Thursday, 5 February 2015

About the Ultra Trail Mount Moodie

What a good day out it was this past Saturday at the Ultra Trail Mount Moodie, an 80km (actually 87km) ultra in the Sabie area. Yes, that's right - steep ups and downs and loads of forest and wonderful scenery.

This event burst on to the calendar last year. My race number, 3, was indicative of eagerness - I was the third person to submit an entry (the day I saw the post on FB). Clive Smart, the race organiser, has been organising events here for three years. After being approached by Trail Running SA to host the SA Trail Champs, Clive added the 80km distance event to his existing weekend offering (a 6km, 12km, 20km and 35km).

Oh my heart! Surrounded by forests. View from my room at Misty Mountain.
We started from Misty Mountain - on Long Tom Pass - at 04h30 on Saturday morning with 27 runners on the start line. It was far warmer than I expected after the cool evening and my shorts and tee were perfect attire.

My race kit - minus food. I've had this trusty back pack for a good 12 years now and it has done dozens of races and ultras. 
As Misty Mountain is on top of the mountain, there's only one way to go first: down. We started in the dark and within an hour or so it was light enough, even under the tree canopy, to turn our headlamps off.

The first big descent dropped us into the first aid station. It was a long, long downhill and I remember commenting to the aid station helper "Wasn't that a downhill!". On this section I met Su-yen and Nic, who I'd see more of later.

I quite enjoyed the next section to the second aid station. Flatter running with a good climb. On the flat I was in good company with Corne and Lorraine. They're amazing on the hills - running trip-trap so steadily upwards. I walked. They dropped me with ease.

Leaving Aid Station 2 we were on to the Fanie Botha hiking trail. I've known of it since I was a child but I've never been on it. Spectacular! The section had us on rocky and slippery trail heading up a ravine. We criss-crossed the river many times - sometimes on bridges and other times just splashing through.

I hadn't been taking photos but snapped a few. I was with Nic, an American in the Peace Corps based South of Polokwane, going through this section. We were warned pre-race by Clive not to even try stepping on the rocks in the river because they're so slick. He suggested stepping between the rocks, which worked just fine.

Nic negotiating one of the many river crossings.
A bit of what the trail looks like (a non-rocky part)
We caught up to Su-yen on one of the crossings.

And so we climbed up-up-up and came out belly-height to a waterfall.

Time to go down-down-down
And of course we descended to the bottom of the falls.

Su-yen, me and Nic at the bottom of the falls.
And then began a really, really tough ascent that seemed to take forever. At an indistinct path section we hooked up with Lorraine, another lady, Filipe and Corne. Up on top most of the others shot off. I needed the flat open space to recover from the climb with a gentle run-walk strategy for a while!

Filipe had a route profile printout and it showed a slight drop down to Aid Station 3 and then a big climb and a big downhill to Aid Station 4. Downhills sound fun; but for me they're not, especially when they're steep. I started taking it easy because I don't often run steep downhills and as a result they hammer my quads when I do.

Time to go down, down, down. Yes, all the way to the bottom where we'd find Aid Station 4
Only 24 of the 27 runners made it through Aid Station 4 (around 45km). By this time me, Filipe, Nic and another runner, Jakes, were near at the back of the field.

The next 8.5km was on mountain bike tracks. We were roasting through the valley section - very hot and humid with no respite.

Aid Station 5 sat just before another climb. Filipe, who I'd met last year when he ran my Forest Run, was sitting on the tree stump. I asked him if he wanted to join me - at this stage he wasn't going to continue. Jakes arrived and with not much arm twisting Filipe set off with us.

Jakes and I dropped Filipe on the ascent but as Filipe is a whiz on the downs, he caught us again later - and gained enough to stay ahead until the finish, which he reached about five minutes before us. The skies opened near the top of the climb but fortunately we didn't get hit  as hard as Misty Mountain. Apparently it was torrential, complete with lightning, up there.

Aid Station 6 came and went and we knew we'd be pushed to make it in before dark. Filipe left the station just ahead of me and Jakes - wrapping up the back of the field.

From the aid station we caught up with Nic and we all stayed together through Aid Station 7 (same location as Aid Station 1) and all the way uphill to the finish.

GPS readings from many runners confirmed the route to be 87-kilometres long. It took us 15h20 to get from start to finish and I was fortunate to be in good company. We were followed to the end by a race marshal in his vehicle - nice to have the light as night caught up with us.

It was also a treat to be welcomed into the finish by friends who'd run other distances during the day - Zelda, Johann, Melvyn and a bunch of others, including Clive and some marshals. Lots of shouts and cheers and goodwill for a very warm and appreciated welcome.

At the finish with Nic (8), Filipe (24) and Jakes (29). Photo by Melvyn.
I showered and headed down to dinner and the prize giving.

I came out of the race relatively unscathed. Oh goodness were my quads stiff for about 2.5 days after! Stairs were so not my friend. I've got an injured left big toenail from where I kicked a rock early on... and of course whacked it another few times in the course of the day. That will still take a while to heal completely.

I thoroughly enjoyed this ultra. I haven't done a straight-up ultra like this for ages. It was an interesting route with good variety in the running surfaces from smooth trail to rocky, slippery technical trail; smooth and open forest roads to rough and rocky forestry roads, river crossings... and of course uphills and downhill, plantation forest and indigenous forest and wonderful scenery.

My thanks to Clive for presenting this distance. From experience I know the work that goes into planning and marking routes, coordinating volunteers and all the other little bits and pieces that make these things happen. It's a lot of effort regardless of the number of participants.

The helpers at the aid stations were absolutely amazing - for friendly and warm and helpful. They even put ice cubes into my water reservoir at the last few aid stations... what a treat!

I think Clive is going to make some tweaks to the route but it should be on the calendar again next year. UTMM is not easy, but it is beautifully scenic and rewarding to finish.

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