Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Up where the sky is clear

I had the great fortune of running the Salomon Skyrun at the beginning of December with two AR Club friends, Tony and Ivan. This race is, without doubt, one of the most challenging off-road running events in South Africa.

Adrian Saffy took over the organisation of this event, from Skyrun's creator John-Michael Tawse, in 2005 and this year the race received record entries with 67 runners. The route starts in Lady Grey and runs over the mountains along the SA/Lesotho border, down into Balloch, back up and through to Ben McDhui and finishes at the Tiffendell Ski Resort. The race can be run over 2-days or non-stop.

We opted for non-stop, which is not necessarily the best idea for first timers. Although I'd been there in '99, I hadn't gone past Balloch, and neither had Ivan, who took part last year. And, as fate would have it, this is where we lost some 5-hours; unable to find a mountain pass in the dark.

Nonetheless, the weather was perfect, the temperature warm - with a slight cooling breeze - and there was water in the mountains, thanks to recent rains. The scenery up on the ridge is spectacular as the mountain sides drop away either side into South Africa and Lesotho.

Photo by Stephan Repke, the "German Skyrunner".
Stephan is a photographer and runner and has been visiting SA.
This is a small section of the Skyrun route.

What really makes this race challenging is that, although there are a number of trails, the terrain is rough going. Your feet and ankles get worked left, right, up, down, forward, back and all possible positions inbetween. I haven't had blisters for a long, long time (touch wood) but I succumbed to a couple during the race. Aaarrggghhh... I hate blisters!

We reached Tiffendell after fighting the morning gale (the wind was blowing so strong from Breslins to Tiffendell that I was using my trekking pole to keep me upright and we could barely hear each other even when shouting!) some 29-hours after we'd started at 09h00 on Sunday morning.

Would I recommend this race to you? Of course... BUT, I would recommend that you run/hike with someone who knows the route or do the race in 2-days, sleeping over at Balloch. The section through to Balloch (about 56km) is a very decent race in itself, without the Day 2 section. This is very do-able as a first timer to go straight through if your navigation is reliable (and next year the route showing the mountain pass will be correct). If you'd like to race this route to win? Oooohhh... I'd put my money on it to say that a first timer will never win this race unless they traverse the entire route prior to the race.

Andrew Porter (2nd in 2005) worked hard this year to take victory from Bruce Arnett, who has won the race since its inception in 1998. Both of these guys are exceptional runners. Andrew set a new course record of 15h03. Wow!

Salomon Skyrun is an incredible event. It is tough, challenging, scenic and inspiring. In Adrian's capable hands it is well organised. The comraderie of the marshals (farmers/land owners) and participants is magical and it is a race I'd go back to (now that I've had a week to think about it *grin*).

(click on pic to see bigger image)