After being refused entry to Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve (read about that here) I needed a backup plan for my run. After a week in the Winelands region of South Africa I was booked to stay that night in Cape Town as I would fly to Johannesburg the following day. Therefore I immediately started to plan a run up its famous flat-topped mountain.
In the late afternoon I parked my car at Cecilia Forest, which provided me access to gravel roads that wound there way up to the top of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. I would use different routes for my ascent and descent, and I tried to remember my preferred direction from previous runs. I climbed up Nursery Ravine, and reached the “top” realising how much lower I still was than the peak. As I started on a circuit around the top some low cloud started to move in, and I decided that it would be wise not to waste any time.
As I headed towards one of the best viewpoints on my route I removed my phone from my pack for a photo as the cloud had cleared for the moment. Then when I was a scant few metres from stopping for a photo I was enveloped in cloud once more. I climbed up to the high point at Maclear’s Beacon, before making my way to the top of Skeleton Gorge for my descent. The descent was slippery at the top, but definitely preferable in my opinion to the loose rock at the top of Nursery Ravine.
After three days of running in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve I planned out a couple of runs in the adjoining Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Setting out from the town of Stellenbosch for my first run it would take me almost as long to drive to the reserve as it would have taken me to run there from Jonkershoek.
After driving the long circuitous route to the reserve entrance I arrived early, heading through open gates before they were manned for the day. When discussing my planned run in the reserve the previous week with one of my running mates he had suggested that I carry some warm gear with me, as it was in the same place that he had almost become hypothermic when a cold change had swept through on a run there. As I set out it was particularly grey and overcast, and his warning was clear in my mind, but I was well prepared for bad weather.
My route would take me from the main parking area at Nuweberg along a contour to the overnight Boesmanskloof Hut, before climbing up a valley to my high point for the route, with a downhill finish. The overcast weather was a pleasant change after some warm days, and the run to the hut was quite easy. It was a nice climb to the high point of the route, but just after passing it I heard what at first sounded like a dog’s bark. Looking around I sighted a baboon standing on top of a rock surrounded by its troop. I was unsure whether the sound was aimed at me as a way of warning me from their territory but I thought it best to continue running, and the “barks” continued until I was well away from their resting spot. After a couple of shorter climbs I reached a road that wound downhill back to my car.
After travelling to the Winelands of South Africa to celebrate the wedding of some great friends, I decided to stay in the area for another week to indulge in some wonderful running and delicious food.
Staying in the town of Stellenbosch for a few days it was only a short drive up through a valley to reach the entrance gate to Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, so I went out there three mornings in a row to check out some of the trails it offered. The valley ends with a steep ravine, hemming in the lowest part of the reserve on three sides.
For day one I climbed straight to the end of the valley, past three waterfalls before the steep climb to the top. From the top I could gaze back in the direction of Stellenbosch, or forward into the adjoining Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve that I would run later in the week. I had considered a point-to-point traverse between the reserves but skipped it due to the added complexity in transport. From the top I followed the contour above the valley towards the west, gaining a view of the ocean below and the Cape of Good Hope to the south-west, before descending back into the valley. It was a beautiful run, but tough in parts due to overgrown trails often featuring sharp plants that continually scratched my legs.
Day two started with a climb directly from the trailhead, following a much easier route than the previous day, so I was able to slowly run the entire climb. Upon reaching the contour trail above the valley floor I started by heading in the opposite direction to my eventual destination. I ran until I reached a ravine featuring a waterfall, plenty of shade and some comfortable rocks, where I sat down to enjoy a relaxing snack. Then I retraced my steps, climbed to reach a viewpoint into another valley to the east, and then climbed even more to the highest point I would reach in the reserve. Then I made my way to the top of the route I had followed up the previous day, and descended the loose and rocky ravine as the day continued to heat up.
It isn’t really possible for me to write the race report of someone else’s race when I wasn’t even present. This is actually an acknowledgement of an amazing performance by a great running mate. Kirsten will not brag about his own performance, so I will do it on his behalf.
I started running with Kirsten just after mid-year of 2011 while living in Johannesburg, South Africa. We were both members of Fourways Road Runners. In addition to Thursday time trials at our own club we would meet up on Tuesday afternoon for a warmup run prior to the time trial at the Rand Athletic Club (RAC). We started adding in weekend runs and races, and then Wednesday became our mid-week long run with routes such as the Bryanston Half and later the Four Peaks Challenge. The runs and the mileage continued to build up.
All in all I have run literally thousands of kilometres alongside, and often behind, Kirsten. His impressive pace meant that I was often running hard to keep up, and I can credit much of my vast running improvement since 2011 to Kirsten and our other running mates in Lindsey and Campbell.
Mielie Marathon – Fourways Runners
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 3 Post-Race (photo courtesy of Caroline Lee)
Pick n Pay Half Marathon – Approaching the Finish
Golden Gate Challenge – Day 3 Start (photo courtesy of Caroline Lee)
Mielie Marathon – the Fourways boys at the finish
Kirsten has also been present at some of my best running moments. In 2013 he ran alongside me for a new best time over the half marathon distance, and the finish-line photo shows that he was as happy at the result as I was. A couple of months ago we ran together down Avenue Foch as I completed a new marathon best in Paris.
