Below is the report from my mate Alison Miller. I have kept this report to one side for as long as possible in order to get me fired up for my Otter Trail run next week. It puts the Otter Trail which is a shorter and, I hope I have not been misinformed, easier race. Everyone needs perspective.
And Ali's report confirms once again that South Africans do not know the meaning of the word moderation.
On the 12th of September I participated in the Mont Aux Sources Challenge which is a 50km trail “run” through the Drakensburg mountains. It has been voted as South Africa’s most beautiful race for the past few years and many parts of it took my breath away.
My day started with a 4h45 wake up to eat something substantial and force down some of Nick’s high energy juice, get dressed, smother myself in sun block and get to the start of the race at Royal National Park. There are 4 start times depending on your average marathon time. My race started at 6h25 (Group C) and I had my first little cry of the day whilst running out of the starting pen because I was that terrified for what was coming! No sooner had we gone 200m when the climbing began, and boy did we climb!
The first 10km took us on a single track path up the Mahai valley past the Mahai Falls to the first water station at the Witsieshoek Mountain Resort (1700m higher than where we started). The problem with the single track is that it is very difficult to pass people, so I just went with the flow and ran when everyone else ran and walked when everyone else walked, taking some pics along the way. At around the 7km mark I took my first of many tumbles for the day, luckily landing on some soft grass without injury. The altitude had already started to affect me and I was getting nauseous and a headache. Needless to say that first 10km took me 1hr45, it was then that I knew I was in for a long day!
From Witsieshoek there are 3 water stations along the rough undulating dirt road to Sentinel Car Park, a further climb of 300m to the 18km mark. On my way up I took my second tumble for the day, this time I wasn’t so lucky and landed hard on my knees, ripping my new pants! Anyway, I dusted myself off, shed a few more tears and carried on. At Sentinel Car Park I filled up my Camelbak and set off on the zig-zag hiking path past the Witches, the Sentinel, Western Buttress and Sentinel Caves to the Chain Ladders, a further climb of 450m. When I reached the ladder there was no queue and no real time to think about what I was about to do. Everyone gets harnessed to fixed ropes alongside the ladders but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying! The Mountain Club helpers were very encouraging and I eventually got to the top. By this stage the nausea and headache were really bad, where had all the air gone??!!??
On the top, the terrain was much flatter and incredibly beautiful. We ran over the Tugela River and to the Tugela Falls. From the falls, there is a sneaky little climb up to the Sentinel Gully where the fun started! Finally some downhill!!! From the top, the Gully looks like a 1-2km sheer drop. There are fixed ropes along the side to help give stability on the way down. If it wasn’t for those ropes I would have slid the whole way down on my bum! I fell a few more times whilst making my way down the gully. Firstly because the person in front of me let the rope go a few times causing a lot of slack and before I knew it I was flying backwards into rocks. Secondly, the rocks are very loose on the Gully and a boulder the size of a soccer ball came tumbling down from behind and hit my ankle, knocking me off my feet. At the bottom I had shaking legs but was glad that I was finally on my way back from where I had come 5 and a half hours earlier.
The run then descends back to Sentinel Park where I could refill my Camelbak and get all the stones out of my shoes! The field had completely separated at that stage so I was pretty much on my own. The stretch back to Witsieshoek was long and lonely so I got out my ipod and listened to some Poker Face to entertain myself. At Witsieshoek I filled my Camelbak for the last time as there would be no water from there to the end, the temperature was rising so it was important to drink. The nausea was subsiding but I still couldn’t eat anything and had only had 4 jelly babies since the start, almost 8 hours earlier. The last 10km to the finish was the toughest 10km of my entire running career. Everything was starting to hurt, especially my grazed knees. I started to sing to myself “She’ll be coming down the mountain when she comes” to try concentrate on something other than the pain. It took me about 1hr35 to do the last 10km (yes I know I need to work on my downhill running but my Asics-2140 road shoes aren’t built for trail and would be far better suited for ice skating!). As I got onto the final stretch of road I was greeted by huge cheers of encouragement so thanks Ian, Lyn, Mike, Shaun, Fenella, LouAnn, Ken and Rob! More tears!
I crossed the finish line in 9 hrs 35 min 57 sec, coming 206th out of 320 starters (a total 0f 261 finished) and I was the youngest female runner of the day. A great experience, a beautiful and very well organized race and definitely the toughest thing I have ever done!