Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 3)

For race reports on day 1 and day 2 of the Golden Gate Challenge check out the below links.

Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 1)
Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 2)

Golden Gate Challenge was the first stage race that I have completed. Based on my current focus towards off-road ultra running a number of people have asked whether I would consider Marathon de Sables (a 6-day, 243 km race through the Sahara Desert in Morocco) or the 4 Deserts series (featuring races in the Atacama, Gobi or Sahara Deserts, plus the desert that is Antartica), or any of the many other stage races that exist. My answer at the moment is that they do not attract my focus away from the non-stop single stage events that are currently on my bucket list. When I get closer to completing my running bucket list things might change, but not for now.

However the Golden Gate Challenge did give me a new perspective on completing a multi-day race, particularly if you do plan to race rather than just finish. The challenge becomes about pacing yourself over a number of days, anticipating how well you will recover from day to day, and determining the best strategy to adopt. By the time you reach the final day it becomes irrelevant who you beat across the line, as you are only racing against the clock. After two days the race leader board looked as below, with Wayne holding a 3-minute lead over Gerhard, then a large 18-minute gap back to Ben in 3rd place, a further 7 minutes back to me, and my gap over 5th place was over 12 minutes. After a tough first day Wandisile had won on day 2 and climbed up to 8th place overall.

POSITION NAME OVERALL TIME
1 WAYNE SCOTT 06:18:54
2 GERHARD FOUCHE 06:22:05
3 BEN DE KLERK 06:40:06
4 ADRIAN LAZAR ADLER 06:47:14
5 NHLANHLA YENDE 06:59:28
8 WANDISILE NONGODLWANA 07:12:08

With the time differences as they stood at the start of day 3, there was still a battle on for the overall win but Ben looked secure in 3rd place and I was comfortable that I could hold my 4th place. This was particularly the case with day 3 being the shortest route of 17 km. Day 3 started before sunrise and featured a 400 metre ascent so that we could experience sunrise from the top of the mountain. From there it was predominantly downhill back to the campsite. Due to the pre-sunrise start we would take off with headlights but the climbing would be mainly on paved roads. After hot pre-race breakfasts for the first two days, the earlier start meant that we could instead look forward to a champagne breakfast, but only once we crossed the finish line.

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 3 Start
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 3 Start (photo courtesy of Caroline Lee)

We started by heading up the main road towards the hutted accommodation we had passed on day 2 but this time we would follow the road for the entire journey. I set off with the leaders once again and as we ran along the road a cameraman from SuperSport shined the bright light from his camera at us as he took footage from the back of a bakkie (for the South Africans) / ute (for the Aussies) / pickup (for the Yanks). I allowed the runners ahead of me in the standings to build up a small gap but Nhlanhla, who was in 5th place, was running either beside or just behind me. After a gentle climb we went into a gentle descent and then as we started to climb again Nhlanhla surged past me and started to close the gap on the leaders in front. From the first two days of racing I was confident that I was a stronger climber, so with plenty of climbing remaining I decided to let him go. He bridged the gap to the leaders and as we turned off the main road towards the hutted accommodation he then broke off the front into the lead. Twelve minutes was a huge gap to attempt to bridge within this final stage but it clearly looked as if he was going to attempt it.

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 3 Route Profile
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 3 Route Profile

As we continued on the climb it became progressively steeper, and we winded our way up the hill as a stream of headlights in the dark. I kept pushing hard and just as we reached the first checkpoint I caught and rapidly passed Nhlanhla. With more climbing still remaining I was confident that his attack was now over. The paved road ended and we continued to climb on jeep track until the route levelled out. While running on the flatter jeep track I caught up with Ben, who was running at a very slow pace. I asked whether he was alright and found out that his headlight had failed so he was running slow to avoid falling. I told him to run with me and pointed my headlight into the centre of the track while we each ran in one of the tyre ruts. The sky began to lighten and after a short descent we began the final climb to the highest point. During this final climb it became light enough to see unaided and I turned off my headlight. Unfortunately it was misty up the top providing nothing to see, so with barely a glimpse around I commenced on the descent.

Just before the crest Ben had fallen slightly behind and I started on the technical descent with a gap. I started off fairly cautiously on the descent, but then realised that while Ben has more pure leg speed for the less technical running, he was slower on the technical descent. I decided that I would see how much time I could claw back and started picking up the pace. I was really enjoying the descent and running at a fair pace when I suddenly heard footsteps rapidly approaching me, and was amazed that Ben would be coming that fast. I stepped aside to find that it was actually Wandisile coming past at a blistering pace. He went past and started to pull away from me but I decided to attempt to hold the gap for as long as possible. He was very good on the descents and would slowly pull away but as we reached the occasional small rise I would start to close down the gap again.

We eventually ended up back on the same trail where we finished on day 1 of the race. Therefore we were once again faced with the steps and the chain descent on the other side. As we climbed the steps I could see Wayne and Gerhard quite close together traversing around the top of the escarpment. I completed the steps as the final climb for the race, traversed the escarpment, and then began the final descent into the campsite. I crossed the finish line in 4th place for the day, 25 seconds behind Wandisile. Nhanhla crossed just over 4 minutes later to secure 5th place overall. Then it was just a matter of waiting for Ben. He crossed the line, headed over to me and we compared the race times on our watches to see the difference. I had made up approximately 5:30 minutes over the last 6 km of the run but was still around 90 seconds outside of 3rd place. The official results had me 1:38 behind Ben in 3rd place, and I was 16:18 clear of 5th place having beaten Nhlanhla on each of the three stages. Wayne had kept Gerhard in sight throughout the stage to secure his overall victory, and Wandisile had climbed into 6th position with another good result. Kirsten was 9th across the line to claim 9th place overall.

 

POSITION NAME STAGE 1 STAGE 2 STAGE 3 OVERALL TIME
1 WAYNE SCOTT 03:07:35 03:11:19 01:47:11 08:06:06
2 GERHARD FOUCHE 03:12:14 03:09:51 01:46:24 08:08:29
3 BEN DE KLERK 03:26:08 03:13:58 01:55:44 08:35:51
4 ADRIAN LAZAR ADLER 03:27:17 03:19:57 01:50:14 08:37:29
5 NHLANHLA YENDE 03:29:16 03:30:12 01:54:18 08:53:47
6 WANDISILE NONGODLWANA 04:03:12 03:08:56 01:49:49 09:01:58
9 KIRSTEN LEEMANS 03:46:49 03:35:49 02:01:17 09:23:57
Golden Gate Challenge - Day 3 Post-Race
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 3 Post-Race (photo courtesy of Caroline Lee)

Overall it was a wonderful race through stunning surroundings, and the event was brilliantly organised by Heidi, the crew from Wildlands and with the assistance from SANParks. I have already signed up for my next stage race, also organised by Heidi and crew, at the 3-day Three Cranes Challenge in Kwazulu-Natal next February. But the major stage races are still not on my list.

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