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.
BEN DE KLERK
ADRIAN LAZAR ADLER
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.
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.
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.