Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spring Break 2012 (Merrel Eden Duo and Salomon Sky Run)

Spring Break 2012.

With the highly successful Pennypinchers AR Teams Spring Adventure Race in the bag and chest infections, injuries ,floods, and other home life distractions out the way the Team was finally able to focus on  getting out and doing a couple of races. With all this and the longer days of Summer on the way we decided to enter the long standing local “adventure race” the Merrell Eden Duo and then a week later the “must do” Salomon Sky Run.

The Merrel Eden Duo.

This race is raced in pairs as the name suggests and is a 165km multisport route starting and finishing with a short paddle on the Touws River in Wilderness on the Garden Route. The rest of the race is made up of another paddle leg, two hiking legs, two mountain biking legs and a kloof leg up the Kaaaimans River. In a break from the normal Netski and Garth decided to race together and Jeff and I would actually race in a pairs event together for the first time. The weather on the day was cloudy and cool as forecasted as the field started on the water for a quick paddle down the Touws River to the beach at Wilderness. With the big focus of the race moving to the relay option it was the Merrel Paddlers who took the lead early.
Off the Paddle and onto the beach at Wilderness

The kloofing leg up the Kaaimans was great fun with the river about a meter fuller than it normally is  creating some challenges for people who were not comfortable in water. After a quick transition at Saasveld Jeff and set about catching up with Garth and Netski who had left the transition before us. The cycle leg over the Montagu Pass is mostly uphill and we caught our teammates just where it seems as if the whole world is pointing upwards. Spinning up the hill trying not to blow before I had even got half way Jeff rode easily next to me also saving energy for the hike back over the mountains to Saasveld.
Kloofing up the Kaaimans River

 After a quick transition and compulsory kit check we hit the hiking trail back to Saasveld. Having not pushed too hard on the bike we kept up a good pace and it took Garth and Netski an hour to catch up. Once we were together again we settled into a good rhythm again a made reasonable time back to the Groenewiede transition where our trusty seconds Erez and his daughter Inca were waiting with cold drinks and our bikes. Jeff as usual was in a hurry to get on his bike and Garth and Netski's transition was cut short by us saddling up and hitting the Seven Passes road. Garth hit the wall properly here and he and Netski had to take some time out and start the slow recovery process that gets one back up to speed. Garths experience from adventure racing for a long time now helped him slowly refuel and regain the fluids etc that he had lost and stay in the race where many would have felt they could not carry on.
Montagu Pass (ouch)
Drying Kit at T3

After the paddle across Swart Vlei Jeff and I hit the beach at Sedgefield for the 21 km run/hike back to Wilderness. The tide was out and the sand hard and we got into a really good running rhythm. About an hour into the run Garth and Netski caught up again. We then stuck together right to the end of the race  after a short paddle back up the Touws River to the Ebb and Flow campsite. The race was won by Merrells Donovan Simms and Hano Smit who knocked of half an hour of Hano's old record and rounded of a very successful year for them. At the end of the day Jeff and I finished second in the big Vets category and Garth and Netski were second in the Mixed category.

As a team we never set out to race against each other or with each other because we knew on the limited training we had all had through winter we would not be able to do this. The plan was to race our own races and keep a little in the tank for the Salomon Sky Run a week later (another story below).
What transpired was that we ended up spending more than half the race together. What this really showed me was what great Team we have, the banter, helping, slagging, sharing food, sharing experience and making sure at the end of the day that we all arrive at the finish line in one piece.

Our special thanks on this race go out to Colin, Erez and Inca who cheerfully but forcefully got us in and out of transitions all along the way. Brandon and Martell who popped up along the beach to give us huge encouragement along the way and of course to organizer Jan Hennop who has put on this race for the past 12 years.

Part Two of the madness
So Eden Duo finishes and the next race begins. The race to recover from 16 hours of racing in just 6 days before taking on the monster 100km Salomon Sky Run. With all the banter of Lance Armstrong’s demise we joked about finding the “magic bullet” that would take the lead out of our legs by the next weekend.  With the basics of RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation) under the belt Garth, Jeff and I arrived in Lady Grey on Friday afternoon. Jeff had invited Svelka Sharp his Knysna running partner along to run the Sky Run Lite . Also at the run would be co founder of the Team Chris Crewdson to run his second Sky Run.


Garth,Lettuce,Jeff,Svelka,Marco,Chris moments before the start
Lady Grey is a small town that rests in the shadow of the Witteberg Mountains and once a year gets shaken into action to host 250 crazy athletes who try and run/hike/crawl their way along the mountains to the War trail Country Club some 100km away. With some major climbs, decents and narrow ridges the race is a huge challenge to every athlete. This year would see Ryan Sandes on the start line for the first time. The trail running legend would knock 2 hours of the race record by finishing the course in 12 hours 30 something.

The race starts at 4:00am and after a quick snap of the Knysna to Storms River contingent we lined up at the back of the pack determined to start slowly. After a moment’s silence the race starts in the main road of Lady Grey and for 400 m you run on some tar road before heading of road for 100km.

