The weekend adventure started with the prologue on the Friday. The prologue was very short, measuring just under 4km, and was to be the seeding race for starting positions the next day. I specifically left Cape Town early as we had been given a late warning that running at low-tide, which was around mid-day, would save us getting our feet wet!
Upon arrival in Nature’s Valley, we checked-in at the De Vasselot Rest Camp, and received our goodie-bags, race bibs and instructions for the prologue. Once we had found our tents, we changed into running gear, and headed off to the other end of the valley to run the prologue.
Friday: the Prologue
The route was very beautiful, and provided a good taste of the kind of terrain to expect the next day — but not the scale! Incidentally, this trail is called the Salt River Trail, and can is a rewarding hike for almost any level of fitness.
We started on the east end of the beach and headed along the sand for about two hundred meters before heading up to the top of the hill. The surroundings are truly beautiful, and you start to get an idea of how spectacular the coastline is. I even got to see a bushbuck as I ran along the ridge. There was a nice single track descent which suddenly led around a corner to just above the most beautiful little river mouth. We dropped down onto the stony shoreline, out of the cove to the main coastline, and then some rocky boulder hopping before heading back onto the main beach to the start point. The fastest time was 17 minutes by Victor Gugushe. I came in at 21 minutes.
I had a quick Mitchell’s Draught at the local pub before heading back to camp to settle in. I wandered down to the finish where a couple of us took our shoes off and tested out the infamous floating bridge. I spent some quiet time on the bank of the river, burning the image of the finish in my mind so that I would better be able to visualize it on the run the next day!
Saturday: the Otter African Trail Run
Breakfast was at 4AM: I had some oats, a banana, bread and jam. This was a meal of pure necessity; I am still not used to eating so early in the morning, and don’t enjoy it much. I was a little rushed to get myself together and double-check my gear, and will remember to be better prepared next time! We boarded the Nomad Overlander trucks at 5AM to travel from Nature’s Valley to Tsitsikamma / Storm’s River. The wise-cracks lasted about half the journey; it was pretty quiet once we turned off the N2 to Tsitsikamma.
Once we jumped off the trucks it was straight to business as we all got ready to leave in our groups, walking the short distance to the starting chute. The early light started to reveal the sheer beauty that was surround us for the rest of the day, as well as a few curious campers up early to see what was going on.
The groups of 4 left at 30 second intervals, just enough to make it comfortable on the single track. I was in Group 4. One of my group chose to drop back to start with his wife in another group, so we started as a trio.
A fairly level start along the coast with some technical boulder-hopping and scrambling along the rocky shoreline saw us cover the first 10kms at a fairly quick pace. I must say that it is difficult for me to remember the sequence of events, just certain stretches that stand out…
Two friendly marshals manned the GU Munchie Stop: a table with water, GU2O, GUs, and GU Chomps. We were also handed a bag containing a banana, droëwors, a muffin, and a chocolate.
The Bloukrans River crossing is definitely a highlight of the trail: you arrive high up above the river mouth, before making a quick steep descent, sometimes with the help of steep wooden stairs, to the shore. As I made my way across the boulders to the water’s edge I chatted to the marshals on duty, trying to get an idea of what the runners ahead of me had done — specifically, whether they had taken their shoes and socks off or not to keep them dry. Shoes on it was, and so I waded carefully across to the other side of the river mouth, the water just reaching the bottom hem of my CAPESTORM Kinetic Shorts, and climbed up the black mussel encrusted rocks on the other side. My shoes and socks were waterlogged, and worse still, loads of sand had gotten in to my shoes. I actually took a few minutes to take off my shoes and wring out my socks! I am still not sure what the answer is here, as the risk of slicing a foot on the black mussels is way too high and pricey!
From here on it was a struggle to be honest: no matter how deep I dug, as soon as I managed to get some kind of rhythm going, the trail threw something new my way.
Along the coast for a bit, some more rocky beach and boulders. Somewhere along this stretch the first lady caught up to me. At this stage I was running behind two other guys, and the four of us ran together for a couple of km’s before. I must say my male ego still battles with being beaten by a girl! Second lady Katya Soggot came cruising by and made even shorter work of me! She had a phenomenal run, and was second lady home, this after winning Table Mountain Challenge the weekend before!
There was some very runnable trail along the clifftops in the last 10km’s. There was just one last nasty surprise in the form of a steep drop down to shoreline, a stretch of about 100 meters along the boulders on the shore, and then right back up an even steeper climb! The only bonus was that I managed to locate water at the hut at the bottom, and was able to re-fill my CamelBak Octane XC (without having to drink water from the toilet, as a friend has done — though he is quick to point out it was from the cistern!).
Soon in the distance I could see the far end of Nature’s Valley beach. At this stage I was exhausted, and feeling pretty isolated, so it was an incredible feeling to finally know the finish was close by. The level trail reached the headland next to Nature’s Valley beach, and the single-track dropped down a steep descent onto the sand, where I made quick dash to harder sand and a nice pace along the shore for about 200m. Then it was up the beach past a marshal and a HI-TEC banner to some stairs, and up through the trees and onto a gravel road.
The route followed the gravel road for about three kilometers with a slight with a slight hill, before dropping down through dense jungle-like vegetation to the river bank, where you jumped into waist deep water, and onto the grassy bank. And finally, the moment I had imagined and pictured in my head for hours on end: the final effort over the infamous floating wooden bridge! I put in a fairly decent effort, and was suddenly on the opposite bank, clocking in at the finish line!
It took me a few minutes sitting firmly on the ground drinking more GU2O to recover enough to take myself off for a hot shower and to get warmly dressed before rejoining the other finishers in trading war stories, cheering people across the bridge, and eating some lunch.
Breakfast was early on Sunday morning as the Southern Storm competitors were due to arrive. We were joined by some cheeky monkeys for breakfast, and I got to see two Knysna Loeries in the tree-tops above the tents.