Last week through this very blog I received a request from new website OutdoorBuzz.net for an interview on my running exploits. The interview has now been released so check it out at the below link.
Going into day 3 of the Wildcoast Wildrun I had a lead over second-placed Andy by just under 14 minutes. While I only needed to finish within 13 minutes of Andy to secure overall victory I decided that I did want to achieve a clean sweep of victories. Plenty of people asked me what my race strategy would be for the final day, and my response was that it would largely be determined by Andy. He had set a fast pace from the start on the first two days, and if he did so once again, then I would simply run my own pace. The added challenge for the final day was that it featured the most complex navigation of the three days, and our finishing location was beside Andy’s hometown, so he had a distinct home field advantage.
We set off at a relaxed pace and two other runners joined me and Andy out front. The day would feature the most climbing of the three days, so when we reached a short climb before reaching the beach I maintained a firm pace to demonstrate my comfort on the climbs. I pulled ahead and put a bit of a gap back to the other three on the climb, and was then left with a decision: drop the pace to reform the pack and play out a tactical race or continue to push ahead. I had raced aggressively for the previous two days so I decided to continue on at my own pace, and hope that I could successfully navigate the route.
When I reached the first major river crossing I turned around to see that the gap behind me was not very significant. Then, after two days of great navigation where I continually seemed to pick good route options, I proceeded to make error after error for the remainder of the day.
In case you haven’t already, be sure to check out the report for day 1 here.
Winning day 1 of the Wildcoast Wildrun had ruined my race plans. Intending to run an easy race I would now need to defend my lead, because there was no way I was simply going to concede it. But I guess there are worse problems that can be had on day 2 of a 3-day stage race.
Setting off from the start line Andy (who had finished almost four minutes back on day 1) once again took off out of the blocks like a sprinter, quickly starting to move ahead. I ran with Clinton (who had finished third) briefly and he confirmed that he was not going to make the mistake from the previous day of setting out too fast. I could see a replay of day 1 occurring so I did not try to stay with Andy but instead let him pull ahead.
I had been feeling strong running off-trail the previous day so while Andy stuck to the jeep track that would take us from our start at Kob Inn towards the beach I elected to run the most direct route over the uneven, grassy terrain. This maintained the distance between us quite close as we hit the beach.
As we reached an early headland I decided to take a more aggressive inland route, climbing over some large rocks to find the cow trail that I had hoped would be there. By the time Andy headed inland to join me he was forced to fall in just behind me on the trail. I did not want to lead just yet so I slowed the pace slightly until Andy overtook and started to push the pace once more.
The Wild Coast stretches along the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. To its east can be found the Shipwreck Coast and to its west the Sunshine Coast. Similar to its easterly neighbour the Wild Coast features plenty of shipwrecks, but I was hoping to see it bathed in sunshine as per its westerly neighbour.
The Wild Coast is difficult to visit, with no coastal road running along it. Instead it can only be accessed at a few points by driving over rough roads, and often for long distances from the inland N2 highway. Therefore the best way to view it, and the only way to experience it in its entirety, is on foot. The Wildcoast Wildrun is a 3-day 112-km race that makes just such an experience possible.
The Wildcoast Wildrun was my second of three races over three consecutive weekends. I had completed a 50-km mountain race at Mont-aux-Sources the previous weekend (view that race report here), and would face my shortest (but possibly toughest) challenge the following weekend in the trail marathon that is the Otter Run. I had arrived planning to take it easy since I wanted to push for a good result the following weekend, with the Otter Run attracting a number of world-class athletes as well as the cream of the South African trail running scene. However my friends joining me at the race were extremely persistent that I should win it, so I pandered to them slightly by deciding to run at least the first day at a firm, but not flat out, pace.
The weather forecast for day one was luckily not too wild, with an overcast day but no rain forecast. After catching a ferry across the mouth of the Kei River we set off from the other side. The race does not follow a marked route, with runners able to select any course to reach the single checkpoint and then finish line on each day. Day one would take us from Kei Mouth, the town at the mouth of the Kei River, through to our accommodation for the night at Kob Inn, a distance of 44 km.
