Tag Archives: Free State

Race Report: Mielie Marathon

When security concerns in Mozambique forced me to change my travel plans, I headed through to South Africa a couple of weeks earlier than I had planned and decided to arrange my time around some good running.

It turned out that I would arrive in Johannesburg a couple of days prior to the Mielie Marathon, which I had run and reported on last year. In my race report last year I provided a glimpse on the social aspect of our trip, mentioning the group that travelled down, as well as the beers enjoyed the night prior to the race. I didn’t however touch on the larger celebrations enjoyed the following night, which helped to make the thought of a return trip most welcome.

This year Campbell was unable to join for the trip to Welkom for the race, but Lindsey, Kirsten, Justin and I were back for a repeat. Lindsey was targeting a PB, Justin was targeting a sub-3:00 to secure his A-seed for Comrades, Kirsten was starting out with Justin, and I would pace another member of our running club from Fourways named Peter, who was targeting a sub-3:30.

Mielie Marathon - Fourways Runners
Mielie Marathon – Fourways Runners

When the gun went off I pulled alongside Peter, and set forward a pacing plan. I explained that we would set out at a pace of 5:00 min/km, then run the middle section at 5:00 min/km, and then finish up at 5:00 min/km. Since that would actually result in a 3:31 we did need to scrape off one minute over the 42 km. Then we started executing on that plan.

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Golden Gate NP - Ridge Panorama

Training Run: Golden Gate National Park

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.

Golden Gate NP - Climbing to the Ridge
Golden Gate NP – Climbing to the Ridge

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.

Golden Gate NP - View from the Top
Golden Gate NP – View from the Top

Continue reading Training Run: Golden Gate National Park

Race Report: Mielie Marathon

The parents of Lindsey, one of my training mates, live in the city of Welkom in the Free State. Every year Lindsey heads out to visit his parents and run the local Mielie Marathon in mid-January. This year our training group all decided to travel out there with Lindsey to check out a new race and enjoy a weekend away. In addition to the four regular members of our training group we were also travelling with Justin, an American who also runs at our club, who has started joining us for some training runs and was targeting a sub-3:00 marathon to secure an A-seed for this year’s Comrades Marathon.

So on Friday 18th January three cars left Joburg for the 2.5 hour drive to Welkom. The first car to arrive in Welkom contained Campbell, his wife Jolene and their 2-month old son Daniel. The second car contained the three single men for the weekend: myself, Kirsten and Justin (whose wife and 2 children stayed in Joburg). The final car contained Lindsey, Hayley and their 6-month old daughter Ella. All nine visitors were staying together at the house of Lindsey’s parents, so the weekend was planned to be cosy but festive. Upon arriving in Welkom we divided and conquered, with one car heading to buy some alcohol for the weekend while my car went to arrange race entries. As a small city race only involving approximately 100 runners, we decided that the inclusion of an Australian and an American promoted it to an international event and promptly decided to rename the race to the Corn Marathon (since mielie is a local term for corn).

Continue reading Race Report: Mielie Marathon

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)

Continue reading Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 3)

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 2 Header

Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 2)

In case the title didn’t give it away, this race report covers the 2nd day of the Golden Gate Challenge, a 3-day trail race through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Check out my day 1 race report if you haven’t already.

I had arrived at the Golden Gate Challenge with the intention of viewing a part of the country I had not yet visited and just enjoying the running. But by the end of first day I found myself sitting in 4th position. That left me with a new intention of viewing a part of the country I had not yet visited, enjoying the running, and defending my position. That definitely changed my outlook for day 2.

This year was the second running of the Golden Gate Challenge, and similar to last year the second day would run through an area of the park called Little Serengeti where the public are not generally allowed. Last year the second day had required a 2-hour bus trip around to the far side of the park in order to complete a point-to-point run. This year the race organiser Heidi had put together a new route that allowed us to complete a loop that started and finished at the campsite, saving us the bus trip.

While standing at the start line the race announcer was warning of cold temperatures at the top of the climb so I decided to start off in my waterproof jacket. As we started I stuck to the front group and the first kilometre took us down the road before turning off onto trail. Heidi had promised us a tough start and had actually indicated that we would surely hate her for the first 6 km. Once we hit the trail we began to gradually ascend, and for a couple of kilometres we were running in the opposite direction along a section of trail that had featured towards the end of the first day. Then we turned off the hiking trail and started following a course put together specifically for the race. Rather than the well-worn and relatively smooth hiking trail we were now faced with tall grass that had been trimmed down to ankle-deep grass, and lots of orange markers to follow. After a couple of ups and downs we descended a steep hill over very uneven grass-covered ground that was extremely technical and treacherous for the ankles. We then crossed a stream and the real uphill began.

The reason why last year had involved a bus trip was mainly due to the fact that a mountain separated the campsite from the Little Serengeti area of the park. Therefore the only way to start from the campsite was to run over the mountain, and since the focus of the day was to run through Little Serengeti we couldn’t afford to waste too many kilometres winding around for an easy way over. Heidi had come up with a unique solution to that problem: run straight up the mountain. Rather than zig-zagging up the climb with switchbacks, the long grass had been cut back and orange route markers had been laid out to head directly up the very steep climb.

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 2 Route Profile
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 2 Route Profile

Continue reading Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 2)

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 1 Header

Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 1)

My first marathon for 2012 was in a small town named Ottosdal in the North West Province of South Africa at the end of January. We had already planned another travelling race in February when we would travel to Pietermaritzburg for the Maritzburg Marathon. On the way home from Ottosdal, as we sat down having breakfast after a wonderful race and nearing the end of a great weekend we started discussing other options for travelling races. We had a fairly full race calendar until Comrades Marathon in June so we started considering races towards the end of the year. One race that was mentioned and seemed extremely interesting was the Golden Gate Half Marathon, which runs out of the town of Clarens in the Free State during October.

As October drew nearer I started to look at planning and found that on the same weekend as the Golden Gate Half Marathon was the God’s Window Half Marathon, running from the town of Graskop in Mpumalanga towards the famous God’s Window lookout. That caused a bit of a quandary as both races seemed interesting, and more importantly both were in parts of the country that I was yet to visit. Luckily the answer to the problem turned out to be fairly simple when I found out that taking place just 3 weeks after the clashing half marathons was a 3-day trail race called the Golden Gate Challenge. Unlike the Golden Gate Half Marathon, which runs on the roads around Clarens and doesn’t enter the national park, the Golden Gate Challenge involves three days of trails within the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Therefore on the first weekend in October I travelled to the town of Graskop to run the God’s Window Half Marathon, as per my race report here.

On the fourth and final weekend of October I drove out to the Free State with Kirsten in order to camp and run within the national park. The weather forecast for the weekend indicated that we should expect to get very wet, with rain expected on all three days. After arriving and checking in to both the race and our tented accommodation we made our way to the large dining tent for the day 1 pre-race briefing and our dinner. As we sat there a very heavy rain fell outside and we negotiated the increasingly muddy floor of the tent in order to secure our food. However we were there to have a good weekend so Kirsten and I enjoyed a bottle of red wine with our meal before making our way back to our small dome tents, hoping that they would prove to be truly waterproof. Waking up a few times during the night I was able to confirm that the downpour did continue but fortunately the tent held up well.

Golden Gate Challenge - Day 1 Start
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 1 Start (photo courtesy of Caroline Lee)

Continue reading Race Report: Golden Gate Challenge (Day 1)