The first 12 km of the race is uphill and along a very stony hiking trail so after an hour and half when the first check point comes into sight and the route opens up onto the mountain top the frustrated runners all set off like rabbits across the saddle to the next piece of ridge line. Garth and I had been split from Jeff and  Svelka at this stage and decided to carry on at our steady power hiking pace, both nervous of going too fast and not finishing the race. We felt that the Knysna pair would catch us after check point 2 where there is a jeep track and most people run this section. Having asked Jeff for his comments to put in the race report and not received them Garth and I will make our own assumptions as to why he did not catch us on the jeep track section. It was later discovered that he had also joined another lady runner Vicky wife of Alex Wagner (old team mate of Netski) and he had taken on the “mother hen role” not that either of the girls needed this!!!


With the weather being very cool on the mountain we were not carrying and drinking nearly as much water as normal and for a change our packs felt reasonably light on the climb up to Avoca Peak the highest point on the route. Here stopped for the first time to sort out some “shoe Sh###t” (stuff that somehow gets into your shoe and can give you blisters) and restock our food supplies. Wedgewood Nougat had given us all samples of their Race Food nougat bite sized bar which went down really well at this stage. I had bought a whole box before Eden Duo and really enjoyed them as a replacement to the energy bars I normally carry. From here on it is all “downhill” to Balloch the 65km mark. Downhill on Sky Run means sore knees and aching quads. Deon Braun and Sean Wisedale had joined Garth and I and at exactly 16h00 we arrived in Balloch at “tea time” as I had told Deon from Go Trail and Go Multi about 6 hours before. Having popped 2 GU Fizzy Electrolyte Tabs into my bottles in the last 40 mins before the medical check I whizzed through the medical with none of the signs of dehydration that had seen me nearly pulled from the course last year (I was fitter then and our time was the same????)

Balloch is an amazing campsite below a huge overhanging sandstone cliff on one of the very old sheep farms in the area. Here athletes get to refuel, see loved ones, rest up and stare at the next obstacle in their way to the finish. Balloch Wall is an almost sheer climb up a mountain that separates Balloch from the rest of the route. The decent is just as steep and takes some serious bum sliding to get down. Garth dragged his heels a bit here and after threatening him to get Netski on the line to get him to move it we headed off for the next part of the race with lights and GPS ready to guide us after dark. We left Balloch at 16h30 so had a good few hours of sunlight left which does make life easier on the steep Eastern side of “the Wall”.

Edge Hill farm is the next welcome check point. A farm that straddles the road and gives one a break if you need it for the next big climb .The Bridal Path. This climb was used to get horses and livestock up onto the plateau on the Lesotho border and is an amazing piece of history but also a real slog. We crossed the river and bundu bashed our way onto the old path and up the ridge to a very cheerful bunch student who ticked off our numbers as we headed up the hill. Once on the plateau the route is flattish and takes up to the top of the horse shoe leg of the race. On the plateau we were met with a howling icy wind which forced a stop to put on some warm clothes. Garth and I were quick to put on our jackets as we had packed with this move in mind. The others which now also included longstanding team mate Chris Crewdson took a bit longer and Garth and I started to get cold and we told the other we would start along the path slowly. After 20 minutes we were all back together or so I thought but Deon had made a late call to put on more clothes and told the others he would catch up. He had looked up and could not see a light anywhere. We were worried and waited a bit but were relieved to see two lights coming along and were able to move on. The check point at the turn looked like a military hospital with the cold and terrain having taken its toll. There were a pile of shivering, dehydrated runners there who had clearly under estimated the second leg of the race. After a great cup of coffee and a Marmite roll or two and putting on all the rest of our warm clothes we headed out into the wind and cold again. With my Oregon GPS in hand and the AYUP lights shining far ahead navigation was easy and we kept moving  at good pace and kept the cold at bay ,just. Our group was now about 11 as we had picked up some wounded at the checkpoint and then some more along the route who joined us from a rather strange angle on an invisible path! Halstone Peak was the final climb and decent of the race. The wind was howling and it was quite scary climbing up the exposed rock face knowing that the cliffs on the lee side of the mountain were about 300 meters high. The marshals on the Peak were amazing; they were lying in sleeping bags smeared onto the rocky peak by the wind. They cheerfully checked us in and explained how to get off the mountain without killing ourselves. Down we went into a really steep gully and then for the first time in 24 hours I veered off the track that would take us to the finish. It did not feel right and after a couple of minutes and some prompting from Scott Haywood I sat down and looked at the landscape and not the GPS. We turned back and within 5 minutes were happily heading back on familiar turf. A fuzzy moment after being on track for so long really  “p###ed me off” but that is just how I am and nobody seemed to mind much considering how far we had gone through the night together.

Day break saw us cross the river and up to the finish line were we crossed the line together. All savoring the moment for different reasons and at different levels. We all knew that finishing the SKY Run is a huge achievement. A realization of different personal goals, a journey like no other.

For the Team it is a real l privilege to be fit and healthy enough to go out and realize these goals with the support of all our family, friends and sponsors. Pennypinchers makes it possible for us to travel across the country, create a great team and live our dreams. GU keeps us going with a whole range of products that give us energy, replace electrolytes and then recover faster after the event. Earth Scout in Knysna provides us with the best brands of foot ware, and gear to make sure that we stay warm, dry and comfy out on the mountains, rivers and coastline of our magnificent country. Blue Steel anti chafe was shared amongst our little group of stragglers in the mountains to keep blister, hotspots and chafe at bay and Pletts own CX Press is always keen to cover our crazy exploits.

Thank you all for your support and as the year winds down we look forward to our Kurland Summer Trail Run to give people a small taste of what it is like to be out under the big sky of our beautiful country