I set off along the beach with two other runners while the rest of the field rapidly dropped behind. An unknown runner was setting a brisk pace up front while I slotted into third behind Clinton, a runner I had been introduced to at the bar the previous evening. I settled into my own pace over the first 5-6 km of challenging soft sand and rocky terrain, and the gaps slowly grew between first and second, and then second back to me. I wanted to keep Clinton in sight if possible, since he had run the race previously and should therefore be familiar with the best routes. But the gap slowly grew and I could only see either of the runners ahead on the long stretches of beach. After the initial challenging terrain it eased into simpler sections of hard sand, with occasional rocky headlands to negotiate, with options to head slightly inland to follow well-trodden cow paths.
Last year I ran in one of the most stunning locations that I have visited in South Africa when I took part in the 3-day Golden Gate Challenge. After a day of relative relaxation (I travelled into Lesotho and hiked around a bit) following my race at Mont-aux-Sources (read that race report here) I was travelling south towards the Wild Coast for my next race. I decided that I would drive through Golden Gate National Park and re-live part of last year’s race by completing the course from the first day (read the race report here).
The first stage had followed the 2-day Ribbok Hiking Trail, and therefore would supposedly be navigable without the markings that had marked the route the previous time I had followed it. As a backup I also loaded a GPS track onto my watch and marked some of the key turning points and geographical features.
After driving into the park I made my way to the Glen Reenen Rest Camp for the start of the trail. I headed out of the camp, and followed a river to the base of the ridge where I would start the main climb for the day. Last year there had been heavy rain in the days preceding the race, continuing right through to the night prior to day 1. Therefore we had encountered huge volumes of water in the rivers, with waterfalls aplenty, and many wet river crossings. This time I would be running at the tail end of the dry season and expected a lot less water. I was proven correct when I reached the first river crossing for the day, where a trickle of water was flowing and I would have had to push some rocks aside in order to wet my soles.
I progressed onto a ridge and would then climb along its spine, with the drop on each side becoming more precipitous as I ascended with each step. As I made my way higher I felt the wind getting stronger and stronger. The previous day while visiting Lesotho I had encountered a wind that I would easily describe as the most powerful I have ever experienced. One day later while climbing on an exposed ridge I felt the second most powerful. The route involved narrow trails or rock hopping, and I found that I could not run in a straight line with the wind constantly pushing me off balance. Therefore I opted to walk most of the way along the ridge to avoid taking a mis-step.
I returned to Mont-aux-Sources under the hope that my third time would indeed be lucky.
Mont-aux-Sources is a plateau that forms part of the Drakensberg mountain range, with its peak over 3,000 metres (10,000 ft). The first time I visited Mont-aux-Sources was during my first visit to the area in 2010, when I hiked the peak in non-stop rain that made for a miserable day with no views to be seen. My second visit was for last year’s Mont-aux-Sources Challenge, but heavy snow the week prior to race day forced a shortened course to be used which excluded the peak. Therefore I was hoping that my third visit would allow a climb to the top with views of the surrounding area.
The Mont-aux-Sources Challenge is a 50-km race, starting in the Royal Natal National Park, running up a valley and then a gravel road to reach the Sentinel car park (where hikes to the peak start), and then completing an 11-km loop around the peak, before returning to the starting point.
Race morning was chilly but presented perfectly clear blue skies. With a seeded start based on marathon times I set off with the first batch. This would be the first of three races that I would run in three consecutive weekends, with a total race distance of 204 km. Therefore my plan was to run easy and enjoy the scenery.
I settled into a spot in the middle of the pack and during the first section of climbing I pulled off to the side of the trail to snap a couple of photos. I rejoined the file of runners with around 25 people in front of me, and set off for the 10 km single track climb through a stunning alpine valley. The pace felt too slow but I decided to stick with it for a while, since it would allow the leaders to break away, hence stopping any urge to follow them. Eventually I had enough and quickly passed three runners to allow me to settle into my own easy pace.
