Monday, 6 August 2012

Ngoje 45km trail run, Eshowe

On Saturday I ran (well, ran and walked) the 45km Ngoje Trail Run, which is organised by Gavin Bazley and starts from a primary school in Eshowe.

Fred and I drove down together, meeting up with buddies Tony, Steven and Andrew at the race. Lo and behold I bumped into other old AR friends Kevern and Dave there too - always a treat. Kev and I raced together at Zirk's 250km in the Knysna area in mid-2000 and I first met Dave and Zirk's Cederberg 500 in late 1999! I've seen both guys in recent years so nice to see them again and to catch up.

On the way down Fred and I did a bit of touristy stuff. We stopped at the 'Spirit of Emakhosini' monument. It's a striking memorial with seven large metal horns (each from a different animal) surrounding a huge metal beer pot. Each of the horns represents one of the seven Zulu kings burried in the valley (Valley of the Kings) that is viewed from this look-out hill on which the memorial stands. Great view!

Fred knows this area really well - he held an adventure race in this area years ago. Very brown and dry now in winter but still quite stunning.

Standing next to one of the huge horns at the monument.
It's not so much that I'm short but rather that Fred is a tall dude!
We headed through to Eshowe to find the school where we would need to later go for race briefing and, early the next morning, for the start.

We stopped to visit Eshowe's Dlinza Forest - another location that Fred used in his race. Oh wow! There's an aerial boardwalk that winds beneath the forest canopy where we were dwarfed by tall trees. A viewing deck ascends 20 metres up to take you to the height of the canopy - absolutely striking (Fred had used this platform for an abseil in his race). The trees are magnificent! Then we walked one of the forest trails, reading tree labels (I'm really, really bad with trees - and birds!). We settles on the massive Wild Plum and Ironplum trees as our forest favourites.

While on the trail we heard some rustling and saw two blue duiker. They were totally unconcerned about us. We sat still and they kept coming closer, nibbling as they moved. This forests is very definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

We went to a nice, short race briefing in the area where Gavin showed the types of route markers from orange tags and chalk arrows to spray-painted orange dots. All bases covered. There we hooked up with Tony, Steven and Andrew and chatted to other friends like Bruce Arnett, who would aim to better his previous race time.

I was planning to visit my friend Paula on Sunday and on the phone that evening discovered that her partner, Daryl, would be running the 22km course in the morning; I'd keep an eye out for him.

So, bright and early we were at the school for the start. Some time to mingle and lovely surprises to see Kev and Dave. I found Daryl and got a pre-start photo.

Me, Fred and Daryl. And that's Dave with #125 - I hadn't yet seen him. And that's his son Josh, next to him, who is 17 and is developing into a good multi-discipline athlete and very keen on AR.
Dave in downhill flight
Just before the start I spotted Dave and so we got chatting. You think I can talk... Dave is worse and the two of us together is fabulous craziness. We've run Mnweni together - twice. Great to catch up on Dave's news. Two weeks ago a car drove over him! He's unbelievably accident prone - how he's made it to the ripe old age of approaching 50 is anyone's bet. He was knocked off his bike and went under the car's rear wheel! It drove over his shoulder and knee and he says he could see the wheel nuts as it went over him! Luckily he's fine and x-rays were clear although his knee isn't quite right yet - but it still works good enough for running.

Running with us was Dave's friend Eugene. Dave split off from us at the 10km mark to do the 22km course; Eugene and I continued on the 45km course and ended up running the whole way together.

The course starts off on roads between sugar-cane fields - some dirt, most grassy. There are a few steep ups and downs and then the routes split.

The first steep down (and up the other side). Probably around 7km - run by both courses.
The 45km course takes a lovely trail along a river and it is very pretty. I was into having a nice, easy run so I trip-trapped along the trail enjoying the route. The trail crosses a few streams and is shaded for much of the distance.

Eugene running ahead on the pretty, shaded trail.
It must be from about 20km to 24km that the trail gets quite tricky. You've got to keep an eye open for the markers (the route is VERY well marked) and to watch your footing. It is deceivingly harder going than expected. There are some great sights, especially the rocks.

Eugene at a river crossing before we started climbing up on the tricky trail. There's a waterfall in the background, in the sunlight - can't see it in the pic.

Then another fun section - The Crack. Steep, steep down. I almost made it all the way down on my feet. The photographer positioned there had been about to tell me that I was the only one he'd seen make it down without sliding when I landed on my bottom as I turned around as I took out my camera to snap a photo of Eugene. Hahahaha.

At the top of The Crack. It drops down behind me.
Eugene at the bottom of The Crack. That's a photographer in the background.
The trail winds up and out of the valley on to open ground again and it leads on to a long road that just climbs and climbs and climbs. This is the BIG hill of the race.

Eugene and I were slogging uphill when I spotted a chap lounging on the roadside - from a distance it looked like my buddy Fred. He'd been instructed (by me!) not to run with me but to run and enjoy and give the course a good go. I haven't been feeling so great so I knew I would be in for an easier run. He'd been feeling fabulous and had been running so well and then the hill bit him - badly. He'd been chilling and eating snacks for about 10 mins when we got to him. He wasn't looking so great but made a good decision to rest for a while and then continue slowly and steadily. Eugene and I left him after a while finally topping out to enjoy a bit of running and a not-up gradient. This must have been around 25km.

At 30km-ish we made the water point which came at just the right time because I'd finished my water at the top of the hill, about 1.5km earlier. I'd been conservative with my water so I was really looking forward to a long drink and filling up again. Two friendly ladies were manning this station. We refilled and headed off again.

The last 15km of the route are way easier than the 15km before and we made good time, really enjoying the slight downhill runs on shaded, grassy tracks. At the river crossings we splashed water on our faces and wet our caps - totally refreshing. We ran alongside new forests, orange orchards and cane fields with a lot of variety underfoot. All good.

The last few kilometres climb up at a decent gradient (not too steep) towards the school. These dirt roads between cane fields are exposed to the heat of day, which would be unbearable in summer but was nicely warm for the race.

At the finish we came in during prize giving, having completed the run in about 6h45. Bruce beat Hylton by a minute and took 17 minutes off his previous time to set a new record of 4h09. I bet he didn't get as many nice photos as I did *grin* Erica (not sure of surname) won ladies. I think her time was around 5h20-ish. She passed Steven a few kilometres before the end and he said she was chirpy and fresh as she breezed past him. Fred came in a while after us. He took it easy and made the finish looking better than when we'd seen him.

This was my first time running Ngoje, a race that has been around for four years now. There are 10km, 22km and 45km courses. There were about 70 runners on the 45km, which was really nice because there are no bottlenecks and you don't see many runners out there once you've settled in. I think there were about 100 runners on the 22km and a bit more on the 10km.

I especially like that this is a small, friendly, rustic race with a good vibe. The course has variety and everything in balance. Bit of easy, bit of difficult. Bit of up, bit of down. Bit of single track, bit of jeep track, bit of dirt road. Importantly, the route is well marked and it is evident that Gavin and his team have put a lot of time into clearing the trails and putting out markers. They're looking at turning this race route into a hiking trail, which will help to keep it open - less vegetation trimming come race time - and a lovely route to enjoy at a leisurely pace with an overnight stop or two.

And, it is just as lovely devoured in a single day. A good weekend in Eshowe and a most enjoyable event.

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