The first weekend in November looked like being a very difficult race selection decision: on one side was the Golden Gate Half Marathon in the picturesque area of Clarens while on the other side was the God’s Window Half Marathon running alongside the scenic Blyde River Canyon and its famed God’s Window lookout point. Fortunately I discovered a 3-day trail race through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park during the last weekend in November, and could therefore run both areas of the country just 3 weeks apart.
Therefore I found myself on the first Friday in November driving 4.5 hours from Joburg to the small town of Graskop with Fiona, who had decided that a half marathon with a difficulty rating of 4 out of 5 was a good way to restart some serious training. We met other friends Lindsey and Hayley (who had driven down separately with their 4-month old daughter Ella) in Graskop and went for dinner at a Portuguese restaurant, including what I would like to claim as a couple of nice glasses of wine (but was unfortunately fairly cheap and extremely average). During dinner I discussed plans for the race with Lindsey, and stated that I planned to run a time of 1:40.
After a pre-race meal of a muffin we walked the 600 metres from our hotel to the starting area in the local caravan park. It turned out that the race serves as the Mpumalanga provincial championships for 10 km and the half marathon, and as such the race officials were being extremely strict on enforcing rules. After paying our entry we hung around near the start and were informed numerous times that all race numbers, ASA license numbers, and age category tags must either be sown on or attached by 4 (not 1, not 2 and not 3) pins. As we stood in the starting pen we were informed one last time about the number of pins that were expected before being set loose. It was a very pleasant temperature as we set off at 7AM but the predicted maximum in the low-30’s meant that the temperature was going to quickly rise.
After exiting town the route started to noticeably climb, and despite some brief respites we predominantly ran uphill. As we climbed Lindsey pointed out that every time he thought we couldn’t climb any more we would turn a corner and glimpse more uphill. Unfortunately along many parts of the route there were trees blocking out our views into the canyon, but there were still some stunning views where they did exist. At around the 7 km mark we glimpsed what was clearly the highest point on our route and agreed that it possibly marked the turnaround point for the out-and-back route. I hadn’t paid attention to my watch at all but Lindsey pointed out that we were on track for a time around 1:46 based on even pacing, although we would be running downhill for most of the second half. The stretch from the 8 km marker was a particularly tough climb and I pulled slightly ahead of Lindsey. As I reached the top of the climb I spotted the 10 km marker at the very top and realised what that meant…
Since the turnaround point needed to be just after the 10.5 km point to make up the 21.1 km required for a half marathon we were actually required to crest the hill and continue 500 metres down the other side of the hill before turning around and re-climbing to the top. As I turned around I checked that all was well with Lindsey and knew that he would catch me quickly on the descent. I re-crested the high point of the course and soon heard the pitter-patter of feet as Lindsey pulled up alongside me. After averaging 5:00 min/km for the first half we started knocking off the downhill kilometres at just above or just below 4:30 pace. In the last couple of kilometres I started noticing the heat but soon enough we ran into town, turned into the caravan park and crossed the finish line. Despite running the entire race purely by feel our finishing time ended up less than 10 seconds inside the 1:40 I had stated the previous night.
After relaxing under the shade of tree for a while we returned to the hotel, showered and then went for a great pancake brunch and a chilled glass of white wine. In the afternoon Lindsey and I took Ella and went to see some of the local sights while the ladies relaxed at the hotel. We did receive a number of interesting looks as people tried to understand the relationship of the two guys travelling around together with a baby. As a disclaimer I will point out that the below photos are from the sightseeing trip since I did not run the race with a camera, and only the first photo was taken at a lookout along the race route.