Oregon had not been part of my travelling plans until around three days before I crossed the state line from Idaho. But it certainly contributed some amazing running to my travels. Outside of my race at Western States (the Race Report for that can be read here), which was a magical running experience, I would classify my six days in Yosemite National Park and my eight days in Oregon as the running highlights of my trip. I plan to cover the sections of my Oregon experience in greater detail once I catch up with some recent race reports from the next stage of my travels. So for now, I will cover it in summary.
A number of great ultra runners, both trail and road, currently reside in Oregon. It doesn’t provide the elevation that draws elite athletes to Boulder and Flagstaff. Many parts of the state are particularly wet, not contributing ideal weather conditions for outdoor training. But the state does contain some of the best trails in the country, and not just in my opinion.
I do love running through forests, with trees whizzing by on either side and ground cover brushing my legs (excluding poison oak), bounding along soft dirt (and even occasionally muddy) trails, navigating around or over rocks and roots and branches. They are my favourite types of trails and they are plentiful in Oregon.
But I did say “not just in my opinion.” The McKenzie River Trail has been rated as one of the twenty-five best trails in the country by Runners World. Bend was named “America’s Best Trail Running Town by Outside Magazine in 2006. I didn’t bother to look up any accolades that might have been won by Ashland, but as home to two separate two-time winners of the Western States Endurance Run I think its inhabitants spell out its accolades. Of course the state did also manage to spawn a little shoe company called Nike and happens to be home to a city known as Track Town USA (Eugene).
So now that I have talked about the state in general, let’s briefly cover my running experiences.
After looking at route options from Colorado through to Oregon I determined that I would be visiting Idaho for my first time. I therefore looked at my running options in the potato state. I considered paying a visit to Sawtooth National Forest, but further investigation showed that much of the forest was closed due to severe bush fires raging in the area. The next option I looked at started right in the state capital, Boise. Ridge to Rivers is a trail system covering over 130 miles, with a number of trailheads right in town. The next step was to pick a route.
As usual I looked for a challenging option. The website for the trail system separates its trail into easy, moderate and difficult so I picked out a couple of the difficult trails, looked for any commonly used routes on Strava and MapMyRun, and put together a lollipop route. All that was left was to arrive in town and slot the run into my day. Unfortunately due to the timing of my travel it would be an afternoon run, and after some time enjoying the cool temperatures of Colorado I was back into summer running.
After a quick glimpse at the trail map posted at the trailhead I headed off on my route. Then a couple of hundred yards later I turned around and returned to the map to take a photo on my phone. I had made the mistake of passing up the opportunity to do that while running in Flagstaff and ended up having to ask some mountain bikers for directions, so at least I had learned my lesson. Then I set off once again.
After running parallel to the road for a short while I turned away and started to climb one of the ridges leading away from town. Being well into summer the ridges were covered in dry grass, making for a very brown panorama. The route I had chosen would climb up a ridge, occasionally reaching the spine of a particular ridge before peeling off and heading towards another ridge. In this way I made my way from ridge to ridge, occasionally descending but spending most of my time climbing. As I looked at the trail ahead of me and spied a high peak ahead of me that still required plenty of climbing I considered the name of the trail I was on (Watchman Trail) and realised that it should have been obvious that I had selected one of the highest viewpoints.
At Leadville this year I paced Mike (check out my Pace Report) for 40 miles but only joined in from Twin Lakes, thereby missing the race’s major ascent of Hope Pass. I made up for that a couple of days later while stopping by Salt Lake City.
Mount Timpanogos is the second-highest mountain in Utah’s Wasatch Range. There are two main trail options to the top, and I chose to start from the Timpooneke Campground trailhead at an elevation of 7,370 ft (2246 m).
I immediately started out by climbing from the trailhead, running most of the lower trail. The lower sections of the trail were well protected by foliage, providing shade but also blocking out views of the surroundings. Once I went above the tree line I had increased views but could also feel the heat of the sun beating down. As I climbed up the mountain I came to the conclusion that the local hikers and trail runners must be a bit lazy, since there were plenty of well-worn trails short-cutting many of the switchbacks.