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.
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.