Race Report: Three Cranes Challenge (Day 2)

I started day 2 of the Three Cranes Challenge (day 1 race report here) in 5th place. I had not tapered for the race, having run 50 km during the week before arriving for a further 100 km over three days. I had ended day 1 feeling strong, and had enjoyed a post-run massage and ensured that I followed a good nutrition strategy to aid recovery. I went to bed early but had to wake up early for another day of racing.

I took in a good breakfast, put on my running kit and made my way down to the start line. My legs felt a little tired but not too much so. I lined up behind the lead runners and we soon started down the road. The route had initially been planned to start by reversing the end section of day 1 for the first few kilometres, but a route change had been announced the previous evening that we would instead head out down the road for the first 4-5 km. I suspected that the race director Heidi was trying to shorten the day by a few kilometres to make up for the bonus mileage from day 1 (you can read about that story, plus all of the characters that will take part in day 2, in my day 1 race report).

Three Cranes Challenge (Day 2) - Pre-Race
Three Cranes Challenge (Day 2) – Pre-Race – photo courtesy of Caroline Lee

I noticed Eddie take off at a blistering pace with the leaders but set into my own pace, knowing that I always temd to improve my position as the day progresses. It was fairly flat running along the road until we turned off onto some single track and started the first big climb for the day. I caught and passed a couple of runners and then pulled alongside Graeme, who was sitting one position behind me in the standings with a seven minute gap. We climbed together, chatting way and were both happy for the company after we had both run most of day 1 solo. It turned out that we had run a few of the same races, and interestingly he had finished just a few minutes behind me in the Otter Run (race report here) last year. We climbed through a forested area before clearing the treeline, and I turned around to admire the stunning early morning view behind me. I pointed out the view to Graeme and then we continued to climb towards the peak before descending down the other side. I noticed that the first table was earlier than had been advised and realised that I was correct in my assumption that Heidi had shortened the course with the alternative starting route.

Day 2 would take us into Benvie Farm at around the 20 km mark, where the 2nd table would be positioned. The farm features trees from around the world that have been collected and planted by the owner over many years. As a special addition to this stage a time-out zone was arranged, where runners could check in upon arrival at the farm, spend some time to look around and enjoy some extra food that was being laid out, and then check out upon departure. Time spent in the time-out zone would be deducted from the overall time. Unfortunately there was a special exception to that rule, in that the time-out didn’t apply to runners that wanted to qualify for the top 10. Therefore I would be running straight through.

We descended down the hill and started making our way through pretty wetland areas with some nice houses located right alongside the water. We passed a group of locals cheering alongside the course, and very shortly after passing through we heard them cheer another runner. Looking behind us we saw Kerry Koen, who was leading the women’s race. To thicken the Otter Run plot even further, Kerry had run a large portion of that race with Graeme and the two of them had crossed the finish line together, meaning that the three of us had all finished the almost 6-hour race within 8 or 9 minutes of each other.

As we started nearing the farm Graeme started to edge slightly ahead and I ended up running 20 metres or so behind him. We entered the farm, ran through a copse of huge trees and we both stopped at the table to briefly grab a drink. Then, with a quick glance at our surroundings we both took off again. I stayed with Graeme for the first kilometre or so past the farm but the route was slowly but steadily climbing and I found that I was unable to keep up. I am normally very strong on the hills but I found myself struggling, with my legs feeling tired and slow.

Graeme quickly put distance between us and I could see quite a way up the hill as he caught and then passed Dirk. I decided that I would eat the energy bar that I was carrying in my hydration pack, and since we were climbing I thought that I would wait until a section steep enough to justify walking so that I could eat it during a walk break. The climb continued on and then as it became slightly steeper I considered taking my walk break. A short way ahead the road turned around a corner and out of sight, but I had a feeling that something more was coming so I decided not to walk yet. As I made my way around the corner I caught a first sight of an extremely steep hill cleared of trees, and I instantly knew that the race director Heidi would take us up it. I approached closer to the bottom of the hill and spotted orange course markings following a path straight up the hill. I reached the bottom and the hill looked even steeper than it did from far away. I instantly started walking, pulled out my energy bar and ate while I climbed. I could see Graeme and Dirk ahead of me, but despite them looking quite close I knew that there was actually a few minutes separating us at the slow speed we were ascending. I eventually reached the top and started running again, with neither Graeme nor Dirk visible any more.

Three Cranes Challenge - Day 2 Official Route Profile
Three Cranes Challenge – Day 2 Official Route Profile

The next section was along some fairly flat and unexciting logging roads. Having struggled since before the farm I started to feel stronger in this section and slowly started increasing my pace. Just as I was feeling more confident about my improved pace I heard footsteps gaining on me from behind, and turned around to find Ben de Klerk running alongside me. Ben had beaten me out of third place at the Golden Gate Challenge (race report here, here and here for the three respective days) by just over 90 seconds. Ben is a very strong road runner but is less confident on the trails, so he said farewell as he took off ahead of me on the logging roads, but mentioned that he expected to see me again on the technical descent still to come.

We made our way from the logging roads onto some grassy hills that would take us to the last table, before commencing a 4 km technical descent to the finish. I passed the table, and made my way up the final climb for the day with Ben visible not too far ahead, and Graeme also visible but a fair distance away. I then entered the forest and immediately began to descend. The route was muddy and slippery, and I was struggling to find grip in the shoes that I was wearing, but it was my favourite type of trail terrain so I picked up the pace and tried to enjoy the descent while keeping myself upright. I felt my feet slipping quite a lot, and even had my feet slide out from under me at one point, but I did catch and pass Ben on the way down. I reached a set of stairs, descended to the bottom of those and soon found myself on flat grass alongside the dam beside the race campsite. I ran around the dam and crossed the finish line.

I had finished the day in seventh place, with Dirk building more time into his lead over me, Eddie having a very strong day in finishing fourth to leap-frog both me and Dirk into fourth place overall, and Graeme chipping away at my lead over him. The top three positions on day 2 were the same as for the first day so no changes had occurred in the overall podium positions. I would go into the final day in sixth place overall, unsure how my legs would handle the final day after a tough 39 km middle day.

You can check out the details of day 2 off my Suunto Ambit GPS watch on MovesCount.com. Click here.

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