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.
When I noticed that I had passed half of the day’s distance I looked ahead and gauged that the distance to Clinton had reduced even though I had not increased my pace. It was 8 km later that I finally caught up to him, and briefly lifted the pace by just 5 or 10 seconds per kilometre to ensure that he didn’t try to stay with me. I then dropped back to my previous pace and decided that I was perfectly satisfied with a comfortable 2nd place.
However just two kilometres later I climbed over a headland and then returned to the beach to see first place much closer than I expected. When I reached the point of approximately 10 km remaining I timed the split between us at just over two minutes. Within another two kilometres I had reduced that difference by half, and was now confident that I was moving faster and would win the stage.
The night before each stage includes a race briefing where a course fly-over is shown using Google Earth, and major points where route options can save or lose time are explained. The section of day one at Mazeppa Bay was one of those key points. We were shown three route options across the headland, with one clearly slower but the other two were debatable as to which was quicker. I climbed off the beach just metres behind first place but realised that the best tactical option would be to simply follow behind until we returned to the beach and then count on being able to finish faster.
Just as we reached a gravel road and started to climb the runner in front of me reduced his speed to a walk. I quickly made the decision to continue running and found myself in first place for the first time. I decided that I would take the second turnoff from the road, and turned around to see my competition instead turn at the first. I was confident that I had better speed but I needed to ensure that I didn’t miss the turn. When I continued further and couldn’t see the turnoff ahead I made the decision to simply cut across the rough terrain beside me back towards the beach. I made my way across rough fields and alongside property fences, and eventually I spotted a road to my left that I would eventually merge with, and could follow back to the coast. I gained the road, made my way onto the beach but could not immediately determine whether I was still in first place.
Eventually I spotted the other runner behind me and picked up my pace to ensure the victory. I slowly pulled further ahead and ran comfortably through to the finish. I won the stage just under four minutes ahead of second place, whose name was Andy. It was the first time I had ever placed first in a race, and now I was faced with the problem that I couldn’t simply concede my position over the two remaining stages. The Wildcoast Wildrun was not going to be taken quite as easy as I had planned.
You can check out further details and maps of my running route at MovesCount.com here.