

Greetings Johann! So sorry I have been out of the blogger loop and missed saying "good luck" for your next race. Wow what a journey! And what an experience to learn from. Do you think a bigger water bladder or carrying more water would have helped?. I love reading your race reports and seeing the pictures. You are such an inspiration! (Sorry about what happened today when you were running, scary with those two morons, but I am glad you are OK)

Staci said...

Wow Johann. I saw your pictures on facebook and they were beautiful and I was in awe of your achievement. I didn't realise that you had such a bad time of it. I am really sorry to hear that it didn't go according to plan - I know that your training was geared toward this race. Just shows you that we are always at the mercy of the elements. Well done anyway, its great that you got so far and that you are already thinking of next year.

Tina @GottaRunNow said...

What a tough race! Congrats on finishing!