McCarthy Half Marathon – Approaching the finish line
I ran up Table Mountain for the first time just a few months ago back in September, following the very popular Platteklip Gorge to the top of the mountain.
Finding myself back in Cape Town again I was provided with the opportunity to climb Table Mountain once more … or maybe even twice more.
Staying in the suburb of Observatory, on the east side of the mountain, I took off on the first morning from Cecilia Forest and climbed from there to traverse above the Kirstenbosch Gardens. I climbed up another popular route, Skeleton Gorge, and then continued to climb to the highest point on the mountain, Maclear’s Beacon. For my return journey I made my way to Nursery Ravine, and descended from there before returning to my car.
The Drakensberg Mountains form the border between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, with peaks rising over 3000 metres above sea level. The mountain range is separated into north, central and south regions. I had previously visited the north on a number of occasions to relax, to hike and to run. But I had never been to the central or south regions.
Looking for somewhere new to run some trails I made by way to the Central Drakensberg region. I planned out two days of running, with the route for day one suggested by an American staying at the same accommodation and the route for day two suggested by the owner.
When I met up with the same American for dinner and drinks in Cape Town a few days later he started by apologising for not considering the difference between his hiking of the trail and my running of it. The run took my around the area of Cathedral Peak, climbing up an escarpment before taking a path that followed the contour of the land. Unfortunately the weather was quite grey and overcast, but the surrounds were spectacular. But the biggest problem was the sharp grass and thorny bushes that crowded the trail. For a hiker in pants they did not present too much of a problem, but for a runner in shorts I returned back to the base with extremely scratched shins from a few hours of gradual cutting and scratching.
My second run took me around the Monk’s Cowl area. I was greeted with perfect blue skies, and once again ran up to the escarpment before following the contour while taking in the stunning scenery. The early running paths were in great condition, and when they started to become overgrown and more difficult to follow I decided to turn around for the return journey.
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.
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.
I arrived in Cape Town for my third visit feeling guilty that on my two prior trips I had not made it to the top of Table Mountain on foot. Heading up to the mountain top in 2011, just two days prior to the 56 km Two Ocean’s Marathon I had opted to let the cable car do the work for me. It was time to add a climb of Table Mountain to my running log.
I was in Cape Town on a tour and the day would start by taking the group up to Table Mountain before heading south along the coast. The tour group would be bussed up to the bottom of the cable car, but would also be given the opportunity to hike to the top. I felt it would have been cheating to miss out on the first 300 metres of climbing to the base of the cable car, so instead I handed a change of clothes to the tour leader in the morning and set off running from our accommodation in Sea Point.
My run from Sea Point took me towards Camps Bay before I commenced the climb up Kloof Drive towards the cable car. I reached the cable car just as our tour group arrived, greeted the tour leader, and then continued on to Platteklip Gorge. I commenced my climb up the gorge, which was suggested to be a hike of 2.5 hours with quick hikers completing it in 1.5 hours. Running on the easier sections and power hiking the steep steps I exited the gorge onto the top of the mountain after 40 minutes.
It was cloudy, windy and cold at the top, so I hiked to the cable car building and its associated cafe where I enjoyed a hot coffee. Then I returned to the top of Platteklip Gorge. I avoid out-and-back routes wherever possible, so instead of returning down Platteklip I turned in the other direction and headed towards the west side of the mountain. As I made my way along the top of the mountain on a route that varied from flat trails to stairs to ladders the clouds began to clear and the sun made an appearance.
The Otter Trail is an immensely popular 42 km hiking trail along the southern coast of South Africa through the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Once a year trail runners are gifted the opportunity to run the trail in a race dubbed the “Grail of Trail”. Last year I completed the race, which had been renamed the Retto (Otter in reverse) since for the first time it followed the course in the reverse direction to normal. This year I returned to run the course in its normal direction. You can check out my race report from last year here.
I will start this year’s race report by restating a comment that ended my race report last year. Krissy Moehl had just won the women’s event and then stated that the course was, kilometre for kilometre the most difficult she has raced. Last year I finished with my legs sorer than I can ever recall, and I entirely concurred with that statement. But this year I returned in better form than I have ever been.
Last year the event assembled the strongest field of trail runners to race on South African soil. This year the field was even stronger.
All runners complete a 3.8 km prologue the day before the race, which is used to seed the competitors into batches. The 24 fastest males form the first batch, named the Abangeni (the Challengers), and the podium positions can only originate from this group. Behind the males the 8 fastest women set off in the female Abangeni. The remaining competitors take off in batches of four runners every 30 seconds, with final positions based on net times.
My legs were far from fresh after my runs at Mont-aux-Sources and the Wildcoast Wildrun during the prior two weekends, but I was hoping to run a strong race. After finishing in 28th position last year I felt that I could move into the top 24 this year despite the stronger field. However I did not expect to run fast enough to qualify for the Abangeni due to the short distance involved, which doesn’t play to my strengths. I attacked the prologue with a relatively fast pace but my time was clearly behind the leaders, placing me just inside the top 50. But most worryingly my quads were feeling extremely sore after the prologue so I was very concerned about how they would hold up during the race.
As you might expect my race report for day 3 of the Wildcoast Wildrun is preceded by my race reports for Day 1 and Day 2.
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.